Created By: NubianSatyress on September 19, 2017 Last Edited By: NubianSatyress on September 22, 2017
Troped

Top Wife

A harem that has, or seeks, one spouse who sits above all.

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In polygamous cultures, it's common to see one spouse (usually a wife) emerge as the leader and/or "favorite" of all of the other spouses. In some societies, this status was automatically bestowed upon the first spouse. In others, it's bestowed upon the spouse which conceives the first heir. And in others, it's determined by who yields the most influence or holds the most sway over the shared spouse.

If there's dissension amongst the harem, however, the spouses will fight over who gets to be the one at the top. This is usually because the top spouse enjoys privileges, authority, or prestige that is denied to their "sibling" spouses. In softer examples, the top spouse may be the one who occupies their lover's bed the most, or the only one who does so at all. In extreme cases, they may be able to boss the others around or even kick them out of the harem altogether.

Another common variation is the "Legal Wife", where only one lover is considered the true "spouse", while the rest are concubines or mistresses. This variation can be common with the Ruling Couple, and can also open the possibility of each individually having their own separate harems. This version most often comes about to avoid a Succession Crisis, since usually only the legal spouse's child can claim the inheritance.

This trope is an evolution from the Supporting Harem trope and is far more rare because most of the Harem Genre's conflict is based on Will They or Won't They? relationship drama and jealousy. As such, either No Romantic Resolution or a single Official Couple are still the norm. As the genre evolves, however, that is slowly changing.

See Balanced Harem, where this is often avoided.

See also our Useful Notes section on Polyamory.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • High School Dx D: Rias Gremory is generally acknowledged to be Issei's immutable favorite, but this doesn't stop the other girls from trying to usurp the position. The most heated rivalry is between Rias and Akeno (who calls herself "Number 3"), since Akeno prefers to see herself as The Mistress. She delights in undermining Rias' authority and in claiming small victories over her (such as being the first girl to bear Issei's child). However, Asia (the Number 2) refuses to lose to either of them and tries to make up for what she lacks in sex appeal with cuteness and eager subservience to Issei's every desire.
  • Strike the Blood: In the OVA, La Folia is the first girl to propose to Kojou and claims to have no issues at all with Kojou's relationships with other women. However, when the subject of polygamy is raised, she brazenly offers Yukina the position of "second wife". In reality, Yukina is without a doubt at the top of the food chain to the point that the audience could assume a First Girl Wins ending was imminent, if we didn't have prior knowledge that Kojou hooks up with multiple women in the future.
  • In Another World with My Smartphone: Invoked trope by Yumina, the first girl to propose to Touya. When she learns that the other girls in their group love Touya, she's happy about it and deliberately makes arrangements for all of them to become brides. When Touya does indeed Marry Them All later, Yumina become the chairman of the "Bride Conference". Despite this, Yumina becomes absolutely livid when another girl steal's Touya's Sacred First Kiss, shouting "Even I haven't done that!", and all of the girls still compete for Touya's immediate attention in more light-hearted fashion.
  • In the Yuri Genre manga Yurika's Campus Life, the title heroine is a notorious womanizer, but her childhood friend and roommate Saori is known far and wide as her "legal wife" for being the closest to her (even though Yurika herself is oblivious to her feelings and in denial of her own sexuality).

    Fan Works 
  • In the Judge Dee Fan Sequel series, the first wife becomes a character in her own right, aiding him in his investigations whether she wants to or not and ruling over the judge's household with varying degrees of success (the judge's unconventional methods and lack of political ambitions leaving little room for social mobility). While she's intelligent and determined to make their Arranged Marriage work, a lot of drama comes from the fact that she never had any children, so the other wives have slightly more weight in discussions than would be permitted otherwise. Dee, however, never sees it as a sticking point, and even tells her that she'd be his only wife if they lived in a monogamous society.

    Film - Live Action 
  • "Manos" The Hands of Fate: The Master has many wives- the oldest refers to herself as "the First Wife" and seems to be in charge, although she worries that the Master is getting tired of her.

    Literature 
  • The Good Earth: Played extremely realistically and dramatically as part of the protagonist's moral decline. After living for years in poverty with his devoted wife O-Lan, Wang Lung later becomes a wealthy man and uses that wealth to buy two concubines—including a former prostitute named Lotus. Lotus becomes the clear favorite to the point that Lung takes two pearls he knew O-Lan loved and fashions them into earrings for Lotus. It's only on O-Lan's deathbed that he gives her attention again.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: Among the Holderkin, men take several wives, but the first one rules over the other wives. Talia, the protagonist of the first trilogy is a Holderkin girl whose mother is dead. Right before she get Chosen, her father's other wives are shown telling her she'll need to get married soon and to choose if she'd rather be a first wife or a secondary wife, listing the pros and cons of each option.
  • Judge Dee has three wives, the first of whom (aptly named "the First Lady" by the books) is the daughter of his father's Best Friend and generally runs the Judge's household. The other two view her as their superior, even though Dee himself does his best not to play favorites.
  • The Belgariad: This trope is in effect in the Murgo royal court. Urgit's mother doesn't mind at all that Silk killed Taur Urgas' eldest son, because he was the son of the "first wife" (who used to boast that she would have her son order the execution of all the lesser wives as soon as he took the throne). Later in the Malloreon, when the marriage arrangements between Urgit and Prala are being arranged, one line in the contract states that Prala will have the permanent rank of most favored wife.

    Video Games 
  • Fire Emblem Fates: It's plot point that King Garon had many concubines due to having taken the Marry Them All route, but also a legitimate wife. The first one, Katerina, was adored by the concubines. She died and got replaced by Arete, who was viewed as a Replacement Scrappy and greatly disliked.
  • Fallout 3: Within the Republic of Dave, the player finds that President Dave has two wives—his original one, and another he picked up from wandering the wasteland. While Dave never indicates that he has a favorite, it's clear that the original wife isn't happy with the arrangement and that the second wife not only thinks she's the favorite, but that she should be Dave's only spouse.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: The 2-part episode "Stan of Arabia" has Stan defect from the USA and convert to Islam, whereupon he takes a second wife for himself whom he nicknamed "Thundercat". Thundercat makes it very clear that she plans to usurp Francine's position as "first wife", and does as much as she can to butter up Stan while undermining Francine. At one point, Stan smugly tells Francine that Thundercat is a better wife because she's "scored more points".

Community Feedback Replies: 15
  • September 19, 2017
    LegitimateIdiot
    Who gave the premature bomb? This looks fine as compared to many other first drafts.
  • September 20, 2017
    Nazetrime
    Royal Harem should be mentioned too. A couple examples (only one of them is royal though).

    • Heralds Of Valdemar: Among the Holderkin, men take several wives, but the first one rules over the other wives. Talia, the protagonist of the first trilogy is a Holderkin girl whose mother is dead. Right before she get Chosen, her father's other wives are shown telling her she'll need to get married soon and to choose if she'd rather be a first wife or a secondary wife, listing the pros and cons of each option.
    • Fire Emblem Fates: It's plot point that King Garon had many concubines due to having taken the Marry Them All route, but also a legitimate wife. The first one, Katerina, was adored by the concubines. She died and got replace by Arete, who was viewed as a Replacement Scrappy and greatly disliked.
  • September 20, 2017
    Koveras
    Another term for such person is "the legal wife".

    • Judge Dee has three wives, the first of whom (aptly named "the First Lady" by the books) is the daughter of his father's Best Friend and generally runs the Judge's household. The other two view her as their superior, even though Dee himself does his best not to play favorites.
    • In the Yuri Genre manga Yurika's Campus Life, the title heroine is a notorious womanizer, but her childhood friend and roommate Saori is known far and wide as her "legal wife" for being the closest to her (even though Yurika herself is oblivious to her feelings and in denial of her own sexuality).
  • September 20, 2017
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Added the word "Examples".
      • Added [[foldercontrol]] .
  • September 20, 2017
    kjnoren
    The laconic does not match the description or trope name.
  • September 20, 2017
    KantonKage
  • September 20, 2017
    PistolsAtDawn
    • Manos The Hands Of Fate: The Master has many wives- the oldest refers to herself as "the First Wife" and seems to be in charge, although she worries that the Master is getting tired of her.
  • September 20, 2017
    Chabal2
    • In the Jeudge Dee Fan Sequel series, the first wife becomes a character in her own right, aiding him in his investigations whether she wants to or not and ruling over the judge's household with varying degrees of success (the judge's unconventional methods and lack of political ambitions leaving little room for social mobility). While she's intelligent and determined to make their Arranged Marriage work, a lot of drama comes from the fact that she never had any children, so the other wives have slightly more weight in discussions than would be permitted otherwise. Dee, however, never sees it as a sticking point, and even tells her that she'd be his only wife if they lived in a monogamous society.

  • September 20, 2017
    ZuTheSkunk
    For the title, perhaps you'd consider one of these? That at least would be a lot clearer...
  • September 20, 2017
    NubianSatyress
    "Leader" is a limiting adjective, since the character in question could simply be the "favorite" or have more responsibilities than the rest. They don't always lead the harem. I only recently changed the adjective to "Top", so I'm perfectly willing to try something clearer. I just don't think "Leader" accomplishes that.

    The other words following "wife" strike me as unnecessary at best and limiting at worst (again, we could be talking about concubines and not wives).
  • September 20, 2017
    FortunateKitsune
    I don't know how to frame this as a proper example, but in the Chakona Space stories, the Caitians practice this, and the First Wife may actively seek others who fit the correct societal Virtues. This is seen in-story with M'Lai, who is invited to join Admiral Kline's family as a solution to her condition.
  • September 20, 2017
    NubianSatyress
    Thanks. I'll format it properly. Just one question first.

    What type of medium is Chakona Space? Literature?
  • September 21, 2017
    NubianSatyress
    Bumping for examples/hats.
  • September 21, 2017
    Antigone3
    The Belgariad: This trope is in effect in the Murgo royal court. Urgit's mother doesn't mind at all that Silk killed Taur Urgas' eldest son, because he was the son of the "first wife" (who used to boast that she would have her son order the execution of all the lesser wives as soon as he took the throne). Later in the Malloreon, when the marriage arrangements between Urgit and Prala are being arranged, one line in the contract states that Prala will have the permanent rank of most favored wife.
  • September 22, 2017
    NubianSatyress
    Bumping for at least one more hat?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=51tvjfolzsg3houl2undap2x