PrincelingRivalry Princeling Rivalry YKTTW Discussion

Princeling Rivalry
Stock Character / Archetype: power struggles between sibling royals
(permanent link) added: 2013-11-02 10:26:03 sponsor: acrobox (last reply: 2014-02-10 21:51:11)

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Zazu: As the king's brother, you should've been first in line!
Scar: I ''was'' first in line. Until the little hairball was born.
Mufasa: That hairball is my son, and your future king.

It's good to be the Prince. Born to power, destined to inherit rule of the Kingdom from your parents when their time comes. Bless their souls. Until you realize that kind of privilege only goes to the first son. If you're unlucky enough to be the second born, or if for you just hate the heir, you really gotta hope big brother doesn't have any kids or is unable to perform his duties.

Or you could find a way to facilitate that.

Central to the trope is that the younger siblings and their co-conspirators will plot, usually through dishonorable means, to overthrow, kill, or banish their older siblings in order to seize power for themselves.

Bonus Points if the siblings also make a Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good duo. Usually the first born son as the larger, stronger, heroic archetype. At worst he's a Jerk Jock but otherwise he's just a symbol of strength and is genuinely goodhearted. If that's the case then the younger prince is more wiry, smarter, and calculating. He can't beat his older brother in a straight duel, so he plots to have him shamed and banished, or outright killed. The older brother will typically never see the betrayal coming until it's too late.

If the older prince lives, he'll likely start a war to dethrone his brother. If he dies, his child will grow into the cornerstone of a rebellion to overthrow the younger prince, who has turned himself into an Evil Overlord by this point.

See Succession Crisis when the conflict becomes much larger than just the siblings' personal animosity towards each other.

Sub-Trope to Sibling Rivalry. Sister Trope to Cain and Abel. Annoyed at being Spare to the Throne, the younger brother usually becomes an Evil Prince, who then becomes an Evil Uncle to any of the first born's children. One of the few plot tropes where the younger sibling is the evil one in the family.


Comic Books
  • Aquaman is the strong first born who, in most incarnations, is betrayed by his younger half brother Orm/Ocean Master. But this being a classic comic book character he escapes the peril and puts Orm behind aquatic bars.
    • In the Justice League version, Orm chains Aquaman and his newborn son to the side of a cliff that's falling into magma. Aquaman gets one arm free and uses it to chop of his other hand so he can get out in time, and then goes to attack Orm directly.

  • Featured in the backstory of The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb; Re, younger of the Pharaoh's two sons, had his brother Ra banished and later assassinated out of jealousy. Ra ends up being the Mummy of the film, and Re is cursed with immortality, which can only be ended by his brother's hands.
  • The adaptation by Walt Disney Pictures of the Greek mythology of Hercules makes passing mention that Zeus and Hades are brothers. Zeus rules Olympus while Hades rules the underworld. The central conflict of the story involves Hades' scheme to supplant his brother Zeus, and become supreme ruler of Olympus, Tartarus and all the Earth in between. Zeus is of course the strongest god and older brother, while Hades is a schemer.
  • Mufasa as the strong first born, and Scar as the smart, plotting second born in The Lion King who has been jealous of Mufasa for some time. He doesn't begin his betrayal in earnest until after Mufasa's son is born. Scar murders Mufasa and attempts to kill Simba, Mufasa's child son. Simba lives and leads a charge to defeat Scar in his adult years.
  • Disney's Robin Hood has prince John send away his brother on a crusade.
  • Thor as the strong first born, and Loki as the smart, plotting second born in Thor. Loki tricks Thor into getting himself banished. Thor learns to be less of a Jerk Jock and retakes his rightful throne from his brother.

Live-Action TV
  • Blackadder: In "Born to be King" Blackadder buys into a rumor that his mother had an affair and his older brother Harry is actually a bastard, and thus Blackadder is the rightful heir to the throne. But when the details surface it looks like the affair might have produced Blackadder himself, so he immediately has the messenger killed.

  • Hamlet. King Hamlet was the first born who was a warrior king with some implication in the text that he wasn't the most likable guy; Claudius, the second born, is the smart and charming plotter. Claudius murders King Hamlet and Hamlet ends up trying to avenge his father's murder.
  • Also King Lear: on the one hand the three princesses, Goneril, Cordelia and Regan, two of whom are privately pleased the third is unfairly disinherited by Daddy. Then the machinations of the bastard Edgar against his legitimate half-brother, who stands to inherit the lot.
  • The Chronicles of Amber are pretty much all about this. The main character of the original pentalogy is an heir to the Amberite throne and keeps fighting his brothers over it for much of the novels. In the second pentalogy, the new protagonist is no longer a direct contender but power plays around the throne still complicate his life a lot.
  • Although cousins rather than siblings, King Verence and Duke Felmet from Wyrd Sisters are like this. Verence is the large and heroic king, who gets murdered by his plotting cousin Felmet. Tomjon, Verence's son, raised by a theatre group, is expected to return and overthrow his uncle.
  • Ghosts in the Yew by Blake Hausladen has this as a major subplot. Prince Barok and Prince Yarik of the Zoviyan Empire scheme against each other mostly for lack of anything better to do (they have numerous older brothers at the book's start.) Prince Barok loses one of their skirmishes and is exiled to the remote province of Enhedu. This turns into Reassignment Backfire when Barok undergoes a forced Heel-Face Turn in relative safety while his brothers slaughter each other.
  • Alexandre Dumas pere wrote The Man in the Iron Mask as the third work in his King's Musketeers series. This is the story of the horribly vain and corrupt Louis XIV keeping his younger brother Philippe prisoner on the Isle de Sainte Marguerite. An iron mask was used so that no one could see that Louis and Philippe were identical twins. The Musketeers are charged with freeing Philippe and supplanting Louis with him.
  • In Patience Princess Catherine of the Young Royals series Henry is the younger, athletic brother but Arthur is next in line to be king. Henry knows that he would make a better king than Arthur.
  • In The Prize of the Game by Jo Walton, the three cousins Conal, Darag, and Ferdia are all heirs to the throne of Oriel (they are all nephews of king Conary), and have also been raised together. Conal and Darag have a fierce rivalry, that escalates to the point where the three are sent away to the neighbouring kingdoms for a series of tests to determine who shall be the next king.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire both of King Robert's younger brothers, Stannis and Renly, make claims to the throne after Robert's death. Inverted in terms of archetypes as Stannis is the older one and thus the rightful heir but is very unpopular, while Renly is very charismatic and rallies many more houses to his cause. Stannis gives his younger brother the chance to declare fealty to him, and assassinates him when he refuses.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, there are seven princes of Stormhold, all of whom are attempting to bump each other off in order to inherit their father's throne. At the beginning of the story, four are dead already.
Video Game
  • Fire Emblem Elibe. In Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, Hausen as the strong first born, and Lundgren as the smart, plotting second born. Lundgren thought he would just wait it out until Hausen died naturally after Hausen's only daughter eloped. But when word spread that Hausen's long lost granddaughter Lyn was coming to claim her rightful throne, Lundgren started poisoning Hausen to speed up the process before she arrived. Totally backfires when Lyn kills Lundgren and Hausen makes a full recovery from the poisoning.
  • In Warhammer The backstory of Vilitch the Curseling has this. Vilitch was the younger son of a tribal chieftain, his older brother Thomin getting all the love and caring while he was bullied by everyone in the tribe for being infirm. Tzeentch heard his prayers, and fused the brothers' bodies together: Vilitch casts spells, his body fused to Thomin's shoulder while his brain-dead brother keeps attackers at bay with his swordsmanship.

  • In The Lion in Winter Henry's three sons, John, Geoffrey and Richard, all aspire to be king. Queen Eleanor favors their oldest surviving son Prince Richard while King Henry wants John to be the one to inherit his throne.

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Apperance wise Iroh is the larger good hearted brother and Ozai is the plotting evil younger brother who tries to use Iroh's moment of weakness (his only son dying) to persuade their father to pass over him for succession. Some shady business later, their father dies, and his dying wish is exactly what Ozai asked for. Slightly subverted in that though Ozai is a schemer and has a smaller frame, he's at least Iroh's equal in power if not slightly stronger.
    • Tonraq as the strong first born, and Unalaq as the smart plotting second born in Legend Of Korra. Unalaq tricks Tonraq into getting himself banished.
  • In the post-apocalyptic world in Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, the fairy queen Delia begat twins: Avatar the attractive wizard, and Blackwolf the repulsive wizard. Shortly after Delia's death, the two brothers fought. Blackwolf was defeated, and slunk away to the land called Scortch. There, Blackwolf developed a growing army of mutants and monsters, seeking to vanquish his brother Avatar, and attain mastery over all the Earth.
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