The Wrongful Heir To The Throne
Usurpers sympathetic because the heir is a jerk.


(permanent link) added: 2011-05-03 09:35:22 sponsor: GameChainsaw (last reply: 2011-08-14 11:41:22)

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Usually, the Regent for Life is the bad guy. We say usually, because in these stories the rightful heir to the throne is usually a heroic figure, a nice if inexperienced youngster, or at least a decent guy who can actually claim legitimacy. While the usurper is portrayed as greedy, powerhungry and brutal, willing to exploit the regency to earn the prestige and influence to take power, at any cost.

Problem is, sometimes the positions are reversed.

The heir has the automatic advantage of legitimacy, but what if he's a monster? What if he's incompetent? Even if he is competent, what happens if the kingdom is facing a terrible crisis only an experienced and wily leader can face down, and allowing the rightful heir to take the throne would plunge everything into chaos?

This is the (rare) situation in fiction where the rightful heir to the throne is absolutely not the person for the job. It can be the end of a regency (which now has, for the genuine sake of the realm, to be extended) or it can be the king dying and the heir turning out to be a childish charlatan or, even worse, actively malicious. In this situation, the other claimant has all the qualifications but none of the claim, making for a far more complex (and potentially grey) story.

Seen it... not that often actually. I wonder if we need an index for rare tropes?

This trope can also extend into the overthrow of an evil or incompetent monarch, but only cautiously, it has to be another monarch replacing it rather than a non-monarchial La Résistance movement.

Examples

Film

  • Caligula: Nerva (John Gielgud) commits suicide because he thinks Caligula will be such a bad Emperor.
  • Played with in The Emperor's New Groove. Kuzco isn't a very good ruler, and no one seems to miss him while he's gone, but Yzma isn't exactly any better.
  • The movie Dave, where the lookalike is better at the job than the real deal.

Literature

  • I remember a short story about stupid joker king using bum as stand-in king. The bum was kidnapped and woke up as king. He ruled for short time, and woke and hes back in street as bum. The king does it again, but this time the bum's more paranoid and accidentally kills king though the screen when he heard laughing. All servants disappear the king body and the bum is permanently a king this time, as he was real good king both times.
  • In WyrdSisters, Tomjon the true heir to the throne of Lancre has no interest in becoming king and wants to become an actor instead. The witches put Verence up as an alternative, claiming that he is Tomjon's half-brother, which is true. They see no need to point out that he's the queen's illegitimate son rather than the King's and as such has no claim to the throne.
    • Another Discworld example would be Carrot, who's the rightful heir to the throne, but believes that the Patrician would do a better job and is perfectly happy to work as Captain of the watch.
  • The Man in the Iron Mask
  • More or less the case in The Prisoner of Zenda. The usurper, Black Michael isn't the most charming guy, but he's competent and loved by the people. The legitimate ruler, Rudolf, is a drunken boor who is unpopular with the people.
  • The Haldane Restoration in Katherine Kurtz's Camber of Culdi. A younger son of the House of Furstan gets a small force from his father the King of Torenth, gathers other landless younger sons who don't fancy celibacy, and they overthow the House of Haldane in neighbouring Gwynedd. After 80 years, the Festil-Furstan dynasty has degenerated, such that the latest ruler practices murderous tyranny and brother-sister incest. Camber and his family discover the last Haldane in a monastery, remove him from the cloister, get his vows dispensed, marry him to a ward of Camber's, activate psionic/magical powers in him, and help him overthrow the tyrant.

Live Action TV

  • Game of Thrones: Renly invokes this trope when trying to convince Ned Stark to support his coupe for the throne, pointing out that he's the most qualified heir for the job.
  • Korean Historical Drama Emperor Wang Guhn is about how WG became emperor of Korea. Long story short(er): The previous Empire of Silla fell apart. Wang's predecessor Gung Ye seizes power in northern Korea and proclaims himself Emperor, while in southern Korea General Kyunhwan proclaims himself Emperor, so there's a power struggle between them. Gung then proclaims that he's not only Emperor but also the reincarnation of Buddha and starts going crazy, even having his wife and sons killed because he thinks they're plotting against him. At this point the other nobles in Gung's camp decide that he's no longer worthy of being followed as Emperor, so they ask General Wang Guhn (portrayed as Gung Ye's most loyal-yet-non-crazy subject - it was his childhood sweetheart who Gung had married and then later killed) to become the emperor. Wang refuses, but the nobles depose Gung anyway, at which point Wang reluctantly takes the throne.
  • Gung Ye himself was also this, given that he was a general for yet another would-be Emperor before he was proclaimed Emperor by the other man's former followers.
    • (Note to any Korean tropers: I'm not trying to paint this as 100% accurate to Korean history; it's just what I remember from a show I followed 10 years ago.)
    • Note to YKTTW viewers: This could do with clarification for historical accuracy, but thats a bonus. I'll try to come back to it prior to launch or shortly after.

Theatre

  • Sometimes invoked (and/or Deconstructed) in Hamlet, depending on the interpretation you watch. Sometimes Claudius is the typical evil despot and Hamlet is the rightful heir, fighting for the powers of decency. Other interpretations imply that Claudius is a decent ruler with a semi-legitimate claim to the throne (being the dead king's brother), and further that Hamlet would be a terrible ruler, since he might actually just be insane.
  • In both the Shakespeare play and Real Life, this was one of the excuses Richard III used for usurping the throne from his nephew Edward V - the latter was a child and so unfit to rule. The real Richard also cast doubt on Edward's legitimacy.

Video Games

  • Deconstructed in Last Scenario, where Evil Chancellor and Chessmaster Augustus usurped the throne by killing the capriciously cruel and terribly incompetent Empress Helga (whose coronation itself was part of Augustus' scheme) and was quite popular with the people for a short while - until he was killed by an own friend, whose life he ruined by manipulating him into killing the former emperor.
  • Subverted in the 10th Fire Emblem. After spending the first chapter getting the "legitimate" heir on the throne, he turns out (which should have been obvious from the start with his Horrible Judge of Character stats) to be horribly incompetent, and easily manipulated for the purpose of creating a world war but he isn't really the real heir in the end, and the ultimate "real" heir is said to be competent despite having admitted to having no clue on government policy despite having the love of the people.

Real Life

  • A Real Life example from English history would be King Stephen, who usurped the throne from his cousin Matilda, the rightful heir, because as a woman she was regarded as incompetent to rule by the standards of the time (the 1100s). Values Dissonance, anyone?
  • As mentioned above, King Richard cast aspersions as to the qualifications of a young king to rule. Richard the III's motivation for claiming the throne remain in the dark to this day; was he simply a powerhungry tyrant, or had he simply grown to believe that only he could do the job? We may never know. * Richard III also cast aspersions on his brother's legitimacy as well as the nephew's, though the Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville wasn't popular, so the line of attack against her marriage with Edward IV was carried through more thoroughly. Also, Richard of York (father of Edward IV and Richard III) had earlier made a similar claim because of the incompetence and insanity/catatonic episode of Henry VI.

"Snoo-PINGAS usual for those Rolling Updates I see!
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