Created By: atrasicarius on March 20, 2011 Last Edited By: Tallens on April 7, 2013
Troped

The Coup

A plan to depose the present governing authority, and seize power.

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A coup is essentially seizing power by force, blackmail, or other illegal manners. Usually (in literature) done by the military, the Evil Chancellor, or in some cases, uncivilized revolutions will also take power for themselves. It is a very risky gambit, and often, includes plotting, securing alliances, and keeping it in the dark until the coup happens. Alternatively, guy walks into the throne room waving a sword around telling everyone he's king. Often leads to The Purge. If the one carrying out the coup is in turn overthrown himself, you may have a Revolving Door Revolution.

This is a very useful trope to exemplify a significant change or instability of a nation or region, stable countries tend to not be as susceptible to coups and power grabs, while unstable (in modern day terms, third-world also works), and relatively new countries are vulnerable to power struggles and coups.

Different from a Revolution, whether it will not be vilified or civilized, in that it typically happens from inside the government or military of the country whose power is being seized, while revolutions typically come out of the common folk. Coups tend to not have large battles or start a war, but an isolated event that will, at most, kill dozens. Also different from an invasion for similar reasons, invasions come from outside the country, coups happen inside of it, even if the initial plot comes from the outside.

When the coup is lead by a military officer with the backing of the army and institutes martial rule, it's a Military Coup.

As this has happened more times than can be counted, No Real Life Examples, Please!.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • In the first Appleseed film General Edward Uranus, the CO of Olympus' regular army, attempts a coup out of Fantastic Racism against Bioroids. The coup falls apart after Deunan Boom Headshots his second-in-command, and Uranus surrenders.
  • Dr. Akamashi's coup forms the premise of Murder Princess.
  • In Naruto it's been revealed that Itachi killed the entire Uchiha clan as a mission from the elders of Konoha because they were planning a coup.

Film
  • The Lion King. Mufasa is killed by Scar so he can become king. Simba eventually launches a counter-coup to regain his throne. The basic story is inspired by Hamlet.
  • The Man in the Iron Mask. The plot centers around a group of musketeers who want to substitute their tyrannical king Louis XIV with his more compassionate twin brother Phillippe, who was kept prisoner to prevent him from taking the throne. They break him out of prison to perform a Coup.
  • In Once upon a Time in Mexico, Barillo and General Marquez try to pull off one of these on Mexico in a plan cooked up by Agent Sands that spirals out of his control. They fail due to the combined efforts of the Mariachi (who Sands had hired to kill Marquez once the coup was complete), his allies, a Heel Face Turned Sands, and the people of Culiacan.
  • At the start of Star Trek: Nemesis a cadre of Romulan military officers and a disgruntled senator assassinate the rest of the Romulan Senate so they can install Shinzon as Praetor. They eventually realize he's a total nutbar and turn on him.
  • Comes up in Thirteen Days when the Kennedy White House recieves two letters from the Soviets, one from Nikita Khrushchev himself, and later one, which is much for hardline, from someone else. U.S. officials come to the conclusion that the Soviet Union has had a a coup and Khrushchev has been replaced with a far more militant government. Eventually they figure out that there wasn't one, Khrushchev is just trying to appease the warmongers and General Rippers in his own gevernment.

Literature
  • The 1982 novel A Very British Coup, later adapted into a 1988 TV movie under that title and a 2012 TV miniseries called Secret State, is about a right-wing plot to depose a leftist Labor Party prime minister.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation, second short story "The Encyclopedists". At the end of the story Salvor Hardin, mayor of Terminus City on the planet Terminus, starts a coup against the Board of Trustees to take over the Foundation. The third story, "The Mayors", starts some time after the coup has succeeded.
  • Twice, in the Honor Harrington universe's Haven system: First, the People's Republic of Haven's corrupt democracy is overthrown by a Committee of Public Safety modeled explicitly on the French Revolution, and then that's overthrown by the military when it's had enough.
  • Happens a couple times in the Warrior Cats series:
    • In the first series, Tigerclaw, the second-in-command of ThunderClan, plots to kill his Clan leader (as Clan law states that deputy succeeds leader) by inviting some rogues to attack the camp and passing off her death as part of the battle. Fireheart jumps in and rescues her during the attempt.
    • In the second series, the WindClan leader Tallstar, in his dying breaths, names Onewhisker as his successor instead of Mudclaw. As the only cats who witnessed this are Onewhisker himself and two of his friends, Mudclaw doesn't believe Onewhisker should be leader, and leads a rebellion against him before the younger cat can receive his nine leader's lives. ThunderClan helps out Onewhisker and he wins.
    • Also in the second series, Tigerstar and Hawkfrost set up a plan for Brambleclaw and Hawkfrost to kill the other leaders at a Gathering and forcibly take control of all the Clans. Brambleclaw disagrees with it, and it is never attempted.

Live-Action TV
  • Babylon 5
    • At the end of the first season, Earth Alliance Vice President Clark orchestrates the assassination of President Santiago and gradually sets himself up as a Hitler-esque dictator.
    • During the second season, as the Centauri emperor is dying, Lord Refa has the Prime minister killed to allow his choice, Cartagia, to be put on the throne.
    • Later, after determining that Emperor Cartagia is a threat to the Centauri Republic, Londo and Vir manage to assassinate him, allowing Londo to become Prime Minister and eventually Emperor himself.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): In Season 4, Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta stage a coup (with some military cooperation) against President Roslin and Adama's command, over the issue of cooperation with the dissenting faction of Cylons (which the coup opposed). The coup is temporarily successful, with the Quorum of Twelve massacred and Admiral Adama facing a firing squad, before the countercoup succeeds.
  • On Community Chang becomes the head of campus security after all the other security guards quit. He recruits a bunch of vicious kids to act as his henchmen and starts turning the school into a Police State. When the Study Group tries to get the Dean to fire Chang, Chang has the Dean kidnapped and replaced with an impersonator who then expels the Study Group. With all opposition quashed, Chang then rules Greendale College with an iron fist.
  • Merlin had two...one was Morgana and Morgause teaming with Cenred to take over Camelot, and next season, Morgana seized power again.

Theatre
  • Hamlet. Hamlet's father King Hamlet was killed by his brother, Hamlet's uncle, Claudius so he could seize the throne.
  • Macbeth. The main plot is Macbeth's killing of King Duncan and seizing the throne for himself.

Video Games
  • Final Fantasy VIII has a squared coup. First, the Sorceress kills President Deling and grabs power, second, the much more decent General Caraway hires our heroes to off her; both happen more or less simulataneously. The first coup succeeds, the other one fails.

Western Animation
Community Feedback Replies: 45
  • March 20, 2011
    HonoreDB
    I think this is tropable and I don't think we have it.
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    Found this way in the back. Is there potential to it or should it be discarded?
  • April 4, 2013
    Koveras
    ^ There is potential, if you agree to take over this and update the write up. Here are a couple of examples to get you started:

    • Dr. Akamashi's coup forms the premise of Murder Princess.
    • In Ace Combat Zero The Belkan War, a coup d'etat takes place after Belka surrenders, with several high-ranking Belkan officers refusing to accept defeat and pushing for a rematch.
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    Alright. I can do that. I'll do a description later, unless someone comes up with one?
  • April 4, 2013
    PrinceofSavoy
    A coup is essentially seizing power by force, blackmail, or other illegal manners. Usually (in literature) done by the military, the Evil Chancellor, or in some cases, uncivilized revolutions will also take power for themselves. It is a very risky gambit, and often, includes plotting, securing alliances, and keeping it in the dark until the coup happens. Alternatively, guy walks into the throne room waving a sword around telling everyone he's king. This is a very useful trope to exemplify a significant change or instability of a nation or region, stable countries tend to not be as susceptible to coups and powergrabs, while unstable (in modern day terms, third-world also works), and relatively new countries are vulnerable to power struggles and coups.

    Different from a Revolution, whether it will not be villified or civilized, in that it typically happens from inside the government or military of the country whose power is being seized, while revolutions typically come out of the common folk. Coups tend to not have large battles or start a war, but an isolated event that will, at most, kill dozens. Also different from an invasion for similar reasons, invasions come from outside the country, coups happen inside of it, even if the initial plot comes from the outside.
  • April 4, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    Coup D Etat would be the proper name for this (and yes, once this gets launched, it will be receiving a custom title).

    • In Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Barillo and General Marquez try to pull off one of these on Mexico in a plan cooked up by Agent Sands that spirals out of his control. They fail due to the combined efforts of the Mariachi (who Sands had hired to kill Marquez once the coup was complete), his allies, a Heel Face Turned Sands, and the people of Culiacan.
  • April 4, 2013
    StarSword
    I agree with Coup D Etat. Also, think we need NRLEP for this (due to its commonness in real life)?

    For the description: Often leads to The Purge. If the one carrying out the coup is in turn overthrown himself, you may have a Revolving Door Revolution.

    Anime and Manga:
    • In the first Appleseed film General Edward Uranus, the CO of Olympus' regular army, attempts a coup out of Fantastic Racism against Bioroids. The coup falls apart after Deunan Boom Headshots his second-in-command, and Uranus surrenders.

    Film:
    • At the start of Star Trek Nemesis a cadre of Romulan military officers assassinate the entire Romulan Senate so they can install Shinzon as Praetor. They eventually realize he's a total nutbar and turn on him.

    TV:
    • At the end of Babylon Five's first season, Earth Alliance Vice President Clark orchestrates the assassination of President Santiago and gradually sets himself up as a Hitler-esque dictator.
  • April 4, 2013
    Lyendith
    A coup d'Etat is something well defined, real life examples shouldn't be subject to much discussion... shouldn't, but there is a risk that hidden political debates would arise on the page. So indeed, maybe a NRLEP warning would be wiser.
  • April 4, 2013
    StarSword
    I was actually thinking more along the lines of "happens too often; check The Other Wiki" (like what Xtifr did with Bold Explorer; I can think of a good dozen real life coups off-hand) rather than it being Flame Bait.
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    Agreed. Unless they appear in a work somewhere, Real Life examples will no be added.
  • April 4, 2013
    KTera
    We have Military Coup for when a country's armed forces do this to their leader.
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    So, would this be a super trope to that or are they the same thing?
  • April 4, 2013
    gallium
    Personally I like The Coup better.

    Film

    • Valkyrie is the Based On A True Story recounting of the failed 1944 attempt by a group of anti-Hitler conspirators to kill the Fuhrer and take over in Germany.
    • Seven Days In May is about a plot by right-wing members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to unseat a leftist U.S. President who has just signed a controversial nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets.

    Literature

    • The 1982 novel A Very British Coup, later adapted into a 1988 TV movie under that title and a 2012 TV miniseries called Secret State, is about a right-wing plot to depose a leftist Labor Party prime minister.
  • April 4, 2013
    gallium
    And now that I look I see that Seven Days in May is listed under Military Coup. I wonder if two different tropes are really necessary. The example I provide above of A Very British Coup is a legitimate example of a non-military coup, but how many others are there? Could Military Coup be rewritten to include civilian coup attempts?
  • April 4, 2013
    StarSword
    ^That would be a job for the TRS, but I would not be opposed. Meanwhile:

    Western Animation:
    • In The Lion King, Scar's henchmen start a stampede to get Simba in trouble to lure Mufasa to a canyon so that Scar can kill him with no witnesses. He then installs himself as ruler of the lion pride. Simba eventually launches a counter-coup to regain his throne.
  • April 4, 2013
    xanderiskander
    Film

    • The Man In The Iron Mask: The plot centers around a group of musketeers who want to substitute their tyrannical king Louis XIV with his more compassionate twin brother Phillippe, who was kept prisoner to prevent him from taking the throne. They break him out of prison to perform a Coup.
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    Valkyrie, if I recall, would also fall under Military Coup. And The Lion King is already up there.
  • April 4, 2013
    StarSword
    ^So it is. Frak.
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    Need a laconic. "A conspiracy within the government deposed the sovereign and seizes power." Good, or no?
  • April 4, 2013
    xanderiskander
    Maybe we could merge this with military coup and make it one big Coup trope? It would get confusing to have a bunch of subtropes based on all the different types.

    Then again this seems like an Omnipresent trope to me. Coup Detat's have been used as a story telling convention for so long. I think you could ask anybody and they could tell you what it is without any examples.
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    We'll keep this separate for now. But before suggesting any new examples, please make sure it doesn't belong on Military Coup.
  • April 4, 2013
    xanderiskander
    ^^^ Some coups happen by force by people outside of the government though. My take: "A plan to depose the present governing authority, and seize power"
  • April 4, 2013
    Tallens
    ^I like that one. I'm putting it up.
  • April 5, 2013
    Dawnwing
    Literature:
    • Happens a couple times in the Warrior Cats series:
      • In the first series, Tigerclaw, the second-in-command of ThunderClan, plots to kill his Clan leader (as Clan law states that deputy succeeds leader) by inviting some rogues to attack the camp and passing off her death as part of the battle. Fireheart jumps in and rescues her during the attempt.
      • In the second series, the WindClan leader Tallstar, in his dying breaths, names Onewhisker as his successor instead of Mudclaw. As the only cats who witnessed this are Onewhisker himself and two of his friends, Mudclaw doesn't believe Onewhisker should be leader, and leads a rebellion against him before the younger cat can receive his nine leader's lives. ThunderClan helps out Onewhisker and he wins.
      • Also in the second series, Tigerstar and Hawkfrost set up a plan for Brambleclaw and Hawkfrost to kill the other leaders at a Gathering and forcibly take control of all the Clans. Brambleclaw disagrees with it, and it is never attempted.
  • April 5, 2013
    Koveras
    @Tallens: You can remove the Ace Combat Zero example from the list, as it belongs to the Military Coup Sub Trope instead. I will post it here.
  • April 5, 2013
    Tallens
    Done.
  • April 5, 2013
    MiinU

    Western animation

  • April 5, 2013
    aurora369
    Final Fantasy VIII has a squared coup. First, the Sorceress kills President Deling and grabs power, second, the much more decent General Caraway hires our heroes to off her; both happen more or less simulataneously. The first coup succeeds, the other one fails.
  • April 5, 2013
    Tallens
    Anyone have any god quotes to go with this? I'm not too worried about an image, since I have no idea how you could illustrate this.
  • April 5, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Live-Action TV

    Battlestar Galactica Reimagined had this happen a few times [note: might be spoilery, depending on how little you may want to know going in]:

    • Admiral Adama had President Roslin removed from power and imprisoned over disagreement on how to proceed with the discoveries made on Kobol at the end of Season 1, after Roslin sent Starbuck back to Caprica to recover the mystical "Arrow of Apollo" which supposedly pointed the way to Earth, and Adama dismissed Roslin's plan as superstition, and dementia from her cancer.
    • When Gaius Baltar wins the Presidential election near the end of Season 2, Roslin almost goes through with a ballot-stuffing which would have thrown the election to her. She aborts this at the last minute--but given that his victory led to humanity settling on New Caprica (which Roslin strongly opposed) and the subsequent brutal occupation of the new colony by Cylons (with Baltar's cowardly collaboration), she confided at one point with Tom Zarek (who was Baltar's running mate) when they were both imprisoned by the Cylons that she wished she had gone through with the electoral fraud, and he agreed.
    • And then in Season 4, Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta stage a coup (with some military cooperation) against President Roslin and Adama's command, over the issue of cooperation with the dissenting faction of Cylons (which the coup opposed). The coup is temporarily successful, with the Quorum of Twelve massacred and Admiral Adama facing a firing squad, before the countercoup succeeds.

  • April 5, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    ^ YMMV on whether electoral fraud (as in what almost happened in the second BSG example above) constitutes a coup--IMHO it does, as it directly supersedes the democratic process, although it isn't violent nor threatens violence per se (other than enforcement of the purported "democratic results"). I suppose it's up to the troper whether such counts for this though.
  • April 5, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Since coups (or especially, whether or not they succeed or are foiled or end in a countercoup, or involve death or Face Heel Turn of a key character) can be a surprise element in a work, perhaps we should expect unmarked spoilers for this page.
  • April 6, 2013
    Arivne
    Added italicized some work titles and corrected spelling and Example Indentation errors.
  • April 6, 2013
    Tallens
    I added the last example for BSG. The first one should go, and probably already is, under Military Coup. The second is not a coup. A rigged election is dishonest, but it's not seizing power by force.
  • April 7, 2013
    Koveras
  • April 7, 2013
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Isaac Asimov's Foundation, second short story "The Encyclopedists". At the end of the story Salvor Hardin, mayor of Terminus City on the planet Terminus, starts a coup against the Board of Trustees to take over the Foundation. The third story, "The Mayors", starts some time after the coup has succeeded.
  • April 7, 2013
    jmaynard
    Literature

    • Twice, in the Honor Harrington universe's Haven system: First, the People's Republic of Haven's corrupt democracy is overthrown by a Committee of Public Safety modeled explicitly on the French Revolution, and then that's overthrown by the military when it's had enough.
  • April 7, 2013
    Tallens
    Going to wait to see if there are any more examples coming, then launch it later this evening.
  • April 7, 2013
    nielas
    • On Community Chang becomes the head of campus security after all the other security guards quit. He recruits a bunch of vicious kids to act as his henchmen and starts turning the school into a Police State. When the Study Group tries to get the Dean to fire Chang, Chang has the Dean kidnapped and replaced with an impersonator who then expels the Study Group. With all opposition quashed, Chang then rules Greendale College with an iron fist.
  • April 7, 2013
    RoseBride
    In Naruto it's been revealed that Itachi killed the entire Uchiha clan as a mission from the elders of Konoha because they were planning a coup.
  • April 7, 2013
    StarSword
    Made a minor adjustment to the Star Trek Nemesis example.
  • April 7, 2013
    xanderiskander
    Film
    • The Great Mouse Detective: The Big Bad Professor Ratigan blackmails Hiram Flaversham into making a robot duplicate of the Mouse Queen so he can replace her with the robot and take over the Kingdom.
  • April 7, 2013
    MetaFour
    ^Hiram Flaversham is the one who builds the robot duplicate of the Queen. Dr Dawson is the expy of Dr Watson.
  • April 7, 2013
    xanderiskander
    Alphabetized a lot of the examples.
  • April 7, 2013
    chicagomel
    Merlin had two...one was Morgana and Morgause teaming with Cenred to take over Camelot,and next season. Morgana seized power again.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=wlfpeqztju71gurmv5c343jj&trope=TheCoup