-> ''My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.''
-->-- EvilOverlordList, rule #3

So you've [[TheEvilPrince usurped your noble brother/half-brother's throne]] and [[TheUsurper your control is complete]]. Seems like the thing to do is to kill him and bury the corpse in a pauper's grave. But you're a [[AffablyEvil nice]] EvilOverlord, so you opt simply to throw your brother, the one person who could cast your authority to rule your entire empire into doubt, into prison (or a [[LockedAwayInAMonastery monastery]]) and forget to tell anyone that he's your brother.

Of course, the hero discovers that the noble half-brother is still alive and frees him, [[RightfulKingReturns restoring order to the kingdom]], making the reader ask WhyDontYouJustShootHim before the hero shows up?

Sometimes this is justified on the grounds that shedding RoyalBlood has side-effects, or that the land [[FisherKing will suffer]] if the rightful king dies.

The essential criteria for this {{Plot}} trope:
* The prisoner is of noble blood, royalty or otherwise of very high social rank, high enough to be able to claim supreme power;
* His imprisonment -- quite possibly his very existence or the very fact that he is alive -- is a secret hidden from most of the guards and/or the people at large;
* Releasing the prisoner would put the overlord's reign (or plans to reign) in jeopardy.

Contrast HiddenBackupPrince, who is a similarly hidden rightful heir, but for protection ''from'' their enemies.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''Manga/{{Berserk}}'': Late in the ''Golden Age Arc'', [[spoiler:The King of Midland imprisons Griffith in a dungeon under torture as punishment for deflowering his daughter, even though the mere fact that Griffith is alive represents a threat of rebellion from the Band of the Hawk. At least the King tries to prevent that from happening by preemptively outlawing Griffith's followers and ordering Midland's army to wipe them out. The king keeps the place of Griffith's imprisonment and the nature of his crime a secret to avoid losing face and to make sure that Griffith doesn't escape, telling the guards he'll kill them and their families if they breathe a word about it. Of course, the Hawks do manage to break Griffith out of prison a year later]], and for bonus points they find that his captors had literally put him in a locked iron mask that concealed [[TakeOurWordForIt the horrible things the torturer had done to his face]].
* This is what the king of the Yellow Kingdom does to his son Len in a non-canon, Music/{{Vocaloid}} focused manga adaptation of Music/{{mothy}}'s "[[Franchise/EvilliousChronicles Servant of Evil]]" upon hearing the murdered fortuneteller's prophecy that the child born with the birthmark shaped like a splatter of blood will bring ruin to his kingdom. The king declares that Len's twin sister Rin is the only heir who was born that night and imprisons Len in a tower where he remains alone until Rin discovers him years later. Justified in that it's made explicit that killing the prophesied child will also bring ruin to the kingdom.

* In Marvel's ''[[ComicBook/GIJoeARealAmericanHeroMarvel G.I. Joe]]'' comic, [[PraetorianGuard Crimson Guardsman]] [[YouAreNumberSix Fred VII]] kills the original COBRA Commander and takes his place, concealing his own identity with the mask of CC's battle armour. [[spoiler:The Commander turns out to be NotQuiteDead and returns the favour.]]
* In ''Comicbook/TheWarlord'', Travis Morgan is captured and imprisoned by Deimos while an IdenticalStranger usurps his position as Warlord of Skartaris. An iron mask is locked over Morgan's head to prevent his gaolers learning his true identity.

* In the ''VideoGame/{{Touhou}}'' doujin ''The Silence of the Rabbits'', it turns out that [[spoiler:Eirin was incapacitated and replaced by a clone she created to manage her other major creations, but who went very evil. Eirin is a Hourai Immortal and cannot be killed, so the clone had her imprisoned in a [[PeopleJars People Jar]] while she spent much of her time as "Eirin" trying to formulate a poison that would kill the original. The clone lived in constant fear of the original Eirin, due largely to the fact that she was designed using the template for the Udonge clones and cannot even hope to match the original in power]].

[[folder:Films -- Animated]]
* King Candy from ''Disney/WreckItRalph'' usurped the throne of [[spoiler: Princess Vanellope von Schweetz]] by [[spoiler: replacing his code with hers. He couldn't out right delete her code, so he turned her into a glitch, leaving her as a prisoner in her own game.]] On top of that, [[spoiler:King Candy locked up the memories of everyone in the game, including Vanellope herself, and developed a FantasticRacism against her in order to keep her from racing, as her crossing the finish line would cause the [[ResetButton game to reset]], restoring her rightful place on the throne, and exposing Candy's con.]]

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* ''The Man In the Iron Mask'' has had several adaptions. Richard Chamberlain starred in one where the older twin son had been spirited away, for leverage to make the younger one a puppet king, so the younger one was not, in fact, responsible. But he found out and ordered his brother imprisoned with the mask so no one could use it. The older one was rescued and managed to confuse the younger's flunkies so that his brother was sent off for the same fate. The younger brother was afraid that their being twins meant there might be some connection, so that killing him would be dangerous.
** He also thought it would be TemptingFate to commit regicide, especially of someone who looked just like you.
* In ''Film/TheIronMask'' (1929), one of the many film adaptations of Dumas's novel, Phillipe the twin is allowed to live in comfort in a chateau with servants. It's Phillipe who usurps the throne from his twin brother, and has the real UsefulNotes/LouisXIV put in a dungeon, clad in an iron mask.
* ''Le Masque de fer'' (1962) is a French swashbuckling film. A lighthearted take on the novel, it stars Jean Marais as an old and [[LargeHam hammy]] D'Artagnan.
* The [[Film/TheManInTheIronMask 1998 version]] starring Creator/LeonardoDiCaprio as the king (Louis) and twin brother (Phillipe). [[spoiler:The movie has the switch between the EvilTwin and GoodTwin succeed.]] Was notable for massive AdaptationDistillation: Louis being more evil than depicted in the novel, and [[spoiler:the twist that D'Artagnan was the real father to the twins]]. This was also [=DiCaprio=]'s follow-up movie to ''Film/{{Titanic 1997}}'', during which legions of fangirls were ''still'' swarming to the earlier film in theaters: ''Iron Mask'' took second place.
* In ''Comicbook/{{Asterix}} & Obelix Take On Caesar'', Julius Caesar is locked in an iron mask and thrown into a dungeon by the traitorous Detritus.
* In ''Film/SnowWhiteAndTheHuntsman'', Snow is kept alive and imprisoned after Ravenna takes over the kingdom, with no explanation as to why.
* ''Film/TheDogsOfWar''. A politician who opposed TheCaligula in the independence elections is kept in his prison, working as the doctor there. This provides a handy alternate not only to the mad dictator, but also the PuppetKing that the mercenaries were supposed to put in power. This doesn't happen in the Creator/FrederickForsyth novel, where the man who ends up in charge is a rebel leader from a completely different country, who had to flee after losing a civil war.

* Subverted in the ''Literature/SwordOfTruth''; part of the enchantments on the Rahl bloodline make that an unfortunate necessity. Any Rahl who isn't an absurdly powerful wizard is actually a "[[AntiMagic Pristinely Ungifted]]" whose propagation threatens the existence of the world. That's not to say that all Rahls kill their children so as to save the rest of their world. Richard runs into most of the survivors over his adventures, with various levels of emotional scarring and insanity, possibly deconstructing this trope by showing what those behind the iron masks would actually be like growing up in their father's country.
** [[spoiler: Drefan]] Rahl thinks he's this, but turns out to be delusional and possibly ''possessed''.
* Solzhenitsyn's ''Literature/TheFirstCircle'' set in a Soviet-era "special prison" features a prisoner kept in isolation and referred to by the other prisoners as "the man in the iron mask", although his actual identity is generally known
* In ''[[Literature/TheThreeMusketeers The Vicomte De Bragelonne]]'' by Creator/AlexandreDumas ''père'' ({{Trope Namer|s}}), King Louis XIV has a twin brother who is kept in the Bastille -- by their mother, the dowager queen -- to avoid the possibility that he might usurp the throne. To make sure that the guards do not get the wrong idea, the man is placed in a secure part of the prison and forced to wear an iron mask to conceal his identity. This is based on accounts of a real prisoner in the Bastille (among other prisons) forced to wear a mask. His identity was never revealed. This also subverts expectations as [[spoiler: the attempt fails, unlike in all its myriad adaptions]]
* In some versions of ''Myth/RobinHood'', John claims to be raising money to free [[UsefulNotes/RichardTheLionHeart King Richard]] returning from UsefulNotes/TheCrusades, but in reality is using the money to stay in power.
* Played with a bit in ''Literature/ThePrisonerOfZenda''. [[ItWasHisSled You probably already know this,]] but:
** [[spoiler:Kidnapping the rightful heir was an act of desperation, as the original plan -drug him and make it look as if he were too drunk to be crowned- suffered a SpannerInTheWorks in the form of a distant relative of the royal family who resembled the heir closely enough to pass as the intended King in the short term. The would-be usurper would have had his brother killed immediately, but that would have made it impossible to depose the ringer without incriminating himself. For the stand-in King's part, acting to rescue the real King would have revealed himself as an imposter, so the situation became a MexicanStandoff.]]
* Parodied in the Literature/{{Discworld}} novel ''Discworld/TheTruth'', which involves a plot to dethrone Lord Vetinari by framing him for a crime using a man who looks just like him. After the plot is thwarted, William De Worde asks Lord Vetinari if he's giving his look-alike this treatment. Vetinari responds that the man is, in fact, alive and now employed by the Guild of Actors, appearing as Vetinari in stage productions and children's parties. William de Worde theorizes that he might occasionally be used as a stand-in for Lord Vetinari when the real one is unavailable for some boring task or posing for an oil painting, but Vetinari just answers that with a characteristic blank look.
** On the other hand, for which of the two is being mistaken for the other more dangerous...? Rhetorical question, of course.
* ''The Mage In The Iron Mask'' (''[[TabletopGame/ForgottenRealms Nobles]]'' series). Includes a {{lampshad|eHanging}}ing of the fact that a Man In The Iron Mask would ''have'' to be let out of it once in a while to shave, or he'd suffocate on his own beard.
* In Creator/UrsulaKLeGuin's ''Literature/AWizardOfEarthsea'', Ged meets two people alone on a desert island, barely capable of understanding human speech. In ''Literature/TheTombsOfAtuan'' Tenar explains that they were the last children of a royal line, and the God-Emperor was afraid to kill them, since they had RoyalBlood, so he abandoned them there, very young. Subverted in that Ged did not rescue them; in fact, they were terrified at the prospect of leaving their island, which they had lived on alone since they were children and were now at least middle aged. Royal blood clearly included excellent survival instincts, but they were a bit past their "crown by" date. The God-Emperor may have been cautious, but his grip on power was quiet definitely cemented when he had them exiled.
* ''Eye Of The Dragon'' by Creator/StephenKing. In this case it's the EvilChancellor who engineers the king's imprisonment by framing him with a very public trial, and when he's eventually freed the replacement king (his younger brother) is all too willing to give him back the throne.
* [[GodSaveUsFromTheQueen Tsarmina's]] nice-guy brother in the Literature/{{Redwall}} book ''Mossflower''.
* One of the ''Literature/{{Xanth}}'' novels has the good King Omen imprisoned in secret by his usurper uncle Oary. When foiled, Oary admits that he would have been more successful if he'd killed Omen, but [[AntiVillain he's not quite evil enough to kill his own nephew.]]
* In the backstory of the TabletopGame/{{Ravenloft}} novel ''Tower of Doom'', a nobleman's wife births a hunchbacked child and his undeformed twin. Their father doesn't lock up the malformed baby's face behind a mask, but he does lie about which kid was born first, raising the handsome younger twin as his successor while his blighted brother, the true heir, is confined to the titular bell tower.
* In Creator/RobertEHoward's Franchise/ConanTheBarbarian story "Literature/AWitchShallBeBorn", Salome, the EvilTwin, does this to Tamaris when becoming the FakeKing. She wants to BreakTheHaughty on Tamaris.
-->''Thenceforward I am Taramis, and Taramis is a nameless prisoner in an unknown dungeon.''
* Eric does this to Corwin at the end of the first book in Creator/RogerZelazny's ''Literature/TheChroniclesOfAmber''. Somewhat subverted--it is later revealed that this was done as much to protect Corwin as to keep him off the throne.
* King Jakoven in Creator/PatriciaBriggs' ''Literature/{{Hurog}}'' series built the Asylum specifically to lock up his brother Kellen, having been warned in a prophecy that it would be a very bad idea to kill his brother. While it's common knowledge that he's in there, most of the common people seem to have bought the idea that he's genuinely nuts, rather than unjustly imprisoned.
* ''The Prisoner in the Mask'' by Creator/DennisWheatley.

[[folder:Live Action Television]]
* In the ''Series/{{Smallville}}'' episode "Onyx", Lex is [[LiteralSplitPersonality split into his good side and his evil side]] after accidentally creating Black Kryptonite. His evil side locks up his good side, complete with the requisite iron mask and {{lampshade|Hanging}}ing the situation.
* In one alternate-universe in ''Series/LegendOfTheSeeker'', Richard does this fairly stupidly, though in a rather unusual fashion. Unsurprisingly, it backfires. Turns out, leaving your omnipotence-macguffin out in the open, unstoppable though it may be, is a ''bad'' idea.
* In ''Series/TheFlash2014'' Zoom has a man in an iron mask kept in a prison cell on Earth-2. The man is later revealed to be Jay Garrick the Flash of Earth 3 as well as the doppelganger of Barry's father.

[[folder:Tabletop RPG]]
* In TabletopGame/{{Eberron}}, the person (secretly a vampire) on Karrnath's throne is [[MyGrandsonMyself the great grandfather of the actual ruler, posing as his great grandson]]. It's strongly hinted that the real monarch is locked up in Eberron's equivalent of Alcatraz. And with an actual iron mask, no less.

* In the second WesternAnimation/{{Bionicle}} movie, [[spoiler: Lhikan]] gets this treatment, down to the [[VisualPun mask]]. Weird but funny in hindsight, because most characters wear masks ''anyway''. The character in question actually ''complied'' with the treatment to be able to train three of the Toa Metru. [[spoiler: It turns out he could have escaped at any time.]]
** Mata Nui by Makuta, though that one turns out to be ''significantly'' more complicated.
** The real [[spoiler: Turaga Duma]], by Makuta.
** The Toa Hordika could be considered a version of this, though Roodaka tried to execute them by pushing them off a skyscraper.
* In another Franchise/{{LEGO}} line, [[KnightsKingdom2 Knights' Kingdom]], Lord Vladek [[TheUsurper usurped]] the throne and, rather than killing King Mathias due to the threat he posed to Vladek's rule, simply had him locked up in the Castle of Morcia's dungeons instead. Of course, this allowed LaResistance to rescue Mathias, learn of Vladek's true intentions, and ultimately restore the rightful king to the throne.
* In ''Franchise/EverAfterHigh'', Headmaster Grimm's brother Giles is stowed away in the basement of the school. According to the trailer, he's actually trapped down there, and considering the Headmaster's antagonism toward the Rebels before they even ''do'' anything, that wouldn't be surprising.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In ''VideoGame/ArcanumOfSteamworksAndMagickObscura'', while on prison island, the player can stumble upon an old man, who turns out to be thought-to-be-dead rightful king of kingdom of Cumbria. The player can help him regain the throne, in which case under his command the kingdom thrives. This is, however, due to his willingness to commence reforms and accept technology (which, by the way, was the reason why he was couped out of power by his technology hating brother), not some kind of magical property of RoyalBlood.
* Appears in ''VideoGame/LunarTheSilverStar''. [[spoiler: Lemia had her memory wiped by an enchanted mask and is locked away in the dungeon while the usurper takes her place. The cast doesn't realise who she is upon finding her, and free her mainly out of pity and disgust at her... less-than-pleasant condition.]]
* A subversion of this appears in the ''Franchise/KingdomHearts'' series, with the character [[spoiler: Diz.]] in reality [[spoiler: Ansem the Wise,]] his kingdom and his very name are taken by [[spoiler: his apprentice, Xehanort, whose Heartless and Nobody are the [[BigBad main antagonists]]]] of Kingdom Hearts I and II separately. When he escaped from his prison, he decided to fulfill the disguised-face bit himself, with at least one instance of him used magic to impersonate the guy impersonating him.
* Because he's technically noble (a knight), ''VideoGame/FinalFantasyXII''[='=]s Basch fon Ronsenberg ('''[[MemeticMutation of Dalmasca]]''') counts. His twin brother put him in prison after he (the twin) framed Basch for the murder of the king of Dalmasca years earlier. The public at large assumed him dead, though instead he's in chains at the bottom of the world's most infamous prison-fortress. He goes on to be freed by Vaan, Balthier, and Fran, eventually joining them permanently in order to safeguard Princess Ashe.
* In [[spoiler:Mileena's]] ending in ''VideoGame/MortalKombatArmageddon'' (non-canon, like [[ContinuityReboot pretty much all the others]]), she will do this to [[spoiler:Kitana]] after Blaze's scattered essence causes them to [[spoiler:exchange looks (i.e. Mileena gets a normal face, Kitana ends up looking like a Tarkatan). As a result, Mileena becomes free to drive Edenia to destruction without any hitch, while Kitana will GoMadFromTheIsolation.]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* Used in ''WesternAnimation/TheLegendOfKorra'' with Amon keeping [[spoiler:Tarrlok imprisoned on Air Temple Island]] due to [[spoiler:the two of them being brothers]]. In true trope form, it ultimately proves to be Amon's undoing as [[spoiler: Korra uses Tarrlok's knowledge of Amon's true past to turn the Equalists against him.]]
* Disney's ''WesternAnimation/DuckTales'' has "The Duck In The Iron Mask". Scrooge visits his old friend Count Roy, who rules a small kingdom, to find that his twin brother Ray has usurped the throne. Roy, in the obvious role, explains that he never told Scrooge about his brother [[MyGreatestFailure because he felt responsible for his brother's disappearance]].
* ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'': Has [[spoiler: Princess Cadence, who was imprisoned in some sort of crystal mine while Chrysalis, Queen of the changelings, took her place. Twilight Sparkle then gets thrown into the same place and breaks her out]].
** A popular ''Friendship Is Magic'' FandomSpecificPlot is [[DracoInLeatherPants making]] Princess Luna/[[SealedEvilInACan Nightmare]] [[SuperpoweredEvilSide Moon]] into one of those, imprisoned in the Moon by the [[RonTheDeathEater evil Princess Celestia]] so that no one would challenge her dictatorial rule over Equestria. (Canonically, Luna was imprisoned because she [[TheCorruption became corrupted]] and turned into a threat to all life in the world, not for political reasons.)

[[folder:Real Life]]
* The legend of the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_in_the_Iron_Mask Man in the Iron Mask]] was based on actual records found from Bastille. There are a lot of theories regarding the Man's identity, but very little information remains of the real events. What has been discovered is that the Iron Mask itself was an exaggeration - the mask was just silk, and the Man probably wore it voluntarily. A fair amount of evidence points to his having been an insignificant figure whose knowledge was dangerous, not he himself. You will not find that in any of the legends.
* Aversion: The Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (the guy who took Constantinople) realized that having siblings around to challenge the throne was not a good thing for the ruler and the kingdom so he not only recommended fratricide, he legalized it (on a royal level) and put together a framework to deal with troublesome siblings. It was only removed during the later periods of the empire and overall, it is generally considered a success (though it had the unfortunate side-effect of making said siblings mentally unstable and paranoid).
* Ivan VI Antonovich Romanov, an [[UsefulNotes/TsarTsarAutocrats Emperor of Russia]]. Crowned when he was one year old, after his great-aunt Empress Anna Ioannovna the Bloody died. Deposed by Elizabeth of Russia, who thought that, as the daughter of UsefulNotes/PeterTheGreat, she has a better claim to the throne, one year later. Grew up in prison, understandably strange and lacking in education, but knowing well who he was. One disgruntled, plotting Guards officer in UsefulNotes/CatherineTheGreat's times tried to free Ivan Romanov and reinstate him on the throne. It ended in both Ivan and the guardsman killed.