While the Bad Ass hero or the Anti-Hero may get called a bastard, it's not usually meant literally. This trope is for the protagonist for whom "bastard" is just a factual description, not a comment on their personality. They could easily be very pleasant and well-mannered, but their parents never married.
Until fairly recently in fiction, a child born out of wedlock was often expected to have a treacherous or villainous nature just due to the fact of his illegitimate birth, which of course is how the term "bastard" came to mean someone who was...well, a bastard. In modern times, however, with the rise of more liberal and humane attitudes — as well as the rapid increase in unwed motherhood as a societal phenomenon — it has become less acceptable to assume that a person will have a tendency toward evil behavior just because Dad never gave Mom a ring (or because Mom or Dad had the kid when one of the two already gave a ring to another person).
Back in the day, this could be a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Since a child born out of wedlock would be the target of all kinds of discrimination and would not be allowed to participate in some central parts of society (like church services), they often had to become ruthless, cunning rogues just to have a chance of surviving. Especially since the fathers didn't have to care for them (and often wouldn't) and the mothers may have used the kid to let out their frustration about "those goddamn men". Fatherless children have a documented tendency to violence, suicide, lack of self-control, and poverty — so, statistically speaking, there's something to the stereotype, though how much of this is due to the social stigma is left as an exercise to the reader. But most bastards manage to rise above these expectations.
In fact, modern authors have found that making their hero a bastard can have some valuable dramatic benefits. Perhaps the parents never married because one of them vanished mysteriously; this can lead to a juicy revelation later in the story when it is discovered that Mom or Dad is someone very important to the plot. If the writer is feeling generous, the vanished parent could be a local power figure or at least wealthy. If not, the vanished parent could end up being someone the hero has to fight. At a minimum, being born a bastard and getting socially snubbed for it can give your character a reason to feel mistreated yet prove his heroic character by rising above it and saving the world anyway.
Interestingly, if we look back far enough, we find that most of the greatest heroes of ancient Greek myth were born out of wedlock, making this Older Than Feudalism. However, this generally only applied if the hero's parents didn't marry because one of them was a god — most often baby-daddy Zeus, who had serious fidelity issues with his goddess wife and was forever running around impregnating mortal women with heroes. It should be also be noted that in ancient Greece, "heroic" did not necessarily mean nice, so many Greek heroes were bastards who were also bastards.
If a heroic character is a Child by Rape or a Son of a Whore, he usually fits this Trope as well, although it's probably secondary to the other one.
If the Heroic Bastard is also a heroic bastard, he's an Anti-Hero or Sociopathic Hero. And while the heroic bastard may be magnificent, he is not automatically a Magnificent Bastard.
There are several Real Life examples, especially in the Middle Ages, as being illegitimate offspring and excluded from inheritance, heroism was sometimes the only way to eke out a decent life. The most notable examples are William the Conqueror (previously known as "William the Bastard"), King of England, and Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France. Since this is a very controversial topic, no further Real Life examples, please. It is sufficient to say they do exist.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse Elric have their mother's surname because she never officially married their father, Van Hohenheim, despite living with him for years and sharing a house with him. Hohenheim's failure to make an "honest woman" out of Trisha Elric is in the manga because he's a living, immortal Philosopher's stone, and probably doesn't actually exist in any official records, and he was trying to keep his sons from being associated with him to keep them away from Father, who would want to use them in his plot.
Similarly, the anime version is a near-immortal Body Surfer with a jealous and centuries old ex-lover/ex-wife looking for him, who probably wouldn't have the best intentions in mind for his new family. His latest body may or may not have had its own name and proper records, but Van Hohenheim for whatever reason didn't want to use them if it did, likely to not take any kinds of risks. (And considering that Dante later wanted Ed to be her "consort" once her plan to hijack Rose's body was complete (fortunately, it didn't), he had quite the point.)
Prince Arslan was roundly denounced by his detractors as not being of royal blood, which turns out to be true in the novels and the manga, as Queen Tahmine confessed that he was the son of one of their royal cavalry and a serving girl, but quickly proves to his devoted companions and several nobles that he is charismatic, kind, and intelligent enough to make a great ruler regardless. His knack for attracting high-class and devoted followers definitely doesn't hurt either.
Serpico from Berserk is the illegitimate son of a powerful merchant born from an affair with a maid. He's also one of the few genuinely good characters in the series, as he cares for his legitimate sister Farnese and protects the weak.
Takuto Tsunashi from Star Driver. He was the product of an affair between his mother, Sora and Tokio Tsunashi, AKA Reiji Miyabi, AKA Head, AKA the Big Bad of the whole series.
Also, though an antagonist, Simone/Pamela and her sister are the illegitimate daughters of Mr. Watanabe and his mistress from before he married Kanako.
Dark Schneider, the eponymous Bastard!!. Pretty late in the series it is revealed by the Elves that he never had a proper father. Just to clear up facts, he is a (almost) complete asshat, so the title was fitting way before that reveal.
Touma H. Norstein of Digimon Savers. Like in Ratatouille, it's never stated outright because this is a kid's show, but the implication is that he's the son of an Austrian aristocrat and a Japanese exchange student who never married. He's a nice guy, if a little cold at first, but he suffered due to his illegitimacy, as his grandmother told him to his face (right after his mother died!) that he was a member of the great Norstein family, yet he wasn't.
Future Trunks from Dragon Ball Z. He states clearly to Goku upon their first meeting that Bulma and Vegeta never got married, because the former did not want to.
Main-timeline Trunks was as well, though his parents do eventually marry.
George from Paradise Kiss. His mother Yukino is a former model who got knocked up by an extremely wealthy man and quit her career to have him. This results in heavy resentment from her towards him, and strong and complicated love/hate feelings from him towards her, also affecting his relationship with Yukari.
Tybalt from Romeo X Juliet. This is one of the reasons why he fights the Montagues, in fact. His mom was a Capulet lady who fell victim to Death by Childbirth... and his dad is the Montague leader and the Big Bad.
Heero Yuy from Gundam Wing. The leads we have say that his father Odin Lowe and his mother Aoi Clark never married, that she raised him for a while with the help of the guy she did marry, and that after Aoi and her hubby's deaths Odin took the kid back in and trained him as a Hitman with a Heart.
All the Gundam pilots with the definite exception of Quatre and maybe Trowa ( leaning towards no, if his and Catherine's parents were actually married) may be this, as most of them are orphans without birth names and their parentage isn't really explored.
Banagher Links from Gundam Unicorn, confirmed when one member of the Vist Family distinctly refers to him as the illegitimate son of Cardeas Vist.
One of the protagonists of ...Virgin Love was the son of his father's mistress, and was never officially recognized as his son. His dad stayed completely out of his and his mother's life until he hit university age, when he sent him to school and put him on the fast-track in his company.
Link in the first The Legend of Zelda manga is implied to be the son of Queen Zelda and her lover, when she was married.
Rei Asaka aka Hana no Saint Juste in Oniisama e..., daughter of the Ichinomiya leader and one of the maids. The reason why she doesn't live with the Ichinomiyas is because her half-sister Fukiko, horrified after finding out that her father had a mistress and an illegitimate daughter, refused to openly see a bastard child like her as a sibling. For worse, it happened right after Rei's mother killed herself.
And then we find out that Fukiko, though NOT exactly heroic, is also a bastard child...and the full-blooded sister of Rei, taken away at birth and then adopted by the Ichinomiyas. She doesn't seem to know it, though, and Rei only found out when her mother told her the truth... before her aforementioned suicide.
Half of the main heroic quartet in YuYu Hakusho qualify as this. Yusuke's mother Atsuko was 14 when she had him and his father was a no-show until near the end of the series. Hiei is by no means heroic during his first appearance in the series, but he slips into this category once Spirit World places himunder probation and you find out his backstory.
Glen Schreiber of Bokura no Kiseki. He's the illegitimate son of a powerful nobleman and his commoner mistress.
Krista Renz is revealed to be one in Attack on Titan, and it proves to be of great importance. She's actually Historia Reiss, an illegitimate child born to a noble family with knowledge about the Ancient Conspiracy concerning the Titans inside the Walls. The conflict over whether she should be recognized as an heir or not resulted in her enlisting under a fake name, with plans to get herself killed in as heroic a way as possible. As of chapter 55, it's revealed that the Reiss family is the royal family.
In Earl Cain, Cain himself learns that he is one fairly early in the series, though he was raised as though he were not and he manages to keep it mostly under wraps. His father's wife was sworn to secrecy about where he came from, and his real mother was his father's elder sister Augusta. In fact, he has two equally illegitimate half-siblings, all related via their father: Mad Doctor Jizabel Disraeli, who is more of a Bastard Bastard, and young Meriweather Duke; the latter of whom he officially adopts into the family. Even though it turns out she's not actually related to them.
One Piece has Portgas D. Ace. It's justified in that Ace's father was the Pirate King Gol D. Roger, so any woman he was romantically associated would've been most likely killed. It also helped in hiding Ace's heritage as Ace took the surname of his dead mother, Portgas D. Rouge, to honor his debt to her for bringing him into the world safely at the cost of her own life.
From Infinite Stratos, we have Charlotte Dunois. She is the illegitimate daughter of the owner of France's leading IS manufacturer.
Connor Hawke, son of Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Oliver also has several other illegitimate children, including Robert, the boy Shado has with him after raping him. Cissie King-Jones (Arrowette) is heavily implied to also be one.
Damien Al Ghul, son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul (Although "Heroic" might stretch things a bit. But he tries.)
That's either a Grant Morrison retcon or a stretch. Whether or not Bruce ever consented to marrying Talia, according to Son of the Demon, they were technically married (in Talia's eyes) at one time.
Raven, daughter of the archdemon Trigon and a human woman.
Damage, thought to be a bastard, revealed later that his true parents were married (The original Atom and his wife)
Huntress is actually the daughter of Santo Cassamento, not Franco Bertinelli; she's also something of a bastard in the more colloquial sense, sometimes of the magnificent variety, as when she manipulates her uncle into murdering her biological father, while setting him up to take the fall for this, and tricks the Question into helping her. And all under the noses of Batman, Robin, Nightwing, and Oracle.
Vic Sage makes the assumption that he is a bastard, since he was raised in an orphanage, but he never learned his actual parentage so it was never confirmed. He has made peace with this fact and does not let it wear him down.
Renee Montoya: "You really are a bastard." The Question (Vic Sage): "Well, I was raised in an orphanage, so you're probably right."
DC's New 52 has messed with both of these: Huntress is now Helena Wayne from Earth-2 (here we go again!), while the Question is... nobody, not even he, really knows who he is.
Even Marvel Comics 2 has a few. Wolverine's son, Sabreclaw, who was a double bastard before his Heel Face Turn. His mother's still unknown. And then there's Darkdevil, son of Spider-Clone Ben Reilly and his imprisoned girlfriend.
Wesley in Wanted is known to have been a bastard. In the comic book he's a Sociopathic Bastard, whilst in the film, he runs the gamut from Poor Bastard to Anti-Hero Bastard to Magnificent Bastard.
Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre II) from Watchmen, who realizes late in the book that she was the result of a consensual affair with the Comedian, who had previously tried to rape her mother.
It's rather obviously implicit that Rorschach's parents were unmarried, too. (And even if he's not a hero, he's a brave, very well-meaning main character, so... close enough.)
The title character of Nikolai Dante is the illegitimate son of Dmitri Romanov.
Jackie Estacado in The Darkness is the son of the most notorious hitman in New York and a random street whore.
In Eye Of The Fox Kira is a rather blatant example as while the methods of his conception is still unknown to the reader, his parents were obviously never together in a word, and he just barely stops short of being a Bastard Bastard.
A Brief History of Equestria has Lady Cripps the Pink of the Hyracotherium Republic. The result of an affair her mother had with a Unicorn noble (who then left her), Cripps grew up hating the Kingdom of Unicorns as a whole. Because of this, she enlisted in the Hyracotherium military, eventually becoming a national hero when she led her forces to victory in the Lake Trot Crisis.
In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, it's Brainy, who is Empath's half-brother. Empath's mother had him after she left Papa Smurf following Empath's "death". Brainy's actual father also wore glasses, but he never married his mother.
And in "The Prisoner Of Stone", Chlorhydris' daughter Priscilla turns out to be one, as she was fathered by the evil witch's true love Manfred the Magnificent sometime before the wedding, but unfortunately he was turned to stone by Drusilla before the two could even marry. (Priscilla doesn't appear in that story, but rather is referenced from the cartoon show episode "The Tear Of A Smurf".)
Films — Animated
While the movie Ratatouille itself never uses the word (it is a kid's movie, after all), it's fairly obvious that Linguine was born out of wedlock and that his father apparently didn't even know he existed. The entire thing is not treated as odd or wrong in any way, and at least a few people have commented that this may show a changing public opinion about children born to unmarried parents in the US. Of course, this may be a subtle case of Deliberate Values Dissonance as it's set in modern France, shortly after the first year out-of-wedlock births were the majority. And of course, they're French.
Kirk's son David, seen in the second and third StarTrek movies, was born out of wedlock. Kirk's cry of "You Klingon bastards! You killed my son!" in the third movie was parodied by Peter David as, "You Klingon sons! You killed my bastard!"
Played straight in the 1999 Sci-Fi adaptation of Beowulf: he's the bastard child of his human mother and a demon father. Grendel is the son of the King and another demon. He kills the latter two monsters.
Also the film has Grendel as the son of the King after an affair with the demon. The third monster, however, is the result of Beowulf succumbing to the monster-lady's charms.
In Ever After Leonardo da Vinci is said to be the greatest painter in the world and he says of himself:
Signor da Vinci: "I am the bastard son of a peasant. What does that matter?"
In fact, the whole of the Heroic Age in Classical Mythology was basically about a bunch of heroes (which is a Greek word, by the way) who were mostly badass extramarital children of Olympian gods (first of all, Zeus), making them the Ur Example of Heroic Bastard (both in academic sense and often personality-wise).
A startlingly large number of the protagonists in classic Arthurian myth are illegitimate, to wit:
King Arthur himself was born of a deception when Merlin disguised Uther Pendragon as Gorlois so Uther could sleep with Gorlois' wife, Igraine. Uther and Igraine did get married before Arthur was born, so he is not of illegitimate birth, just illegitimate conception, so technically qualifies.
Merlin was said to be the child of a human woman and an incubus. It doesn't seem likely that they were married.
Though, some versions cite his case as being the same as Arthur's, with Lancelot believing her to be Guinevere.
Mordred is usually the son of Arthur and his half-sister Morgause (or Morgaine). While many of the older versions of Arthurian myth paint Mordred as a typical double-bastard (evil as well as illegitimate), more recent works (and even some of the older ones) have tried to reform this character.
In Mary Stewart's The Wicked Day (a sequel to The Merlin Trilogy), Mordred is actually a decent guy, if somewhat broody. His falling-out and fight with Arthur is the result of incredibly bad luck and a terrible misunderstanding, not deliberate treachery on Modred's part.
In Elizabeth Wein's The Winter Prince, Medraut (the original spelling of "Mordred") is highly intelligent and not evil, but is terribly conflicted about his heritage, particularly when he meets his half-brother Lleu, the legitimate son and heir of Artos (Arthur) that his evil mother Morgause wants him to kill, and finds that he simultaneously loves, hates, and envies the other boy.
The Book of Mordred is entirely about Mordred's time as a knight of the round table.
Perceval, in the versions where he's Pellinore's son. And that's just the major characters. To this add Sir Tor (one of the knights of the white hart), Guinglain (Gawaine's long-lost son), Yvain the lesser, and Sagramore in many of his Hungarian incarnations, plus at least two other bastard sons of Arthur (Logors and Arthur the less) and anyone that has slipped this troper's mind. As the majority of the fathers in these cases were major knights themselves, the original ballad writers were apparently more concerned with the geneaology than they were the marriage vows.
Jephthah in the BiblicalBook of Judges was the son of Gilead and a prostitute, and was exiled by his half-brothers for being a bastard. Later in life, they have to beg him to lead them to victory over the Ammonites. Some would say he's the other kind of bastard due to the very... confusing situation with his daughter, which is still a HUGE subject of contention among scholars.
FitzChivalry Farseer, hero of Robin Hobb's Farseer and Fool trilogies, is the bastard son of Prince Chivalry Farseer. "Fitz" is Norman-French for "son," so Fitz's name is simply "son of Chivalry," but since Fitzroy ("son of the king") was the surname given to illegitimate sons of the English kings, it also means, colloquially, "bastard of Chivalry."
Speaking of Fitzroys, the vampire protagonist of Tanya Huff's Blood Books series is one Henry Fitzroy, the bastard son of King Henry VIII. He's also heroic.
Desmond MaqqRee, known to the press of the Fair World as Doc Sidhe
George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire has bastards of all sorts in a wide variety of temperaments. The most notable and heroic is Jon Snow, who is raised as the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark. Jon's estrangement from the Stark family - although most of them treat him well most of the time, he is still very much made aware that he's not really one of them - spurs him to leave the household and join the Night's Watch. It is possible that the half-brother to whom he was closest - the eldest, Robb - may have, in his will, officially adopted him into the family and named him as heir, as he talked to his mother of doing, but Jon does not know this yet.
Daine in Tamora Pierce's The Immortals series is illegitimate, hence her patronymic matronymic is "Sarrasri" from her mother. Turns out that her father is really Weiryn, the God of the Hunt, though she doesn't find this out until the last book.
Touchstone was the bastard son of the Queen and a nobleman, though he ends up taking the throne after a Rip Van Winkle situation leaves him as the only royal left alive anywhere.
Lirael of the Clayr, although not technically illegitimate since the Clayr don't typically marry, has to deal with very similar social disapproval because her mother ran off mysteriously (against tradition) and returned pregnant with Lirael, and completely refused to speak of the identity of Lirael's father. The odd circumstances of Lirael's birth, combined with her non-Clayr looks and lack of Clayr gifts, all cause her to be treated by some as an awkward "love child" rather than a "true daughter of the Clayr".
Stragen, a thief in David Eddings' Elenium and Tamuli series, is the bastard son of a noble. He is initially a bit sensitive about it, but gets over it.
He then uses it to insult a vast number of obstinate Styrics.
Is "Elene bastard" the best you could come up with? It's not even much of an insult, because in my case it happens to be true.
Talen is illegitimate, but formally acknowledged by Kurik in one of the trilogy's Heartwarming Moments.
In The Belgariad, Mandorallen is insulted as "the bastard of Vo Mandor"...due to "some temporary irregularity about my birth which still raises questions about my legitimacy." Since he is a fearsome fighter, however, the only people who mention this are relatives (local traditions disapprove of shedding the blood of kinsfolk), idiots, and people a safe distance away.
In the sequel, king Urgit of Chtol Murgos is revealed to be one, as Silk's late father found the Murgo nobility's custom of sequestering their women nothing but an inviting challenge. The result is actually a benefit to Urgit (and by extension, his kingdom) as he's spared from the hereditary insanity plaguing the royal bloodline (as well as giving him enough cunning to win the deadly succession war). It also saves him from Mallorean Emperor Zakath having him horribly killed as part of his (Zakath's) methodical revenge extermination of the Urga bloodline. After some king-coaching from Garion, Urgit goes on to be a fairly decent king.
The titular hero in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series is the son of a prostitute and an unknown man.
Alain from Crown of Stars is (supposedly) the son of a servant and either a merchant, a count, an elven shade (don't ask), his grandfather or some completely unknown man. This is a major plot point in the series - until he stops caring about it.
Oh, and Liath? She's the daughter of a priest and a fire elemental.
Not to mention that in order to become king or queen, you have to sire or birth a bastard to prove your fertility. Sanglant is the bastard son of the current king and an elven woman from that "ceremony." He gets treated even worse than the average bastard thanks to his mother's blood.
Pearl Prynne, the illegitimate child of Hester Prynne, from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a slightly revised version of the "illegitimacy means evil child" notion. Because the entire book is about the rebounding effects of denying and admitting sin, Pearl is seen as a living embodiment of the scarlet letter A worn on Hester's chest. Pearl is irreverent, impish, and obsessed with the scarlet letter, and a source of much anguish to her mother, until her father admits to being Hester's lover and fellow-sinner. After this, Pearl's character changes completely — one might say she becomes a "normal" little girl.
Jack Jackson/Fitzjack, of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, being the bastard of a hanged travelling musician. He turns out fine and even builds one of England's first Gothic Cathedrals, among other things.
Lloyd Williams, in Follett's The Century Trilogy. He is the bastard son of Earl Fitzherbert, known as "Fitz", and his housekeeper (who in short order becomes his former housekeeper) Ethel Williams (who raises Lloyd). In the second book of the trilogy, "Winter of the World", he becomes a tireless crusader against fascism, fighting first the British Union of Fascists in the East End of London, then going to Spain to fight in the Civil War, and finally fighting Nazi Germany in World War II.
Lyra Belacqua (or Lyra Silvertongue, as she is later called) of His Dark Materials was born of an affair between the adventurer/scientist Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter that resulted in the death of her husband, who had gone to Lord Asriel's home with the intention of killing the baby and avenging the violation of his wife. Asriel, being a kind and gracious host, took the gun from his hand and shot him.
All of the half-bloods from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, since the gods have not changed their habits from the ancient times. The titular character is the son of Poseidon and a mortal woman.
Tanis Half-Elven, the leader of a band of heroes in the Dragonlance Saga novels, is the product of a Human warrior raping his Elven mother.
Steel Brightblade, the product of a one-night stand between Sturm Brightblade and Kitiara Uth Matar, may have been a servant of an evil deity, but he did help save the world on one occasion.
Mark of Tasavalta in Fred Saberhagen's Books of Swords and Books of Lost Swords is the natural son of Mala and the Emperor.
In that setting, the Emperor is regarded as a legend or myth, and the phrase "child of the Emperor" is a euphemism for "bastard." It just happens to be literally true in Mark's case.
Tristran Thorn, hero of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' Stardust, is the bastard son of Dunstan Thorn and the long-lost daughter of the Lord of Stormhold.
Philp Kent, the title character of John Jakes' novel, The Bastard.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Ghostmaker, Dorden had, as a new fledged doctor, saved a woman in labor and her baby. This is revealed by Corbec, who was the baby; being illegimate, his mother did not have the same name, which is why he hadn't realized.
In Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40,000 novel Scourge the Heretic, Drake is the (presumably illegitimate) son of a man of high standing and a chambermaid. Though somewhat bitter about his inability to advance on his stratified world, he copes by joining the Imperial Guard to escape, and when he is recruited to help an Inquisitor, his uncertain status may be reflected in his ability to handle shifting social situations: intimidating a man of the very highest birth by treating him with no deference, and drawing information from servants by pleasantries.
In Christopher Moore's novel Fool, an Affectionate Parody of King Lear, the protagonist Pocket, the titular character, discovers he's the illegitimate son of Lear's brother. The news is not very well received as he learns this in a vision that also reveals that his conception was the result of Lear forcing his brother to rape Pocket's mother after the brother idly mentions he finds her attractive, all just to prove the point that, as king, he had the right to. The other noble bastard in the story, Edmund of Gloucester, is decidedly not heroic.
Stephen Maturin of O'Brian's Master and Commander fame was the son of an Irish officer and a Spanish woman. At several points throughout the series, Maturin empathizes with other (literal) bastards, including Aubrey's illegitimate biracial son Sam.
Les Misérables has Fantine, who has no family at all - she was named by a stranger who found her wandering barefoot in the streets as a child. She herself bears a daughter out of wedlock, and names her Cosette, who is eventually adopted by Jean Valjean.
Apropos in the Sir Apropos of Nothing series was the son of a prostitute who was gang-raped by a bunch of knights and the King's jester.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion world, one of the five gods is the Bastard, god of the unseason, who give shelter to those who have none and provides friends to the friendless and justice to those who cannot find it.
Discworld's King Verence... sort of. He's not really The Hero as much as a secondary protagonist. Verence becomes king after his half-brother TomJon, the child of the last ruler, decides to be an actor. He was made king thanks to the fact that Verence and TomJon have a strong resemblance to each other and the previous king had a habit of [exercising his droit de seigneur. Granny Weatherwax decided this was close enough and made him king. Subverted however in the previous king's wife had a thing for the previous court jester, Verence's father.
Terry Pratchett seems quite fond of enthroning bastards. Aside from Verence's case, Pyramids ends with Teppic's half-sister Ptraci on the throne of Djelibeybi, and Witches Abroad's Ella, eventual ruler of Genua, is the illegitimate daughter of Baron Saturday and Mrs. Gogol. Princess Keli's late father (from Mort) was known as "King Olerve the Bastard" — even on his hourglass! — and he doesn't seem nasty enough to merit such a title unless he, too, was illegitimate.
Richard in the Sword of Truth series is not only a bastard, but the product of his mother being raped by the Big Bad. Despite this, he is eventually recognized as being the big bad's legitimate heir and even taking his last name.
Axis in Sara Douglass's Axis trilogy is of illegitimate birth, and is reminded of this fact constantly, particularly in the first book.
Aeneas in The Aeneid. He's the illegitimate son of the goddess Aphrodite/Venus and the mortal Anchises. For that matter, any child of a god(dess) and a mortal, except for Achilles. His immortal mother actually married his mortal father, and then left him after Achilles was born.
And while The Hero, Tavi, technically isn't a bastard, for the first three and a half books he thought he was and might as well have been, and he was plenty heroic in that time. His father was a soldier, and while it was technically illegal for Legionnaires to be married, it wasn't uncommon for them to do so in secret, or at least discreetly enough that nobody would bring it up. Since everyone who knew about it other than Isana and Araris was killed right along with Septimus at First Calderon, the fact that the Princeps was married for 10 months managed to go unnoticed by the rest of the world.
Both Cat and Bones from the Night Huntress series. Cat is the product of rape, and she and her mother are both shunned by their small town for her out-of-wedlock birth. Bones is both a bastard and the Son of a Whore. They team up to kill evil vampires and rescue the human victims.
Technically, Kvothe of The Name of the Wind actually is a bastard; his parents were never formally married, though they lived as a couple.
Jiaan in the Farsala Trilogy is the bastard child of a Farsalan war leader and later takes his place, though with no one's consent.
Eric von Darkmoor in The Rift War novels is the bastard (although his mother tried to claim that he was legitimate, and that his father's relatives annulled the marriage in order to get the Baron-to-be to marry another noble for an alliance) son of the Baron von Darkmoor. He is a much better person than the eldest legitimate child of his father.
In Contact, Ellie, the protagonist, finds out in the very last chapter that her deceased father, whom she idolized, is not her father. Her (not actually "step-") stepfather, who she despises, is.. This subplot is completely absent from The Movie.
Warrior Cats has so many of these that they're in every series. Examples include: Mistyfoot and Stonefur, who are half Thunderclan half Riverclan, with their mother faked as a Riverclan queen. Lionblaze, Jayfeather and Hollyleaf also count, with them also being half-clan, and their mother a medicine cat. They believe that another relation of theirs is their mother, and the truth does not come out until much later.
Tzigone, one of the central protagonists of Counselors and Kings is the bastard daughter of the renegade wizardess Keturah and King Zalathorm of Halruaa. She's very determined to keep this from coming out, however, since Halruaa's laws regarding marriage and procreation are draconian and a wizard's bastard is executed out of hand if both parents can't be named. In the end, Zalathorm acknowledges Tzigone as his daughter and marries Keturah, giving Tzigone a proper family for the first time in her life- and also making her Princess of Halruaa, much to her consternation.
The title character of Candide is one of the nicest guys in the story. He also happens to be illegitimate (his mother refused to marry his father because "he could produce no more than seventy-one quarterings in his arms"). Despite how little legitimacy matters to the events of the book, Cunegonde's brother refuses to allow her to marry so far below her. He never lets up on this tiring belief, even after Candide bought him out of slavery.
Emily Roland from Temeraire is and it's more common than not for women in the Air Corp to have children out of wedlock. The point that keeps coming up in the story is that no, she's not Laurence's bastardnote her mom did not meet Laurence, or talk him into bed, until Emily was eight.
Ellis Peters seems fond of bastards; many of them crop up in her Brother Cadfael books and most of them are heroic. The one that stands out most is Olivier, Cadfael's son.
And then there is the historically factual Robert of Gloucester, illegitimate brother and devoted supporter of the Empress Matilda. One of Robert's sons does a Heel-Face Turn in Brother Cadfael's Penance precisely because he's sick of watching his father take garbage from the Empress.
Lanen in Tales of Kolmar finds out early that the man her mother married before running away wasn't her father after all. Her initial reaction is relief, since it explains the rather cool relationship that had existed between them, and largely it doesn't seem to matter, but in a low moment later she does bring up her bastard heritage.
Alex Mackay in 1632 is the illegitimate son of a Scots nobleman. As he is out of the succession, he takes up arms as a mercenary in the Thirty Years' War. Since he's serving Gustavus Adolphus, one of the few "good" monarchs of that time period, and is visibly disgusted at atrocities committed by German soldiers, he's probably Heroic even before the arrival of Grantville.
The main character of Inheritance, Eragon, is one, the son of Selena and Brom. One could argue that this applies to all Elves, as they don't marry.
In the world of A Brother's Price, anyone coming from a family that could not buy and protect a husband is fathered by a "crib captive". Records are kept of when such a liaison produces a child - a birth certificate includes maternal ancestry and may have notes such as "Great-grandchild of Kei Whistler and Order of the Sword crib captive Gerard, #458". The current generation of Whistlers had married parents and grandparents, but it's well established that those grandmothers whose children ended up so respectable were roguish.
Sgt. Catrone: Order received and understood, and I will comply. You bastard. Prince Roger: That I am. Literally and figuratively. The last bastard standing. The flag of the Basik's Own wears a bar sinister proudly.
Vin, heroine of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy is the illegitimate daughter of a prostitute and a priest of the Corrupt Church The High Priest, in fact, as it turns out- which, since aforementioned church teaches that a member of the nobility having a child with a commoner is a sin and such children should be killed, is noted as being a rather ironic breach of duty. It also turns out that this is why the Steel Inquisitor that's been hunting Vin throughout her life is after her- if he can catch her alive and prove she's her father's daughter, the Inquisitor can have grounds to have her father killed and take over his position.
Richard Cypher (later Rahl), the protagonist of the Sword of Truth series, turns out to be this due to his mother's rape by the first book's villain, Darken Rahl.
A good chunk of heroines in Hispanic Telenovelas are daughters of mothers abandoned by their lovers, even when the plot does not involve their heritage or lineage at all.
Bobby Goren of Law & Order: Criminal Intent is the Child by Rape of a serial killer, although his mother was never sure if her husband or him was Bobby's father. Fortunately, he was raised by her and only recently found out.
Claire Bennett knew she was adopted, but it was only after she found out the man who raised her was working for a Pseudo-Government Conspiracy did she learn that she was the youthful indiscretion of a certain up and coming New York politician.
Lampshaded in an episode of the TV-series The Associates in which a man notes that there is a TV show called The Bastard about a man who is, well, the title character, and he says, "What will they do next, create a sequel to Lassie called Son-of-a-Bitch?"
Subverted in Veronica Mars, when the eponymous heroine looks to be then is revealed not to be the bastard daughter of Jake Kane.
Locke, Aaron, and Walt from LOST, all of whom have been said to be special and important, were all born out of wedlock. Further, all were given up (or scheduled to be given up) for adoption.
Kate also turns out to be this, although she's less heroic by most standards, as a murderer discovering her true parentage is what led to the crime in the first place-she found out her mother's (ex)husband, who she loves, isn't her biological father, while her stepfather, who she despised, was, due to an affair before they divorced. She promptly kills him.
In Kamen Rider Kiva, It's the titular rider whose the bastard child, although it's inverted, as his father was an all-around nice guy, while his mother fell in love with him more than her actual spouse.
The term "hero" is debatable, but Francis Wilkerson from Malcolm in the Middle was born during the wedding ceremony between Hal and Lois.
In a DVD extra to accompany the series, Hal, in Being Human tells Leo that he was raised in a brothel by six prostitutes, but that he never knew which of them was his mother. Ironically, he's often called Lord Hal by the other vampires, because he's one of the 'old ones'.
The title character of Merlin. Ironically, he might not have been been a bastard at all had it not been for Uther's interference, and his father is unaware he exists until the Series 2 finale. All the better to contrast with Morgana, who is a Bastard Bastard, and Mordred, who isn't one at all in this version.
Grimm: Captain Renard has some rather unheroic ways of doing basically good things, but otherwise qualifies for this trope, being the product of an extramarital affair by his father. In contrast to the standard examples of this trope, he was initially treated rather well by his family since being a Royal trumped his out-of-wedlock status. Then the family found out that his mother was secretly a Hexenbiest and they had to flee for their lives.
Like the Sword of Truth books, in Legend of the Seeker series, Richard finds out that he was adopted. However, the series changes who his real father is (Panis Rahl instead of his son Darken Rahl) and the means of conception (Bed Trick instead of a forcible rape). In fact, it was actually a Xanatos Gambit by Panis Rahl to merge two powerful magical bloodlines (Rahl and Zorander) and sire an heir to fight Darken Rahl.
Catherine Willows from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was established early on to have been raised by a single mother. She eventually finds out her father was Sam Braun (who was present in her life, just not formally as a father).
In keeping with The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples: "The Bastard", Philip Faulconbridge, in King John is a sort of avatar of his father, Richard The Lion Heart. Richard's old enemy Leopold of Austria is conflated by Shakespeare with the Viscount of Limoges, and appears wearing Richard's own personal lion-skin (!), which Faulconbrige takes back after slaying him.
Elphaba in Wicked, thanks to her mother's indiscretion with the Wizard. Possibly yet another reason why her father doesn't like her—he's probably sure she isn't his.
"So you're not just a bastard, but a royal bastard!"
Leliana was also born out of wedlock, something that apparently made life very difficult for her mother in Orlais. While Leliana did lead the very morally ambiguous life of a spy for many years of her life, she has completely reformed by the time the player reaches her. Not only one of the more heroic characters, but also one of the only idealists.
Mage NPC Feynriel from Dragon Age II, provided you help him realize his potential.
Thomas from Suikoden III is one of the nicest characters in the game and also is a bastard.
Likewise Hugo from the same game.
Ramza Beoulve, the main character of Final Fantasy Tactics, is heavily implied to be this. Although it only comes up in passing in the game, one imagines it was more of an issue when he was living among nobles, before everyone got caught up in the Lion War. Ironically one of the only unequivocally good characters in the game. For further irony, both his older (presumably legitimate) brothers are bastards in the more contemporary sense of the word. For instance, Dycedarg murdered their father, and is host to one of the demons intent on bringing about The End Of Ivalice As We Know It. Zalbag is much more sympathetic, even noble, but he was still the one giving the order for Algus/Argath to shoot Delita's sister Tetain order to take out Golagros/Gragoroth. The game implies that he may be, like Algus/Argath, a classist, and was willing to sacrifice Teta because she was a "mere" commoner, and insults Ramza for having his mother's "commoner blood".
His bastardy is more or less confirmed in the instruction manual for War of the Lions, where he is referred to as the issue of his father's paramour, which is just a fancy and archaic way of saying the result of an adulterous affair.
Terra in Final Fantasy VI. Spoilers: Even if Maduin and Madonna actually got married (which is never mentioned) Terra was definitely born first. Also, given the taboo with humans being in the Esper world in the first place, it's further unlikely that any Esper would be willing to marry an Esper to a human.
The Bastard Of Kosigan, bastard son of a precursor and Count Borogar of Kosigan. Though he might be a Villainous Bastard if you play him the other way. And given the number of women he can end up taking advantage of he may be leaving a few behind.
Princess Guinevere in Fuuin no Tsurugi, the illegitimate daughter of King Desmond and his mistress, turns out to be more heroic than her legitimate half-brother, King Zephiel.
Marriages between Beorc and Laguz are forbidden in Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, so all Branded are bastards except for the descendants of Lehran and Altina, since Lehran and Altina got married before the prohibition against Beorc/Laguz marriages. Some of the Branded, like Soren and Stefan, serve Ike and could therefore be considered heroic.
Ashnard's illegitimate son Soren in Path of Radiance may not be particularly heroic, but his loyalty to Ike and his brilliant tactics make him crucial to Ashnard's defeat.
Azel in Genealogy of the Holy Wars, son of the former Duke of Velthomer and his wife Cigyun's favorite lady-in-waiting/maid... or at least he tries to be before everything goes to hell and they all die anyway.
But wait, there's more! Sigurd's wife Deirdre was the illegitimate daughter of said Duke of Velthomer's runaway wife and the Prince of Grandbell. Her mom fell victim to Death by Childbirth and her dad never knew about her before being messily murdered (unless it's the Oosawa manga, in which he was planning to search for his heir.)
And even more. The sort-of sequel to Genealogy, Thracia 776, reveals that Azel's older brother Arvis also had his own Heroic Bastard, Saias, with a Magic Knight named Aida... whom you met in the first part of Seisen. Even more so, Saias is the child of Arvis who inherited his major Fala blood.
In Mass Effect, an Earthborn Shepard, if you play him/her as a paragon.
Prince Amiti of Ayuthay in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was raised believing his late mother was a powerful Mercury Adept who restored the lost Magitek beneath the palace and concieved him by a miracle. Once the player characters show up, the truth comes out— Amiti's mother, a non-Adept, concieved him the natural way, with a foreign Adept who had started the machine and whose face no one else saw. It's implied the lie was to protect the royal family's reputation, but Amiti is quite upset that he was the last to know.
Jin Kazama from the Tekken series, who is the son of Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima. His heroism however has since turned to villainy as of Tekken 6... Jin's Face-Heel Turn is later revealed to be part of a desperate gambit to erase himself and Azazel of this world. Which would probably qualify him as a Tragic Heroic Bastard.
Also Lars Alexandersson, who is the ending result of one of Heihachi's trips to Scandinavia. So far, he fits this trope well.
Kazuhira/McDonnel Benedict Miller, one of the main protagonists in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, was heavily implied to have been conceived due to his mom having to work as a prostitute in post-war Japan to survive.
Also Meryl Silverburgh, as she was conceived from an affair between her mother and her uncle Roy Campbell.
In Ravenmark: Scourge Of Estellion, the entire Council of Shadows is made up of these, originally known as House Cordance, although that name has been lost to time. All members of the Council, also known as Crowseers, are bastard offspring of the royal House Corvius, charged from a very young age to be the eyes and ears (and, sometimes, knives) of The Emperor and protect their legitimate relations from threats to the Empire. The Crowseers are the only ones in the Empire who are allowed to use Blood Magic. Livia Cassianus is a prime example of a Heroic Bastard. During the campaign, she finds out that the late Emperor Sergius Corvius, her grandfather, has secretly planned for Livia to succeed him over his legitimate children. Yet she still fights on the front lines like any regular Earthbound (common soldier). Then again, the Empire was founded on the principles of meritocracy, where even the lowliest commoner has a right to earn Ravenhood (temporary two-generation nobility) after a lengthy service in the Imperial Mark or an even lengthier service as an administrator. Unfortunately, the events of the campaign serve as her Start of Darkness. By Ravenmark Mercenaries, she has become the dreaded Scarlet Empress known for her brutal suppression of any foe, eroding the very foundation of the Empire.
Dungeon Siege III has Katarina, one of the four playable characters who is the daughter of the late Hugh Montbarron and a Lescanzi witch, making her the half-sister of fellow playable character Lucas Montbarron.
Battler is one, but does not know this thanks to the fact that his father Rudolf pulled a baby switch after his legal wife Asumu miscarried, and swapped the baby with his mistress Kyrie's. However, his parents did get married, just several years later.
Namah from Dreamkeepers is the result of a secret affair that her father had. He locked her away and shunned her growing up to cover it up, but instead of becoming bitter, she grew into one of the most heroic characters in the comic.
Janine from Murphy's Law claims to have been born five months premature.
Carmilla (Sara Waite), one of the students at Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe, is the child of a powerful lust demon (Gothmog, a child of Shub-Niggurath) and a human woman (actually, a Deep One pre-transformation). You'll never guess, but it was a one-night stand. Of a sort. Despite this background, and having to suck the life out of things in order to live, she's one of the good guys.
Bishop Curisor, aka Arturo, aka that guy that nailed Jesus to the cross. It's even on his business card.
In The Simpsons, Bart finds out that Homer has a brother (voiced by Danny DeVito) who was born out of wedlock from Grandpa's tryst with a prostitute, and says, "So any idea where this bastard lives?" Marge realizes that because it is literally true, they can't punish Bart for his use of this profanity. Homer, understandably, is still annoyed by it however. (And when Homer sees Herb's house, he says "Holy cow, the bastard's rich!"
Bart himself also technically qualifies, as he was conceived before Homer and Marge were married. They did get married andhe was born in wedlock, though, although he nearly came close to becoming one due to Homer leaving the family as he thought he wouldn't provide well for them.
Homer's brother Herb even asks him if all of their kids were born in wedlock. Homer confirms it, but adds that Bart was a close call.