This is when you beg the monarch, or whoever is in charge, to spare the life of someone set to be executed or given A Fate Worse Than Death.
As shown in the picture, it's best done kneeling while grasping the ermine robes in a reverent manner (kissing them optional). Often it's done by insisting you know this leader is magnanimous enough to do this.
But it's usually more successful if done in the form of ego stroking ("Surely such a great king as yourself is wise enough...", "How could he possibly pose a threat to someone so great...?") or noting the good PR it will bring ("Everyone would know what a kind sovereign you are...") than by trying to appeal to any good nature ("If you just listen to your heart..."). Even if they agree, the prisoner may just be tossed into The Alcatraz instead (Iron Mask optional).
Compare/Contrast If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him.
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Anime and Manga
Pictured: In Rose of Versailles, when Louis XVth wants to execute André for Marie Antoinette's accident. She recovers, and successfully pleads the king that Andre did nothing wrong.
Sheeda does this for Oguma in the Fire Emblem OVA (this is not in the games because Oguma's backstory in the games doesn't work with this).
Bleach: Rukia does this as a last request to the highest-ranking Soul Society captain right before she's about to be executed in the Soul Society arc, since she feels guilty that Ichigo and everyone are risking their lives to try and save her. Subverted when the captain says he'll let them go free, but really has no intention of doing so. He's only saying that so Rukia can die peacefully.
Rowena/Margaret did this to save Erika from the wrath of Richter after he found out his sister was in love with Kazuya, the pilot of Daimos.
Hermione did this in Romeo X Juliet to stop Laertes Montague from taking Romeo's Cool Horse Ciel away. Even more so, the reason why father and son are verbally fighting is because he didn't meet up with Hermione for the Rose Festival (and unbeknownst to the others, he was with Juliet); Hermione still defended Romeo and managed to calm Laertes down.
In The Prince of Egypt, Aaron sort of does one of these when Miriam tells Moses the truth about his origins and says he's "one of [them]," to which he initially objects quite strongly and threatens to have her arrested or killed. He comes around, though.
Maid Marian in the Disney animated version of Robin Hood pleads with Prince John for Robin's life when he is captured after the archery contest.
The first book of A Song of Ice and Fire has this toward the end, with Sansa begging Joffrey to spare her father. She learns from her mistakes in the second book when saving the life of Ser Dontos, arguing that turning the man into a jester would be a crueler punishment.
In the book The Other Boleyn Girl, Mary wants to plead with King Henry VIII to spare her sister Anne, but her husband talks her out of it by pointing out that if she does, she'll likely share the fate of her siblings.
In The King of Attolia of Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, Teleus begs the Queen to reconsider executing him by reciting the invocation to the Great Goddess that Eugenides recited when in her dungeons earlier.
A interesting variation in that the Queen knows perfectly well that it's Eugenides who told him to make the plea and what to say
In "Hop-Frog" by Edgar Allan Poe, Trippetta begs the king to have mercy on fellow dwarf Hop-Frog. The king being the nasty piece of work that he is, it doesn't go well.
In The Silmarillion: the sister of Turgon, King of Gondolin, is wounded by her husband Eöl; she manages to convince Turgon to spare him. Since she dies in the night (the weapon was poisoned), Turgon is not so merciful in the end...
When King Thingol finds out about his daughter Lúthien's tryst with the human Beren, Lúthien begs him not to kill him.
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu intercedes for Zhang Liao's life when Cao Cao wishes to execute him. This works out in Cao Cao's favour: Zhang Liao becomes a frighteningly effective general for him.
In Harry PotterSeverus Snape tried to do this in regards to Lily Evans after she became Lord Voldemort's primary target (along with her husband and son). It didn't work, although it should be noted that Voldemort would have been willing to spare her for Snape if she had just let him murder her baby.
In Barrayar, Count Vorhalas begs Aral Vorkosigan, then Regent, to pardon his son for the capital crime of dueling. Vorkosigan doesn't, and the dead boy's brother later tries to assassinate him for it, leading to Aral's son Miles being crippled in the womb.
Twenty years later, the tables are turned when Aral Vorkosigan is forced to beg Vorhalas not to press treason charges against Miles that would lead to his execution (and Miles is technically guilty). Count Vorhalas tells Aral to get on his knees like he did when he pleaded for his son's life, and then looks like he will go on to stick the knife in, but Miles calls him out for it, warning that if he goes through with this he'll have to answer to Cordelia Vorkosigan for his revenge. The Count agrees not to lay the charges, but still votes an abstention in Miles's subsequent inquiry.
Both Waverley and Talbot do this in Waverley to their respective lieges for each other. In Talbot's case it was downplayed as Waverley was asking that Talbot not be confined as a prisoner of war while his wife was sick and needed him.
Live Action TV
In first episode of Blackadder II, Blackadder becomes Lord High Executioner and kills one of the prisoners early so he can have the day off. After he's done that, the man's brother successfully convinces Queen Elizabeth to let him (the executed prisoner) off the hook. Hilarity Ensues. Baldrick killed the wrong guy by mistake.
In Merlin King Uther is tricked into beliving that his son Arthur has been placed under an enchantment by Guinevere, and orders her burnt at the stake as a witch. Arthur begs for her life, but the more hysterical he gets, the more Uther is convinced that he's truly under a spell.
Twice, Arthur begs Uther to spare a man, once with Gwaine and once with Lancelot. The result is exile for both.
Merlin also begs Arthur to change his mind about banishing Gwen. It doesn't work.
In the episode of FireflyShindig Mal sword fights a man and is about to lose but Inara tells that man that she will accept his offer to stay with him if he spares Mal's life.
King Joffrey is annoyed when Ser Dontos Holland turns up drunk for his birthday tourney, so orders him drowned in a cast of wine. Aware of what happened last time she begged Joffrey for mercy, Sansa Stark convinces him it will be more humiliating to make Dontos his fool.
Jaime Lannister asks his father and Dragon-in-Chief Lord Tywin Lannister to spare Tyrion's life when he looks certain of being convicted by the Kangaroo Court in which Tywin is acting as chief judge. Tywin claims his hands are tied until Jaime (the sole male heir if Tyrion dies) agrees to leave the Kingsguard (who are sworn not to take a wife or hold titles) and carry on the Lannister dynasty. Tywin agrees so quickly it implies he was aiming for this result all along.
A depressing percentage of the books of Numbers and Leviticus consists of the Israelites (God's "chosen people," by the way) doing something to piss Him off, God threatening to wipe them all out, Moses pleading with Him, and then God agreeing to destroy only a few thousand of them instead.
Although this same God agreed to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if 50 righteous people were found living in it. Abraham (who was pleading for the life of the city) was able to negotiate God down to 10 righteous people. Unfortunately, the only halfway decent person living in the city was Lot and his family (and even he offered his virgin daughters as rape-toys to his violent neighbors in order to save the lives of a couple of houseguests.) Needless to say, Sodom and Gomorrah didn't stand a chance.
In William Shakespeare's Richard II (yes, the play of the second named king, not the third king), the Duchess of York begs the newly crowned King Henry to spare her son (who's been accused of treason).
Though the convention is also parodied in the same scene, with the Duke of York going on his knees to plead for his son's execution.
William Shakespeare was quite fond of this trope. In Julius Caesar, the conspirators plead for their friend to be pardoned just before they assassinate Caesar. (And Caesar gives a ridiculously arrogant speech claiming that he is so god-like as to be above pity... presumably to remove whatever sympathy the audience have for him and prepare them for his violent death.) In Henry V it is Inverted: the conspirators against Henry argue against mercy for an enemy of the king, so that when he reveals their guilt Henry takes immense delight in telling them that they have convinced him that mercy is a bad idea.
Also in Henry V, Pistol pleads for the life of Bardolph, who has been sentenced to death for looting a church. Both Fluellen and Henry refuse to pardon him.
Leonora in Verdi's Il Trovatore, for her beloved Manrico's life. Count di Luna is all "GTFO, I'll never spare my rival" till she offers she'll be his. She never said *alive*, though.
In Final Fantasy XII, Judge Zargabaath attempts this with Vayne Carudas Solidor to save Drace, his colleague Judge Magister, which is effectively a mix between a Four-Star Badass and a Judge, Jury, and Executioner, after Drace's failed attempt to violently refute Vayne's claim to autocratic powers with the death of his father, the Emperor Gramis Solidor. Zargabaath's considerations were likely to have stemmed from pragmatic considerations - Drace was a very talented Judge Magister, one Judge Magister had gone missing in action for a few years now, and another had perished in an accident, so they were running out of qualified men and women for the post - but given Zargabaath's portrayal as a reasonable and level-headed gentleman, sympathy probably wasn't out of the question. Unfortunately, Vayne has Drace executed anyways.
In Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, the Hot-BloodedHonor Before Reason-afflicted Adell is escorting the Defrosting Ice Queen, Rozalin, back to her father, The Overlord, whom he plans to defeat for the good of all. Rozalin is quite sure he'll have no chance whatsoever against her father, being a Puny Human in a world of demons, and while she initially relishes the thought of him being squashed, her gradual defrosting - and his clear dedication to protecting her and keeping his promise of returning her to her father - begins to change her mind. Eventually, she resolves to follow this trope and beg the Overlord to spare Adell once they reach him. And, when you first encounter him and find him unbeatable, she actually follows through. This, however, only makes him more determined to kill you, since he fears what The Power of Love could do to Rozalin...
In the AGD King's Quest II, this is the correct answer to one of the Cloud Spirit's tests.
Also implied in King's Quest IV on Edgar's part when Rosella is brought before Lolotte.
The Burghers of Calais are a particularly well noted Real Life example. (Read about it here.)
Pocahontas famously begged her father, the chief of the Powhatan, to spare the life of colonist John Smith in 1607 Virginia. Of course, depending on who you ask, the whole thing might have been a sort of initiation ritual, or Smith might have made the whole thing up in order to give Pocahontas a hero's welcome on her trip to England.
Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife, successfully pleaded for the lives of the perpetrators of the Evil May Day massacre, when she saw how devastated their families were by the death sentence. In spite of the fact that the victims were mostly Spanish aliens, and she was a Spanish princess.
A couple decades later, the same king received a similar plea from a later queen, Jane Seymour, for the rebels in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Unfortunately, Henry had changed considerably since the "Evil May Day" incident, and this time, the plea was not as well received...
Roman dictator Sulla once ordered a number of political enemies killed, among them young Gaius Julius Caesar. When his followers reacted with this trope (Caesar was very young then), he stated that they had to be unintelligent if they failed to see any danger in the boy. Caesar still survived, and the rest is history.