This occurs when a character who was previously thought to be relatively ordinary turns out to actually be descended from someone important and powerful , and therefore have access to that status themselves. Although this trope most commonly uses royalty
, it can apply to any hereditary position of power in-universe
. This trope applies when the character's true heritage was previously unknown to both the audience and the character themselves.
Often the reveal occurs just in time
, right when the character needs the rank to give orders, claim the throne or marry someone
. While this usually results in a Rightful King Returns Rags to Royalty
plot, there are also cases where the character decides that they don't particularly care how powerful their parents or other ancestors were, they quite like their current lifestyle thank you very much.
When this happens, an otherwise-ineligible lower-status Love Interest
is frequently responsible; if they're lucky, the Call
may even be willing to let them get away with it.
The character's true heritage can be exposed
in various ways:
The character's reason for not knowing their heritage is most often due to some form of Parental Abandonment
; common plots including Moses in the Bullrushes
, Hidden Backup Prince
and Man in the Iron Mask
. A variation occurs when an older character suffers from Identity Amnesia
, having temporarily forgotten their rank.
This is a Sister Trope
to Heroic Lineage
. Extreme examples may involve Divine Parentage
or Angel Unaware
. Partially a result of Everything's Better with Princesses
. The inverse is King Incognito
, where it is the character (and often audience) who knows their true identity. Subtrope of The Reveal
Warning: as a reveal trope, contains unmarked spoilers
Note: When writing examples, please include how the reveal occurs.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Shows up in Alibaba's backstory in Magi - Labyrinth of Magic. He was raised in the slums by his mother, but one day the king of his country showed up and revealed that Alibaba was his son and that he must come and live in the palace. Later on (in-series), Alibaba decides that the entire system is screwed up and decides to turn his country into a republic instead.
Film – Animated
- In Wreck-It Ralph, King Candy usurped the throne of Princess Vanellope von Schweetz by 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; locking up the memories of everyone in the game, including Vanellope herself, and developed a Fantastic Racism against her in order to keep her from racing and resetting the game. Her true role is revealed when Ralph sees her image on the outside of her game console, showing both that she is supposed to be there and that she is important.
- In Tangled, this reveal is a major plot point near the climax, and is a long-running case of irony throughout the whole film. While the audience is told in the beginning that Rapunzel is the princess of Corona, the plot relies on whether or not Mother Gothel can continue hiding it from her, or if she figures it out on her own. Even when she's outright told that the "birthday lights" are from a lantern festival for the princess, she doesn't put it together, possibly because she doesn't know that she shares the princess's birthday. She finally does figure it out when she recognizes that she's been painting Corona's sunburst symbol as a motif in all the murals in her bedroom. This triggers her early memories of her real parents and leads to her realizing that Mother Gothel has been lying to and taking advantage of her all her life, and the plot probably would have ground to a halt if Rapunzel hadn't realized her "mother" was a lying, murderous kidnapper. (Arguably, this whole plot would have been moot if Mother Gothel had simply lied to Rapunzel about when her birthday was.
Film – Live Action
- In Spaceballs, Lone Star was raised in a monastery, with only an unreadable medallion to tell him of his past. Eventually it is revealed that it is a certificate verifying him as a genuine prince, thereby making him eligible to marry Princess Vespa, and just in time to interrupt her Arranged Marriage.
- Luke from ''Star Wars' discovers that he is the son of Darth Vader; and also brother to Princess Leila – which turns out to be a useful way of resolving their Love Triangle with Han...
- In The Princess Diaries, out of the blue, Ordinary High-School Student Mia is told that her father has died, making her now the heir to the small European kingdom of Genovia. Now she just needs to learn how to be a proper princess...
- Played with in A Knight's Tale. When William is in the stocks for masquerading as a noble-born knight, the Black Prince shows up announcing that he has discovered that William is actually the descendant of a distant branch of the royal family, and therefore off the hook. It is implied that the Prince just made this up in thanks for William being willing to joust against him earlier.
- At the end of The Da Vinci Code Sophie Sanier and the hero Robert Langdon have finally followed all the clues and reached the end of the quest to find the "Holy Grail", except they only find the "Grail documents", papers and details that follow the descended bloodline of Jesus Christ. Right at the bottom, Robert shows Sophie that she's the last heir.
- In The Wheel of Time, through a convoluted series of events and prophecies, Rand is actually the son of Andor's previous Daughter-Heir, Tigraine. At first he is worried by a noblewoman referring to his and his Love Interest, Elaine's, mothers as cousins, but careful questioning reveals that this is only in the sense that all the noble families are related. However, this is less important than the fact that Tigraine became an Aiel Maiden of the Spear and gave birth to him on Dragonmount, thereby making him the Dragon Reborn.
- Inheritance Cycle. Eragon is the son of a Dragon Rider. When he and Murtagh start comparing their families they discover that they have the same mother; Murtagh later yelling that his father's Cool Sword should have gone to his eldest son not his youngest... It later turns out that they are only half-brothers, Eragon's father actually being Brom, also a past Dragon Rider.
- Simeon from the Memory Sorrow And Thorn series was a foundling with a gold ring revealing him to be a direct descendant of the Fisher King (the last ruler of the previous dynasty). By the time he is told at the end of the series, he is left as pretty much the only eligible heir to the throne, and able to marry his girlfriend, daughter of the previous king (and the other current claimant).
- In the Old Kingdom books, Lirael discovers in a vision that her father was the Abhorsen, meaning that she is now the Abhorsen-In-Waiting. This is why her Clayr seer power never developed.
- Throughout the first Deltora Quest series, Lief and his friends are trying to gather the gems to the magical Belt of Deltora so the hidden heir can oust the Shadow Lord. In the middle of the final battle life realises that the reason why it didn't shine when Jasmine (the person who they thought was the heir) put it on was because the gems were in the wrong order. He fixes this and goes to take it to her, putting it on again to free his hands. It promptly shines for him instead, revealing that his parents are the deposed king and queen, merely disguised as a blacksmith and his wife.
- In The Horse and His Boy Shasta discovers that the reason he and Prince Corin look so alike is that they are actually twins Separated at Birth. Being slightly older, he ends up being heir, and later king, of Archenland, much to his twin brother's relief.
- Danzi tells Ping in Dragon Keeper Trilogy that she must be the descendent of one of the two dragon keeper families, which is why she is able to hear him.
- In The Land of Bad Fantasy by KJ Taylor, Ana discovers that King Petrolum wasn't lying when he told the lizard army she was his daughter and heir after all...
- The Perfect Princess, one of the Quentaris Chronicles books has Tab, an orphan working in the Dung Brigade with a fascination for theatre. One day, she meets a mysterious stranger who claims to be searching for her on behalf of her mother, her hero the fabled missing Perfect Princess. Rumours get out, and people hail her as the new Princess while the Archon, Duelphs and Nibhellines – the three most powerful factions in the city – try to bribe her to leave and maintain the status quo. At the last minute she decides that it is all too much pressure and publicly rejects the throne, claiming that it was all a ruse and she is just an actor; then going off to meet her parents.
- In The Lark and the Wren, once he is encouraged to remember who he is, it turns out that Kestrel is actually the prince of Birnam, fled after his uncle deposed his father and running from the assassins chasing him. However, when they go to confront his uncle, it turns out that his father was the tyrant while his uncle is a good and popular king who only reluctantly sent the assassins in self defence. Kestrel chooses to renounce his claim to the throne in favour of his uncle and cousin – in the process showing off his stammer to the people – then completely disqualifies himself by marrying a gipsy and becoming a Bard.
- In The Lumatere Chronicles, Froi thinks that he is the orphaned son of Lumaterians lost when the curse cut off the refugees from Lumatere and the scattered across the continent. He then turns out to have the distinctive features of Serka Charionite, revealing that he is the son of the queen and her lover, the inventor who has just been mentoring him. It comes as a surprise to all three of them and they form a seriously Dysfunctional Family.
- Kvothe from The Wise Man's Fear is actually a slightly inverted example. Turns out his mother was a Vintish noblewoman who eloped with a the Edema Ruh. Unfortunately, he finds out because his prospective patron is about to marry his aunt, who now has a serious grudge against the Edema Ruh, her nephew included...
- On the Discworld it's all but admitted out loud that Carrot Ironfoundersson is the long-lost heir to the long-empty throne of Ankh-Morpork. He was found in the wild and raised by dwarfs (and still considers himself an unusually tall dwarf), and he has both a crown-shaped birthmark and a Cool Sword (which, while not enchanted, is far from ordinary). Carrot, however, is happy with his position as a captain in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, has no intention of reclaiming the throne, and even goes out of his way to obfuscate any more evidence he's the lost king of Ankh.
- Subverted in The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibotson. The protagonist, Annika, is a foundling brought up by the cook and housekeeper of three Absent Minded Professors. She dreams that someday her true mother will come for her, and prove to be someone rich and important. Then Edeltraut von Tannenberg turns up claiming to be her mother. It is later revealed that she is an Impoverished Patrician who only wanted to get her hands on the jewels a friend had left Annika, which were supposedly fake but she discovered were actually real. Annika is still willing to go with her, until her friends find the midwife who identified Edeltraut as her mother and prove she was baught off. At this point, Annika happily abandons her 'mother' and goes back to being an apprentice cook with her foster family.
- In Oath of Gold, the third book of The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy by Elizabeth Moon, Paks takes up the task of locating the rightful king of Lyonya, a man with elven blood and specific birthright powers that make him the only one the elves will accept as ruler. He was stolen by evil forces as a child, and, it turns out, enslaved for some years and forced to endure some terrible things that the book doesn't go into great detail on. A visitor contrived to give him a chance to escape, and he found his way to some distant relatives who didn't realize who he was, but raised him well. He went on to make his own life, and it isn't until Paks figures out who he is that his true purpose and powers are revealed - but it turns out that half a dozen people actually knew where he was, but feared to bring the truth to light, because 1) his time in the hands of the evil ones could have damaged him beyond help (specifically, making him an unstable ruler or making him unable to wield the powers needed to perform his duties as king), and 2) until shortly before the story begins, his sister was alive and showed great promise as a ruler
- King Belgarion of Riva in The Belgariad is the descendant of a Moses in the Bullrushes, a few hundred years down the line. He has a strange birthmark, and an heirloom sword which he claims from the throne room where it was stored when he finds out his station.
- In L. Frank Baum's second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Tip, the young protagonist, spends almost the whole book searching for the missing Princess Ozma of Oz. It turns out the Wizard gave her to a witch, who turned her into a boy, who just happens to be... Tip!
- Crown Prince Alaric of Caederan in The Quest of the Unaligned was sent away as a young child to be a Hidden Backup Prince. He was supposed to only stay in Tonzimmiel for about ten years before being informed of his. This plan was unwittingly wrecked when Alaric's Tonzimmelian foster parents died and Alaric was spirited off by Tonzimmiel's orphanage system. Then a Mysterious Stranger shows up, claiming that Alaric is a prince, and tricks him into going on the titular quest, during which he comes to accept his true heritage.
- In The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick, the king of Babel has been missing for a few decades. Will, the protagonist, falls in with a con man named Nat, who comes up with a plan to pass off Will as the king's bastard son and therefore the sole heir to the throne. In the end, it turns out that Nat is both the long-lost king and Will's biological father, meaning that Will really is the heir to the throne.
- In the book Stardust, Tristan's mother is a kidnapped princess held as a slave. So when she and his father's flirtations turn into a wonderful afternoon, she's horrified at the prospect that her son will be just as much a slave as she, so she leaves him at the father's doorstep. Eventually the witch holding her captive is killed, and she tells Tristan his true parentage. Thanks to a lot of plot, a dying proclamation, and fratricidal tendencies on the part of his uncles, Tristan is not only revealed as a member of the royal household but the last surviving male heir to complete the challenge set forth by his grandfather in order to become king.
Live Action TV
- Once Upon a Time
- Emma Swan discovers that the reason she was abandoned as a baby is because her parents are actually Snow White and Prince Charming, and they sent her through a magic wardrobe to protect her from the world-destroying curse. She is more concerned by the fact that, thanks to the statis produced by said curse, she is now the same age as her parents.
- Henry actally goes through this several times by the end of season 3. From starting as the adopted son of the town mayor, it turns out that his adopted mother is the Evil Queen (and his step-great-grandmother...), his mother is the Chosen One, and his grandparents are Prince Charming, Snow White and The Dark One. Go back another generation and there are various additional royals. While he believes his heritage from the start, thanks to his book of fairytales and their too-accurate pictures, it is only confirmed once the curse is broken.
- To top it off, it's revealed that one of his great-grandparents is Peter Pan.
- In Oedipus Rex neither Oedipus nor the audience know until near the end that he is the son of the King & Queen of Thebes who had been left to die of exposure as an infant because the Oracle at Delphi predicted that he'd murder his father & marry his mother. He was raised by a woodman who kept the secret from him; when Oedipus went to the Oracle he received a similar prediction and, thinking that his adopted mother & father were his real parents, left home so he wouldn't do that. Oedipus gets in a fight with a rich man and kills him, then later comes to Thebes and answers the Riddle of the Sphinx, thus ridding Thebes of the threat and winning the Queen's hand in marriage. When Thebes is in the midst of a famine Oedipus investigates the reason and is told that he must discover the murderer of the previous king. Oedipus finds out piecemeal all of these various elements, putting two and two together to realize he himself is the reason.
- Two examples in Final Fantasy V:
- Faris is really the older sister of Princess Lenna, having been lost at sea when she was five. She and Lenna have matching pendants, and Lenna confronts Faris by calling her "sister" during an optional scene at Castle Tycoon. Faris herself, however, tries to stay in denial about it until they both find their Disappeared Dad.
- Galuf is King of Bal. He's got amnesia until he reunites with his granddaughter Krile, but neither of them see fit to mention their royal status until the others follow them to their own world and find Galuf sitting on a throne. Since both of them are Modest Royalty, they'd rather be treated like friends than monarchs.
- In King's Quest III, the slave boy Gwydion finds out halfway through the game from an oracle he stumbles upon that he is really the long-lost Prince Alexander of Daventry, kidnapped by his wizard master as a baby. And also that his sister Princess Rosella just happens to need rescuing from a dragon, if he can escape his master and get to Daventry fast enough...
- In Fire Emblem Awakening, Validar reveals he is the the player character's father, and by extension the Avatar is now the heir to Plegia's throne.
- Martin from The Elder Scrolls IV:Oblivion has this reveal delivered by the Player Character; all legitimate heirs to the Imperial throne are dead, so here comes the illegitimate Hidden Backup Prince.