"It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited for power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well."Some think it's good to be the king. But not everyone. A Reluctant Ruler is someone who is entrusted with permanent power over others despite desperately trying to avoid it at all costs. It is believed that between a brilliant person who strives for glory and a brilliant person who shuns it, the latter is least likely to abuse the power they are given, automatically making them a passable, if not great, ruler. This trope lives at the idealistic side of the Scale, but not as extreme as you may think. Cincinnatus is a Sub-Trope about a character who is given temporary power because it is believed he will give it back after accomplishing his task. Also related to The Chains of Commanding. Compare Mandatory Unretirement, I Just Want to Be Normal and It Sucks to Be the Chosen One. Contrast Unfit for Greatness and Leader Wannabe. If someone ends up in charge during a crisis, it might be a case of You Are in Command Now.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Yang Wen-Li of Legend of Galactic Heroes would rather be a historian, but he is really, really good at the whole "admiral" thing. The Alliance government does not understand this, and grows increasingly distrustful of him out of fear he will make a power grab. This eventually results in his death.
- One Piece: King Dalton of Drum Island used to be the right-hand of the deposed tyrant, King Wapol, after his wiser father died. He's only the ruler of Drum because the citizens keep voting for him to stay as king, despite hoping that they will one day learn to depend on themselves.
- Gan Fall also counts. After being reinstated as "God" of Skypiea, he laments that he won't be able to enjoy planting his pumpkins anymore.
- King Riku of Dressrosa, in backstory, was the previous king before Don Quixote Do Flamingo launched a takeover. After Doflamingo is disposed, Riku is reluctant to take back the throne because he's worried that his peaceful policies are what made the kingdom vulnerable to the pirate's schemes in the first place.
- Nineteen-years-old Emperor Ryuuki in Saiunkoku Monogatari. Growing up as the youngest of six princes, he found himself on the throne after his second eldest brother was exiled and the other princes were executed for starting a bloody succession war. He acts dumb and plays up his attraction to men and desperately waits for his exiled brother to return to take the throne. However, his subordinates and said brother have none of that.
- Prince Clovis in Code Geass is a darker version of this. He's a painter, not a warrior or politician, and he wanted nothing to do with that sort of work, even thought that made his family seriously look down on him. But then, his younger brother Lelouch, who he secretly admired, was (supposedly) killed in the invasion of Japan, and Clovis thought he should accept the role of Viceroy to honor him. Advised by his older brother and sister that "a soft heart is not a virtue", he attempts to become the sort of ruthless Viceroy the other Britannians would want him to be, under the mistaken belief that Lelouch would want that, too. By the time we see him in the beginning of the series, several years later, he's completely fallen into that to the point where Lelouch wants nothing more than to kill him - and does, in the first few episodes.
- In Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, both Sally and Elias are pretty much of the same mind, but for different reasons - Sally wouldn't mind the throne, but she'd rather have it on her own terms: no mystical mumbo-jumbo and preferably with Sonic by her side. Elias plays the trope straight, not wanting to be a ruler and only took up the throne to save the kingdom from Patch, Antoine's Evil Counterpart. When told that his stepdaughter would be ineligible, he was quite fine with that.
- In Superman: Red Son, Superman disliked the idea of being the new General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death, since he thinks that having someone as privileged as him, being Superman AND the adopted son of the ruler of the Soviet Union, as the new ruler of the party would be in complete opposition with what the Communist Ideology is about.
- One of the Nintendo Power Legend of Zelda comics reveals this to be true about the King of Hyrule. Despite being a fair and competent ruler, the King's true dream was to be an adventurer like Link, but he was a prince, and a prince has to stay home and train to take up the reigns of kingship one day.
- Judge Dredd has twice found himself being nominated for the position of the Chief Judge, and therefore his city's sole ruler. Barring perhaps the Titan penal colony, it's the very last place in the universe where he'd ever like to be.
- Hawke in the Dragon Age II fanfic The Whole Sky Shaken is pushed by his friends and people around him to run for the Viscount, since he’s one of a few people who can stand up to Meredith and make a difference. He doesn’t really want any position of power and prefers to kill things with fire rather than get involved in the politics. When he finally does decide to go for the throne Anders blows up the Chantry and they both have to flee Kirkwall.
- In The Vow, after Lord Shen's father dies, he passes the stewardship of Gongmen City to Lady Lianne, Shen's former fiancée. She's not quite willing to rule the city, feeling it to be a form of betrayal towards Shen and his family, but the citizens hold a great deal of respect for the swan princess known for her beauty and kindness. She offers the city's stewardship for the Masters' Council, but they refuse it out of respect. It's arranged that Lianne governs and rules the city, while the Masters serve as protectors and advisers. For the next twenty years Lianne keeps Gongmen City in the state of peace and prosperity while suffering for the past. She sleeps in her old guestroom instead of the rulers' bedchamber and never uses the high lord's throne, considering herself to be merely a temporary holder of the reins of power until the true ruler returns.
Films — Animated
- How to Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup is extremely insecure about becoming Chief, partly because he believes he can never fill his dad's shoes and partly because he's better suited to exploring the skies with his dragon Toothless than ruling. After some encouragement from his Missing Mom and Stoick's death he accepts his responsibilities as leader of Berk while Toothless becomes Alpha of the dragons.
- The Sword in the Stone: Considering how Arthur became King or how he lived until then, all reluctance can be excused.
Films — Live-Action
- This is the whole reason for why the emperor from Gladiator wants General Maximus to replace him instead of his cruel, power-hungry son Commodus. Maximus is humble, kind and doesn't want the responsibilities of power, which the emperor knows makes him a perfect ruler. Of course, this never comes to pass thanks to Commodus greed and spite.
- King George VI in The King's Speech (see Real Life, below).
- In the Lord of the Rings movies, Aragorn refuses to pursue the throne until he absolutely has to to save Middle-Earth. In the original books, taking the throne was on his to do list... but not very high up.
- In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale has Jason Statham's character Farmer turn out to be King Konreid's long-lost son Camden, whom everyone thought dead. The current heir to the throne of Ehb is the king's nephew Duke Fallow, who isn't fit to rule, to put it mildly. However, after being told the truth, neither Conreid nor Farmer are willing to believe it. Farmer is bitter about the king's army not being there to protect his wife and son from the Krug, and his only concern is freeing his wife and friends from Gallian's clutches, the kingdom be damned. Konreid finally persuades him to reconsider after imparting on him the importance of the kingdom having a good ruler (i.e. not Fallow) and Farmer realizing that he needs the army to help him defeat Gallian.
- A variation in Attack of the Clones—Palpatine is reluctant to accept the emergency wartime powers granted to him by the Senate. No, he isn't.
- In A Brother's Price Princess Ren doesn't quite feel up to the task of being eldest princess, in a realm where royals have to actually do some ruling. Part of this is due to her not having been born as Eldest; she had lots of older sisters, and didn't expect to have to shoulder the responsibility. When the death of her sisters promoted her to eldest sister, she was (and still is) understandably more grieved by the loss than happy about the power. While Queen Eldest is still alive to give some advice, Ren is in charge of "Summer Court", where important legal decisions have to be made, and at one point panics about not being there in time.
- The Icarus Agenda by Robert Ludlum has a conspiracy of Well Intentioned Extremists who want to give America a good President, implying one who didn't seek the power for its own sake, but recognise that one such would be unlikely to volunteer for high political office or to beat the more power-hungry and politically wily candidates if he did; their solution is to find a suitable candidate and manipulate his career without his knowledge.
- Random from The Chronicles of Amber is probably the only one of Oberon's children who never seriously contended for the throne of Amber, and it was him who was given it by the Unicorn in the end of the first cycle. As the second cycle shows, the trust was well-placed.
- A downplayed example in The Traitor's Hand. Cain remarks that the local planetary regent, being the chief bureaucrat rather than the usual aristocratic appointee, is considerably more sensible than the average governor. He suggests that "the absolute last person who should end up with power is the one who wants it".
- Both Emperor Rene and King Alexander in the Arcia Chronicles hate their jobs but are placed among the best sovereigns Arcia ever had. Subverted with Anhel the Luminous, though, who actively pursued the throne, started a rebellion, and is remembered as a great ruler. Then, subverted again, in that the historical perception of the just rulers is twisted by the Church, whereas Anhel actually did enough evil in his life to be reborn as the mightiest among the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
- In Reflections of Eterna cycle by the same author, the only guy who is reasonably suitable to take the Taligian throne in the face of the impending cataclysms, Roque Alva, has so far managed to ingeniously evade this obligation for six books in a a row. Yeah, it seems like a recurring motif of the author.
- Danny Saunders in The Chosen who does not want to be a Rebbe.
- In Dragon Bones, there is an interesting case with castle Hurog. While there is no king in Hurog (the smaller countries have been conquered and are subject to a high king), the title of "Hurogmeten" was considered more important than any other title by the recently deceased holder. While all the family is attached to the land, and wants to stay there, Ward's uncle doesn't really want to rule there. He's old enough to be up to the task, but too decent to want to take the castle and surrounding lands away from his nephew, Ward, who is the rightful heir. The problem is that Ward has been declared insane by the king, and it's not easy to change that.
- Vorkosigan Saga:
- Invoked and exploited in Shards of Honor by the dying Emperor Ezar Vorbarra when choosing the regent for his five year old grandson (with the explicit job of both keeping little Gregor alive and handing power over when he hit the age of majority). While Admiral & Lord Vorkosigan was a widely admired and genuinely brilliant war hero, a respected member of the high nobility, known for how highly he valued his word of honor, and so forth; the deciding factor was that Aral Vorkosigan was the one man Ezar (who knew him well since Aral's childhood) was absolutely certain did not on any level want to be Emperor.
- In The Vor Game, Gregor attempts to bunk off from being Emperor of Barrayar. His foster parents never figured out how to break the facts of his father's insanity to him, so when he found provable documentation of it in his mid-20s he freaked.
- From Prince Caspian:
"Welcome, Prince," said Aslan. "Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?"
"I — I don't think I do, Sir," said Caspian. "I'm only a kid."
"Good," said Aslan. "If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not."
- In Julian May's Galactic Milieu series, the job of Dirigent (ruler of a planet) is traditionally given to someone who doesn't want it.
- In Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series, Eugenides, the Thief of Eddis, marries the queen of Attolia because he's in love with her, but he doesn't want to be king.
- "He didn't marry you to become king. He became king because he wanted to marry you."
- In the John DeChancie science fiction comedy book, Living with Aliens, it is revealed that all of galactic civilization runs on this premise. The Federation figured out that people who want power should never have it. Their solution is to find the people who want to be rulers the least and force them, against their wills, to rule over the galaxies. This leads to them running away constantly and spending all their time getting high and abducting people from earth to molest and probe them for fun.
- In The Tamuli, the Isle of Tega builds its entire government on this. Nobody asks to be nominated for public office; as soon as you're nominated, you're placed under guard, and if elected your possessions are sold and the proceeds put into the treasury. At the end of your five-year term, if the economy prospered, you get your money back with proportionate interest. If it floundered, you could lose everything. Many officials have worked themselves to death for the good of the republic.
- In The Republic, where Plato writes that the philosophers who have no interest in ruling should be forced to become kings for the benefit of the people. The gist of it is "We want someone who has to be dragged into office kicking and screaming, but who will then do the best job he can in hopes of being let off early for good behavior."
- Jenna Heap in Septimus Heap is reluctant to become a Queen at first, but she grows more accepting over the books.
- King Cinhil Haldane in The Legends of Camber trilogy. He had been a cloistered priest for many years when he was found and removed from his monastery. He was persuaded to give up his vocation and accept a wife and a crown, but he didn't like it, and he came to blame Camber for his misery. Centuries later, Prince Regent Nigel Haldane is this in prospect; he prepares for his empowering ritual with a heavy heart because he doesn't want to confront the possibility he'll become king, and he insists on postponing his coronation for a year when his nephew is reported missing.
- In The Marvelous Land of Oz, the Scarecrow admits he doesn't like being king and isn't very good at it. (The Wizard had loyalty from his subjects because he was a dark, mysterious presence that they were afraid of. The Scarecrow didn't have that, being an open ruler who wasn't very intimidating.) When General Jinjur launched her revolt, he would have gladly abdicated had Jinjur not intended to execute him and his allies.
- King Zachary Hillander of the Green Rider series. He was the younger son and expected to govern Hillander Provice while his elder brother Amillton ruled, but King Amigast finally saw Amillton for what he was.
- Lord Vetinari of Sir Terry's Discworld does not rule the city because he wants to but rather because he feels it is his patriotic duty.
- Considering A) the sort of people who preceded him and B) The Chessmaster could be renamed "The Vetinari" with little to no change of meaning, he might have something there.
- Carrot is probably the heir to the throne of Anhk-Morporknote but refuses to claim the position of king. He would be a great king but feels that it would be for the wrong reasons — he has a preternatural aura of command (people just do what he says; this is probably related to the probably-the-true-king thing), but thinks that "is good at being obeyed" is a terrible reason to be obeyed, and he wants people to do the right thing because it is right and not because a king ordered it. He'd probably accept the position if there was no other way to save the city, but it hasn't been necessary as yet.
- Nobby is actually offered the position of king of Anhk-Morpork but runs away from the offer not because he would not want the job but because he is afraid of what Commander Vimes would do to him. He would make a horrible king.
- Come to think of it, Sam Vimes wasn't exactly wild about becoming Duke of Ankh, but that's more to do with his dislike of hereditary privilege; wielding quite considerable authority in his role as Commander of the City Watch is a different matter.
- Nick Seafort in the Seafort Saga, who desperately tries to get out of being promoted to Captain, desperately tries to get out of executing people, desperately tries to get himself killed despite his crew's attempts to save him, and commands anyway because he believes it's his duty to the UN and to his unmerciful God. Basically subjects his crew to the wrath he thinks he deserves.
- Raamo in the Green-Sky Trilogy is actually terrified by the prospect of becoming one of the ruling Ol-Zhaan, to the point of trying to telepathically scream at the people looking at him with awe that he's just an ordinary Kindar. It's his reluctance that tips off Neric and sets the bigger plot in motion. later, we learn that D'ol Falla had intended this as a Batman Gambit. The only one who could set things right was someone who wouldn't be caught up in the trappings of power.
- The Man In The Shack in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy subverts this to a deliberately extreme extent, in that he's not so much reluctant as unaware that he even is a ruler, and apparently is unwilling to accept that there's anything to rule in any case. In fact, the people who gave him that power decided that anyone who actually wanted to be in charge couldn't be trusted with the job, so the guy who makes all the decisions needs to be someone who doesn't even know the rest of the universe exists.
- However, his stalling Zarnizwoop while Trillian and Zaphod make their escape, then locking Zarnizwoop out of the shack and ignoring him suggests that while he may prefer to remain ignorant, he's not stupid.
- The Roman Emperor Claudius, at least the way he's portrayed in I, Claudius and Claudius the God.
- Titus Groan, in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels (as well as the 2000 BBC miniseries), is anything but honored to be the 77th in the long line of the Earls of Gormenghast and will do everything he can to try and get free of the duties of his rank.
- Jake is made leader of the Animorphs at the start of the series, despite the fact that he is less than enthusiastic about taking on the role. Much of his angst comes from the constant pressures of leadership.
- In Sisterhood of Dune, the newly-created Sisterhood (precursor to the Bene Gesserit) on Rossak realizes that an heir of Emperor Salvador Corrino will become a disastrous tyrant and ruin the Imperium. They decide to secretly make Salvador sterile, so that his more competent brother Roderick would continue the imperial line. This nearly works. Unfortunately, the Sister administering the drug lets it slip to Roderick that he would make a great ruler. Unfortunately for them, Roderick has no desire to be Emperor and is fiercely loyal to his brother. He has the drug examined and the Sister arrested and interrogated. The brothers then arrive to Rossak and execute a number of Sisters, including the remaining Sorceresses. In the sequel books, Roderick finally becomes Emperor after Salvador is assassinated by Josef Venport luring him to a harvesting operation and leaving him to be eaten by a Sand Worm. Everyone, including Roderick himself, agrees that he makes a much better ruler than his brother. Later, Josef Venport himself states that only a fool wants to be Emperor. Venport himself just wants to ensure prosperity and progress, unhampered by the anti-technology fanatics and the short-sightedness of Salvador. When necessary, Roderick is even willing to abdicate the throne in favor of his teenage son Javicco, if it will save the Imperium.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Robert Baratheon didn't rebel against the Targaryens because he wanted the Iron Throne. He did it because he wanted to take back Lyanna Stark from Rhaegar Targaryen and because Rhaegar's father Aerys had ordered his and his best friend's Eddard Stark's deaths. At the end of the rebellion, Robert killed Rhaegar but felt no satisfaction since Lyanna died under mysterious circumstances anyway. Robert was forced to take the Iron Throne due to the Baratheon line being descended from a Targaryen bastard and Robert's grandmother being a Targaryen. Robert was an incompetent ruler because he hated being stuck with an uncomfortable throne made of melted down swords, a wife he hated because she wasn't Lyanna, and the huge responsibilities of ruling an entire continent which he passed on to his advisors.
- And then Robert appointed Eddard Stark to be his Hand, thus making him the one who had to de facto run the Seven Kingdoms. Ned's bad feeling he had upon taking up this position was eventually proven right: His honorable attitude was not all too well suited for handling the Deadly Decadent Court of King's Landing - in fact, it did eventually result in Ned's death by execution.
- Similarly there is Robert's brother Stannis. He claims the throne after Robert's death, knowing Robert's children with Cersei are actually illegitimate. Stannis does this because he is very lawful and feels taking the Iron Throne is his duty. Unfortunately, much of Westeros sees him as an Evil Uncle and his lack of social skills causes him trouble in winning support. It becomes clear Stannis doesn't really want to be ruler and his obsession with duty, especially when it conflicts with his very strong principles, takes a huge strain on him, such as when he considers burning one of Robert's bastards for magical aid, because he feels his duty is more important then what he personally wants.
- In general, this is Deconstructed by the series. Rulers who don't want to rule don't always have a sense of duty to compensate for lack of incentive to govern well, or even at all. For every Stannis Baratheon there are many more Robert Baratheons or Tytos Lannisters. Say what you will about Tywin Lannister, but he actually wanted power, and so he used it well.
- This is a major part of Perrin's Character Arc in The Wheel of Time, the other part being his coming to grips with being able to talk to wolves. He spends most of the series resisting leadership, and when he finally accepts it reflects that perhaps those who least want authority are most deserving of it.
- His friends Mat, Egwene, and Rand are downplayed examples. They had the respective responsibilities of being a military commander, the queen of The Magocracy, and the prophesied savior and doom of the world thrust on them but adapt to having people take orders from them faster than Perrin.
- King Roland from The Eyes of the Dragon is a fairly decent king, but has little interest in the position, and would rather concentrate on his true passion, hunting, where he truly is in his element. Still, he takes on the responsibilities of kingship, because his people needs him. The same goes for both his sons technically, though only one of them is fit to rule. His eldest son Peter is kind, intelligent and takes after his mother, while his youngest son Thomas is slow, plain and unfortunatly inherited all his fathers bad traits. Neither really wants to be king, but both end up on the throne at different points, Thomas a puppet under the scheming court magician Flagg, and Peter after Flagg's treachery is exposed and Thomas abdicates to hunt him down.
- Liu Bei of Romance of the Three Kingdoms fame, did not like the idea of titling himself as King of Shu Han as he was loyal to the (now defunct) Han Dynasty, whom he aimed to restore. His advisors, particularly the famed Zhuge Liang, advised him by taking the title of King of Shu Han, he is able to oppose the other two kingdoms better in his attempt to restore the Han dynasty
- Furthermore, Zhuge Liang reminded him that he is a Liu, the family that built the Han Dynasty to begin with, which means he had a more legitimate claim to call his Kingdom of Shu as Shu Han
- In Victoria, Bill Kraft is not interested in standing for office, even when urged on by his friends and allies, and is persuaded to launch his candidacy for governor only when the Kaiser writes to support this idea.
- In The Spirit Thief, Josef eventually has to take over his kingdom when the entire royal line except for him is dead, despite the fact that he considers himself a failure of a prince, he has spent the last ten years as far from home as possible and his subjects actively hate him. The moment he decides that the crisis has been averted and his advisors have matters well in hand, he leaves the kingdom to them.
- Angel: About the only thing Groo fails at is running a country; He became bored with the committees, and was deposed pretty quick.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Worf helps Gowron obtain the throne, but Gowron ends up so corrupt that he's willing to sacrifice the entire Dominion war just to get rid of the highly respected General Martok. Worf tries to convince Martok to challenge Gowron's leadership before the empire is destroyed but Martok is too humble, loyal and honourable to even contemplate it. Worf is very reluctantly forced to challenge Gowron himself. When he wins, he uses his very temporary status to force the mantle upon a very horrified Martok, much to the council's delight.
- Babylon 5: ex-Narn Ambassador G'kar is both stunned and hesitant when told he has become a religious icon to the Narn, and outright refused leadership of the government after overthrowing the Centauri. He eventually accepted spiritual, if not political, leadership, but only because the public wouldn't take no for an answer.
- Claudius in I, Claudius becomes this after he's proclaimed Emperor by the Praetorian Guard following his nephew Caligula's assassination. He really wants to make Rome a true republic again, but the Guard literally forces him into the imperial role and Claudius realizes he has to accept or risk having himself and his family slaughtered. Much later, however, he decides to marry his corrupt niece Agrippina and let her unhinged son Nero succeed as emperor, to force the Romans to get sick of monarchy. He only succeeds in insuring that his only son and only loyal adviser die.
- In Once Upon a Time, King Leopold proposed to Regina because she was the only woman he'd met since his wife's passing who genuinely cared about Snow. Young Regina never wanted to be Queen and only wanted to marry her true love, her family’s stable boy. Inverted in that Regina’s mother killing her true love and forcing her to marry the King is what made her become, well, the Evil Queen.
- In Lost, character Jack Shepard is a doctor and tries to save lives after the airplane crashes into the island. The other characters begin seeking his advice on all matters and treating him as their leader, though no formal decision is made that he is in charge. Despite the fact that Jack does not want this responsibility, the other characters look to him to be their leader and save them from crises. He struggles with the burden but ends up being the stoic leader even though he has no desire to do so because nobody else is suitable for the job.
- Played with in Galavant. Richard's older brother Kingsley decided he didn't want to be given the job of being king... because he considered his destiny to be conquering, killing, and having sex all over the place. He doesn't mind keeping the royal sword, though, and during the show's first season he is talked into coming back and claiming Richard's crown.
- Ragnar from Vikings never particularly wanted to be a ruler, he mostly just wanted to be left alone to do his own thing. Other power hungry men, however, came to fear him because he was a badass warrior whose reputation attracted followers, and he was willing to go against their edicts, so they thought Ragnar might attempt to overthrow them and tried to strike first. In every case Ragnar managed to outfight or outthink them, until at the end of the second season he becomes King Ragnar. Even so, he doesn't enjoy being a ruler and says as much on several occasions. The third and fourth season of the show seem to be deconstructing the trope, as Ragnar is constantly surrounded by ambitious enemies and petty disputes/betrayal among his friends, all while being burdened by The Chains of Commanding, undergoing some Sanity Slippage, becoming intensely lonely as more of his old companions die or become estranged from him, and increasingly suffering from all the wounds he's picked up along the way. Just giving the crown to someone else, however, is likely to result in that person killing Ragnar and all his sons to make sure they wouldn't become a threat to the new king's rule.
Ragnar: Power is always dangerous. It attracts the worst and corrupts the best. Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.
- In , Toby Ziegler in Season 6 firmly believes that it is due to this trope that Matt Santos, the Democratic nominee that Josh Lyman picked for the position of President, was a horrible choice. To become President, one must have a drive, the ambition to have the job and Toby didn't see Matt have it, as he had announced his resignation from Congress. Matt ends up becoming the President and it's implied he was very good at it.
- Fate/stay night: Saber hates having been made king, having never wanted it but doing it anyway for the good of her people. She did the best anyone could, but her dislike of being king at all (and the ensuing lack of drive) meant she was never well-loved by her followers or her people and the Dirty Business she was forced to do as a king eventually led to her kingdom tearing itself apart. She wants the Grail so she can wish for a better king to take her place in history. In Fate/Zero, Rider delivers what is effectively a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her about it, claiming that her lack of desire for kingship meant she was never truly a king, just a "young girl playing at being a king".
- Final Fantasy VI: Neither Edgar nor Sabin particularly wanted to rule Figaro, so they settled it with a coin toss, where the winning twin got to do whatever he wanted. It's eventually revealed that Edgar used a double-headed coin so that Sabin could get the freedom he wanted.
- Alistair of Dragon Age: Origins can become this. He can become considerably less reluctant about it if you select certain dialogue choices however, he proves to be a much better king after said dialogue choices than otherwise.
- Sebastian Vael in Dragon Age II is another take. He envied the fact that his older brother would inherit the throne and spent most of his early life as The Hedonist. His parents put him in the Chantry to stop him embarrassing them, but he found it gave him a purpose. Then political rivals murder the rest of his family, and he spends the game trying to choose between retaking his lands or serving the Maker. You can push him one way or the other.
"When I wanted to rule, I would have been terrible at it. Now that I might be decent, I don't know if it's the right thing to do."
- Sebastian Vael in Dragon Age II is another take. He envied the fact that his older brother would inherit the throne and spent most of his early life as The Hedonist. His parents put him in the Chantry to stop him embarrassing them, but he found it gave him a purpose. Then political rivals murder the rest of his family, and he spends the game trying to choose between retaking his lands or serving the Maker. You can push him one way or the other.
- A non-government example: Squall from Final Fantasy VIII hates leading but is forced to lead an entire army when they're attacked, and does a nice job while at it. Rousing Speech and everything.
- According to the Saints Row 1 instruction manual, Julius claimed to be this when he started leading the 3rd Street Saints, though the Stillwater Police believe he's a natural gang leader.
- The Protagonist in the sequel, Saints Row 2 however, is a subverted example, being happy with leading the Saints in Julius' place instead of just 'keeping his/her mouth shut and letting himself/herself being told what to do.' He/she even outright states this when he confronts Julius, who was revealed to have rigged the boat to explode in the first game.
- Peony in Tales of the Abyss. He's the illegitimate son of the previous emperor, and when all his half brothers get killed he's called to the capital. But, because he is going to be the Emperor, he can't marry the woman he loves. All his subjects adore him.
- The Elder Scrolls
- In the series' backstory, the corrupt Yokudan (ancestors) of the Redguards) Emperor, Hira, sought to consolidate power by wiping out the Ansei, a Yokudan order of "Sword Singers/Saints" who were each a Master Swordsman capable of generating a "Shehai" spirit-sword. Facing elimination, the Ansei sought out the greatest of their order, the legendary Frandar Hunding. When his son, Divad, and the Ansei came to him, Frandar initially refused to lead them in battle against the Emperor. It was only after five hours of debate that he reluctantly agreed to become their leader, and it is said that, even though he was victorious, he struggled with that decision and many others he made as leader later in life.
- Subverted with Martin Septim in Oblivion. Had he actually become The Emperor, he would very likely be even better than his father, since he never wanted to become one in the first place. Additionally, his experiences as a Daedra worshiper and later, a poor monk, would certainly make him care for his subjects a lot. Alas, it was not meant to be.
- In Heroes of Might and Magic IV we have Lord Lysander of Palaendra. After Enroth was destroyed by the Reckoning, strange portals opened to a new world called Axeoth. The survivors of the kingdom of Erathia found themselves without a nation and a ruler, as every Gryphonheart (the ruling dynasty) is believed to have been killed by the Reckoning (after already being winnowed in III)note . Seeing that no one else is willing, Lysander forms the new nation of Palaendra. He becomes such a great ruler that people offer to crown him king. He refuses, however, as, in his mind, only a true Gryphonheart can be king. He always considers himself merely a steward. However, when a man shows up claiming to be a Gryphonheart, Lysander is reluctant to hand over the throne. Not because he isn't willing, but because he doesn't trust the newcomer's claim. When Lysander ends up proving that the man is an impostor and finding out that he himself is a Gryphonheart, he reluctantly allows himself to be crowned king.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II, if Mical (aka the Disciple) was not corrupted by a dark side Exile, Kreia reveals that he will help rebuild the near-extinguished Jedi Order and "sit upon the new Council, reluctantly, as all good men do".
- In Civilization: Beyond Earth, Humata, the leader of Polystalia's expedition, ended up being the leader of the mission to the new alien planet precisely because he really, really didn't want to be the leader, and at the same time he was the best qualified for the entire endeavour.
- In World of Warcraft, Vol'jin becomes this when, after Garrosh Hellscream is dethroned and arrested, Thrall kneels to him as the new Warchief instead of taking the title that was once his (and everyone expected to take again). Vol'jin only accepts the title after the other Horde leaders pay homage to him. It's a bit of a Wham Episode for Alliance players to see him declare "I speak for de Horde."
- In Fire Emblem Fates, Hinoka becomes this at the end of the Conquest route. She never saw herself as queen material, but since everyone ahead of her for the title of heir apparent is dead, and the only other person who can realistically take the throne is, well, Sakura, she's in no position to refuse.
- Baron Klaus Wulfenbach in Girl Genius is this, though a more extreme example. He conquered Europe to establish peace, but really hates his job.
"I swear, it's like running a kindergarten."
- In Arthur, King of Time and Space, Arthur's reaction to being told he's the son of Uther Pendragon and rightwise king of all British Space is "Must I?"
- In the Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko wants Iroh to take his rightful place on the throne and is very hesitant to face his destiny as the next Fire Lord, but accepts his responsibility and is crowned at the very end. This is in contrast to his father, who usurped the throne and eventually crowned himself king of the world. He continues to feel this way throughout the comic sequels, to the point that in Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search his initial reaction when he finds out he might not really be Ozai's son and thus not a legitimate heir to the throne is relief.
- In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation I.T.", it's revealed that nobody wants Numbuh 362's job as Supreme Leader of the organization, and when she starts hating the job herself because of the stress and decides to quit, the whole organization holds a game of tag, which whoever is "it" at the end of the time period having to take the job. (Unfortunately, when Father ends up in control of it via a technicality, Numbuh 362 has to show true leadership skills to get her job back, which include eating through broccoli to fight him, a sacrifice that puts her in a coma for two weeks after she manages to defeat him. And she still takes back the job afterwards.) Hilariously enough, Numbah 13 is the only one excited about becoming leader. He is immediately dogpiled by many operatives to ensure that he doesn't become Leader.
- In Transformers Generation One, Rodimus Prime was never happy leading the Autobots, feeling - accurately - that he was an inexperienced leader and not as good of one as Optimus Prime was. He happily relinquished the Matrix back to Optimus the first time he seemingly returned, but had to become leader again, as that was only a zombie. When Optimus finally returned for real, he was able to return to his old position with clear conscience.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Princess Celestia has ruled Equestria for over a thousand years, and her subjects for the most part love and revere her. Which makes it rather poignant when The Journal of the Two Sisters reveals that she never wanted to rule in the first place. She and Luna were Offered the Crown by the three pony tribes because none of them believed they would be happy with a ruler who belonged to one of the tribes thanks to lingering Fantastic Racism. Celestia didn't even like being referred to as a "ruler", and saw herself as more of a "guardian".
- Ramiro II of Aragon was the fourth son of King Sancho Ramirez, and consigned to the church. Unfortunately, his elder brothers died young and without heirs. He was dragged out of the church under protest, married a widow who had an established record of healthy births, stayed around just long enough to sire a daughter, then betrothed the daughter to a trusted ally, and marched back to the church.
- George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, did not want the position in the first place, and outright refused to be made king of the new country when the idea was presented.
- He also refused to serve more than two terms, starting a tradition for the office. It was made law by the 22nd amendment, ratified after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms. Incidentally, Roosevelt initially planned to follow Washington's precedent and wanted to step down after his second term but with war looming on the horizon and the rise of fascism, he decided to break tradition and seek a third, and later a fourth term.
- Historians have amended this view to some extent, they stated that Washington was quite ambitious about his career and business interests. Gore Vidal noted that Washington not having much of an acumen for constitutional statecraft (he left that to Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson) had initially hoped for retirement but fears of competiting political interests, his great celebrity (people came from across the world to meet him), led him to take on the Presidency to consolidate the young Republic.
- In general, the Founding Fathers tried to project an image of reluctance or humility towards power and positions as a sort of tradition, as a way to hide their political ambitions and project republican virtue (in the Roman sense). Privately, all of them were fairly ambitious wheeler-dealers, and they (Jefferson and Hamilton among others) got much mileage attacking their opponents of being ambitious and grabby for power while they, in their opinion that is totally objective, are pure as snow.
- William Howard Taft was another very reluctant President, having been pressured into taking the position by his friend Theodore Roosevelt and to a lesser extent, his wife. He was a judge at heart, and had little taste in politics. (His ideal job would have been a Justice of the Supreme Court, which he eventually achieved.) Hardly any other President was so unhappy in the White House, and worst of all, his arguments with Roosevelt during the 1916 campaign destroyed their friendship. At Wilson's inauguration, he told the new President, "I'm glad to be going. This is the loneliest place on Earth."
- While Liu Bei in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms was reluctant, his historical counterpart seems to have been a subversion. The man rarely served a lord long, and betrayed both Sun Quan & Liu Zhang to take Yi Province, from which he based his Shu Kingdom.
- Meanwhile, while Cao Cao is often presented in fiction as a power hungry tyrant, he never (publicly) sought to replace the Emperor. In keeping with Confucian practice, he made a good show of humility and refusing honours. However, he did continue to eventually accept them—and frankly, after Wang Mang, you don't get the Nine Bestowments unless you (discreetly) ask for them, as a way of confirming you have enough support to take over the government if not usurp the throne. Whether he truly was an ambitious warlord out for what he could get away with or a humble, final hero of the Han is a question for the ages.
- Prince Albert, Duke of York, would have liked nothing more than to live quietly with his nice family, and, since he was the second son, this was a reasonable expectation. However, his brother Edward VIII turned out to be a complete screwup, a playboy and Nazi sympathiser who earned the contempt of the establishment and was forced to abdicate. Albert (as George VI) shouldered the duties of the King-Emperor, the stress of which is often thought to have considerably hastened his death, and he's generally considered to have done so pretty well (being the figurehead for the nation during World War II didn't hurt).
- Pope Benedict XVI may not have ever wanted to be Pope, claiming publically that he prayed he would never gain the position. (Unfortunately for him, in the Roman Catholic Church, one oath all priests much swear to upon becoming ordained is to be willing to accept the position if selected.)
- Yao, the first king/emperor of China, supposedly passed his throne to Shun because he was the most competent and he didn't want the job. Shun similarly passed it to Yu, but Yu couldn't find anybody who qualified who wasn't too old, and so when he died, the throne went to his son and the position became hereditary. Future emperors would try to justify their own rule by having the previous regime (if said ruler wasn't related by blood) "voluntarily" abdicate.
- King Louis XVI was noted in his lifetime for being extremely reluctant and hesitant and seemed to not really enjoy being King, and somehow even before The French Revolution, he was constantly insecure and weak, sensitive to constant insults about how different he was from the tradition of French monarchynote . Even when he finally called for reforms to fix a financial crisis and escalating famine, he was percieved as being reluctant to follow through on the reforms he had himself called for, while at the same time not being as repressive on the revolutionaries and his subjects as his opponents had insisted upon. Even when he planned his famous Flight to Varennes, he left the planning to his wife and fatally delayed taking action.
- Sun Yat-sen, the first President of the post-imperial Republic of China, was very reluctant to rule as President due to a feeling of inadequacy and thus presented the title to Yuan Shikai, a prominent figure in the Chinese military that had previously worked for the pre-revolutionary Qing Dynasty. Shortly after being appointed President, Shikai ruled China as an autocratic despot, relying heavily on 'local elites' (i.e. warlords) in the various provinces to maintain order and stability. After having created a short-lived Empire with himself as Emperor, Shikai died in 1916, culminating in a balkanization of China into various warlord states. Sun died in 1925, both his successors - the left-leaning Wang Jingwei of the Nationalist Party, and 'Red General' (later Generalissimo) Chiang Kai-Shek of the National Revolutionary Army - lacking his reluctance to rule in favor of their burning senses of ambition.
- Tiberius Claudius Nero only became heir to Augustus, the first Roman Emperor after all of Augustus's other potential successors (including his adopted grandchildren) had died in a mixture of unfortunate circumstances and inter/intra-family plotting, and when he became Emperor, attempted to reject the Senate's offered titles, causing massive confusion until he relented. After his own sons died, he grew depressed and retired to Capri, leading his praetorian prefect to institute of a reign of terror in his name. Tiberius was eventually convinced to act against Sejanus the prefect, leading to fresh purges. He eventually died on Capri, leaving the principate to a very young Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known as Caligula.