Due to the Ermine Cape Effect, Everything's Better with Princesses, and other such tropes, there is a belief that being royalty means doing almost nothing else but, well, being royalty. Aside from all the pomp, ceremony, galas, balls, intrigue, and the occasional dealing with actual government of the country, royalty just doesn't do anything else with their time.
This has some Truth in Television, such as the court at Versailles or the Forbidden City in China, but not uniformly so. Just as often as not, royalty would actually do something worthwhile with their time. For centuries from prehistoric Mesopotamia through to the Middle Ages, kings were expected to be strong warriors to defend their holdings and inspire the men around them; in fact, "strong man who can lead the other men of the village in fighting off enemies" was probably the original meaning of kingship. Three examples are Alexander The Great, Charlemagne, and Genghis Khan, kings who gained and kept their power through their skills as generals and warriors and, in the case of the latter two, administrators. note Sadly, there are many royalty who conspired against their people in their free time. This in turn gave them greater power, so an incentive to carry that out, as well. Many of the nouveau riche, for instance, were generals and warriors who started wearing crowns and intermarrying, while taking out their competition.
This convention also led to the establishment of the feudal system. It was actually a deal between the king, nobles, and serfs (though for the serfs it was usually an offer they couldn't refuse). The serfs would work on the land owned by their lords, and the lords would train to be warriors (aka, knights), who would defend the kingdom against invaders, like the Vikings. note It was after the protection part was dropped by the lords that serfdom became no different than slavery. And we know how well that turned out.
Either way, being royalty does not necessarily mean a life of leisure or boredom (depending on how you view it). And fiction occasionally nods to this.
Note that this trope means that the person is still acting as royalty, just doing other things. So a Rebellious Princess does not count, since she is getting away from that kind of life. King Incognitomay count, if the king is attempting to learn things to influence how he reigns; to do it for fun, even if it proves educational, does not count.
It should also be noted that much of the "activities" done by royalty (charity events, sport, arts, etc.) are enabled by their being part of the idle rich, instead of having to work for a living. Also, especially in the case of charity events and good causes, this is often a calculated public relations maneuver, which is not to say that it makes the activities any less of a good impact, there are simply multiple reasons for said activities.
The French have a phrase for this: Noblesse Obliege. It means thatthe nobility should fulfill the responsibilities of their position.
See also In Its Hour of Need.
Compare Warrior Prince, Politically-Active Princess, Modest Royalty, Authority Equals Asskicking, Non-Idle Rich, President Action. Especially prone to What's Up, King Dude?
Contrast Idle Rich, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, Authority in Name Only, Orcus on His Throne, Adipose Rex.
Endymion/Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask also counts, as in his first life he was prince of the Earth's most powerful kingdom and later becomes Usagi's husband and King. The other Sailor Soldiers of the solar system count too, as they were royalty of their own planets in their previous lives.
The Emperor strongly encourages his children to take up positions of influence (and fly around in a Humongous Mecha). The Social Darwinist philosophy and all that. However, the Emperor himself rarely takes an active role in running Brittania, considering war and diplomacy to be "mundane affairs" unworthy of his attention. He's a little too busy trying to kill God to worry about that sorta stuff.
Euphemia's position as sub-viceroy of Area 11 was supposed to merely be a figurehead to attend to public functions while her sister ran the country (or rather, try to destroy the resistance movements), but she spent most of her time trying to improve things for the oppressed people of Japan, to the point of exceeding the technical limits of her power.
Emperor Lelouch more than exceeds this, he flies head-on into a nuke!
Hanon in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch fights evil with everyone else, but constantly worries about her country and does whatever she can to help her people. Later, everyone in the cast takes charge of rebuilding their kingdoms as well as sending aid to that of the Rebellious Princess, whose running away would be seen as irresponsible even if it hadn't led to all it did.
In Yakitate Japan, the royal family of Monaco intentionally send their children out to learn careers as commoners so that they may rule better. The current king learned to bake bread.
To be fair, if he'd had the talent for it, breadmaking could have resulted in him being able to make disposable time machines.
Azalyn, the Empress of the Raaglon Empire in Irresponsible Captain Tylor, rules from the throne room of the Melva, the biggest, baddest ship in the Raaglon fleet. She's even involved in some of the strategic decision-making, and the Melva (though normally kept behind the lines) sees some main battle action.
By technicality, Vivio, as the clone of Olivie, also qualifies, as she serves as a librarian and is receiving training to be a magical girl. She'd rather forget the royalty part and wants to follow in her adopted mother's footsteps.
In Saiunkoku Monogatari, Emperor Shi Ryuuki turns out to be this kind of ruler; aside from taking a keen personal interest in making sure his kingdom is not only prosperous but progressive, he's also left the palace in secret on more than one occasion to help Shuurei and other characters. He's also a skilled swordsman and has personally fought off assassins and fought alongside Seiran, Shuuei, and Ensei.
Vivi in One Piece, the princess of the desert kingdom of Alabasta. She successfully infiltrated the evil organization that was attempting to overthrow her government, as well as take an active role in helping the Straw Hats stop Sir Crocodile from completing his plan.
And her father, Cobra. An unknown, shadow organization is manipulating the people into a rebellion against him? He refuses to send the royal army against his own people without knowing what's happening. When Vivi sends him info on Crocodile, he immediately mobilizes the entire army to leave the capital (where the rebels are planning to meet the army in battle) and send them against Crocodile. Crocodile kidnaps him? He'd rather die, collapse the ancient burial grounds, and try to take Crocodile with him, rather than lead him to Pluton.
Boa Hancock also counts, as the empress of Amazon Lily. Her Red Baron also happens to be "Snake Princess".
And we now have the royalty of the Ryuugu kingdom. King Nepture isn't afraid to protect his subjects when the need arises, including doing an underwater version of Kamehame Hadoken to utterly defeat the New Fishmen Pirates. His deceased wife Queen Otohime stopped a thief by slapping him several times and was very active in trying to promote peace between mermen and humans while making time to be a caring mother of four, a school teacher and a rescue worker. The three princes are all Warrior Princes and are said to be the strongest of the Nepture army which they also lead.
There's also Donquixote Doflamingo. He may not look like it, but he is the king of Dressrosa. Later on, this becomes extremely notable when it's revealed that he's a World Noble, who are often noted to be anything but this.
Then subverted a bit when you find out how he gained the kingdom. It all mostly a front to hide his operations. Played straight with the former rulers, The Riku Family, who indeed had the people's best interest at heart.
In Tenchi Muyo!, the Juraian Royal Family are the baddest mofos around, and additionally are paired off with sentient spaceships capable of generating super weapon fields of invulnerability. They actually have an Imperial Guard whose job is mainly to evacuate the civilians if somebody attacks the royals and they have to fight back.
Crest of the Stars: noble Abh in general are required to serve in the military, and members of the royal families are expected to be extra awesome. The one who gets to be Commander-in-Chief of the Star Forces becomes the Crown Prince and next Emperor
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the main character, as well as most Periphery clan leaders. Torumekian and Dorok royalty also lead from the front, especially Princess Kushana and both Emperors.
The eponymous heroine of Princess Mononoke doesn't count, as her title is merely a nickname, but Prince Ashitaka certainly does.
Hakuoro, once he takes over the country by force. After that he's a very responsible leader, but not afraid to kick ass when necessary. On the other hand, the other emperors also tend to take a very hands on approach to war and politics.
In Yu-Gi-Oh!, the spirit of the Puzzle is a pharaoh, and not only is he one of the lead characters (and therefore takes part in everything), but in the Memory World arc he fights on the front lines with the rest of his court and the army.
The Saillune royal family in Slayers, natch. Princess Amelia is a White Mage/Shamanistic Mage who is very willing to take on theWalking the Earth lifestyle in order to help others, which she does several times, namely sending out for medical aid for the impoverished kingdom of Taforashia in the anime. It's also been shown that she is a decent diplomat (or at least tries to be). Prince Phillionel also believes in going out in order to fight crime, and is a prime example of the Charles Atlas Superpower trope. It's implied that Amelia's Missing Mom was also a sorceress.
Subverted with Princess Gracia, otherwise known as Naga the Serpent and Amelia's missing older sister. She takes on traveling in austere settings and will help others, but is a sub-par fighter, a Hard-Drinking Party Girl, haughty, and expects fame and dotes on herself without doing much work (just watch the movies; Lina's the one who gets all the recognition for a reason).
Pokota/Prince Posel of Taforashia, an anime-exclusive character, is also this: a powerful practitioner of Black Magic and all too willing to save his disease-stricken kingdom.
Mystogan, in Fairy Tail is apparently a prince. While that one came out of nowhere he's done a heck of a lot more than he usually gets credit for.
Also Princess Hisui E. Fiore, who is the true mastermind behind the Eclipse Project which aims to save Fiore from a dragon apocalypse. Unfortunately, she's an Unwitting Pawn as the Eclipse Project is actually what causes said apocalypse.
Her father, King Toma J. Fiore, is this to a much lesser extent. He's the Pumpkin referee of the Grand Magic games, but he does help out with the Eclipse project by talking to the crowds once he knows about it.
In Kyo Kara Maoh, Yuuri goes out and meets with people and does things, much to Wolfram's chagrin.
[deep breath] Technically this country has no royalty other than the reigning monarch, since it's a divinely appointed rather than hereditary position, but the Twelve Families are pretty much royalty. This causes Gwendal, as ruling lord of the Voltaire line and the Only Sane Man in Yuuri's administration, to spend all his time up to his eyebrows in work and Wolfram (not in the direct line of descent, but raised as the son of the ruler) to train as a soldier and operate as a Royal Brat. Conrad is not particularly noble by this reckoning, despite his mother's status, and thus exempted.
There are a lot of rulers in this show, actually. Flurin, ruler of Caloria, appears to actually do things. More things after she stops pretending to be her own dead husband. Antoine of Francia never did anything before kicking Dai Shimaron out of his country; insufficient data on Cabalcade's shiny-headed rulers. The king of Sho Shimaron is conspicuously absent for the first two seasons and active in a social, schemey way in the third after pleading helplessness to excuse all the trouble his subjects gave the main character previously. Running Dai Shimaron appears to consist of presiding on a throne and running schemes to conquer the world.
Which makes you wonder what Conrad would have done with himself if circumstances actually had required that he press his claim to the Shimaron throne.
Every single Kage in every country in the world of Naruto. Prime examples are the fourth Hokage of the main character's village, who died protecting his village, and the fifth Hokage in the same village, who almost killed herself healing injured villagers on a large scale during a massive assault. The factors of being a village leader is Wisdom, Experience, a desire to protect, complimented with the ability to kick ass.
Kashue the Mercenary King in Record of Lodoss War is a very competent ruler who actually fights well.
Akira Takizawa in Eden of the East spends the last of his money as a Seleção to make himself the King of Japan, in order to try and "fix" the country and finish his work as a Savior. He ends up undoing this at the end of the movies, realizing that it's up to the people as a whole to fix their country, not any one man. He instead uses the last of his influence to give them a push in the right direction.
Ling Yao and May Chang from Fullmetal Alchemist, the 12th Prince and 17th Princess of Xing respectively. Due to the Succession Crisis occurring in their country, their roles in the story are triggered by their active search for a means to gain favor in inheriting the throne. Both are highly skilled in martialarts, and May is also capable of using the alternate form of Alchemy called Alkahestry. Also, throughout the story Ling would frequently tout his belief that kings exist to serve their people. Which he intends to uphold, considering that once he secures his place as successor the first thing he promises to do as Emperor is quell the warring between the clans of his country.
Mobile Suit Gundam: While SovereignDegwin Zabi doesn't do much beyond sit on his throne and look depressed, his children are very involved in the running of the One Year War. "Well Done, Son" Guy Garma leads the Earth Invasion Force, Genius Bruiser Dozle and Evil Genius Kycillia are both highly respected fleet commanders, and Non-Action GuyGihren organises the war effort, plots overall strategy, and keeps up troop morale via Rousing Speech. Even Mineva Zabi, Dozle's daughter and heiress of Zeon, is quite active throughout Gundam Unicorn, though technically by this point her family had lost most of the power it once had, so her title was mostly empty.
Shakti Kareen, Princess of Zanscare, of Victory Gundam, who spends the story aiding the resistance and generally trying to overthrow the corrupt and malevolent government of Zanscare.
∀ Gundam: Dianna Soriel, Queen of the Moon. She personally leads the Moonrace returning to Earth, and is shown to be very involved in her society's administration. She's extremely active throughout the story, often present on the front lines of battle, even helping out at a war hospital at one point (she was incognito at the time). In fact, one of the main reasons the other noble houses of the Moon agreed with her going to Earth was to get her out of the way so they could rule more directly.
Even Marina Ismail of Mobile Suit Gundam 00. She is shown doing everything in her power to improve her people's lot in life. Unfortunately, since she is a figurehead, that power doesn't amount to very much, but she is at least trying. After Azadistan is dissolved and subsequently rebuilt at the end of season 2, she seems to have garnered some measure of actual political power, and is shown aiding her countrymen in The Movie.
Bleach has Kuchiki Byakuya, the captain of the 6th division and is the head of his clan. The Shiba clan is now in disgrace, but had members who counted when they were still a noble house. Shihoin Yoruichi was (and possibly still is) the head of her clan, and the leader of the Stealth Force. This is just from the four major noble houses, we'll not get into the lesser noble houses, but suffice to say they Do Stuff.
In Magi - Labyrinth of Magic, virtually anyone who's both royalty and has the capacity to own a metal vessel Does Stuff. Everything is justified by the in-series system of determining who's worthy of becoming King: being Badass enough to go into a dungeon and survive.
Black Panther is primarily a king and does superheroics as a sideline, as did his ancestors.
Doctor Doom is a villainous example. He is the monarch of Latveria (most of the time) and there can be little doubt that he's spent most of his reign being a thorn in the side of the Fantastic Four (and pretty much every other hero in the Marvel Universe).
Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira isn't above getting her hands dirty (and, in one bit of comics continuity, was Wonder Woman during World War II). Her daughters, Diana and Donna, are more than happy to follow in their mother's footsteps, Diana as the current Wonder Woman and Donna as the first Wonder Girl (now Troia). Donna's close friend (and fellow Titan) Starfire is also a princess, though whether or not she counts as "acting" monarchy is debatable since she's in willing exile.
Maxima was Queen of Almerac and had a period as a superhero before pulling a Heroic Sacrifice by blocking a planet destroying blast.
Under his title as King of Dreams, Morpheus of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman seems to fit here - one later issue runs through a week of the royal itinerary of diplomacy, judicial duties, and dreamcrafting as a counterpoint to the frequent stories of Morpheus going out and doing things. Also, the first volume is all about him actively going out and recovering his three talismans of power, which are needed to restore the Dreaming; in his absence, it decayed badly. He also re-captures renegade dreams/nightmares, and stops a vortex that would have destroyed his realm and the mortal world. It's really only in the later books that he starts going on more personal quests.
Several main characters of Bone are either Royalty or of Royal Descent:
Thorn is a princess although she was not raised as one.
Gran'ma Ben was also one.
Which meant that her sister Briar (AKA the hooded one) is also a princess.
Princess Zelda and her father, in the Nintendo Comics System adaptation of The Legend of Zelda, are both very involved with the people of their kingdom. Zelda in particular is shown going on goodwill visits to distant cities and putting herself in harm's way to protect her people.
The Green Lantern Corps includes Princess Iolande of Betrassus, now ruler of her planet since everyone else in the royal family is dead. Iolande, however, much prefers being in the corps.
Lilandra, Empress/Magistrix of the Shi'ar Empire and Charles Xavier's on-again off-again love interest is found at the helm of the Shi'ar fleet's flagship or directly on the battlefield at least as often as she's seen on the throne, and even then she's pulling more strings than a puppet-master, trying to assure as peaceful and prosperous an existence for her empire as possible within the chaotic Marvel Universe.
Diabolik offers us Altea, the Duchess of Vallenberg: a member of the royal family of Benglait by marriage, was one of two royals with a modicum of common sense, serving as a nurse during the first terrorist crisis of the Grey Ravens and giving useful but ultimately ignored advice to the king and his son (and thus being the only member of the royal family still able to go around in Benglait after the revolution). Even after the revolution she's still active in charities, helping her fiancee Ginko to try and arrest Diabolik, and, occasionally, doing some secret investigations for her country (one of which ended with her holding a gun on the leader of the Grey Ravens. Then Diabolik, having a vendetta against the guy, killed him).
Also, her late husband Federico: cousin of the king, he was leading the fight against the Grey Ravens as a police officer and preaching for less wasting of the kingdom's money into parties and accepting the fact they were in a civil war before he went swimming and got killed by a shark. Then Subverted when it was found out he was the leader of the Grey Ravens trying to take over the country, who faked his own death when his own officers proved too competent and were on the verge to unmask him. Altea is implied to be the indirect reason the Grey Ravens failed to take over during the revolution and shown to having accidentally done the same during a later crisis (she was left comatose in a bombing. Ginko left no survivors among the responsible, even allying to Diabolik for the occasion), and was the one to unmask Federico when he returned trying to pass himself as a hero (with Diabolik stalking her because he had also found out and wanted revenge).
In Keepers of the Elements, Queen Tiana is the most prominent example of this. She is fluent in a few languages, has been Queen since the age of fifteen and is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at the same time. She also happens to be quite proficient with machines in general and loves riding her flying motorcycle as seen in the scene in which she is introduced.
Baron Beltorey in The Tainted Grimoire. For example, when an underground sport was causing harm to civilians, he took measures to minimize the harm and in the process, also turned it into a legitimate sporting event.
In Things We Don't Tell Humans, Optimus Prime, Elita-One, Megatron, and Nightbird become very popular among the people for this. They're involved with charities and resources for addicts and the poor, and support the arts and sciences.
Mighty Morphin Mecha Rangers features Van Fanelle, king of Fanellia, member of the Mecha Rangers, and all around proactive warrior. There's also Nia, who is technically a princess and has fought using an EVANGELION!. Lastly, as the series features characters from Code Geass, many of them are royalty and do all kinds of stuff, from politics to diplomacy to conquest.
Invoked and averted with the Grand Ruler from My Little Unicorn. While he takes constant care of the ecosystem of Unicornicopia, he does not go into battle when Titan shows up the first time, despite being the only one able to stop him. The author later tried to excuse this by explaining that the Grand Ruler had faith in his prized student, Lightning. Problem is, Lightning can't do magic and the only reason he did not die is that he conveniently discovered he can summon the Uniforce.
In The Masks We Wear Zuko commands the defense of the Fire Nation Capital against the invasion during the eclipse, making the invaders pay a heavy toll in blood prior to the eclipse, and all but stopping their advance during the eclipse; when Azula launches a counterattack after the eclipse with the Fire Nation Air Fleet, she is IMPRESSED by Zuko's achievements.
In The Cadanceverse, Princess Cadance both runs Equestria and teaches music to her students.
Additionally, Prince Blueblood of Monacolt is a skilled and active ruler. He's also been described as a skilled boxer and harpist.
The Little Mermaid: Prince Eric is a competent sailor. Ariel fights Ursula when the sea witch turns her dad into a sea plant and, prior to that, risks drowning to swim to a ship and prevent Ursula from marrying an enchanted Eric. Their daughter Melody takes on Ursula's sister in the sequel.
The prince of Cinderella. In the second film, he dives out a window, races at top speed on his horse, jumps onto the sail of a moving ship, slides down on his sword, and blocks a magic spell with that same sword, all for the sake of Cinderella. She herself jumps from a runaway carriage onto a horse and rides back to the palace just so her stepmother won't steal her happiness and deceive the prince in the third movie.
Enchanted: As out-of-it as he is, Prince Edward is still pretty brave to dive through a Portal Pool to a strange land, fight a "metal monster" (bus) with a sword, and search New York, just to save Giselle.
Original plans for Snow White's prince included him escaping from a water-filled dungeon after refusing to marry the Queen. Although none of this ever actually made it into the film, it is implied that he spends the entire movie searching for her while the plot is going on.
Beauty and the Beast: The Beast qualifies, as he does rather effectively govern a large household and lands. He also fights wolves in the snow and (eventually) helps to fend off an invasion of his castle. Oh, yeah, and he's actually a prince.
Pocahontas, with pretty much only John Smith's help, defuses the Native American/European tension.
The Princess and the Frog: For a prince, Naveen sure does adapt quickly to life as a frog. Then, at the end of the movie, both Tiana and Naveen play this straight, with Tiana running the restaurant of her dreams and Naveen alternating between waiting tables and performing live music.
The royal family of DunBroch in Brave qualifies as a whole: Merida is a Badass Princess, Elinor manages diplomatic affairs, Fergus is a fierce warrior, and even the toddler triplets are crafty tricksters capable of distracting an entire castle. The other clan leaders and their heirs are also shown as being pretty battle-happy, especially against each other.
In Thumbelina, Prince Cornelius covers a surprising distance (considering his size), nearly dies in a frozen lake, and fights a large irate frog to save Thumbelina.
Princess Leia was a key leader in the rebellion. Even though her biological mother wasn't royalty by inheritance (Naboo being best described as a sovereign republic, with a maximum of two four-year terms for the ruler, albeit terming its head of state by the monarchial terms "Queen" or "King" rather than, say, President), her adopted parents were the King and Queen of Alderaan.
In the movie adaptation of The Hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield, the King Under the Mountain, is trying to take back his home with the help of twelve other dwarves, a Wizard and a Hobbit. Fíli and Kíli count as well, as they are Thorin's nephews and heirs. Hell, most of the company is somehow related to Thorin.
In Uwe Boll's In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, King Konreid of Ehb personally leads his soldiers into battle against the Krug. While Farmer, after finding out that he is Konreid's long-lost son, leads a one-man mission to find his wife and kill the Evil Sorcerer. Duke Fallow is a subversion, as he'd much rather enjoy all the perks of being royalty without any responsibility. That said, he's pretty handy with a sword.
Nyssa Damaskinos in Blade II is the daughter of Overlord Eli Damaskinos, one of the rulers of the vampire nation. Despite this, she is a member of the Blood Pack, an elite team of vampire warriors trained to hunt Blade. She actually gives him a pretty good run during their first encounter. It is also made clear that her father does not put a lot of stock in family.
Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010): Prince John is the first to charge into the siege of upcoming French, eager to prove his worth.
In Jack the Giant Slayer King Brahmwell fights alongside his men during the final battle with the giants, joins the soldiers tugging on the lanyards to secure the drawbridge and refuses to flee when things look hopeless.
Elmont: Get the king to safety! King Brahmwell: (pulls out his sword) Like hell!
Lampshaded in The King's Speech when George VI complains that he has no power as a 20th Century king, except as an inspiration for the people such as in giving public addresses, which he has no confidence doing so with his stammer. However, with Lionel Logue's help, he does that role marvelously.
Animorphs: In Andalite society, "Prince" is a military rank... So it stands to reason that princes would actually do some fighting.
The royalty in Dune basically do nothing but scheming against one another and actually ruling their domains. Court functions and leisure occasions seem to only serve the purpose of furthering their schemes for power.
Though the Duke personally visited the mining of the Spice with a local guide to get a hands-on glimpse at the techniques.
It's actually a plot point that the Atreides family is the exception to the rule in this regard, which inspires fanatical devotion in their servants and retainers. Paul's grandfather Paulus, for example, was gored to death by a bull while trying to entertain the people of Caladan with bullfighting.
Both of the Harkonnen nephews can be pretty active. Glossu Rabban is utterly ruthless and prefers to personally execute... well, anyone who displeases him. In the prequel novels, he also leads the Harkonnen forces in an attack and flies the first no-ship. Feyd-Rautha, while not as active, does participate in gladiatorial combat (although, it's usually rigged in his favor). At the end of the first novel, he even challenges Paul Atreides to a duel that will decide the fate of the galaxy. In fact, the prequel novels are full of aristocrats actually doing things, including Paulus Atreides and Dominic Vernius.
And in general, most nobles - including the Harkonnens - are shown to have a hands-on approach to government, spending as much time with statecraft as they do with leisure. One of the first scenes of Dune: House Atreides has the Baron Harkonnen himself doing the same sort of inspection of a spice mining operation that Duke Leto did in Dune, both to ensure that everything is being done smoothly, and to better understand how he's making his money.
Legacy of Dune also has some nobles taking a pretty active role in governing and military command. The most notable is Xavier Harkonnen. His first appearance has him defending Salusa Secundus from a Cymek attack in a Space Fighter. His grandson Abulurd was also a capable commander.
The Discworld's King of Lancre is an example of this trope, getting involved in everything from crop rotation to the invention of the Lancrastrian Army Knife.
Although his subjects would rather prefer he didn't, and stick to kinging. Similarly, Magrat initially finds the duties of the queen dreadfully boring (it's mostly embroidering). It's a good thing the elves showed up so she could let off some steam.
Also, the Low King of the dwarves is, up till his election, a working dwarf.
The same could probably also be said of Diamond (the troll king), since he runs a 'Thud' (a dwarven/trollish board-game) Club.
After his marriage to Sybil elevates him to dukedom, Vimes himself qualifies; he continues to work as the head of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch in spite of being so independently wealthy that his great-great grandchildren could go their entire lives without doing a day of work. In Monstrous Regiment he's actually mistaken for a sergeant because of his philosophy that armor ought to look like it's been doing its job and his habit of avoiding committees.
Susan, despite being Duchess of Sto Helit, works first as a governess and then a schoolteacher. Her parents had spent most of their time working as diplomats outside their duchy, helping establish and maintain the peace between city-states that currently prevails on the Sto Plains.
Princess Raisa actively invokes this trope throughout The Seven Realms Series. In book one she founds the Briar Rose Ministry, a charity she and her father run that earns money for the people. The Briar Rose ministry not only helps some of her people avoid starvation, but gets some younger people the money they need to go to school and earns her a very loyal following. (This becomes a very important plot point later on.) By book three, she stops caring about making enemies within the government and goes around rectifying serious issues with the way things are done in order to help the people. A good portion of book three is spent on showing her doing this.
Garion in The Belgariad is actually a decent king who spends more of his time as an administrator than anything in pomp and ceremony. Most other kings and royalty, and even many aristocrats, in that universe are in a similar position. Also occurs- albeit to varying extents- in Eddings' Elenium.
Queen Tamra, and later King Bruno, in Wil Mc Carthy's Queendom Of Sol series. Tamra takes an active part in handling threats to the system, and Bruno is a super-genius physicist who CANT stop working. The irony is that they are SUPPOSED to be Authority in Name Only, but it doesn't work that way, due partly to the genetic quirk impelling Homo Sapiens to bend at the knees (which was the reason for reviving monarchy in the first place) and partly to the forceful personalities of the incumbents. Their "royal decrees" have no authority, but almost everyone obeys them anyway.
The kings of Tortall in Tamora Pierce's series are required to become knights and undergo the Ordeal of Knighthood (more or less a Mind Rape that makes you face your worst fears) and a few characters comment that King Jonathan and his queen Thayet very much pull their weight in several areas.
Jonathan and Thayet, in particular, have been responsible for such an insane amount of social progress in a few decades that at times it tests the bounds of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. It also seems that Thayet has expanded the role of the queen in government — she's officially Jonathan's co-ruler, and it's implied that this was not the case with previous queens. Among other things, she's started up the Queen's Riders, an unglamorous, coed branch of the military that goes around cleaning up Tortall in cases where the (all-male) King's Own would make a hash of it by being so big and bright and shiny. She's its official commander and is actively involved in what it does.
Tamora Pierce seems to like this one. In her Emelan books, we see His Grace Duke Vedris IV of Emelan taking a hand in public welfare and offering his castle as protection for a family whose members are being systematically murdered, Empress Berenene dor Ocmore of Namorn building up her country, making it powerful, wealthy, successful as well as fighting wars to keep it that way, not to mention shrewdly manipulating her nobles so as to keep them from making too much trouble (even if she is a magnificent bitch. And then there's Lady Sandrilene fa Toren, who while not royalty is close kin to the two mentioned above (and there is reason to believe that the Duke may well make her his heir) and is ready to face down armies armed only with her noble blood and springs to battle the moment she sees anyone being mistreated, leading to many a Crowning Moment of Awesome in the series.
She even does it with her evil royals. Duke Roger of Conte is noted for his magical research and knowledge, and he was also a famed amateur jeweler. The King of Tusaine does nothing, but his two brothers are his lead general/guy who mostly runs the kingdom and a top spy respectively. Both of these are in the Song of the Lioness quartet. And in the Immortals Quartet, Emperor Mage Ozorne has that title because he's so well known for his work in magic.
A lot of the royals in the Trickster books do either 'nothing' or 'nothing except plot to murder one another,' but our heroine is working to depose them. The original rebellion-queen-candidate is beautiful, brave, charismatic, and fairly clever, but not a practical individual; after she runs away with a boy they use her sister, who is presented by the story as a far superior choice as she is brilliant, pragmatic, and tough as nails.
Emperor Ozorne of Carthak was a shrewdly manipulative individual and powerful mage who put most of his effort into creating as large an empire as possible. His heir Kaddar (though Kaddar doubted he'd survive long enough to actually inherit the title) was a hard-working student who hoped to find a way to end the droughts his country was suffering. When he does take up the title he seems to do a lot for getting the country back in order.
The rulers of C. S. Lewis's Narnia and Archenland are expected to be "first in every charge and last in every retreat" as well as have lean tables during famines. One gets the impression that descent is an unimportant part of being royalty: Aslan appoints a random cab driver from London the first King of Narnia. When the cabbie objects, Aslan asks him if he would remember that the Talking Animals of Narnia are free subjects, avoid holding favourites, bring up his children to do the same, et cetera. His answers are between "yes" and "A chap can't know that, but I hope I'd try," and Aslan tells him "You will have done all that a King should do."
The Calormen royalty as well; whatever other faults you can lay at their door, are also directly involved in politics and battles. When the Jerk Ass prince (unable to leave his city because of a curse) becomes Tisroc (king), he makes peace with his neighbors, because he knows better than to let his lords win glory in battle while he's stuck in the palace - "for that is the way Tisrocs get overthrown".
Magic in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy is very much In the Blood. Therefore, in addition to Queen Sabriel's duties as Abhorsen, keeping the Dead dead, King Touchstone I has the responsibility of ruling, restoring order and peace, and fixing the broken Charter Stones, which keep the Kingdom safe to begin with. The latter activity alone takes years off his life.
Fflewdur Fflam, the truant bard king with the bright yellow hair. Not 'a complete doofus,' but not exactly a responsible ruler.
In Alexander's The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, the title character starts out as an over-pampered member of a completely useless royal family, but a series of adventures outside the palace walls, a few weeks of life as a crippled outcast, and an attempted coup make him a proper ruler.
And in The Iron Ring the lead is a minor king from Fantasy India who abandons his country over a matter of honor; he did a perfectly good job until then and left it in good hands, but he comes back with a mega agenda at the end and reforms the country like crazy. A whole lot of other kings appear over the course of the story, as both negative and positive examples. Usurpers, jerkasses, the incredibly honorable warrior kings both human and snake, some kind of divinity, and even the king of the monkeys, who was formerly human and becomes an early party member. (Clearly influenced by Sun Wukong.)
The titular lead of The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha is a professional layabout who's magically sent to a vaguely Persian country where he first nearly drowns and is then proclaimed king. Spends a while enjoying the easy life, then gets bit by a sense of responsibility, complains about how exhausting it is, annoys the hell out of his whole court by attempting to actually rule, and gets himself nearly assassinated. Then the plot starts.
And in the Westmark trilogy, the country starts out in a (ahem) royal mess because the King has been slacking off, while in subsequent books ruling is depicted as involving tons of paperwork and tough decisions. Alexander is pretty good at this trope generally.
By which we mean it's one of his top five.
In Robert Asprin's Hit or Myth, the King of Possiltum grows tired of his daily regimen of arbitrating his subjects' legal hassles, and attempts to permanently foist off the job on his court magician Skeeve. (Also, he was being unwillingly herded into a diplomatically advantageous marriage, which is another reason not to envy working kings...)
Crown Prince Phillip in the Antares novels has to serve in the military just like every other Sandarian. The only special treatment he gets is that he is addressed as "Your Highness" at all times. Even when being given orders.
He even leads a boarding party in Antares Passage.
Every ruler of Valdemar fits this, as the rulers are required to also be Heralds, and the Heralds of Valdemar do whatever the kingdom requires of them, from fighting and spying to policing and judging.
Although the royal family of Valdemar unhesitatingly serve as warrior kings (or queens, or princes/princesses, etc.) when necessary, they are still the only Heralds who are under the injunction to stay out of danger whenever possible. Elspeth had to resolve the conflict between her conflicting imperatives as heir ('avoid any avoidable danger') and Herald-Mage ('you are an incredibly rare strategic resource, the very tip of the spear') by abdicating her position in the line of succession to concentrate on her battle-mage duties.
Due to Manticoran royalty in Honor Harrington being very much based on the British one, it's not all that surprising that they Actually Do Something, and they do it a lot. Especially since a Manticoran monarch has significantly more weight in the daily running of the shop, being a kind of a hereditary President in a semi-presidential republic. This also goes down the line, with Michael Winton, the younger brother of the current Queen Elizabeth III, and Michelle Henke, her first cousin, being serving officers in the Navy and all that. Elizabeth's own son and heir apparent is also going to the navy soon — it's a family tradition actually, much like their originals.
Part of the backstory of the origin of the Manticoran government was that the system was set up so that the heir to the throne was constitutionally prohibited from marrying someone coming from the nobility/aristocracy: this meant that heirs always were the daughters or sons of people whose families actually had to work for a living, and hopefully picked up that habit.
The nobility also get in on the act. Plenty of them choose frontline military service, including Michael Oversteegen, Michelle Henke, Gervais Archer, and Admiral White Haven himself.
Prince Roger(Etc) MacClintock of David Weber and John Ringo's March series was a very lazy royal (one of the reasons everyone hated him). He quickly changed. At one point he planned to spend his life lifting the Death World Marduk out of the dark ages; now he is planning to do this to the entire Empire, which has been taken over in a coup in which one of the first steps was to strand him on Marduk, where he Took a Level in Badass just to survive.
The King's Hand (basically a Prime Minister) does most of the work running the Seven Kingdoms. King Robert Baratheon for example did almost nothing during his reign besides eating, drinking and chasing women.
It depends on the king. In the series it's said that a weak king, like Robert, needs a strong hand to rule while they hunt and whore [Robert] or fast themselves to death (Baelor the blessed, also known as Baelor the Befuddled); while a strong king just needs someone who can follow orders to make sure those orders are implemented. Though most kings mentioned in the series have been weak (or minors); and as such their Hands generally did the work
In the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Cimorene moseys from Rebellious Princess at the beginning of the series to this trope in the second half of the series, maintaining the same (high) level of practicality all along. King Mendanbar can and does perform pretty much every significant task in his territory himself. His "court" is a handful of palace staff that takes care of daily operations. The new King of the Dragons, crowned at the end of the first book, also operates firmly under this trope.
Mendanbar was actually taking this trope to unhealthy extremes when he was first introduced, as Cimorene and Morwen both pointed out. One guy and his castle staff can't run an entire kingdom and the attempt was running Mendanbar himself ragged. As Cimorene had helped the Dragons set up a system of delegated authority it is presumed she did the same for the Enchanted Forest as well.
Many monarchs in Tolkien's Middle-Earth are also active both on and off the battlefield:
From The Lord of the Rings there's Elendil, Gil-Galad, Aragorn, Legolas, and the whole royal house of Rohan.
In The Silmarillion, all the Noldorin princes are warriors who go to battle against the Dark Lord, and most of them die that way.
The best example is undoubtedly King Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond (say it ten times fast), who even abandons his kingdom to his brother and leaves with a few volunteers after his people refuse to help him rescue the human whose father saved his life, because he swore an oath that he would repay their family.
Fëanor was also a king who actually did some things. Pretty insane, horrible, evil things, mind, but things nonetheless. And he certainly wasn't staying at the rear in battles — in fact, that's what killed him.
Fingon, who rescued Maedhros from Thangorodrim; Beren and Lúthien, who pinched a Silmaril from under Morgoth's nose; and all the characters who are the descendants of Húrin and Huor.
Fingon's father, High King Fingolfin, not only led his people in battle but challenged Morgoth himself to single combat. He lost, and he died, but he also permanently crippled Satan's foot and humiliated him in front of his troops.
If the similarity in names wasn't a clue, pretty much all the above are quite closely related. Fingolfin is Fëanor's half-brother, and Finrod is the son of Finarfin, who is Fingolfin's brother. Speaking of Finrod, we may as well mention his sister ...
Galadriel, who is the oldest of the Noldor royalty still standing, has undertaken quite a few actions against Sauron (although they are generally 'off camera'). Actually, even when at home, she is in constant battle with Sauron through sheer willpower. She was also pretty scary during her youth; she was one of the leaders of the rebellion of the Noldor (although she wasn't directly involved in the Kinslaying) and was subsequently banished from Valinor. One of her older names was Nerwen, meaning "man-maid", a reference to both her height and her general badassery.
This is especially true in the Lord of the Rings movie. Watch through the Battle of Pelennor Fields for a Mûmak death count — of those onscreen, one of them is taken out by the Dead Men, and only one is taken out by a member of the Fellowship (that would be Legolas, who takes a good minute and a half to do so). Then Théoden kills one (well, leads the killing of one), Gamling kills one (close enough), Éowyn kills one, and Éomer kills two. With one thrown spear.
In The Hobbit, there's Thranduil (the Elvenking), Thorin Oakenshield (King Under the Mountain), Fíli and Kíli (Princes of Erebor), and (future King) Bard I. During The Return of the King, Bard also fought a couple battles off-screen, including sacking Dol Guldur, Sauron's fortress in Mirkwood. Galadriel was also there.
Bard was pretty much made King of Dale because of him actually Doing Something in The Hobbit. His off-to-the-side actions during the War of the Ring are the trope played straight, though.
Elrond was impressive, too. Sure, by the time Sauron was off kicking everyone's shit around, he wanted to abandon Middle-Earth, but look at what he did the first time it happened. Hell, it isn't an example of the king being badass, but even being willing to take his people and abandon their slice of Paradise the second time around is an example of a royal willing to make hard, painful decisions. You don't always have to be a fearless warrior guy to be an active leader of your people.
Thrór, Thráin, Thorin, and Frerin might also count: they all worked as smiths, since they're in exile because of a large red dragon.
Thorin's cousin, Dáin II Ironfoot, who leads the dwarves of the Iron Hills into the Battle of Five Armies when Erebor Calls For Aid. Dáin later dies defending the gate of Erebor when Sauron sends armies through the north.
And does so standing over the body of King Bard II, who'd already gone down swinging.
In the Malazan Book of the Fallenverse by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont, Malazan Emperor Kellanved was a powerful sorcerer who researched and travelled in his quest to become a god. He succeeded. Before launching his extraordinary plan and forging his empire (magnificently so - for around 90 years or so), he apparently used to run a bar for a while.
Empress Laseen, who succeeded him, was the former head of the Imperial assassins.
Though it's mentioned that at least one Highprince leads from the rear, with his Shards being bestowed on the Highprince's Champion.
King Lief of Del spent the first few years of his reign traveling around his country in order to drive out the Shadow Lord's forces and free his people, and went on to rule "long and wisely".
The heads of the eponymous three kingdoms from Romance of the Three Kingdoms also count. Liu Bei, in particular, wove straw mats and sold shoes before he entered politics and military service. In fact, once any noble stops being one of these and starts simply reigning, an ambitious adviser will usually pick up the slack and eventually supplant him.
In John Woo's movie adaptation, Sun Quan the King of Wu fights on the frontlines during the Battle of Red Cliff. This certainly never happened in real-life; it didn't even happen in the historical novel!
Not that battle, no, but Sun Quan is actually rebuked by his subordinates for spending too much time near the front lines in other battles.
Annoying though Elayne Trakand can be, she spends a fair amount of her time as princess chasing evil sorceresses around the known world and kicking butt. Then she ascends to the throne and immediately has to fight a civil war.
Rand has plenty of things he needs to do as the Dragon Reborn and being crowned king of Illian and more or less being in charge of several countries he has taken does not change that. The books do show him less and less though as time goes on so while he is probably pretty busy king and ruler, it can seem like he isn't doing much to the reader.
The series as a whole varies greatly with respect to this trope. Before the main characters come into their own the nobility of some nations are shown as effete, vain parasites devoted to jockeying for position in court - Cairhein especially, where a previous king caused a disastrous war with a Proud Warrior Race just because he wanted to use some really, really rare wood for his new throne - but for many others, royalty is hard work. For all the northern rulers, keeping the Blight back is a full-time job. The Seanchan take very seriously their obligation to provide peace and justice in their territory - they'd be the good guys, if not for treating channelers like animals, and it helps them that their invasion happened to start with nations with very weak rule of law until they showed up.
Nearly all nobles in The Riftwar Cycle, no matter their planet of origin, are like this. The primary setting, the Kingdom of the Isles on Midkemia, is particularly notable because it works under a feudal system called "The Great Freedom" which gives nobles a responsibility to go out and defend their people in exchange for their allegiance.
Prince Arutha is an exceptional example—he is depicted as far more interested in being hands-on than delegating the dirty work to his subordinates. At one point, he even fakes his own death so he can get away from his princely duties so he can sally forth and kick a whole lot of ass.
The nobles of pan-Asian Kelewan can vary. Some are more or less useless, others very hands on. Some are warriors, some accountants, some spoiled dandies. The fortune of their estate rises and falls with their various abilities (and those of their advisors) so this is mildly deconstructed.
Subversion: Emperor Varnazd in Yulia Latynina's Wei Empire cycle desperately wants to be this, but almost everything he ever does to that end (and he tries a lot of things) backfires badly, to the point of directly causing an all-out civil war.
In 2021 of the timeline of the Axis of Time trilogy by John Birmingham, Prince Harry is quite a badass SAS colonel. After the multinational anti-terror task force he is assigned to is sent back toWorld War II, he becomes quite the celebrity in the contemporary UK.
Princess Elizabeth thinks being called 'granny' by a man old enough to be her father is a giggle but Prince Philip is more than a little intimidated by his badass grandson.
Dwarven king Bruenor Battlehammer, friend to Drizzt Do'Urden, actively fights on the front lines and leads his people into battle against gray dwarves, dark elves, and orcs. A later variation has him leaving his duties in Mithril Hall to go out and hunt the monsters who threaten the nearby settlements, which leads to an argument with the captain of his royal guard about the king putting himself in danger and reminding him of his duties in Mithril Hall.
On of Drizzt and Bruenor's greatest enemies and later, reluctant allies, King Obould Many-Arrows, also takes a very hands on approach, often leading armies into battle and facing enemies in singles combat.
Just as in Real Life, in 1632 there's Gustav II Adolphus, king of the Swedes. Either on the front lines or commanding the army in multiple battles, and once even making a reckless charge to save his uptime allies, in the first book.. Seems to be what he likes as he sent Axel back to Stockholm to manage affairs of the kingdom in 1634: The Baltic War.
In Belisarius Series Shakuntala plans to be a future patron of philosophers besides being a martial arts expert personally, Eon is a soldier and his proudest title is "man of the regiment", Khusrau is a noted administrator and is revamping Persias tax system and government structure while Justinian is planning to codify Roman law. Most Malwa rulers don't do anything competently except please their overlarge and perverted appetites. Link however has a devious plan to Take Over the World.
In the Hell's Gate series, this describes the Calirath dynasty of Ternathia, whose male heirs are required to learn how to be soldiers. Nor are the princesses expected to simply sit around and look princessy.
Baron Edmond Talbot, from John Ringo's Council Wars series. He's very reluctantly nobility, but nobility nonetheless, and will frequently be found in battle.
Being elevated to the rank of Princess of Oz when she moves there permanently doesn't slow Dorothy Gale too much.
In Tin Man her granddaughter (and Ambrose) were holding off a coup from Azkedellia. They may have lost the coup, but Possessed!Az was a pretty efficient tyrant. Then the second Dorothy, DG, shows up...
Many of Bernard Cornwell's novels set in earlier time periods, such as the Grail Quest or Warlord Chronicles trilogies, involve monarchs heavily involved in government, and, particularly, warfare, as is appropriate for the time. A somewhat unusual example is Alfred the Great as he appears in the Saxon Stories, often described by the Unreliable Narrator as engaging in useless clerical or religious work rather than acting as a military leader, evidently unaware that such work will have as great an impact on English history as any of his battles.
Princess Mia in The Princess Diaries puts out in the open a document that had been hidden away that declared that Genovia is supposed to be a Democracy, jeopardizing her entire family's claim to the throne of Genovia and forcing her father to run for election when he had already been ruler. But Mia does it anyway because she genuinely wants what is best for the people of Genovia.
Most royals in David Weber's Safehold books are competent leaders who watch over their lands to the best of their ability. However the most notable are the Ahrmahk dynasty of Charis. In the first book, both King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb lead their forces into the ultimate naval Curb-Stomp Battle. In the third book, Cayleb also personally leads the forces that attack Corisande.
The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy's elf and goblin Kings fit the trope very well. They cast and maintain the spells that protect their kingdoms and make choices for the good of their people, even at their own expense.
Kate does well in the first book, too. Her crowning glory is breaking out of the kingdom to go on a manhunt for the sorcerer who's been stealing goblin souls in the second half, though she's also mentioned to work as an English tutor for the goblins.
All of the Thanes in The Godless World Trilogy are this. It ranges from leading in battle to being an efficient administrator. This re-enforced by the fact that oaths are taken very seriously. This does not preclude advisors or wealthy merchants mucking up the works.
Prince Garric and his sister Princess Sharina from David Drake's The Lord of the Isles series are an absolute nightmare for their bodyguard regiment because of their insistence on being in the thick of things - which is often pitched battle. The guards have the dubious compensation of knowing they're now shielding royalty who're worth protecting.
The First Lord of Alera personally goes behind enemy lines in a civil war to prematurely detonate a volcano that Kalare rigged to blow when he dies. Later he keeps the Vord Horde at bay by setting off another volcano at the capital, buying the people time to retreat.
Most of the royals (and other rulers) in the Emberverse fit this trope. Norman Arminger (the Lord Protector), Mike Havel (Lord Bear), and Astrid Larsson (the Hiril Dunedain) are war leaders; Juniper Mackenzie (the Mackenzie of Clan Mackenzie) is a combatant, a High Priestess, a musician and an expert weaver; Mathilda Arminger and Rudi Mackenzie (their parents' heirs) undertake a quest and fight in combat in the later trilogies.
The former king in The Talisman,the twinner of Jack's father, was a man of the people who traveled around to address those people. The current queen would be as well if she weren't really busy at the moment with the whole dying thing.
Doctor Dolittle: Stubbins, Dr. Dolittle's assistant, is quite surprised to learn there is more to being a king than sitting on a throne and being bowed to several times a day.
There was a short story where one royal family would have the next heir to the throne go on a trip down "the Prophet's Road" on their twentieth birthday. What happened to them would influence their rule; the protagonist's grandmother nearly starved to death, so she had granaries made and stocked. His father was attacked by bandits, so he built up the guard to insure his people were safe. Said father even says that what separates a person who simply holds the title until the next and someone who goes down in history is what they do.
In Vorkosigan Saga, the chief job of Vor, like most aristocracies is war. However in modern times the Barrayaran forces have plenty of commoners in the officer class. Other duties seem to include judging disputes and investigating crimes and maintaining a paternalistic rule over their respective districts. The Vorkosigans themselves are close enough relations to the Imperial dynasty for Aral to be one time suspected of Imperial ambitions. They conduct social reforms, engage in parliamentary politics, take part in espionage and covert warfare, and improve their own local desmene.
The Royal Family in Kiera Cass' The Selection. The family is consistently shown to actively rule and Prince Maxon takes his role as the future King very seriously. It also becomes increasingly clear throughout the story that if she were to become Queen, America would be this type of ruler.
In the historical novel Wings of Dawn: Well, nobility who actually do something. Though once Lord Hawkwood manages to get Queen Isabella involved...
The kings and queens of Wellakh in Young Wizards appear to be a very long and unbroken line of wizards, who by definition do rather a lot.
The Queens of A Brother's Price don't do much, being largely retired, but their daughters are highly active in the running of the kingdom. Much of what they do is political, sitting in judgement at the royal courthouse, but two of them start off the book trying to help part of the armed forces track down some stolen experimental cannons.
Pretty much everyone, both male and female, no matter their age, in Tales of the Branion Realm. The rare exception is a sovereign who prefers to go into common taverns and drink, but everyone else does something, usually but not always killing things - his five-year-old heir presides over heresy trials.
Patriot Games makes a big thing out of Prince Charles's time in the Royal Navy, and has him being a competent seaman, running around shooting bad guys, and generally being Badass. The Duke of Edinburgh is portrayed in the same sort of way, although on a much smaller scale as he plays a much more minor role in the story and doesn't get to shoot anyone.
Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series has several positive and negative examples among the Lemurians. For actual royalty, we have Safir Maraan, the Orphan Queen of B'mbaado, who is a fierce warrior (in a culture where women don't fight) and personally leads her 600 (her elite guard) in a charge against the Grik at the Battle of Aryaal. Muln-Rolak, the Lord Protector of Aryaal, is not technically royalty (his position is more like a general) definitely fits, despite his advanced age. He accompanies Queen Maraan on her charge despite his king's objections and the fact that he has to stop several times to catch his breath. Keje-Fris-Ar, the High Chief of Salissa, also participates in battles (especially since he's not only the ruler but also the captain of his home-ship). Averted with Fet-Alcas, King of Aryaal, and his son Rasik-Alcas. Fet-Alcas is too old and fat to fight, despite the proud warrior tradition of the Aryaalans, while Rasik-Alcas, while not bad with a sword (although Lord Rolak disarms him with ease), prefers to let the others do all the fighting.
In the eyes of the Lemurians, Captain Matthew Reddy may also fit the bill, as they see him equal to any High Chief. Not only does Reddy command the USS Walker in naval engagements but he also personally commands the land battle at Aryaal (despite having no experience fighting on land).
Black Crown has examples of both battlefield and administrative 'doing': In 'Black Crown', two Kings are seen fighting in battle. In 'Schism', the King and his Lords are seen discussing how to run the Kingdom's affairs.
Conan the Barbarian, eventually king of Aquilonia, is as much a badass after ascending to the throne as he was before.
Xanth has most goblin chiefs, every miscellaneous species of royalty, and almost all named human royalty but 2 that I know of, not sure if Bink counts, and also as of Yon Ill Wind the Demon X(A/N)th
Most notable is Princess Ivy who at the age of three forces the most powerful dragon to become her best friend, raises the good magicians son to competence and beyond, and prevents a wiggle swarm from destroying all Xanth with only said friends This would also count as Badass Adorable.
Once Upon a Time is full of these. Prince Charming, his now-dead twin brother whom he replaced, Snow White, Emma (since she's technically royalty as Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter), her son Henry by the same token, and even the Evil Queen - albeit an evil version.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Riva, crown prince of Ramatis, is a successful diplomat, bringing peace to warring factions no matter how long it takes, even when the telepathic "chorus" who allow him to communicate despite his deafness are killed by one of the factions.
The BBC series Merlin shows Prince Arthur to be not only the Camelot's heir apparent, but also the day-to-day commander of the kingdom's armed forces. He not only leads them in battle, but also recruits the knights and oversees their training. He also seems to be the closest thing that the kingdom has to a sheriff or chief of police. If any "crime" occurs, it's usually Arthur that's sent to investigate.
It's heavily implied that his father King Uther was this as well in his youth. He does prove himself quite handy with a sword.
The first episode that showcases Guinevere as Queen makes a point of demonstrating how active she is: she gives advice at a council meeting, she rules the kingdom in her husband's absence, and she ferrets out a traitor that was leaking information to her enemies.
In Ocean Girl two of the characters are princesses. One is a government figurehead, the other a kind of ambassador. Their father, royal by marriage only, led a fact-finding mission, and their mother personally walks into a battle to disarm the other side's major weapon.
In Power Rangers Zeo, King Mondo was a villainous example, having fought the Rangers personally on more than one occasion. His eldest son Prince Gasket was even more capable, apparently.
In Vikings, Ragnar Lothbrok becomes this once he assumes the position of Earl, continuing to lead his warriors on raids.
The God-Emperor of mankind from the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Although ones 'Milage may Vary' as he went out and smote for only a short time and has spent the past ten millennia static on life support, on the verge of death.
And pretty much every leader of every faction. Ork Warbosses become that way because they really are the biggest, meanest, and usually the smartest Ork in the bunch. Imperial Guard Lord Generals, unlike some of their lesser leaders, are ONLY chosen from the cream of the officer corps, the best of the best. While some governors are incompetent, these usually don't survive long. Governors are usually Machiavellian in political skill, because there's always someone ready to replace them if they aren't.
The king and queen in Chess. While the king may hide behind his bodyguards in the opening and middlegame, he frequently becomes a key fighting piece in the endgame. And the queen is the most powerful piece on the board and is in the thick of things throughout the game.
Many of the monarchs and khans in the BattleTech universe actively serve in combat, and much of their prestige as leaders is dependent on the skills they show in Mech warfare.
In Clan society, there are no nobles that do nothing. Everyone has their own tasks, and rank is only attained via Trials of Position, and while the Khans are the highest rank of the Clans, they're still chosen from those with Bloodnames, which must be earned in a series of combat trials.
In a telling case study, the one time a Khan is called out for attempting to make a political attempt to rise to an ultimate rank without proving that he has the warrior credentials to match, he is brutally beaten by Khan Vlad Ward, who defies the first Khan's claim in full view of the other Clan leaders. Khan Elias Crichell is executed on the spot after his failure to prove that he can kick the requisite amount of ass when Ward crushes Crichell's throat and snaps his neck the heel of his boot. None of the other Khans intervene.
You can't even become the First Prince of the Federated Suns without serving at least 5 years in the military and traditionally this includes front line combat. The Coordinators (and their heirs) of the Draconis Combine have also served in direct combat. In the case of both nations rulers and heirs have been killed in action.
A long line of Steiner tradition dictates that the Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth have graduated from a military academy and at least be a passable warrior. Even the soft-spoken and pacifistic Melissa Steiner was qualified as a Mechwarrior on the Hunchback she inherited from her mother, the previous Archon. Notably, Katherine Steiner Davion, ruler of the breakaway portion of the Federated Commonwealth which boasted Lyran history, was not a qualified warrior until after the events of the Fedcom Civil War where she is taken into Clan Wolf and forced to adapt to their warrior's ways.
The Scarlet Empress of Exalted is the only person who can control the superweapon that ended the Fair Folk invasion, and has built the Realm's government so that it can't work without her. She's far from the only example- most notably, any number of PCs, as "Become God-King of [Insert City Here]" is a pretty standard Motivation for a Solar.
There's also any number of gods (the Syndics of Whitewall come to mind, as do the trio of gods ruling Great Forks) and the Solar Exalted themselves as the Princes of the Earth. Hell, even the Infernals count, being the Green Sun Princes.
Imperial Nobles in Traveller. While there are a number of Nobles who do nothing they are looked down on as the regrettable detritus of their class. Many Imperial Nobles have high business and government positions and there is a tradition of "troubleshooters" who roam about solving crisis (indeed having a pool of such people on hand is one of the stated purposes of the nobility). It is also the custom when promoting a commoner to an important position to give them a noble title to match to ensure that they have the right amount of precedence when they have to go to a Fancy Dinner.
Forgotten Realms has a lot of it. For an example when it's not a plain necessity, Tethyrian lesser royals are accorded duties in whatever branch of power their talents and inclinations allow. Heirs were traditionally well taught to rule, and expected to pick up some of these when coming of age, including specifically the post of Crown Ecclesiastic; which means having to command as an united force religious knightly orders that theoretically are loyal to the crown and belong to the allied churches, but practically have at best different priorities and at worst cross-purposes — from 15 years old and until the heir claims the crown. House Tethyr had absolute power for over 350 years, was deposed after one greedy and complacent king and some infighting, and still got their triumphant restoration later.
The Aristocrat NPC class, which typically represents kings and nobility, seems designed for this. They're automatically given decent weapon and armor proficiencies, an average BAB, a good list of skills and skill points, and the highest starting gold in the game. They're not supremely dangerous, but a first-level aristocrat can definitely hold his own (though, being an NPC class, he quickly falls off afterward).
The entire point of the Pathfinder Kingmaker campaign is to become this. The player characters wind up taming a wild land, establishing settlements, and then ruling it. The whole time, they must continue to defend their kingdoms from threats both external and internal, deal with any consequences of their policies, and deal with other nations. Basically, it's Dungeons & Dragons when you act personally, but similar to a 4x game when things happen to your nation.
The protagonist of A Dance with Rogues is the princess of Betancuria forced into hiding after a successful invasion by the kingdom of Dhorn. If she didn't fit this trope it would be a pretty boring game; despite being a princess she has rescued every one of her party members at least once and broken out on her own in all but one scenario in which she was captured, among other things.
Final Fantasy II has Princess Hilda. While she isn't as hands-on as many of the examples here, she is still the leader and the brains of the Wild Rose Rebellion. Notably, she goes camping with her troops before the assault to retake Fynn, instead of staying in Altair where it was safe.
Final Fantasy III presents PrincessSara, who takes it upon herself to venture into the Sealed Cave to defeat the Djinn and save her people from a nasty curse. Although the party ends up helping her instead, she can cast support spells from the background.
Final Fantasy IV has this in spades. During the original game party members Edward and Edge are princes, and in the sequel The After Years they're joined by Cecil and Yang (kings), Rosa (queen), Ceodore (prince), and Luca and Ursula (princesses). The strongest summons in the game are royalty too - Leviathan and Asura are king and queen of the Feymarch, Odin is the spirit of the former King of Baron, and Bahamut is the king of monsters.
Final Fantasy V has Galuf, the reigning king of Bal; his granddaughter Krile; and Lenna and Faris, both princesses of Tycoon. Bartz too would be royalty, if his father had gone back to his home dimension where he was a king.
Final Fantasy VI gives us Edgar, the king of Figaro (and a skilled engineer), as well as his twin brother Sabin, as playable characters.
Final Fantasy VII tries its best to avert this trope by having most of the world under the thumb of a Mega Corp., but there is still PrincessYuffie, who comes from one of the few free nations left in the world.
Final Fantasy VIII comes close with Rinoa, whose father is Minister of Defense for the Galbadian Republic. (As the highest-ranking government official left by the end of the game, this might make him president; the game doesn't address the question though.) In any event, her officers in the Forest Owls refer to her as "princess".
Final Fantasy IX has Princess Garnet/Dagger, who in a twist on the usual application turns out to not be royalty after all, but rather an adopted Last Of Her Kind.
There's also Prince Puck of Burmecia, who doesn't do a lot other than sneak about and cause trouble: there's Queen Brahne, Garnet's mother, who both accompanies her arial troops into battle and having drained Garnet's Eidolons, is the one to use them in combat. She is not ineffective. There's also Regent Cid, who is the city's chief engineer, and, without participating in any actual battles, accompanies the party for a segment of their journey.
Considering that her dad took out an Eldritch Abomination, Yuna probably could have gone her entire life in comfort. You know, comparatively. But instead, she decided to go and save the world herself.
Final Fantasy XII has Princess Ashe, who fights to restore her kingdom and become queen.
Larsa is another example (deciding to personally investigate incidents and even guest-joining the party), his brother is a more villainous example.
There's also Magnificent Bastard Al-Cid Margrace, who, despite not doing a lot onscreen, apparently works very hard in a political sense to postpone war.
The closest character that Final Fantasy XIII has to royalty is Hope, who is the son of a high-ranking Sanctum employee. Like many tropes in the game, this one is deconstructed in that Hope doesn't want to do anything, but is forced into action due to his overzealous mother and her "protector", Snow.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 plays this straight when Hope ends up becoming effective King of Earth, and he happily spends most of the game beating up monsters and creating war machines and tech for Serah and Noel to use. In an early treatment of the game's plot, Hope was supposed to be the third party member.
Prince Noctis, the hero of Final Fantasy XV, is protector of Lucis (which happens to be in the middle of a Mob War), presumably due to his father the king getting old and having diplomatic matters to handle.
Also a common character type in the Fire Emblem series, with "common" as in "the point of every game except the two involving Ike." Royalty tends to max out stats faster, are the most likely to have a pre-battle conversation with the villain of the chapter, and are obviously very important to the plot. Being a mercenary, Ike is a far cry from royalty, but even then he becomes leader of the best mercenary guild after his father gets offed.
Convolutedly played with in Micaiah and Pelleas' case. the latter discovers he's the prince as a young adult, proceeds to take his throne back from the invaders, and then realises he was just another commoner after all, prompting him to abdicate in Micaiah's favour. Then the epilogue reveals she's actually the thought-to-be-dead older sister of another country's Empress, Sanaki, who offers her the throne. Micaiah refuses, choosing to lead the country she's fought for.
The actual heir to the throne of Daein is Soren, who has also been "doing something" - he's been fighting alongside you the whole time. Subverted in that he doesn't know his lineage.
Even though Ike has no royal blood, he still becomes a noble during the course of his first game. Not to mention that his father was one of Daein's Four Riders. Not quite a royal, but close.
The Laguz Kings, who get to become kings because they are their tribes' most efficient warriors. The most obvious case is Tibarn, though Naesala, while he prefers not to fight himself, is also pretty damn powerful and all he does is more or less for the sake of Kilvas.
Tellius also brings us Elincia. She was for most of Path of Radiance inactive... however, near the end she comes to Ike wearing armor next to her great-grandmother's pegasus saying she was tired of sitting around. This continues into Radiant Dawn - where she is shown ruling her kingdom and is an active unit. (in fact, a popular end-game choice.)
The Villains count too, generally the Big Bad is royalty as are many chapter bosses. Even in the rare cases where they aren't good at combat, they'll generally be at least be out on the battlefield with their troops.
From the same game, we have King Harkinian. Once he hears that his brother, Duke Onkled, is in danger, he runs off to Gamelon (after dinner,of course). He even comes prepared with the Triforce of Courage. Granted, nothing comes of it, but he tried, after all.
King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule from The Wind Waker. For the majority of the game he's Link's boat, serving as his only transport form island to island and giving him vital information for his quest, and just before the final battle he cheats Ganondorf out of his wish on the Triforce by making his own wish: to have Hyrule, and Ganondorf with it, washed away forever. Of course, being Ganondorf, he'll be back again in a couple of centuries or so, with Hyrule being washed away being part of his plan. Although it hasn't happened so far.
In the beginning of Spirit Tracks, Zelda has her soul separated from her body by the Big Bad. She then joins Link as his Exposition Fairy, giving her the largest role she's ever had in canon. And within the tower she has the power to possess a suit of animate armor, becoming a sword-wielding badass made of metal and ghost that far outranks Link himself in strength.
Hell, Ganondorf himself may count. He did start out as King of the Gerudo, after all.
Minor character example: When you defeat the undead swordsmen in Ikana Castle (Majora's Mask), the king himself jumps up from his throne without a word, pulls out a sword and shield, and proceeds to continue where his generals left off.
One word: Midna. True, she was dethroned in Twilight Princess, but she still helped Link more than any other character in the entire series. She was more like his partner than his sidekick, which is more than can be said of the various fairies.
Queen Gohma, King Dodongo, Stallord, and tons of other bosses qualify.
Nippon Ichi uses this trope a lot: Pretty much anyone with the title of 'Overlord' or related to said Overlord by blood is expected to be able to kick much ass. After all, they're demons — if there's someone stronger around they'll take that Overlord title from you by force.
King Dedede of the Kirby series goes back and forth on this. While he is a fearsome fighter; both when he opposes Kirby and when he occasionally helps him; he isn't much of a ruler, as it's explicitly stated that he performs absolutely no administrative duties whatsoever, to the point that the citizens of Dream Land more or less ignore his presence.
The obscure SNES game Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban has a bumbling Japanese feudal lord and a foppish French prince as protagonists. They're both stupid. But save Earth in the end.
Disgaea and other similar titles from Nippon Ichi have them in spades. Disgaea stars the overlord-to-be (And eventually Overlord proper) Laharl.Many of his opposers also are Overlords from other Netherworlds.
There's quite a few in Ōkami, but foremost is Queen Himiko. At first it looks like she's the one responsible for Sei-An city being covered in toxic fog, or at least apathetic to her citizens plight, being shut in the imperial palace, however she died in a Heroic Sacrifice. Using her murder by Ninetails to fuse her soul with her clan's Crystal Ball to locate Oni Island and give Amaterasu the chance to slay Ninetails and destroy a major source of monsters. And thanks to her powers of prophecy, she knew she was going to die. Needless to say, the Player Punch reaction when Ninetails taunts you with not being able to protect her (and in fact giving her the tool she needed to kill her!) is a powerful one. Even in death (and a sidequest), her tears give Nuregami a power boost and will net you a new and powerful water attack.
Natalia from Tales of the Abyss. On top of being the main party's archer, she's also politically active, using her position to help the economy and foreign relations and the like. As a result, when its revealed that she's actually a maid's child that was swapped for the real princess Natalia when the real one was stillborn, and the king goes to exile her, the people rise up to help her out.
Luke becomes one, after his Important Haircut, and he's around fourth in line for the Kimlascan throne, as well as the heir to the most powerful non-royal aristocrat in the kingdom.
Peony may not be a playable character, but he does a great job running his country and is often highly involved with helping Luke and the party save the world.
Estelle from Tales of Vesperia is one, too. She's the White MageStone Wall healer who more or less forcibly drags the party around, fixing up problems in cities. She also has an insatiable need to heal people who are hurt.
Prince (and later King) Richard from Tales of Graces. When his father is murdered he leads the uprising and insists upon fighting alongside his men. Also as revealed in the epilogue he dedicates his time to killing the monsters Lambda created.
Games belonging to the Suikoden series are obviously filled with these. Special mention goes to King Lino en Kuldes, one of the fourth game'sbest fighters and his daughter Flare, two popular characters in, arguably, the series' most unpopular game.
Pretty much every aristocrat in the Jak and Daxter series, be they good, bad, or neutral, does something: Baron Praxis actively fights against Jak and the Metal Heads; his daughter Ashelin is a member of the Krimzon Guard (later the Freedom League); Count Veger does things himself rather than relying on Mooks.
And after The Reveal, no we know that Jak himself is one of these.
Warcraft, especially Warcraft III, has several royal heroes fighting on the frontlines, including Arthas, Muradin Bronzebeard (and his brothers in World of Warcraft, to an extent), Kael'thas and Anub'arak (ancient king-turned-traitor of Azjol-Nerub).
Brann Bronzebeard is so active as an Adventurer Archaeologist in the more recent expansions that his status as royalty seems mostly superfluous to his character.
Warcraft II rather inverts the trope, with legendary and/or royal heroes who when they appear on the field need to be kept away from the front lines at all cost, being weaker than regular units.
Then there is Varian Wrynn, King of Stormwind, in the comics. When he was introduced in World of Warcraft, he was quite a bit too eager to fight to actually make wise decisions, but he seems to have mellowed down in Icecrown Citadel.
Varian's father Llane Wrynn was one of the most beloved kings of Stormwind. It was his courage and determination that kept the orcs from razing the city for the 4 years of the First War. Then he turns his back on a former ally and gets his heart cut out for his trouble. Without Llane, Stormwind falls quickly. Lord Anduin Lothar (descended from the Arathi royal line) is a skilled commander and fighter. Unfortunately, his duel with Orgrim Doomhammer ends with his skull crushed by Doomhammer's warhammer of the same name.
Sylvanas Windrunner, the Banshee Queen, also fits.
She's technically not royalty as much as just calls herself that.
You also have Genn Greymane, king of Gilneas, even before becoming a worgen. During the Second War, he personally leads the Gilneas forces to cut off orc reinforcements after the ruler of the neighboring kingdom of Alterac makes a deal with Orgrim Doomhammer. He's the first to leap into battle. In the novel Wolfheart, Genn and Varian go on a hunt and bond over a fight with an angry bear. This is despite the fact that Genn is by this point over 70 years old. Genn's son was also this until taking a poisoned arrow for his father.
Lost Odyssey's Ming Numara at first seems like a useless figurehead, but soon proves herself to be an extremely powerful sorceress and a strong, competent, and proactive leader who was only in the position of a figurehead because she had been forced to seal away her own memories in order to save the lives of her subjects.
Every princess in Princess Waltz is some form of Bad Ass. The Princess Waltz tournament of the titular Visual Novel allows the strongest princess in the land to marry the Emperor, giving them good reason to not just sit around. Most notable are Princesses Liliana and Angela, who both fight in their Kingdom's navy and army respectively. Princess Liesel, on the other hand, is a noted inventor and smith.
Princess Alicia in Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria, along with a good chunk of the Einherjar she can call up who happen to be royals of one sort or another.
To a lesser extent, Farah as well, being the daughter of the Maharaja.
The Legend of Dragoon has King Albert of Basil, who essentially picked up where a previous player character, Lavitz (a knight from Basil), had left off.
Each of the five kingdoms in Mount & Blade is ruled by a king who leads his own combat party and has a high renown value (this being a game statistic usually increased by winning battles). Though they sometimes hang out in their respective castles, they are known to lead campaigns into enemy territory. Good thing the Never Say "Die" rule applies to all named characters in this game, because they're always part of the first group to deploy, and they often get knocked out and captured in the course of a battle.
King Helseth from The Elder Scrolls: Tribunal is the Imperial "puppet" king of Morrowind. His predecessor, King Llethan, was a mere figurehead who did little and had almost no real authority. Helseth, however, is far more ambitious, ruthless, and crafty. He's also an accomplished alchemist (with poison being his specialty). In fact, it is heavily implied that he poisoned King Llethan in order to ascend to the throne. The main quest of the Tribunal expansion pack centers around a power struggle between Helseth and the Tribunal Temple (among other things).
In Oblivion, Martin leads a bunch of people to the safety of Kvatch's chapel; helps you fight off the people attacking Weynon Priory; calls on all his knowledge of Daedra worship to get the Amulet of Kings back; leads the defence of Bruma; and even sacrifices himself in order to stop Mehrunes Dagon. Most of this he even does while trying not to believe that he's actually an important person of any sort, much less the son of the Emperor.
Well, technically, he hadn't been crowned yet. But certainly he would have become the living embodiment of this trope had he not sacrificed himself to save Tamriel.
Skyrim's in-game lore reveals many personalities of royalty in Tamriel's history being warriors and monster slayers, with the ultimate example being Tiber Septim (aka Talos), the founder of the Tamriel Empire and the Septim Dynasty, who was also one of the earliest known Dragonborn. Titus Mede II, the current Emperor is stated to have been a very skilled general who managed to successfully fight off the Thalmor during the Great War.
The king from Castle Crashers is a GIANT example of this trope- a bearded, midgety giant example. For one thing, though he starts out utterly terrified of the Big Bad, he gets his groove back real fast- and helps you by doing everything from dispensing useful advice to leading an attack boat filled with knights and cannons at a giant boss catfish. He even saves you from a giant frog by filling its stupid face with cannon fire!
Taken to a much further extreme with the King Pack DLC, which allows you to actually play as the King. Weirdly, he still appears on the boat with the knights and the cannon and whatnot to fight alongside himself.
The Last Remnant has numerous examples of this (both good and evil). The most notable is David, the Marquis of Athium, who is a very competent and active leader both in the throne room and on the front lines.
In Guild Wars: Nightfall, one of the first heroes to join your party and set your characters' plans in motion is Tahlkora, who is revealed to be a princess of Vabbi.
Knights in the Nightmare has Willimgard who, despite being dead, comes back as the Wisp in order to prevent the villains from accomplishing their goal.
The same series brings us Yggdra and Gulcasa. Milanor, Luciana and Aegina probably count too. And in the same game, there's Arlier... and although Nordische doesn't get too far, he tries.
Several servants from Fate/stay night, seeing how they used to be the abovementioned mythical heroes when they were alive.
Saber deserves a special mention. Due to being King Arthur.
Arcueid Brunestud is one. Actually, by this point 'doing stuff' is pretty much all she does anymore when not sleeping. She used to be treated like a princess by a castle full of vampires, but then she killed them all. But she's still doing the job that went with being a princess, and other characters still refer to her as one.
The spinoff Endless Frontier has more princesses than it has worlds, and each one that you meet joins the party to protect/redeem/avenge their kingdom. There's Kaguya Nanbu, master of the Nanbu Reijutsu sword arts; Suzuka, who controls a multiple gatling-wielding robot by dancing; and Neige Hausen/Howzen, who fights with a bayonet-equipped laser rifle (as well as a miniature Expy of the aforementioned Shine Hausen's Humongous Mecha). Then there's King Rubor Cullen, who would be better for his kingdom if he didn't pick fights with everyone he thought was a threat, Shuten, who regularly fights the party for his people's honor, and Stahl Dieb, who personally led an expedition into the Einst dimension.
Kairi is starting to become one of these as of Kingdom Hearts II, despite her status as a princess being only through the fact that she lacks darkness in her heart. Though it is mentioned at one point that her adoptive parent is a mayor...
In Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance, the protagonist Ian Dresari is from a royal family, seeking to restore legal rule to his planet (and the final battle is with his cousin). After one of his missions, a lancemate actually says "I guess you're not one of those royals who let the rest of us do the heavy lifting."
In the original Mechwarrior, the protagonist Gideon Braver Vandenberg is the heir of a Duke who was overthrown by a political conspiracy with Gideon as the patsy. Instead of taking this lying down or getting others to fight on his behalf, Gideon goes on to form his own mercenary unit to prove his innocence and exact bloody revenge.
Marle, AKA, Princess Nadia of the kingdom of Guardia, the first person to join Crono's party, who actually proposed the idea of taking down Lavos. And that's only the start.
Ayla is Marle's ancestor, and it makes sense considering she's the leader of her tribe. Which sort of makes Ayla fall in this trope.
King's Quest sounds like it says it right there in the title, although the name probably refers to the King giving Sir Graham his quest in the first game. Following his promotion at the end of the first game, all but one of the other games involve royalty in a main role, either King Graham or his family members, personally saving their kingdom. While they are involved with exploits of purely the personal variety, you have an entire Badass Family whose exploits involve a lot more than afternoon tea.
The Legendary Starfy has both the title character and his far more enthused sister Starly - while he's out helping his amnesiac space-bunny friend, she's at home in Pufftop beating the pants off of the invading army. Before boss fights, Moe even asks if you want to summon Starly for help.
Dragon Quest V takes this a step farther in that almost every important human party member is in some way connected to a royal family. This includes two kings (Pankraz and the Hero), a prince (Harry), your wife turned queen (Bianca, Nera, and Deborah), and a prince and princess (Your son and daughter).
V also points out the problems this can cause. While Harry is adventuring with the Hero, his country suffers greatly, and while Pankraz's brother proved himself a decent ruler in his absence, he was miserable in the role and eager to hand it over. Soon afterward, the Hero gets called out when he risks his life on another adventure — one that leads to him and his wife being Taken for Granite for several years.
In Dragon Quest II, the entire party consists of royal cousins of a common ancestor, with two princes and a princess.
In Magna Carta 2, Princess Rzephillda should be sitting in a tower somewhere hiding from her country's Civil War. Instead, she leads a front-line elite unit in an effort to retake her power.
In Europa Universalis III a nation's leader (often a king, although bishops, emperors, elected leaders and popes are also possible) can be converted into a field commander and used to lead armies. Some kings can make quite effective generals, depending on their attributes and the social slider settings of the nation. However, one of the main reasons to do this is in the hopes of getting an incompetent ruler killed so that another (hopefully more capable) leader will replace him before 30+ years of rule by an weak/rude/unsavvy monarch bankrupts the nation.
King Cailan in Dragon Age: Origins is determined to be one of these, insisting that he fight on the front lines against the Darkspawn army. It backfires spectacularly as he is killed in the ensuing battle.
Also the player if they are a Dwarf Noble, being the second child of the dwarven king and proving an epic-grade badass who may, depending on the ending, become a Paragon posthumously, one of the quasi-gods of the dwarves. Alistair also counts in a way, as does Loghain in his position as Regent of Ferelden. The human noble and his/her entire family are second only to royalty (and can become such in the end) and also qualify.
The Nobles of Ferelden in general qualify, since they have to be able to protect their vassals, who otherwise won't swear fealty to a lord who can't ride to their aid in time.
The family of the Human Noble, the Couslands of Highever, definitely qualify. When word arrived that the King was to do battle with the Darkspawn, without a moment's hesitation, Teyrn Cousland and his heir immediately prepared to ride out with their forces to join the King's Army. Unfortunately, Arl Howe took that moment to strike, murdering the Teyrn, leaving the Human Noble as the sole survivor. Their brother, Fergus Cousland, is revealed to also have survived, having ridden to Ostagar with some of the Highever forces before Howe's coup took place).
Both candidates for the throne qualify. While Alistair doesn't have political savvy, he leads the army against the darkspawn in the end if you choose him and if married to Anora and hardened, he shows a willingness to learn how to rule. Anora, while lacking the same martial training, took care of the politics in her husband's place, making her a savvy and cunning ruler.
In Awakening, if you are a human noble and married Alistair or Anora in Origins, you qualify. The fact that you are the co-ruler of all of Ferelden is almost completely ignored, but still.
Even if you didn't marry Alistair or Anora, your character is still the Arl/essa of Amaranthine as well as Commander of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden. Part of the gameplay is you dealing with the problems assaulting your realm including how best to defend it.
Also played straight with King Maric and his mother, the Rebel Queen Moira, who were leaders of La Résistance during the Orlesian Occupation. Later, Maric accompanies a group of Grey Wardens into the Deep Roads to fight Darkspawn despite Loghain's objections. One of the reasons Cailan wants to fight on the front lines is because he has heard stories of his father doing the same.
In Dragon Age II, we have Prince Sebastian Vael of Starkhaven. After his entire family is massacred, he leaves the Chantry to become a Reluctant Ruler. He's also got the skills of a rogue and is deadly with a bow. He also actively participates in the Templar-Mage conflict.
Given Hawke's noble background, they can also be considered this. It's mentioned in Mark of the Assassin that after Hawke was recognised as the legitimate heir of the Amell family, they turned down the title of "Lord/Lady Amell", because they wanted to earn the right to use a title and be recognised as "Lord/Lady Hawke".
Supporting the Templars during the end-game shows that they elect Hawke as the new Viscount of Kirkwall.
In Fable III the player eventually becomes the ruler of Albion after overthrowing their tyrannical brother Logan. This of course doesn't interrupt their ability to go around the world farting at villagers and doing sidequests.
Hildegard "Hilde" Von Krone of the Soul Series. She's the princess (and acting ruler, due to her father's insanity) of a small kingdom, who is very much a Lady of War and leads her country's army into battle.
Might and Magic VII includes this; the starting island of the game centres around a contest in which the prize is for the winning group to jointly become 'Lords of Harmondale'. After winning and arriving at Welnin, the main settlement of Harmondale, the adventurers quickly find out that, amongst other things, the inhabitants all think they won't last long, no-one of the nobles and royals of the continent regard them as actual nobles, and the Castle that is supposed to be their home as Lords is partially in ruins, as well as goblin-infested. The middle portion of the game is about fixing all that. Also, it is possible for Harmondale to become an independent Kingdom, making the Lords more properly Royal.
The Ultima series: The only reason Lord British isn't joining your party (without cheating) is to maintain some pretense at game balance. Nonetheless he aids you constantly, offering equipment, aid, room and board, and free heals and resurrections for both you, your party and the occasional collateral-damage NPC. Shamino, who can and usually does join you in practically every game, is also a king, although he's been stranded in Britannia since the breaking of Sosaria during the time of Exodus. And they're both Richard Garriott.
Lord British gets off his throne twice of note- in the backstory to Ultima V he leads the expedition into the underworld; and in Ultima IX he realizes he has been relying on you too much, and personally goes off to kick Blackthorn's ass and stop the moons in their courses.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura: Once it's made clear that you're trying to save the world, both the elven princess Raven and King Loghaire Thunder Stone of the dwarves (assuming you talked him out of his self-imposed exile) will take up bow and axe and aid you as party members, if you wish. Loghaire explicitly says he cannot sit idly by when Arcanum is threatened.
Mother 3 has Princess Kumatora, who fights alongside Lucas.
Of course, there were never any real monarchs on the Nowhere Islands; she was just planted there and entitled as one when everyone's memories, save for Leder's, were wiped and rebuilt when they moved there.
League of Legends has Jarvan IV, son of the King of Demacia, taking a commanding role in the military and subsequently, the League of Legends. More than merely competent, he is one of the greatest troops at his city-state's disposal.
King Ladekahn, Duke Calbren, Queen Corellia, and Xelha, from the first Baten Kaitos.
The royal families in the Total War series. They can act as generals, accompanied onto the battlefield by generals, and can also act as a provincial governors, their personal attributes influencing the efficiency with which the province is managed (for better or worse).
Less son in the games set later, such as Empire and Napoleon. However, historically, many of the generals in Napoleon were aristocrats. Examples include Napoleon himself and Mikhail Kutuzov, although neither had actually been born into nobility. Napoleon made himself Emperor, and Kutuzov was granted the title of Knyaz (Prince or Duke) after his victory over the Turks.
The second player ship in the Gradiusside story Salamander is piloted by the prince of the planet you're defending. Later incarnations name this ship after him: Lord British.
In Ys Seven we have Aisha, she originally joins up with Adol and Dogi as a Princess Incognito to investigate the Bizarre phenomenons happening all over Altago. After a bit she ends up getting found out when she returns back and the King Introduces Adol and Dogi to her(Unaware that she was with them the entire time). However after the The Last Seal is gathered by the group and Adol and Company become fugitives after being framed for the murder of the king, she is temporarily removed from the party and is forced to stay in the castle.
Anyone who played Lost Age knows that the people of Champa resort to piracy to feed their mouths, because they have only their smithy otherwise. Eoleo ascends to captainhood as a result of his father Briggs' death, but still swings a mean blade regardless of his rank. A captain who cannot fight alongside his crew doesn't remain captain for very long.
Amiti lived a relatively sheltered life off his mother's fame until Matthew and his friends came along. He may have volunteered to escort them through the Barai Ruins, but he takes on a more active role once the Insight Glass chooses him. Given the injuries sustained by King Paithos during the eclipse, Amiti ascended to the throne in its wake.
Himi, like Amiti, lived relative comfort as a Shrine Maiden alongside her parents, Susa and Kushinada. She falls into a coma after foretelling Isaac's descent into disaster, sending her older brother off to his aid, but winds up going with Matthew once the Third Eye awakens her from said coma.
The beastmen of Morgal take the brunt of Fantastic Racism on many sides, meaning even the Czamaral clan must remain primed for combat when it comes. While she runs your operations in Morgal, especially Belinsk, from behind the scenes, Sveta is no less capable as a fighter. Of course, the racism may not have ended soon enough, given the Grave Eclipse's activation, so when she ascends to queenhood in the wake of her brother's death, she's going to have to train a new army and capitalize on the light Adepts that emerged as a result of the eclipse's end.
NieR has The Masked King of Facade, who leads his soldiers into every battle including their last stand which he knows he won't survive but still manages to win.
The Gryphonhearts in the Heroes of Might and Magic series, starting with Rion Gryphonheart, who led the Erathian army against Tarnum's barbarian hordes and defeated Tarnum in Combat by Champion. Rion's daughter (and Tarnum's niece) is also this, after Tarnum trains her.
The Ironfist brother that wins the Succession War (canonically Roland) goes on the field personally for the final battle of the war (the other brother is also on the field, but that is less impressive considering the battle is about besieging the last stronghold of the losing brother). Roland also went on a campaign against the Kreegan in the period between Heroes II and Might & Magic VI, though with less impressive results (it led to him being kidnapped by the Kreegan and held prisoner for some six to seven years). Archibald, while it was not readily apparent in game about the Succession War, turned out to be a remarkably knowledgeable mage in contexts that made it clear that it must have applied before the War's end.
Freelancer has two noblemen (Lord Hakkera of Kusari and Diedrich Von Claussen of Rheinland) who are both Order agents and pretty good pilots. In fact, Von Claussen is known throughout Rheinland as an ace who has never lost a wingman.
All the royals in Jade Empire have at some point been pretty active.
Prince Poo in EarthBound joins Ness' party to save the world. He is encouraged by his master to go on the journey.
PoPoLoCrois for the PS1 and PSP has Pietro, who is the prince of the country of the same name. Another party member who joins you in the PS1 version is Jilva, who is the princess of another country as well. (And actually a pretty strong physical attacker.)
Narcia may also count, as it's revealed she may potentially be the daughter of Titania, queen of the faeries.
Princess Eruca or Granorg is very active, first doing her best to use her political sway to try and limit the damage her lazy, vain, and stupid, stupidstepmother is doing, and when that doesn't work, she spearheads a rebellion. She'd like to be even more active, but is constantly told to stay off the front lines. She is usually swayed to agree, since while a martyr would be good for the rebellion, the world as a whole is boned without her and the nature of Stocke's time travel means he's better off avoiding the circumstances of her possible death entirely, rather than altering the specific moment.
In the backstory, her older brother, Prince Ernst, who made himself beloved by the populace for basically trying to fix everything. It didn't turn out so well, since King Victor started getting a little nervous that his son's popularity might be a threat to his reign and had him executed on false charges of treason to get him out of the way.
The King Of Dragon Pass has all your tribes duties overseen by nobles. From trading and diplomacy to dangerous expeditions and warfare, they work their ass off until old age or death. They definitely earn their keep.
In the Awakening series, Princess Sophia manages to defeat the evil Dreadmyre using just her brains and her wits. Her parents had sealed themselves in a time bubble with him in order to stave off further damage of his attack on the human kingdom until Sophia arrived.
Drakengard has Caim, a prince whose kingdom was taken away from him due to a black dragon killing his parents. He proceeds to make a pact with a red dragon, Angelus, and take down The Empire.
In Rune Factory 4, the player is named acting prince/princess of the town of Selphia and is responsible for pretty much the entire plot. The actual prince, Arthur, is perfectly willing to let them take over for him, but he earns his keep by maintaining a busy trading practice.
Most nobles in Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion have, at one point or another, served in the Imperial Mark. In fact, due to the meritocratic nature of The Empire of Estellion, any commoner who wishes to achieve Ravenhood (temporary nobility) has to serve in the military for 22 years (there is an alternative of 36 years of administrative service, but most choose the military path). Ravenhood is passed on to the soldier's children but not grandchildren. Any family that manages to retain Ravenhood for 10 unbroken generations (i.e. constant service) becomes a permanent noble House with the 11th generation firstborn becoming a Rook (a title equivalent to a Real Life Lord but also signifies a general-type rank). Specific examples include Rook Vidius Harper and Rook Delvinius Cato. However, the late Emperor Sergius Corvius ascended to the throne after leading a successful military campaign in the northeast region of the Empire. The four Queens (more like department heads), one of whom is Sergius's daughter, are also capable military commanders, even the manipulative Phoebe Corvius. Exceptions include Sergius's son Gratian, who is more of a schemer, and Gratian's son Ovidius. The Court of Shadows (formerly House Cordance) are a borderline example, being a secret order made up of Heroic Bastards of House Corvius, trained in espionage and Blood Magic, and sworn to protect their legitimate brothers and sisters from any threat within the Empire and without. The "borderline" part comes from the fact that it's not clear if bastards are considered to be nobility.
Toki from Time And Eternity repeatedly travels back in time to prevent the murder of her fiancee at her own wedding. She ends up saving the entire timeline while she's at it.
The clan nobles in Drow Tales are universally taught some degree of fighting skills and specialize in either weapon or mana-based combat.
It may be because royalty are theoretically supposed to be the healthiest and most competent in their fields. They would get the best (and most) food, be trained by the best instructors, and there's nothing like your king/queen/prince(ss) leading you themselves for a confidence boost.
Alternatively, as is often the point of Erfworld, that's how it works because that's how it works. Where actual physical and mental differences are imbued by virtue of how many schmuckers are spent to pop you, it could lead to some pretty one-sided situations; consider Charlie's premium package in regards to his Archons.
Girl Genius, given that half of rulers are Mad Scientists, and another half have to deal with them. Titles are shuffled, though, for the same reason.
Baron Wulfenbach is often shown resolving disputes and coming up with schemes. He's also one of the best combatants in the series, leading some of his armies' assaults personally and out-swordfighting Zeetha. Is literally covered in scars. His disproportionate title comes up several times — he could have declared himself Emperor Klaus I as well, and the fact that he didn't is one of the indications he's not a straight Evil Overlord character. Royalty has rules the Wulfenbachs see no reason to follow, and the royals resent Klaus' rule partly because he comes from a minor house, which is an important factor in the willingness of the Fifty Families to recognize a new Storm King.
Gil, who fenced with monsters a variety of Mad Scientist made up just for training and was subject of constant drills as Klaus tried to make him the proper heir. After being asked what kind of Empire's heir didn't even built a Death Ray, he invents a Lightning Gun and proceeds to personally test it on an intruding mechanized army. In a recent chapter he managed to throw a Mini Mecha with his bare hands after getting shot. He's not quite up to the Baron's level in the scheming department, but is under pressure to learn fast.
Played with somewhat in the Sturmvoraus clan, who at first appearance seem like an entire family of Chessmasters in a vast conspiracy to overthrow the Baron's government. Two are killed off, and the remaining family member, Tarvek, is left as the Unwitting Pawn at the end of a Gambit Pileup. He did, while pretending to not pay attention, pick up enough skills to fight Gil to a standstill. Tarvek also manipulates everybody else's plots throughout the Sturmhalten arc, especially his "sister's," though since Agatha was unexpected he has to do a lot of Xanatos Speed Chess and does wind up being shot by Lucretia at the end of the arc.
More than once, rulers were told off by their supporters for allowing the enthusiasm to pull them from strategical heights and trying to do personally more than necessary during a crisis.
In the novelizationAgatha H. and the Airship City, it's mentioned that the Baron encourages this among his vassals, insisting they take part in planting, harvesting, and so on. A lot of Gil and Tarvek's peers have embraced this, because it's fun and pisses off their parents.
There is also Krosp I "Emperor" of all cats, Agatha's Liege lord, and one of the few people in the entire comic working solely towards her health, welfare, and safety. As any good king should for his subjects. Well, the one's intelligent enough to bother with, anyways.
Since taking lordship from his uncle, The Order of the Stick's Hinjo has been a decidedly hands-on monarch, even personally battling hobgoblins on the walls of the city and charging their clerical leader, Redcloak.
Also said uncle, who took advantage of being old and not being a Paladin to be able to fool everyone in thinking he was easy to manipulate and that he was being manipulated by someone else when he did something they didn't like, thus being able to govern properly. He then took advantage of it by bringing the Order to do a job he wasn't legally allowed to do, for the good of his nation. Making a Kangaroo Court with a fake holy warrior as a judge. Keep in mind, he did this to fool not only people who wouldn't hesitate to kill him for their own desires, but a full army of paladins. And the only other person he could count on was a ghost that he couldn't allow to get out of his room, so no help from him. That Magnificent Bastard had serious balls, no wonder Belkar of all people respected him.
Nobles in A Magical Roommate study magic and perform experiments. The general impression is that if a war really did break out, they'd be ready for it, but since war is so unlikely, they're ready for governing and magic.
Last Res0rt has Princess Adharia Kuvoe, one of the four Executioners on the Deadly GameReality Show. She tends to oscillate between Crazy Awesome and Lady of War most of the time, but in her defense, she's fighting to regain control of her kingdom, by demonstrating what a good warrior the reality show has turned her into!
Homestuck: Feferi Peixes sits at the very top of the blood-caste hemospectrum and is slated to become Empress of Alternia except the planet was destroyed. Given how troll society seems to actually encourage sociopathic jerkass behavior, you'd think she'd be the worst... nope. She's likely the nicest and friendliest of the whole group, and the time she's not spending feeding her lusus so it won't annihilate the troll race, she's caring for animals and preparing a social reform pertaining to actually caring for and helping the weak and infirm (as opposed to killing them off for being weak and infirm). When she takes the throne, Alternia may be in for a very positive change. Except that won't happen now, due to there being no Alternia anymore.
The various Black and White Kings are also very active, to the point where there's an entire planet designed just for them to lead battles on.
And, strictly speaking, every player of Sburb is either a Prince or Princess of Derse or Prospitnote seeing as how the Prince(ss) isn't a chess piece, to say nothing of the players whose titles are "Prince of (Aspect)", namely (Dirk Strider and the late Eridan Ampora.)
Drive: La Familia are the only ones able to maintain the Ring Drive technology which enables FTL travel. However, this is because they inflict Disproportionate Retribution on anyone who tries to steal the secrets of how it works.
This means that every Ring Drive ship has a chief engineer on it who is related (fairly closely) to the Emperor of all mankind. It also means that if you're in the family ... well, hope you like engineering; the limiting factor how many ships the Empire has appears to be the number of family members there are to run them. You'll also be drafted young; the protagonists' ship has a 15-year-old Chief Engineer ... he's not some kind of wunderkind technological genius, he's just what was available.
Samurai Princess: The king and princess of the fictional kingdom of Samprini are seen in the field way more than they are in their castle.
Chaos Fighters has its own share of royal protagonists: Clair and Shefan, a princess and a prince in different countries in Route of Land along with Selia, a queen and Clair's mother in a side story Robbery Assault. They are all as capable of fighting as other characters.
In The Insane Quest of Unfathomable Randomness, Mortal, the Prince of the Blob planet, and Luna, Princess of Haruvia, both are no slouches when it comes to helping the group. Luna's mother defended her home planet from incoming attackers, but was killed by the original Smoosh.
And She-Ra is supposed to be Adam's sister? Don't talk nonsense.
Adora and Glimmer would both like their services in the name of the Rebellion noted.
Luckily for Eternia, the 2002 version of King Randor successfully redeems his family. In addition to his diplomatic prowess, he is a highly capable swordfighter and former captain of the royal guard.
Randor and Marlena were pretty badass in the original series, only they didn't get to show it off as much. Randor once went to town on a room full of Killer Robots to aid in his own rescue from Snake Mountain; He-Man was impressed and assured him that "Adam" would have been, too. Marlena was an astronaut and Ace Pilot in her backstory and once saved her family and friends by owning Skeletor and his forces in an aerial battle.
In W.I.T.C.H., Queen Elyon thought life after her coronation would be all rest and relaxation, but after finding out she actually had to run the kingdom's affairs and deal with its problems, she began longing for the "princess" part of being queen. This all on top of her role as the Heart of Meridian, giving her powers equal to those of the main heroines combined.
In Winx Club we have Stella, the princess of Solaria, and Layla, the princess of Andros, both are powerful fairies in their own right. Bloom as well once realizing she's the lost princess of Domino. Roxy in season 4 once finding out that Queen Morgana is her long lost mother. Sky is the prince of Eraklyon, but is also a fighter. Shown prominently when he's armed with the Sword of Domino.
In Avatar The Last Airbender, Royalty tends to be this more often than not, especially since the war with the Fire Nation made being an idle royal a bad idea. Even the demure Princess Yue joins with the Moon spirit to save it. About the only royal who truly didn't fit this was the Earth Kingdom king, who was kept in the dark due to an Evil Chancellor.
Korra, in addition to being the Avatar, also happens to be the niece of the Northern Water Tribe's chief.
In one episode of the animated adaptation of Babar, Babar and Rataxes switch roles and rule each other's kingdoms for a day. When he arrives at Babar's palace, Rataxes is aghast to find that Babar spends most of his time actually governing Celesteville.
In The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, Prince Arin personally goes out to find his sister, Aruzia, after she's kidnapped. Later in the series, both take an active part in helping their subjects during a drought, as do their parents the King and Queen.
The title Thunder Cats were members of the nobility who were expected to be competent warriors who could protect the people. Commoners who demonstrated exceptional bravery and skill in this regard could even be promoted to this rank, such as with the New ThunderCats, and it was implied that Cheetara came from a similar background. (One of the not-so-Darker and Edgier Wildstorm comics expanded on this.) Then there was the Lord of the ThunderCats, who not only wielded the Sword of Omens, but had to prove his mettle by besting each of the ThunderCats in their area of expertise and defeat his most evil foe in combat without the help of said sword. He wasn't allowed to use the Sword. He won by smashing Mumm-Ra's sarcophagus, turning him to dust. At the end of the episode, the casket pulled itself back together, and Mumm-Ra's voice gave this chilling line...
Mumm-Ra: As long as evil exists, Mumm-Ra lives. Mumm-Ra lives. Mumm-Ra lives!!!!
The revived series plays the Cats' Proud Warrior Race angle for all that it's worth and then some; it's implied that the only reason that the generals are the ones to lead Thunderan expedition armies is because the King, being the strongest swordsman and best strategist, stays behind to safeguard his kingdom, personally leading counter-charges when appropriate. Lion-O was seen as a disappointment because he was interested in rediscovering the mythical technology and seeking peace (or at least minimized hostility) with the other races, rather than keeping them in line with an iron fist.
Except for the time she deposed her villainous sister from the throne, Starfire of the Teen Titans doesn't actually do much for her own planet, which she is a princess of. She even gave away the crown to her Parental Substitute almost as soon as she got it. Not because she's lazy (probably), but because she's much too busy doing something on planet Earth. In the comics, it was because she was sold into slavery as part of the peace agreement and could never return to Tamaran, otherwise the deal would be off and her people would wind up destroyed. Not like it didn't happen anyway...
From Futurama: I AM LRRR! Ruler of Omicron Persei 8! I have no problem leading an invasion on Earth, or eating a smelly hippie!
Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time works actively to help her kingdom and occasionally get Finn and Jake out of trouble. Finn also tried to do this after being Offered the Crown of the goblin kingdom, but they really didn't want an active monarch.
The Earl of Lemongrab is a negative example of this trope. His short but disastrous reign of the Candy Kingdom shows just how dangerous it is to have somebody inexperienced (or just plain ignorant) in power. All he wanted was an orderly, quiet, clean kingdom, but he went about it in a way that was completely BEYOND wrong. (He imprisoned everybody for one million years!)
The Ice King, if you sort of stretch it. He doesn't really have any subjects other than penguins, but in the pitch documents it's said that he was the one who shaped all of the mountains, and built his own ice castle. He spends a lot of time making fantastical ice creatures and changing the weather. How does that really benefit anyone, if he doesn't rule over anyone? It doesn't- but it's still awesome. The Ice Kingdom seems to be doing well for what it is. And in the flashback episodes we find out that he prevented TOTAL destruction (it was only a little destroyed of earth by the Litch and a Nuclear bomb all while fighting his crown to keep his sanity, needless to say he eventually failed that last part
Another milder example in Celestia's case is that she notably took up tutoring and technically raising the show's asocialbookworm hero, Twilight Sparkle, for the remainder of her childhood, as well as Spike.
It is also worth note that she is consistently portrayed at having very little to no free time, as her official responsibilities often drag her away from things she'd rather be doing.
Then there's villainous Queen Chrysalis of the changelings, whose duties involve actively searching and providing food sources for her subjects. She also infiltrates Canterlot and leads the invasion on Equestria.
It happened in the backstory, but Princess Mi Amore Cadenza babysitting a young Twilight Sparkle probably wasn't a royal duty.
Her duties as the ruler of the Crystal Empire includes raising a massive barrier to protect it should some terrible evil threaten it, and keep that barrier going until said evil is vanquished, no matter how long it takes. Sleep? This princess sleeps when the job is done, not before.
During the royal wedding preparations, Luna spends the nights keeping watch over Canterlot. As in, patrolling the grounds and surveilling key points with a large telescope.
Princess Luna is also the protector of dreams. Meaning that she sneaks around inside ponies' dreams and vanquishes anything that could cause distress or fright.
Speaking of My Little Pony, Rosedust, the queen of the Flutter Ponies from the movie and the original cartoon, was the one to lead the charge when the Flutter Ponies took action. And she is not someone you'd want to mess with. The six princesses of Ponyland also went on a "save the world" quest. In the UK Comics, Majesty (the Queen of Ponyland, who never showed up in the cartoon) was very proactive on the "kicking evil's behind" thing. And her abilities could give Twilight Sparkle a run for her money.
In DC Showcase: Green Arrow (a short that appeared on the Superman / Shazam DVD), when Green Arrow took an arrow in the leg from Merlyn while rescuing 10-year-old Princess Perdita of Vlatava from an assassination plot, the young princess, who had kept her head throughout the ordeal, applied a field bandage to Green Arrow's wound. She also encouraged Black Canary to accept Green Arrow's marriage proposal.
Fox: That still doesn't change what you tried to do.
Titania: What makes you think this wasn't exactly what I had planned from the beginning?
Aku, the Shape-Shifting Master of Darkness rules his future with an iron fist, and is seen demanding tribute from newly conquered peoples, usually in the form of regular commissions of new Aku-shaped structures, to remind all who runs things around here. Most metropolitan regions in the series feature Aku horns in the skyline.
Young Justice: The first thing Queen Perdita of Vlatava does after her life-threatening heart surgery is take away her supervillain uncle's title and diplomatic immunity. Note that Queen Perdita is about ten.
Her uncle is a villainous example, actively working as the leader of the Injustice League and agent of the Light prior to his arrest. And speaking of which, two members of the Light are royal: Queen Bee and Ocean-Master/Prince Orm.
On Dave the Barbarian, the King and Queen of Udrogoth are currently off trying to defeat all evil in the entire world. (It's taking a while.) They've left their older daughter Candy in charge of running the kingdom and their oldest son Dave in charge of defending it, both with the help of their younger daughter Fang and Uncle Odwidge.
Prince Rupert of Mulravia is also a soccer player. His father was one as well.
Given the kind of power and influence the Garkos Family has over the Island of Garkos, Stavros Garkos, his brother Spiro Garkos and his sister Melinda Garkos are also examples of this trope. Stavros' niece, who expected to obtain a vice-presidency in Garkos Enterprises in exchange for helping him with one of his plots, might also qualify.
Samurai Jack is a prince, technically, but has lived in exile most of his life, due to Aku having destroyed his father's kingdom; he's devoted his life to defeating Aku and undoing the hellish future he's turned the world into.
Britain has a number of examples throughout its history. It helps that the modern royal family requires its men to serve at least two years of military service.
Prince William, the second in line to the throne, is a Captain and a qualified air-sea rescue helicopter pilot currently on active duty with the RAF. Hardly an easy job at the best of times.
On a lighter note, Prince William is also President of the Football Association, which given that he's a huge football fan is no surprise. It's fairly likely this position - a mostly ceremonial one which can nevertheless have teeth if the Board lets it - will probably occupy his time between the end of his military service and his accession to the throne.
Prince Harry served in Afghanistan until an Aussie paper blew his cover. He is currently an Apache attack helicopter pilot, at least partly on the principle it will actually allow him to do his job and serve in the front line without placing his unit in danger, because helicopters are a priority target no matter who flies them. The other reason is that the Apache is a Crazy-Prepared flying tank and therefore the safest place to be, despite being a bullet magnet. He has since returned to duty in Afghanistan in his role as a pilot.
It was reported that Prince Harry, three months before his brother's wedding, actually took part in a dangerous charity trek through the North Poleon foot with a contingent of wounded soldiers, without outside support, and without the knowledge of most of the Royal Family. Bad Ass indeed.
Queen Elizabeth II wanted to help during WWII, and when she turned 18, she actually drove medical supplies to the troops in the final months of the war. She was also trained as a driver and mechanic, holding the rank of Second Subaltern (junior officer) in the Women's Auxillary Territorial Service. She is the first female member of the British Royal Family to actually serve in the military, and not just receive honorary titles in it.
She has also been an advisor to the last 13 British Prime Ministers on matters of state. All matters of state. And this is not a formality. The Queen has a right to review all significant government papers, no matter how secret, and has reputedly spent a couple of hours a day doing so, every day, for the last sixty years. At this point, it would be fair to say that she knows more about governing the UK than any other person alive. She also serves the secondary, but still important purpose of reining in her Prime Ministers' egos. It's quite hard to get full of oneself when the monarch advising you can legitimately name-drop Winston Churchill without exaggeration or fabrication. (The Queen puts this on display—Blair is visibly awed by the Queen and her experience - and, yes, by the Churchill name-drop.)
Prince Philip, Elizabeth's husband, served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He was involved in escort duties and battles, gaining the Greek War Cross of Valour because of his service in the Mediterranean Fleet, and also stoked boilers on the RMS Empress of Russia. All of this happened before he was married to Elizabeth, but even then he was a member of the Greek royal family.
Anne, the Princess Royal (Elizabeth II's daughter) is an accomplished horsewoman, competing in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. She also helped foil an attempt by a mentally-deranged person to kidnap her, yelling out "Not bloody likely!"
Prince Andrew flew decoy helicopters during The Falklands War, meaning that he was in the aircraft most likely to be shot at during any given mission. That takes some solid brass ones. He has since retired from Fleet Air Arm with full honours as a fully served Rear Admiral. He was a career officer to the boot.
Both George V and George VI were second sons not intended to inherit, and as such had real careers prior to becoming King. Some might suggest that this is why they were actually pretty good at the job. George VI even volunteered to join the army to take part in the Normandy landings, although this was mostly a Batman-Gambit to stop Churchill using his Prime Ministerial authority to reactivate his own commission and have himself ordered to take part. George VI, his wife (Elizabeth, the Queen Consort), and their children (Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) also refused to leave London for Canada during the Blitz, with Queen Elizabeth saying: "The children won’t go without me. I won’t go without the King. And the king will never leave his country." The children were sent to the relative safety of Windsor Castle, but the King and Queen remained at Buckingham Palace for the duration. For all four this meant the genuine danger of being killed and the annoyance of rationing, and initially hostile reactions to Queen Elizabeth visiting the bombed-out areas, particularly the extremely hard-hit East End. However, their presence served as a major morale boost; after all, it's hard to complain about facing the bombs because you're lower class when the Royal Family is dodging them themselves. Case in point, when Buckingham Palace got bombed, Queen Elizabeth had this to say: "Finally. Now I can look the East End in the face. My home has been bombed too."
William IV had served in the Royal Navy and was called "The Sailor King" as a result. Being not a second but a third son, he had not prepared to be King at all, and did such scandalous things as refuse to use ride the Royal Carriage to his coronation (he walked instead). He was famous for the whole King Incognito thing, going around London and Brighton unaccompanied to get a proper view of these cities. Although he was just as dissolute as his brothers, he's considered to have been a slightly better king than his predecessor (George IV), but not as good as his older brother Frederick (the Grand Old Duke of York and by the end of the wars a skilled general in the Army) would have been.
The current Prince of Wales served in the Royal Navy (and is now Colonel-in-Chief, being the one who awarded his son Prince William his air wings after the latter completed his military flight training) and has become an active patron of many charities and, famously, an environmental campaigner. Opinions are divided on whether this is a good thing or not. Opinions are not divided on whether this is a hilarious thing or not, though. It IS hilarious. He also wrote a children's book called The Old Man of Lochnagar, and makes organic honey.
His wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, has focused a considerable amount of her charity work on animal welfare, and not in the 'in name only' sense, either.
King James VI of Scotland and I of England had a major interest in demonology and witchcraft, and even wrote his own scholarly texts on the subject. And also a screed against the use of tobacco, something that got a minor nod in the comics miniseries Marvel 1602. On a more respectable note, he took an active and scholarly interested in the translation of the version of the Bible that bears his name.
Henry VIII of England was a learned man who, early in his reign, wrote theological pamphlets defending Papal rule against the rising tide of Lutheranism, although the best ones were ghostwritten by Sir Thomas More. The Pope, impressed, granted him the title Defender of the Faith, which remains attached to British monarchs to this day, even after Henry famously severed his ties with the Papacy. He was also a skilled musician. Although the idea that he wrote "Greensleeves" is largely considered a myth, he did write a song called "Pastime With Good Company" that remained popular for a century after his death. Both his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, actively promoted Protestantism. Catherine is also the author of several books.
Henry's first wife Catherine of Aragon led troops into battle against King James IV of Scotland, as Henry was fighting a war with France at the time. He was quite cross when Catherine turned out to be rather better at it than he was.
Anne Boleyn was also noted as an accomplished seamstress, and would make clothes to be distributed to the poor.
Elizabeth I, Henry and Anne's daughter, was definitely no slouch either. Apart from being superb at statecraft and image-building, she spoke several languages, wrote poetry and translations, and composed music.
"Bloody" Mary I was, like her younger siblings, Elizabeth I and Edward VI, very well-educated. She translated a work by Erasmus primarily for kicks, but had it published to great acclaim when her stepmother, Catherine Parr, urged her to.
Funnily enough, Erasmus was a great friend of Sir Thomas More, whom Mary's father Henry VIII had executed because he opposed the King's annulment.
Queen Matilda, Countess of Boulogne, led an army when her husband, King Stephen, was captured and captured an important prisoner in turn. After negotiating an exchange, she freed her husband. That and she had her own lands to govern as well (she was Countess in her own right, not by right of marriage).
Efforts to fight the Great Fire of London in 1666 were slow and disorganized until the Royal Family took over operations from the ineffectual Lord Mayor. James, Duke of York (the future King James II) worked himself to exhaustion for three days establishing command posts, press-ganging men into demolition teams and fire brigades, and maintaining order in the panicked city. King Charles II is said to have personally worked on the front lines of the fire-fighting effort, carrying water and creating firebreaks.
James was also a successful Admiral of the British Navy. New York City is named after James (the Duke of York) in recognition of the fact that it was his fleet that captured the city from the Dutch.
Edward II of England would hunt down bandits personally, on one occasion challenging a bandit leader to a joust, on condition that if the bandit lost he would give up his life of crime. The king won. Ultimately, however, he was more interested in bricklaying than fighting, and ended up being deposed and probably murdered.
His father, Edward I, also fell under this trope, though, actively fighting neighboring countries, succeeding with Wales (and, incidentally, coining the title 'Prince of Wales' for the heir to the throne). In fact, he died en route to battle with the Scots.
Alfred the Great was a Badass Bookworm who fought what amounted to a guerrilla war against the Danes. For perspective, he was originally a warrior king in a time when learning and literacy were fading from his kingdom. Much of his greatness stems from his recognition of the fact that law, culture, and philosophy were as essential for his realm as his successful struggle against the Danes had been: just as he had reorganized England's defenses and appointed military governors, he reformed the laws, built schools, appointed church leaders to inspire cultural revival, and personally translated important works.
Richard The Lionheart of England earned his nickname by being a great military leader and leading soldiers to battle in the Holy Land and Angevin France. It has been asserted by many historians that Richard generally left administrative work to others, though this has been disputed by others. Richard also gained a name in his own time as a poet and musician.
Richard's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine joined her first husband King Louis VII of France to The Crusades. After her marriage to her second husband King Henry II of England got into trouble, she encouraged her sons to rebel against their father and was therefore locked up most of the end of Henry's reign. At his death, Richard immediately released her and she gained great influence. She ruled England in Richard's name during his absences and made sure the ransom was collected and delivered after his capture. After Richard's death, she supported John's claim to the throne. When she was already eighty, she crossed the Pyrenees to collect one of her granddaughters as a bride for the heir to the French throne.
Diana, Princess of Wales, was heavily involved in charities and activism, especially on the issue of the removal of land mines around the world.
It seems now that Harry is taking after his mother - which makes sense, given that he is a career soldier and served in mine-riddenAfghanistan.
George III of Britain (of American Revolution fame) had a strong interest in farming and encouraged agriculture, even personally visiting his citizens to see their farms for himself. He wrote environmental pamphlets under the pseudonym "Ralph Robinson".
"Farmer George's" son, Frederick the Duke of York (commemorated in the nursery rhyme) proved himself a surprisingly able administrator as commander-in-chief of the British army during most of the Napoleonic Wars. This is partially attributed to the debacle that was his first expedition in Flanders (the source of the rhyme), which propelled him to never fail again. He is particularly well-remembered for undertaking the first major reform of the British Army, tuning it into a far more effective fighting force.
George IV was a talented architect. Among his designs was Buckingham Palace.
Speaking of Britain (or at least England proper), this is also what the local nobility are encouraged to be. In the spirit of Noblesse Obliege, they were expected by the Crown to actually do something deserving of their titles, rather than merely act as court filler. This may have helped at least some among the aristocracy to survive and earn the respect of the people, compared (ironically) to France.
Eleanor of Aquitaine's granddaughter, Blanche of Castile, married the king of France and became the mother of King Louis IX (aka St. Louis). Blanche ruled France during Louis' minority and stepped in again to run the kingdom while her son was on crusade.
King Haakon VII of Norway was an officer in the Danish navy (apparently served aboard a frigate) before ascending to the throne of Norway. In the face of the Nazi invasion, he announced to his parliament that he would not surrender or accept the Quisling government, and would abdicate if they wanted so he wouldn't stand in their way. He then headed the government-in-exile in Britain, and was a national symbol of resistance. And oh yeah, he previously refused to be King without a referendum that showed the Norwegian public wanted it, and changed his name (from Carl) to integrate better into his adopted kingdom.
His son, Olav V was an active sailor and won a gold medal at the 1928 Olympics. He was appointed Chief of Defence by the government-in-exile in 1944. He held this position for a year.
Possibly one of the sweetest examples on this page: Princess Mette-Marit of Norway. In Norway, same-sex marriage is legal, but having surrogate children is not. However, it's legal to have a surrogate mother in another country and then bring the child into Norway. When a same-sex couple who were friends with Mette-Marit couldn't travel to India in time to witness the birth of their twin daughters, Mette-Marit flew to India and took care of the newborns for several days. The hospital staff mistook her for a nanny. Read more here.
Sweden has had several examples:
King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden was an archaeologist specializing in Etruscology. He worked in many field excavations in Italy, including manual digging, which messed up diplomatic protocol on the way because in the 1950s kings were not supposed to behave like that (it also nearly messed up Swedish political protocol at one point, but he arrived back in Stockholm just in time to declare the Parliament opened). To avoid official hassle, he traveled under a pseudonym. His sons also led interesting careers:
Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland, was in his youth in the 1930s a racing driver competing at the international level. However, his royal position prevented a full-scale career in this field. In his middle age, he instead became head of the national sports confederation for many years.
His son Sigvard was a renowned industrial designer, for instance creating nice-looking kitchenware.
Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden spent most of his reign leading cavalry charges against Poles, Danes, and Catholic mercenaries in Germany.
King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway was an ardent social reformer and got seriously involved in the complete revamping of the Swedish prison system.
His son, King Oscar II of Sweden was a competent historian who published several works on military history.
King Adolf-Fredrik of Sweden made a lot of handicrafts.
Queen Silvia of Sweden is active in organizations that fight the sexual exploitation of children. Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, is heavily involved in a number of social projects, most concerning disabled children. Prince Carl Philip of Sweden went on to the Naval Academy, and holds a 1st Lieutenant's commission in the Swedish Navy Reserve.
Kings Charles XI and Charles XII of Sweden lead troops in battle. Charles XII and ended up being killed in action during a siege in 1718, but his father survived all wars and died of cancer.
Charles XII was notable for having to wage war as the Swedish commander-in-chief against Denmark, Russia, Poland and Saxony in the great Northern War starting at age 17 because his enemies thought he would be a pushover because of his youth.
King Gustav III has (so far) been the last King of Sweden to personally lead his troops in battle in the 1788-1790 war against Russia.
The last ruling king. Charles XIV (formerly Marshal Bernadotte, Prince of Ponte-Corvo) led the Swedish army in the field in 1813 and 1814 while still crown prince. That also was the last time Sweden was actively involved in a major war.
A few from Denmark:
King Christian X of Denmark famously remained in the capital during German occupation. He would make daily horse rides around the capital without guards and ignored German salutes as an "up yours" gesture to the Nazi. He also snubbed Hitler in official telegrams and is reported to have said that if the Star of David were introduced into Denmark, "perhaps then we should all wear it." His popularity went way up.
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is a professional illustrator, who among other things has illustrated a Danish translation of The Lord of the Rings. She has also done scenography for several ballets and, recently, for a film version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Wild Swans. In the latter she appears as herself as an uncredited extra.
She also has a great interest in history and archaeology and spent one summer at a field excavation in Italy with her maternal grandfather, Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden.
Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark has trained and rank in all three branches of the military (army, navy and air force), most notably perhaps in "Frømandskorpset" (Frogman Corps) - an elite special forces unit of the navy. Oh, and he travelled 1700 miles in a dog sled around the north of Greenland for "Ekspedition Sirius 2000".
In addition he was also the first member of the Danish Royal House to obtain a university degree, where previously the norm had been to only take a few courses. His chosen degree, Political Science, did cause a bit of concern, as the Royal Family are not supposed to have a political opinion in the first place. He has also run a couple of marathons (including the New York City marathon), is an avid sailor, and recently joined the IOC, all the while promoting a healthy lifestyle for kids.
Hell, all of the royalty of Denmark are perfectly able to go round, in broad daylight, with no guards, and do normal people stuff. In addition, they're actually more like liege lords than royalty. One of them was responsible for Hans Christian Andersen getting an education, for heaven's sake!
Christian IV (1577-1648) was very interested in architecture and was responsible for creating many of the landmarks in Copenhagen, including the Round Tower (Rundetårn), the stock exchange (Børsen), the Copenhagen fortress (Kastellet), Rosenborg Castle, the naval Church of Holmen, and loads and loads of other buildings. On the other hand, he more or less did bankrupt in the country in the process.
In the Netherlands:
Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands also went to naval academy, and served in the navy, although this is because the conscription was not yet suspended back then. However, he did run the New York marathon and participated in the 11 cities ice skating race 20 years ago. But all of the country knows he was pushed to the finish by some loyalist citizens and his security. His brothers are better examples: one is an investment banker who reportedly made quite a bit of money for the family, the other a successful European bureaucrat/lobbyist.
Prince Bernhard, husband of the then crown princess Juliana, was a leader of the Dutch Resistance in WWII—to many people's surprise, as he was German. He actually refused to flee to the UK with his wife and children when the Germans invaded in May 1940. He later was forced to flee with the Queen, although he did not go to Canada when she went with their daughters. For the remainder of the war he was one of the leaders of the remaining Dutch forces in the UK, having trained as a fighter pilot and flying combat missions (though not over enemy territory).
Unfortunately, his later life was marred by controversy: he was a notorious womanizer who had at least one child out of wedlock, and he was deeply involved in a military-procurement bribery scandal involving Lockheed in the 50s/60s.
King William II of the Netherlands was wounded in action at Waterloo while still crown prince.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands fired Prime Minister De Geer who wanted to make peace with the Germans during WWII. During the war she made frequent radio speeches inciting her people to rebel against the oppressors. She was the first Queen to address U.S. Congress on 5 August 1942, requesting American military aid in exchange for a number of resources from the Dutch overseas territories. Churchill called her the only man in the Dutch government.
Emperor Hirohito (Shouwa) of Japan was apparently a competent marine biologist, the first to describe several species of jellyfish. He also got to name a few species that he discovered. His son and heir Akihito is also a marine biologist who apparently has co-authored some published scholarly articles on the subject.
The current Emperor Akihito is a world authority on goby fish with many published papers in Nature and other major journals - there is even a species of goby, Exyrias akihito, named after him which he helped to discover (it was originally considered a part of E. belissimus until proven to be a separate species).
Louis XIV of France, a.k.a. 'the Sun King', despite his reign's image of idle luxury and aristocratic balls, was a noted workaholic who personally administered the business of government for five decades. Many historians have argued that Louis intentionally distracted his court with trivialities so that they would not hinder his work. He was also passionately interested in architecture and landscaping, directly influencing the design of Versailles.
Louis XIV: "L'etat c'est moi." (I am the state.)
One of Louis XVI's lasting legacies is all the clocks he made. He's also known to have met Dr. Guillotin and suggested that the blade of his new invention should be beveled rather than straight. We all know how it went.
Some of Russia's best-known rulers qualify:
Peter I The Great of Russia was an accomplished ship builder, both designing them and physically helping to build them. To learn those skills, he lived as an ordinary craftsman in Zaandam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He was responsible for creating the Russian Navy and has a nuclear ship named after him. He also personally travelled Europe in order to gain insights into how to modernise Russia, and ordered a number of his state officials to do likewise. He led the war against Sweden from the front lines, largely designed and took part in the construction of St. Petersburg, and personally executed many of his political enemies (of which there were hundreds), occasionally forgoing the use of an axe.
He was also personally responsible for cutting off the beards of several nobles, coming at the hirsute boyars with scissors and razor in hand to render them clean-shaven and modern. (Wearing a beard was traditional in Russia but just not done in Western Europe—moustaches were en vogue in the late seventeenth century—and nobles who refused to shave were seen as reactionary enemies of the Tsar).
Catherine II The Great of Russia had quite a few credits to her name; one of the more interesting and less well known, she was, depending on accounts, directly responsible for the invention of the roller coaster. The French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian terms for "roller coaster" translate literally as "Russian mountains." She was also an amateur writer.
Ironically, the Russian word for "roller coaster" is literally "American mountains."
Nicholas II, the last of the Tsars, is a particularly nasty subversion. With the Russians getting their asses kicked by the ruthless Imperial Germany during World War I, Nicholas decided to take personal command of his armies, thinking that his presence would bolster morale. Unfortunately, since he had no idea what the hell he was doing, all he managed to accomplish was draw even more blame for the Russian losses while his wife Alexandra, with the inept advice of the Ax-Crazy Rasputin, turned the Russian domestic situation from a disaster into a catastrophe. That, of course, led to Romanovs And Revolutions.
Not to mention their ancestor Rama IV. Those who only impressions of him are from the caricature in The King and I have no idea that he was a respected Buddhist scholar before his accession.
Queen Seondeok of Silla kept her country safe through diplomacy through the volatile period of the Three Kingdoms in Korea. She also had Buddhist centres built and set up the first astronomy tower in East Asia.
King Sejong the Great personally helped create the world's only alphabet with that was deliberately developed. Every other written language evolved over time, only Hangul has it's history documented all the way to it's creation.
The average Roman aristocrat was expected to be serve as general, soldier, judge, lawyer, legislator, orator, and administrator. A small number also needed to take the census.note "Censor" was both a prestigious office and an extremely powerful one, since you didn't just count the citizens but determined what social class they were, based on their wealth and their moral stature. This meant, among other things, that you could fire senators - in fact, short of a criminal conviction, the only way to lose a seat in the Senate was to be degraded by the censors for poverty and/or immorality. Rome being what it was, you best believe that the definition of "immorality" was extremely flexible depending on whether the censors liked you or not. Emperor Marcus Aurelius was also known as a prominent philosopher.
Rome was, for historical reasons, absolutely opposed to hereditary monarchy. As a result, the Emperors were technically granted their power by the Senate, possibly just for a term of years; they could not designate an heir, except insofar as they could convince the Senate and/or the army to go along with it. As a result, there was a lot of value in a Roman emperor taking his job seriously. If he didn't, he might find himself replaced by someone who would.
Examples from Prussia and the German Empire of 1871-1918:
Frederick II of Prussia, in addition to being a military Badass, was also a gifted and prolific musician (he hired Johann Sebastian Bach's son Carl Philip Emmanuel to write him flute pieces), whose works were often used as military marches. He also got up at 4am every morning to do the kingdom paperwork.
His father Frederick William I of Prussia was an extremely able administrator; not only did he reform and rigidly organise the civil service, he also personally ran the administration under a policy of frugal spending and careful investment, ensured that his household was never wasteful (and even paid his own taxes), encouraged farming and land reclamation, and established primary schooling across the kingdom. Even though he created an extremely rigid and disciplined army (which included an entire obsessively-assembled regiment of very tall soldiers), he never started a war, viewing them as a waste of resources. Frederick II may have been the great general, but his success was largely founded on the efficient military, stable economy, surplus resources and capable bureaucracy left behind by his father.
With the exception of Frederick I (the first) and William II (the last), all Hohenzollern rulers and several princes served in the field. Frederick the Great's brother Henry in particular was a great commander in his own right, and after the Seven Years' War Frederick complimented him as "the only military commander not to make any mistakes".
Frederick William II was an accomplished cellist.
Frederick William III, though not known for his artistic proclivities, wrote the Präsentiermarsch, the march that is always played when state guests inspect the honour formation of the Wachtbataillon.
Norodom Sihanouk, former king of Cambodia, is an accomplished film director and orchestra conductor. It helped that he spent 20 years of his life as a deposed king. (He was later restored).
His son, current King Norodom Sihamoni, was a classical dance instructor before his father unexpectedly abdicated.
It was considered a prerequisite to being an Ottoman Sultans that you were able to do something of practical value. Mehmed the Conqueror grew cucumbers and Suleiman the Magnificent was an accomplished goldsmith.
It was also considered a prerequisite to being an Ottoman Sultan that you took part in military campaigns, and meaningfully, not just sitting on the battlefield watching everyone else fight. Several sultans and high officials even died in battle.
There are a number of examples among pretenders to various thrones who no longer considered valid. Louis XX of France (and, arguably, Jerusalem) is a banker, as is Georg Friedrich of Prussia. Grand Duke George, the would-be heir to the Russian throne, works in the aerospace industry. Prince Emanuele Filiberto, the son of the Italian pretender, works in finance and occasionally does TV appearances (including at least one commercial). One of the claimants to the Imperial throne of Korea, Yi Won, works for a Korean version of the Home Shopping Network.
Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the last Tsar of Bulgaria, has them all beat. Born in 1937, he took the throne at age six and was deposed three years later by the Communists, but five and a half decades later ran for office in Bulgaria (under the somewhat amusing name "Simeon Sakskoburggotski") and served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, being essentially the only monarch in history to have been returned to power through democratic election as a private citizen. He has lived most of his adult life in Spain, working as a banker.note Of note, he has never formally renounced his claim to the throne or any of his other royal titles (although he did swear to uphold the constitution of the republic in his oath of office as Prime Minister).
Dr. Otto von Habsburg, heir (from 1922 to 2011) of the Habsburg line that ruled the Austrian Empire (later, Austria-Hungary) and arguably the nominal King of Jerusalem, was an early proponent of European unification and a prominent Member of European Parliament (serving for the German—specifically Bavarian—Christian Social Union, as his very right to visit Austria was a political issue until 1966); this led to a very odd incident where he struck The Rev. Ian Paisleyon the floor of the EP after Paisley had called The Pope (who was visiting) "The Antichrist." It Makes Sense in Context.
It should be noted that absolutely every single minor member or every single major European house claims to be the rightful King of Jerusalem.
It's arguable that the Habsburg line in general fills this trope, from soldiers to artists and even actors. There's a reason why they stayed for so long (after they got the whole inbreeding thing fixed).
Despite fictional works (all of them based on Cecil B. De Mille's The Ten Commandments) depict the Pharaoh who released and later chased the hebrews in the rearward of his army (and surviving the Red Sea massacre) It's known that ancient kings went in the front line leading their armies. This is confirmed by the Psalms, that state Pharaoh as having died with his army in the Red Sea.
King David was a famous warrior, not only for his fight with Goliath but also his massacre of Philistines to earn King Saul's daughter Michal's hand in marriage. Saul asked for 100 foreskins as proof—Philistines were not circumcised, and taking a Philistine's foreskin entailed killing him. David came back with 200 foreskins. As Larry Gonick put it:
David(to Saul, and being squeezed tightly by Michal): 198, 199, 200! I'll take take two of 'em!
Played for laughs in Joseph Heller's novel God Knows where David spends a couple of paragraphs calculating how many men he'll need to hold the Philistines down while he circumcises them, until Saul eventually points out that they don't need to be alive to be circumcised.
King Saul himself personally led most of Israel's military campaigns, and even died in battle by intentionally falling on his own sword after his arms-bearer refused to stab him.
Both Saul and David can be seen as inversions as they were not born royal but became kings when they were famous through their deeds.
Both David and his son Solomon were accomplished musicians, and though the tunes are largely lost the lyrics survive in many of the Psalms.
Solomon himself was among Israel's greatest philosophers — the book of Ecclesiastes is credited to him.
Ming Emperor Zhu Di (Yongle) was an accomplished warrior and general before coming to the throne - which he did by defeating the incumbent, his own nephew, in a bloody civil war. During his reign he waged several successful campaigns against the Mongols on China's northern border, personally leading each one. He is best known, however, for sending the eunuch admiral Zheng He and an enormous fleet to explore the world. He is also the emperor who ordered the construction of the aforementioned Forbidden City.
Actually many Ming Emperors had an additional skill. The Zhengde Emperor appointed HIMSELF a general and goes to battlefield. The Tianqi Emperor was a talented carpenter. However, in the Chinese traditional ideology, having interest in anything other than your main job destroys your determination. And these emperors are not exactly well praised in the history.
Emperor Tai Zong of Tang. He was an accomplished general that helped his father in the campaign that ended the Sui Dynasty and eliminate their oppositions to established the Tang Dynasty. He also was a chancellor to help his father in administration work before he ascended as emperor. The era that under his reign is the most prosperous era in China and his method of ruling was required to be studied by the future crown princes in the later dynasty. He is always considered as one of if not the greatest emperor of China
Mexica (Aztec) Huey Tlatoani (Emperor) had to prove themselves in battle before even be considered to hold the title, because it was not hereditary. Also even the common folk could gain nobility by proving themselves on the battlefield, making for a true Proud Warrior Race.
Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, convinced the Spanish dictator Franco that he supported Franco's views on Fascism. When Franco died, Juan Carlos ascended to absolute ruler, then immediately introduced reforms, legalised and endorsed left-wing parties, oversaw the transition to democracy and a new constitution, and in 1981 went on the telly and slagged off an attempted coup in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish military (a position he holds to this day), telling everyone to support the elected government. Crowning Moment of Awesome! His wife, Sofía of Spain, was Princess of Greece before WWII. After her country became a Republic, however, she returned to Greece, worked in a hospital in Athens and represented Greece in sailing at the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Their son, the Prince of Asturias Felipe, also competed as a sailor at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
King Abdullah II of Jordan is a Trekkie. During a trip to the US while he was a prince, he appeared as an extra in an episode of ST:NE. Because he was not a member of the Screen Actors Guild, he was assigned a non-speaking role. Yes, Abdullah is a native English-speaker; his Arabic is notably accented.
His wife, Queen Rania, besides being a very beautiful woman, works for several great and liberalizing causes within that region.
Abdullah is also reported to do the King Incognito bit to check on how well the bureaucracy is working.
King Albert I of Belgium took command of his army and fought the Germans himself during World War I. He also allowed his 14-old son, Prince Leopold (later Leopold III) to enlist and fight as a private.
Rainier III, Prince of Monaco served in the French army during World War II, and earned several medals.
Albert I founded the Oceanographic Museum and was himself an oceanographist who participed to several expeditions, explored the Svalbard (some of the maps he drew are still used today), organised archaelogic excavations and was member of the Société de géographie and the British Academy.
Charles Mumbere, the king of Rwenzururu, part of Uganda, spent much of his reign working as a nurse's aide in the US, although that was partly due to the fact that the government of his home country did not recognize his claim to the throne until recently.
Many Egyptian Pharaohs, especially Rameses II (also known as Rameses the Great), who headed many military campaigns in his long reign, and Queen Hatshepsut, who arranged the infamous trading expedition to Punt, not to mention all her architectural projects, including the world-famous temple at Deir-El-Bahri, still standing today.
Pretty much all the pharonic dynasties were founded either by renowned military commanders or powerful bureaucrats who'd administered the previous ruling family's government.
Sheikha Mozah, wife of the Emir of Qatar, is a good example, not to mention a rare Middle Eastern royal consort with a public role. As chair of the Qatar Foundation of Education, Science, and Community Development, she founded Qatar's Education City. Also, she created the Doha Debates, where people discuss and vote on current events on TV.
Napoleon Bonaparte of France once wrote novels in his free time (during his earlier years anyway), and dabbled in mathematics and chess. Not forgetting that he conquered Europe and administered a massive Empire. And while he was still General, he fought on the front lines of many battles. It's a bit of an inversion, since Napoleon wasn't born royal. He made himself royalty by "doing something": overthrowing the government, making himself dictator and later crowning himself Emperor of the French and King of Italy.
Some of his administrative work still exist today, such as the prefet, tasked with representing the state, the lycée, a type of secondary school, the Civil code, redacted in 1804 and whose some of the dispositions stay inchanged since they were enacted, the Penal code, whose substance has been kept in the reorganization organised in 1994, and the Legion d'honneur recompensing persons who have rendered eminent services to France.
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of the Saudi Royal Family is an accomplished businessman who amassed his wealth of nearly $20 billion entirely from investments (which include holdings in Citibank, AOL, Apple Inc, MCI, Motorola, News Corp, and many others; all managed by his company, ironically called the Kingdom Holding Company), rather than inheriting from the wealth of the Royal Family (granted, his seed money was inherited, but it wasn't that much). He's also an advocate of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia (he hired Saudi's first female commercial pilot, Captain Hanadi Zakariya Hindi, into his company).
Ulugh Beg, grandson of Tamerlane, was not just a sultan, but also the greatest astronomer and mathematician of his time: working from an observatory which, lacking telescopes, utilized a massive sextant, he calculated, among other things, the Earth's axial tilt to 23.52, a figure more accurate than later ones by Copernicus and Tycho Brahe.
Hamengkubuwono IX of Yogyakarta. The first thing he did after Japanese forces kicked the Dutch out of East Indies, was firing his Dutch-employed Prime Minister and took the job himself. He saved his people from being sent to forced labor overseas by asking the Japanese to allow them to build local projects. After Sukarno declared independence, he integrated his kingdom to the then-newly born Republic of Indonesia. As a compensation, the government gave him hereditary governor-for-life position and he got to keep his royalty. And then he went to be the Minister of the State and partially funded the War of Independence (we have a Republican Monarch!). After Out Gambitting the returning Dutch forces, which resulted in Indonesia regaining her independence, he became the Minister of Defense. And then Vice Premier. Then Minister of Tourism, then Minister of Finance, and ultimately the Vice-President. He resigned after learning that his President, Suharto, has undemocratic tendencies.
Princess Alice of Greece, mother of Prince Phillip, became a nun, and in a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, rescued a Jewish family from the Nazis by hiding them in her home. She was later recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among Nations.
Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia mounted a guerrilla warfare campaign against the Ottoman Empire, disposed of power-hungry nobles and replaced them with freed men, and made sure his country was crime-free. Allverymessily, if his nickname "The Impaler" is anything to go by (impaling was a common death sentence for brigands at the time. He earned the name by being very enthusiast about it, includinga whole Ottoman army). While he's seen as a symbol of evil in much of the world, Romania considers him a national hero for protecting against the Ottoman Turks.
King Johann (John) of Saxony was an accomplished scholar who among other things wrote an annotated translation of Dante's Divine Comedy into German under the pseudonym Philalethes ("friend of truth").
King Ludwig I of Bavaria was a great patron of the arts and sciences. He also wrote poetry, which however became known as one of the great sources of unintentional comedy in German literature. He also had a mania for building castles, which left the kingdom heavily in debt. Ironically, those castles would turn out to be one of history's greatest unintentional examples of Fridge Brilliance when you consider how much money Ludwig's castles now make in tourist revenues for the local economy.
Prince Luitpold, the second in line to the Bavarian royal family succession, is the CEO of the Kaltenberg brewery, which has facilities in the Schloss Kaltenberg castle.
Anni-Frid ("Frida") Lyngstad of ABBA is a German princess by virtue of her marriage to the late Prince Reuss.
Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil was not only an extremely competent and popular ruler, he was also a patron of science and the arts, abolished slavery, and made his country the leading power in Latin America.
Given that Popes are royalty, most of the more recent Popes fall into this category either as administrators (in the case of Benedict XVI, who spent most of his career managing the internal bureaucracy of the Church) or (as is the case with the newest Pope, Francis I) direct hands-on pastoral work (in his case, particularly with the poor). Pope Francis I holds a Masters degree in chemistry and had considered a scientific career before taking on his vocation. Of note, Blessed John Paul II served with the Polish Resistance in World War II, and is directly credited by B'nai B'rith for saving several Polish Jews from the Nazis. He also served in mandatory work parties including in a limestone quarry and a chemical factory. Was the author of several plays and a sportsman.