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Sketchy Successor
"Our son is a wastrel and a halfwit. We shudder to think of the throne in his hands."
Queen Victoria, From Hell.

Having a Reasonable Authority Figure in charge is brilliant. Be it a good monarch, a superb CEO, a master swordsman with a knack for education in a dojo... whatever the position, it makes the lives of everyone under the title easier. But no one lives forever...

But it's OK! If it's a monarchy, the line of succession is safe, or the king has chosen an agreeable replacement beforehand; if not, there are proper democratic (or at least elective) mechanisms in place for selecting a new leader. The old makes way for the new...

...pity that the new sucks.

This trope is about when a superb or at least markedly superior leader passes away, retires or occasionally gets killed off, possibly by the guy or gal who gets the top spot, and is replaced by someone who is markedly inferior. Markedly inferior can range from just not being as competent to being akin to the worst excesses of insane leaders throughout history.

Reasons for this trope being deployed vary. Sometimes it simply showcases the problem of having an experienced leader suddenly get replaced by someone who hasn't got the hang of things yet; that leader may show Character Development and improve. Sometimes the new leader is fairly competent under normal circumstances, but his father was a genius at war, or intrigue, or even just keeping the wolves from the door, which applies especially to CEOs, and the circumstances are most assuredly NOT optimal. If this is the case, if the new ruler is The Hero, he again will eventually come up to the mark, albeit with a lot of problems and challenges along the way. Unless it's a Downer Ending of course. If he is not the main character, then it will be up to The Hero to guide the new leader or at least ensure he doesn't screw up too badly... or maybe the new king will be the reason for the country/whatever collapsing, the villain winning initially, and the heroes will be La Résistance, stemming from a Prequel or Backstory. Sometimes something in the bloodline will hit the new ruler, leaving him Royally Screwed Up. Sometimes the new leader is just a young child, in which case the regent(s) are the ones who are likely to be incompetent and/or self-serving. And, of course, there's always the chance the new ruler will be a bloodthirsty tyrant or just insane and will prove to be the villain of the piece, or an obstacle for the hero to overcome to defeat the real villain.

In the event of the old ruler trying to do something about the successor to ensure this doesn't happen, you have an Inadequate Inheritor.

This trope will probably have several subtropes eventually. Also, we need some examples which aren't just examples of the successor doing something horrible to the old ruler.

Death Trope. Will involve unmarked spoilers. Read at your own risk, and the risk of others to whom you will blab about it out of shock who haven't watched/read the story yet.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Defied on The Twelve Kingdoms as the next ruler is not necessarilly the child of the previous king, but rather has to be chosen by the Kirin each time the previous one dies. Rulers gain near-immortality on accession (for themselves as well as their family and retainers), so a successful reign may continue indefinitely. Not all rulers are successful, however: Youko's predecessor only ruled for about 6 years before committing suicide to save her kirin from her own incompetence. By comparison, the wise and even-handed En-Ou has ruled for more than 500 years.

Comic Book
  • Nick Fury was fired from SHIELD after starting a secret war with Doctor Doom. During Marvel's Secret Invasion event, he groomed Daisy Johnson, a SHIELD agent loyal to him, to take his place and build a new SHIELD, since the previous one was infiltrated by Hydra. While she was very good at her job, her first time breaking the rules, she is caught and immediately replaced by Maria Hill. Nick was able to keep secret agendas and plans secret for years.
    • Similarly, Maria Hill, when replacing Nick Fury was this. She always worked within the system, which meant she could never do quite as good a job as Nick. The world went to crap on her watch. She got better over time, but still is very much inferior to Nick.

Fan Fic

  • In Eugenesis Prowl has a choice: Being in charge, which he hates (and isn't very good at), or letting Grimlock take control and run what's left of the Autobots into the ground. Or Springer, though for some reason he can't figure out, Prowl doesn't think this would be a good idea. Follow-up fiction would prove his suspicions about Springer right in all the worst ways.

Film

Literature
  • Many versions of Robin Hood have King John standing in for Good King Richard.
  • Happens at the end of Oscar Wilde's short story "The Star-Child". The title character, who used to be cruel, has learned to be a good person, and found out that he is the king. Due to the lessons he has learned, he is a good king and brings peace and plenty to the kingdom, but the Happy Ending is mitigated by the last lines:
    Yet ruled he not long, so great had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing, for after the space of three years he died. And he who came after him ruled evilly.
  • Defied in Heralds of Valdemar series, where King Valdemar prayed to every God for a way to ensure that his successors would always be worthy people, and then three white horses jumped out of the grove on the palace grounds and chose himself, his son, and his herald as their bond-mates. From then on only Heralds - chosen by Companions for positive traits like honesty and courage - could inherit the throne, ensuring a minimum degree of competency and benevolence for future rulers.
    • Even with the above safeguards, the 'not quite as competent' variant comes into play during the Last Herald Mage trilogy. Elspeth the Peacemaker managed to use diplomacy and marriage alliances to avoid major problems with neighboring realms. However her son predeceased her in a freak accident, and when the crown fell to her young grandson everything started going south.
    • Played straight with the King of Hardorn who was a pretty good king and an ally of Valdemar, until his son Ancar killed him and took over, started oppressing and pretty much enslaving his people and began a war with Valdemar AND Karse.
  • Le Morte Darthur by Thomas Mallory had as King Arthur's successor a relative nobody named Constantine, the son of one of the lesser knights, no less. Given that, whether historical or legendary, Arthur's Britain was quickly supplanted by the Saxons he opposed, his successor may have had no footprint at all.
  • This trope starts off the action in Harald, with the death of the king who forged the alliance that kept The Empire at bay and his replacement's incompetence.
  • Though it varies a bit based on the book, the eponymous Wizard of The Wizard of Oz series is depicted as an incompetent charlatan who sent Oz backwards under his leadership, which he usurped from the previous monarchy. The theme is expanded in greater detail in the Wicked books.
  • Joffery Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire. His father may not have been the greatest king, but at least he wasn't an insane psychopath.
    • The Targaryen family tree are full of these, causing several civil wars, in-house plotting and weak monarchs that left more powers in the hands of the feudal lords. The last one was Aerys II, who sparked a civil war that lost the Targaryens the throne (and most of their lives as well).
      • Perhaps the most notable example was the transition from Viserys II to Aegon IV. Although the former was not on the throne very long, he was a valuable advisor to his brother Aegon III and king in all but name during the reigns of his nephews Daeron I (The Young Dragon, who got 50,000 men killed trying to conquer a desert and died at 16 without heirs) and Baelor (The Blessed, who refused to marry and spent his whole reign praying rather than actually doing anything kingly); and is generally considered to be the third best king to seat the Iron Throne (After his great-great-grandfather Jaehaerys I, who led the realm through the dangerous period of being past the initial founder but not being sufficiently established to truly hold together, and grandson Daeron II, who defused the most dangerous rebellion the realm ever faced and ruled wisely for many years). Viserys' son (And father to the excellent Daeron II in an inverted example) Aegon IV, however, was obese, greedy, fathered dozens of bastards all over the place, and directly caused the rebellion that Daeron had to stop by legitimizing all of them. He might not have been as bad as Aerys II or Joffrey, but going from the third best to the third worst out of the twenty monarchs to sit the throne is the biggest change of any of them.
  • In Avram Davidson's "Doctor Eszterhazy" stories, the Emperor of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania is a doddery old man, but his son is a dim-witted militarist and his grandson is a complete fool. So everyone does their best to keep the doddery old man doddering along.

Religion
  • The proverbially wise King Solomon in the Books of Kings of The Bible was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. The first item on Rehoboam's agenda was to so piss off 10 of the 12 tribes he was governing that they rebelled against him and split the kingdom of Israel in two permanently. He subsequently allowed the Egyptians to capture Jerusalem and take all Solomon's treasure.
    • Played With, though: God allowed Rehoboam's failures as punishment for Solomon's own actions, since he had built pagan temples for his foreign-born wives.
  • Hezekiah, King of Judah, attempted to defy this; according to the Talmud he knew prophetically that he would have an evil descendant and thus refused to marry. However, when he became ill the prophet Isaiah noted that he was still obligated to have children under religious law, even if he could not control what those children did. Hezekiah wound up marrying Isaiah's daughter Hephzi-bah, hoping that having two righteous parents would prevent an evil child; unfortunately, their son Menasheh, and Manasheh's son Amon, were both tyrants anyway. (Amon's son Josiah, however, was an inversion).

Tabletop Games
  • In Warhammer Phoenix King Caledor the Conqueror of the high elves was a great warrior and strategist who kept the kingdom together through the bloody civil war with Malekith's dark elves, oversaw the construction of the Gateway fortresses that remain a fundamental part of Ulthuan's defenses in the present, reclaimed the Blighted Isle, thus ensuring the dark elves can't draw the Sword of Kaine, and resisted the sword's temptations himself, before finally diving into the sea to drown when his ship was taken by the dark elves. His son Caledor the Warrior was a great warrior and...well that's it. His rule is mostly known for a bloody and pointless war with the dwarfs that he ensured (Dark elves attacked a dwarven caravan disguised as high elves. In an unusual show of reasonableness the dwarfs sent an ambassador to talk about this and Caledor responded by having him shaved and sending him home in disgrace). The war left thousands on both sides dead, completely cut the high elves off from their mainland colonies, ended with Caledor slain in single combat with the Dwarven king, and ruined any hope of cooperation between the races. This was the first and definitely the last time the elves named the son of the previous Phoenix King as his successor.
    • The Conqueror's other son Imladrik the Dragonlord was much more competent than his brother but had no interest in taking the throne, even telling lords plotting to put him there that he would refuse it. This ended up not really working out for him, as he was killed by Prince Morgrim Dragonsbane during the war his brother started. Ironically, his own son was also a Sketchy Successor despite being generally a good person and fairly competent because the position that he was the successor to was that of Master of Dragons and he was unable to get one let him ride it.

Theatre
  • The late King Hamlet from Hamlet is considered a ruler among rulers. King Claudius assassinated him to get the job and spends his reign doing nothing but trying to keep people from becoming suspicious.

Video Games
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Maric Theirin is remembered as a much better King of Ferelden than his son Cailan. Subverted with Alistair if you "harden" his personality and make him King: in that case, he becomes a ruler much better than everyone expected (including him), perhaps on par with his dad.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is ruled by King Hlaalu Helseth after his mother the Queen Mother Barenziah abdicated after The Elder Scrolls: Arena. While Barenziah is generally pretty well-thought-of In-Universe, Helseth is a polarizing figure. The more conservative dunmer in House Redoran and House Indoril feel he is a Quisling or puppet for the Empire, and he has a pattern of nepotism favoring his own House Hlaalu. He's also got somewhat of a cruel streak and isn't above using the Dark Brotherhood to eliminate perceived threats. Including the Nerevarine. Helseth was also the last King of Morrowind, but not because of any political blunders (Helseth appears to have been rather competent, and well on his way to transforming the role of King of Morrowind into a position with actual power at his last mention), but because of the Red Year; the post-Red Year Morrowind appears to be an aristocratic republic ruled by a council of the Great Houses (much like the situation prior to the Imperial takeover, although with the theocratic elements toned down).

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Marcus Aurelius was the last in the line of Five Good Emperors of The Roman Empire's golden century. Lacking a good successor (like the four emperors before him, who always adopted theirs), he let his son Commodus take the throne, starting off a long chain of events that led to Rome's fall.
  • King John "Lackland" of England is frequently described as a poor replacement for King Richard the Lionhearted. The truth is, arguably, that neither was much good; King John may have lost disastrously in France and sparked a (noble, not peasant) revolt in his own lands due to exorbitant taxes, but King Richards punitively expensive crusading was the reason why King John had to raise those taxes in the first place. And couldn't have done much for John's French campaigns either. John wasn't a good king by any means, but Richard was arguably just as bad.
    • Probably a straighter example, then, would be both Richard and John playing this trope straight in regards to Henry II.
  • The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is tremendously popular, to the point of having shrines erected in his honor. Though Thailand has many protests, sometimes violent, the king himself is very very popular. Whoever replaces the king will be far less idealized, whether it's the government at large or a blood successor.
  • Takeda Katsuyori was the type whose father Shingen was a genius at war. Sadly, Katsuyori could not hold Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu at bay, and he and his immediate family committed harakiri upon his defeat.
  • Richard Cromwell, heir to Oliver Cromwell. The English deposed him and restored the Monarchy.
    • Which gives the impression that they thought, "At least HE was a Badass whatever else he was. Richard is not. And if we must have Nepotism we might as well have a king and be done with it."
  • An Aversion: Nobody expected Edward VII to be any good as a King: as Prince of Wales, he was a dissolute playboy who drank and smoked a lot, got caught up in a gambling scandal, and had more mistresses than you can shake a stick at. Also, he was a gourmand and was tremendously fat. He once appeared as a witness in a divorce trial in which the husband alleged the wife had cheated on him with the Prince (triply scandalous on its own—the Prince is not only accused of having an affair with a married woman, but then he has to testify about it, and it's a divorce trial to boot—made quadruply so by the fact that the husband was an MP and the Prince apparently visited the wife during sittings of Parliament). He also had several mistresses in succession. So, when after decades of Queen Vicky's rule, Edward became King, everyone looked at him with a skewed eye...and proceeded to thank God when he showed he knew his place as King and actually became of great help to the Government, particularly in foreign affairs (his great love of all things French and extensive network of contacts in France set the groundwork for the entente cordiale—he had been authorised to talk to the French about an alliance against Germany as early as twenty years before his accession, and he kept at it until the agreements were signed).
  • Concerning Josef Stalin, opinions vary, but everyone agrees that he was very competent, tyrant or no tyrant. Nikita Khruschev, his successor, was an equally universally recognized buffoon and nincompoop; even the rest of his party eventually got sick of him and forced him to step down.
  • A subtle but serious case; FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, later 1st Baron Raglan, spent much of his life as the perfectly competent chief aide to The Duke of Wellington. As the latter was regarded in Britain, with some reason, as a supreme military Bad Ass, it was assumed that Raglan had learned a bit, which would help explain why he was appointed to command the British forces in the Crimean campaign. Unfortunately, what Raglan had actually learned was how to be chief sidekick to a genius Control Freak; he had no significant experience of actually being in charge. This may explain something about the Crimean War.
  • The Royal Italian Army had one of the most painful examples ever: the succession of general Alberto Pollio as the chief of staff. Pollio was a capable manager and commander, and upon his death was succeeded by Luigi Cadorna, an equally capable manager and an infamously crappy commander (notably, he was supposed to command a corps in the invasion of Libya during the Italian-Turkish War but was crushed in a wargame rigged to give him victory by general Carlo Caneva, who stole him the command and proceeded to became infamous for cowardice and general imbecility). When Italy later joined World War I, the Royal Italian Army would suffer for over two years against the better-led Austro-Hungarians before Cadorna got finally sacked.
    • Most notably, the ones who cried the most for Pollio's death were the Austro-Hungarian government and general staff: Pollio was known for being a supporter of the Triple Alliance that at the time bound Italy with Germany and Austria-Hungary, and his sudden death right before the war and his replacement with a known hater of Austria-Hungary allowed the Italian government to stay neutral at the start of the war and then enter it on the other side.

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