"Our son is a wastrel and a halfwit. We shudder to think of the throne in his hands."
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
. 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
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.
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.
- 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 two white horses jumped out of the grove on the palace grounds, chose him and his son, and from then on only Heralds—chosen by Companions for positive traits like honesty and courage—could inherit the throne, ensuring a minimum competency 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, Maric Theirin is remembered as a lot 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).
- 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."
- Concerning Joseph 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.