It's time for the Second TV Tropes Halloween Avatar Contest! Details here
"My parents were...rather traditional. They wanted the heir and the spare, and I was left in the cold."
Only one person can inherit a throne, that's obvious enough, but history books will occasionally reference kings and queens
' desire to have at least two male heirs, an "heir and spare."
The reasoning for this is simple. Back before modern medicine, child mortality was through the roof even for the ruling elite. Assuming a prince survived past the age of five, they could still catch a nasty illness
, fall victim to a hunting accident, fall victim to a "hunting accident
," or be slain in an overt coup. On top of this, medieval monarchs were often expected to be warriors
, so the heir might be slain in battle, or even while training for battle
. Anything could happen to the oldest child, hence the importance of having a figurative spare tire to keep the kingdom and royal line running. In fact, he could even avoid all of this, succeed to the throne, and then fail to produce any surviving heirs of his own, it which case it would be prudent for his parents to provide him with a brother.
The thing is, the spare isn't going to be expecting to inherit the throne. He may be brought up as a brave knight, skilled administrator, or member of the clergy, but he's not going to be trained to rule the same way as his older brother. So when the worst happens and the spare becomes heir, cue panicked cries of "I wasn't prepared for this! I didn't ask for the throne!" But everyone expects the rightful heir to suddenly step in and do a bang-up job he hasn't been prepared to do, even while he still grieves for the loss of his older brother. The closest analogy to this would be the Falling into the Cockpit
scenario in Humongous Mecha
shows, just with less mecha and more monarchy.
Note that it doesn't have to be an explicit "older brother dies, younger brother takes over" situation. Something may happen to the heir, forcing a regency. A bastard who never thought of taking the throne due to his illegitimacy may find himself the only one with the claim and the right to combat the Evil Uncle
who assassinated his brother and nephews. It also doesn't count if the spare offed the heir to get to the throne
, or even if they are eager to get onto it. They have to show signs of being a Reluctant Ruler
who would really rather someone more prepared took over it. If both the heir and
the actual throne-holder are lost at the same time, then the Spare ends up finding that he is in the big chair now
See also Heir Club for Men
and Hidden Backup Prince
. A form of Unexpected Successor
Considering how this is frequently also The Reveal, expect unmarked SPOILERS!
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Chagum in Seirei no Moribito is the Emperor's second son, and Spare To The Throne. Unlike most examples he did apparently receive schooling because his older brother suffers from a Soap Opera Disease, and becomes the heir apparent after his brother succumbs to it halfway through the series. In either case, he is remarkably calm (although clearly not-too-pleased) about it.
- In Anatolia Story, Kail has a number of older brothers and half-brothers who have claim to the throne before him. Just about everyone, those brothers included, agree that Kail is best-suited to rule, though. Nakia, meanwhile, is desperate for her own son to take the throne. Given that her boy is the youngest of the princes, this means she has a lot of scheming to do to get the others out of the way. By the end of the series, all of Kail's older brothers are dead and Prince Juda permanently renounces his claim to the throne. By that point, it wasn't a question of whether or not Kail expected to rule so much as when he would actually be taking the throne.
- One of the central conflicts in The King's Speech is King George VI's ascension to the throne when his older brother abdicates. He felt totally unprepared, largely due to a pretty serious stammer. Of course, this is Based on a True Story (see the real life section below).
- This was originally planned to play into the story of Frozen, with Anna feeling some angst over her role as the "superfluous" sister while the older Elsa is set up to be queen. In the actual movie this is averted - while Elsa spends much of the movie in exile or arrested, no one really talks about Anna taking her place as queen, likely because there wasn't the chance to figure that out before everything got resolved. Well, Hans did consider it. In fact, he banked on this trope when he planned to woo Anna, marry her, kill Elsa, and then be set up as king of Arandelle. Strictly speaking, however, this film averts this trope: once their parents die, Elsa is the queen, Anna is the heir, and there is no spare which is where Hans sees himself fitting in.
- Both Anna and her boyfriend Hans were born in this position, but while Anna is happy in a supporting role to her sister, Hans has let it bother him somewhat
- The Reluctant Illegitimate Heir variation occurs in King Ralph, twice. First, when all known members of the royal family are electrocuted in a photography accident, Ralph is discovered to be the son of an illegitimate child of a royal uncle. He's lived his whole life in the US, so he's hesitant to leave that behind. At the end Ralph realizes that the man who had been prepping him to rule was also an heir to the throne who didn't feel worthy to take the position.
- Inverted in The Horse and His Boy — it turns out Shasta the peasant boy is actually one of two twin princes of Archenland, kidnapped as a babe. And since he's the older of the two twins he's next in line for the throne, which delights his brother no end because he never wanted to be the heir (and is by extension now the spare).
- In the same book, hot-headed Prince Rabadash, the heir to the throne of Calorman, is given permission to raid nearby Archenland in pursuit of Queen Susan. His father the Tisroc discusses this trope with his advisor, commenting that he can afford to lose Rabadash and promote a more biddable "spare" in his place.
- A partial list from the Deryni works:
- Sickly King Alroy Haldane is succeeded by his younger twin Javan, who is turn succeeded by the still younger Rhys Michael.
- King Donal Haldane has four sons (Brion, Blaine, Nigel and Jatham), but only two (Brion and Nigel) outlive him. Nigel is Heir Presumptive to the throne for nearly half his life, and while he'll do his duty and rule if it comes to that, he doesn't want the job.
- In Torenth, Liam succeeds his elder brother Alroy after his riding accident, though he accepts out of duty rather than desire. Liam has a younger brother named Ronal-Rurik.
- In Discworld, King Verence of Lancre was raised as a clown (part of the Fools' Guild) and didn't even realize he was an heirnote . At first, he exhibited signs of this trope, but later decides it's definitely better than being a Fool and turns out to be quite a good king:
But Verence had kingship thrust upon him. He hadn't been raised to it ... In the role of ruler, then, he had started with the advantage of ignorance. No one had ever told him how to be a king, so he had to find out for himself. He had formed the unusual opinion that the job of a king is to make the kingdom a better place for everyone to live in.
- The Mote in God's Eye. Commander Roderick Blaine was the second oldest son in a noble family, who wanted nothing more than a Navy career and the chance to become Grand Admiral someday. His older brother George was in line to inherit the estates and title when their father retired but was killed in battle, leaving Rod as the heir.
- At the age of eleven, Aral Vorkosigan watched as his mother and older brother were slain by a death squad sent by the mad emperor Yuri. While these events happened before the time of the books, they are of critical importance in the relationship between his father, Count Piotr Vorkosigan, and his son, Miles. His mother, Cordelia, was poisoned while pregnant, and the boy was considered lost by both Count Piotr and their doctors, who called for an abortion, with the intent of trying again for a healthy heir.
- Years later, while Miles was briefly dead, his clone-brother Mark, who had been created in a plot to replace him and destroy the Imperium, had to face the concept that if Miles was truly lost (dead and rotted), he might have to take up his progenitor's place as heir to the Countship of the Vorkosigan District in the Council of Counts.
- At one point, Aral himself calls himself the "spare."
- Barrayar has a really complicated political situation in regards to the throne. Aral's mother was a Princess of the royal family, giving him a claim to the throne of Barrayar if Salic law is ignored. Aral's own political capabilities and support among the military means he's first in line of around half a dozen claimants if something should happen to Gregor, and many readings of the family tree indicates he as a better right to the throne than Gregor. However, since Aral's son Miles is deformed and a mutant by Barrayaran standards, it would be unlikely for the Vorkosigans to take the throne even if Aral wanted the job. Another princess married into the Vorpatril family, who gave birth to Aral's cousin Padma. Padma had a son, Ivan with Alys, a lady of the Vor. Ivan's high birth makes him another contender for the throne, and one character in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance states that if Gregor had died, the Vorkosigans would have supported Ivan for the throne.
- The Eyes of The Dragon used this trope to drive the entire plot. The Evil Chancellor Flagg has the capable heir framed and imprisoned for regicide, so that he can use the unsteady spare as a puppet and effectively rule the kingdom himself.
- Shows up several times in the Chalion series.
- In The Curse of Chalion itself (the first book of the series), the much younger half brother of the infertile and secretly ill king is brought to court by the king's Evil Chancellor to insure the succession. When the prince dies shortly after the king's condition takes a massive turn for the worse the entire court instantly redirects it's attention to the prince's marginally older sister.
- The death of the rebellious elder son of the Fox promotes Bergon from spare to the Heir of Ibra — and to the top of Iselle's short list of potential spouses.
- In The Hallowed Hunt, the eldest son of the hallowed King has recently died. Succession politics aren't central to the plot, but they are a crucial detail.
- In Warbreaker, the oldest princess was groomed from birth to become the God-Emperor's wife. The second oldest princess was the "spare," trained in case something happened to her sister. Their father sent the youngest princess instead.
- In the Prince Roger series by David Weber and John Ringo, Prince Roger is the Heir Tertiary to the throne of the Empire of Man (third in line, after his older brother and sister); nobody, including his own family, can decide whether he's an Upper-Class Twit or a potential traitorous usurper, so he is specifically not given any guidance in how to exercise power. Then he gets marooned on a Death World, and then he finds out he was actually safer on that Death World than his brother and sister...
- The title character of I, Claudius (see Real Life below).
- The main character of Andre Norton's first published novel, The Prince Commands, didn't have a clue he was of the Morvanian royal family until he was eighteen, when his guardian introduced him to some visiting nobles with the words, "This is His Royal Highness." And then they told him that his grandfather the King had been assassinated, and the Crown Prince died in an ... accident ... before he could be crowned, and guess who's next up for the throne?
- Torovico in the Firekeeper novels was the second son of the Healed One. He was training to be a dancer. When his elder brother died in a hunting accident, he ended up the next ruler of New Kelvin. He tries to do a good job, but he didn't take learning a few of the secrets reserved only for the Healed One and the primary heir well.
- From The Elfstones of Shannara we get the elven prince Ander Elessedil who's not in favor with his father and doesn't see any reason why he'd ever be king, never even considered the possibility. And then SURPRISE, his older brother is dead and father incapacitated. The writing made it fairly clear this was the direction things would go from fairly early in the story.
- Pops up all over the place in A Song of Ice and Fire due to a messy and protracted multiway civil war with a high casualty rate. Before the main story begins, Ned Stark was this to his brother Brandon, and Maester Aemon was offered this but abdicated in favor of his younger brother (who was called "Aegon the Unlikely" for how far down the line of succession they had to go to finally find someone to take the job). Renly and Stannis vie for this after the death of older brother Robert, Stannis playing it slightly more straight (reluctant but insistent) while Renly leaps at the chance. Tommen is this to older brother Joffrey. Daenerys is this to her brother Viserys, and in A Dance With Dragons it is revealed that Rhaegar Targaryen's son Aegon is alive after all (if he's genuine), making Daenerys this to him as well. And depending on how things go, either Bran, Rickon, or Jon is likely to become this to Robb. There are probably dozens of other minor examples that don't spring immediately to mind.
- In The Fairy Godmother, the heroine's eventual love interest is the second son of a king. His older and younger brothers both become kings, leaving him to decide what he's going to do with his life if he doesn't want to hang around and be decorative.
- Prince Galrion was the third of four princes. It's lampshaded that being the third of four sons is the most useless position to be in: the eldest is the heir; the second, the spare; the fourth, an extremely powerful Arranged Marriage tool. The third has no purpose, and is regarded as nothing by his father. As a result, Prince Galrion focused on magical study, something that incensed his father. The situation escalated into catastrophe, concluding with the King stripping his unfavourite son of all title, wealth and even his identity to rename him the "no-one" his father had always believed him to be. Thus was Prince Galrion destroyed and Nevyn born.
- Rhodry was spare to the Gwerbrethryn of Aberwyn until his half-brother rose to the seat and failed to produce an heir.
- Yraen, who as the younger son of a younger son of a king, was even further down the line of succession, and became a mercenary.
- In The Queen of Attolia, the queens of both Attolia and Eddis were this; Attolia's brother died in a 'riding accident', though it was suspected to be an assassination. Eddis' brothers died of illnesses, possibly the same one that killed her father.
- In the Belisarius Series Eon of Axum was the younger son of Negasa Negast Kaleb... then the royal palace was blown up by Malwa agents with his father and brother (along with his child and two concubines) inside.
- In the Xanth series, the Fourteenth Wave, or Nextwave Invasion, of 1061 results in EIGHT spares: King Trent's mind is trapped in the Gourd, where dreams are crafted. His chosen heir, Dor, succeeds him, but suffers the same fate. Eight additional kings take the throne in turn, all but one of whom are older than Dor (in fact, two are his parents, and one is his mother-in-law), before the one responsible for their conditions is killed and the last heir frees all of her predecessors.
- In Chalice, the younger brother of the Master is sent off to the priests of Fire, and has advanced in his studies to the point that when his older brother dies without producing an heir, he's no longer exactly human.
- The Riftwar Cycle:
- Mara of the Acoma was mere moments from taking orders as a nun when her family retainers interrupted to let her know of the death of her father and brother, making her the new Lady and Master of the Acoma. Despite her fragile position and lack of ruling experience, she managed to end up the mother of the Emperor and most powerful person in Kelewan.
- Prince Borric was originally a spare to the throne, but his cousin drowned, his aunt passed childbearing age, and his father renounced his claim to his brother's throne in favor of his children.
- The second Deathstalker series begins when the highly popular and well-prepared heir to the throne is killed by a drunk driver. His younger brother who had expected to live a relatively simple life as a Paragon finds himself thrust onto the throne.
- Crown Prince Alaric in The Quest of the Unaligned has this reaction when he first discovers his true heritage, but regains his balance and learns to be a prince fairly quickly.
Live Action TV
- A modern example: After President Keeler in 24 is incapacitated by a missile strike that takes out Air Force One, Vice President Logan is sworn in as President. He looks for all the world like he's going to pee himself out of nervousness for the entire rest of the season.
- A second modern example: Prince George from The Palace. For most of the series, he shows no interest in ever being a monarch, and tells his older sister Eleanor that if their brother Richard dies, she can be queen. However, when Richard's legitimacy is challenged in Episode 8, making George's ascension an imminent possibility, he starts to think that it might not be such a bad deal. (Of course, being an immature Royal Brat, he would almost certainly fail spectacularly in that role.)
- Though they aren't royalty, Jayden is essentially this to Lauren in Power Rangers Samurai. While she's in hiding, Jayden pretends to be the sole living heir to the title of Red Samurai Ranger, and with it the leadership responsibilities to the other Rangers. He doesn't really have an issue with being team leader as much as the fact that it's not rightfully his position.
- Dragon Age: Origins has this in Alistair, who reveals early on that he is of royal blood... unfortunately he's a bastard, so he wasn't raised to the task. Needless to say, he's not happy about the idea of becoming king after being trained for something completely different and being quite forcefully assured that his illegitimate status would prevent the question. Word of God confirms that he is the illegitimate child introduced in the tie-in novel The Calling, which further reveals that he's a Half-Human Hybrid, as his mother is an elf.
- And its sequel, Dragon Age II has Sebastian Vael, who is the spare to the spare as the youngest of three children. Initially he resented his brothers for this, then settled into life at the Chantry and was happy there. When his family gets slaughtered and Sebastian is suddenly the rightful ruler, he's not sure he wants to be prince anymore. Hawke can push him one way or another. In the end game, if Anders lives, Sebastian decides to take back his throne for real this time in order to exact vengeance.
- Appears twice in Dragon Quest V:
- Prince Harry's half-brother, Wilbur, never wanted to be king, but his mother orchestrates Harry's kidnapping, forcing Wilbur onto the throne so she can be Queen Dowager. When Harry returns ten years later, Wilbur is desperate to hand it over to him, and is completely stunned when Harry refuses.
- In Gotha, Albert only rose to the throne after his elder brother disappeared; though he has done a far better job than Wilbur, he's still a Reluctant Ruler who immediately tries to hand the reins over to the just-arrived heir, despite the fact that his newly rediscovered nephew has only just learned of his Secret Legacy and has had about zero training as a ruler. Which may help further explain why his first act as ruler is to promptly disappear for ten years.
- Dragon Quest VIII has a similar situation with King Argonia, an Unexpected Successor who had to step up after his elder brother disappeared while pursuing his lost love. While he has shaped up to be a good ruler, his own son is none other than Prince Charmles, causing his father no end of grief over how horrible he would be once it's time for him to hand down the crown. In the Golden Ending, he's presented with his brother's son at a rather awkward time for a family reunion, and it's heavily implied he cedes the right to rule after him to this new arrival, giving his own son the shaft.
- Suikoden V has a non-royal example with the House of Barows. After his older brother Hiram was assassinated during the bloody Succession Conflict, Euram was thrust into the role of his father's heir, as well as dealing with his mother's extended BSOD. This stress of this helps shape him into the irritating Epic Failing Upper-Class Twit everyone has to deal with during the events of the game, until Character Development enables him to grow out of it.
- Encouraged in Crusader Kings 2: if your current character dies without an heir, it's game over, but the time period is extremely capricious and deadly. If you put all your hopes into one heir, and that heir dies before taking the throne, you're done. But if you have several heirs, then you're safe even if a couple of them bite it. Of course, this almost inevitably results in a succession crisis every time your current ruler dies, but them's the breaks.
- Averted and subverted many times in the middle ages as in many countries it took time for the principles of heredity and primogeniture to take hold and before then a reigning monarch could have some leeway in determining his own successor or it was customary to divide the realm up among the surviving sons. In some monarchies the realm was divided up between sons until the 18th century at least, e. g. in the duchy of Brunswick (the electorate of Hanover resulted from one of its partitions). In Russia the ruling monarch had the right to name his or her successor freely throughout most of the 18th century and so did the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire throughout pretty much its entire existence. Meanwhile in some countries younger princes received dukedoms etc. in which they were technically the king's vassals, but could become powerful enough so as to set themselves up as a de facto independent power (the Duchy of Burgundy in the 14th and 15th century) or to overthrow the king themselves (the Dukes of Lancaster and York in the same era). Such a powerful younger brother to a monarch could also quickly morph into an Evil Uncle to the ruler's children after his death.
- Has happened many, many times in the history of the Kingdom(s) of Great Britain:
- Surprisingly enough, four sons of Aethelwulf, King of Wessex succeeded each other on the throne. Neither was the first son. First son Aethelstan (died between 851 and 855) was known as a warrior prince and defeated a Viking invasion in 851. He predeceased his father. Second son Aethelbald (reigned 856-860), third son Aethelberht (reigned 860-865), fourth son Aetheldred (reigned 865-871) and fifth son Alfred the Great (reigned 871-899) each rose to the throne. Thankfully Aethelwulf was fertile; otherwise the Wessex succession would have ended in the 9th century.
- Eadred, King of England (reigned 946-955) was a younger son of Edward the Elder. He was the spare to his brother Edmund the Elder (reigned 939-946). When Edmund died, his sons were underage, so the adult Eadred rose to the throne. He died childless and was succeeded by his nephew Eadwig the Fair (reigned 955-959).
- Edgar the Peaceful, King of England (reigned 959-975) was the second son of Edmund the Elder. He was the spare to his older brother Eadwig the Fair. However the unpopularity of Eadwig with sections of the Anglo-Saxon church and nobility, helped Edgar claim the throne in a civil war. When Eadwig died childless, Edgar became king by default. His nickname "Peaceful" is a reference to the long-lasting peace and stability of his own reign.
- Aethelred the Unready, King of England (reigned 978-1016) was the second son of Edgar the Peaceful. His older half-brother Edward the Martyr (reigned 975-978) was the heir and took the throne. However Edward was a weak ruler. His reign was marked by internal conflict within the Ango-Saxon nobility and the church. A famine did not exactly help his popularity with the general population, either. When Edward was murdered in 978, 10-year-old Aethelred was the obvious heir. (Just as an aside, he was not Aethelred the Unprepared, but rather Aethelred the Ill-Advised. The Anglo-Saxon word unraed means "bad counsel". There's a bit of a pun in his name, sice Aethelred means "noble counsel".)
- Edmund Ironside, King of England (reigned 1016) was the second known son of Aethelred the Unready. He was the spare to his brother Aethelstan Aetheling (980s - 1014), a "warrior prince" with a large collection of swords, prized war horses and combat equipment. The sudden death of Aethelstan made Edmund heir by default. He was about 24-years-old when rising to the throne became an option for him. His poor relationship with his father ensured internal conflict for the following two years.
- Harthacnut, King of England (reigned 1040-1042) himself owed the throne to the death of his older, paternal half-brother Harold Harefoot (reigned 1035/1037-1040). They were both sons of Canute the Great, King of England and Denmark (reigned 1016-1035). However, Canute chose to divide his kingdom upon his death. Harold rose to the throne of England and Harthacnut to that of Denmark, becoming rivals and enemies. But when Harold died suddenly, childless, Harthacnut became king by default.
- Edward the Confessor, King of England (reigned 1042-1066) owed his throne to the early deaths of various brothers, half-brothers (paternal and maternal) and stepbrothers. By the time his maternal half-brother Harthacnut died, Edward was the obvious candidate to the throne. All other sons of King Aethelred the Unready (reigned 978-1016) were dead, as were all sons of Canute the Great, leaving only Edward and a handful of nephews scattered across Europe. Edward was a son of Aethelred, a stepson of Cnut and the only viable heir on English soil.
- William II Rufus, King of England (reigned 1087-1100), was the third son of William I the Conqueror. First son Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (c. 1054-1134) was arguably the most obvious candidate, but his open conflict with their father lost him much favor. Second son Richard, Duke of Bernay (c. 1054/1055 - 1081) was killed in a "hunting accident," leaving William Rufus as the heir presumptive and, ultimately, the successor to his father upon his death.
- Henry I Beauclerc, King of England (reigned 1100-1135), was the fourth son of William I the Conqueror. William Rufus had named Robert as his heir, but when William II died in a "hunting accident" of his own, Robert was away in the First Crusade. Henry took advantage of the situation to take control of the royal treasury, recruit the leading barons of England to his cause and usurp the throne. By 1106, Henry managed to depose Robert and claim Normandy for himself, securing his succession.
- Empress Matilda, claimant to the English throne (from 1135 to 1153) and ancestor of the Plantagenet kings, was the eldest daughter of Henry I Beauclerc, but his initial heir was her brother William Adelin (1103-1120). When William died in the White Ship tragedy along with most of the vessel's passengers and crew, Matilda was about 18 years old and was already the widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. Left without male heirs, Henry took the unprecedented step of making his barons swear to accept his daughter Empress Matilda as his heir. Matilda spent her "reign" in a civil war against her cousin Stephen (reigned 1135-1154), the rival candidate.
- Richard I Lionheart (reigned 1189-1199) was the third son of Henry II. He became the eldest surviving son of Henry II in 1183. First son William IX, Count of Poitiers (1153-1156), died young due to a seizure. Second son Henry the Young King (co-ruler 1170-1183) died of dysentery, having already survived his only child. Richard was already 26 years old before rising to the throne became an option for him. He would spend the next six years of his life in open conflict with his father. Richard himself would ultimately die with no legitimate children
- John Lackland, King of England (reigned 1199-1216) was not an obvious candidate to the throne. He was the fifth son of Henry II, and thus a younger brother of Richard I. The fourth son of Henry II, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (1158-1186), was supposedly trampled to death in a jousting tournament, but he was survived by three legitimate children. Two of them were still alive in 1199 and typically outranked John in the succession. His nephew Arthur was the heir for most of Richard's reign. Richard supposedly picked John as his heir in a deathbed decision, probably because John was an adult, while Arthur was 12-years-old. The decision would lead to a war between uncle and nephew.
- Edward II, King of England (reigned 1307-1327) was something of a surprise candidate, though he had been the heir almost since birth. He was born in April 1284, the fourth son of Edward I Longshanks. First son John (1266-1271) died before their father rose to the throne. Second son Henry (1267-1274) was the first heir of Edward I but died young. Third son Alphonso, Earl of Chester (1273-1284) was the heir at the time of Edward (II)'s birth. He died suddenly in August 1284, leaving the infant Edward as heir.
- Edward III, King of England (reigned 1327-1377) had four sons. He was succeeded by Richard II, the son of his eldest son, Edward the Black Prince. Richard in turn was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, son of Edward III's third son (John of Gaunt). When Bolingbroke became King Henry IV, this created a situation where the descendants of Edward's second son Lionel, Duke of Clarence, became spares, but spares with (in theory) a better claim to the English throne than Henry IV, V and VI. These descendants included Edmund Mortimer (died 1425) and his nephew Richard, Duke of York. This festering Succession Crisis ultimately was settled in the Wars of the Roses, during which Richard's sons Edward (IV) and Richard (III) became kings.
- It actually was a little bit more complicated, and the conflict reflects a disagreement over whether Mother Makes You King or the Heir Club for Men was the only club in town. Lionel of Antwerp only had a daughter, Philippa, which automatically meant she was out of the line of succession as it stood at the time. She married Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March. They had two sons together, Roger and Edmund, who were Richard II's heirs presumptive. Before they could ever be crowned, Richard was overthrown by Henry of Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke was The Ace of Richard II's court — he was the finest jouster in England and he had a truly massive power base as Duke of Lancaster. Moreover, the death of John of Gaunt and the injustices committed against him by the king made him very sympathetic to the English nobility, who were drawn to him as an alternative king. Finally, he was a grown man while the Mortimer heirs were toddlers. The nobles thought Bolingbroke being king sounded like a great idea at the time, and at that time, it unquestionably was. Eventually, both Mortimers died leading rebellions against Henry, leaving only Anne Mortimer. She married Richard of Conisburgh of the House of York, a scion of Edward III's youngest son, Edmund of Langley, and gave them the senior claim.
- Richard III, King of England (reigned 1483-1485) was the eighth son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and the fourth to survive to adulthood. Three brothers and their possible descendants would outrank him in the Yorkist succession. First son Edward IV (reigned 1461-1470, 1471-1483) took the throne and was survived by seven legitimate children. Second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland was killed in the aftermath of the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, dying childless. Third brother George, Duke of Clarence was privately executed in 1478 but was survived by two legitimate children. In 1483, Richard (III) was only tenth in the order of succession. He used some doubts on the legitimacy of Edward's marriage to declare all of his royal nephews and nieces to be bastards. He used the attainder of George (for treason) to also bar his children of the succession. By doing so, he eliminated the succession rights of everyone who had a superior claim to himself in a single stroke. It pays to be the de facto Regent.
- Henry VIII, King of England (reigned 1509-1547) is sometimes suspected to have been this to an extent. He was the second son of Henry VII and became heir at the age of 11. His older brother, Arthur (1486-1502), was supposed to get the throne. Arthur fell ill and died, possibly of the mysterious "sweating sickness," which was an epidemic between 1485 and 1551. Henry got the throne instead. Arthur would have been coached personally by his father and would have been given far more guidance than Henry on how to actually be king. Specifically, Henry VIII was prepared to take a role in the church instead. Kinda funny when you consider that he ended up as the head of a church after he became King.
- Mary I (reigned 1553-1558) and Elizabeth (reigned 1558-1603), Queens regnant of England, were the only daughters of Henry VIII to live to adulthood. While both served as the heiress presumptive at times, they were eventually displaced by their younger half-brother Edward VI (reigned 1547-1553). They only rose to the throne by outliving Edward and overcoming his efforts to remove them from the succession.
- Charles I of England and Scotland (reigned 1625 -1649) was the second son of James VI/I. His older brother Henry Frederick (1594-1612) was trained to become King and was considered robust and athletic. He died suddenly of typhoid fever in 1612, leaving Charles as the heir to the throne at the age of 12. Charles was weak and sickly since birth, and had to overcome physical infirmity (weak ankles) just to walk as a child.
- James II of England/James VII of Scotland (reigned 1685-1688) was the second son of Charles I and the spare to the throne. He rose to the throne by outliving his older brother Charles II (reigned 1649/1660 - 1685), who died without legitimate issue (his illegitimate issue, on the other hand...).
- Anne, Queen Regnant of Great Britain (reigned 1702-1714) was the second daughter of James II/VII. She was the spare to her older sister Mary II (1689-1694). She only rose to the throne by outliving Mary II and William III.
- William IV of the United Kingdom (reigned 1830-1837) was not an obvious candidate for the throne. He was only the third son of George III. The first was George IV (reigned 1820-1830). The second was Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, a famous military reformer. Frederick was the heir presumptive for most of their brother's reign, but he died suddenly in 1827.
- Along these lines, Queen Victoria was rather like Henry II in that she was a distant candidate for the throne despite having been heir from birth. She was the only legitimate daughter of King George III's fourth son: George IV's daughter had died in childbirth two years before Victoria was born, and none of George III's three eldest sons had surviving legitimate issue (plenty of illegitimate issue, but that doesn't count). Every now and again one of the elder princes got it into his head that he might produce an heir; but that never happened, as they were all too old, fat, sickly, and debauched to do so, to say nothing of the fact that all of them hated their wives (and their wives hated them back!).
- Incidentally, Victoria was barred from the Hanoverian throne over the plumbing (and the eagerness of Parliament to divest itself from its continental obligations), so that crown instead bounced to the rather unpopular fifth son of George III, Ernest Augustus.
- George V (reigned 1910-1936) was a spare, serving in the Royal Navy for twelve years (1879-1891)—he even got a tattoo of a red and blue dragon on his arm while in Japan. He became the heir when his (somewhat insane, possibly gay) older brother Albert Victor died without issue even before grandma died (giving him on the order of 20 years prepare for the job, but he still would have preferred not to take it at all). It's theorized that the reason these most recent two Georges were such excellent constitutional monarchs is that they hadn't expected the crown and as a result hadn't had the prospect of the crown get to their heads.
- George V may have realized this, or at least suspected that his own heir had let it go to his head. He was said to have opined that he hoped David (Edward VIII), his own son, never married or had children, so that "nothing would come between Bertie [George VI] and Lilibet [Queen Elizabeth II] and the throne."
- And yet it was his marriage that cleared the way for them.
- When Edward VIII (reigned 1936) abdicated, his successor, George VI (reigned 1936-1952), was reluctant to take up the post, as he had never expected or wished for the position. He had served in the Royal Navy during World War One (he had to sit out much of it on account of ill-health).
- For one thing, he had a dreadful stammer and a fear of public speaking. Indeed, it's widely suspected that part of the reason for his death at a relatively young age (56) was due to the stress of being King throughout WW2.note
- It also helped avoid Royally Screwed Up: in a time when royalty was expected to marry royalty, Bertie had a bit of leeway about it since he wasn't expected to become king. He married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the daughter of a Scottish Earl—in what was essentially a love match, no less (Bertie proposed three times before she said "yes"). They were so distantly related that Elizabeth II is significantly less inbred than the average Englishman.
- Roman emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54) was never seriously expected to inherit the throne in his youth. While the Roman Empire had a fairly loose set of succession laws (basically the heir was appointed and didn't even have to be directly connected by blood), Claudius was still too far out on the periphery early on, and by all accounts he was not an ambitious man anyway. He essentially became emperor by outlasting everyone else (including Emperor Caligula), who were all too busy killing one another off to pay the "doddering old fool" any serious attention.
- Henry II of France seemed relatively fortunate to have four sons at the time of his 1559 death in a jousting accident. However sickly young Francis II died roughly a year and a half later (December 1560) at age 16, his brother Charles IX ascended the throne at 10 only to die without issue of tuberculosis in 1574, and Henry III (who smuggled himself out of Poland less than a year of gaining that throne) was assassinated in 1589 leading to a worsening of the ongoing wars that did not really cease even after Henry II's son-in-law Henry of Navarre was crowned in 1594. (The youngest brother, Francis Duke of Alencon (one of the unsuccessful suitors of Elizabeth I) died before Henry III). Other examples from France (after the primogeniture replaced dividing the kingdom between the sons of the monarch):
- Henry I, second son of Robert II the Pious.
- Philip III the Bold, second son of Saint Louis. His elder brother Louis died at age 16.
- Philip IV's second and third sons, Philip V and Charles IV, succeeded his eldest, Louis X. Philip V is also suspected of having John I the Posthumous, Louis's infant son, murdered.
- Charles VII the Victorious was the fourth son of Charles VI the Mad, and two of his elder brothers lived to be 18 and 19, respectively.
- Charles VIII, third son of Louis XI.
- Louis XIII was Henry IV's eldest son, but throughout his reign was troubled by the ambitions of his younger brother Gaston, around whom a number of conspiracies against Louis centred.
- In order to prevent a repetition of a repetition of this pattern, Louis XIII's queen (later widow) Anne of Austria raised her second son Philippe, Duke of Orléans, in a more pampered and effete way, deliberately encouraging his homosexual tendencies, so that he would never become a potential rival for his elder brother, Louis XIV. (Note that despite being gay, Philippe still founded a legitimate cadet branch of the dynasty that eventually took the throne.) For the same reason, Louis would later cut short Philippe's military career.
- Louis XV, second son of Louis, Duke of Burgundy, son of Louis the Great Dauphin, eldest son of Louis XIV.
- Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X were the third, fourth and fifth sons of Dauphin Louis, eldest son of Louis XV. Some see the crisis of Louix XVI's reign (which culminated with the French Revolution and the abolition of the monarchy) as being partly rooted in the fact that his family only began to groom him for his future role as king after his elder brother (also called Louis) died in 1761, although Louis himself only was seven years old at the time.
- Napoleon III was the third son of Napoleon's brother Louis, ex-King of Holland. Two other Bonaparte brothers, Joseph and Lucien, were older than Louis. Of course, he originally came to power by being democratically elected (as President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte of the Second French Republic), which made his position in the succession irrelevant.
- Napoleon I became head of the Bonaparte family even though he had an elder brother, the aforementioned Joseph. When Napoleon became Emperor of the French, his elder brother became his prospective heir, at least until the birth of Napoleon's first legitimate son in 1810 (he already had two illegitimate ones).
- Nicholas the First of Russia was one, being a younger brother to Alexander I the Blessed (and yet another brother named Constantine). After Alexander's coronation, Nicholas was "demoted" to just another member of the imperial family, and was never educated as a Tsar (but as a military engineer instead). However, Alexander had no male children, and Constantine had none at all, being gay and all that, which made Nicholas inherit after the Decembrists Rebellion.
- 18 year old Manuel II (the Unfortunate) of Portugal was a younger son who had just started his studies at the Portugese Naval Acadamy when his father Carlos I was killed and his brother Luis Filipe mortally wounded by anti-monarchist radicals in 1908 (Manuel was in the same carriage and suffered a minor wound to the arm). A coup forced him and his surviving family to flee to Britain within three years.
- Bashar al-Assad was going to be an eye doctor, while his brother Bassel was being groomed to ascend to the position of dictator of Syria. One high speed car crash later and Bashar ended up with a sudden and drastic career change into a series of positions calculated to allow him to build networks of support, eliminate rivals, and gain experience in leadership. Six years after the crash that killed Bassel, their father Hafez died and Bashar assumed absolute power.
- Oda Nobunaga had several siblings, many of which were older than him and had more legitimacy to be heirs than him, especially since he was seen as a halfwit when he really wasn't. He had essentially all of them but his sister killed so that he was ruler by default.
- Fukuzawa Yukichi was the second son in a poor samurai family, and while his older brother was very much the traditional sort of warrior, Yukichi grew up with an irreverence for feudal society and a disdain for the ailing Tokugawa Shogunate that would have probably been beaten out of him had he been the expected heir. Instead of becoming a monk as intended, he left home to take up "Dutch learning" and became fascinated with Western technology and culture. When his older brother died suddenly and Yukichi had to take over as head of the household, he liquidated enough assets to settle the family debts and went back to school. Ultimately, the freedom of being the spare to the family line allowed him to become one of the leading figures of the Meiji Restoration, an open-minded samurai who traveled abroad and found ways to incorporate foreign learning to improve his home country.
- The United States does this with elected leaders, by design, with the offices of President and Vice President. Originally, the Vice President was the first runner-up in the Presidential Election (meaning that oftentimes, they held opposing political beliefs), but over time the system evolved so that each party would run a ticket with a Presidential and a Vice Presidential candidate, with the two being considered a package deal. It has been wryly observed that the Vice President's primary job is to hang around in case the President dies, or in particularly "characterful" cases, dissuade attempts on the President's life.
- On at least one occasion, a particularly troublesome but popular political figure was appointed as Vice President, with the intent of it being a powerless but prestigious sinecure with which they could keep him out of their hair. And then someone went and assassinated William McKinley, which resulted in that Vice President becoming the most powerful man in the country. You may have heard of him, his name was Theodore Roosevelt.
- The Trope Codifier of this system was someone who had very little in common with the party he was running for, but was included to attract votes. Then William Henry Harrison kicked the bucket and said Trope Codifier, John Tyler, was in charge.
- The Ottoman Empire had an institutionalized framework for fratricide to ensure that the ascending heir could get rid of the "spare" and retain legitimacy. Eventually, this was abolished and replaced with the Cage system where each heir were kept separately in their own sections of the royal palace, living in luxury. This new system played a part in the empire's collapse. Prior to the cage system, each heir were allowed to travel the empire to get practical experience in leadership. Since it was often the most "worthy" heir that ascended to the throne and likely survived, each one knew they had to be the best to avoid being the "spare". On the other hand, the Cage system kept them locked to the palace for fear of assassination, preventing them from learning about leadership and a world, giving the empire a string of bad rulers at a time when the Ottoman Empire was facing increasing challenge from European powers.