The Coup

"I’ve seen coups from Angola to Zanzibar, and this is how it ends: in the trunk of a taxi to the airport, your belly full of diamonds and vodka, praying your driver doesn’t rat you out to the Reds at the last checkpoint because then the last thing you'll ever hear, besides a pistol cocking behind your head, is Ivan's laugh."
-Malory Archer, Archer

A coup is essentially seizing power by force, blackmail, or other illegal manners. Usually (in literature) done by the military, the Evil Chancellor, or in some cases, uncivilized revolutions will also take power for themselves. It is a very risky gambit, and often, includes plotting, securing alliances, and keeping it in the dark until the coup happens. Alternatively, guy walks into the throne room waving a sword around telling everyone he's king. Often leads to The Purge. If the one carrying out the coup is in turn overthrown himself, you may have a Revolving Door Revolution.

Short for coup d'état, or "stroke of state" (which in practice means "blow against the state"), this is a very useful trope to exemplify a significant change or instability of a nation or region, stable countries tend to not be as susceptible to coups and power grabs, while unstable (in modern day terms, third-world also works), and relatively new countries are vulnerable to power struggles and coups.

Different from a Revolution, whether it will not be vilified or civilized, in that it typically happens from inside the government or military of the country whose power is being seized, while revolutions typically come out of the common folk. Coups tend to not have large battles or start a war, but an isolated event that will, at most, kill dozens. Also different from an invasion for similar reasons; invasions come from outside the country, coups happen inside of it, even if the initial plot comes from the outside.

When the coup is lead by a military officer with the backing of the army and institutes martial rule, it's a Military Coup. Many coups in Real Life tend to be of this type, but note that a coup need not be led by a military officer. Sometimes, even the actual ruler can pull off a coup if it involves seizing power he doesn't normally have.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the first Appleseed film General Edward Uranus, the CO of Olympus' regular army, attempts a coup out of Fantastic Racism against Bioroids. The coup falls apart after Deunan Boom Headshots his second-in-command, and Uranus surrenders.
  • Dr. Akamashi's coup forms the premise of Murder Princess.
  • In Naruto it's been revealed that Itachi killed the entire Uchiha clan as a mission from the elders of Konoha because they were planning a coup.
  • Area88: Nadato Balla Homme loses power due to a coup and his forced to flee Bambara with his wife Lydia and his children Layla and Rodhe.

    Fan Works 
  • Inscape has an amusing variation. The Nightmare possesses Twilight Sparkle and tries to use her to usurp Celestia and Luna as ruler of Equestria. Twilight, logical and by-the-book as always, goes about this by holding a forum and offering logical arguments for why the royal sisters should cede the throne to her. It later turns out that The Nightmare still wants a violent coup, and she’s manipulating Twilight to that end. However, Twilight is freed from the possession before anything can come of this.

    Film 
  • The Man in the Iron Mask. The plot centers around a group of musketeers who want to substitute their tyrannical king Louis XIV with his more compassionate twin brother Phillippe, who was kept prisoner to prevent him from taking the throne. They break him out of prison to perform a Coup.
  • In Man of Steel, Zod, some of his officers and loyal henchmen storm Krypton's high council and gun down a few of its member. They then declare that they would execute the remaining leaders for treason by reason of incompetent leadership and then assume control of Krypton. The coup fails due to Jor-El intervening and the surviving loyalist forces rallying after the initial shock.
  • In Once upon a Time in Mexico, Barillo and General Marquez try to pull off one of these on Mexico in a plan cooked up by Agent Sands that spirals out of his control. They fail due to the combined efforts of the Mariachi (who Sands had hired to kill Marquez once the coup was complete), his allies, a Heel Face Turned Sands, and the people of Culiacan.
  • At the start of Star Trek: Nemesis a cadre of Romulan military officers and a disgruntled senator assassinate the rest of the Romulan Senate so they can install Shinzon as Praetor. They eventually realize he's a total nutbar and turn on him.
  • Thirteen Days:
    • Comes up when the Kennedy White House receives two letters from the Soviets, one from Nikita Khrushchev himself, and later one, which is much for hardline, from someone else. U.S. officials come to the conclusion that the Soviet Union has had a a coup and Khrushchev has been replaced with a far more militant government. Eventually they figure out that there wasn't one, Khrushchev is just trying to appease the warmongers and General Rippers in his own government.
    • Also invoked as to why, following President Kennedy's huge verbal spat with Generals Powell and LeMay over DEFCON status, the administration can't just fire them as Bobby suggests - it risks looking like there had been an attempted coup (it's not made clear who would be couping whom, but it would look really bad either way) and in any case would seriously weaken the US's bargaining position by making its military strength look compromised.

    Literature 
  • The 1982 novel A Very British Coup, later adapted into a 1988 TV movie under that title and a 2012 TV miniseries called Secret State, is about the election of a socialist Labour party prime minister, and the right wing plots to dispose of him.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation, second short story "The Encyclopedists". At the end of the story Salvor Hardin, mayor of Terminus City on the planet Terminus, starts a coup against the Board of Trustees to take over the Foundation. The third story, "The Mayors", starts some time after the coup has succeeded.
  • Twice, in the Honor Harrington universe's Haven system: First, the People's Republic of Haven's corrupt democracy is overthrown by a Committee of Public Safety modeled explicitly on the French Revolution, and then that's overthrown by the military when it's had enough.
  • Happens a couple times in the Warrior Cats series:
    • In the first series, Tigerclaw, the second-in-command of ThunderClan, plots to kill his Clan leader (as Clan law states that deputy succeeds leader) by inviting some rogues to attack the camp and passing off her death as part of the battle. Fireheart jumps in and rescues her during the attempt.
    • In the second series, the WindClan leader Tallstar, in his dying breaths, names Onewhisker as his successor instead of Mudclaw. As the only cats who witnessed this are Onewhisker himself and two of his friends, Mudclaw doesn't believe Onewhisker should be leader, and leads a rebellion against him before the younger cat can receive his nine leader's lives. ThunderClan helps out Onewhisker and he wins.
    • Also in the second series, Tigerstar and Hawkfrost set up a plan for Brambleclaw and Hawkfrost to kill the other leaders at a Gathering and forcibly take control of all the Clans. Brambleclaw disagrees with it, and it is never attempted.
  • The War of the Vordarian Pretendership was an unsuccessful attempt at this in Vorkosigan Saga.
  • Frequently discussed in The Lost Fleet. Captain John Geary is a legendary hero of The Alliance who spent the last 100 years as a Human Popsicle after his You Shall Not Pass moment at the onset of the Forever War. He is forced by fate to take command of a fleet trapped behind enemy lines. Some time later, his genius tactics (actually, fairly standard for his time but completely forgotten by this point) result in the fleet getting close to returning to Alliance space, while dealing heavy damage to the enemy. Many ship commanders begin to hope that the legendary "Black Jack" Geary will pull a Caesar and take power from the incompetent and corrupt Alliance politicians. Geary, for his part, is vehemently opposed to the idea but is afraid that his "followers" may attempt to pull off a coup in his name no matter what he says. He manages to defuse the situation by convincing them that this would only play into the hands of the "corrupt politicians" who would have a freer reign under a dictatorship than a democratic government (Geary points out that he would still need them to help run things, as he doesn't have any political or governing skills). Many politicians are likewise afraid that Geary will attempt to seize power and try to get rid of him without causing a public outcry.
  • Childe Cycle: Dorsai! and Soldier Ask Not'' has these as part of background events, usually part of some larger plan.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe has a few examples.
    • Quite a few of the Emperor's own Moffs have plotted to overthrow him. It never ends well though.
    • The Galactic Alliance (successor to the New Republic) actually has had a big problem with this lately. Usually with the Sith or Empire involved.
      • In the Legacy series, Jacen Solo and Alliance Admiral Chia Niathal arrest GA Chief of State Cal Omas during a civil war that broke out with some rebellious systems. While Admiral Niathal is portrayed as (despite her part in the coup) a Reasonable Authority Figure who just wanted to save the Alliance from destruction and has no intention of staying in office after the crisis is over, Jacen Solo is secretly on his way to becoming a full-blown Sith Lord. By the time Niathal realizes her mistake, it's too late and she soon finds herself teaming up with the rebellious systems and the Jedi and even Mandalorians to stop him.
      • Fate of the Jedi: In this series, former Imperial Admiral Daala, a Big Bad from some previous Star Wars novels, gets elected Chief of State because she helped stop Jacen's rampage in the previous series. She wastes no time abusing her office, purging anyone who from the government and military who once fought against her. She even starts arresting several Jedi, including Luke Skywalker. The Jedi and the Senate both eventually decide that she is becoming too much like a dictator, so they arrest her. Unfortunately, the Senate and the Jedi are unaware that a small group of Senators and Imperial Moffs have been secretly plotting to restore the Empire, or that the Lost Tribe of the Sith have actually infiltrated the government (including the Senate) and are plotting their own coup.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • At the end of the first season, Earth Alliance Vice President Clark orchestrates the assassination of President Santiago and gradually sets himself up as a Hitler-esque dictator.
    • During the second season, as the Centauri emperor is dying, Lord Refa has the Prime minister killed to allow his choice, Cartagia, to be put on the throne.
    • Later, after determining that Emperor Cartagia is a threat to the Centauri Republic, Londo and Vir manage to assassinate him, allowing Londo to become Prime Minister and eventually Emperor himself.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): In Season 4, Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta stage a coup (with some military cooperation) against President Roslin and Adama's command, over the issue of cooperation with the dissenting faction of Cylons (which the coup opposed). The coup is temporarily successful, with the Quorum of Twelve massacred and Admiral Adama facing a firing squad, before the countercoup succeeds.
  • Community: Chang becomes the head of campus security after all the other security guards quit. He recruits a bunch of vicious kids to act as his henchmen and starts turning the school into a Police State. When the Study Group tries to get the Dean to fire Chang, Chang has the Dean kidnapped and replaced with an impersonator who then expels the Study Group. With all opposition quashed, Chang then rules Greendale College with an iron fist.
  • Merlin: Had two...one was Morgana and Morgause teaming with Cenred to take over Camelot, and next season, Morgana seized power again.
  • Revolution: Tom Neville successfully leads one, takes over the Monroe Republic, and reduces Monroe to a fugitive in "Children of Men" and "The Dark Tower".
  • The episode of Chuck "Chuck vs. the Coup D'état" has a...coup d'état.
  • In "The Two-Horse Job" on Leverage, Sterling mentions a coup in Sierra Leone where he and Sophie crossed baths once.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The three-parter that opens season two concerns an attempt by a Bajoran extremist group called the Alliance for Global Unity, informally "the Circle", to overthrow the Bajoran Provisional Government and kick out the Federation. The team discovers that the Cardassians are covertly supplying the Circle, and publicly discredits the entire movement.
    • In "The Way of the Warrior" a Cardassian dissident movement executes a coup against the longtime military dictatorship, restoring the Cardassian civilian government to its full authority. This was only possible because of the Obsidian Order's destruction by the Dominion in "The Die Is Cast". Unfortunately the Klingons don't believe this was possible at all—they think the Dominion's changeling leaders suborned the entire Cardassian government—so they invade the Cardassian Union and eventually drive them right into the arms of the Dominion.

    Music 

    Myths & Religion 
  • Older Than Dirt: Happens in Mesopotamian Mythology when the younger gods (led by Marduk in the Babylonian version) overthrow Tiamat and Apsu.
  • In Egyptian Mythology, Isis forces Re to give up his throne.
  • Happens three times in Hittite Mythology: first Anu overthrew Alalu, then Kumarbi overthrew Anu, then the storm-god Teshup overthrew Anu.
  • Happens twice in Classical Mythology, first when Kronos overthrows his father Ouranos, and then again when Zeus overthrows him.

    Roleplay 
  • BZPB: TPK becomes leader of the Great Beings by forcing Angonce at gunpoint to pass the position onto him, exiling him, and calling a meeting of the Council. Once all the council members have arrived, he puts forward a deliberately inflammatory motion to check who's loyal to him, and summons troops to chase the others out. Then, just to add insult to injury, his allies pass a motion to kick the dissenters out of the Council permanently.

    Theatre 
  • Hamlet. Hamlet's father King Hamlet was killed by his brother, Hamlet's uncle, Claudius so he could seize the throne.
  • Macbeth. The main plot is Macbeth's killing of King Duncan and seizing the throne for himself.
  • A coup forms the main plot of Richard II. The plot of Henry IV Part 1 features an attempted one, which is thwarted.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VIII has a squared coup. First, the Sorceress kills President Deling and grabs power, second, the much more decent General Caraway hires our heroes to off her; both happen more or less simultaneously. The first coup succeeds, the other one fails.
  • In Mass Effect 3 Udina helps Cerberus in an attempt to oust the Council and take over the Citadel.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Darth Malgus pulls one when attempts to disband the Dark Council and declares himself Emperor.
  • In the backstory to X Rebirth the Plutarch Mining Corporation overthrew the Argon Federation government in the Albion System during the chaos caused by the jumpgate network shutdown and set itself up as the system's absolute ruler.
  • Suikoden V: Gizel Godwin rigs the Sacred Games so he would be the future bridegroom of Princess Lymsleia. According to tradition, he was to be sworn in a week later, but Gizel arrives ahead of time and launches a covert attack on Sol Falena's capital under the cover of darkness. During which, he intended to assassinate the royal family, with the exception of Lymsleia, herself - whom he intended to use as his puppet, once he seized power.
  • Choice of Games: Possible in 'Til Death Do Us Part. More specifically, you can murder the Monarch and her closest allies in a palace coup and seize power for yourself.
  • TIE Fighter: Grand Admiral Zaarin stages a coup against Emperor Palpatine and even manages to hijack his shuttle until he's defeated. The Expanded Universe reveals that Zaarin's betrayal is how Grand Admiral Thrawn gets his promotion, setting the stage for the Thrawn Trilogy novels.

    Webcomics 
  • In Drow Tales, Sil'lice supposedly attempted this against her mother, Diva'ratrika, but failed. In actuality, Sil'lice was the victim of a Frameup, and the Sharen clan coup was a complete success. Three of the Sharen sisters, Snadhya'rune, Sarv'swati, and Zala'ess were tired of Diva'ratrika's total control over their lives and wanted to seize power for themselves. Since their other two sisters, Sil'lice and Nishi'kanta, had a strong sense of honor and loyalty, the trio had to get rid of them. Nishi'kanta surrendered and toed the party line, while Sil'lice was forced to run. The traitors proceeded to pretend Diva'ratrika was still alive, but didn't want to be seen by anyone, so that they could use her image as a figurehead.

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamers Alliance, several coups have taken place in the story. One of the more notable ones is when Countess Nina, who has been posing as Duke Hepnaz's lieutenant, takes over the Southern Horde by stabbing Hepnaz in the back just as Hepnaz is about to triumph over the Northern Horde and is too busy to notice treachery from within his own ranks.

    Western Animation 


Alternative Title(s):

Coup D Etat