"We can't just go around knocking kings off their thrones."There is a rightful holder of some position of authority — the throne, the presidency, the chairmanship of a company, or something else. But someone with a lesser claim, or no claim at all, in some way manages to grab the position. How this is done varies. The Usurper might have managed to drive out the rightful holder in disgrace. He might have managed to kill the previous holder while the rightful heir is unable to respond. He might have pulled off a classical coup. However, one thing is always in common: the move to power is almost always done clandestinely, except maybe in the final phases of a coup. The main exception to the clandestine behaviour is when the rightful authority is away for some reason, and have trusted the usurper to run things. The displaced and rightful holder may end up as Man in the Iron Mask, Noble Fugitive, The Exile. May cause a Civil War. Often appears with The Evil Prince, the Mole in Charge, or the Evil Vizier. Frequently ends in Rightful King Returns. For cases of outright killing the former holder see Klingon Promotion. Fiction being fiction, this is often bad, and it's usually Truth in Television as well, though for different reasons. See The Wrongful Heir to the Throne. For people who plan to usurp see villain, see The Starscream. The Other Wiki has a list of historical usurpers, not all of them wholly bad.
— Sora, Kingdom Hearts II
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Anime & Manga
- Ren Gyokuen in Magi – Labyrinth of Magic took Kou's throne away from the heir Kouen, allegating it was the last wish from the former Emperor. Hakuryuu later does the same by killing Gyokuen, though from his point of view he's simply taking back his birthright as the son of Kou's first Emperor.
- Several in Choukakou (also known as Chang Ge Xing, Chang Ge's Journey or Song of the Long March). The current emperor, Li Shimin, was second son and killed his brothers for the throne. Princess Yicheng of Sui considers the Tang to be this as well.
- Code Geass: Schneizel realizes, later in the story, that his father Charles doesn't care about his empire and plans to overthrow him. However, his half-brother Lelouch beats him to it by erasing him from existence and takes the throne despite being 17th in line for succession.
- The Heroic Legend of Arslan: King Andragoras III overthrew his brother, King Osroes V and took his lover as his queen. Years later, Osroes’ son, Hermes, comes back with vengeance, dismantled Andragoras’ army and captured him. The only person who’s stopping his ascension for the crown is Arslan.
- Princess Charlotte in Princess Principal stated goal is to move up from being fourth in line to being the next Queen, which is why she allies herself with the enemy of her country. She's a positive portrayal of it as she's also an Internal Reformist; her reasons to get it through spywork and dirty business is to be a legitimate ruler so she doesn't destabilize the country in the process of getting the throne.
- Doctor Doom's backstory claims that Doom's family originally was of noble birth, but due to World War II and Communism splitting the old country into bits, his bloodline was forced into the life of the Roma. Even not taking that into consideration, Doom, after his Start of Darkness came back into Latvaria as the Chancellor of the then current king. He replaced his sons with robotic duplicates, killed one, imprisoned the other, and had the king assassinated. His son then "abdicated" the throne to him. At one point the Fantastic Four helped the rightful ruler of Latveria, Prince Zorba, reclaim his throne. This turned out to be Not Quite the Right Thing, since Zorba proved himself to be an incompetent tyrant even worse than Doom.
- The Big Bad of Perfection Is Overrated is known by this name. The Usurper lives up to this name by possessing the Obsidian Lord and (temporarily) taking over his position.
- The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: Sunset considers herself to be Princess Celestia's rightful heir, and once she finds out her former mentor is dead, she decides to use the crown she stole to become more powerful and usurp the current ruler.
Films — Animation
- Played with in The Emperor's New Groove. Kuzco isn't a very good ruler, and no one seems to miss him while he's gone, but Yzma isn't exactly any better.
- Scar from The Lion King, who murders his brother Mufasa for the throne of Pride Rock.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, King Candy from Sugar Rush is actually Turbo, a character from the old 1980 game TurboTime, who was thought to be dead. After his original game was removed from the arcade, he invaded Sugar Rush and reprogrammed it so he was its ruler while its actual ruler, Vanellope, became a glitch.
- Prince Hans in Frozen. He only pretended to love Anna to marry into the royal family of Arendelle, after which he planned to stage an "accident" for Elsa and assume the throne. Things don't play out quite like he intended, though.
- Prince Charming attempts to do this to Shrek in the third film. Somewhat subverted in that Shrek doesn't want to be king, and is in the process of passing the crown to Fiona's cousin Arthur at the time of Charming's usurpation.
Films — Live-Action
- In Tim Burton's live-action Alice in Wonderland (2010), the Red Queen is an usurper, having wrested the throne of Wonderland from her sister, the White Queen.
- Barbarella: Durand Durand usurps Sogo's throne from the Black Queen near the end of the film, as the first step of his plan of universal conquest.
- The Super Mario Bros. Nintendo Adventure Books have one of these, believe it or not. Luigi is kidnapped/asked by Bowser to try and find his daughter Wendy, who's mysteriously disappeared. When Luigi investigates, he actually finds that Wendy has sneaked off to start her own rebellion, stealing the magic wands belonging to her brothers. She then plans to combine the seven wands into one super wand and overthrow Bowser to rule the Koopas in his place.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Robert Baratheon is referred to as "The Usurper" by supporters of the Targaryens, the royal family Robert overthrew. The efforts of Daenarys, only surviving heir to the late King Aerys, to reclaim the throne she feels is rightfully hers is a major subplot of the series. However, the King Robert overthrew, Aerys II, "The Mad King", was a cruel and monstrous pyromaniac who tried to have Robert and his best friend Ned Stark killed, so it may have been justified.
- Robert's brother Stannis Baratheon considers the other four Kings in the War - his younger brother Renly, his nephew Joffrey who is in fact illegitimate and not really King Robert Baratheon's son, Robb Stark of the North, and Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands - to all be usurpers. Joffrey views the others as usurpers likewise. Renly knows he's a usurper but gleefully wears the title despite being Robert's youngest brother, putting on the image of The Good King to justify this, while coming across to the reader as a massive Bitch in Sheep's Clothing whose claim is basically that he has the biggest army rather then that he's actually the best choice to be King.
- Robert's claim to the throne did have some legitimacy, since House Baratheon was founded by Aegon the Conqueror's half-brother Orys and Robert's paternal grandmother was the daughter of Aegon V, making Robert's father Steffon Aerys' first cousin. With the only remaining members of House Targaryen on the run, Robert's claim to be next in line for the Iron Throne would arguably be a valid one. That said, only people like Ned Stark would actually care about such matters — it's one of the reasons Ned refrained from taking the Iron Throne himself. He could have, but 1) he didn't want it, and 2) House Stark wasn't directly related to the Targaryens and thus had no legitimate claim to the Iron Throne.
- Lord Roose Bolton has basically usurped rule of the North by murdering Robb Stark, for which the Iron Throne named him Warden of the North, and having his son Ramsay marry someone forced to impersonate Robb's sister. However, most of the North despises the Boltons and their hold is actually very shaky.
- Conan the Barbarian:
- In the novella "A Witch Shall Be Born", with Salome to Taramis.
- Conan himself is a heroic example of a usurper, having overthrown the evil king Numedides to take the throne of Aquilonia. He is very popular among the Aquilonians, but there are more than a few people who want the old regime back, as evidenced in "The Phoenix on the Sword".
- Chronicles of the Kencyrath — Kenan to Randiroc, as Lord of one of the Highborn houses.
- Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, who gradually seizes power at Hogwarts until she finally takes over Dumbledore's position as headmaster.
- The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey — King Charlis, but he's actually a fairly good king, who overthrew an incompetent ruler who was bankrupting the country to pay for useless luxuries for the court. The only bad thing he ever does is try to kill the rightful prince to solidify his position, but in the end he's willing to leave Sional alone in exchange for the prince (who didn't consider himself fit to rule) publicly renouncing his claim to the throne.
- The Videssos cycle by Harry Turtledove — Ortaias Sphrantzes in An Emperor for the Legion.
- The Prisoner of Zenda — Another subversion where the impostor/usurper is better fitted to rule than the rightful heir.
- In Wyrd Sisters, Verence I of Lancre is murdered by his cousin Duke Leonal Felmet, who usurps the throne. Tomjon the true heir to the throne of Lancre has no interest in becoming king and wants to become an actor instead. The witches put Verence II up as an alternative, claiming that he is Tomjon's half-brother, which is true. They see no need to point out that Tomjon is the queen's illegitimate son rather than Verence the King's, and as such technically neither has any claim to the throne.
- In 1824: The Arkansas War, Henry Clay manages to claim the presidency in ways that were not necessarily unconstitutional, but definitely unethical.
- In Transformers Exiles Ransack wanted to be the ruler of Velocitron by any means necessary, after losing his chances in a race twice, he decides to do it by force, plunging Velocitron into civil war.
- In Chronicles of the Necromancer, Prince Jared becomes king by murdering his father, after his father threatened to have him removed from the line of succession. In all honesty, he was in no worthy of the throne, and in less than a year nearly runs his entire kingdom to the ground.
- In The Deptford Mice Almanack by Robin Jarvis, there is unrest among the grey squirrels, who do not approve of Audrey Scuttle being the Starwife as she is a mouse. Two black squirrels arrive in Greenwich and one of them, a maiden named Morella, grows popular with the Starwife's subjects. Ultimately, the squirrels revolt, marching into Audrey's chamber and tearing the Silver Acorn from her neck. They chase her away, referring to her as 'the usurping mouse', while Morella ascends to the throne. However, it can easily be gathered that Morella is the real usurper, as there is something unsettling about her. Audrey was chosen by the previous Starwife and the Green Mouse himself, so her right to the throne cannot be denied.
- In Julie Kagawa's The Iron Daughter, Ironhorse aids Meghan against the new Iron King because he's a usurper, having no right to the throne.
- Urfin Jus from Tales of the Magic Land usurped the throne of the Emerald City (and thus, in theory, of the entire eponymous realm) twice. It didn't make him any happier, however, so he willingly rejected no less than three chances at another coup in later books.
- Ar-Pharazon from the Akallabeth of The Silmarillion usurped the throne of Numenor by marrying his cousin Tar-Miriel by force. He ends up destroying Numenor when, on the advice of Sauron, he attacks Valinor.
- In the First Age Celegorm and Curufin, two of the sons of Feanor, plotted to take rule of Nargothrond from their cousin Finrod, who gives the crown to his brother Orodreth while he goes to help Beren. Though he dies as his cousins hoped he would, they are driven from Nargothrond when their deeds are revealed.
- At the end of Dune, Paul Atreides took over the throne by marrying Princess Irulan Corrino and sending her father, the Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, into exile. There's some legitimate claim for the throne since his father, Duke Leto, is a distant cousin of Shaddam. In the sequel, he earned a lot of enemies who conspired to get rid with a justified reason: his fanatical followers started a galactic-wide jihad in his name causing much destruction and chaos. In the Children of Dune, one of Irulan's sisters attempted to reclaim the throne by using her son, Farad'n, and tried to kill Paul's heirs, Leto II and Ghamina. In the end of the novel, Leto II still inherits the throne which he would rule for thousands of years; and because he became a human-worm hybrid, he arranged a marriage between Ghamina and Farad'n in order to produce their descendants.
- The corrupt churchman Annias tries to do this to Queen Ehlana in The Elenium trilogy. When she falls mysteriously ill (because he poisoned her), magic is used to sustain her life; since she's incapacitated by the spell, Annias puts her only living relative, her bastard cousin Lycheas, in the role of Prince Regent. Lycheas just happens to be Annias's son, although this isn't revealed until much later.
- Game of Thrones:
- Robert Baratheon is a much more sympathetic example than most, given the behaviour of his predecessor.
- Cersei Lannister. Although it's her sons who get to sit on the Iron Throne, not herself, it's her actions which usurp said throne to her family. And in "The Winds of Winter" she finally seizes it for herself.
- In Pair of Kings, the Kings' cousin Prince Lanny intends to get rid of his cousins so he can become King of Kinkow. He's not very good at it.
- Power Rangers Zeo: Louie Kaboom took advantage of King Mondo's absence to drive the Royal House of Gadgetry away and take over the Machine Empire. One episode later, Archerina tricked him into fighting the Rangers so they'd off him.
- In the Star Fleet Universe, one of the Kzinti nobles felt he was most qualified to become the next Patriarch (Kzinti head of state), and that the previous Patriarch was still alive and well was only a technicallity, becoming known in history as The Usurper. When he was defeated (or was he, some think he won and assumed the idenity of his predecessor), he fled and attempted to destroy himself, only to find an unknown sanctuary. His grandson tried again, having proudly kept the title, as his father did before him.
- In the BattleTech universe, there are many examples.
- Stefan Amaris corrupted the young impressionable heir to the First Lordship of the Star League, and then eventually murdered him. He then went on an atrocity spree and was eventually put down by the Star League Defense Force. Alas, because of the opportunistic tendencies of the member states, this essentially ended the Star League.
- In more current times, we have Katherine Steiner-Davion, a sociopathic daughter of Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner. Her swiping the throne of the Lyran Commonwealth from her brother was all done legally (largely by dint of her brother Victor not trying to dispute it at the time due to other issues that were happening), and she leveraged her famous grandmother Katrina Steiner for popularity, even taking her first name in attempts to emulate her. But her eventual stealing of the Federated Suns throne was entirely illegal; while she had a claim to the throne, as a child of Hanse Davion, she could not assume it because she lacked the 5 years of military service required. However, while the rightful ruler was away, she managed to convince enough people to go along with her rule. For a while, anyway.
- Martian politics being what it is in Rocket Age there are a lot of people who could classify, but the man who takes the cake is Danny Hatfield, an Earthling who walked into a succession duel with a light-saber and took the Prince's head. Considering these duels are typically staged and planned, he's made a lot of enemies.
- Claudius of Shakespeare's Hamlet, who murdered his brother, the old King Hamlet, for the throne. Or not, depending on the interpretation you watch. Sometimes Claudius is the typical evil despot and Hamlet is the rightful heir, fighting for the powers of decency. Other interpretations imply that Claudius is a decent ruler with a semi-legitimate claim to the throne (being the dead king's brother) and that rule of Denmark is elective (which it still was when the play was written), and further that Hamlet would be a terrible ruler, since he might actually just be insane.
- Discussed in Kingdom Hearts II, when Sora and his friends visit the Pride Lands. Nala explains that things have gotten bad since Scar took the throne, causing Sora to gain the idea on dethroning Scar and becoming the next King (he'd have to refuse, of course). Of course, Rafiki knows that Sora would not make a good King, much to his disappointment. Of course, they would help Simba usurp the throne, anyway. Sora also plays with this trope, considering that he's managed to dethrone other rulers before and after.
- In Tears to Tiara 2, prior to the start of the story, Hasdrubal, father of The Hero rose up in rebellion against The Empire. Izebel, his subordinate and student, defected to the Empire and drove him to his death. She then takes over his position of Governor-General of Hispania.
- In Bravely Default, the Templar who overthrew the Corrupt Church ruling Eternia consistently insisted on being referred to as "the Usurper," despite the fact that he was putting the rightful ruler back on the throne. Part of this might be because said ruler was an eighteen-hundred year-old immortal who never particularly wanted to rule the country in the first place. He only took back control at the Templar's insistence, and to make up for the fact that he was the one who allowed the church to gain too much power in the first place all those centuries ago.
- Zant, the Usurper King from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, as his Boss Subtitles would imply, took the throne of the Twilight Realm from the rightful heir (Midna) when he was passed over for the position, probably because of his insanity.
- Usurping titles by pressing claims in war is the single most common way of expanding your realm in Crusader Kings. Titles can also be usurped peacefully if you control at least 51% of their de jure territory. The second game will even give you the sobriquet "the Usurper" if you successfully press a claim on your liege, or if your liege presses a claim you have on a foreign title.
- In Dark Souls III, you can end up doing this by Usurping the First Flame. As the new Lord or Lady of Hollows, you overthrow the old order of the world created by Gwyn and his fellow gods to "make Londor whole..."
- After the death of King Cailan in Dragon Age: Origins, his father-in-law Loghain basically usurps his own daughter, the widowed Queen Anora (whose claim to the throne, as a queen-consort, is that she was the one really running things anyway), and declares himself regent of Ferelden. One of his emissaries to Orzammar even calls him "King Loghain," and in one sidequest he's having a crown made for himself.
- In the same game, the Dwarven succession crisis is due to Prince Bhelen attempting a power grab by eliminating his siblings and attempting to supplant his dying father, with the only person in his way being his father's adviser. However, if he becomes king, he becomes a benevolent dictator who makes progressive reforms while also destroying any perceived threat to his power.
- Happens all the time in Imperium Nova; the Capricorn galaxy in particular is infamous for serial revolutions.
- The protagonist of Fable III has to usurp the throne from their elder brother, King Logan. The situation is more complicated than they realize, though.
- Current Demon King, and King to whom most of the other kingdoms in Kellwood are subservient, Samrick in Charby the Vampirate usurped the throne from the previous king who fled to Eshanival.
Sometimes... little fish are piranhas waiting to bite.
- In Girl Genius, Martellus Von Blitzengaard usurps the title of Storm King from Tarvek Sturmvoraus. Tarvek was in the midst of the Sturmhalten Incident, where the Knights of Jove had their entire conspiracy plans blown open by interference from Baron Klaus Wulfenbach discovering it, and by Agatha Heterodyne revealing herself to the entire world in the middle of it all.
- Later Played for Laughs when Larana Chroma usurps her father's throne to go to war against the Other before it can destroy Paris and the Incorruptible Library...and invokes the "Ancient Right of Filial Usurpation" to do so.
- In Gosu the Four Heavenly Kings betrayed the Heavenly Destroyer, leaving him for dead. However, they ended up fighting amongst themselves and killed each other, sparking the eventual end of the Heavenly Destruction Sect. At least, that's what they wanted everyone to believe.
- tgchan is a website that combines Dungeons & Dragons with Twitch Plays Pokémon. As such, there are some games that involve usurpation:
- Dive Quest is the story of a deposed prince who seeks to take back his kingdom from the king who usurped his father. Violently. All requests to end this without directly murdering the new king and queen have been put down. Played With, as Muschio went from trying to become The Antichrist to trying to become The Emperor, so he doesn't want to usurp them from their position - he wants to take over the continent and then execute the king and queen himself.
- Usurper Princess is the story of the 15th in line to Mossland (and others, including the 4th in line to Ramshead and a multibillionaire's daughter) who intend to plot, murder, and slaughter their way to the top, or at least mostly to the top.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Nightmare Moon, who removed her own sister from play to obtain the throne and then some.
- In Twilight's Kingdom – Part 2, after he finds out that Celestia, Luna, and Cadance have hidden their magic from him, we see Tirek sitting on Celestia's throne. He then sends the Princesses to Tartarus to ensure that nopony can challenge his claim to the throne. Having drained Shining Armor as well, and Shining Armor being a Prince, Tirek thought he had removed the Royal Family completely from power. He assumes his claim as the new King of Equestria is secured for good once he drains Twilight of the Princesses' magic, but his claim is short-lived once he is hit with Rainbow Power, re-imprisoned in Tartarus, and Celestia, Luna, Cadance, Shining Armor, and Twilight, are restored to their places as Equestria's true Royal Family and sovereigns.
- Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender had his wife assassinate his father, so that he could take the throne from the actual Crown Prince, Iroh. (Iroh, having lost his son, was too devastated to fight back). At the end of the series, Iroh has the chance to take his rightful place as Fire Lord, but he isn't interested, and feels his time for that is long past. Zuko takes the position.
- In Season 4 of The Legend of Korra, Kuvira publicly usurps the Crown Prince of the Earth Kingdom at his own coronation and declares herself The Emperor of the newly forged Earth Empire. The crowd cheers for her.
- Lemongrab of Adventure Time is an inversion of this. He's played straight in that he's a tyrannical buttmunch who takes the throne to the Candy Kingdom and imposes rigid laws that make everyone miserable- and the actual ruler of the kingdom tries to get rid of him. Inverted in that Lemongrab is actually the rightful heir to the throne in the event that something happens to the princess (she was transformed into a 13-year-old, and therefore too young to rule the kingdom). Also inverted in that he hates the kingdom, his job, and the people he rules over, and is more Lawful Neutral or Lawful Stupid than the typical "evil tyrant" trope.
- Alfred J. Kwak: In the "Crows Party" arc, Dolf uses his new fascist party to throw King Franz Ferdinand out of his palace and declare himself Emperor Dolf I.