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
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
Anime and Manga
Film - Animated
- 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.
Film - Live
- 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 murdered 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.
- In Tim Burton's live-action Alice in Wonderland, the Red Queen is an usurper, having wrested the throne of Wonderland from her sister, the White Queen.
- 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 rightfully hers is a major subplot of the series.
- Conan the Barbarian:
- In the novella "A Witch Shall Be Born", with Salome to Taramis.
- Conan himself is a heroic example of a usurper. 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.
- ''Lark and the Wren'' by Mercedes Lackey — King Charlis, but subverted.
- The Videssos cycle by Harry Turtledove — Ortaias Sphrantzes in An Emperor for the Legion.
- The Prisoner of Zenda — Another subversion where the imposter/usurper is better fitted to rule than the rightful heir.
- In Wyrd Sisters, 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 up as an alternative, claiming that he is Tomjon's half-brother, which is true. They see no need to point out that he's the queen's illegitimate son rather than the King's and as such has no 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.
- The Super Mario Bros. Nintendo Adventure gamebooks had 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 snuck 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.
- 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 The 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 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.
- In Pair Of Kings, the Kings' cousin Prince Lanny intends to get rid of his cousins so he can become King of Kinkow.
- 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 backstory, 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, a sociopathic daughter of Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner. She usurped the entire Lyran half of the Federated Commonwealth (the combined Federated Suns and Lyran Commonwealth), and fancies herself in the image of her famous grandmother Katrina Steiner, even taking her first name in attempts to emulate her. However, she is ultimately a Smug Snake.
- 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 further that Hamlet would be a terrible ruler, since he might actually just be insane.
- Happens all the time in Imperium Nova, the Capricorn galaxy in particular is infamous for serial revolutions.
- Nightmare Moon, who removed her own sister from play to obtain the throne and then some.
- 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 had the chance to take his rightful place as Fire Lord, but he wasn't interested, and let Zuko take the position.
- 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.
The Other Wiki
has a list of historical usurpers
, not all of them wholly bad.