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Fake King

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"My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon."
— The Evil Overlord List, Rule #3

Rarely seen in the same country as the Evil Chancellor and rarely a Final Boss — though they can be a significant one — a good, often beloved ruler or other authority figure has been replaced by a doppelganger of some kind with horribly evil intentions. The Fake King exploits the country's people and resources to further his nefarious agenda. He often isn't very subtle, but you don't get much in the way of disobedience except from the heroes; everyone else just remarks on how the king is acting funny or has changed. The replacement usually happens before the story starts. It could be seen as the lazy way to become a Villain with Good Publicity, or for the Evil Twin to star in a Tyrant Takes the Helm story. Many Role-Playing Games use this setup and the inevitable exposure of the usurper and restoration of the real king as a rather forgettable Fetch Quest.

For some reason, the usurper never takes the advice of the Evil Overlord List item quoted above and resorts to just killing the king to really complicate the matter. Although in some rare occasions, a particularly cunning fake king might actually murder the real king and replace the real one.

While this specific Fake King plot is arguably a Dead Horse Trope in console RPGs by now, the general trope of replacing a good authority figure with an evil one through Voluntary Shapeshifting, possession, the existence of an Evil Twin, cloning, illusion magic, or some other form of Applied Phlebotinum is considerably older and potentially more varied. The key points are that the authority figure is known as a real person and that he or she gets replaced by a look-alike who makes things worse — a villain disguised as the king.

If a hero stands in for the king, it's Emergency Impersonation. May overlap with El Cid Ploy if the original king is actually dead.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: The King of the Walls, King Fritz, is a Puppet King. The true ruler is Rod Reiss, who is the father of Krista Lenz, aka Historia Reiss. After the military performs a coup and Historia kills her father after he becomes a titan, she becomes the queen, with the military occupying governmental positions. Ironically, the false king had the true last name of the Royal Family, originating from Ymir Fritz, the progenitor of the titans, before the family members inside the Walls changed it to Reiss.
  • In One Piece, Mr. 2 Bon Clay impersonates the king to get everyone in Alabasta to fight. Only one kid notices this, and he's too injured by Baroque Works to tell anyone.
  • As eventually revealed, Mashiro in My-Otome was passed off as the surviving princess after the attack that killed the King and Queen while the real princess (Nina Wang) was spirited off elsewhere. Subverted given that she's allowed to remain on the throne anyway due to her Character Development and the real princess never attempts to take the throne from her even after learning of her true heritage, and it's implied that she may be a descendant of the original Queen of Windbloom, since the two look nearly identical.
  • The head of Telomere replaced Princess Mina Tepes in Dance in the Vampire Bund after a massive attack on the Bund. This was facilitated by her not only looking and smelling like the Vampire Monarch in question but being able to compel those blood-bound to her.
  • Fushigi Yuugi uses the trope at least twice:
  • Happens completely by accident in ∀ Gundam when Queen Dianna does a Twin Switch with her Identical Stranger Kihel Heim and war breaks out before they could switch back, meaning for a good portion of the series, an impostor was ruling the Moon. This would have some consequences later, as Kihel-as-Dianna's insistence on a peaceful solution with Earth leads to a mutiny against the real Dianna once they switch back. By the end of the series, they make the switch permanent, as Dianna is much happier living as a commoner, and Kihel is much happier being in a position of power where she could help people.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Invoked in Princess Celestia Hates Tea. Once she lets slip that she actually doesn't like tea, Twilight comes to the conclusion that Princess Celestia must've been replaced by the Changeling Queen and repeatedly attempts to blast her with the Elements of Harmony.
  • In the Touhou Project doujin, The Silence of the Rabbits, it is revealed that Eirin made a clone of herself to handle her experiments, but the clone went evil, incapacitated her and took her place. The clone wanted to kill Eirin and take over completely, but couldn't because Eirin is a Hourai immortal and cannot be killed in the normal fashions. So she trapped Eirin in a jar while she tried to come up with a poison powerful enough to kill Hourai immortals. But sadly for her, Eirin thought one step ahead and based her template off the Udonges, so there was no way that the clone could ever have surpassed the original.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Great Mouse Detective has a fake queen — and a relatively obvious one at that. Ratigan forces a toymaker to create a robotic copy of the actual Mouse Queen, who — standing in for the real deal — will abdicate her throne in favour of Ratigan as the new king.
  • Later from Disney, Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers saw Captain Pete of the royal guard pulling a similar stunt, substituting one of his own henchmen for Princess Minnie.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: King Candy stole the throne from Vanellope before the events of the movie, erasing everyone's memories to fit. He's actually Turbo, having reskinned himself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Many adaptations of The Man in the Iron Mask involve an inversion of this plot — an evil king being replaced by his secret good twin.
  • Dave centers on an inversion of this plot: a bastard President goes into a coma and a look-alike is asked to stand in for him — a look-alike who makes a much better president.
  • The novel and movie The Prisoner of Zenda, on which Dave was based, also uses an inversion, where the hero impersonates his identical cousin the King of Ruritania while the latter is imprisoned by The Evil Prince. He is a much better person and leader than the real king, who is dissolute and incompetent, but he ultimately helps restore the real king to the throne. (Although at several points he debates allowing the villains to kill the real king before foiling their schemes — but mostly because he's in love with the king's fiancee.)
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation picks up where the original film left off, with Zartan impersonating the President of the United States. He does a good job hiding his identity from the public while keeping the real President locked up in a room guarded by disguised Cobra agents. What makes it even more scary is that while he never does too much to arouse suspicion, this version of Zartan is clearly a lunatic psychopath who gets his kicks out of creating mayhem, suffering, and destruction. One really has to wonder if Cobra Commander was the only thing keeping him in check while he was undercover.
  • The Great Race takes time out from the actual race to send up The Prisoner of Zenda. The villain, Professor Fate, gets to be the one who looks just like the king-to-be.
  • In Metropolis, the mad scientist Rotwang replaces leader-of-the-people Maria with a robot.
  • In Thor: The Dark World, Loki strips Odin of his memories and banishes him to Midgard. In the next four years, he rules Asgard while impersonating his father, until in Thor: Ragnarok Thor arrives to put an end to his negligence, self-aggrandizement, and poorly enacted plays.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Serizawa scornfully calls Ghidorah a false king when it takes over as Alpha of the Titans when they realize he's an invasive alien and not an Earth-based lifeform.

  • At least two Discworld stories involve this, or at least the idea of doing it. Apparently, Vetinari just has that effect on people.
    • There might be just one story where an actual Vetinari impersonation is an important plot point (The Truth), and one more (Making Money) where it happens as a more minor element. However, attempted coups of one kind or another have been the villain's goal so often in the series that Making Money hangs a lampshade on this trope by having an entire ward of a mental hospital populated by people suffering from Vetinari Delusion.
  • Terry Brooks' The Black Unicorn has this exact plot, but puts a fresh take on it by telling the story from the real king's point-of-view.
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Be Born" has Queen Taramis of Khauran replaced by her Evil Twin sister Salome. Salome treats the kingdom's farmers like slaves and excessively taxes city dwellers, all while doing her level best to break Taramis.
  • Older Than Print: There is an old Jewish legend about King Solomon capturing Asmodeus the Demon King. Eventually Asmodeus tricks Solomon into letting him out of the cell — then impersonates Solomon and exiles him.
  • In some Cthulhu Mythos fiction, the Veiled King (who was only briefly mentioned in H. P. Lovecraft's own The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath) has the following backstory: the proper king was decadent and had shown disrespect to gods and went to openly mock them. He returned, wearing veil forever. In reality, he has been replaced by a race of beings, who enforced harsh but reasonably fair laws. The exiles from the society are secretly captured and used for their breeding program (which, Cthulhu Mythos being what it is, involves mosquito men and semi-sentient grubs).
  • The Fairy Tale "The Blue Parrot" features a kind young king named Lino who has his clothes stolen and given to the dwarf Rabot. Rabot turns himself into Lino and starts acting rudely towards the servants and almost marries Lino's beloved Hermosa. Lino is turned into a parrot.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, the legend of Solomon and Asmodeus is true. Solomon, near the end of it, took advantage of it to go to Hell and do a lot of damage to them, because they all took him for Asmodeus.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Kull story "The Shadow Kingdom", the Snakemen do this.
    "Kings have reigned as true men in Valusia," the Pict whispered, "and yet, slain in battle, have died serpents—as died he who fell beneath the spear of Lion- fang on the red beaches when we of the isles harried the Seven Empires. And how can this be, Lord Kull?
    "These kings were born of women and lived as men!
    "Thus—the true kings died in secret—as you would have died tonight—and priests of the Serpent reigned in their stead, no man knowing."
  • A usurpation of this sort (carried out by the Metamorphs, no less) drives the plot of Lord Valentine's Castle. (Fridge Logic: The Metamorphs were the original inhabitants of the planet, who were cruelly dispossessed by the invading humans and confined to small areas of their original homelands in a tragic story not even vaguely reminiscent of the history of the American Indians. Given that they could impersonate any member of the planet's (decidedly hierarchical and not very democratic) government, you have to wonder why it took them fourteen thousand years to come up with the plot in the first place.)
  • Older Than Feudalism: In the Armenian folktale Ara the Handsome, after failing to resurrect Ara with her magic the Queen Semiramis finds a look-alike in her harem to take his place, convincing the public that he'd been resurrected so that the war between Armenia and Assyria can end. Although one should note that this version of the tale mainly became popular after Christianity took hold in the 300s CE, before that the story commonly went that the resurrection was successful.
  • One of the plots in the The Vicomte de Bragelonne. A conspiracy attempts to replace King Louis with his identical twin.
  • Lindsey Davis' The Third Nero is set in Rome in the 80s AD. A third pretender has arisen claming to be the Emperor Nero and wanting his Empire back. The narratorFlavia Albia notes that even though enough people are still alive who remember Nero, the fact his lonerly death was witnessed by few gave rise to the myth that he fled Rome waiting for the time to be right to come back. People actually hope he'll return in triumph, depose the current paranoid sociopath on the throne, and restore an era of peace and prosperity. Albia notes that people are so desperate under Domitian's reign that they'll believe anything, whilst forgetting that Nero was a mad sociopathic sadist.
  • Warrior Cats: Ashfur possesses the body of Bramblestar, the leader of ThunderClan, when he loses one of his lives, in order to take control of the Clan and drive it apart by harshly punishing cats that break the warrior code.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Doctor Who serial "The King's Demons", which involves King John being replaced by a mind-controlled robot. Interestingly, the villain does nothing about the real King John; he just tours the counties, alienating local lords, while the king remains in London, utterly oblivious. Not that much is made of this.
  • Sylar, the villain of Heroes, has attempted to Take Over the World by assuming the identity of the President of the United States. Twice!

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the BattleTech universe, the head of one successor state, Hanse Davion, was replaced by a brainwashed double organized by an enemy successor state in Operation Doppelganger.
    • Done by Thomas Marik. After surviving a bomb attack, Thomas was grievously injured but was saved by bionic implants. Thomas was then replaced with a body double as cyborgs are scorned in the Free Worlds League, Thomas would become the Master of the Word of Blake, while his double would take his place. He later used this knowledge, in revealing his true identity and that of his stand-in to fracture the FWL.
  • In the Eberron campaign setting of D&D King Kaius III of Karrnath is being impersonated by his great-grandfather Kaius I, who also happens to be a vampire.
  • In the Ironclaw module "The Lost Heir of the Rinaldi" the recently deceased king of House Rinaldi's surviving heir has gone missing and there are two different people who might be the prince. One seems perfectly sane while the other is a non-verbal vagrant in tattered clothes, it's the latter, the former is an imposter hypnotized by a Green mage. The novelization Scars stars a bounty hunter hired by the former prince to capture the latter, however she turns out to be the king's illegitimate daughter and recognizes her half-brother when she sees him.

  • Shows up in the Adventures arc of BIONICLE where Makuta swaps places with Turaga Dume, ruler of Metru Nui in order to perform a crucial part of his Evil Plan.

    Video Games 
  • Breath of Fire II features a variation on this. Tapeta is the prince of Fort Nageur; unfortunately, he's shiftless, irresponsible, and a hopeless romantic, and he's been abroad for quite some time (much of it spent transformed into an even bigger frog). By the time he comes back as part of Ryu's party, an impostor has taken his place: said impostor claims that Tapeta is impersonating him and has him arrested. And the kicker? The people of Fort Nageur knew that Tapeta was the real deal; they just didn't care, on the grounds they were probably better off with the phony.
  • Chrono Trigger combines the Fake King concept with the Evil Chancellor to yield the Fake Chancellor. Twice. And the second time was explicitly out of revenge for the first time.
    • Also subverted when the king starts acting like a dick. (More of a dick than usual, anyway). People do comment on his strange behavior... but it's the aforementioned Fake Chancellor trying to throw you off the trail.
  • The appropriately named False King in Demon's Souls.
  • Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories gives us a fake Overlord Zenon. The real Zenon is reincarnated as Rozalin.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • Dragon Quest III:
      • The king of Samanao was kidnapped and replaced by a Boss Troll using the Mirror of Ra to take his form.
      • Orochi at some point prior killed the actual Queen Pimiko and stole her form, doubling up on taking sacrifices and imposing them on the people from a position of ruling.
      • You don't choose to be one, but the king of Romaly gives you the crown so he can go gamble. You can hang around as king/queen for as long as you feel like, then make the real king take his crown back so you can continue on your quest.
    • Dragon Quest V: Queen Dowager pretends to be the mother of the current King of Coburg, and takes complete advantage of him, performing acts such as destroying The Hero's Doomed Hometown, recruiting monsters as soldiers, and executing anyone who defies her.
    • Dragon Quest VI pulls a reversal with a fake Demon Lord who turns out to be the king, as opposed to the fake king turning out to be a demon.
    • ...and then Dragon Quest VII did it with God Himself.
    • The Dragon Quest Monsters series loved this trope too! Probably because you can only battle monsters.
    • Again this trope turns up twice in Dragon Quest IX, the first with a moody girl in Bloomingvile who happens to a doll affected by a Fygg who is replacing the dead girl. The second is with a vizier to the king who turns out to be a Sluggernut from Wood Creek area affected by a Fygg.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Arena has this as part of its main premise. The real Emperor, Uriel Septim VII, has been trapped in Oblivion by his Evil Chancellor/Court Mage Jagar Tharn, who has used magic to assume Septim's appearance and is ruling in his place. You need to travel throughout Tamriel to collect the pieces of the Staff of Chaos in order to defeat Tharn and free Septim.
  • In Faria, a fake Princess unusually concerned with knowing where the royal scrolls bars you from the castle after the King mysteriously turns to stone. The guards will let you in again if the real Princess is with you.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • The original Final Fantasy had Astos who was pretending to be a king so he could trick you into getting him the crown from the Marsh Cave.
    • In Final Fantasy II, we have a fake princess. Who eats rats. And demands sex from The Hero.
    • Final Fantasy IV: The King of Baron was murdered and replaced by Cagnazzo, one of the archfiends of Golbez.
  • Jade Empire plays with this trope a great deal. Early on, you are led to believe that Emperor Sun Hai is somehow being controlled by his sinister adviser, Death's Hand. Once you reach him, though, you learn that Death's Hand is merely a puppet of Sun Hai, who is still very much in control of his own faculties despite being dead, and must defeat the Emperor... just in time for another villain to actually step out of the shadows and assume control of the Empire, pretending that Sun Hai still rules.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Agahnim usurped the throne by murdering the King of Hyrule, and then he used this position and his powers to complete his objectives. This did not go entirely unnoticed as one castle guard commented, "After Agahnim took over, everyone began to act strangely."
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is one of the few that actually has the fake king as the final boss. On the other hand, the actual replacement of the king was a plot point for a change, too...
    • The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages pulls a similar trick — the sorceress Veran possesses the titular oracle, and goes back in time to manipulate the queen as an advisor (and later possess her, too). It results in a similar situation to the usual Fake King plot.
  • In Lunar: The Silver Star and its remakes, the leader of the floating city of Vane, Lemia Ausa, is replaced by Xenobia, a servant of the Magic Emperor. The real Lemia is imprisoned in the dungeon with a mask that blocks her memories.
    • The sequel, Lunar: Eternal Blue and Eternal Blue Complete take it up a level with a fake Goddess. The real Goddess Althena gave up her immortality and died as a human centuries before the game takes place.
  • In the first Might and Magic game, this is used. In the fifth game, the Big Bad takes the same identity, although not with taking over a throne.
  • Ōkami played with this with the leaders of Sei-an City; the game (and Issun) hint that Queen Himiko is behind the Emperor's illness and the city's curse, when in fact Ninetails, using the appearance of Priestess Rao (who he killed previously), infected the Emperor and caused him to exhale the evil mist that caused the curse.
  • Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness takes this up to eleven: Cipher doesn't just replace the mayor of a city, they systematically replace the city's entire population. Fortunately, the player gets tipped off by a message found in the mayor's office, and by the six members of the Goldfish Poop Gang disguising themselves as the same person at the same time.
  • Pokémon Gold and Silver/Crystal and their remakes (HeartGold/SoulSilver) also used this trope with Goldenrod Radio Tower's Director, being replaced by Team Rocket Executive Petrel in an attempt to get the Johto region to practically worship Team Rocket and Giovanni, it failed thanks to the player of course.
  • The plot of Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame: once again, the Prince must Save the Princess from Big Bad Jaffar, who has magically disguised himself as the Prince.
  • Secret of Mana used it for the king of a republic.
  • Yaridovich in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars takes this trope to its logical extreme: He replaced everyone in Seaside Town, fooling exactly no one. Then he proceeds to send Mario and Co. into a Fetch Quest to recover the Star Piece currently in possession of Jonathan Jones in the Sunken Ship and then he just waits for the MacGuffin Delivery Service to arrive.
    • This trope comes up again in Nimbus Land, where Valentina tried to pass off her giant henchman Dodo as the missing prince Mallow.
  • The Demon Lord Odin from Odin Sphere was subject to this in Gwendolyn's story. He was possessed by his "finest" General, Brigan, after Gwendolyn previously killed him to save Velvet. There is no direct comment that he had been acting strange, but the fact that Gwendolyn (his own daughter) was attacked by his guards stands as evidence enough.
  • The 7th Saga has an Excuse Plot largely involving this trope.
  • Not quite a king, but Sam and Max: Abe Lincoln Must Die! features a fake President who turns out to be a hypnosis device (a literal puppet ruler).
  • According to Babelfish translations of the one Japanese fansite of the Japan only Game Boy Color game Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics, it's the explanation of King Klein's evil look.
  • In Shining the Holy Ark, the King is being possessed by an evil spirit for apparently no reason pertaining to the plot. Bonus points for 'the king is acting strangely' comments from the villagers and for removing the popular and good Sage/Advisor and replacing him with a scary, hated, and clearly evil Witch/Advisor.
  • In Endless Frontier, the heroes don't encounter a Fake King, but learn that a war between Formido Heim and Elfetale was caused by one of these. King Stahl of Formido Heim had discovered technology to travel to different dimensions and proceeded to make use of it. Unforunately, the first world he visited was inhabited by the Einst, one of the Big Bads of the Super Robot Wars games. The Einst presumably killed him and created an Evil Knockoff in its place. Said knockoff returned to the Endless Frontier and declared war in order to fulfill the Einst's goals. It wasn't until ten years into the war that leaders of the Orchestra Army, Formido Heim's main force, realized the true nature of their "king". The army rebelled and eliminated the fake, and sued for peace, while not telling the world why the war happened.
  • In Sonic and the Black Knight, King Arthur has suddenly become an evil tyrant and the titular Black Knight. He turns out to be an illusion created by Merlina's father some time ago. The real King Arthur turns out to be Sonic himself, but none of those behind the fake knew this.
  • Happens in Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, and was working fairly well thanks to the leader in question's rampant Lawful Stupidness. While others comment on his strange behavior, only his daughter realizes that he's been replaced and recruits the heroes to help her; seems everyone else was just so used to him being a Jerkass with Moral Myopia that his declaring war on an ally just because he doesn't like the way she's protecting her Fatestone didn't seem too out of character...
  • Copy-X, Mega Man Zero's Big Bad Knight Templar, replacing Mega Man X as the ruler of Neo Arcadia. Notable that he was created for noble purposes (reflected in his creator), and he thinks that he's doing the right thing...
  • In Alundra 2, the Evil Chancellor Baron Diaz imprisons the king and has him replaced with a wooden manikin. Probably the only reason the population falls for this is because the only people other than the nobles in the resistance who actually see the 'king' work for Diaz.
  • In Fire Emblem Fates, the King Garon who started the war with Hoshido is actually a Blob Monster impersonating him, though this is only explicitly revealed on the Conquest route. Played with in that unlike most examples, the real king is Dead All Along, the monster imposter is possessing his corpse.
  • Teikun Ō/Di-Jun Huang, president of Zheng Fa, from Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth 2. The real president was assassinated years ago by a hitman hired by the president's own Body Double, who thought that since he was the one out there putting his ass on the line, he should have the power to go with it.
  • Persona 5 has the ruler of the Velvet Room, Igor, replaced by an impostor. Few enough people interact with him that it avoids the usual pitfalls of the trope.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the heroes, originally from two sides of a Forever War, discover that their respective queens are robots created by the Consuls, the supposed subordinates of the queens who are in fact The Man in Front of the Man, and the real queens need to be located and rescued. The queens just happen to be Melia and Nia, who have previously appeared in prior games, therefore mixing this trope with Superdickery towards fans of the previous games, making them think it was a Rogue Protagonist situation before the reveal.

  • Parodied in Adventurers!!: Karn meets a chancellor and immediately defenestrates him, on the assumption that he's been replaced by a monster. It turns out that was the real chancellor; the monster assigned to replace him was out sick.

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, King Marcus is kidnapped and the Shadow impersonates him to lure Ax into a trap. It also happens to Ax, who has become a Sultana, later on when Vaetris ambushes her and sends her into the Void Between the Worlds to her apparent demise, after which she shapeshifts into Ax and assumes her identity in order to manipulate the Alliance and Sultan Khalid.
  • Discussed in The Nostalgia Critic's review of The Swan Princess—the villain wants to take over the kingdom by turning Odette into a swan, then blackmailing her into marrying him. But if he has shapeshifting, why not turn himself into her father, or turn a minion into Odette and marry her instead? (He does turn his minion into Odette later, but not for that reason.)

    Western Animation