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Hidden Backup Prince

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Rumplestiltskin: Did I not tell you that I can have your son slay the dragon? And am I not a man of my word?
King George: I thought you said he was gone forever!
Rumplestiltskin: That he is. But his brother [...] His twin brother. Did I not mention there was another?

So you have a setting with a monarchy, or where heredity is somehow important (say Superpowerful Genetics are in effect), and the entire royal / Super Family Team are under constant threat of being killed in a surprise attack by their enemies. Sure, they'll fail 99% of the time, and most royal families have a Spare to the Throne to ensure there's a someone to inherit, but what to do in case they somehow wipe out everyone in the line of succession (who isn't evil)? Evil Only Has to Win Once after all.

The solution is to raise one of the King's children as a commoner far away, without knowledge of their Secret Legacy. The idea being that they'll be safe in anonymity, and they may even be able to be trained or schooled in a way that spares them from becoming snobby and brings them closer to commoners. The hidden backup prince isn't always created intentionally. The kid may be a bastard child and hidden to cover up their father's indiscretions, a twin who is sent away to avoid complicated succession rivalries, or is somehow kidnapped or separated unintentionally.note 

Of course, if the hidden backup prince is resentful and finds out about their heritage they may decide to be the cause that wipes out the royal family. Nothing like going from Riches to Rags to motivate spite. Usually though, the hidden backup prince will know nothing of their heritage yet somehow get involved in the plot regardless.

See also Rags to Royalty. May overlap with Backup Twin. Subtrope of Sent Into Hiding. Very likely to go along with a Succession Crisis.

For the sake of keeping things simple, this trope will cover both intentionally and unintentionally creating a hidden backup prince. Cases such as involuntary separation (through chance or enemy schemes) count. This trope can also be in play even if the royal family isn't killed off — the hidden backup prince exists as a fail safe, regardless of if it's called into use by the plot.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept., Jean Otus is revealed to be this - which the kingdom badly needs, because no one likes Prince Schwan. Jean's mother, the second princess, faked her death to be with her love, but some people did keep tabs on her and her children.
  • Daltanious has a case of an entire Royal Backup Family. The Royal Family of Helios selectively bred and engineered a whole bloodline of clones to ensure their political power wouldn't be taken away. From cradle to grave, the clones were forced to surveil their prototype's life from their prisons. If the prototype was injured, the clone would be forced to receive the exact injury. If the prototype died, the clone was sent in their place. If an organ transplant was needed, the clone was harvested. When the clone outlived their usefulness, they would be eliminated to make way for the new successor. No matter what, the clones were simply puppets of their senior vassals. This led to their fall as one day, one former clone escaped, established the Zaal and destroyed Helios, causing refugees to be scattered to several different planets. The former clone would then go on to lead a conquest of the entire galaxy.
  • In GoLion, the royal family of Altia is killed, save for Princess Fala, who was taken away when the planet was attacked.
  • The short-lived manga Barrage: It's revealed towards the end that Astro was the real prince all along; he was stolen shortly after birth and replaced with a "dark matter duplicate" so that he could be raised away from the corruption of the court.
  • Magic Knight Rayearth: Princess Emeraude's younger brother Ferio. In the manga, he's Prince Incognito. In the anime, his memory of being royalty has been temporarily erased.
  • Ōoku: The Inner Chambers: After a plague kills all male claimants to the shogunate, the previous shogun's nurse seeks out the only remaining member of the line, an illegitimate daughter who had been kept a closely-guarded secret, and puts her on the throne—at first in disguise, later openly ruling in, well, she stuck with her father's name but using her own face and female attire counted for much.
  • Inverted in Fushigi Yuugi. The crown prince was a boy named Tendou, and in order to protect his life from one of the concubines, who wanted her son, Hotohori, on the throne, his father sent him to live as a commoner, with the intention of bringing him back to the royal family when the heat was off. Which never happened. Ironically, Tendou's ex-girlfriend Houki ends up being taken to be part of the Royal Harem, and ends up marrying Hotohori, who looks just like Tendou.
  • In the My-Otome manga, it turns out the Mashiro impostor really is this. He's the real Mashiro's twin brother who was spirited away and raised by Lena in case Mashiro died or went crazy. In a few chapters Mashiro went from an impostor to a nobody to the sole heir of Windbloom.
  • Space Pirate Mito cites preventing her son from becoming the hidden backup prince as her primary reason for hiding him in the first place. (It doesn't work.) She would have been perfectly happy to allow the usurper to continue ruling the galaxy if he'd just left her boy alone.
  • In The Testament of Sister New Devil, Mio learns she is the daughter of the demon king after he is killed off, and a hostile demon faction is intent on finding and killing her. He had her hidden away to live the life of a normal human up to that point. Once Basara also learns of this, he reconsiders having kicked them out of his house after they tried to brainwash him into leaving.
  • This is the case with Tenchi Masaki in Tenchi Muyo!. He is technically second-in-line for the throne of Jurai (and probably, next-in-line since his grandfather probably doesn't want the crown anymore) but until recently, was ignorant of his heritage. Even now, his existence isn't known to the galactic community due to his grandparents' secret marriage.
  • In the second season of Aldnoah.Zero, Asseylum's illegitimate half-sister Princess Lemrina is this for the Martian Empire. She is largely unknown to Vers society and confined to the Moon base just in case the Vers military needs someone who can activate Aldnoah in a pinch. It's a position she greatly resents.
  • In Tales of Wedding Rings, Krystal, a princess from another world, is raised on earth under the name of Hime by her wizard guardian posing as her grandfather. Hime knows who she really is and knows she must return one day to fulfill her duty. Her childhood friend, Sato, ends up following her when she returns, which begins the plot.

    Comic Books 
  • In Gamora 2017 limited series, she exterminated the Badoon Brotherhood royal family in revenge for her people's genocide. Little did she know that the Brother Royal's most beloved concubine from his harem gave birth to an female child and he loved her so much that he sent her away for her safety. Gamora pursues the last surviving princess to not leave some business unfinished. At the end of the series, she desists from killing her when said princess reveals she has no intentions of following up her father's footsteps and just wants to be left alone.
  • PS238: This turns out to be the true nature of Atlas, the series' Expy of Superman. This reveal, which it turns out had been hidden by the U.S. Military who had known it the moment they found his spaceship, also starts the point where he begins significantly deviating from the original. His homeworld of Argon turns out to be very much intact, is ruled by a Fantastic Caste System of Flying Bricks, and a recently finished Civil War has left Atlas the true heir to the throne... And has put his Half-Human Hybrid son Ron next in line, much to the Argosians' dismay.

    Fan Works 
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: Karjn turns out to actually be Princess Aeresya Medyrsjn, the daughter and rightful heir of Central's latest Puppet King (who is not nearly as much of a puppet as the surrounding empires believe). She was hidden after an attempt to kidnap her almost succeeded, finally proving to her father that it was too dangerous for her to be his openly acknowledged heir.
  • In the The Legend of Spyro fancomic Pure Light, the royal family of Warfang were all assassinated about 20 years ago, leaving the elderly king Julius Warfang alone and overcome with grief. This does not stop there from being a grand total of four living heirs running around, though not all are "viable."
    • Ember Warfang, Julius' great-grandaughter and current regent of Warfang is a Deconstruction. Being fairly far down the line of inheritance, she didn't even know she had royal blood and had never been taught or trained in how to be a good ruler. When she was unexpectedly made regent for the sick king, she tried her best but was quickly corrupted by lust for power and wealth and became a horrible tyrant.
    • Nova Warfang, Julius' granddaughter, is a more traditional example. She survived the assassination of her parents and siblings as an egg, and is a very kind and noble soul. She grew up under her grandfather's tutelage, even inheriting the Royal Blood element Solar Flare, and would no doubt be a great ruler. Too bad Ember does everything in her power to keep her away from the throne, though she is currently doing what she can to help people by joining the elite Freedom Flyer unit of the army under Ember's rival, general Cynder.
    • Doucheicus Blackclaw believed his mother was the missing daughter of king Julius Warfang, though never got evidence for it. This did not stop him from seeing himself as inherently superior to everyone else and believing he had been robbed of his rightful throne, to the point where he might even have masterminded the assassination of the royal family in the hopes of becoming king himself. Compared to him, Ember is practically a saint. Thnankfully, the only evidence of his connection is tenuous at best, and he was killed five years before the comic starts. His son Dorkus doesn't seem to know about the connection either.
    • The final living heir manages to be even worse than Ember and Doucheicus put together; Spyro, the Dark Master, son of Ignitus, Doucheicus' brother. Given that Spyro is an Omnicidal Maniac currently destroying the world with an army of horrifically corrupted dark dragons, his claim to the throne isn't exactly a factor to be considered, even if he did know about it.

    Film — Animated 
  • In Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, the Queen of Atlantis left her son Arthur to be raised by his human father. Her plan was that by living in the human world, he would be able to understand them. Then, when he is retrieved and informed of his heritage, he would be able to bridge the gap between the two worlds and establish peace.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The baby prince hidden by the Black Fox and his band in The Court Jester.
  • This is the Backstory for the first two of Uwe Boll's In the Name of the King Thematic Series.
    • In the Name of the King has Farmer, who was presumed killed in a raid along with his mother. He was instead saved by a stableboy and raised as his own. It's possible the stableboy didn't even know who the kid was.
    • In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds stars Dolph Lundgren as Granger, a modern-day retired special forces soldier who gets sucked into the fantasy world of Ehb because he is the true heir.
  • In King Ralph after the entire British Royal Family is wiped out in a photography accident Ralph is found working as a lounge singer in Las Vegas and recruited to be the new King of England. He didn't know he was related to the monarchy at all - he's a royal bastard, his grandfather having been a Duke and his grandmother a hotel maid. The same is true of Sir Cedric.
  • Disney's The Man in the Iron Mask has the King's identical twin hidden in a cottage by their father to avoid a power struggle. The king being a jerk means as soon as he finds out he has a brother who might potentially try to usurp him he goes all out and has him jailed and put in the titular iron mask.
  • In the 1997 Prince Valiant film, Valiant was the heir to the throne of Thule, but when the kingdom was conquered by Vikings, the baby prince was saved and brought to Camelot. He was raised as a commoner and worked his way up to squire with no knowledge of his heritage, but his people had faith that he would eventually return and free them. He does and reclaims his birthright.
  • Star Wars: Princess Leia. It's a bit of a twist from the normal set up, but she and her brother Luke are being hidden from forces meaning them ill (though it's unusual for this trope that it be their own father). Which at least in her instance is especially ironic since she was a commoner (sort of; daughter of a former queen of a different planet) and hidden by being Adopted into Royalty.

  • In Jennifer A. Nielsen's Ascendance Series, the main character Sage turns out to be the kingdom's prince that had gone missing. Played with, both in that Sage was fully aware of his heritage and that he himself was the one who hid himself in an orphanage after he is presumably killed.
  • The first Prince Geran from the Belgariad prequels was hidden away only after the rest of his family got butchered.
  • Averted in A Brother's Price: Jerin's grandfather was Prince Alannon, who was kidnapped by enemy spies (Jerin's grandmothers) before his branch of the family lost the civil war and was executed down to the littlest toddler. However, Alannon couldn't have inherited the throne, due to an inversion of Heir Club for Men, but might have been executed, too, so he saw little use in revealing his identity. Jerin, on the other hand, does profit from his ancestry: It makes him a Suddenly Suitable Suitor to the princesses, who are descended from the branch of the family that won the war.
  • The Codex Alera novels use a variation on the same general theme; the only son of the First Lord was killed in battle as a young man, creating a looming Succession Crisis... Except that the young prince had fallen in love with a woman of very minor nobility and modest means, and of whom his father would not have approved. They were married in haste and in secrecy, and not long after the young prince died, his wife gave birth to a son. The Internal Reveal of all this at the end of the fourth volume is quite something to behold.
  • This trope is the Backstory of "Daniel Draper" in Katherine Kurtz's Deryni works: he was born Prince Aidan Augarin Ifor Haldane and survived the massacre of his parents and six siblings when Prince Festil Furstan conquered Gwynedd in the year 822. The toddler is found hiding during the killings and smuggled out of the palace in a load of laundry by a loyal servant. In the book Camber of Culdi, an elderly Aidan is on his deathbed in 903 and reveals his identity to his Healer Rhys Lord Thuryn. He also "tells" Rhys of his son (who died in the Great Plague of 878) and his grandson, who has lived as a cloistered priest for the past twenty-four years.
  • At the beginning of Deltora Quest 2, Lief is assumed to be the sole surviving heir to the Belt of Deltora, and is consequently under threat of assassination by servants of the Shadow Lord. However, while almost every king or queen before had him only one heir as a result of the enemy's manipulations, the original King Adin had five sons, and Lief is able to track down not only his distant cousin Marilen but also dozens more heirs, all over Deltora.
  • Discworld:
    • In Wyrd Sisters, the king's infant son, Tomjon, is hidden away to protect him from his murderous relatives. Unbeknownst to everyone, there's a second son already there - Verence the fool. Though Nanny realizes at the end of the book that neither is the king's son; they're both children of Verence's father, the previous fool. Tomjon is actually a bastard born to the previous fool and the queen, while Verence is the fool's son by his actual wife.
    • Captain Carrot is implied to be the accidental version of this trope, but he has no interest in ruling Ankh Morpork, so its current ruler leaves him be.
      • It's actually more subtle than that. As a true king (and not just the true king) Carrot wants what is best for his people — in other words, the status quo. He's perfectly happy protecting the city and leaving the messy business of ruling to the Patrician. Carrot and Vetinari iron this out in a seemingly innocuous conversation about the common roots of the words "policeman" and "politician" that is so heavy with subtext it practically capsizes.
  • Elemental Blessings: Rafe Adova is actually this to two thrones. His mother Princess Subriella of Malinqua married into the royal family of Berringey as part of a peace treaty. The problem was that Berringey has the custom of killing off all extra royals once the crown prince was chosen, and Subriella drew the short end of the stick. Rather understandably, she took her baby and fled. She chose Welce, the small-and-out-of-the-way country that's the setting of the novels, since her empress mother knew about the tradition of regicide beforehand, and lived out the rest of her life in obscurity, birthing another son along the way.
  • The entire plot of The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal, where the main character finds out at the beginning she was a decoy so that the real princess could be hidden away and protected.
  • Joe Abercrombie's The First Law plays with this, though it is eventually subverted when it is revealed that the hidden heir was no bastard son of the previous king but rather the son of a whore propped up by the series' resident chessmaster as a more pliant rule to succeed the current incompetent, dementia-suffering ruler and his spoiled heir.
  • In The Empress Game, Kayla and her brother Corinth are the only survivors of the massacre of the Ordochian royal family, and are in hiding. Only it turns out they're not the only survivors, because the others were secretly captured alive for Dolan to use in his experiments.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, the elven emperor and his three eldest sons die in an airship accident. The fourth prince, Maia, was not so much hidden as banished to a remote country estate because his father hated him, but most people had forgotten about him prior to the fatal accident. Despite technically holding the title of Archduke, he was treated horribly by his guardian (a nobleman whom the emperor punished with this task), and has lots of empathy for people who also were treated badly by those in power.
  • The Hands of the Emperor: The emperor used to be one, though he was not hidden for the usual reasons, but instead to serve as an anchor to the worlds' magic as the Marwn. He was in fact never supposed to inherit (only doing so because the real, mad heir mysteriously decided to jump of a balcony) and was the only Marwn to ascend to the throne out of all the 100 emperors and empresses in the history of Astandalas.
  • Hurog: In Dragon Blood, the hidden backup prince is not, as such, hidden; everyone knows where he is imprisoned. His brother built an asylum and imprisoned him there, specifically to get rid of the competition. However, most people have forgotten over the time that Prince Kellen is quite sane, and could be used as replacement for high king Jakoven, who is a jerk and incompetent ruler. The rebels haven't forgotten, though, their plans involve getting Kellen out of the asylum and on the throne as soon as Jakoven has managed to piss off enough people so that most people would accept his younger brother as new king.
  • I, Richard Plantagenet Series:
    • When Richard, Duke of Gloucester is fleeing into exile with his recently deposed brother King Edward IV, Edward insists they travel separately. Their middle brother, George has committed treason and Edward does not yet have a son. So Edward tells Richard, who as the youngest York boy was the spare of the spare of the spare, that if anything should happen to him, it will be on Richard to take up the Yorkist claim to the crown. Richard is shocked to realize that he is now the hidden backup prince.
    • The Duke of Buckingham arranges the murder of the older of the two Princes in the Tower along with a servant who is mistaken for the younger prince. The real Lord Richard takes the name Perkin and his Uncle Richard sends him abroad before the Battle of Bosworth.
  • Invoked in Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones: the Koryfonic Empire, which spans multiple magical worlds, has all of the emperor's children raised by someone else to avoid rebellion and succession problem; the novel actually opens with the current emperor executing one of his sons for finding out the truth. Of course, this winds up creating succession problems when the emperor is assassinated, as the Empire is thrown into chaos while the protagonist, Rupert, tries to track down at least one of the heirs. (Some of whom are in our world and at least one of whom isn't fully human.)
  • In Terry Pratchett's Nation, a flu epidemic has ravaged Britain to the extent that Daphne's father, a man previously 157th in line to the throne, is now heir apparent due to the fact he was sequestered away as governor of a remote Pacific island colony. The book deals with the search to finds him in the wake of a destructive tsunami...
  • Old Kingdom: It turns out that Touchstone is the bastard son of the Queen and a northern nobleman. He was hidden in Holehallow as a ship's figurehead both because he had gone berserk and to protect him from Kerrigor. As there are no other living members of the royal family left, he becomes King.
  • In Andre Norton's The Prince Commands, Michael was raised in America in total ignorance of his birth. Only when his grandfather and cousin died does he learn he was the rightful heir. (To be sure, this was the consequence of his father running away and marrying in America.)
  • Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries was the illegitimate daughter of the Prince of Genovia. Since the Prince was unable to have anymore children due to his cancer treatment, he was forced to reveal to Mia that she is his only heir to the Genovian throne.
  • Crown Prince Alaric of Caederan in The Quest of the Unaligned is an example of this, though with the slight twist that it was done by accident: He was supposed to only stay in Tonzimmiel for about ten years before being informed of his heritage and taken to study with the finest mages in each of the four disciplines. This plane was unwittingly wrecked when Alaric's Tonzimmelian foster parents died and Alaric was spirited off by Tonzimmiel's orphanage system.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: According to volume 2, there's a tradition in old mage families to create cadet branches and interbreed with them to provide backups to the main family as a hedge against disaster. Case in point, Stacy Cornwallis, who is revealed to be main cast member Michela McFarlane's illegitimate half-sister whom her father Theodore sired on a woman from the cadet branch as a backup heir in case something happened to Chela. This ended up causing Chela and Stacy nothing but grief: Stacy grew up neglected by her stepfather because she has much greater natural talent as a mage than his biological children (at least one of whom is older than her), and began scheming to try to surpass Chela and force Theodore to acknowledge her as his daughter.
  • A series of Succession Crises in the realm of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire have left more hidden backup princes and princesses than anyone knows what to do with.
    • Matters of the heirs to the Iron Throne stem from the collapse of the Targaryen dynasty, which had ruled Westeros for nearly 300 years before it was overthrown and supplanted by a new royal house, the Baratheons. King Robert I Baratheon sired 16 bastard children, but no trueborn heirs. His officially recognized children and heirs are not actually hisnote . After this parentage is made public knowledge, their claim to the throne is disputed, but the royal army is the strongest force in the Seven Kingdoms, so they maintain their grip on power the old fashioned way. But waiting in the wings are even more potential successors with blood ties to the Targaryen royal family, including the two surviving children of the last Targaryen king (Daenerys and Viserys), and their nephew Aegon (the eldest surviving son of their older brother and former Targaryen heir apparent Rhaegar), who had been thought to be dead (and who may or may not be an impostor). It turns out that after the Targaryen royal family was overthrown and the last scions were cast into exile, some Targaryen loyalists spirited away Aegon as a backup, in case something should happen to the publicly known Targaryens. Things get complicated when Aegon reveals himself and launches an invasion before Daenerys makes her move.
    • After the death of King in the North Robb Stark, Robb has no known children. That said, his brothers are hidden backup princes. Bran and Rickon are presumed dead and still alive, while Jon was legitimized via royal decree. Some Northern nobility are planning to try and place Rickon as Lord of Winterfell.
    • Meanwhile, Theon Grejoy is a hidden backup prince after his father, King of the Iron Isles Balon Greyjoy, dies. Since Theon is presumed dead, his uncle Euron takes over. However, because Theon is missing some... important pieces... someone else is needed to continue the line.
    • Lord of the Dreadfort Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay Snow invokes this by murdering his trueborn half-brother. Roose isn't fooled for an instant, but arranges to have Ramsay legitimized anyway rather than father an heir on his third wife and risk his house being subject to misrule by a child lord or a Regent for Life.
    • During the Dance of the Dragons, Rhaenyra Targaryen sent her two youngest sons, Aegon and Viserys, to Essos, as backups to her lineage in case something happens to their three older brothers (which proved prophetic, as they all predeceased Rhaenyra). However, the ship which they boarded was captured by Aegon II's allies, and while Aegon managed to escape with his dragon, Viserys was captured and sent to the Free Cities, where he spent the next five years as a noble captive. After the Dance concluded with the deaths of his mother and uncle, Aegon ascended as Aegon III and brought his brother back to Westeros. This came in handy years later when questions about the succession arose after the death of Aegon III's last remaining son, Baelor, because nobody was in the mood to allow his sisters succeed him after the debacle with Rhaenyra, while Viserys not only proved himself capable in the affairs of the state but had a legitimate male heir, the future Aegon IV. Thus, Viserys became Viserys II.
  • In Split Heirs by Lawrence Watt-Evans and Esther Friesner, the King's people believe that twins are a sign of infidelity, so when Queen Artemisia gives birth to triplets, she gives two of them to a nurse who gives them to two other families to raise as commoners. The rest of the book is a hilarious deconstruction of Prince and Pauper tropes, especially since she accidentally gave both boys to the nurse forcing her to raise the girl as the prince.
  • Inverted in Star Of The Guardians by Margaret Weis. Dion Starfire is hidden away because he's the only remaining heir to the throne, the remainder of the Blood having been killed during a coup staged by the current government, a People's Republic of Tyranny. The series begins because The Call Knows Where You Live.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • High-ranking Chiss families invoke this trope with the use of "shadow children". A child of a prominent family will be given up at infancy and raised by a different family entirely, so that an attempt to wipe out an entire clan will (in theory) result in Genocide Backfire.
    • In the X-Wing Series novel Starfighters of Adumar, it's implied that all of the heirs of the most powerful nation on Adumar are hidden. Everybody who's anybody on Adumar is a fighter pilot, and given that they practice aerial Blood Sport, the ruler's sons grow up under false identities so they won't be shot down for the prestige of it. When the ruler is captured and forced to Abdicate the Throne, his eldest son is found, identified, and takes the throne in the course of about an hour.
  • The Siblings of Hikipu in Translation State would like Reet, a mysterious orphan adopted by a humble and kindly family, to believe he's the last descendant of the Schan, the extinct ruling family of the Hikipi (largely because it would really, really help the Hikipi resistance movement if they had a Schan for everyone to rally around). He's not.
  • Prince Tobin in Lynn Flewelling's Tamír Triad is actually a hidden princess, hidden in plain sight via a hideous necromantic spell that involved sacrificing her twin brother at birth to protect her from her uncle the King's desire to subvert their nation's previously matrilineal monarchy through the simple expedient of massacring all of his female relatives. As a prince Tobin is safe, as a princess she's dead meat... and poor Tobin, who's been kept in dark for his own safety, doesn't know what to do when the spell starts to break down under the onslaught of puberty.
  • Lampshaded, like most everything else about fantasy literature, in the very tongue-in-cheek The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. It notes that runaway princesses have an overwhelming tendency to marry "commoners of sterling worth" who more often than not turn out to be these.
  • This is crossed with Changeling Tale in Trylle Trilogy. Wendy is a troll princess swapped with a human child in order to make sure that the evil Vittra trolls don't kill her.
  • In Vampire Academy, Jill Mastrano is an illegitimate heiress to the dying royal Dragomir family who gets acknowledged in the finale of the series, in the process saving the family from near-extinction and losing its political rights. She herself had no idea of her status as she was raised in secrecy.
  • Alexandre Dumas' The Vicomte de Bragelonne, the second sequel to The Three Musketeers, better known through its film adaptations as The Man With the Iron Mask. It is about Louis XIV's supposed twin brother.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Like the novels it's based on, Game of Thrones features this, although since the show is a Pragmatic Adaptation of the books, there aren't nearly as many examples:
    • Robert Baratheon, like his book counterpart, has many illegitimate children, but his heir Joffrey has most of them killed when he ascends to the throne after Robert's death. However, one of them, Gendry, is still alive as of season 7. In a perfect world, he'd be King Gendry I Baratheon right now, but as it stands he's just a royal bastard until Daenerys legitimizes him in season 8, as save for him, House Baratheon is extinct.
    • Bran and Rickon Stark could be considered this, since most people believe that Theon Greyjoy killed both of them (as Theon himself publicly claimed) when he took over Winterfell. However, when the Boltons take Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton knows this and kills Rickon after holding him hostage. Meanwhile, most are unaware Bran is still alive. When Bran returns to Winterfell in season 7, Sansa remarks that he can inherit the title of Lord of Winterfell as the last trueborn male Stark, but he rejects the position.
    • Jon Snow is considered this trope in two ways: despite being Ned Stark's illegitimate son as far as anyone knows, Jon is the last known male Stark in-universe and is named as the King in the North at the end of Season 6. Additionally, the show confirms the fan theory that Jon is secretly the hidden son of Lyanna Stark, Ned Stark's sister, and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, thus making him the Backup Prince for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. To save Jon's life from the fatal wrath of the Baratheon regime since Jon is a legitimate heir to the Iron Thronenote , Ned claims his nephew Jon as his own illegitimate son, raises and loves him as his own alongside his other children, and spends the rest of his life keeping this secret to protect Jon.
  • Played straight in Once Upon a Time, with Prince James and his hidden backup twin, raised as a shepherd.
  • The Outpost: Gwynn is the rightful queen, who'd been kept hidden by a lord who switched her with his own daughter (she was beheaded).
  • In Power Rangers Samurai, Jayden and Lauren are heirs to the Shiba family that has led the battles against the monsters since for hundreds of years. During the battle that ultimately killed their father, they were split up; Lauren the firstborn went into hiding to train to defeat the Big Bad, while Jayden publicly fought off the monster attacks as the Red Ranger in the meantime. Played with in that one is Hidden and the other is explicitly the Backup. (Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, which this is based on, has a similar arrangement but doesn't quite count since Jayden's counterpart is merely a Body Double and not blood-related to the other.)
  • Willow: Elora Danan, who's the True Empress, is hidden under an alias to protect her, without her even knowing of her status at first.

    Mythology and Legends 
  • In Arthurian Legend, Arthur doesn't know he's the heir to the throne, everyone thinks he's a foundling that Sir Ector took pity on; but Merlin trains him in such a way that he ends up a wise and humble king—unlike he presumably would have been if he had grown up as a prince. Arthur doesn't learn of his true parentage until after Uther, his father, dies and he pulls the sword from the stone. (Though this also leads to some issues, as he accidentally sleeps with his half-sister.)
  • A later Medieval legend tried to paint Wamba, King of the Visigoths as this, in order to explain his (rather amusing) Crowning by Force. This is nonsensical because the Visigoths had an Elective Monarchy where bloodline didn't determine the next monarch.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Shadowrun game's setting, the British monarch and several of the bloodline's heirs were reported dead in the wake of the second VITAS epidemic, throwing the line of succession over to a distant branch of the family. Claims that the previous royals hadn't died, but had goblinized into orks or trolls and been discreetly set aside in favor of their still-photogenic cousins, are a popular conspiracy theory in that Verse.
    • In addition, the Japanese Imperial family were killed in a massive earthquake (shades of Harsher in Hindsight these days...), save for one young boy. Cue a new dynasty.
  • Eberron: Karrnath, during the Last War, had a habit of pulling secret royalty out of nowhere right when they were needed, most notably Kaius III, who nobody had even heard of before he took the throne when Regent Moranna went off the deep end. Except Kaius III is in fact Kaius I and a vampire, pretending to be an example of this trope to let him retake open control of his nation without any awkward questions.

  • In William Shakespeare's Cymbeline: King Cymbeline's sons were kidnapped at a young age by a resentful retainer, and grew up thinking the retainer is their father. At the end of the play they're reunited with their real father.
  • In the Gilbert and Sullivan opretta The Gondoliers, a prince had been hidden by being placed into the care of a Gondolier who had a son about the same age. Fast forward to the story's present day, and it's time to crown the king, but virtually everyone who knew the infant prince has since died, so nobody's sure which of the two young men who have taken up their late father's career is the rightful heir.

    Video Games 
  • The main character of Divinity: Dragon Commander is the illegitimate offspring of the former emperor and his lover, a dragon in the guise of a human woman. Given that he has three legitimate elder siblings, is a bastard child, and half dragon, he'd ordinarily never be considered for the job. That all changed when his three siblings went insane and started a war that threatens the world. The wizard Maxos sought him out to solve this mess and rule in their place.
  • Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins is an accidental example; being a bastard, he would normally never have been considered for the throne, but he's the only one with Royal Blood left. Although, he had been made aware of his lineage since he was a child. He takes a lot of convincing, as he has zero experience, and is generally self-deprecating and wary of leadership, and in the end, you can convince him to give it a go, let Anora take the throne, convince them both to marry, or take the plunge with him if playing a female Human Noble.
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, King Clavius's brother abandoned the kingdom years before the game took place. When it comes to light that the Hero is Clavius's nephew, he's all too happy to name the Hero his heir instead of his own worthless layabout of a son, Prince Charmles - helps that the Hero somewhat inadvertently passed the Rite of Passage (when attempting to help Charmles do the same).
  • Martin in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is the illegitimate son of the Emperor, who gave him away to a priesthood. When the Emperor and his legitimate sons are murdered by a cult he's the only one of them left (which is important, since someone of the Septim line is needed to foil the villains' Evil Plan). Given that his line have a habit of seeing the future, it's possible that he invoked this trope.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War: Nobody in Grannvalian politics are aware that Kurth had a child from an affair with Sigyn, the wife of Duke Viktor of Velthomer, who ran away back to the Spirit Forest after her husband's suicide. The Loptr Church, however, are aware of Sigyn's daughter, Deirdre, through said affair and plotted an arrangement with her half-brother Arvis, so that they would birth their vessel to Loptous. However, even they weren't aware that Deirdre had a son, named Seliph, with her first husband Sigurd. Sigurd had sent Seliph away to Isaach, in case his war reaches a disastrous end, which it did. As a result, the people flock to Seliph as their savior that can save them from the tyranny of the Grannvalian Empire.
    • Princess Elincia of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was brought up in secret this way, ready to assume the throne should everyone else die, because her parents were afraid of a succession conflict caused by her uncle already having been declared the successor when she was born (plus he was very, very beloved by the population). The uncle, Lord Renning, ultimately supported Elincia's bid to the throne and she became Queen, but not before he was Brainwashed and Crazy by the Mad Scientist Izuka.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn:
      • The game goes out of its way to deconstruct what happens when Elincia actually takes the throne. Elincia was raised in isolation, so she barely knows how her own court system works, let alone the state of the rest of the country. She was given no training or grooming for rulership, so she has absolutely no concept of Realpolitik or ability to judge others as anything other than their façade. Crimea's nobility answer to her only under protest, as her legitimacy is only vouched by her personal attendants (who nakedly have everything to gain from her being on the throne), legitimized by the ruler of a suzerain state with waning influence, and enforced by a baseborn commoner granted peerage out of nowhere by the same suzerain who quickly gets sick of noble responsibilities and renounces his position. The result is a reign that is ineffectual at best as her nominal subordinates all but ignore a ruler that they view as questionably legitimate and borderline incompetent, and eventually her refusal to hold anyone accountable for their misdeeds results in open rebellion and having her confidants executed to force Elincia off the throne. Only Ike returning on the will of someone else to help clean house, along with Elincia hardening herself after some unpleasant lessons, lets her narrowly avoid disaster and mature into a more cautious, wise, and firm Queen who earns the people's respect. The question of her legitimacy doesn't get definitively settled until her uncle returns, confirms her origins, and abdicates his claim in her favor.
      • Pelleas, similar to Elincia, was raised as one for Daein... though he really was just some random commoner: the aforementioned Izuka manipulated him and his mother Almedha into thinking he was the long-lost prince so he could control the country through a puppet king. Since Ashnard's son was abandoned as a baby and his mother hadn't seen him in over 15 years, all he had to do was find a suitable orphan, and Pelleas suited in since he bore the mark of a spirit charmer that happened to be identical to the Brand on Ashnard's son. Understandably, poor Pelleas doesn't take it well when he finds out.
      • Subverted in the case of Ashnard's real son. Ashnard had effectively left his son for dead, never found out that his son had not only survived but pledged his loyalty to Ike, and probably wouldn't have cared even if he had known. Likewise, Soren never found out that Ashnard was his father and probably wouldn't have cared even if he had known, since both Greil and Ike both played up the fact that there are No Blood Ties in the Greil Mercenaries.
    • In Fire Emblem Gaiden and its remake Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, this is what Celica aka Princess Anthiese of Zofia turns out to actually be.
    • Fire Emblem Fates: Corrin. Normally, they wouldn't be able to inherit the throne anyway due to the fact that they were adopted by the royal family of Nohr and thus have no claim, and the fact that (as revealed by Ryoma) they were also adopted by the royal family of Hoshido, but the twist comes in the third and final story route Revelation. Corrin was born as the legitimate child of Mikoto, the sister of Vallite queen Arete, and Anankos the Dragon of Wisdom (in his human form). At the end of the game, it's revealed that since Anankos killed most of the royal family of Valla, Arete has been dead for many years, Mikoto died protecting Corrin early in the story, and the last heir of royal blood does not wish to take the throne, that automatically leaves Corrin as the King/Queen of Valla. The heir turns out to be Azura. She was the only child of Queen Arete and Valla's last king, and thus is first in line for the throne. As previously stated though, she does not wish to take the throne. However, if you're playing as a male Corrin, and get an S Support with her, both of the potential heirs get to rule Valla.
    • Played with in regards to Claude von Riegan in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Much drama in the Leicester Alliance is astir due to Claude's sudden emergence (as in, one year before Part I of the story begins) as the heir of the Riegan Dukedom, as they are the Alliance's hereditary ruling house; The current Duke's son was murdered in an accident while his daughter has long run away from home and hasn't been seen since then. It is revealed covertly during the game and overtly at the end of Claude's route that said daughter, Tiana, ran away to the Alliance's neighboring kingdom and enemy, Almyra and married its king, making Claude one of Almyra's princes. The subversion comes in during the Golden Deer route's version of Chapter 3, where Claude tells Hilda and Byleth that he learned of his mother's noble heritage on his own, and decides that inheriting her title and gaining power in Fodlan will make it easier for him to realize his dream of ending both Fodlan and Almyra's prejudices and making a more unified world. He even makes it clear that Tiana has no desire to return to Fodlan, and she makes Claude promise that he does not reveal her whereabouts to the locals once he inherits. Ultimately, Claude was simply in the right place at the right time, as his mother likely had no intention to reveal her noble heritage to him, let alone have him inherit it.
  • Galaxy Angel: Prince Shiva Transbaal ends up the Sole Survivor of the Ruling Family Massacre perpetrated by Eonia in the first game's prologue. Shiva was never expected to have to take the throne ever, and so was sent to the White Moon to study under its High Priestess, Lady Shatoyan. Eonia is scouring the galaxy to find Shiva, so Tact and the Elsior are tasked with bearing the prince safely to Rhome where the rest of the fleet is regrouping to begin their counterattack.
  • In Guild Wars Salma was the illegitimate child of the Krytan King and a priestess, eventually following in her mother's footsteps. After the collapse of the royal family during the Charr invasion and the decline of the White Mantle, she was convinced to become queen and successfully led a civil war against the Mantle.
  • King's Heir: Rise to the Throne: The King's only grandson, Randall was raised secretly by one of the King's advisors (without even the King knowing) in a fishing village. Although this only came about because his mother died in childbirth, the adults involved knew that, eventually, the King would pass away and proof would be needed so that Randall could take the throne and had collected proof and kept it locked away for when that day came.
  • Long Live the Queen: A possible epilogue outcome, though unlikely to be true, given the circumstances where it comes up. In two possible outcomes for Elodie's father and the duchy of Caloris that he holds in addition to being the former King-consort, a young man will try to make a claim on the duchy, declaring that he's Elodie's father's illegitimate son from before his marriage to her mother. However, since this only occurs if her father is either dead or mentally incapacitated, his story is highly dubious at best. If Elodie's father is dead, she just ignores the man entirely, since no one can verify his claims. If her father is alive, but suffered brain damage, the latter does accept the man as his son, and names him as the heir to the duchy - but Elodie is extremely doubtful that the man really is her half brother, given her father's compromised state of mind.
  • In The New Order: Last Days of Europe, Sergey Taboritsky, one of the potential leaders of the Republic of Komi, is an eccentric monarchist who believes that Alexei Romanov, the last Tsesarevich (heir apparent to the Russian throne) before Red October, is still alive and in hiding, and seeks to restore him to the Russian throne. He's wrong, of course, and should he be the one to reunify Russia, his obsession with finding Alexei and making Russia "worthy" of his return causes him to plunge into an ever deeper insanity, eventually dying when the realization that Alexei is actually long dead causes him to hit the Despair Event Horizon. With Taboritsky's death, his Holy Russian Empire goes with him, plunging Russia into a new round of warlord chaos even worse than before thanks to the damage he did along the way.
  • A large fraction of the plot of Tactics Ogre revolves around King Dorgalua's succession, as he died well, got sucked into a Chaos Gate and was remade into some kind of semidivine god-thing that only popped up when the Gate got re-opened, but disappeared in any case without issue, his wife and son having predeceased him. Thankfully, one of the queen's handmaidens bore him a child in secret: the girl raised as the daughter of Prancet Morne, himself taking the name Pavel to hide his connection to Brantyn Morne, Regent of Valeria; she is otherwise known as Denam's sister Caitua. Discovering this fact sends Caitua into a Heroic BSoD for one of a variety of possible reasons, all of them having to do with how The Hero interacted with her and what route through the story he took. She only snaps out of it if given the correct dialogue choices, which can vary based on further decisions made by The Hero; otherwise she is Driven to Suicide for similarly varying reasons.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, Emperor Peony's backstory combines this trope with Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: the Score (an ancient prophecy that predicts the future without error) says that he'll be the one to take the throne despite having three older siblings and being an illegitimate son, so they send him to live in hiding in Keterburg with the excuse of keeping at least one potential heir away from the political scheming and backstabbing of the court. After said political scheming and backstabbing manage to do away with all his siblings, Peony then becomes the Crown Prince for lack of any other viable heirs. It's never made especially clear who, in all of this, knew that he was the one meant to come to the throne, and who was just being manipulated by the well-meaning Church, but it's certain that Peony himself never expected to actually inherit.
  • In Vandal Hearts II, the death of King Zekras of Natra results in a war of succession between his sons Julius and Lagore; when the game begins, both brothers are dead, and by the end of the game, Lagore's son Franz is also dead while Julius' son Nicola has gone into exile. However, depending on decisions made by the player, the throne can ultimately be inherited by Zekras' illegitimate daughter Adele, who was raised believing she was the daughter of a local governor who married her pregnant mother.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Henry VII of the House of Tudor had a rather tenuous relationship to Henry VI of the House of Lancaster. His mother Margaret Beaufort was descended from one of John of Gaunt's legitimised out-of-wedlock sons (who were barred from the succession) and his father Edmund Tudor was of uncertain legitimacy as the timing of his parents' marriage could not be verified. He would therefore never have been considered for the throne if the more direct royal lines within the House of Lancaster had not been exterminated in the Wars of the Roses. One of Henry's first acts as king was to marry Elizabeth of York, uniting the House of Plantagenet's two rival cadet branches under a new dynasty of enhanced legitimacy, the House of Tudor.
  • George I was head of state for a duchy/electorate in the Holy Roman Empire with only a distant family connection to James I through his mother... and then Parliament passed the Act of Settlement, disqualifying Catholics from taking the throne and removing no fewer than 56 people from the line of succession who had been ahead of George.note 
  • A number of imposters throughout history tried to invoke this trope by claiming to be an heir who had not been killed after all, e. g. Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck during the reign of Henry VII. In Russia, the "false Dimitri" actually managed to overthrow the reign of Czar Boris Godunov. In France, over a hundred men claimed to be Louis XVII, the son of Louis XVI, somehow having escaped death in the Temple during the Revolution.
  • Abd al-Rahman I survived three consecutive massacres of Umayyad family members and their supporters, and kept a low profile during an epic journey west from Damascus until he arrived in the Iberian Peninsula and founded the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba.
  • After the Norwegian king Olaf II was deposed, his rival the noble Einar Thambarskelfir traveled to Kyiv to find Olaf's bastard son Magnus in exile, and installed him on the Norwegian throne. He was then able to get his rivals Kalv Arnesson and Thorir Hund sent into exile for having killed Olaf, despite Einar also supporting the uprising against him (Einar had been in England when Olaf was killed).

Alternative Title(s): Hidden Backup Princess