Of course, the idea of criminals forming a monarchical government doesn't really make very much sense. Yet the trope still persists and shows no signs of becoming discredited. This is probably a result of the Rule of Cool.
The King of Thieves doesn't have to be a part of true monarchy or kingship. They might have reached their position through Klingon Promotion as a result of their hard work and/or ruthlessness. Or it might just be a title they get for being the strongest around. They may actually command the loyalty of either all of the pirates on the seas, or another type of Thieves' Guild, or they may simply be the captain of a single notorious pirate ship or some other small group of outlaws who prefers an impressive-sounding title.
Can overlap with Elective Monarchy. Compare Klingon Promotion, Asskicking Equals Authority. See also The Don for modern urban gangsters, Supernatural Elite for the fantastic equivalent, and Just Like Robin Hood who is sometimes known as the Prince of (or among) Thieves.
For the 2018 film, see here.
- Atomsk of FLCL is referred to as the "King of Pirates" and has the power to steal a solar system.
- One Piece
The seas that lie ahead of you... are littered with countless souls who possess the king's will. Your fate will play out there. You and your fellow conquerors will butt heads and vie for the top spot... The last man standing there is who the Pirate King will be!!
- Gold Roger, who held the in-universe title of "Pirate King". He got the title from conquering the whole dangerous sea of Grand Line and generally making a big impression; it's noted that he never really sought the title, but the world started calling him the King of Pirates on its own after he found the end of the Grand Line. Before he's executed, he told the world to find his valued treasure, the "One Piece". Luffy's story goal is becoming the next Pirate King by finding said treasure. Many others share this goal, with varying degrees of seriousness and ability.
- There's also the Four Emperors (Yonkou), four notorious pirates (and their crews) in the New World (second half of Grand Line, after passing the Red Line) who conquer lots of islands, affiliated with many other pirate crews, and generally being The Dreaded; they're essentially the only real authority in the New World, by dint of sheer power and the fear of incurring their wrath. Whitebeard, in particular, is sometimes known as "The Man Closest to One Piece". At least two of them also have secret plans to finish the rest of the job and become a Pirate King (or Queen) on par with Gold Roger, by finding the One Piece first.
- In the Dressrosa arc, Don Chinjao gives an insight about what it takes to be a Pirate King:
- Outlaw Star: Lord Hazanko of the "108 stars" branch of the Kei Pirate Guild, King of the guild itself, and the Tenpa Emperor.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! has Thief King Bakura, Ryo Bakura's past self. His "King of Thieves" title comes from the "weight" of what he steals. Like other monsters' powers with his "ka", The Diabound, and because he seeks (and even got all) the Millennium Items, until he was imprisoned into one of them, that is.
- Gambit eventually becomes the King of Thieves - all the Thieves - on Marvel's Earth in his 2012 series, in part because he is quite literally the best. He's initially reluctant, but realises he can use it to do good, and clamp down on the more immoral aspects. However, he mostly has his adoptive father Jean-Luc act as his proxy, only intervening when absolutely necessary.
- Katarina Dante in Nikolai Dante is known as the Queen of Pirates. It's not an official position, it's just that she's the best and baddest pirate around.
- Aladdin and the King of Thieves: Cassim, Aladdin's father is King of the Forty Thieves. He has been stealing valuables for near on 20 years and obsessed with finding an ancient treasure.
- In The Island (1980), John David Nau is undisputed ruler of pirate settlement on the uncharted island in the Caribbean: the descendant of the buccaneer who first founded it.
- The Legend of Frenchie King: the titular Frenchie King is considered the king of outlaws in the Wild West, though she (yes, it's a woman) doesn't seem to have any sort of authority and just got the title as a hand-me-down from her father and for being an ace at what she does.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Brethren Court is made up of the nine greatest pirate captains in the world. In times of great need, they can elect a Pirate King who has final authority over all pirates. Except since pirates are short-sighted and self-serving, there hasn't been a Pirate King since the very first Court; all the captains just vote for themselves. In the third movie, Jack calls for a vote, to the annoyance of everyone present. Everyone votes for themselves, as normal, until Jack votes for Elizabeth, breaking the tie and making her the Pirate King.
- The film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves puts its central character's claim right in the title.
- Eland in the original Arcia Chronicles duology is essentially a pirate nation since they are located too far north to conduct effective trade or sustain agriculture (turning them into a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the vikings, albeit much more refined). They are ruled by a council of most successful captains, which, in turn, is headed by the "First Paladin" who bears the ducal title and is, in effect, the king of all Eland mariners. In the time frame of the books, Duke Rene Arroy is the incumbent First Paladin.
- In The Baroque Cycle Jack Shaftoe gets two titles like this during the course of the trilogy, "King of the Vagabonds" and "King of the Coiners" (Counterfeiters).
- Chronicles of the Kencyrath: This idea is explored a little in God Stalk. Theocandi is the lord of the Thieves' Guild, but Penari is considered the greatest thief in the city. And they're brothers. They're old men now, and Penari doesn't care, but to Theocandi, the Sibling Rivalry is still strong.
- Circleverse: In Tris's Book, Winding Circle is attacked by a fleet of pirates from the Battle Islands who have joined under a captain calling herself Queen Pauha. She does this with the help of her brother, a powerful mage.
- The Queen of the Black Market in The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids. She's a crime-boss type, owning and ruling over the Interdimensional Black Market (meaning she is a rare case of a thief-monarch who actually does control land to back up her title) with an iron fist, exacting the respect and obedience of the fences and patrons who visit the Market.
- In the Discworld, the unique spin is that the Guild of Thieves is fully legal, openly organised, and its head, Mr Boggis, is a more-or-less respectable member of society who is even an official member of the City Council who ostensibly "advise" Lord Vetinari. In former days, it was an illegal association of thieves and thugs who necessarily operated outside the law, under its former head Stren Withel.
- The Elenium has a head thief in each city who run the local Thieves' Guild and have a loose association with each other. Talen, the illegitimate son of one of the protagonists, is an extremely talented child thief who's the local head's chosen successor, but he has ambitions to become King of the Thieves and rule all the Guilds.
- Father Brown the story "The Paradise of Thieves" (1912), has a King of Thieves that is explicitly compared to Robin Hood.
"A great man," replied Muscari, "worthy to rank with your own Robin Hood, signorina. Montano, the King of Thieves, was first heard of in the mountains some ten years ago when people said brigands were extinct. But his wild authority spread with the swiftness of a silent revolution."
- Clopin from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the King of Truands (which can mean either "petty criminals" or simply "beggars"). The Disney version calls him "King of the Gypsies", but that's something else entirely.
- M.C.A. Hogarth's Paradox: In The Prince's Game series the pirates/slavers raiding Alliance ships and planets and allied with the Chatcaavan Empire are led by a pirate queen, Admiral Kamaney, who intends to carve an actual nation out of the Alliance and the Empire.
- In A Practical Guide to Evil, Callow has a thieves' guild, lead by a King/ Queen of Thieves. By book three, Vivienne (aptly Named The Thief) is the Queen of Thieves.
- The Tortall Universe seems to have one in each major city.
- In Song of the Lioness, George Cooper is the King of Thieves (or simply Rogue) in the capital city, a position that is implied to come from Klingon Promotion.
- That implication is made explicit in the Beka Cooper books when Rosto the Piper becomes Rogue by killing the old one. There's also Pearl Skinner from the second book, who's running a counterfeiting operation.
- Many Wuxia novels involve the Beggar Clan, a nation-wide organisation involving all the beggars in Ancient China, and led by a group of wise, highly-skilled elders.
- Roman from The Zombie Knight is the leader of a large and successful thieving ring with resources all over the country, on top of being a fairly powerful reaper servant.
- Robin Hood is sometimes known as the Prince among the Thieves and is renowned for his expert skills at both stealing and archery.
- The Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance seems to be the kind who commands only a single ship and just uses the title.
- La Volpe from Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is an assassin from Rennaissance Italy who acts as the leader to both the Thieves Guilds in both Florence and Rome.
- Baron Flynt from Borderlands commands an army of thugs comprised of the mooks and bosses the players fight through over the course of the story. He makes his home base inside of a giant heavily-guarded excavator patrolled by goons in buggies. His unique weapon is the Boom Stick, a rocket-firing shotgun.
- Bug Fables has Astotheles, honorable leader of the Desert Bandits whose primary motivation is improving the life of his bandits in their hideout.
- The Elder Scrolls: The leader of the Thieves' Guild in each game where it appears qualifies. Naturally, the Player Character can always rise up to that rank by finishing the Guild quest line.
- Morrowind: Master Thief Gentleman Jim Stacey holds the position.
- Oblivion has the mysterious Gray Fox in this position.
- Skyrim has Mercer Frey in this position. It turns out he murdered the previous Guildmaster Gallus and took over the position, and determined to wipe out the only witness before leaving the rest of the Guild to rot while he makes off with all their treasure. Should you manage to confront and kill him, you will become the new Guildmaster provided you have completed all Fence quests for the Thieves Guild.
- Fable I has Twinblade the Bandit King, who is fought as a boss during a quest in which your hero must infiltrate a bandit camp. He's a Fallen Hero who turned to crime, built up a gang of bandits and assassins in a town-sized fortified encampment, and rules by fear.
- For the King: The Bandit King is a Scourge whose influence doubles the price of goods and services across the map while he's active. He fights with a pair of bandit henchmen and claims to have won his title through Asskicking Equals Authority:
"These ruffians don't call me their king because of my courtly manners."
- The Legend of Zelda: Before he obtained the Triforce of Power and became the Prince of Darkness/King of Evil, Ganondorf was the King of Thieves of the Gerudo. The position goes to the one male born to the tribe every 100 years.
- In Paper Mario 64, the Dry Dry Desert was ruled by a king of thieves and bandits, Mousta, an arbitrarily long time ago from the Dry Dry Ruins. When Mousta was betrayed, he gathered his loyal followers and defeated the traitors, sealed up the ruins, and his followers were the bandits and thieves who founded Dry Dry Outpost. Moustafa, the information dealer is the latest descendant of King Mousta.
- Skies of Arcadia: If Vyse's swashbuckler rating (a kind of infamy meter) is high enough, he can get the title of King of Rogues, though this has little gameplay effect, and, in reality, he rarely leads more than just his own crew. At the finale, however, he does become this, however briefly, when almost every significant character with a ship, mostly pirates and rogues, joins him in his fight against the big bad's armada.
- Sunless Sea: The Fair King is the pirate king of the Underwater City of Wrack, where wrecking teams haul the hulls of sunken ships to plunder the hulls and cargo.
- Total War: Warhammer II added four of these with the Curse of the Vampire Coast DLC, each the pirate king of their own pirate fiefdom:
- Arch-Commodore Luthor Harkon, the Mad King of the Vampire Coast. He leads The Awakened from his domain on the east coast of Lustria, where he preys on shipping from Araby and Ulthuan thrown off-course by the tides.
- Count Noctilus, Grand Admiral of the Dreadfleet. An Evil Overlord who commands his own fleet of the undead from its home base in The Maelstrom, a giant whirlpool of dark magic created by Noctilus himself. Shipwrecks of all sorts are drawn to The Maelstrom by magic, giving Noctilus access to riches (and corpses) from all across the seas.
- Captain Aranessa Saltspite, Queen of the Tides. The most powerful pirate of the Pirate Principality of Sartosa, Aranessa claims the seas between Araby, Tilea, and the coast of Estalia as her own.
- Madame-Captain Cylostra Direfin, Siren of the Storm. A mad ghost, Cylostra's spectral crew haunts the Isthmus of Lustria and raids up and down the Lustrian east coast and the coast of Ulthuan.
- 70-Seas has Black-Blood Blackadder, the pirate king who conquered the south seas. More like a maritime Genghis Khan than most examples. Main character Serra Serif is one of his thousands of progeny, though she doesn't like him very much.
- Girl Genius: Bangladesh DuPree the Pirate Queen, Psycho for Hire under the Baron's employ. The novels reveal that her mother was also a Pirate Queen who went so far as to conquer an island in the North Sea, unfortunately the natives revolted and killed her. Bang then gathered a pirate fleet and started raiding in order to eventually reclaim her kingdom, but somebody wiped them out and she entered the Baron's service for his assistance finding out who.
- Widdershins: the King of Thieves is whoever stole the Thief's Mark and has it in their possession. The first storyline in the webcomic kicks off when Harriet Barber tries to get the Thief's Mark off the streets and stumbles upon the magician Sidney Malik, who just become King of Thieves by stealing it - accidentally.
- In Campaign 2 of Critical Role the Mighty Nein briefly stop at the island of Dark Tow, center of the region's pirates and ruled by The Plank King whose "crown" is the scalp of his predecessor.
- Adventure Time:
- The City of Thieves, where literally everyone is a thief, is ruled by the King of Thieves. Or rather, was ruled: he's been dead for many years, while his subjects, apparently being too busy stealing from each other, never noticed.
- One episode featured the villainous Bandit Princess, although it was never revealed if there was an accompanying Bandit Kingdom.
- Henry Every was sometimes called "The King of Pirates" by contemporaries. Every was infamous for being one of few major pirate captains to escape with his loot without being arrested or killed in battle, and for being the perpetrator of what has been called the most profitable act of piracy in history.
- Adam Worth, a.k.a "The Napoleon of Crime" (most famous for being the inspiration for Professor Moriarty) was also called "The Prince of Pickpockets". During his heyday in the 1880s, Worth had essentially a monopoly on safe-cracking and pickpocketing in the London underworld (as well as much of mainland Europe, plus occasionally South Africa and Canada).
- Subverted and downplayed in The Mafia. Bosses don't bow to each other, and having a capo di capi (boss of bosses in Italian) ran against this idea. Those declaring themselves as one often met a violent end, as Sal Maranzano learned this the hard way in 1931 when he was whacked by rivals who wanted a power-sharing arrangement called the Commission, which serves as the mob's board of trustees and still exists despite increased scrutiny. Since Maranzano's death, nobody has openly declared himself as one despite media portrayals. While there is a nominal chairman (usually headed up by the Genovese, Gambino, or Bonanno family bosses), his powers are limited. Smaller families also have a seat, but since they don't come to New York that often, one of the bigger families usually holds their proxy vote. Currently, the bosses of the Five Families of New York and the Chicago Outfit serve as the board members.