Scar: I was first in line. Until the little hairball was born.
Mufasa: That "hairball" is my son, and your future king.
It's good to be the Prince. Born to power, destined to inherit rule of the Kingdom from your parents when their time comes. Bless their souls. Until you realize that kind of privilege only goes to the first son. If you're unlucky enough to be the second born, or if you just hate the heir, you really gotta hope big brother doesn't have any kids or is unable to perform his duties.
Or if you're an evil bastard, you could find a way to facilitate that.
Central to the trope is that the younger siblings and their co-conspirators will plot, usually through dishonorable means, to overthrow, kill, or banish their older siblings in order to seize power for themselves.
The siblings might make a Brains Evil, Brawn Good duo. Usually the firstborn son is the larger, stronger, heroic archetype. At worst he's a ruthless Jerk Jock. At best he's just a symbol of strength and is genuinely goodhearted. If that's the case, then the younger prince is more wiry, smarter, and calculating. He can't beat his older brother in a straight duel, so he plots to have him shamed and banished, or outright killed. The older brother will typically never see the betrayal coming until it's too late. All these are stereotypes codified to a certain extent by the works of William Shakespeare. If the older prince lives, he'll likely start a war to dethrone his brother. If he dies, his child will grow into the cornerstone of a rebellion to overthrow the younger prince, who has turned himself into an Evil Overlord by this point.
See Succession Crisis when the conflict becomes much larger than just the siblings' personal animosity towards each other. This trope should stay mostly in the family.
Sub-Trope to Sibling Rivalry and Murder in the Family. Sister Trope to Cain and Abel. Annoyed at being Spare to the Throne, the younger brother usually becomes an Evil Prince, who then becomes an Evil Uncle to any of the first born's children. One of the few plot tropes where the younger sibling is the evil one in the family.
- In ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept., Prince Schwan tries to start this with main character Jean Otus, who he learns is his cousin, a Hidden Backup Prince.
- One of the tales adapted in Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics is "The Water of Life", where Prince Franz (Strong Firstborn) and Prince Joseph (Smart Secondborn) invert the trope — the typically heroic Strong Firstborn is the villain whereas the more-often-than-not evil Smart Secondborn is the The Hero. This gets so bad, Franz makes their father the King believe that Joseph is trying to kill him.
- Aquaman is the strong first born who, in most incarnations, is betrayed by his younger half brother Orm/Ocean Master. But this being a classic comic book character, he escapes the peril and puts Orm behind aquatic bars.
- Hercules: The Disney adaptation makes passing mention that Zeus and Hades are brothers. Zeus rules Olympus while Hades rules the underworld. The central conflict of the story involves Hades' scheme to supplant his brother Zeus, and become supreme ruler of Olympus, Tartarus and all the Earth in between. Zeus is of course the strongest god and older brothernote , while Hades is a schemer.
- The Lion King: Mufasa as the strong firstborn, and Scar as the smart, plotting younger brother who has been jealous of Mufasa for some time. But he doesn't begin his betrayal in earnest until after Mufasa's son Simba is born, displacing him in the line of succession. Scar murders Mufasa and attempts to kill Simba as well so that he can rule Pride Rock unopposed. Simba lives and leads a charge to defeat Scar in his adult years.
- Robin Hood: Prince John has his attendant Sir Hiss hypnotize his brother King Richard into embarking on a years-long crusade so that John can rule, at first ostensibly in Richard's name, but as time passes increasingly in his own.
- In the post-apocalyptic world in Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, the fairy queen Delia begat twins: Avatar the attractive wizard, and Blackwolf the repulsive wizard. Shortly after Delia's death, the two brothers fought. Blackwolf was defeated, and slunk away to the land called Scortch. There, Blackwolf developed a growing army of mutants and monsters, seeking to vanquish his brother Avatar, and attain mastery over all the Earth.
- Featured in the backstory of The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb; Re, younger of the Pharaoh's two sons, had his brother Ra banished and later assassinated out of jealousy. Ra ends up being the Mummy of the film, and Re is cursed with immortality, which can only be ended by his brother's hands.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Thor: Thor is the strong first-born, and Loki is the cunning second born. Loki tricks Thor into revealing how poor a choice a King he'd make, resulting in Thor's banishment. This backfires when Thor's exile teaches him humility, while Loki discovers a huge personal bombshell and decides to deal with it by blowing up an entire planet. When they come to blows, Loki admits the throne itself was a means to an end — what he really wanted was to be seen as Thor's equal. Thor defeats Loki, and the latter appears to commit suicide. He survives to become the Big Bad of The Avengers.
- Thor: The Dark World: Thor resumes his place as heir — only to decide he'd "rather be a good man than a great king". Loki himself, meanwhile, has gotten on the throne by impersonating Odin.
- Thor: Ragnarok: Then their older sister Hela comes along to beat up and displace both of them from the Asgardian throne, and they have to work together to stop her. In the end, Hela is seemingly killed by Surtur, Thor becomes the king of Asgard, and Loki surrenders his claim to the throne and stands by his side.
- Black Panther (2018): T'Challa / Black Panther, the son of the deceased king and N'Jadaka / Killmonger, the son of the former king's younger brother contest for the throne of Wakanda. T'Challa has no idea Killmonger even exists after his father has killed Killmonger's father and has covered it up. Killmonger challenges T'Challa to a ritualistic duel, nearly kills him and seizes the throne. In the end, T'Challa returns, mortally wounds his rival and reclaims his place as the rightful king.
- A chain of sorts in Sacha Guitry's Le diable boiteux. First the Comte d'Artois is shown checking up on his elder brother Louis XVIII very often, clearly expecting him to die soon. Then, when he ascends the throne as Charles X, his cousin Louis-Philippe does the same to him (though in Charles' case, he is dethroned before dying).
- The Iron Mask has Philippe, the Evil Twin brother of King Louis XIV, hidden away in a countryside chateau. A jealous, bitter Philippe eventually overthrows Louis, takes his place, and has Louis chucked into a dungeon where he has to wear an iron mask. This is a change from the Dumas novel (—as seen in Literature below—) where King Louis is the mean one and Philippe is the one wearing an iron mask in a dungeon.
- The Man in the Iron Mask, filmed in 1998, yet again pits King Louis XIV and his hidden twin Philippe (both played by Leonardo DiCaprio) against one another. Here, the Strong Firstborn Louis is even worse than in the novel whereas the Smart Secondborn Philippe is still gentle and reasonable, though with a Beware the Nice Ones streak.
- The King's Speech: Prince Albert's brother David (the crown prince) mocks him by misinterpreting his words as intending to replace him on the throne, calling it "positively medieval".
- Aquaman: Arthur and Orm are half-brothers who fight for the throne of Atlantis. Arthur, the older one, is larger, less sophisticated, more laid-back and heroic, while Orm, the younger one is more wiry (but by no means less strong), elitist, stern and villaneous. Orm wins their first duel, but is defeated in the end. Many initially consider Arthur to be unfit given that his father is human, although technically both claims come from their mother Queen Atlanna, who is of royal blood, while Orm's father Orvax was a consort who used his influence to seize power from his wife.
- In A Brother's Price, the royal family started a war about which princess should be considered Eldest. Particularly pointless, as sisters usually rule jointly, the Eldest merely has more influence. The protagonists avert it, Princess Ren doesn't really want the responsibility, which was forced onto her by the death of her elder sisters. The next in line, Halley, went undercover and vanished from the palace, in an attempt to force people to look up to Ren more, as they usually asked Halley about everything important, first.
- In Dragon Bones, High King Jakoven was first in line. He still had his younger brother locked up in an insane asylum, just to be on the safe side. The protagonist, Ward, is first in line to become the lord of castle Hurog, but has been declared insane and unfit to rule by Jakoven. His younger brother Tosten suspects that Ward intends to murder him to get rid of the competition, but in a subversion, Ward has no intention at all of doing so, having been the one who saved Tosten's life after a suicide attempt.
- The Chronicles of Amber are pretty much all about this. The main character of the original pentalogy is an heir to the Amberite throne and keeps fighting his brothers over it for much of the novels. In the second pentalogy, the new protagonist is no longer a direct contender but power plays around the throne still complicate his life a lot.
- Although cousins rather than siblings, King Verence and Duke Felmet from Wyrd Sisters are like this. Verence is the large and heroic king, who gets murdered by his plotting cousin Felmet. Tomjon, Verence's son, raised by a theatre group, is expected to return and overthrow his uncle. Things didn't quite turn out that way, but the kingdom of Lancre did get a rightful king. Probably.
- Ghosts in the Yew by Blake Hausladen has this as a major subplot. Prince Barok and Prince Yarik of the Zoviyan Empire scheme against each other mostly for lack of anything better to do (they have numerous older brothers at the book's start.) Prince Barok loses one of their skirmishes and is exiled to the remote province of Enhedu. This turns into Reassignment Backfire when Barok undergoes a forced HeelFace Turn in relative safety while his brothers slaughter each other.
- Alexandre Dumas pere wrote The Man In The Iron Mask as the third work in his King's Musketeers series. This is the story of the horribly vain and corrupt Louis XIV keeping his younger brother Philippe prisoner on the Isle de Sainte Marguerite. An iron mask was used so that no one could see that Louis and Philippe were identical twins. The Musketeers are charged with freeing Philippe and supplanting Louis with him.
- In Patience Princess Catherine of the Young Royals series Henry is the younger, athletic brother but Arthur is next in line to be king. Henry knows that he would make a better king than Arthur.
- In The Prisoner of Zenda the whole plot revolves around Duke Michael's attempt to usurp the throne from his elder half-brother prince Rudolf. However, there are enough hints through the novel to indicate that "Black" Michael might have been as evil as it seems at first sight, given that he has the support of the poor people of the capital and the countryside around Zenda, and even Prince Rudolf's supporters aren't too thrilled about having that lazy drunk on the throne.
- In The Prize of the Game by Jo Walton, the three cousins Conal, Darag, and Leary are all heirs to the throne of Oriel (they are all nephews of king Conary), and have also been raised together. Conal and Darag have a fierce rivalry, that escalates to the point where the three are sent away to the neighbouring kingdoms for a series of tests to determine who shall be the next king.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Both of King Robert's younger brothers, Stannis and Renly, make claims to the throne after Robert's death. Inverted in terms of archetypes as Stannis is the older one and thus the rightful heir but is very unpopular, while Renly is very charismatic and rallies many more houses to his cause (though Stannis has had much more experience in running the realm, shows Hidden Depths and is more meritocratic, while Renly shows himself to be incompetent and in private is an ableist jerk who gleefully mocks Stannis' daughter). Stannis gives his younger brother the chance to declare fealty to him, and assassinates him when he refuses, since Renly had made it clear he intended to kill Stannis in battle that day.
- "The Dance of the Dragons" was largely down to this. Viserys I declared Rhaenyra, his daughter from his first marriage, heir partially due to the actions of his ambitious and roguish brother Daemon Targaryen (who later married Rhaenyra after her first husband's death, which he may have arranged). This caused problems when Viserys married again and produced sons, who got on very poorly with Rhaenyra and her sons from her first marriage (though it is very likely they were the result of an affair). When Viserys died this led to a massive civil war, which killed nearly all the Targaryens and dragons, Rhaenyra finally being fed to the dragon of her eldest half-brother Aegon II and after his death the throne passing to Rhaenyra's eldest son by Daemon.
- The Blackfyre Rebellions largely stemmed from the rivalry between the children of Aegon IV "The Unworthy". He had only one legitimate son, Daeron, but sired many bastards. He even played up the rivalry, hating Daeron and possibly starting the rumours his brother Aemon was Daeron's father, giving the ancestral sword Blackfyre to his eldest bastard son Daemon, and legitimating all his bastards on his deathbed. There was also Aegor Rivers "Bittersteel" and Brynden Rivers "Bloodraven", whose mothers came from the Feuding Families the Brackens and the Blackwoods, leading to a hatred between them. After Daeron became Daeron II, Daemon Blackfyre rebelled, assisted by Bittersteel, but was slain by Bloodraven, though Bittersteel spent the rest of his life trying to seat one of the Blackfyres on the Iron Throne.
- Though they are not royalty, the Freys, one of the most powerful noble Houses, certainly show this. Walder Frey has over a hundred descendants, many of whom are scheming to move up the line of succession. Two of the worst are Edwyn and "Black" Walder Frey, the two eldest sons of the eldest son of Walder Frey's eldest son. They each want to be Lord of the Crossing and thus hate each other, Black Walder is also suspected of sleeping with both his brothers' wives, casting his niece's parentage in doubt. There's also two of Walder's grandsons, "Big" Walder (whose older by 52 days) and "Little" Walder (who is ironically bigger). Little Walder doesn't think either of them will inherit the Crossing due to their low place, but despite being even lower in the line of succession Big Walder intends to become its lord. Later Little Walder is found murdered, though Big Walder may have done this partially in reaction to his cousin becoming more like the monstrous Ramsay Bolton. Especially prominent as when it happens they are both 9.
- In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, there are seven princes of Stormhold, all of whom are attempting to bump each other off in order to inherit their father's throne. At the beginning of the story, four are dead already.
- Subverted in The Horse and His Boy. At the end Shasta just discovers he is really Prince Cor of Archenland and will inherit the throne, being 20 minutes older than his twin brother Corin. Cor apologizes to him for unexpectedly taking the throne from him, but instead Corin cheers because he didn't want to be king; as a prince, he won't have to worry about responsibility and will get to keep having fun. He only gets angry and threatens to beat up Cor when Cor insists on giving him back the throne.
- Everywhere in Tales of the Branion Realm: sometimes played straight, as when an Evil Uncle murders the sovereign and tries to seize the regency of the heir, but also averted by the jealous younger sister of another heir, who remains loyal to him after he takes the throne.
- Somewhat downplayed with Sigmund and Marek from Uprooted. Yes, Marek plots against his older brother, but Sigmund at least suspects this. News of Sigmund's death in battle also leaves Marek in shock for about half an hour. Also, while Sigmund is a perfect The Good King material, Marek's strengths are more suited to being sung about by bards.
- In Destroyermen, among the Grik, when a Celestial Mother dies, her successor is chosen from among her daughters by having them fight one another in the arena to the death. The survivor becomes the new Celestial Mother. The obvious problem with that is even lampshaded: what if there are no survivors?
- Blackadder: In "Born to be King" Blackadder buys into a rumor that his mother had an affair and his older brother Harry is actually a bastard, and thus Blackadder is the rightful heir to the throne. But when the details surface it looks like the affair might have produced Blackadder himself, so he immediately has the messenger killed.
- One Midsomer Murders episode has the younger brother of an aristocrat try to murder him via Sword Fight, less for the title and inheritance than his mistress (the brother's wife). All for Nothing anyway, since the wife cheerfully informed her now ex-lover that she was part of the aristocracy now, and not about to waste her time with him. Note that the husband had already committed several murders by this point, one of them an Ignored Enamored Underling reporting the wife infidelity on the wedding day, in the name of preserving the family reputation.
- Magnificent Century, a soap opera based in the life of Suleyman The Magnificent, uses this quite a bit among Suleyman's sons (which is Truth in Television, as seen below). The two eldest Princes, Mustafa (Strong Firstborn, mothered by Suleyman's first wife Mahidevran) and Mehmet (Smart Secondborn, mothered by Suleyman's second and most beloved wife, Roxelana/Hurrem), are particularly bad at this.
- In Marvel's Inhumans Maximus didn't develop powers after his Terrigenesis but managed to avoid being relegated to the mines by virtue of being king Black Bolt's brother. But it left him with a massive chip on his shoulder and he attempts to overthrow his brother by trapping him on Earth.
- Jacob and Esau in The Bible fit this trope in everything but the "prince" part. Esau, the elder (and also the brawnier, manlier one), stands to inherit his father's lands, but Jacob, the younger (and also the more domestic one) plots with his mother to disinherit him. Jacob also becomes the one to fulfill God's promise of founding a great nation (the Israelites), though that seems to be more by divine grace than through his own scheming.
- Hamlet. King Hamlet was the first born who was a warrior king with some implication in the text that he wasn't the most likable guy; Claudius, the second born, is the smart and charming plotter. Claudius murders King Hamlet and Prince Hamlet ends up trying to avenge his father's murder.
- Also King Lear: The younger and bastard son Edmund seeks to supplant his brother Edgar.
- In The Lion in Winter Henry's three sons, John, Geoffrey and Richard, all aspire to be king. Queen Eleanor favors their oldest surviving son Prince Richard, while King Henry wants John to be the one to inherit his throne.
- Fire Emblem Elibe. In Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, Hausen as the strong first born, and Lundgren as the smart, plotting second born. Lundgren thought he would just wait it out until Hausen died naturally after Hausen's only daughter eloped. But when word spread that Hausen's long lost granddaughter Lyn was coming to claim her rightful throne, Lundgren started poisoning Hausen to speed up the process before she arrived. Totally backfires when Lyn kills Lundgren and Hausen makes a full recovery from the poisoning.
- In Warhammer, the backstory of Vilitch the Curseling has this. Vilitch was the younger son of a tribal chieftain, his older brother Thomin getting all the love and caring while he was bullied by everyone in the tribe for being infirm. Tzeentch heard his prayers, and fused the brothers' bodies together: Vilitch casts spells, his body fused to Thomin's shoulder while his brain-dead brother keeps attackers at bay with his swordsmanship.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, King Endrin's middle child was convicted of murdering Trian, his elder brother, and was exiled; Bhelen, the third and youngest child, is suspected of having a hand in the murder, which causes a Succession Crisis when Endrin allegedly has second thoughts before dying about putting Bhelen on the throne. (The events are seen in more detail in the Dwarf Noble origin, with the Player Character being the middle child; Bhelen does try to manipulate the PC into killing Trian. Regardless of whether the PC goes along with it, Trian ends up dead, and the PC takes the fall and is exiled.)
- When a king passes on in the Crusader Kings games, the new king's brothers usually inherit some sort of claim of their own on the throne, guaranteeing there will be strife if the eldest isn't really cut out for the job. Even princes who are fairly far down in the line of succession may petition their ruler to grant them holdings of their own from time to time, so that they'll at least get something to leave to their own children.
- Of course, that's with the Primogeniture method of succession, which is generally considered one of the best means but many Western European monarchs start out with Gavelkind, where holdings are divided up among all sons. Naturally, sons who may lose their inheritance are likely to rebel if father tries to switch succession methods.
- The plot of Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars. King Morglin Ironfist is dead, and the Royal Seer is supposed to determine which of his two sons should succeed him. Archibald, the evil one, murders the Seer and several successors, then blames Roland for it. Roland flees, and Archibald is able to take power. Roland isn't going to let him win, and civil war ensues. The unnamed player character can side with either of the two.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Iroh is the larger good-hearted rightful heir and Ozai is the plotting evil younger brother who tries to use Iroh's moment of weakness (his only son dying) to persuade their father to pass over him for succession. Some shady business later, their father dies, and his dying wish is exactly what Ozai wanted. Unusually, although Ozai is an evil schemer and has a smaller frame, there's no indication that Iroh is any stronger (the usual dynamic for this trope). They're both firebending prodigies; the outcome of a duel between them would be uncertain, and Iroh is even more uncertain about the prospect by the time of the show, when he has become old and Ozai is in his prime.
- While she is smaller, and a schemer, and evil, Azula is also stronger than her older brother Zuko who should be Overlord Jr., but is instead a Token Good Teammate to his evil family and rightful heir. Azula never really indicates that she has designs on the throne for herself until Zuko does a HeelFace Turn and leaves the family and it's about to be handed to her, but she always made sure that if anything went wrong in the family, Zuko would get the blame from the beginning.
- Tonraq as the strong first born, and Unalaq as the smart plotting second born in Legend of Korra. Unalaq tricks Tonraq into getting himself banished. After experimenting in the Spirit World, Unalaq becomes stronger than Tonraq too and actually engages and defeats him in a proper duel.
- Subverted in ThunderCats (2011). The King's adopted son (Tygra) and blood son (Lion-O) often fight, usually because Tygra has proclaimed (yet again) that he'd be a better king than Lion-O... but, despite being visibly tempted by the idea, Tygra never betrays him. Because of Outside-Context Problem Mumm-Ra killing and usurping their father early in the series, their rivalry is, actually, only relevant for a handful of episodes.
- Justice League has Aquaman and Orm. Orm chains Aquaman and his newborn son to the side of a cliff that's falling into magma. Aquaman gets one arm free and uses it to chop of his other hand so he can get them both out in time, and then goes to attack Orm directly. As this is the "underwater Conan" take on Aquaman, he's less than forgiving of the man who tried to kill his son — and ends up leaving Orm to fall to his death.
- In Batman: The Brave and the Bold has Orm and Aquaman (again). Orm hires Black Manta to help him usurp Aquaman, only for Manta to take over his operation and try to destroy Atlantis altogether. This forces the siblings into an Enemy Mine situation, after which Orm goes behind bars (and has to listen to Aquaman's memoirs, much to his annoyance).
Orm: I'm only taking back what's mine, brother!
Aquman: I'm done apologizing for Mom's decision! She loved you, but she gave me the throne because she knew you couldn't handle the power!
- This was encouraged in the Ottoman Empire for most of its history, since the Sultan had no official (that is, exclusive) partners as understood in western countries, siring sons by wives and concubines who all had a hypothetical right to the throne, nor did the House of Osman have any rules of primogeniture. Thus the sons would fight amongst one another once the Sultan died in order to become the new one, and upon their victory, they had their competitors and their male children killed.