An acting ruler intends, plots, or schemes to retain power rather than surrender authority to the rightful ruler.
King Bob is dead, but Princess Alice is still a child. Regent Charlie is appointed to rule the land in her stead. This is a plum position with all the perks of royalty, but it comes with a built-in retirement date. When Princess Alice comes of age, Charlie must turn the country over to her, going in a day from the most powerful man in the kingdom to a mere nobody. But how is that fair? Charlie's been running everything, and he sees no reason to stop now.
If King Bob had the foresight (or the time) to choose a regent before his death, he might have appointed a close relative or a senior churchman, hoping their family ties or religious obligations would stop them from intriguing against the true heir. But this seldom works. Nor does appointing a regency council instead of a single person: that just adds vicious internal politics to the mix.
When Princess Alice is of age, the story can go several different ways. Perhaps Charlie becomes her Evil Chancellor and runs the kingdom through deception, manipulation, or some sort of evil control over Alice. If he's in line for the throne himself, he may become the Evil Prince. Other times he'll arrange for Alice to be kidnapped, killed, imprisoned, or discredited. In darker stories, he may attempt to marry Alice. While such intergenerational political marriages were once common, the Regent's anticipation of the consummation often pushes him over the Moral Event Horizon. If Charlie is already married, or forbidden to marry, he may arrange a marriage between Alice and one of his family. Alternatively, Charlie may try to keep Alice ignorant of ruling and caught up in the pleasures and perks of being a princess — an infantile queen who still needs the regent's wise hand to steer her around.
Sometimes Regent Charlie is evil from the start, perhaps even having had a part in killing the old ruler, but other times he becomes corrupted over time by power and the fear of giving it up.
Once in a blue moon, the regent is only called Regent because the actual King has been gone for a very long time, and the people are (at least theoretically) awaiting his return. Since nobody wishes to disrespect the title of King, the actual ruler of the country is officially a mere steward, but in practice he is the reigning monarch in all but name.
There is also, of course, the possibility that Princess Alice is an absolute nightmare, and it is better to keep Charlie the regent and avoid Queen Alice the tyrant. Expect Black-and-Gray Morality and other tropes of this nature to kick in as people question Charlie's legitimacy (which, admittedly, he lacks) and motives (which may well extend beyond altruistic intentions, especially if his struggles have made him cynical). This can ultimately lead to a horrible situation where both Alice and Charlie are monsters, forcing a third party to step in.
A variation of this is when the monarch is permanently incapacitated (such as being comatose, or mentally disabled in some way). In this case, Queen Alice is not so much undesirable as completely unable to rule the nation. But she's still the Queen, and there's no legal way to simply remove her. Thus, Regent Charlie is the only plausible choice to do Alice's job for her. This is usually the most positive depiction of a Regent For Life that you'll see, as Regent Charlie is very likely the next in line to the throne and thus the fact that he doesn't simply have Queen Alice eliminated is a sign of his good moral character.
A Queen Mother acting as regent is more likely to act as My Beloved Smother.
- Prozen in Zoids: Chaotic Century is a classic example, complete with trying to kill off the kid heir and prolonging a senseless war.
- Haman Khan is Mineva Lao Zabi's regent in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. While the princess is nominally the leader of Axis-Zeon, Haman is the one who's really in charge (Mineva was roughly eight years old at the time, and had been the nominal head of the otherwise extinct Zabi family since she literally was in diapers) and acts as Mineva's Evil Chancellor, commander-in-chief of her armed forces, and dictator of Axis in all but name. It's eventually revealed that it's not even been the real Mineva sitting on the throne since the end of Zeta, and that Haman has had her replaced with a Body Double who's incapable of doing anything but parroting Haman's orders. This was actually one of the nicer things Haman ever did, as it allowed Mineva to grow up with some semblance of a normal childhood. It's suggested that Char's calling her out on treating Mineva that way in Zeta was a factor in her deciding this.
- Nakia of Red River (1995) is a rather interesting variant. She starts off as Tawananna, which makes her the second-most powerful person in the kingdom. After her husband dies of illness, she becomes the dowager queen and the throne passes to her stepsons. She continues to wield power and remain untouchable for her various crimes thanks to a combination of magic, Uhri, and her status as a princess of Babylon (any time Kail or Yuri get close to exposing her, she threatens to see it as an insult worthy of having Babylon go to war with Hattusa). She also feeds her own son Black Water to brainwash him into complying with her various schemes to put him on the throne, when he makes it clear he won't cooperate. Later in the series, it's revealed that Nefertiti basically kept power after her own husband's death by taking advantage of how weak-willed the next pharaoh was. At one point, Yuri and her friends have to lead a full-scale riot to the Egyptian capital to get the pharaoh to overrule Nefertiti and have her release Ramses (who Nefertiti was really enjoying torturing.
- Iznogoud: In "The Malefic Hopscotch Grid", Iznogoud plans to use the titular grid to turn the Caliph into a kid so he can rule Baghdad as a regent.
- Nerissa in Enchanted seems to be this; it's implied her stepson, Edward, is supposed to be ruling the kingdom, but prefers to ride around acting like a Knight Errant and lets her rule it for him. That's why she fears the idea of him marrying Giselle; him settling down would mean her losing the kingdom to him and Giselle.
- Yzma in The Emperor's New Groove, although her official title is Advisor (and in this case, "for life" really carries some weight). Emperor Kuzco fires her just before he turns 18, leading her to attempt to assassinate him and seize the throne herself, but her bumbling henchman Kronk gets the poison mixed up with a llama transformation potion.
- The Iron Man movie reveals the Big Bad early on by showing Obadiah Stane to be an example of this.
- The Ella Enchanted movie, where Sir Edgar orders Ella to kill his nephew so that he can be king.
- Cardinal Richelieu has elements of this in The Three Musketeers (1993).
- Batman Begins has a minor example, as the CEO takes over Wayne Enterprises soon after Bruce loses his parents. A minor sub-plot involves him preparing to make their stock publicly traded which would leave Bruce with even more money, but no control over the company. Near the end of the film, Bruce simply decides to discreetly buy stock until he is the majority shareholder.
- The Richie Rich movie features this when Richie's parents go missing (presumed dead). Cadbury is named the benevolent regent of the Rich estate...until the scheming van Dough frames Cadbury for their murder and takes the regent role by force.
- Twisted around a bit in Thor. After Thor is banished and Odin falls into his enchanted sleep, Loki becomes king of Asgard. While the junior novelization and some deleted scenes show this was not his original intent — he just wanted to destroy Thor's chances of advancing beyond him, not overtake Thor, at first — he swiftly jumps off the slippery slope by doing everything he can to maintain his power, even telling Thor that Odin is dead and his banishment irrevocable, and arranging for Odin's own murder. Except it turns out he didn't want Odin dead — Loki wanted to be in a position where he could save Odin and thus be judged a better son and prince than Thor when Odin awoke, so he tricked his hated biological father Laufey into invading just so Loki could kill him before he could kill Odin. Still bad, but the trope is subverted in the end — a kind of evil version of Cincinnatus. It took a fall through a black hole and the subsequent destruction of his sanity before his next appearance to give Loki any real desire to rule anything...
- Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
- Averted by Ezar Vorbarra, who picked the one man that he knew didn't want Imperial Power to be Regent for his grandson, Prince Gregor. When Gregor finally came of age, Aral willing stepped aside from Imperial power, becoming his Prime Minister in a strictly advisory role. Aral knew that he had succeeded in raising a true Emperor on the day that Gregor went against his advice when dealing with an interstellar crisis, and was right in disagreeing with the foremost Barrayaran politician of his generation (though Aral still found it to be something of a shock).
- But Vidal Vordarian from the same series is this on steroids, usurping the Vorkosigan regency by force, then declaring his betrothal to the dowager empress, and himself emperor, all in a few weeks. Oh, and before organizing his coup it's implied he was something of an Evil Chancellor, currying favor with the dowager empress.
- Miraz in Prince Caspian started out as "Lord Protector" or some other title and slowly took on the title of king by disposing of anyone at Court opposed to him. He raised the true heir, his brother's son Caspian, as his own heir... until he had a son of his own, prompting Caspian to flee the proceeding murder plot.
- Queen Clothilde in Mercedes Lackey's reworking of Swan Lake (The Black Swan) intends to 'dispose of' her son Siegfried after he marries and conceives an heir.
- Tolkien's Legendarium:
- The Stewards of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings are a family of hereditary regents, generally good ones. They rule Gondor after the last king disappears. Unfortunately, the only one we actually meet in the books and films alike is Denethor, mentally unhinged by the loss of his favorite son, the hordes of Mordor at his doorstep, and finally by the Evil Overlord himself through the seeing-stone which Denethor foolishly thought he could control. In the movies, possibly due to Flanderization, he and Boromir both make it very clear that "Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king." (though in Boromir's case it's because he feels Aragorn has been running away from his responsibility and leaving the people of Gondor to fight the armies of Mordor to play at being a Ranger). In the book, Denethor says, his rule "is mine and no other man's, unless the king should come again" (LoTR V 1). Denethor might be perfectly willing, even overjoyed, to yield to a king, but we never learn whether Denethor would accept Aragorn as the king, considering Gandalf tries to conceal from Denethor the coming of Aragorn. Denethor would have a solid precedent for refusing to give Aragorn the throne: Aragorn's ancestor Arvedui tried to claim the throne of Gondor, and they turned him down. Aragorn isn't a direct male-line descendant of Anárion. He's descended from Anárion's older brother Isildur, who was King of Gondor even though his children weren't, and he also descends from Anárion through his ancestress Fíriel, a daughter of the last king of the senior line of Gondor and wife of Arvedui, so there are arguments to be made both ways.
- After Gil-Galad's death, Galadriel and Elrond were the only valid heirs to the title of High King. Neither claimed it, but Elrond ruled as High King in all but name.
- Cersei Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire becomes regent for her adolescent son, and heads this way. (Smug Snake that she is, ambition is not her only motivation.) Although bad as Cersei is, she is still a massive improvement over Joffrey ruling the kingdom on his own behalf.
- In one of the Deryni series, the regents tamper with the King's will to increase their power, keep his first son permanently drugged until he dies, kill the second son when they discover he's plotting against them, and plan to kill the third son as soon as he provides a heir, threatening to have his wife raped if he doesn't cooperate.
- The Belgariad:
- The Warders of Riva have served as hereditary regents in the centuries since the King was assassinated and the young heir went into hiding. When the Rightful King Returns, the sitting Warder welcomes him back, but one of his sons is so enraged at seeing his father lose power that he tries to murder the new King.
- Defied in The Malloreon when the King of Drasnia dies, leaving the Queen Dowager as regent and their young son on the throne. The Queen is very careful about steadily increasing his responsibilities so that he'll be ready when she steps down on schedule, and they have the Messianic Archetype and Godslayer Belgarion as a close family friend to ensure that nobody interferes with the transfer of power.
- A variant occurs in the prequel novels: after Riva's queen Beldaran dies, he is too grief-stricken to rule his kingdom, so he appoints the crown prince as regent and goes into seclusion. By the time Riva actually dies and the regent becomes king in truth, he'd been away from the public eye for so long that a lot of the peasants are surprised that he had still been alive up to that point.
- Alia in Children of Dune. Installed as regent for her brother Paul's twin children, she becomes possessed by the Genetic Memory of Baron Harkonnen and plots to have them killed and consolidate the power of the Empire for herself. Unfortunately for her, she is viciously Out-Gambitted by Leto II.
- In Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy, the land of Ceura (A fantasy psuedo-japan) is ruled by a regent who is meant to give up his power when a leader emerges bearing the mystical sword of legend. When Lantano Garuwashi (a hero and famed war commander) finds it, the regent plans brings an army to him on the pretext of "testing" the sword's authenticity, actually intending to kill Lantano whether the sword passes the test or not. Finding this out, the Regent's 14 year old son challenges his father to a duel and slays him, then takes the army and swears fealty to Lantano after confirming that yes, he really does bear the sword of legend (If Lantano's sword had failed the test, Lantano would have been executed on the spot).
- Played with in The Warlord Chronicles. Arthur is appointed regent while his nephew, Mordred, is a child, to return the throne when Mordred comes of age. Arthur completely intends to do exactly that, even though everyone around him insists that Mordred will be a terrible ruler. Arther steps down anyway, and it turns out his friends were right.
- The Mistmantle Chronicles has King Silverbirch of an island neighboring Mistmantle become regent until his daughter Larch could take the throne. Eventually he goes crazy over a mad lust for silver and tries to have her killed, so Larch is in hiding, waiting for her chance to take the throne back.
- Prince Thanel tries to set this up in Exile's Valor when he discovers that marrying the Queen isn't enough to make him King. It doesn't work, mainly because the Queen's Weaponsmaster figures out what he's up to and stops him.
- Dion Morgan, Regent of Nuin "for Our Very Present Emergency" in Edgar Pangborn's DAVY. It is noted by one of the narrators that the "emergency" started as the accession of an insane hereditary President, but came to mean something like "period lasting from the year Your Excellency got away with it until Your Excellency can decently be kicked out" — which duly happens.
- In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Stormqueen, when Allart becomes king at the end, he appoints the passed over emmasca heir Felix Hastur as his chief counselor, as Felix is likely to live two or three normal generations, and "perhaps between us we can make something like a king." It seems likely that this grew into the pattern depicted in the novels of post-Recontact Darkover, where we find an Elhalyn king left to "keep the throne warm with his royal backside, which is the most useful part of him", while the current Hastur of Hastur customarily wields all the power.
- A slightly different version is found in Tappan Wright's ISLANDIA, where the King of Islandia is technically regent for Alwin XVII, who was never seen again after a battle centuries before, but who has never been declared dead. Islandia's version of constitutional monarchy came about by this historical accident.
- Thanks to Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Cao Cao is the iconic example of this in Chinese lore; although he was "only" Chancellor/Prime Minister to Emperor Xian of Han, in practice he was the hegemon of northern China during the Three Kingdoms period until his death (after which his son Cao Pi engineered the emperor's abdication in favor of him).
- In Fiona Patton's The Painter Knight, an Evil Uncle assassinates the ruler, planning to be regent for his heir until things have calmed down and he can kill her off too. She escapes and heads for the protection of a cousin, who becomes her loyal, legitimate regent. The resulting altercation is named the Regents' War.
- This is Makina Seval's plan in The Assassins of Tamurin — to put her adopted daughter on the throne and then rule the Empire "from behind the dais."
- The Riftwar Cycle: Mara of the Acoma ends up as this, not entirely intentionally. At seventeen she gave up control of her family to her new husband. At nineteen she manipulated said husband into committing ritual suicide, leaving her as regent for their infant son until he became of age (At twenty five - she only became Ruling Lady at seventeen because all other heirs were dead). A few years later her son is murdered and she becomes regent for her second son (by a lover). Then her second son ends up inheriting a different throne and she becomes regent for her daughter (by her second husband). While all evidence suggests she did intend to give up her title when her daughter became of age (Her story ended before Kasuma reached adulthood), she was acting as regent of House Acoma from the age of nineteen until she was in her mid to late fifties.
- The Galactic government of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is running on a basis that's pretty close to this trope in spirit. When the last Galactic Emperor was on his deathbed, he was placed in some sort of stasis field that left him in what amounts to a permanent state of Only Mostly Dead. (Much to his irritation, by all accounts.) This caused the line of succession to grind to a halt and left the elected parliament and the President they choose by electoral college as the undisputed rulers of a now de facto republican government. Whether this was an overall improvement is hard to say.
- In Patricia C. Wrede's Shadow Magic, the rulership of Alkyra is dependent on the possession of a magical crown. When the crown is lost, the country is officially ruled for generations by regents, though in practice they're puppet rulers and power actually resides among the lords. When the crown is found and a young mage uses it to save the country from an invading army, the regent promptly abdicates and acknowledges her as the new queen.
- Discworld: The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork is in theory running the city until the Rightful King Returns (the last king having been executed for his crimes by an Oliver Cromwell stand-in) and in a The Lord of the Rings Shout-Out, the Patrician's chair is just next to the actual throne. Until Vetinari, the Patricians were all incompetent, self-indulgent, sleazy and power-grubbing types for whom assassination was considered a natural cause of death. When the true king does return, it turns out he's perfectly happy leaving the city to Vetinari while he stays in the Watch. Also, the throne is just gold foil over wood, which is itself so rotten it would probably collapse if anyone tried sitting on it.
- In The Mad King by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the regent has the boy king locked away and puts it about the boy has lost his wits out of grief over his father's death. He rules this way for years before deciding it's time the king had an accident so he can become king himself in his own right, which kicks off the main plot.
- Sagas of the Demonspawn: Similarly to the Stewards of Gondor, one kingdom had seven generations of regent knights after the king was cursed into a magical coma. One crucial step of the second book involves breaking the curse.
- Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, as detailed above under Literature. Later subverted in that, while she deliberately put her son Joffrey on the throne with the intention of being this trope (which probably would have been an improvement over him ruling in his own right) she quickly found him less controllable than she expected, which was one of the reasons why she progressively turned against Joffrey with each passing episode. It was her own damn fault for being a moron, but still. Then when he dies and Tommen takes the throne, she tries again only to be pushed out by his wife and later the Faith Militant. Cersei eventually foregoes the 'regent' part altogether and claims the throne herself after she blows up the wife and the Faith Militant, leading to Tommen's suicide.
- Jack's rivalry with Kaylie in 30 Rock has overtones of this. Kabletown is a family-run company, her grandfather is the currrent CEO and Jack wants to steer her towards following her parents into "Trust Fund Kid Syndrome" so he can take over the company.
- On Xena: Warrior Princess, such villains were a dime a dozen. However, a rare benevolent example was Xena's mentor Lao Ma, a Chinese mystic who was a concubine to the tyrant Emperor Lao Tzu. When he fell ill, she used pressure points to put him in a coma while ruling the dynasty in his place, making alliances and performing good deeds in his name so that he would be known as a force for good. Sadly she was executed by her estranged son Ming T'ien when he came of age, but Xena avenged her death.
- Worf was Offered the Crown in Star Trek: The Next Generation a few different times, including being Regent to the house of Duras. Worf refused both times. However, his Mirror Universe counterpart seems to have taken such an offer, and rules the Alliance as Regent.
- In the Robin Hood legend, King Richard's brother Prince John acts as his regent during the crusades. While gone, Prince John plots and manoeuvres to retain his despotic rule. (As part of the Robin Hood legends, this is Newer Than They Think; Prince John had no part of the legends until Elizabethan times, when he was introduced into the legend by Anthony Munday's play, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon (1599).)
- In the Books of Kings, Athaliah rules over the kingdom of Judah, first as regent, then as Queen Mother ("guiding" her son Ahaziah, and making sure he allowed her and others to worship Baal.) She offed all but one of her descendents, her grandson Joash, in order to keep anyone else from gaining power.
- Yvonne Steiner-Davion of BattleTech was essentially this. When her brother, Victor, abdicated the throne, he chose her as his successor. However, she could not take the throne as First Prince as she had previously been a regent and was thus barred from the succession. Instead, she ruled as regent to her son, Harrison....who had not been born or even conceived when she took the throne. She is a rare benign example, as she was technically the rightful ruler and her rule was prosperous.
- World of Warcraft: Lor'themar Theron is one of the blue moon variety; he was left as Regent-Lord of Silvermoon while Prince Kael'thas journeyed to Outland to find magic to feed his people. Following Kael'thas' fall and defeat(s), there is no one left in the Sunstrider line, leaving Lor'themar as the new ruler of the Blood Elves. Curiously, he still holds the title "Regent", and has yet to establish his own dynasty. His closest friend Halduron seems to be pushing for him to do so, though Lor'themar insists he is a ranger, not a politician.
- Jagged Alliance 2 has its intro sequence show billboards near Omerta with the caption 'Queen Deidranna- your Queen for life!' Which doesn't actually sound all that dystopian and Banana Republic-like unless you know from in-game briefings that the country was an Elective Monarchy with a parliament and considerably less tyranny going on until she poisoned the King and framed her husband the Crown Prince for it.
- This was the plan of both Duke Larg and Lord Goltanna in Final Fantasy Tactics: kill their enemy's preferred candidate as heir (Orinas in Larg's case, Ovelia in Goltanna's case), rush their respective heir in the position of Queen/King, then rule Ivalice as regent.
- In Dragon Age II, Knight-Commander Meredith takes control of Kirkwall after Viscount Dumar's death. She soon begins using her power to crack down harder on mages, causing further tension between mages and templars. She refuses to consider appointing a proper successor.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, after the death of King Cailan, Loghain names himself regent for his daughter, the adult and perfectly competent Queen Anora. Some of his men are already calling him King Loghain, and he's having a crown made for himself. When Anora contacts the player character, she claims that her father and his ally Arl Howe are conspiring to bump her off as well. Subverted in her case — he's shocked that she thought she was in danger from him.
- In the game Dragonslayer, Baron Drax, the regent, attempts to murder Prince Logan a few months before his regency officially ends (An hour or less into the game) so that he can invoke this.
- King's Quest VI plays this one straight. Alhazred connived his way into the king's trust and became an Evil Chancellor, then arranged for one of his pals to kidnap and enslave the princess, getting the only heir to the throne out of the way. followed by murdering the king and queen, then claiming they "died of grief." Since the kingdom is more or less a confederacy of lesser island kingdoms he arraged for his genie to swipe treasures from each island, then spread lies that other islands were responsible, deftly playing on the prejudice of each island, followed by grounding the only means of mundane transport between the islands so they couldn't communicate with each other, much less scheme against him. Even the Princess's return wasn't an issue. He just imprisoned her, covered it by invoking a dated tradition, and declared And Now You Must Marry Me. Only the blind luck and determination of the Prince of Daventry exposed any of it.
- This is one possible view of Morgan Fey's motives in the Ace Attorney series. With her younger sister, Misty, in hiding, Morgan was the one who raised Maya (the only surviving descendant of Misty and next-in-line as Master of the Kurain Channeling Technique). Morgan is quite determined to get Maya either arrested or killed to ensure that her own daughter becomes the next Master... except her daughter is eight, so sheltered that she has very little knowledge of life outside of the village, and utterly convinced that her mother is the kindest person ever and that she should do anything her mother asks of her.
- In Dishonored, Hiram Burrows (Former Royal Spymaster) takes control of the city of Dunwall after the former empress died at the hands of an unnamed assassin and kidnapped her daughter. He was the one who engineered the assassination in the first place and later framed Corvo to escape suspicion. Completing a Pacifist Run reveals that, he also was the one who infected Dunwall with the rat plague to eliminate the poor but couldn´t keep it in check.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- Following the assassination of Emperor Reman Cyrodiil III, last in the Reman line, his Akaviri advisor, Versidue-Shaie, (who quite possibly played a part in the assassination, as well as the previous death of the Crown Prince) took up Imperial authority (but not the title of Emperor, instead maintaining his Potentate title that had previously been used for the chief advisor to the Emperor) and declared it to be the 2nd Era of Tamriellic history. Following his assassination, his son, Savirien-Chorak, then became Potentate. The two ruled for over 400 years (the Akavari are apparently Long-Lived) at the start of the 2nd Era until Savirien-Chorak was also assassinated. Some time after this, (by no later than the 3rd Era) Potentate had become a reserve title allowed by the Elder Council Charter if no imperial heir could be agreed upon in the event of the line of succession being disrupted, allowing the High Chancellor of the Council to take up most imperial authority as Potentate.
- Empress Katariah (A Dunmeri Duchess, the sole non-human to hold the Imperial throne during the Septim dynasty) officially became Empress-Regent not long after becoming Empress — her marriage to Pelagius the Mad was arranged by Pelagius' father specifically because she was a shrewd and capable politician that could help cover for Pelagius' eccentricities, and right from the coronation most actual power was held by Katariah and the Elder Council. However, by the two year mark of Pelagius' reign, his madness had become too publicly apparent, and Katariah was officially granted regency, holding it until Pelagius' death (at which point she assumed the throne and ruled in her own right in what is widely recorded as one of the most prosperous, peaceful periods of the Septim Empire).
- Following the Oblivion Crisis, Ocato of Firsthold became Potentate (only after, according to records, exhausting efforts to find a sufficiently acceptable imperial heir), and by all accounts was well on his way to stabilizing the Empire... only to be assassinated by the Thalmor in a (successful) attempt to destabilize the Empire to make way for the rebirth of the Aldmeri Dominion under their rule.
- Middle-earth: Shadow of War: Gondor has a line of stewards that has been in charge for over twenty-five generations. While in the books the current steward would have been willing to give up the throne despite his mounting insanity (though he might have denied Aragorn as the rightful king, he dies before the question can come up), in the films Denethor and his son Baromir both declare "Gondor has no king—Gondor needs no king." The game follows this, with Talion and the other Gondorians proud to be a country without a king, and consider themselves more free than any other because of it. When Celebrimbor points out that the steward is exactly the same as a king, Talion ignores him.
- In Crusader Kings, if a ruler is too young or becomes mentally incapable, the game appoints a regent from their court, often a parent or a spouse, but if neither of those are available, it will be a random courtier, though a later patch allows you to choose who will be regent if one is needed. This trope would be impossible for a too-young ruler, as the regency automatically ends when the ruler turns 16 but an incapable ruler's regent could continuing ruling until they die, the ruler dies or are replaced with another regent, making the trope possible in that case.
- Indeed, incapable rulers can't refuse their regents' requests due to their incapacity, meaning regents occasionally abuse their control to get favors, such having the rulers grant them titles, which are always from the rulers' own demesne.
- In The New Order Last Days Of Europe, Sergey Taboritsky initially seems like an eccentric monarchist but if he manages to take over Ust-Sysolsk it soon becomes clear just how horrifically insane he really is. He assumes the role of regent to prepare the kingdom of Russia for the return of Alexei Romanov, refusing to accept that the tragic boy was shot dead fifty years ago and will never, ever assume his throne. His mad rule results in a truly horrific outcome for Russia, even for this setting.
- Taboritsky's administration runs on the so-called "Burgundian System", an unimaginably extreme version of totalitarianism (so extreme that even the Nazis think it goes too far). Combined with Tabby's general delusion, this is a highly combustible combination. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be allowed to tarnish Alexei's Russia. Churches get burned down with the priests inside. Every town or village that shows nothing less than full compliance to the regime gets wiped off the earth by chemical weapons, and chemical weapons are also used on the vast landscape of Russia to root out dissidents - every forest, every cave, every nook and cranny. Anyone who remotely disagrees with the government is purged. Educated people are purged. Poor people are rounded up and purged. Minority non-Russians - yep, purged. Every crime becomes punishable by death. Purification squads roam the countryside and people live in constant fear for their lives, never knowing when the death squads come knocking. Then the metaphorical clock strikes midnight: Taboritsky has a vision of little Alexei's bloodied bones and can no longer deny the Awful Truth, and he dies from the sheer despair. That means the nightmare is over right? Not quite. Without the central figure of Taboritsky, the system collapses, and Russia enters a new warlord era — but while this allows the re-emergence of saner, more benevolent regimes, there are also ones that aren't, including multiple successors to Taboritsky's regime, some less states than gangs of death squads still carrying out 'purification' despite the orders having stopped coming in, and in all of this, significant swathes of Russia were rendered outright uninhabitable by Taboritsky's liberal use of chemical weaponry.
- All the leaders of the CAS in S.S.D.D are called Acting First Advisor to honor Norman Gates. And also because Gates isn't actually dead.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: It's All There in the Manual that Long Feng came into power when the current Earth King was coronated at the age of four. Though an adult by the time of the series, the Earth King seems happy letting Long Feng rule over most practical matters, and Long Feng, for his part, is such a Manipulative Bastard that he's managed to keep the King from even knowing that the Earth Kingdom has been at war for the last century.
- The Sequel Series The Legend of Korra shows in Book 4 how Kuvira takes back control of the Earth Kingdom (it was plunged into chaos due to the actions of Zaheer and co.) by basically defeating the gangs of every state and making their citizens pledge loyalty to her and her army for full protection. The "for life" part comes when she refuses to give up her temporary power to the rightful heir and declares sovereignty over the new Earth Empire.
- Viren attempts this in The Dragon Prince, but he gets thrown in prison for lying that he's the regent.
- Ancient Egypt:
- It was once thought that Hatshepsut fit this trope. For a long time, most historians believed that she had maliciously kept the throne from her stepson Thutmose III for thirty years, only allowing him to control the Army while she ran everything else. When she died, the story went, Thutmose immediately destroyed or covered up all of her monuments in an attempt to erase his wicked stepmother from the historical record. However, it's since been discovered that Thutmose didn't destroy any of her monuments until decades after her death, and other historians have pointed out that if Thutmose hadn't liked Hatshepsut being in power, he could have disposed of her the day he reached adulthood, since he controlled the Army. It's now suspected that Thutmose and Hatshepsut were friends and allies who ruled together peacefully, Thutmose conducting Egypt's many military campaigns while Hatshepsut stayed at home and dealt with the domestic matters that the budding Young Conqueror Thutmose didn't care about. As for her name being defaced off her monuments, many historians believe that Thutmose's successor Amenhotep II simply wanted to take credit for building them himself.
- Another subversion was Ay, the successor to Tutankhamun, who was thought to have killed Tut and stolen his throne. Turns out that Tutankhamen was the last male member of his family and so physically unwell that it's surprising he lived long enough to die from a bone infection at age 19. It's now thought that Ay had nothing to do with his death.
- Louis XIII of France's regent was his mother, who held onto her power for several years after he came of age.
- Richard III of England was the regent for his nephew, the twelve-year-old Edward V, but eventually declared Edward a bastard and himself King.
- Allegedly before killing his nephew.
- During the Hundred Years' War, the respective councils of regents (mostly the king's uncles) continued to rule for several years after Richard II of England and Charles VI of France had attained their majority. In the case of Charles VI, better known as Charles the Mad, there even were and are those who suspect that the Duke of Orleans somehow engineered the incidents that led to Charles' mental problems so that he could continue to rule France himself.
- Before the beginning of the Hundred Years' War, Roger Mortimer was the de facto ruler of England in the name of Edward III, apparently having no intention of giving up that power. This led to increasing tensions between the two, and at the age of 17, Edward managed to take Mortimer prisoner, then have him executed for exceeding his authority.
- The only ruling queen of the Kingdom of Judah, Athaliah, was regent for her son Ahaziah. She operated as more of a co-ruler with her son and orchestrated the murder of a number of other claimants to the throne.
- When Edward VI died, his regents tried to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne so they could retain power. It didn't work, or at least not for very long — there's a reason that Jane Grey is referred to as "The Nine Days Queen."
- The Shoguns of Old Japan were like this trope. The legitimate ruler of everything was officially the Emperor, and the Shogun was more likely than not just a warlord who happened to have the biggest military force around. Officially, the Emperor is under his "Protection" and any act by the Shogun is the Will of the Emperor. Emperors tended to agree. The ones that lived anyway.
- This is effectively how the Fujiwara clan controlled Japan. The family provided regents for the Emperor in his minority, continued to serve as powerful advisers through his reign, then often "persuaded" him to abdicate at an early age so they could go on acting as regents to his infant heir.
- It become something of of a precedent in Japan. When the samurai rebelled against the court and reduced the entire court, emperor as well as the Fujiwara regent, into their figurehead, the shogunal Kamakura government itself was taken over by regents just 7 years after Minamoto Yoritomo had taken the title of shogun. The next 134 years, all shoguns were themselves figureheads, as was the whole imperial court still including the regent for the Emperor...
- During Hōjō reign, the whole regency business was taken Up to Eleven, since shikken was the regent for the reigning shogun, not the emperor himself. And since shogun was kind of regent himself, this leads to a regency for a regency for a regency
- The Fujiwara also controlled the Emperor because he was himself mostly Fujiwara: the Fujiwara had defeated the Soga clan for the right to marry the Emperor, and after a few generations, the Fujiwara had completely hijacked the Imperial genome (except for the Y chromosome).
- It was widely believed that Toyotomi Hideyoshi intended to, should he somehow have conquered the Ming Empire(!!!), he would've transplanted the Japanese political system to the region — the emperor would move to Nanjing (the Ming capital, as opposed to the Yuan capital of Tatu/Beijing and the Song capital of Kaifeng/Xi'an), Toyotomi's cousin would continue to be his Regent for Life, while Hideyoshi himself would continue to be Just the First Citizen ("Regent for Life emeritus"). The problem is, Chinese sees Regent for Life as something not as peaceful an institution... see below.
- Kampaku, one of the three titles used for Regents for Life in Japan, is in fact a historical Memetic Mutation of sorts—it comes from the example of Huo Guang in China, below, and means the phrase "to present" in that example's context.
- Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the third and last dynasty of Shoguns, came to power after being one of five regents to Toyotomi's infant son. After first defeating his colleagues, he married the younger Toyotomi off to his granddaughter. Still, Toyotomi remained a rallying point for the opposition and he was eventually driven to suicide.
- Due to the long-standing system of hereditary shoguns, the first Europeans to visit Japan translated "shogun" as "emperor" and "tennō" ("heavenly sovereign", the Japanese title of the emperor) as "high priest". Though quite inaccurate from a literal standpoint, this did fairly well reflect the actual roles of two positions at the time.
- And after World War I, Miklos Horthy declared himself regent of the Hungarian kingdom. Although the old Habsburg family is still around, the country never got a king again, but not for want of trying: Karl I (the last Austro-Hungarian emperor) had never officially abdicated and traveled twice to Hungary to try to reclaim the throne, only for Horthy's forces to stop him— once being rebuked by Horthy himself in Budapest— due to fears of civil war.
To illustrate how strange this situation was, an old Hungarian joke describes the supposed exchange between an American diplomat and his Hungarian counterpart on the occasion of Hungary's declaration of war on the United States during WWII:
- American: So, I see the official name of your country is the "Kingdom of Hungary". Who is your king?
Hungarian: We don't have a king.
American: Oh. Who is your head of state?
Hungarian: Admiral Horthy.
American: Ah, an Admiral. So, you must have a big navy, then?
Hungarian: No, the Italians took that away from us, but fortunately they are our allies.
American: Well, let's move on to your territorial claims. Do you have any territorial conflicts with any of the Allied powers, which have caused you to declare war against the United States?
Hungarian: No, we don't have borders with any of them.
American: Well, are you involved in any territorial conflicts?
Hungarian: Yes - with Rumania, Slovakia, and Germany.
American: So, you have declared war on them as well?
Hungarian: No, they are our allies.
American: That's crazy!
Hungarian: No, it's the New Order in Europe.
- One of the reasons why he turned down being king himself, against the wishes of supporters for a Horthy dynasty, was that he thought himself unworthy for the throne.
- Empress Dowager Cixi. For two consecutive emperors, maybe three. Originally a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor, Cixi rose to become Empress Dowager because she bore the emperor's only son and heir, the Tongzhi Emperor. She conspired with her sister empress (who, as the chief wife of the late emperor, had a better claim to rule as regent for the young emperor, of course she was later completely eclipsed by Cixi) to oust the Regent Council appointed by the late emperor. When Tongzhi died childless (rumoredly from syphilis contracted from his secret visits to brothels outside the palace), she disregarded the imperial house law by appointing her three-year-old nephew (son of her sister, who married Xianfeng's half brother) to succeed as Guangxu Emperor. So that she could cling to power longer when the throne should have passed to someone from the next generation down from Tongzhi, with Tongzhi's empress as regent (whom she hated, and eventually got rid of, the final straw being when the empress inadvertently reminded her of her concubine status). When Guangxu came of age, Cixi handed power to him, only to stage a coup 100 days later and put him under house arrest, because he introduced westernization reforms and dismissed her favorite advisers. When she was on her deathbed, she allegedly ordered the childless emperor poisoned (he predeceased her by one day) so that she could name his successor, the three-year-old Puyi, who was his nephew and her grandnephew.
- Lu Zhi, wife of Liu Bang of Han, is another Chinese example. She presided as the power behind the throne for three emperors up until her death.
- Tang Dynasty Empress Wu Zetian was probably a semi-example. She ruled as regent for two of her sons, and seized power at the age of 66 to become the only woman to rule as Huangdi in her own right.
- Huo Guang of Western Han is a rare benign example, being the most powerful person in China between 87 B.C. to 68 B.C. He served as regent for three emperors, deposed the second of the three, and the third asked others to present matters to Huo before him—yet he had no intention to usurp the throne and his deposition of an emperor is commonly seen a way to deal with an heir that is an absolute nightmare.
- A particularly peculiar one occurred during the Warring States period, in the State of Qin. King Zhaoxiang of Qin's mother had been regent for him and used her position to grant vast fiefs to her brothers; as a result, Zhaoxiang remained under his mother's thumb after he officially became ruling king. However, a hardheaded fellow by the name of Fan Sui—who had previously been an official in the rival state of Wei before being run out of town most unceremoniouslynote —convinced Zhaoxiang to run his mother and uncles out of town, conquer Wei, and start Qin on a giant war of conquest. Zhaoxiang's great-grandson was a fellow named Zhao Zheng...better known as Qin Shi Huangdi.
- Sima Yan (founder of the Jin dynasty and reuniter of the Three Kingdoms period) declared his eldest son, Sima Zhong his heir. Unfortunately, everyone except Sima Yan saw that Sima Zhong was highly developmentally disabled and required a Regent for Life. The Jin dynasty would be crippled by the War of Eight Princes (over who would be "regent"), and when Sima Zhong was poisoned at the age of 48, he still had the mind of a 5-year-old.
- There're actually too many examples in the Chinese history to quote here—while most dynastic changes in China between the third to the tenth centuries were the direct consequence of a military coup, the leader of the coup would not immediately usurp the throne. They would, however, sit as a Regent for Life for a period of time before "persuading" the emperor to abdicate in their favour.
- Catherine de Medici of France acted as Regent while her two underage sons were King and heavily interfered in the reign of her third son, Henry III. It is doubtful they would have retained power without her. She is widely detested for her supposed role in the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, where thousands of French Protestants were killed. Modern historians suspect that Catherine didn't actually have anything to do with the massacre, but became an easy scapegoat because she was Italian, and worse, a Medici, so she had to be an evil plotter who poisoned her enemies. As a matter of fact she did the best she could to reconcile the opposing Huguenot and Catholic factions.
- Queen Victoria believed that she had only by the grace of God avoided a Regent for Life. When she was seventeen and recovering from typhoid fever, her mother's "friend" Sir John Conroy tried to make her sign a document stating that her mother, and through her Conroy, would rule in her place even after she turned eighteen. Victoria had the presence of mind to refuse to sign the document, and it's unlikely that Parliament would have consented to such an agreement, but it was only her accession as Queen at eighteen that stopped Conroy from repeatedly pressing her to make him her regent. (It may also have helped that her uncle, King William IV, saw right through his sister-in-law's schemes and gave made it known he supported his niece's efforts to remain independent.)note In fact, her entire life before her ascension as Queen was designed to make her this. She was raised under the Kensington System, which was a strict and elaborate set of rules designed by her mother and Conroy to make her weak and dependent, which thankfully did not work.
- Birger Jarl of Sweden (1210-1266), first The Man Behind the Man of his brother-in-law King Eric "the Lisp and Lame" and managed to get his underaged son Valdemar to be declared King after his death and made himself his regent. Then he beat down a rebellion from several nobles who considered that cheating.
- Fun fact: Valdemar was in his late 20's when his father died. One can just imagine the tension in the Royal Court between the now adult King and his father who had been the de facto ruler for decades.
- Adelaide, Marchioness of Susa and Countess-Corsort of Savoy, outlived all her sons and was the effective ruler of Savoy until halfway through her grandson Humbert II's rule.
- Johann Friedrich Struensee was royal physician to the schizophrenic King Christian VII of Denmark and a minister in the Danish government. He rose in power to a position of de facto regent of the country, where he tried to carry out widespread reforms. His affair with Queen Caroline Matilda caused scandal, especially after the birth of a daughter, Princess Louise Augusta, and was the catalyst for the intrigues and power play that caused his downfall and a dramatic death.
- Francisco Franco was officially Regent of the Kingdom, among other jobs. While he was certainly a fascist, he was also too conservative for the radical fascist party of the time, the Falange, who despised him for that and his monarchism. Franco was ostensibly holding power until the rightful King stepped in... though he didn't actually say who that was until 6 years before his death. The man in question was the son of the Legitimist Juan Carlos (conveniently, a descendant of both of the competing branches of the royal family), who upon Franco's death promptly declared a liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy (and foiled a coup attempt by fascist/neo-Francoist officers by going on national television to expressly authorize the elected government to order the rest of the Spanish Armed Forces to squash the coup if the offending officers didn't stand down).
- Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony of Madagascar is generally thought to have been the man behind the woman for Queens Rasoherina, Ranavalona II, and Ranavalona III. Incidentally, all three of them married him.
- The House of Stuart traces their lineage from an ancestor who named himself "Stewart" because he was hereditary High Steward of Scotland (a position in the court that occasionally entailed running affairs of state the King couldn't handle personally). The Stewarts (as they were known at the time) intermarried with some junior royals, and when the Bruce dynasty (the descendants of Robert the Bruce) petered out, the throne came to their Stewart cousins. (The "Stuart" spelling is a later development, to help Mary, Queen of Scots' French in-laws pronounce the name right.)
- Prince Luitpold became regent of Bavaria on June 10, 1886, after his nephew King Ludwig II of Bavaria was declared unfit to rule. Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances three days later, leaving the Bavarian throne to his younger brother Otto who was already confined to a mental asylum. Luitpold thus continued to be Prince Regent (Prinzregent) of Bavaria until his own death in 1912. His son prince Ludwig succeeded him in that position, but was too impatient to wait for mad Otto to die (which he finally did in 1916, as it turned out), and so had himself proclaimed King Ludwig III in 1913. This alienated even part of Bavaria's monarchists, but in the end Ludwig III was forced to abdicate during the November Revolution of 1918.
- The only regency in the history of Tsarist Russia was when Anna Ioannovna the Bloody's heir Ivan VI was still a one year old. The child's mother, Princess Anna Leopoldovna, was appointed regent. However this didn't last long; the baby tsar was deposed by a palace revolution led by Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great who reasonably thought she has a better claim on the throne. After being deposed, Ivan grew up in prison and lived there until the time of Catherine the Great, when some not very bright Guards officer had an idea to put Ivan back on the throne and become a chancellor; both were executed.
- Catherine the Great herself can be considered that. She wasn't a member of the Romanov House, deposed her husband when their son was eight (there are some doubts about his legitimacy, but he was officially the heir), and continued to rule until said son was over 40.
- Tran Thu Do started out as the Head of the Royal Guard at the Vietnamese royal court of the late 1100s. When the mentally ill Emperor Ly Hue Tong abdicated and was succeeded by his very young daughter, Ly Chieu Hoang, Tran became her regent but soon gained control of the nation by marrying her off to his nephew, who became the new emperor, marrying Hue Tong's widow and killing off the remaining members of the Ly family. Until his death, Tran remained the true power behind the throne.
- The Byzantine Empress Eirene started out as regent for her son... then, when he got too old to be kept under control, had him blinded and killed and took power in her own right, disarming the army so it wouldn't replace her (which, incidentally, let the Abbasid Caliph conquer large parts of the empire) and trying (largely unsuccessfully) to negotiate alliances with western powers as a military substitute. She was the first ruling Empress of the Romans, depending on whether or not you believe Ulpia Severina ruled as Empress regnant after her husband, Aurelian, was assassinated.
- North Korea is a necrocracy, based on the rules of its late ruler, Kim Il-sung. After his death, he was elevated to the highest position as "eternal leader" while his successors are technically second in command as the "Supreme Leader".