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Reluctant Ruler

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"It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited for power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well."

Some think it's good to be the king. But not everyone.

A Reluctant Ruler is someone who is entrusted with permanent power over others despite desperately trying to avoid it at all costs. It is believed that between a brilliant person who strives for glory and a brilliant person who shuns it, the latter is least likely to abuse the power they are given, automatically making them a passable, if not great, ruler.

This trope lives at the idealistic side of the Scale, but not as extreme as you may think.

Cincinnatus is a Sub-Trope about a character who is given temporary power because it is believed he will give it back after accomplishing his task. The Creon is another Sub Trope, as he will be downright anxious to give up power if he is ever thrust into the top spot. Also related to The Chains of Commanding. Compare Mandatory Unretirement, I Just Want to Be Normal and It Sucks to Be the Chosen One. Contrast Unfit for Greatness and Leader Wannabe. If someone ends up in charge during a crisis, it might be a case of You Are in Command Now. If they're demoted because of this, they'll be Gracefully Demoted. If they see an oppotunity to Abdicate the Throne, they will take it as soon as possible.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Code Geass:
    • Prince Clovis is a dark version of this. He's a painter, not a warrior or politician, and he wanted nothing to do with that sort of work, even though that made his family seriously look down on him. But then, his younger brother Lelouch, who he secretly admired, was (supposedly) killed in the invasion of Japan, and Clovis thought he should accept the role of Viceroy to honor him. Advised by his older brother and sister that "a soft heart is not a virtue", he attempts to become the sort of ruthless Viceroy the other Britannians would want him to be, under the mistaken belief that Lelouch would want that, too. By the time we see him at the beginning of the series, several years later, he's completely fallen into that to the point where Lelouch wants nothing more than to kill him - and does, in the first few episodes.
    • Said brother is an interesting variation of it. Lelouch flat out rejects the Decadent Court of Britannia and gets exiled for his troubles. Which leads him into being the powerful Rebel Leader Zero who sets himself up as leader of all Japan by the end of the first season before things go to hell. However, R2 sees him greatly reducing his power and putting others in charge of actually ruling the world while he focuses on military matters. Though he does end up Emperor of Britannia, he only rules for a few months before his Zero Requiem ends with him dead. The implication is that Lelouch will lead when someone has to do something to better the world, which he references when he first brings up restoring Japan as a nation back in season 1; that if they don't do it, who will? In short, he's a Reluctant Ruler with a sense of responsibility.
  • Yang Wen-Li of Legend of the Galactic Heroes would rather be a historian, but he is really, really good at the whole "admiral" thing. The Alliance government does not understand this and grows increasingly distrustful of him out of fear he will make a power grab. This eventually results in his death.
  • One Piece:
    • King Dalton of Drum Island used to be the right-hand of the deposed tyrant King Wapol after his wiser father died. He's only the ruler of Drum because the citizens keep voting for him to stay as king, despite hoping that they will one day learn to depend on themselves.
    • Gan Fall also counts. After being reinstated as "God" of Skypiea, he laments that he won't be able to enjoy planting his pumpkins anymore.
    • King Riku of Dressrosa, in backstory, was the previous king before Donquixote Doflamingo launched a takeover. After Doflamingo is disposed of, Riku is reluctant to take back the throne because he's worried that his peaceful policies are what made the kingdom vulnerable to the pirate's schemes in the first place. His subjects let him know that they don't care, that they have grown sick of Doflamingo corrupting them into enjoying violence, and that they wish for their country to become peaceful once more.
    • Bartholomew Kuma's backstory reveals that, after he ousted King Bekori from power, the people of the Sorbet Kingdom practically begegd him to become their new king. Being the kindhearted man that he was, Kuma was unable to refuse, but compromised by becoming a figurehead ruler while Bekori's predecessor, King Bulldog, took the job of actually running the kingdom for him, as Kuma was all too aware that he would make a poor king.
  • The Story of Saiunkoku: Nineteen-years-old Emperor Ryuuki. Growing up as the youngest of six princes, he found himself on the throne after his second eldest brother was exiled and the other princes were executed for starting a bloody succession war. He acts dumb and plays up his attraction to men and desperately waits for his exiled brother to return to take the throne. However, his subordinates and said brother have none of that.
  • The Ride-On King: Despite pretty much singlehandedly uniting the Northern continent, Purchinov rejects positions of authority reasoning that it will lead to tyranny and wanting to continue adventuring. Everyone else addresses him as their master regardless.

    Comic Books 
  • Aquaman: As far back as the Silver Age, Arthur wanted nothing to do with ruling and only agreed to be elected ruler to prevent a civil war. When the strain of being a superhero and king got to be too much, especially with would-be usurpers, he abdicated the throne and left it to Vulko.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), both Sally and Elias are pretty much of the same mind, but for different reasons - Sally wouldn't mind the throne, but she'd rather have it on her own terms: no mystical mumbo-jumbo and preferably with Sonic by her side. Elias plays the trope straight, not wanting to be a ruler and only took up the throne to save the kingdom from Patch, Antoine's Evil Counterpart. When told that his stepdaughter would be ineligible, he was quite fine with that.
  • Superman:
    • In Superboy (1949) #5, Superboy makes a coup in the country of Borgonia fail, but Queen Lucy does not want to take the throne, considering her royal blood has only brought her grief and problems. However, her maid Elena talks her into it, arguing that Duke Norvello's tyranny has messed their country up, and Lucy is the only who is in a position to fix it.
    • In Superman: Red Son, Superman disliked the idea of being the new "General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union" after Stalin's death, since he thinks that having someone as privileged as him, being Superman AND the adopted son of the ruler of the Soviet Union, as the new ruler of the party would be in complete opposition with what he believes the Communist Ideology is about.
    • In crossover "Fate Is The Killer", Prince Adam proposes a toast to his father, wishing the king a long, healthy life, and a succesful, long rule...lest he is forced to take the throne and stop behaving irresponsibly.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992): Despite being a fair and competent ruler, the King of Hyrule's true dream was to be an adventurer like Link, but he was a prince, and a prince has to stay home and train to take up the reins of kingship one day.
  • After the War of Kings, Gladiator wandered out into the ruined capital city in a daze, still carrying the Imperial Scepter. As he surveyed the chaos around him, the people looked to him and the scepter, and begged him for guidance. Gladiator, having spent his life defining himself as a soldier, was unprepared to be a ruler. For the sake of the people, he agreed to be the new Majestor. He's done a pretty good job so far.
  • Judge Dredd has twice found himself being nominated for the position of the Chief Judge, and therefore his city's sole ruler. Barring perhaps the Titan penal colony, it's the very last place in the universe where he'd ever like to be.

    Fan Works 
  • A Divine (Romantic) Comedy:
    • While Lucifer Morningstar may be the King of Hell, it's not really a position that he enjoys. If he wasn't bound to his kingdom and the Pride Ring by his screwup, he'd stay on Earth with his girlfriend, Camila Noceda, forever. To his credit, he's at least trying to do a better job now that his depression is lifting.
    • It's made clear that Raine really doesn't like being in charge of the Boiling Isles. The only reason they took the job in the first place was to prevent someone far worse (Terra Snapdragon) or one of Belos' remaining loyalists (Adrian Graye) from taking over.
  • Hawke, in the Dragon Age II fanfic The Whole Sky Shaken, is pushed by his friends and people around him to run for the Viscount, since he’s one of a few people who can stand up to Meredith and make a difference. He doesn’t really want any position of power and prefers to kill things with fire rather than get involved in the politics. When he finally does decide to go for the throne Anders blows up the Chantry and they both have to flee Kirkwall.
  • In The Vow, after Lord Shen's father dies, he passes the stewardship of Gongmen City to Lady Lianne, Shen's former fiancée. She's not quite willing to rule the city, feeling it to be a form of betrayal towards Shen and his family, but the citizens hold a great deal of respect for the swan princess known for her beauty and kindness. She offers the city's stewardship for the Masters' Council, but they refuse it out of respect. It's arranged that Lianne governs and rules the city, while the Masters serve as protectors and advisers. For the next twenty years, Lianne keeps Gongmen City in the state of peace and prosperity while suffering for the past. She sleeps in her old guestroom instead of the rulers' bedchamber and never uses the high lord's throne, considering herself to be merely a temporary holder of the reins of power until the true ruler returns.
  • This happens to both Varric and Bethany during the course of Beyond Heroes: Of Sunshine and Red Lyrium. Bethany is the Inquisitor, and while she has no qualms about doing the actual work of saving the world and helping the people, she's extremely uncomfortable with a lot of the trappings such as having people bow to her. Varric, meanwhile, as in canon, becomes the mostly-unwilling Viscount of Kirkwall.
  • In an untitled Fire Emblem: Three Houses fic, Hubert took it upon himself to kill all of Edelgard's older siblings because he thought she'd be a better ruler than them. He was neither surprised or regretful when she executed him for his crimes.
  • Ryuko Kiryuin in Natural Selection initially when it came to Honnouji Academy. She was under the understanding that she would be serving under Satsuki as the Vice President of Honnouji. Due to Satsuki's plans for exile, Ryuko ended up as the President instead. She's shown to have been conflicted about whether she could actually rule properly. In the current timeline of the story, she's grown beyond this in the worst possible way.
  • The Will of the Empire: Due to some last-minute scheming by Vader the night before the Battle Of Endor, Luke suddenly finds himself legal heir to the throne of the Galactic Empire. Naturally, it's the last position he wants, but with the galaxy falling into chaos he has very little choice but to take the job and try to restore some semblance of order.
  • Nodoka Saotome (née Alagondar) in The Crown of Neverwinter outright ran away from her birth dimension when she heard a prophecy foretelling she would be Queen, as she was her family's youngest child and not at all interested in gaining the throne if it meant losing her parents and siblings. She only comes back because she believes it will be a short visit — and stays because she cannot bring herself to leave the wrecked city rot further without doing something to fix the situation.
    • Nodoka's child Ranma very much takes after her, feeling very unsettled when people call her a princess and considering the prospect of her mother as Queen with Ranma as her heir.
  • The Phoenix Corps: The Question is elected leader of the Phoenix Corps, for the simple fact that he doesn't want to be the leader. After two years of living under a dictatorship, everyone found that particular trait to be appealing and decided it qualified him for leadership. As it turns out, Vic is a lot more capable than he gives himself credit for.

    Film — Animated 
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup is extremely insecure about becoming Chief, partly because he believes he can never fill his dad's shoes and partly because he's better suited to exploring the skies with his dragon Toothless than ruling. After some encouragement from his Missing Mom and Stoick's death, he accepts his responsibilities as leader of Berk, while Toothless becomes Alpha of the dragons.
  • The Sword in the Stone: Considering how Arthur becomes King and how he lived until then, all reluctance can be excused.
  • In Frozen (2013): Princess Elsa is a teenage shut-in who has no choice but to become Queen after her parents' deaths. When the powers are revealed and manifest themselves in dangerous spikes and blasts, her people are naturally terrified. She flees into the mountains, renouncing her throne and preparing to live a life of complete exile. By the end of the film, however, she gains mastery of her powers, thanks in largest part to the love of her younger sister, and the people accept her as their Queen once more.
  • In Frozen II, Elsa, now Queen, says that although she's happier now that she's living openly with her powers mostly under control and with the enthusiastic support of her family, she still feels as if she's "not where I'm meant to be." While initially afraid to acknowledge the mysterious voice she's been hearing, when she begins to think it could lead her to her destiny, she immediately leaves the castle behind to chase after it and never looks back. At the end, she renounces the crown to live with her mother's people in the North, where she has more opportunity to practice her magic than she did while ruling.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • This is the whole reason why the emperor from Gladiator wants General Maximus to replace him instead of his cruel, power-hungry son Commodus. Maximus is humble, kind, and doesn't want the responsibilities of power, which the emperor knows makes him a perfect ruler. Of course, this never comes to pass thanks to Commodus's greed and spite.
  • In the Lord of the Rings movies, Aragorn refuses to pursue the throne until he absolutely has to to save Middle-Earth. In the original books, taking the throne was on his to-do list... but not very high up.
  • In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale has Jason Statham's character Farmer turn out to be King Konreid's long-lost son Camden, whom everyone thought dead. The current heir to the throne of Ehb is the king's nephew Duke Fallow, who isn't fit to rule, to put it mildly. However, after being told the truth, neither Konreid nor Farmer is willing to believe it. Farmer is bitter about the king's army not being there to protect his wife and son from the Krug, and his only concern is freeing his wife and friends from Gallian's clutches, the kingdom be damned. Konreid finally persuades him to reconsider after imparting to him the importance of the kingdom having a good ruler (i.e. not Fallow) and Farmer realizing that he needs the army to help him defeat Gallian.
  • A variation is seen in Attack of the Clones when Palpatine is reluctant to accept the emergency wartime powers granted to him by the Senate. No, he isn't.
  • King Ralph: After a freak accident apparently takes out the entire royal family, Sir Cedric Willingham has researchers look for an heir to the throne. He is informed that he is an heir, but declines the role due to not having children of his own and feeling unworthy. The researchers continue looking and find another heir named Ralph Jones. After Jones decides to step down from the throne Willingham is named King in his palce.
  • David Bowie always felt that his King Jareth character in Labyrinth inherited his title reluctantly.
    • The Return to Labyrinth sequel manga shows that Jareth's made good on his promise/threat to make Hoggle a prince of The Bog of Eternal Stench... and Hoggle isn't happy about it.
  • Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after his Character Development from the first movie onward (prior to the events of Thor he wanted to rule but only as a Proud Warrior Race Guy, meaning he'd be starting wars and bullying other realms instead of being a just and fair ruler). The events of The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World inspire him to decline the throne in the ending of the latter, realizing his place is to be a Protectorate. Then in Thor: Ragnarok he admits to Hela that he would still prefer someone else to rule than him, but eventually he doesn't have a choice and becomes King because his people need him (his father having died in the early part of the movie and their homeworld of Asgard laid to ruin during the titular Ragnarok in the climax, now the leader of an endangered and nomadic people). Following the events of Avengers: Infinity War and finally Avengers: Endgame, Thor drops all claim to the Asgardian throne entirely and leaves his people's future in the hands of Valkyrie, choosing instead to venture out into the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • In Aquaman (2018), Arthur Curry doesn't want to embrace his destiny as king of Atlantis. If anything, he would rather stay on the surface world than return to Atlantis where he would likely be alienated for his half-human/half-Atlantean heritage. However, after his stepbrother Orm causes a tsunami that destroys his hometown and nearly kills his human father, Arthur agrees to take control of the throne.
    Arthur Curry: I'm no leader. I came because I have no choice. I came to save my home and the people that I love.
  • Shin Godzilla: Acting Prime Minister Satomi is clearly overwhelmed by and nervous about his sudden promotion. Once the crisis is over, he and his cabinet resign to make way for more qualified people.
  • The protagonist of We Have A Pope really doesn't want to be pope. He'd much rather be an actor, like his sister.


By Author:

  • In Anthony Price's series of spy thrillers, a couple of books around the halfway mark feature the office politics when The Spymaster retires and a successor must be chosen. Latimer, who wants the job, doesn't get it. Butler, who never wanted the job, fails to avoid having it thrust upon him; once it's clear he can't get out of it, he accepts that it's his duty to do the job he's been given to the best of his ability, which turns out to be not inconsiderable.

By Work:

  • Jake is made leader of the Animorphs at the start of the series, despite the fact that he is less than enthusiastic about taking on the role. In book 12, Rachel summarizes it as "No one exactly elected him, but if we ever did vote on it he'd get all the votes — except his own." Much of his angst comes from the constant pressures of leadership.
  • Both Emperor Rene and King Alexander in the Arcia Chronicles hate their jobs but are placed among the best sovereigns Arcia ever had. Subverted with Anhel the Luminous, though, who actively pursued the throne, started a rebellion, and is remembered as a great ruler. Then, subverted again, in that the historical perception of the just rulers is twisted by the Church, whereas Anhel actually did enough evil in his life to be reborn as the mightiest among the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
  • In A Brother's Price, Princess Ren doesn't quite feel up to the task of being eldest princess, in a realm where royals have to actually do some ruling. Part of this is due to her not having been born as Eldest; she had lots of older sisters and didn't expect to have to shoulder the responsibility. When the death of her sisters promoted her to eldest sister, she was (and still is) understandably more grieved by the loss than happy about the power. While Queen Eldest is still alive to give some advice, Ren is in charge of "Summer Court", where important legal decisions have to be made, and at one point panics about not being there in time.
  • Babylon 5:
    • After Vir Cotto is named Empire in the novel "Out of the Darkness" one of his first acts after returning home is to name General Rhys as his Minister of Internal Security as Rhys considered his first duty to be to the Emperor and not to scheming nobles, nor did he want power for himself. Rhys told Vir he didn't want the position and Vir decided that was a good reason to give him the job anyways.
    • Vir Cotto was reluctant to take on the position of Emperor after all the death and destruction the Drakh caused before deciding that he had to in order to stabalize the Centauri.
  • Danny Saunders in The Chosen who does not want to be a Rebbe.
  • Random from The Chronicles of Amber is probably the only one of Oberon's children who never seriously contended for the throne of Amber, and it was him who was given it by the Unicorn in the end of the first cycle. As the second cycle shows, the trust was well-placed.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: From Prince Caspian:
    "Welcome, Prince," said Aslan. "Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?"
    "I — I don't think I do, Sir," said Caspian. "I'm only a kid."
    "Good," said Aslan. "If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not."
  • The Chronicles of Prydain:
    • Fflewddur Fflam is the ruler of a postage-stamp-sized kingdom, but would much rather roam around as a bard.
    • Also brought up at the very end of the series, when protagonist Taran is declared High King of Prydain. He's initially horrified, thinking that he's behaved in a prideful manner and is being mocked for it, until it's explained that he's fulfilled the terms of a very old prophecy. Even then he's still not sure he's the right person for the job, but concedes because the people need him.
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses: Tamlin never expected or wanted to become High Lord (he had two older brothers), and admits to Feyre he's not always sure what he's doing and is a bit crap at diplomacy.
  • Deryni: King Cinhil Haldane in The Legends of Camber trilogy. He had been a cloistered priest for many years when he was found and removed from his monastery. He was persuaded to give up his vocation and accept a wife and a crown, but he didn't like it, and he came to blame Camber for his misery. Centuries later, Prince Regent Nigel Haldane is this in prospect; he prepares for his empowering ritual with a heavy heart because he doesn't want to confront the possibility he'll become king, and he insists on postponing his coronation for a year when his nephew is reported missing.
  • Lord Vetinari of Sir Terry's Discworld does not rule the city because he wants to, but rather because he feels it is his patriotic duty.
    • Considering A) the sort of people who preceded him and B) the fact that The Chessmaster could be renamed "The Vetinari" with little to no change of meaning, he might have something there.
    • Carrot is probably the heir to the throne of Anhk-Morporknote  but refuses to claim the position of king. He would be a great king, but feels that it would be for the wrong reasons — he has a preternatural aura of command (people just do what he says, which is probably related to the probably-the-true-king thing), but thinks that "is good at being obeyed" is a terrible reason to be obeyed, and he wants people to do the right thing because it is right and not because a king ordered it. He'd probably accept the position if there was no other way to save the city, but it hasn't been necessary as yet.
    • Nobby is actually offered the position of king of Anhk-Morpork, but runs away from the offer - not because he would not want the job but because he is afraid of what Commander Vimes would do to him. He would make a horrible king.
    • Come to think of it, Sam Vimes isn't exactly wild about becoming Duke of Ankh, but that's more to do with his dislike of hereditary privilege; wielding quite considerable authority in his role as Commander of the City Watch is a different matter.
  • Dune: In Sisterhood of Dune, the newly-created Sisterhood (precursor to the Bene Gesserit) on Rossak realizes that an heir of Emperor Salvador Corrino will become a disastrous tyrant and ruin the Imperium. They decide to secretly make Salvador sterile so that his more competent brother Roderick would continue the imperial line. This nearly works. Unfortunately, the Sister administering the drug lets it slip to Roderick that he would make a great ruler. Unfortunately for them, Roderick has no desire to be Emperor and is fiercely loyal to his brother. He has the drug examined and the Sister arrested and interrogated. The brothers then arrive to Rossak and execute a number of Sisters, including the remaining Sorceresses. In the sequel books, Roderick finally becomes Emperor after Salvador is assassinated by Josef Venport luring him to a harvesting operation and leaving him to be eaten by a Sand Worm. Everyone, including Roderick himself, agrees that he makes a much better ruler than his brother. Later, Josef Venport himself states that only a fool wants to be Emperor. Venport himself just wants to ensure prosperity and progress, unhampered by the anti-technology fanatics and the short-sightedness of Salvador. When necessary, Roderick is even willing to abdicate the throne in favor of his teenage son Javicco, if it will save the Imperium.
  • King Roland from The Eyes of The Dragon is a fairly decent king, but has little interest in the position, and would rather concentrate on his true passion, hunting. Still, he takes on the responsibilities of kingship, because his people need him. The same goes for both his sons technically, though only one of them is fit to rule. His eldest son Peter is kind, intelligent and takes after his mother, while his youngest son Thomas is slow, plain, and unfortunately inherited all his father's bad traits. Neither really wants to be king, but both end up on the throne at different points - Thomas as a puppet under the scheming court magician Flagg, and Peter after Flagg's treachery is exposed.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fall of Númenor:
    • Tar-Meneldur, the fifth king of Númenor, accepted the Sceptre from his father only grudgingly since he was more interested in astronomy than in the exercise of power.
    • His son Aldarion loves the sea would much rather explore the seas and visit unknown coasts as a mariner.
  • Hurog: In Dragon Bones, there is an interesting case with castle Hurog. While there is no king in Hurog (the smaller countries have been conquered and are subject to a high king), the title of "Hurogmeten" was considered more important than any other title by the recently deceased holder. While all the family is attached to the land and wants to stay there, Ward's uncle doesn't really want to rule there. He's old enough to be up to the task but too decent to want to take the castle and surrounding lands away from his nephew, Ward, who is the rightful heir. The problem is that Ward has been declared insane by the king, and it's not easy to change that.
  • In Julian May's Galactic Milieu series, the job of Dirigent (ruler of a planet) is traditionally given to someone who doesn't want it.
  • Titus Groan, in Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels (as well as the 2000 BBC miniseries), is anything but honored to be the 77th in the long line of the Earls of Gormenghast and will do everything he can to try and get free of the duties of his rank.
  • King Zachary Hillander of the Green Rider series. He was the younger son and expected to govern Hillander Province while his elder brother Amilton ruled, but King Amigast finally saw Amilton for what he was.
  • Raamo in the Green-Sky Trilogy is actually terrified by the prospect of becoming one of the ruling Ol-Zhaan, to the point of trying to telepathically scream at the people looking at him with awe that he's just an ordinary Kindar. It's his reluctance that tips off Neric and sets the bigger plot in motion. Later, we learn that D'ol Falla had intended this as a Batman Gambit. The only one who could set things right was someone who wouldn't be caught up in the trappings of power.
  • The Man In The Shack in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy subverts this to a deliberately extreme extent, in that he's not so much reluctant as unaware that he even is a ruler, and apparently is unwilling to accept that there's anything to rule in any case. In fact, the people who gave him that power decided that anyone who actually wanted to be in charge couldn't be trusted with the job, so the guy who makes all the decisions needs to be someone who doesn't even know the rest of the universe exists. However, his stalling Zarnizwoop while Trillian and Zaphod make their escape, then locking Zarnizwoop out of the shack and ignoring him suggests that while he may prefer to remain ignorant, he's not stupid.
  • The Icarus Agenda by Robert Ludlum has a conspiracy of Well-Intentioned Extremists who want to give America a good President, implying one who didn't seek the power for its own sake, but recognise that one such would be unlikely to volunteer for high political office or to beat the more power-hungry and politically wily candidates if he did; their solution is to find a suitable candidate and manipulate his career without his knowledge.
  • In Imperium, Pompey wants to propose a legislation giving him supreme control of Rome's military, but Crassus and other aristocrats in the Senate will never give their approval. To get around this, Cicero urges Pompey to pretend to be this trope. He plans to have Pompey's crony Gabinius propose a legislation creating a Emergency Authority position with virtually unlimited power to eradicate the pirates; Gabinius will then offer the position to Pompey, who will refuse, until there's enough people clamoring for him to take the position that's he's "forced" to accept. Pompey doesn't like the idea at first, but he comes around to it. Tiro, the narrator, says that pretending to be modest and reluctant to rule is the ultimate ego boost for a prideful man like Pompey. After all, there's nothing like people begging on their knees to give him what he wants.
  • In the John DeChancie science fiction comedy book, Living with Aliens, it is revealed that all of galactic civilization runs on this premise. The Federation figured out that people who want power should never have it. Their solution is to find the people who want to be rulers the least and force them, against their wills, to rule over the galaxies. This leads to them running away constantly and spending all their time getting high and abducting people from Earth to molest and probe them for fun.
  • Deconstructed with Julian Comstock. The title character is a popular war hero who is made president after his Evil Uncle is deposed. Julian is aghast and puts little effort into the pragmatic political maneuvering needed to survive in the position—picking a fight with the powerful Dominion church, ignoring the Senate, giving arbitrary orders to the military without thinking of the consequences, and losing himself in his personal interests in Theatre and Philosophy the worse things get.
  • Wirr of The Licanius Trilogy, as the son of the previous Northwarden, is thrust into the position of being the unelected leader of Administration when his father dies. It's a job he dreads because his status as Gifted (the magical humans Administration was set up to police) is seen as a major conflict of interest and he is impeded at every turn by bureaucracy or outright Fantastic Racism.
  • In the The Legends of Ethshar novel The Unwilling Warlord, the kingdom of Semma figures that talent is In the Blood, and so when a figure in power dies they are replaced with their closest known relative. Thus, Sterren, the main character, finds himself literally kidnapped from his hometown and forced into finding some way to defend the tiny country from the powerful enemies who have declared war upon it.
  • In The Marvelous Land of Oz, the Scarecrow admits he doesn't like being king and isn't very good at it. (The Wizard, who left him in charge, had loyalty from his subjects because he was a dark, mysterious presence that they were afraid of. The Scarecrow doesn't have that, being an open ruler who isn't very intimidating.) When General Jinjur launched her revolt, he would have gladly abdicated had Jinjur not intended to execute him and his allies.
  • Old Kingdom: In the prequel Clariel, some of the problems plaguing the Kingdom and its capital Belisaere stem from the fact that Princess Tathiel is this. She ran away because she absolutely did not want to be Queen, even as her grandfather was planning to abdicate to her. This led her grandfather to give up on ruling, allowing certain villains more freedom to enact their plans. Tathiel returns and takes the throne at the end of the book, but she is not happy about having to rule.
  • In Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series, Eugenides, the Thief of Eddis, marries the queen of Attolia because he's in love with her, but he doesn't want to be king.
    "He didn't marry you to become king. He became king because he wanted to marry you."
  • In the Reflections of Eterna cycle, the only guy who is reasonably suitable to take the Taligian throne in the face of the impending cataclysms, Roque Alva, has so far managed to ingeniously evade this obligation for six books in a row. Yeah, it seems like a recurring motif of the author.
  • In The Republic, where Plato writes that the philosophers who have no interest in ruling should be forced to become kings for the benefit of the people. The gist of it is "We want someone who has to be dragged into office kicking and screaming, but who will then do the best job he can in hopes of being let off early for good behavior."
  • Liu Bei of Romance of the Three Kingdoms fame, did not like the idea of titling himself as King of Shu Han as he was loyal to the (now defunct) Han Dynasty, whom he aimed to restore. His advisors, particularly the famed Zhuge Liang, advised him by taking the title of King of Shu Han, he is able to oppose the other two kingdoms better in his attempt to restore the Han dynasty. Furthermore, Zhuge Liang reminded him that he is a Liu, the family that built the Han Dynasty to begin with, which means he had a more legitimate claim to call his Kingdom of Shu as Shu Han.
  • Nick Seafort in the Seafort Saga, who desperately tries to get out of being promoted to Captain, desperately tries to get out of executing people, desperately tries to get himself killed despite his crew's attempts to save him, and commands anyway because he believes it's his duty to the UN and to his unmerciful God. Basically subjects his crew to the wrath he thinks he deserves.
  • Jenna Heap in Septimus Heap is reluctant to become a Queen at first, but she grows more accepting over the books.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Robert Baratheon didn't rebel against the Targaryens because he wanted the Iron Throne. He did it because he wanted to take back Lyanna Stark from Rhaegar Targaryen and because Rhaegar's father Aerys had ordered his and his best friend Eddard Stark's deaths. At the end of the rebellion, Robert killed Rhaegar but felt no satisfaction since Lyanna died under mysterious circumstances anyway. Robert was forced to take the Iron Throne due to the Baratheon line being descended from a Targaryen bastard and Robert's grandmother being a Targaryen. Robert was an incompetent ruler because he hated being stuck with an uncomfortable throne made of melted-down swords, a wife he hated because she wasn't Lyanna, and the huge responsibilities of ruling an entire continent which he passed on to his advisors.
    • And then Robert appointed Eddard Stark to be his Hand, thus making him the one who had to de facto run the Seven Kingdoms. Ned's bad feeling he had upon taking up this position was eventually proven right: His honorable attitude was not all too well suited for handling the Decadent Court of King's Landing - in fact, it did eventually result in Ned's death by execution.
    • Similarly there is Robert's brother Stannis. He claims the throne after Robert's death, knowing Robert's children with Cersei are actually illegitimate. Stannis does this because he is very lawful and feels taking the Iron Throne is his duty. Unfortunately, much of Westeros sees him as an Evil Uncle and his lack of social skills causes him trouble in winning support. It becomes clear Stannis doesn't really want to be ruler and his obsession with duty, especially when it conflicts with his very strong principles, takes a huge strain on him, such as when he considers burning one of Robert's bastards for magical aid because he feels his duty is more important then what he personally wants.
    • In general, this is Deconstructed by the series. Rulers who don't want to rule don't always have the required sense of duty that will lead them to govern well, or even at all. (Although naturally that's also true for ambitious characters.) For every reluctant ruler or would-be ruler who is responsible and dutiful like Stannis Baratheon, there are many more who neglect their position like Robert Baratheon or are weak-willed and incompetent like Tytos Lannister. Say what you will about Tywin Lannister, but while he craved power, he also knew how to use it well, making him a very effective ruler.
  • In The Sorcerer's Daughter Siegfried is sad to leave the carefree life of a prince behind when he ascends the throne of Grünwald. Then he hopes Rothbart would marry Odette and become king, while Siegfried himself would marry Odile and remain a crown prince for another forty years or so. His hopes are dashed when Rothbart accepts the crown of Naples and Siegfried has to rule Schwanswald on his own after all.
  • In The Spirit Thief, Josef eventually has to take over his kingdom when the entire royal line except for him is dead, despite the fact that he considers himself a failure of a prince, he has spent the last ten years as far from home as possible and his subjects actively hate him. The moment he decides that the crisis has been averted and his advisors have matters well in hand, he leaves the kingdom to them.
  • This is a plot point with Jagged Fel in Star Wars Legends. He really doesn’t want to become the new Emperor, but feels he has no choice. He ,along with his new wife Jaina Solo, appears to have founded the Fel Empire if the comics are anything to go by.
  • Sword of the Rightful King: Arthur muses to himself that everyone wants to be the High King except for him. Merlinnus argues that Arthur is a good king because he rules out of a sense of duty rather than ambition.
  • In The Tamuli, the Isle of Tega builds its entire government on this. Nobody asks to be nominated for public office; as soon as you're nominated, you're placed under guard, and if elected your possessions are sold and the proceeds put into the treasury. At the end of your five-year term, if the economy prospered, you get your money back with proportionate interest. If it floundered, you could lose everything. Many officials have worked themselves to death for the good of the republic.
  • In Victoria, Bill Kraft is not interested in standing for office, even when urged on by his friends and allies, and is persuaded to launch his candidacy for governor only when the Kaiser writes to support this idea.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Invoked and exploited in Shards of Honor by the dying Emperor Ezar Vorbarra when choosing the regent for his five-year-old grandson (with the explicit job of both keeping little Gregor alive and handing power over when he hit the age of majority). While Admiral & Lord Vorkosigan was a widely admired and genuinely brilliant war hero, a respected member of the high nobility, known for how highly he valued his word of honor, and so forth; the deciding factor was that Aral Vorkosigan was the one man Ezar (who knew him well since Aral's childhood) was absolutely certain did not on any level want to be Emperor.
    • In The Vor Game, Gregor attempts to bunk off from being Emperor of Barrayar. His foster parents never figured out how to break the facts of his father's insanity to him, so when he found provable documentation of it in his mid-20s he freaked.
  • Warhammer 40,000: A downplayed example in The Traitor's Hand. Cain remarks that the local planetary regent, being the chief bureaucrat rather than the usual aristocratic appointee, is considerably more sensible than the average governor. He suggests that "the absolute last person who should end up with power is the one who wants it".
  • In Warrior Cats, Onewhisker was given a very last-minute deputy appointment during Tallstar's death. In addition to infuriating the previous deputy Mudclaw, he was reluctant to lead and only took the position at the insistence of Firestar and Brambleclaw. After becoming leader, he had to quickly change his tune in order to gain everyone's respect.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • This is a major part of Perrin's Character Arc, the other part being his coming to grips with being able to talk to wolves. He spends most of the series resisting leadership, and when he finally accepts it reflects that perhaps those who least want authority are most deserving of it.
    • His friends Mat, Egwene, and Rand are downplayed examples. They had the respective responsibilities of being a military commander, the queen of The Magocracy, and the prophesied savior and doom of the world thrust on them but adapt to having people take orders from them faster than Perrin.
  • Record of Grancrest War:
    • Theo conquered the country because its civil war would clearly not be stopped any other way. Once everybody was unified and no longer drafting peasants into their selfish power struggles, he gave up Emperor-ship to the actual heir (who was both virtuous and competent, but couldn't have done what Theo did because he was too preoccupied with romantic shenanigans during the war) and went back home to be Lord of Sistina. He spent a single year on the throne, and only that because he knew the people would rebel if he left it earlier.
    • Theo's wife and provisional Empress, Siluca, was even moreso this trope. She hadn't intended to marry anybody before Love at First Sight worked its magic, and masterminded nearly all of Theo's victories based on whatever strategy seemed like a good idea at the time. When Theo asked her to rule alongside him if they won the Final Battle, she was like, "Eh, okay...If we win." That fact that they did surprised her as much as anyone.
  • Heroics for Beginners mentions that this trope is why the people of Rassendas want to keep the country a monarchy. A royal heir might be good or bad at ruling, but either is preferable to the morass of conflict that competitors would have to navigate if the country's leader was chosen. When a lot of people compete for power, the one who wins it will be the most sneaky and backstabby of them all- the person who can least be trusted with it.
  • Wings of Fire has a rare villainous example. Snowfall always dreamed of becoming queen..."someday", after a few more years with her mother. note  Until then, she was perfectly happy polishing her skills, enjoying the luxuries of princesshood, and being a bitch to everyone. When her mother and twenty other dragons die to a terrible plague that throws the kingdom into chaos, Snowfall laments that she never thought her ascension would be like this. In the end, the burden of ruling serves as a much-needed wake up call for her, encouraging her to develop compassion for others and allowing her access to a certain royal treasure that grants empathy. She becomes the most racially tolerant queen the IceWings have had for generations.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Angel, about the only thing Groo failed at was running a country. He became bored with the committees and was deposed pretty quickly.
  • Game of Thrones: As Stannis tells Ser Davos, he doesn't particularly want to be king. But as the rightful heir, he believes that he must do his duty, and he believes Melisandre when she says that he's the only one who can save Westeros.
  • Star Trek:
    • On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Worf helps Gowron obtain the throne, but Gowron ends up so corrupt that he's willing to sacrifice the entire Dominion war just to get rid of the highly respected General Martok. Worf tries to convince Martok to challenge Gowron's leadership before the empire is destroyed but Martok is too humble, loyal and honourable to even contemplate it. Worf is very reluctantly forced to challenge Gowron himself. When he wins, he uses his very temporary status to force the mantle upon a very horrified Martok, much to the council's delight.
    • Ben Sisko also experiences this, being proclaimed the Emissary of the Prophets shortly after he arrives on Bajor. Despite being as polite about it as possible in public, he confides to Kira and Dax that he resents the position. It takes him three and a half seasons to begin to accept it.
    • And then there's Federation President Jaresh-Inyo, who finds himself in over his head as the Changelings infiltrate Earth and Starfleet Command. He admits that he had been perfectly happy to represent his people on the Federation Council and almost refused his people's request for him to run for President. He decided that he probably should have refused to run for President. By the end of the series he is no longer President. In the Star Trek Novel 'Verse it is revealed that Jaresh-Inyo had been defeated by a more hawkish candidate after a single term who felt Jaresh-Inyo had been too easily manipulated by Starfleet.
    • Star Trek: Discovery gives us Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po, who ran away from Xahea because she didn't feel ready to be the queen. Fortunately, a pep talk with Tilly helped her learn to accept her role.
  • Babylon 5: ex-Narn Ambassador G'kar is both stunned and hesitant when told he has become a religious icon to the Narn, and outright refused leadership of the government after overthrowing the Centauri. He eventually accepted spiritual, if not political, leadership, but only because the public wouldn't take no for an answer.
  • Claudius in I, Claudius becomes this after he's proclaimed Emperor by the Praetorian Guard following his nephew Caligula's assassination. He really wants to make Rome a true republic again, but the Guard literally forces him into the imperial role and Claudius realizes he has to accept or risk having himself and his family slaughtered. Much later, however, he decides to marry his corrupt niece Agrippina and let her unhinged son Nero succeed as emperor, to force the Romans to get sick of monarchy. He only succeeds in ensuring that his only son and only loyal adviser die.
  • In Once Upon a Time, King Leopold proposed to Regina because she was the only woman he'd met since his wife's passing who genuinely cared about his daughter Snow. Young Regina never wanted to be Queen and only wanted to marry her true love, her family’s stable boy. Inverted in that Regina’s mother killing her true love and forcing her to marry the King is what made her become, well, the Evil Queen.
  • In Lost, character Jack Shepard is a doctor and tries to save lives after the airplane crashes into the island. The other characters begin seeking his advice on all matters and treating him as their leader, though no formal decision is made that he is in charge. Despite the fact that Jack does not want this responsibility, the other characters look to him to be their leader and save them from crises. He struggles with the burden but ends up being the stoic leader even though he has no desire to do so because nobody else is suitable for the job.
  • Played with in Galavant. Richard's older brother Kingsley decided he didn't want to be given the job of being king... because he considered his destiny to be conquering, killing, and having sex all over the place. He doesn't mind keeping the royal sword, though, and during the show's first season he is talked into coming back and claiming Richard's crown.
  • Ragnar from Vikings never particularly wanted to be a ruler, he mostly just wanted to be left alone to do his own thing. Other power-hungry men, however, came to fear him because he was a badass warrior whose reputation attracted followers, and he was willing to go against their edicts, so they thought Ragnar might attempt to overthrow them and tried to strike first. In every case, Ragnar managed to outfight or outthink them, until at the end of the second season he becomes King Ragnar. Even so, he doesn't enjoy being a ruler and says as much on several occasions. The third and fourth season of the show seem to be deconstructing the trope, as Ragnar is constantly surrounded by ambitious enemies and petty disputes/betrayal among his friends, all while being burdened by The Chains of Commanding, undergoing some Sanity Slippage, becoming intensely lonely as more of his old companions die or become estranged from him, and increasingly suffering from all the wounds he's picked up along the way. Just giving the crown to someone else, however, is likely to result in that person killing Ragnar and all his sons to make sure they wouldn't become a threat to the new king's rule.
    Ragnar: Power is always dangerous. It attracts the worst and corrupts the best. Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.
    • Ragnar's son Bjorn Ironside is a great warrrior and leader of men but would rather be an explorer than take over as king. He is extremely happy when his mother Lagarther takes over as queen but has to take the throne himself after Lagartha is deposed.
    • Inverted with Harald Finehair. He spends most of his life fighting and scheming to become king but once he actually obtains the throne, he finds it unsatisfying since he no longer has anyone in his life to share it with. He jumps at the chance to sail on another expedition to England and leaves others to rule in his stead.
  • In The West Wing, Toby Ziegler in Season 6 firmly believes that it is due to this trope that Matt Santos, the Democratic nominee whom Josh Lyman picks for the position of President, is a horrible choice. To become President, one must have a drive, the ambition to have the job, and Toby doesn't see Matt as having it, as he had announced his resignation from Congress. Matt ends up becoming the President and it's implied he's very good at it.
  • In Young Hercules, Jason has shades of this. As prince of Corinth, he wants to make his late father proud and keep his people safe, but he angsts about having to live up to the old man's legacy and is openly annoyed by all the formalities he's expected to know by heart. He's also a guy in his early twenties who wants to have fun with his best friends rather than deal with all the responsibility of a job he wasn't even supposed to take on for another couple decades. "Cold Feet" in particular has him chafe over what's expected and sneak off for a relaxing vacation, only to become Resigned to the Call when he sees villagers getting tormented by ruthless bandits. He gets crowned king later in the season, ruling until partway into the original series (and he only retired due to an old law that would've prevented him from marrying Alcmene).

  • Transformers:
    • Optimus Prime, a factor generally common across most depictions, really doesn't want to be in charge. But there's no one else quite as capable as him. Some versions have even tried quitting and walking away from it all, with one instance lasting about two minutes before he dragged himself back in.
    • In instances where Optimus has been missing, Ultra Magnus has been a fill-in, despite being even more vocal than Optimus about how he doesn't deserve or want to be in charge. Adding to the tragic irony, The War Within showed Magnus managing to reunite the scattered Autobots, including prominent Optimus-dislikers the Dinobots, and force the Decepticon factions into seeking a peace treaty, which would've worked had Megatron not shown up.

    Video Games 
  • Fate/stay night: Saber hates having been made king, having never wanted it but doing it anyway for the good of her people. She did the best anyone could, but her dislike of being king at all (and the ensuing lack of drive) meant she was never well-loved by her followers or her people, and the Dirty Business she was forced to do as a king eventually led to her kingdom tearing itself apart (not helped at all by the machinations of her older sister, who felt that she should have been the ruler were it not for their father and his advisor's actions passing her over for Saber, leading her to try and ruin Saber and the kingdom out of envy). She wants the Grail so she can wish for a better king to take her place in history. In Fate/Zero, Rider delivers what is effectively a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her about it, claiming that her lack of desire for kingship meant she was never truly a king, just a "young girl playing at being a king".
  • Fate/Grand Order: Beowulf never wanted to be a king, preferring the life of a wandering warrior and hero, but when his liege's line died out, he took control and ruled ably and well even into his old age before dying heroically saving them from a dragon. Unlike Saber, Beowulf never regretted being a king because as much as he disliked it personally, he knew he had the ability to do it well and so he did. In the first Lostbelt, he takes charge of a Yaga village and manages to change their way of life for the better, to the point that when he prepares to leave to aid Chaldea they beg him to stay. He in turn tells them the true test of his rule will be how they're able to live up to the lessons he taught them.
  • Final Fantasy VI: Neither Edgar nor Sabin particularly wanted to rule Figaro, so they settled it with a coin toss, where the winning twin got to do whatever he wanted. It's eventually revealed that Edgar used a double-headed coin so that Sabin could get the freedom he wanted.
  • A non-government example: Squall from Final Fantasy VIII hates leading but is forced to lead an entire army when they're attacked, and does a nice job while at it. Rousing Speech and everything.
  • Dragon Age has a number of these.
    • Alistair of Dragon Age: Origins can become this. He can become considerably less reluctant about it if you select certain dialogue choices, however, and he proves to be a much better king after said dialogue choices than otherwise. Codex entries in the later games show that his people truly love him.
    • Sebastian Vael in Dragon Age II is another take. He envied the fact that his older brother would inherit the throne and spent most of his early life as The Hedonist. His parents put him in the Chantry to stop him embarrassing them, but he found it gave him a purpose. Then political rivals murder the rest of his family, and he spends the game trying to choose between retaking his lands or serving the Maker. You can push him one way or the other.
      "When I wanted to rule, I would have been terrible at it. Now that I might be decent, I don't know if it's the right thing to do."
    • Depending on player choices, the Inquisitor in Dragon Age: Inquisition is this, having been more or less forced into a leadership role by the completely bewildering and unprecedented circumstances of the game. They can accept the role eagerly, take up the mantle reluctantly, or something in between.
      • Background lore found in this game shows that this was the case for Emperor Florian of Orlais, a few decades before the events of the games. He never expected to rule, since his older brother Judicael II had twin sons and it was presumed that one of them would succeed their father. However, the Hundred Days' Cough swept through Orlais and killed many children, including both of Judicael's sons and Florian's daughter. Judicael was so distraught by his sons' deaths that he had a careless hunting accident (basically a suicide) and left the throne to his brother Florian, who was not happy about it.
      • The Trespasser DLC reveals that this is the fate which has also befallen Varric, who was already annoyed at having to be the head of his noble family; now he has been declared Viscount of Kirkwall. He's not terribly pleased by the turn of events, which is the result of a Noodle Incident, but he's damn good at it.
  • Saints Row series:
    • According to the first Saints Row game's instruction manual, Julius claimed to be this when he started leading the 3rd Street Saints, though the Stillwater Police believe he's a natural gang leader.
    • The Protagonist in the sequel, Saints Row 2 however, is a subverted example, being happy with leading the Saints in Julius' place instead of just 'keeping his/her mouth shut and letting himself/herself being told what to do.' He/she even outright states this when he confronts Julius, who was revealed to have rigged the boat to explode in the first game.
  • Peony in Tales of the Abyss. He's the illegitimate son of the previous emperor, and when all his half-brothers get killed, he's called to the capital. But because he is going to be the Emperor, he can't marry the woman he loves. All his subjects adore him.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • In the series' backstory, the corrupt Yokudan (ancestors) of the Redguards) Emperor, Hira, sought to consolidate power by wiping out the Ansei, a Yokudan order of "Sword Singers/Saints" who were each a Master Swordsman capable of generating a "Shehai" spirit-sword. Facing elimination, the Ansei sought out the greatest of their order, the legendary Frandar Hunding. When his son, Divad, and the Ansei came to him, Frandar initially refused to lead them in battle against the Emperor. It was only after five hours of debate that he reluctantly agreed to become their leader, and it is said that, even though he was victorious, he struggled with that decision and many others he made as leader later in life.
    • Subverted with Martin Septim in Oblivion. Had he actually become The Emperor, he would very likely have been even better than his father, since he never wanted to become one in the first place. Additionally, his experiences as a Daedra worshiper and, later, a poor monk would certainly make him care for his subjects a lot. Alas, it was not meant to be.
    • Following the events of the Oblivion Crisis, with no Septim on the throne for the first time in nearly 500 years, High Chancellor Ocato takes over as Potentate. A book which can be read in Skyrim reveals the details of his reign. As evidenced by Ocato exhausting every other option before taking over, he clearly preferred serving as a Number Two rather than being in charge himself. He performed well in this role, holding the crumbling Tamrielic Empire together for a decade before being assassinated by the Thalmor in a successful attempt to destabilize the Empire.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic IV we have Lord Lysander of Palaendra. After Enroth was destroyed by the Reckoning, strange portals opened to a new world called Axeoth. The survivors of the kingdom of Erathia found themselves without a nation and a ruler, as every Gryphonheart (the ruling dynasty) is believed to have been killed by the Reckoning (after already being winnowed in III)note . Seeing that no one else is willing, Lysander forms the new nation of Palaendra. He becomes such a great ruler that people offer to crown him king. He refuses, however, as, in his mind, only a true Gryphonheart can be king. He always considers himself merely a steward. However, when a man shows up claiming to be a Gryphonheart, Lysander is reluctant to hand over the throne. Not because he isn't willing, but because he doesn't trust the newcomer's claim. When Lysander ends up proving that the man is an impostor and finding out that he himself is a Gryphonheart, he reluctantly allows himself to be crowned king.
  • In the backstory of Horizon Zero Dawn, Sun-King Iriv disappeared on an expedition into the wilderness, leaving no heirs behind. The crown went to his brother, Basadid, who then ordered construction of a large fortress on the edge of the kingdom. The garrison there kept watch in case Iriv came back, or his killers showed up, but neither happened.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, if Mical (aka the Disciple) was not corrupted by a dark side Exile, Kreia reveals that he will help rebuild the near-extinguished Jedi Order and "sit upon the new Council, reluctantly, as all good men do".
  • In Civilization: Beyond Earth, Humata, the leader of Polystalia's expedition, ended up being the leader of the mission to the new alien planet precisely because he really, really didn't want to be the leader, and at the same time he was the best qualified for the entire endeavour.
  • In World of Warcraft, Vol'jin becomes this when, after Garrosh Hellscream is dethroned and arrested, Thrall kneels to him as the new Warchief instead of taking the title that was once his (and everyone expected to take again). Vol'jin only accepts the title after the other Horde leaders pay homage to him. It's a bit of a Wham Episode for Alliance players to see him declare "I speak for de Horde."
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In Fire Emblem Fates, Hinoka becomes this at the end of the Conquest route. She never saw herself as queen material, but since everyone ahead of her for the title of heir apparent is dead, and the only other person who can realistically take the throne is, well, Sakura, she's in no position to refuse.
    • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Rhea never wanted to lead the Church; she only ever intended to be a temporary guide for humanity until her mother Sothis returned. This is deconstructed in that it's because she never wanted this position that she's willing to go to the morally-grey lengths she does in her efforts to bring Sothis back to "fix" things properly. Just before the time skip, she reveals to the player that she intends to make Byleth (who she's come to believe is a true reincarnation of Sothis) her successor to the Church and, on routes that she survives, she follows through on handing the reins of the Church over to Byleth, though thankfully with the realization that Byleth is their own person separate from Sothis.
    • In Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, according to Monica's bio, her father, Baron Ochs, was adopted into the family and received the title of Baron out of the blue the same year of the Insurrection of the Seven. She states that he never really wanted to be baron in the first place, but has since grown to accept his role.

  • Girl Genius:
  • In Arthur, King of Time and Space, Arthur's reaction to being told he's the son of Uther Pendragon and rightwise king of all British Space is "Must I?"
  • Princess Princess (2012): Sadie, Amira, and Prince Vladric all shirk their royal responsibilities for their own reasons, though Sadie's reluctance is at least partly due to her sister constantly telling her she's not smart or capable enough to rule.
  • Unsounded: Queen Maharaishala Sonorie didn't not want to be queen exactly, but felt uncomfortable with being made the heir when her sister was so much more hungry for it and she didn't think she had it in her to do some of the less savory things the position would require. At least this is how she remembers it decades later.

    Web Original 
  • In Noob, Arthéon succeeded Master Zen after he stopped playing not as much because he wanted to be Guild Master as because the two other members of the guild were a Manchild and a self-centered guy who is convinced that letting female players into the guild can only weaken it.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko wants Iroh to take his rightful place on the throne and is very hesitant to face his destiny as the next Fire Lord, but accepts his responsibility and is crowned at the very end. This is in contrast to his father, who usurped the throne and eventually crowned himself king of the world. He continues to feel this way throughout the comic sequels, to the point that in Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search, his initial reaction when he finds out he might not really be Ozai's son and thus not a legitimate heir to the throne is relief.
  • In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation I.T.", it's revealed that nobody wants Numbuh 362's job as Supreme Leader of the organization, and when she starts hating the job herself because of the stress and decides to quit, the whole organization holds a game of tag, which whoever is "it" at the end of the time period having to take the job. (Unfortunately, when Father ends up in control of it via a technicality, Numbuh 362 has to show true leadership skills to get her job back, which include eating through broccoli to fight him, a sacrifice that puts her in a coma for two weeks after she manages to defeat him. And she still takes back the job afterwards.) Hilariously enough, Numbah 13 is the only one excited about becoming leader. He is immediately dogpiled by many operatives to ensure that he doesn't become Leader.
  • In The Transformers, Rodimus Prime was never happy leading the Autobots, feeling - accurately - that he was an inexperienced leader and not as good of one as Optimus Prime was. He happily relinquished the Matrix back to Optimus the first time he seemingly returned but had to become leader again, as that was only a zombie. When Optimus finally returned for real, he was able to return to his old position with clear conscience.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Princess Celestia has ruled Equestria for over a thousand years, and her subjects for the most part love and revere her. This makes it rather poignant when The Journal of the Two Sisters reveals that she never wanted to rule in the first place. She and Luna were Offered the Crown by the three pony tribes because none of them believed they would be happy with a ruler who belonged to one of the tribes, thanks to lingering Fantastic Racism. Celestia didn't even like being referred to as a "ruler", and saw herself as more of a "guardian".
  • In Star Trek: Lower Decks, Lieutenant Commander Andarithio "Andy" Billups is the chief engineer of the USS Cerritos. He's also the sole heir to the throne of Hysperia. Except he has absolutely no desire to rule. He'd much rather repair the warp core. His mother Queen Paolana is determined to get him to accept his role, by getting him laid. By Hysperian law, if Billups loses his virginity, he must return to Hysperia and take his rightful place on the throne.
  • In Voltron: Legendary Defender, Shiro asks Keith to take his place as leader of Voltron should anything happen to him. Keith is initially very hesitant at the idea, but accepts his responsibility when Shiro goes missing. Keith continues to feel uncomfortable at the idea even after proving himself by successfully leading the team to form Voltron.

    Real Life 
  • Ramiro II of Aragon was the fourth son of King Sancho Ramirez, and consigned to the church. Unfortunately, his elder brothers died young and without heirs. He was dragged out of the church under protest, married a widow who had an established record of healthy births, stayed around just long enough to sire a daughter, then betrothed the daughter to a trusted ally, and marched back to the church.
  • George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, did not want the position in the first place and outright refused to be made king of the new country when the idea was presented.
    • He also refused to serve more than two terms, starting a tradition for the office. It was made law by the 22nd Amendment, ratified after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms. Incidentally, Roosevelt initially planned to follow Washington's precedent and wanted to step down after his second term but with war looming on the horizon and the rise of fascism, he decided to break tradition and seek a third, and later a fourth term.
    • In general, the Founding Fathers deliberately invoked this trope and tried to project an image of reluctance or humility towards power and positions as a sort of tradition, as a way to hide their political ambitions and project republican virtue (in the Roman sense). Privately, all of them were fairly ambitious wheeler-dealers, and they (Jefferson and Hamilton among others) got much mileage attacking their opponents for being ambitious and grabby for power while they, in their opinion that is totally objective, are pure as snow.
  • William Howard Taft was another very reluctant President, having been pressured into taking the position by his friend Theodore Roosevelt and to a lesser extent, his wife. He was a judge at heart and had little taste in politics. (His ideal job would have been a Justice of the Supreme Court, which he eventually achieved.) Hardly any other President was so unhappy in the White House, and worst of all, his arguments with Roosevelt during the 1912 campaign destroyed their friendship. At Wilson's inauguration, he told the new President, "I'm glad to be going. This is the loneliest place on Earth."
  • While Liu Bei in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms was reluctant, his historical counterpart seems to have been a subversion. The man rarely served a lord long and betrayed both Sun Quan & Liu Zhang to take Yi Province, from which he based his Shu Kingdom.
    • Meanwhile, while Cao Cao is often presented in fiction as a power-hungry tyrant, he never (publicly) sought to replace the Emperor. In keeping with Confucian practice, he made a good show of humility and refusing honours. However, he did continue to eventually accept them—and frankly, after Wang Mang, you don't get the Nine Bestowments unless you (discreetly) ask for them, as a way of confirming you have enough support to take over the government if not usurp the thronenote . Whether he truly was an ambitious warlord out for what he could get away with or a humble, final hero of the Han is a question for the ages.
  • Prince Albert, Duke of York, would have liked nothing more than to live quietly with his nice family, and, since he was the second son, this was a reasonable expectation. However, his brother Edward VIII turned out to be a complete screwup, a playboy, and a Nazi sympathiser who earned the contempt of the establishment and was forced to abdicate. Albert (as George VI) shouldered the duties of the King-Emperor, the stress of which is often thought to have considerably hastened his death (either directly or indirectly, since he increased his smoking habit to cope), and he's generally considered to have done so pretty well. Being the figurehead for the nation during World War II didn't hurt, nor does the fact that his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, is generally considered to have modelled her legendary devotion to duty after him.
  • Albert's uncle Prince Carl of Denmark — also the second son — was also pretty happy with a quiet life as a naval officer based in Copenhagen with his wife, the former Princess Maud of Wales, and their young son Alexander. And then in 1905 Norway formally cast off its union with Sweden and went looking for someone new to be king. Due pretty much to having a son so young he could be brought up as Norwegian and a father-in-law who was King Edward VII of the powerful United Kingdom, Carl was widely felt to be the best choice. In the end, he only agreed after insisting Norway hold a referendum to make certain he wouldn't be there against the people's wishes (they approved him by almost 80%). 35 years as king later, Haakon VII became (and remains) a national hero for refusing to cooperate with the invading Nazis and inspiring La Résistance in Norway — even while this reunited him and Alexander (now Crown Prince Olav) with their nephew and cousin Bertie in temporary exile in the UK.note 
  • Pope Benedict XVI may not have ever wanted to be Pope, claiming publicly that he prayed he would never gain the position. Unfortunately for him, in the Roman Catholic Church, one oath all priests must swear to upon becoming ordained is to be willing to accept the position if selected. He ultimately became the first pope in nearly six hundred years to resign, the last to do so having been Gregory XII in 1415 — and that was forced upon him in order to resolve the schism created by the Avignon Papacy. (He was the first to resign under his own volition since Celestine V, who created the rule allowing Popes to resign, in 1294.)
  • Yao, the first king/emperor of China, supposedly passed his throne to Shun because he was the most competent and he didn't want the job. Shun similarly passed it to Yu, but Yu couldn't find anybody who qualified who wasn't too old, and so when he died, the throne went to his son and the position became hereditary. Future emperors would try to justify their own rule by having the previous regime (if said ruler wasn't related by blood) "voluntarily" abdicate.
  • King Louis XVI was noted in his lifetime for being extremely reluctant and hesitant and seemed to not really enjoy being King, and even before The French Revolution, he was constantly insecure and sensitive to constant insults about how different he was from the tradition of French monarchynote . Even when he finally called for reforms to fix a financial crisis and escalating famine, he was perceived as being reluctant to follow through on the reforms he had himself called for, while at the same time not being as repressive on the revolutionaries and his subjects as his opponents had insisted upon. Even when he planned his famous Flight to Varennes, he left the planning to his wife and fatally delayed taking action.
  • Sun Yat-sen, the first President of the post-imperial Republic of China, was very reluctant to rule as President due to a feeling of inadequacy and thus presented the title to Yuan Shikai, a prominent figure in the Chinese military that had previously worked for the pre-revolutionary Qing Dynasty. Shortly after being appointed President, Shikai ruled China as an autocratic despot, relying heavily on 'local elites' (i.e. warlords) in the various provinces to maintain order and stability. After having created a short-lived Empire with himself as Emperor, Shikai died in 1916, culminating in a balkanization of China into various warlord states. Sun died in 1925, both his successors - the left-leaning Wang Jingwei of the Nationalist Party, and 'Red General' (later Generalissimo) Chiang Kai-shek of the National Revolutionary Army - lacking his reluctance to rule in favor of their burning senses of ambition.
  • Tiberius Claudius Nero only became heir to his stepfather Augustus, the first Roman Emperor after all of Augustus's other potential successors (including his adopted grandchildren) had died in a mixture of unfortunate circumstances and inter/intra-family plotting, and when he became Emperor, attempted to reject the Senate's offered titles, causing massive confusion until he relented. After his own sons died, he grew depressed and retired to Capri, leading his praetorian prefect to institute a reign of terror in his name. Tiberius was eventually convinced to act against Sejanus the prefect, leading to fresh purges. He eventually died on Capri, leaving the principate to his very young great-nephew Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known as Caligula.
  • Claudius is commonly portrayed as such (see I, Claudius above), and given that he was appointed Emperor by the Praetorian Guard just after they'd killed his nephew Caligula it's not that hard to believe.
  • This trait is often attributed to more than one of Rome's "Five Good Emperors"
    • Nerva was elected Emperor by the senate after Domitian's assassination and hastily accepted to avoid a civil war. But his reign was marred by financial crises and civil strife from his reluctance to exert authority.
    • Marcus Aurelius seems to have been more interested in Stoic philosophy than ruling, only accepting the position of emperor on the condition that he split his responsibilities with his adopted brother Lucius Verus. After Verus died he appointed his son Commodus as his new co-emperor, though there's no evidence he intended a random general to be his eventual successor.
  • Dom Pedro II of Brazil is a historically gut-wrenching example of this trope. Under his reign, Brazil was a prosperous nation with a decent level of free speech, political liberties, and civil rights. But he hated the job of ruling so much, that when he was overthrown in a coup, he put up zero resistance, and fled to an obscure exile in Paris, despite still being popular enough to beat back resistance. He is often considered to be the best Brazilian leader, and a surviving Brazilian empire is popular what-if for many Brazilians.