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"Our son is a wastrel and a halfwit. We shudder to think of the throne in his hands."
Queen Victoria, From Hell

Having a Reasonable Authority Figure in charge is brilliant. Be it a good monarch, a superb CEO, a master swordsman with a knack for education in a dojo... whatever the position, it makes the lives of everyone under the title easier. But no one lives forever...

But it's OK! If it's a monarchy, the line of succession is safe, or the king has chosen an agreeable replacement beforehand; if not, there are proper democratic (or at least elective) mechanisms in place for selecting a new leader. The old makes way for the new...

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...pity that the new sucks.

This trope is about when a superb or at least markedly superior leader passes away, retires or occasionally gets killed off, possibly by the guy or gal who gets the top spot, and is replaced by someone who is markedly inferior. Markedly inferior can range from just not being as competent to being akin to the worst excesses of insane leaders throughout history.

Reasons for this trope being deployed vary. Sometimes it simply showcases the problem of having an experienced leader suddenly get replaced by someone who hasn't got the hang of things yet; that leader may show Character Development and improve. Sometimes the new leader is fairly competent under normal circumstances, but his father was a genius at war, or intrigue, or even just keeping the wolves from the door, which applies especially to CEOs, and the circumstances are most assuredly NOT optimal. If this is the case, if the new ruler is The Hero, he again will eventually come up to the mark, albeit with a lot of problems and challenges along the way. Unless it's a Downer Ending of course. If he is not the main character, then it will be up to The Hero to guide the new leader or at least ensure he doesn't screw up too badly... or maybe the new king will be the reason for the country/whatever collapsing, the villain winning initially, and the heroes will be La Résistance, stemming from a Prequel or Backstory. Sometimes something in the bloodline will hit the new ruler, leaving him Royally Screwed Up. Sometimes the new leader is just a young child, in which case the regent(s) are the ones who are likely to be incompetent and/or self-serving. And, of course, there's always the chance the new ruler will be a bloodthirsty tyrant or just insane and will prove to be the villain of the piece, or an obstacle for the hero to overcome to defeat the real villain.

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In the event of the old ruler trying to do something about the successor to ensure this doesn't happen, you have an Inadequate Inheritor. Often overlaps with The Wrongful Heir to the Throne. The inversion is Superior Successor.

This trope will probably have several subtropes eventually. Also, we need some examples which aren't just examples of the successor doing something horrible to the old ruler.

Death Trope. Will involve unmarked spoilers. Read at your own risk, and the risk of others to whom you will blab about it out of shock who haven't watched/read the story yet.


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Examples

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     Anime and Manga 
  • In Mission: Yozakura Family, the underworld specifically notes that Taiyo, the husband of the tenth head of the Yozakura family, isn't a particularly exceptional spy aside from his dogged determination to improve his skills and protect Mutsumi. This weighs on him as he begins worrying about sullying the Yozakura name and whether or not he ought to be with Mutsumi.
  • Defied on The Twelve Kingdoms as the next ruler is not necessarily the child of the previous king, but rather has to be chosen by the Kirin each time the previous one dies. Rulers gain near-immortality on accession (for themselves as well as their family and retainers), so a successful reign may continue indefinitely. Not all rulers are successful, however: Youko's predecessor only ruled for about 6 years before committing suicide to save her kirin from her own incompetence. By comparison, the wise and even-handed En-Ou has ruled for more than 500 years.
  • Played with in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam in regards to the RX-78-2. Whereas in the original series the RX-78 Gundam was groundbreaking (for example, its beam rifle was equipped with rechargeable E-cap technology that granted it the same firepower as a battleship), the Gundam Mk-II units that AEUG came to steal from the Titans are only slight improvements over the original (despite Zeta taking place 8 years after the original series). Lieutenant Quattro Bageena expresses his disappointment by observing, "I suppose they're just an actual Mark 2." Since the original Gundam had been so important in winning the One Year War, they'd hoped that taking the latest machines to carry the Gundam name would give them a similar advantage. As it is, the Mk-II is rendered obsolete even before the halfway point of the series.
    • Similarly in Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (chronologically set halfway between the original series and Zeta), the brand-spanking new warship Birmingham is the new flagship of the Earth Federation. It is meant to replace the aging Magellan-class battleships that saw service during the One Year War. It is unceremoniously destroyed during Anavel Gato's attack on the Federation's fleet review, and its numerous flaws (no Mobile Suit hangar capacity at all and a lack of anti-MS AA capability) ensure it is almost completely forgotten while the Magellan continues to see service even up until both Neo Zeon wars.
  • Bleach: In flashback scenes, it's shown that Gosuke Kiganjo, the 10th Kenpachi, was seen as this compared to previous Kenpachis. Shinji in particular greatly disliked him, wondering how someone like him could have ever made it as a captain, and nobody seemed to grieve much at all after Zaraki killed him for a Klingon Promotion.

     Comic Book 
  • Nick Fury was fired from SHIELD after starting a secret war with Doctor Doom. During Marvel's Secret Invasion event, he groomed Daisy Johnson, a SHIELD agent loyal to him, to take his place and build a new SHIELD, since the previous one was infiltrated by Hydra. While she was very good at her job, her first time breaking the rules, she is caught and immediately replaced by Maria Hill. Nick was able to keep secret agendas and plans secret for years.
    • Similarly, Maria Hill, when replacing Nick Fury was this. She always worked within the system, which meant she could never do quite as good a job as Nick. The world went to crap on her watch. She got better over time, but still is very much inferior to Nick. She's ultimately thrown out of SHIELD after the Pleasant Hill incident.
  • Tormina becomes the new Queen of the Underrealm after her older sister Lady Death abdicates in favor of her. Unfortunately, Tormina was not experienced in ruling nor was as powerful as her sister and to make matters worse, she was handed the throne in the aftermath of a devastating war that ruined the realm. This ended up pushing her to seek the advice of an ancient demon named Satyricos, who became her Evil Chancellor and under his influence, managed to restore the kingdom, but at cost of persecuting all demonkind in the Underrealm. Tormina ends up becoming nothing more than a Puppet Queen to Satyricos, who used her to get rid of all who would get in his way and ends up discarding her when she finds this out.
  • Robin Series: While the Rahul Lama did try to get his grandson more involved in all aspects of the ancient martial and healing art he was the last true master of and keep him involved in training their students after his death his grandson runs the school into the ground. By the time Tim is in Paris again long enough to revisit their martial arts school it has been replaced with a fast food joint and all of Shen's remaining "students" are thugs.
  • Poor Elias Acorn of Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics). He takes over the throne twice and both times loses it. The first time had Elias unwittingly give Geoffery St. John as an advisor, only to become a Treacherous Advisor as he used his position to punish Sonic and build up his Secret Service. When an Eggman plot ravaged said Secret Service as well as the Sword of Acorns rejecting him, Elias runs away in shame. He comes back again a year later in-series to take back the throne, only to lose it again to Ixis Naugus.
  • The Authority:
    • The team itself. It was inspired by the Changers, a rather idealistic group compoared to the nastiness and dirty business the Authority engaged it.
    • Jack Hawksmoor was very much this as leader when he took over from the late Jenny Sparks, as the team collectively Took a Level in Jerkass, as they went from being reluctant but willing to use lethal force to a bunch of arrogant jackasses whose default method is the use of lethal force, act unilaterally without thinking about the consequences, and at one point overthrew the U.S. government.

     Fan Works 
  • In Eugenesis Prowl has a choice: Being in charge, which he hates (and isn't very good at), or letting Grimlock take control and run what's left of the Autobots into the ground. Or Springer, though for some reason he can't figure out, Prowl doesn't think this would be a good idea. Follow-up fiction would prove his suspicions about Springer right in all the worst ways.

     Film 

     Literature 
  • Many versions of Robin Hood have King John standing in for Good King Richard.
  • Happens at the end of Oscar Wilde's short story "The Star-Child". The title character, who used to be cruel, has learned to be a good person, and found out that he is the king. Due to the lessons he has learned, he is a good king and brings peace and plenty to the kingdom, but the Happy Ending is mitigated by the last lines:
    Yet ruled he not long, so great had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing, for after the space of three years he died. And he who came after him ruled evilly.
  • Defied in Heralds of Valdemar series, where King Valdemar prayed to every God for a way to ensure that his successors would always be worthy people, and then three white horses jumped out of the grove on the palace grounds and chose himself, his son, and his herald as their bond-mates. From then on only Heralds - chosen by Companions for positive traits like honesty and courage - could inherit the throne, ensuring a minimum degree of competency and benevolence for future rulers.
    • Even with the above safeguards, the 'not quite as competent' variant comes into play during the Last Herald Mage trilogy. Elspeth the Peacemaker managed to use diplomacy and marriage alliances to avoid major problems with neighboring realms. However her son predeceased her in a freak accident, and when the crown fell to her young grandson everything started going south.
    • Played straight with the King of Hardorn who was a pretty good king and an ally of Valdemar, until his son Ancar killed him and took over, started oppressing and pretty much enslaving his people and began a war with Valdemar AND Karse.
  • A tragic example with Grianne Ohmsford in High Druid of Shannara. Although a talented sorceress and leader, her past as the evil Ilse Witch hampered her efforts to accomplish anything and her tenure as Ard Rhys of the Third Druid Order was marked by dissension within and without. She lacked Walker Boh's positive reputation and was distrusted by every nation in the Four Lands. In the end she steps down and dissolves the Druid Order entirely, after bringing an end to the Federation-Freeborn conflict.
  • Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Mallory had as King Arthur's successor a relative nobody named Constantine, the son of one of the lesser knights, no less. Given that, whether historical or legendary, Arthur's Britain was quickly supplanted by the Saxons he opposed, his successor may have had no footprint at all.
  • This trope starts off the action in Harald, with the death of the king who forged the alliance that kept The Empire at bay and his replacement's incompetence.
  • Though it varies a bit based on the book, the eponymous Wizard of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels is depicted as an incompetent charlatan who sent Oz backwards under his leadership, which he usurped from the previous monarchy.
  • The theme is expanded in greater detail in the Wicked books.
  • Joffery Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire. His father may not have been the greatest king, but at least he wasn't an insane psychopath.
    • The Targaryen family tree are full of these, causing several civil wars, in-house plotting and weak monarchs that left more powers in the hands of the feudal lords. The last one was Aerys II, who sparked a civil war that lost the Targaryens the throne (and most of their lives as well).
      • Perhaps the most notable example was the transition from Viserys II to Aegon IV. Although the former was not on the throne very long, he was a valuable advisor to his brother Aegon III and king in all but name during the reigns of his nephews Daeron I (The Young Dragon, who got 50,000 men killed trying to conquer a desert and died at 16 without heirs) and Baelor (The Blessed, who refused to marry and spent his whole reign praying rather than actually doing anything kingly); and is generally considered to be the third best king to seat the Iron Throne (After his great-great-grandfather Jaehaerys I, who led the realm through the dangerous period of being past the initial founder but not being sufficiently established to truly hold together, and grandson Daeron II, who defused the most dangerous rebellion the realm ever faced and ruled wisely for many years). Viserys' son (And father to the excellent Daeron II in an inverted example) Aegon IV, however, was obese, greedy, fathered dozens of bastards all over the place, and directly caused the rebellion that Daeron had to stop by legitimizing all of them. He might not have been as bad as Aerys II or Joffrey, but going from the third best to the third worst out of the twenty monarchs to sit the throne is the biggest change of any of them.
    • Lord Tywin Lannister regards his son Tyrion this way, regarding him as a drunken lecherous resentful dwarf and refusing to see any of his good points or realize how his own treatment of Tyrion has made Tyrion this way. He refuses to recognize Tyrion as his rightful heir in the hope of getting his other son Jaime into the position instead, despite Jaime not being interested and having his own flaws that Tywin fails to recognize.
  • In Avram Davidson's "Doctor Eszterhazy" stories, the Emperor of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania is a doddery old man, but his son is a dim-witted militarist and his grandson is a complete fool. So everyone does their best to keep the doddery old man doddering along.
  • Discussed in Safehold when Cayleb and Sharleyan's chief advisor worries that while they are beloved by all, their child might end up being this trope. He notes that in history, most successors to exceptional rulers ended up this way, mostly due to Always Someone Better, the "better" being the parent they keep on being compared to. Fortunately, their daughter Alahnah seems to have turned out all right.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: As flawed as Prince Rhaegar was, Viserys could never have hoped to be half the king he would've been, had he lived to take the throne. Jorah lampshades this to Daenerys in "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things":
    Dany: I hit him. I hit the dragon.
    Jorah: Your brother Rhaegar was the last dragon. Viserys is less than the shadow of a snake.
    Dany: He's still the true king.
    Dany: [Beat] No.
  • In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, John Walker is seen as this compared to Steve Rogers by both Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • Mitsuo Momota to Rikidozan regarding the JWA and Japanese "Puroresu" in general. This wasn't even Rikidozan or Momota's fault, as he probably would have been molded into a better successor had Rikidozan not been assassinated.
  • When Salvador Lutteroth began making preparations for his son to takeover his place in EMLL, a mass of key officials and talent preemptively left to form Lucha Libre Internacional and The Universal Wrestling Association.

     Radio 
  • Our Miss Brooks: In the first radio episode, "First Day", Madison High School's Principal Darwell is replaced by Principal Osgood Conklin. Partially averted in that Mr. Conklin is generally competent with a Hidden Heart of Gold. However, he is also pompous, arrogant, bad-tempered and dictatorial.
    • The later radio episode "Borrowing Money to Fly", and the cinematic series finale changed the continuity so as to reflect the fact Mr. Conklin was Madison's longtime principal who had been long ensconced in his position upon Miss Brooks' arrival at Madison.

     Religion 
  • The proverbially wise King Solomon in the Books of Kings of The Bible was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. The first item on Rehoboam's agenda was to so piss off 10 of the 12 tribes he was governing that they rebelled against him and split the kingdom of Israel in two permanently. He subsequently allowed the Egyptians to capture Jerusalem and take all Solomon's treasure.
    • Played With, though: God allowed Rehoboam's failures as punishment for Solomon's own actions, since he had built pagan temples for his foreign-born wives.
  • Hezekiah, King of Judah, attempted to defy this; according to The Talmud he knew prophetically that he would have an evil descendant and thus refused to marry. However, when he became ill the prophet Isaiah noted that he was still obligated to have children under religious law, even if he could not control what those children did. Hezekiah wound up marrying Isaiah's daughter Hephzi-bah, hoping that having two righteous parents would prevent an evil child; unfortunately, their son Manasheh, and Manasheh's son Amon, were both tyrants anyway. (Amon's son Josiah, however, was an inversion).

     Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer
    • Phoenix King Caledor the Conqueror of the high elves was a great warrior and strategist who kept the kingdom together through the bloody civil war with Malekith's dark elves, oversaw the construction of the Gateway fortresses that remain a fundamental part of Ulthuan's defenses in the present, reclaimed the Blighted Isle, thus ensuring the dark elves can't draw the Sword of Kaine, and resisted the sword's temptations himself, before finally diving into the sea to drown when his ship was taken by the dark elves. His son Caledor the Warrior was a great warrior and...well that's it. His rule is mostly known for a bloody and pointless war with the dwarfs that he ensured (Dark elves attacked a dwarven caravan disguised as high elves. In an unusual show of reasonableness the dwarfs sent an ambassador to talk about this and Caledor responded by having him shaved and sending him home in disgrace). The war left thousands on both sides dead, completely cut the high elves off from their mainland colonies, ended with Caledor slain in single combat with the Dwarven king, and ruined any hope of cooperation between the races. This was the first and definitely the last time the elves named the son of the previous Phoenix King as his successor.
    • The Conqueror's other son Imladrik the Dragonlord was much more competent than his brother but had no interest in taking the throne, even telling lords plotting to put him there that he would refuse it. This ended up not really working out for him, as he was killed by Prince Morgrim Dragonsbane during the war his brother started. Ironically, his own son was also a Sketchy Successor despite being generally a good person and fairly competent because the position that he was the successor to was that of Master of Dragons and he was unable to get one let him ride it.
    • Another good example can be found in the succession of Sigmarite Emperors. While Ludwig II - "Ludwig the Fat" - was considered capricious and was renowned for his gluttonous appetites, he nevertheless allowed the Halflings of the Moot representation by separating the Moot from the neighbouring provinces of Stirland and Averland and by allowing their Chief Elder (and later the Grand Theogonist of the Cult of Sigmar) onto the Electoral Council, allowing them a voice in deciding the next Emperor. His successor, Boris Goldgather, however, has no redeeming action to his name, having proved to be the worst of the Emperors elected from the Drakwald province and possibly the worst Emperor in general, bankrupting the Empire with his ludicrous expenses, fracturing it by pitting Elector Counts against each other and weakening its armies drastically. Under Boris's reign, the Empire was completely unprepared for the plague and later Skaven invasion. It was considered a silver lining in the Empire when the plague killed him.
    • One Bretonnian noble is noted to be a Horrible Judge of Character (meaning, of course, that he considers himself an excellent judge of character) who keeps naming untrustworthy men to positions of power in his realm, and when one of them is caught and beheaded or hanged, the replacement he chooses is invariably just as bad.
  • This is pointed out as a worry of King Boranel of Breland in Eberron. It's not that his sons are bad people or incompetent, but they just aren't up to Boranel's impressive stature. This normally wouldn't have been all that important (balancing the monarch is one of the reasons Parliament exists, after all) if Boranel didn't have to worry if Breland hadn't gotten excessively dependent on him in the dark decades at the end of the Last War (there is a dark side to being very popular, after all). He has reason to worry, too — even if his sons were as competent and charismatic as he is, several factions have timed their schemes to go off whenever Boranel dies specifically so they don't have to deal with him, meaning that whoever inherits will be immediately thrust into an unstable and dangerous situation.
  • In Pathfinder Trelmarixian, the Horseman of Famine, is the second to bear the title and relatively new to it, obsessed with his mortal origins, paranoid that his ascension may have been part of a plan by his predecessor to be reborn and will consume him as he consumed her, and notably erratic. Charon, Horseman of Death and now the only one still original maintains a united front publicly, but is quietly concerned about his behavior.

     Theatre 
  • The late King Hamlet from Hamlet is considered a ruler among rulers. King Claudius assassinated him to get the job and spends his reign doing nothing but trying to keep people from becoming suspicious.
    • Claudius is not entirely incompetent, however. Notably, he manages to avert a Norwegian invasion of Denmark through diplomacy with seemingly no difficulty (Fortinbras does end up on the Danish throne, but only after the entire royal family have died to Hamlet's revenge plot). Some critics see the conflict of King Hamlet representing the old "warrior king" mould, whereas Claudius is more of a modern statesman.
  • The title character's uncles in Richard II make it clear that they think he is this compared to his grandfather, Edward III, and his father, Edward the Black Prince (who died before he could become king).
  • A recurring theme in Shakespeare's Henry VI plays is that (according to most of the characters in the play, at least) the pacifist Henry VI is an unworthy successor to his warlike father, Henry V.

     Video Games 
  • Bug Fables: Queen Elizant II, the ruler of the Ant Kingdom, is considered a very polarizing replacement to her predecessor, Queen Elizant I. The former queen was known to be very kind and gentle, capable of ending wars solely with a good diplomatic approach. Her daughter, on the other hand, was criticized for not being as kind, for breaking relationships with the Termite and Wasp Kingdoms, and for banning entrance to all ladybugs into the Ant Kingdom. Leif even openly admits that she rubs him in the very wrong way, and that he doesn't consider her a worthy ruler. Deep inside, Elizant II is painfully aware of her general unpopularity and is really ashamed of herself not being a good ruler to her people. Once the Wasp King successfully takes away the artifacts required for the search of the Everlasting Sapling, she admits that she is undeserving of her position and even reveals that the sole reason why she wants to find the Sapling is to bring her mother back and give her eternal youth to reinstate her as a queen. However, once she opens her heart to Team Snakemouth, she truly becomes the kind and fair ruler the Ant Kingdom needs and repairs relations with the people she pushed away.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Maric Theirin is remembered as a much better King of Ferelden than his son Cailan. Subverted with Alistair if you "harden" his personality and make him King: in that case, he becomes a ruler much better than everyone expected (including him), perhaps on par with his dad and his cameo in Dragon Age: Inquisition shows that he's not afraid to put his foot down when it matters.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: The eponymous province is ruled by King Hlaalu Helseth after his mother, the Queen Mother Barenziah, abdicated following the events of Arena. While Barenziah is generally pretty well-thought-of In-Universe, Helseth is a polarizing figure. To begin with, the Dunmer people see the role as "King of Morrowind" as an Imperial convention they have no need for, as they see their true rulers as the Tribunal Temple and the Great Houses. The more conservative Dunmer in House Redoran and House Indoril feel he is a Quisling, or puppet, for the Empire, and he has a pattern of nepotism favoring his own House Hlaalu. Helseth himself is rumored to be a Master Poisoner who isn't above using the Dark Brotherhood to eliminate perceived threats. ( Including the Nerevarine.) His predecessor as King and that King's chosen heir both died under mysterious circumstances, with Helseth believed to have been involved. He also ends up being the last King of Morrowind, though not due to any political blunders, (Helseth appears to have been rather competent, and well on his way to transforming the role of King of Morrowind into a position with actual power at his last mention) but because of the Red Year; the post-Red Year Dunmer government appears to be an aristocratic republic ruled by a council of the Great Houses (much like the situation prior to the Imperial takeover, although with the theocratic elements toned down).
  • Happened to two organizations in the lead up to Fallout 4. After Brotherhood of Steel Elder Owyn Lyons died and his daughter Sarah died in battle, the Brotherhood in DC had a spate of ineffective successors. Until Arthur Maxson, descendent of Brotherhood founder Roger Maxson came of age and took over. In Boston, the Minutemen were a well respected force for good under the leadership of Joe Becker. But after he died, the Minutemen had one ineffective General after another, causing the group to fracture, eventually leadin\g to their down\fall at Quincy. Thankfully for them, you can become General and bring them back to prominence.
    • When Shaun names you the new Director of the Institute to replace him, most of the other department heads view you as this. Two scientists even hold the entire Bioscience wing hostage to try to force you out.
  • X, the main hero of the Mega Man X series, was a robot with 100% free will. His creator, Dr. Light, sealed him up in a capsule and ran a 30 year long test to ensure he would always do the right thing. When Mega Man Zero rolled around, his successor Copy X was left in charge when the real X goes missing. However, despite being a perfect copy of X, Copy X had no memories or experiences that the real deal had. Copy X also didn't have the 30 year test performed on him. This left Copy X as a naïve, crazy Knight Templar who paled in comparison to his predecessor.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: This is about the most charitable way to view Jarun Tann, the "Director" of the Andromeda Initiative. He was eighth in line to lead the Initiative, and got his position when all seven leaders above him died. What was he before he was put in charge of colonizing an entirely new galaxy? An accountant. It's clear he's in way over his head, and to his credit he does recognize this. He does appear to honestly be trying his best, but he simply doesn't have the kind of experience or charisma his position requires. His inability to fill the shoes of Jien Garson, the Initiative's founder, is the source of a huge amount of trouble the player has to clean up over the course of the game.
    • Jarun is painted is a much more negative light in the prequel novel, where his arrogance and incompetence causes the repair workers to rebel and ends in the death of the workers' leader, and the protagonist of the book joining the rebels in exile, with Tann only acknowledging the situation might be partly his fault when it's all over.

     Visual Novels 
  • Dr. Mosely, the new school psychologist in Double Homework, succeeded the retiring Mr. Adler. She is incredibly blunt and manipulative for someone in her profession, she puts weird questions about sex to her students, and performs inappropriate “experimental therapies” on them, while she doesn’t bat an eye upon catching teachers having sex with students at school. Justified by her real purpose at the school: she is a rogue scientist in the employ of the government, who is conducting a sex experiment on the students.

     Webcomics 
  • A variant in Girl Genius. It's not that Gilgamesh Wulfenbach is incompetent - he's a highly capable Spark, has been groomed to rule from the day he was born, and his first independent action was to call down Shock and Awe to knock off a major Knights of Jove force. The problem is, he isn't his father, specifically, and doesn't have his fearsome reputation. When Baron Klaus Wulfenbach was taken off the board, Gil was unable to keep the Pax Transylvania from splintering under the weight of all the factions that were out to take over.

     Western Animation 
  • Robotnik in the Saturday Morning Cartoon of Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) gets his job by locking the old ruler in another dimension. He then proceeds to turn Mobitropolis into a robotic wasteland where he alone out of all the organic denizens (besides nephew Snively) is free to live a life of luxury in possibly the darkest incarnation of the villain.
  • In The Legend of Korra, Earth Queen Hou-Ting, daughter of the kind-hearted Earth King Kuei of Avatar: The Last Airbender, is a selfish despot who hoards her nation's wealth for herself, leaving her people out to starve and seeks to undo the progress her father made, considering him a weak-willed ruler who was taken advantage of by Aang and Fire Lord Zuko. She was secretly kidnapping Airbenders in her nation to form a secret army (implied to be for an invasion of the United Republic). She eventually meets her end after mocking Zaheer, who proceeds to use Airbending to asphyxiate her.
  • Princess Natasha: 15 years before the beginning of the cartoon, King Hector died and his son Lubek became the King of Zoravia. Lubek's past actions as the head of Zoravia's Spy Agency and Secret Police made him so hated by the citizens of Zoravia they elected his younger brother Carl as their King. Lubek plots to force the citizens to accept him as their King.
  • Among some parts of the fandom, Rodimus Prime in the Sunbow animated series. He understandably doubts himself due to succeeding Optimus Prime, but because the thing many kids of that era remember of him is his constant moaning about the burdens of leadership, he's had a somewhat poor reputation.
    • Notably, in Transformers: The★Headmasters Rodimus is actually a confident leader following Optimus' Heroic Sacrifice early in the series, which can be attributed to the fact that unlike in the original cartoon Rodimus is given a chance to mature into the role of leader instead of being suddenly dumped into it. As a result, when he has to take up leadership again he's more mentally ready for it.

     Real Life 
  • King John "Lackland" of England is frequently described as a poor replacement for King Richard the Lionheart. The truth is, arguably, that neither was much good; King John may have lost disastrously in France and sparked a (noble, not peasant) revolt in his own lands due to exorbitant taxes, but King Richard's punitively expensive crusading was the reason why King John had to raise those taxes in the first place. And couldn't have done much for John's French campaigns either. John wasn't a good king by any means, but Richard was arguably just as bad or not as bad considering it was during John's reign the Angevin Empire effectively ended. Also, for England qua England, the "Loss of Normandy" and collapse of the Angevin Empire wasn't really a bad thing; by separating England from (most of) the royal family's French possessions,note  the royal family and nobles began identifying as uniquely English. It was during John's reign that English nobles started to speak English more than French, and documents started to be written in (Middle) English in quantity for the first time since the Conquest.
    • Probably a straighter example, then, would be both Richard and John playing this trope straight in regards to Henry II (who besides doing the classic medieval-king fighting thing also built up his kingdom's institutions—which would last a long time—and its "common law"—which would last to this day and spread around the world).
  • Some examples from The American Civil War:
    • Following the death of Stonewall Jackson, General Robert E. Lee broke up his corps and promoted officers to command them. However, since they lacked Jackson's abilities (for example, his understanding of when to follow General Lee's orders and when to discard them when opportunities presented themselves), they proved less than successful.
    • When General Joseph Johnston tried to counter General William T. Sherman's Atlanta campaign with a long, drawn out series of withdrawals, an annoyed Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced him with General John B. Hood, who was known as an aggressive and energetic general. Unfortunately, where Johnston's strategy involved sacrificing territory for time (and gathering more troops while Sherman had to leave behind more and more of his to guard their newly conquered territory), Hood decided to attack Sherman's numerically superior forces. This resulted in heavy manpower losses the South wasn't able to sustain. By the time of the Carolina Campaigns the South learned its lesson and reinstated Johnston to try his Fabian strategy again, but by that point the difference in manpower was so acute there was pretty much nothing he could do.
  • Bhumibol Adulyadej, the late King of Thailand, was tremendously popular, to the point of having shrines erected in his honor. Though Thailand has many protests, sometimes violent, the king himself was very very popular. No such luck for his successor, Vajiralongkorn, who is generally seen as a twit and a cad.
  • Takeda Katsuyori was the type whose father Shingen was a genius at war. Sadly, Katsuyori could not hold Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu at bay, and he and his immediate family committed harakiri upon his defeat. To his credit, though, he did score some successes, taking a castle that not even Shingen could have in his life, but he was a better military commander than administrator (compared to Shingen who's good at both), and also after the experience with Shingen, Nobunaga and Ieyasu had learned their lessons on how to handle the Takeda Cavalry...
  • Richard Cromwell, heir to Oliver Cromwell. The English deposed him and restored the Monarchy. Which gives the impression that they thought, "At least HE was a badass whatever else he was. Richard is not. And if we must have Nepotism we might as well have a king and be done with it."
  • Stefan Uros IV Dusan, a.k.a. Stefan the Strong, turned the Serbian Kingdom into the Serbian Empire, setting it up as the successor to the Byzantine Empire as the next hegemon of Southeastern Europe. His son, Stefan Uros V a.k.a the Weak, was well-meaning but could not keep his unruly vassals together, leading to the Serbian Empire's premature demise.
  • An Aversion: Nobody expected Edward VII to be any good as a King: as Prince of Wales, he was a dissolute playboy who drank and smoked a lot, got caught up in a gambling scandal, had more mistresses than you can shake a stick at, and was seen as unhealthily fond of France, French manners, French food, and above all of French prostitutes (he famously had a "love chair" at one of Paris' most notorious high-class brothels for the express purpose of supporting himself while he took two prostitutes at once). Also, he was a gourmand and was tremendously fat. He once appeared as a witness in a divorce trial in which the husband alleged the wife had cheated on him with the Prince (triply scandalous on its own—the Prince is not only accused of having an affair with a married woman, but then he has to testify about it, and it's a divorce trial to boot—made quadruple so by the fact that the husband was an MP and the Prince apparently visited the wife during sittings of Parliament). He also had several mistresses in succession. So, when after decades of Queen Vicky's rule, Edward became King, everyone looked at him with a skewed eye...and proceeded to thank God when he showed he knew his place as King and actually became of great help to the Government, particularly in foreign affairs (his great love of all things French and extensive network of contacts in France set the groundwork for the entente cordiale—he had been authorised to talk to the French about an alliance against Germany as early as twenty years before his accession, and he kept at it until the agreements were signed). None of this kept him from continuing to have as much fun as he could manage throughout his nine-year reign (down to continuing to fairly openly live with his mistress, Alice Keppel), but nobody really minded because he was such a good monarch otherwise.
    • Edward VII's son George V became a well-loved monarch, guiding the country through the First World War and sitting on the throne when the British Empire reached its greatest extent, becoming the largest empire in human history covering almost 25% of the entire planet's land, and successfully bringing the monarchy closer to the ordinary people of the UK. His eldest son, Edward VIII, however, fell into the trope hard. Before his death, George knew that his second son, Albert, and Albert's daughter Elizabeth (who wasn't even a teenager yet) would be far better monarchs. Given that Albert is better known as King George VI and Elizabeth II is the longest reigning monarch in British history, while Edward VIII ended up abdicating and being regarded as a Nazi sympathizer, he had good judgment.
    • To add to the point above. George VI had not been groomed or trained for the throne, and had a well documented stammer in his early life. Thankfully the latter was treated with the help of Lionel Logue. The former raised doubts among the government about if he was suitable to rule, but the support of his wife (also called Elizabeth) helped convince them he could manage the job. This proved to be well founded. Their leadership and refusal to flee the country during World War II earned them the eternal devotion and admiration of the British people, and his devotion to duty is continued by Queen Elizabeth II herself, who is also quite beloved and respected by many. Sadly, the stress of the war and his smoking is what contributed to his early death in 1952 at just 56 years old.
  • A subtle but serious case that overlaps with The Peter Principle; FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, later 1st Baron Raglan, spent much of his life as the perfectly competent chief aide to The Duke of Wellington. As the latter was regarded in Britain, with some reason, as a supreme military badass, it was assumed that Raglan had learned a bit, which would help explain why he was appointed to command the British forces in the Crimean campaign. Unfortunately, what Raglan had actually learned was how to be chief sidekick to a genius Control Freak; he had no significant experience of actually being in charge. This may explain something about the Crimean War.
  • The Royal Italian Army had one of the most painful examples ever: the succession of general Alberto Pollio as the chief of staff. Pollio was a capable manager and commander, and upon his death was succeeded by Luigi Cadorna, an equally capable manager and an infamously crappy commander (notably, he was supposed to command a corps in the invasion of Libya during the Italian-Turkish War but was crushed in a wargame rigged to give him victory by general Carlo Caneva, who stole him the command and proceeded to became infamous for cowardice and general imbecility). When Italy later joined World War I, the Royal Italian Army would suffer for over two years against the better-led Austro-Hungarians before Cadorna got finally sacked.
    • Most notably, the ones who cried the most for Pollio's death were the Austro-Hungarian government and general staff: Pollio was known for being a supporter of the Triple Alliance that at the time bound Italy with Germany and Austria-Hungary, and his sudden death right before the war and his replacement with a known hater of Austria-Hungary allowed the Italian government to stay neutral at the start of the war and then enter it on the other side.
  • Charles VI of France, at first called "the Beloved" and later called "the Mad", was this to his father Charles V "the Wise" who was a very smart, pragmatic and wise king who reconquered most of France's territories that had been invaded by the English during the first half of the Hundred Years War. Charles VI wasn't without qualities and his reign didn't start badly but his insanity made him unable to rule and had terrible terrible consequences for the kingdom of France, with the power going in his uncles' hands, who proceeded to fight each other for the ruling of France and plunge the kingdom into a civil war, and allowing the English led by Henry V of England to invade and conquer huge parts of France again.
  • Louis XVIII might be seen as a step-down from Napoléon Bonaparte, but he was intelligent enough to understand that he needed to rein in the ultra-Royalists and reconcile the French after the Revolutionary turmoil. When he died in 1824, however, his brother Charles X proved to be as incompetent and intransigent as everyone had feared - he was one of the main voices of the Ultra party. His obsession with erasing the gains from the Revolution led to his dethronement in 1830.
  • The Qin Dynasty (China, 221 BC - 206 BC) provides a pretty extreme example. Despite the name, it wasn't much of a dynasty, as the empire was founded by Qin Shi Huangdi (in the process uniting China for the first time under a single rule), and ended three years into the reign of his son, who by all accounts was supremely incompetent. Notably, there apparently was a competent successor, but he was forced to commit suicide near the end of the first emperor's life. Reports vary as to whether the order was a forgery from advisers who wanted an heir they could (theoretically) control, or a genuine article from the emperor himself, who wanted all his most competent heirs out of the way, under the logic that, if there was nobody competent enough to replace him, he could not die. Modern consensus is that the forgery theory is more likely; however, given that Qin Shihuang was provably off his rocker by the end of his life from all of the mercury-containing "elixirs of life" he was taking, the other theory isn't entirely inconsistent with the historical record.
  • While it's inevitable that dynasties will eventually develop several of these, the Three Kingdoms (of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms fame) had this happen within a few generations. For example, Liu Bei's son and successor Liu Shan were only the second Emperor of Shu (and turned out to be the last), while none of Sun Quan's successors were able to live up to his legacy (and the final emperor of Wu was an outright tyrant who drove the nation into the ground so badly almost no one bothered to try to fight against the final invasion). At least Cao Cao's son Cao Pi and grandson Cao Rui proved to be good emperors... though things went downhill after Rui's death.
  • The Roman Empire was full of these:
    • Emperor Tiberius was considered this to Augustus, and another example of The Peter Principle. An extremely skilled general with little interest in politics, Tiberius came to power at an advanced age as a Reluctant Ruler with a Senate accustomed to an imperial Cult of Personality. Following the death of his nephew Germanicus followed by his biological son Drusus, Tiberius retired to a private villa in Capri while letting his Number Two, the captain of the Praetorian Guard Sejanus, all but rule Rome in his name. Sejanus proved very unpopular to the people of Rome and instituted a series of purges, before being implicated in a plot to replace Tiberius and being, himself, purged alongside several prominent families who had supported him. Lacking Augustus' Cult of Personality and personal presence in Rome, these purges (and a series of incursions into Rome's borders in Germania and Asia Minor) left Tiberius wildly unpopular. For all that, Tiberius might have been considered generally competent when looking at the pure numbers (he was emperor for twenty-five years with no Civil War or major uprising against his rule, and left Rome's finances extremely well off with a giant surplus) had he not appointed the Trope Namer for The Caligula as his successor.
    • Emperor Commodus of the Roman Empire. Commodus was the successor and biological son of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was viewed as wise and versed in philosophy. While he did not make Rome a prosperous nation, he did maintain its existing success, being the final emperor of the Pax Romana period. He did this largely by preventing anti-Roman offenses, maintaining proper governance while his brother, then co-ruler, fought the Parthian Empire, and Aurelius, then sole emperor, later succesfully repelled Germanic incursions. This positive reputation has endured. Today, Aurelius is renowned as a Philosopher Emperor in the Stoic school of thought, and he is marked as the last of the Five Good Emperors. Commodus was not so well-liked. He was noted as being somewhat lazy and disinterested in statesmanship, partially due to him delegating many of his powers to other individuals working under him, rather than ruling unilaterally. Unlike his father, who aimed to be disciplined and humble, Commodus was vain. He viewed himself as a reincarnation of Hercules and demanded to be addressed as such. He also spent a great deal of time in arenas, acting as an active gladiator, rather than as a spectator. This was seen as unseemly and unbefitting an emperor. Late in his reign, a fire occurred in Rome (the city, not the entire empire). He took this opportunity to "refound" the city, renaming it after himself. He did the same with the months of the year, legions, and Senate. Thus, Commodus, despite being disinterested in ruling, aimed to make himself the center of the empire, with all in it named for him. Commodus's reign was followed by the Year of the Five Emperors, a period of instability, and his decided lack of interest in actually leading his empire has been posited as a cause for the decline and eventual fall of the Roman empire.
    • The Severan Dynasty became one of these. Its founder, Septimius Severus, was described as being a harsh but fair and competent Emperor who focused more on discipline and efficiency than anything else. His two sons Caracalla and Geta were far from disciplined. Both hating each other greatly, the feud between the brothers only ended when Caracalla organized Geta's assassination (this isn't a case of Cain and Abel because Geta was described as being as bad as Caracalla, if not worse.) Caracalla was known for having a short temper, such as the time where he led a massacre in Alexandria after he was mocked in a play. Caracalla was later killed by Macrinus, his Praetorian Prefect, who was then taken down by Elagabalus, Caracalla's nephew. A Depraved Bisexual, hedonist, and overall degenerate, Elagabulus constantly abused his power and wasted money and lives on his flamboyance. One famous incident had him throwing a banquet where rose petals fell through the roof via confetti but in such number and volume that some of the revellers were smothered to death. He was known for repeatedly hosting dinners where he served ostrich heads, peacock tongues, camel heels, and flamingo brains. He also liked to present guests with spoons engraved with prizes which they would receive, which could range from the invaluable ones, such as gold, to worthless ones, such as dead dogs or flies. Another event involved him releasing poisonous snakes into the audience at the Circus Maximus. Historians argue on whether any or all of these are actually true, but regardless, he was universally hated by most Romans, and there are too many records to dismiss everything. He was then killed and replaced by Alexander Severus, who actually inverted this trope by ending up more wise and competent than Caracalla and Elagabalus were, despite starting off as a puppet emperor to his mother.
    • The beginning of the end for the Roman Empire was marked by the Theodosian dynasty. Its founder, Theodosius I, was a troubled if not well-intentioned emperor who tried to fix civil war and mitigate increasing ethnic tensions with the invading Germanic peoples, including the Goths. He fought the Goths to a stalemate but was unable to win a conclusive victory. Allied with the Half-Vandal Stilicho and the reluctant Visigoth warlord Alaric, he managed to win a Pyrrhic Victory in the civil war against the traitor Arbogaust. It cost a large amount of money, lives, and resources, but he finally managed to unite and rule all of Rome... for a few months before becoming fatally ill. On his deathbed, he granted Stilicho regency over his young son Honorius, who would rule the west, already giving Arcadius control over the the East. Alaric, angry that he got no recognition nor status from Theodosius like Stilicho, would periodically ransack Western Europe and clash with Stilicho, once getting close to deposing Honorius before Stilicho stopped him. Over time, Honorius would turn out to be a terrible emperor, giving special privileges as co-emperor to the would-be usurper Constantine III, abandoning Britain to be ravaged by the Saxons, becoming manipulated into ordering the death of Stilicho, and the massacre of thousands of loyal Goth families, triggering Alaric and the Goth soldiers to rebel and Rome in 410. A myth that spread afterwards was that when Honorius was told Rome had been sacked (The capital at the time was Ravenna), he became saddened and worried, because he thought his pet chicken (named Rome) was dead, and when told it was only the city was relieved. Of course, historians argue over the truth of this story. Regardless, Honorius's 30-year-reign was the beginning of the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the fall of Rome in 476. The worst part of Honorius's reign was that it lasted more than 30 years.
      • Theodosius's other son, Arcadius, would eventually rule the Eastern Roman Empire, technically becoming the first Byzantine Emperor. While being described as worthless and weak-willed, being easily manipulated by the royal courts, his reign was mostly harmless, and he has a son, Theodosius II, who inverted this by being a lot more competent.
      • Valentinian III, the nephew of Honorius, is yet another terrible ruler, one who repeated the same mistakes of his uncle. Living a very log reign, doing absolutely nothing to appease barbarian tensions, and even executing a hypercompetent and loyal ally named Flavius Aetius(a military genius who managed to beat back Atilla the Hun). What makes him better than Honorius was that he was killed.
  • Erik XIV of Sweden. The son of King Gustav Vasa, widely considered to be the father of modern Sweden, Erik was the oldest of Vasa's sons and seemed to be reasonably competent... that is, until he actually became king, and turned out to be mentally unstable and incapable of dealing with the pressures of being king. Among other blunders, he began a campaign of torture against perceived enemies among the nobility, and several failed war campaigns. His reign culminated in the Sture Murders, when the paranoid king ordered the massacre of the Sture nobles, descendants of the royal house that preceded Vasa, and personally killed Nils Sture, whom he had become convinced plotted against him. After the murders, the king ran away and hid in the woods for days before he was found pretending to be a peasant in a nearby village. This was the final straw, and a year later, an uprising of nobles led by Erik's brother Johan overthrew the king, and eventually had him poisoned in jail. Johan became king, and while a relatively unremarkable ruler, he proved himself a good deal more stable.
  • Poland routinely had this kind of problem, with great rulers being almost always succeeded with absurdly incompetent ones and not just due to high standard set up by their predecessors. Bolesław Chrobry, the very first king of the country, was followed by his son, Mieszko II, who got booted out of the throne by pagan uprising, was reduced to a duke and lost every single piece of land his father conquered. Casimir III the Great (the only Polish ruler with such nickname) died without a legal heir, so his replacement was first a titular king who never showed up in person and then a teenage girl. Władysław II Jagiełło, a highly successful king of the new dynasty, was followed by his god-awful son, Władysław III, who's biggest achievement was getting himself killed in the battle of Varna - to the point his Polish nickname is "of Varna"note . Next king, his younger brother, Casimir IV Jagiellon, is widely considered only second best to Casimir the Great... and was followed by two greatly incompetent sons, Jan and Alexander, both infamous for being utterly incapable of controlling the nobility and constantly folding under any kind of pressure. Their reign, while short-lived (9 and 5 years, respectively), was so terrible, it started the Disaster Dominoes leading to Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth becoming a full-blown Elective Monarchy - and the elective kings also had the fair share of sketchy successors. In fact, some of the elective kings were so bad, they've managed to made their already awful predecessor look good by comparison.
  • King Seongjong put into effect and improved the code of law created by his grandfather, appointed officials based on their abilities instead of their family or political views, and encouraged the publication of books. Unfortunately he was succeeded by his oldest son, Yeonsan-gun of Joseon, who became one of the worst tyrants in Korean history.
  • President Chester A. Arthur. Elevated to the job by the assassination of James Garfield, everyone had expected him to be a corrupt hack as Arthur had been connected with the notoriously corrupt Republican political machine in New York. It wasn't helped by the fact that Garfield's assassin claimed he did the job so Arthur could become President. And then subverted, since instead, Arthur turned out to be a champion of civil service reform. So much that he was unable to secure a nomination for a term of his own as he had pissed off so many of his old allies. Even Mark Twain, ever cynical of all politicians, claimed Arthur had done a good job.
  • This trope was one of the downfalls of Tsarist Russia. Tsar Alexander III was widely respected by his subjects for being The Big Guy and acting decisively as a statesman. He had nothing but contempt for Tsarevich (crown prince) Nicholas II, who he derided as a "little girl" and didn't bother training Nicholas for the job of actually being Tsar. Alexander assumed Nicholas's training could wait because he would live a few more decades...until he suddenly died in 1894. Nicholas felt completely unprepared to take the Russian throne, and a long series of disasters ensued during his reign. From Russia's humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War to the political chaos that ensued from Nicholas being forced to create a Russian Duma (parliament) due to outcry after the war to growing public anger at the influence of Rasputin on the Russian royal family to the harsh repressions of uprisings such as the infamous Bloody Sunday to the criminally inept management of Russia's war effort in World War One, Nicholas acquired a 0% Approval Rating by 1917 and was forced to abdicate in favor of a provisional government. The provisional government, in turn, was overthrown in Red October.
    • In turn, Alexander III could be seen as this to his father, Alexander II. Alexander II had been, albeit slowly, reforming the Russian Empire at various points of his rule up until his assassination by anarchists in 1881. Alexander III, the second son of the Tsar that had never gotten his older brother Tsarevich Nicholas's liberal education, proceeded to reverse most of his father's relatively liberal reforms and double down on autocracy, among other things, creating the Okhrana. His repressive government, alongside incompetent handling of the 1891 famine fanned the flames of revolutionary unrest in the empire, and alongside his complete failure to prepare his son to take over, arguably kickstarted the Disaster Dominoes that led to the end of the Romanov dynasty.
  • King Yeongjo went to terrible lengths to avert this. He was a decent king by 18th-century standards, attempting to reform taxation and opposing corruption. Unfortunately his son Crown Prince Sado was completely insane and often violent. Yeongjo realised that Sado would never be a good king so he decided to get rid of him. By locking Sado in a box and leaving him to starve.
  • Tamar the Great was one of Georgia (Europe)'s best monarchs. Her daughter Rusudan, on the other hand, preferred sleeping around to ruling the country. This led to Georgia being invaded and eventually conquered by the Mongols.

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