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Succession Crisis

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"The King is dead! Long live the king! ...But who is the king?"

In theory, when the King dies, his heir steps straight into the vacancy, replacing him without any fuss, but only in theory. In practice, the deaths of kings are occasions of high drama. Rival claimants — with or without Royal Blooddispute the succession, and even after the victor is crowned, they'll discover that their predecessor has left them with a host of problems, leaving their throne unstable for years to come.

The first problem is deciding who is the rightful heir. There might seem to be a single clear candidate, but any Evil Prince worthy of the name can produce documents 'proving' the Crown Prince is ineligible, and must be passed over in favor of themselves (if he doesn't decide to simply resort to outright murder). Missing heirs will come out of the woodwork, possibly impostors seizing the moment, possibly the real thing. Other powerful figures with no legitimate claims of their own but plenty of ambition (especially the Evil Chancellor) may set themselves up as Kingmakers so that they can become the Man Behind the Man for the winning side. And then there is sometimes The Usurper, who often prefers to dispense with questions of legitimacy and take the throne by force because no one else can or will stand up to him. Expect lots of backstabbery in this Deadly Decadent Court.

This is naturally even worse when, in fact, there is no way to determine the rightful heir. For instance, Roman emperors never had their laws codify who is the emperor's heir, though some techniques were used to try to secure succession, and when Peter the Great decreed that the tsar would name his heir, he never actually designated one, leaving the field wide open. An Elective Monarchy is almost bound to have one.

If the rightful heir is foreign royalty, particularly the monarch of a rival country, almost the entire court will unite to prevent them inheriting the crown, out of simple self interest. The foreign heir will object to this, vigorously, and he will have an army backing him up. When there are several candidates with a convincing legal argument, the dispute is normally settled on the battlefield, often with the death of one or more of the claimants.

Female heirs (and sometimes, even males claiming inheritance through the female line) may face more difficulty in becoming the next monarch. In countries with a long tradition of ruling Queens, they might stand as good a chance as anyone. Elsewhere, however, the alternative male candidates will argue that women shouldn't count, often with the help of an army. Such a situation occurred with Henry I of England's designated heir Matilda (Henry produced over 20 bastards, but only two legitimate kids who grew to adulthood, and she was the only one left by then).

Similar problems arise if there are other restrictions on who may hold the crown, such as race, religion, or magical talent. If the rightful heir is underage, they might be passed over completely, but more often, they'll get a regent. The great magnates will compete vigorously for this post, with its near-royal status and opportunity to corrupt the young ruler. However, even when the laws state that a Queen cannot rule, it is not unknown for a country to use Loophole Abuse to get out of a Succession Crisis — said loophole frequently being the laws not stating what gender a King must be. More than one nation has thus ended up with a woman King.

Sometimes there's a time limit involved: the prince must be crowned king within a specific timeframe or at a specific time, otherwise someone else gets the kingship. Other times, though, there are no traceable heirs. The late king was childless, and all his close relatives are dead, unacceptable, or unwilling to accept the crown. This gives all the neighboring countries an excuse to nominate a friendly noble, or discover some distant relationship.

Or there can be succession mandates with serious penalties. For example, the Grimaldi family owns the country of Monaco, because, basically, they got a contract from France saying so back in the 13th Century. However, their contract ends if the current Prince (or Princess) dies without a direct descendant. There were worries for a time that Monaco might revert back to French control if both of Prince Rainer's children, who are not exactly known for participating in safe practices, were to be killed and he didn't get married and have another kid fast enough. So far, it looks like there have been some changes in the activities of the members of House Grimaldi and the chance that France will be able to take Monaco back is no longer likely.

Even if the new king is the old one's son, they'll soon discover their training didn't properly prepare them for the reality. More often, in fiction, the throne will go to someone completely unprepared, either a young prince who didn't expect to gain the throne for many years, or a distant relative or younger prince who never expected to gain the throne at all, and the kingdom will be on the brink of disaster when they take over.

The crisis may be external—if the old king died in battle, the new king is going to have to rally a defeated army and turn the war around. Or, it may be internal—examples include an empty treasury, impending (or ongoing) famine, or a brewing rebellion. Either way, the new king will be sorely tested before their crown is safe.

If there is no real heir, the trope Offered the Crown can produce this as nobles intrigue to get their favorite candidate offered it.

The Rightful King Returns is also a common way for this plot to be resolved.

Note that this trope is not exclusive to monarchies by any stretch: For a particularly common political plot in the modern day, see the United States' Twenty-Fifth Amendment.

This is Truth in Television! However, the preponderance of constitutional monarchies (for those nations which still retain a monarch) make future occurrences of this trope highly unlikely. National legislatures ultimately dictate who is or is not eligible for the throne and most constitutional monarchies have clear chains of succession spelled out in law. In the UK, for example, it would take a severe disaster to eliminate heirs to get to the point where there would be a succession crisis. Even if a country declares itself a republic, this doesn't avert the situation entirely—the US has its share of difficulties. See below for Real Life examples.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Le Chevalier d'Eon has a Russian story arc about the Palace Revolutions that brought Peter III and Catherine II to power.
  • Code Geass is partially driven by the maneuvering of various claimants to the Britannian throne seeking to solidify their claim. The fact that the Emperor is still alive doesn't bother them too much. The series concludes with Lelouch brainwashing Pendragon's aristocracy and royalty, defeating Schneizel in an epic Brainwashed Army versus Infinite Nukes blockbuster finale, and becoming the world's first ruler of the entire planet... only to get assassinated by Suzaku two months later. It turns out, he planned his own death so that Nunnally would get the title of Empress the 100th, with Schneizel doing all the ruling as a brainwashed advisor.
    • The Emblem of Blood incident was a feud among the various claimants to the Britannian throne during the period when Charles became Emperor. The death of their mother inspired him and his brother, V.V., to pursue their dream of slaying god.
    • Averted in the Alternate Continuity manga Code Geass: Nightmare of Nunnally, where Cornelia and the Japanese expect one of these after Charles starts enacting his master plan and throws the Empire into chaos. Cornelia wants to have Euphemia succeed him and is expecting a bitter struggle, only to have their brother Schneizel shock everyone by throwing in his support for Euphie as well, leaving her with the backing of the one man who could have easily been her fiercest competitor. She stays as the 99th Emperor of Britannia at the end of the manga.
  • Katekyō Hitman Reborn! has one of these when Xanxus shows up and demands to be the 10th boss of the Vongola Family. It's not a perfect example though, because the 9th is still alive.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist the many clans of Xing are united under the Emperor, who sires an heir with a concubine of each clan. The current Emperor is ailing and, to prevent a civil war when he dies, has promised the throne to whichever of his children can bring him the key to eternal life. Ling and May are both driven by their desire to reach the throne, Ling to ensure peace and May to protect her clan, and independently come to Amestris in order to find a Philosopher's Stone. Ling ultimately becomes the Emperor, declaring his intent to abolish this system of clan warfare and specifically promising May that he will ally with and protect her clan from any aggressors. May is shown doing quite well in the epilogue.
  • Ooku: the Inner Chambers is about harem politics, so this trope is a constant.
    • Reverend Kasuga's primary motivation in the second and third volumes is avoiding the massive succession crisis that she feared would occur if it became known that Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu died without a male heir. Anyone that has read volume one (set about 80 years later) is well aware that the secret came out at some point.
    • Two shoguns later Tsunayoshi's only heir died, and even after she hit menopause, she held off naming her niece Ienobu successor as long as possible (despite Ienobu being obviously the most qualified candidate) because her father had been rivals with Ienobu's grandfather.
    • Ienobu died with only one sickly, underage heir, reviving the succession crisis, which culminated in a scandal that brought down the senior chamberlain and the privy counselor. This rendered them unable to oppose the succession by coup of Yoshimune of Kii.
    • Yoshimune's two older daughters are in competition for the throne (as the eldest has significant physical and emotional disabilities) but she resolves the crisis by abdicating in favor of the eldest and then ruling from behind the scenes to prevent her younger daughter, Munetake from seizing power.
    • And then the crisis is revived yet again when Ieharu's only daughter dies, with Munetake promoting the claims of her daughter Sadanobu, only for Ieharu to remove her from the succession altogether after Munetake dies by having her adopted as the heir to another family, all at the instigation of Sadanobu's rival for the throne, Harusada. Then she abdicates her claim to the throne altogether to ensure that it goes to her son, making Ienari the first male shogun in decades. Harusada did this to ensure that she'd hold the power behind the throne, without the pressure to bear a daughter.
    • However, that leads to the next succession crisis: Ienari has so many children that one of these is inevitable. Harusada took it upon herself to poison the grandchildren she doesn't like (and it's implied she did that because she was bored) and after her death the various concubines started poisoning each other's children. However, Ienari took a page from Yoshimune and abdicated in favor of one his sons. It's also implied that the succession from him to Iesada went smoothly too, which is just as well as Commodore Perry has shown up.
  • Kinnikuman's final arc featured this. At the beginning of the series, everyone knew that Kinnikuman is the prince of the Kinniku tribe's royal family, but was far too stupid to be considered king. But after taking a level in badass and proving to be a worthy successor, it turns out that there was a fire in the hospital where Kin was born, and he could have been mixed up with five other babies. In true fashion, a wrestling tournament is held to see which Kinnikuman is the rightful heir.
  • While not done with royalty, the Sumimura and Yukimura families of Kekkaishi have a vicious rivalry with one another over who is the legitimate heir to the Hazuma style of kekkai that their master, Tokimori Hazuma, developed. As both families possess the Houin mark on their bodies, the result has never been truly settled.
  • Basilisk concerns a succession crisis being resolved in advance by having a proxy war between two ninja clans decide who the Shogun's heir would be. The war destroys both clans, which were on the verge of resolving their feud when the Shogun had them start killing each other for reasons that most of them didn't even know.
  • A smaller scale version occurs in Fruits Basket with the large, wealthy (and old) Sohma family. After Akito's father, Akira, dies, there's a huge dispute over whether his wife Ren or his child Akito should take over as Head of the Family. Akito ends up winning, since it's in Akira's will, but considering that we only hear about that stipulation from the head maid (who has always despised Ren) after the conflict has had some time to escalate, it's possible she made it up. The factions among the servants are still butting heads a decade or so later.
  • In Beelzebub, if the current Lord Beezlebub has too many children (read: more than one), demons are obviously going to create factions over in-fighting, and civil war will eventually start, threatening both the family itself and the entire kingdom. Case and point: Baby Beel and his older brother En. Though, it's assumed that whoever inherits the Beelzebub is the true successor to the throne. Since En did not inherit the title despite being the eldest, it's obvious who their father's successor is. This causes En a considerable amount of (somewhat childish) angst, and claim that he is an "unwanted child," perhaps in realization of that and the fact that he tends to act like a Spoiled Brat.
  • In Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, after the second Kou Emperor died of illness most likely a lie by his wife Gyokuen, everyone believed that the successor would be his first son Kouen. The fact that Gyokuen succeeded as the Third Emperor shocked everyone and supporters of Kouen immediately began to revolt.
  • Saiunkoku Monogatari has the princes fighting each other after their father deliberately set them against themselves to see who would become emperor, nearly destroying the country in the process. Not to mention exiling his former favourite son Prince Seien, the most competent out of his sons. In the end after four of the six princes killed each other, the youngest prince Ryuuki becomes emperor, something he hated and never wanted.
  • In The Heroic Legend of Arslan, there is Arslan who is making his move to free Pars from Lusitania and Silvermask/Prince Hermes, Andragonas' nephew who also wants to undermine Lusitania from within. Parsian officers in exile recognize that because there are two contenders for the throne, liberating Pars will not bring peace to the country.
  • One of these takes place in Anatolia Story, a manga set in the Hittite Empire. Yuri Suzuki is the concubine of Prince Kail Mursili, one of the sons of King Suppilinuma I, and she arrived there via Time Travel when the King was very old and his consort, Kail's Wicked Stepmother Queen Nakia, was already scheming to get her son Juda as the heir and kill Kail (despite Juda not wanting to inherit). When the King actually died, around the same time The Plague hit Anatolia, things quickly went From Bad to Worse, with Yuri and Kail desperately trying to fend off Nakia's intrigues and help the kingdom...
  • Berserk's Golden Age arc has one approaching in the Kingdom of Midland. The sitting king only has a daughter, Charlotte, so his brother is expected to inherit. But then said brother tries to murder Griffith due to the threat posed by the common-born mercenary, who was granted a peerage for his victories for the Crown and is courting Princess Charlotte. Griffith has Guts assassinate the prince, and he accidentally kills the man's son in the process as well, making Charlotte the only heir. Then everything Goes Horribly Wrong.

    Comic Books 
  • In Marvel Comics' Power Pack, this was the default for the alien Snark empire every time an Emperor died, with all out war of the whole society. It was so bad, the guy proposing government by gladiatorial combat was a heroic reformer.
  • In the second series of Runaways, Los Angeles is suffering from a power vacuum after the sudden death of the Pride, and thus the Runaways are forced to face off against a horde of third-rate supervillains seeking to make names for themselves.

    Fan Works 
  • Actually addressed in How I Became Yours. Mai brings up a pretty good point that not only would this scenario be inevitable if the existence of Zuko's bastard child with Katara became public knowledge, but also that there would be some very serious social fallout in the still struggling-to-recover Fire Nation as well.
  • Emael Mosekhesailho mentions that many Klingon noble houses are facing succession crises due to the deaths of patriarchs and heirs in the Dominion War. The Romulan Star Empire views the chaos as an opportunity to gain an edge over their traditional rival, until Shinzon's coup throws their government, too, into chaos.
  • One of those seems to loom in Reluctant Hero's near future: Zuko cannot become Fire Lord because he was revealed as the new Avatar, his younger sister Azula is... Azula, and Iroh is quite old and childless since his son's death. Since Iroh is the late Fire Lord's firstborn, his subordinate Jee begs him to remarry and produce another heir to legitimate his claim.
  • Black Sky has the Zabini family, a dynasty ruling over the Principality of Sabina since Ancient Roma's era. As the ruling Prince refused to remarry following his beloved wife's demise, his grandson by his only daughter was acknowledged as heir but his eligibility was shaky because it was female inheritance. Then it's discovered the Prince sired a bastard son who's actually missing, right after marrying and impregnating his brand-new wife. Only, the baby can't be the Zabini heir since the wife's inheritance takes precedence, which forces the Zabini to seek for the guy.
  • The tengu face one in A New World. For a very long time, they've worked in a well-arranged meritocracy/bureaucracy. However, there's no clear successor and the bureaucracy needs time to determine a new one. This means the Great Tengu is reticent to directly fight the Lunarians, since his death could unleash a horrible tengu civil war, which there's no time for in the middle of the oncoming attack. So he stays put, duels his assassin, and dies bequeathing his position to whoever kills his murderer, satisfying every tenet of the Tengu. Momiji succeeds, and is crowned as the new Great Tengu.
  • In Rodrik The Red Wolf, one of these has reared its ugly head regarding the succession of Barrowton. Lady Barbrey has named her nephew Domeric as heir, but he is Roose Bolton's son and this would give the Boltons too much power. The next closest relation is Rodrik, but as a bastard son and a Stark bastard son, this looks like Ned is consolidating power and using Nepotism.
    Barbrey: [exasperated] Then what? Who am I to pass Barrowton to? I raised [Rodrik], and I raised Domeric. I ensured both of you were well educated, trained and able to take on the task. If not you two, then who?

  • The backstory to Bitter Lake is that the king was assassinated, then three of the kingdom's four provinces refused to crown his young son, leading to a four-way civil war that lasted twelve years. It starts as the provinces are sending their leaders to negotiate a peace treaty, but there's a fifth faction that doesn't want the talks to go as planned.
  • One segment of The Great Race involved a The Prisoner of Zenda style plot to replace Crown Prince Hapnick with a double before he's crowned King of Carpania.
  • King Ralph has elements of this; after a freak accident cooks the entire British royal family, you've got one Evil Chancellor type trying to usurp the throne, one legitimate heir of less than ideal character who didn't know about it in the first place, and one heir actively trying not to be king.
  • An example without a war happens at the beginning of Kull the Conqueror. The paranoid king of Valusia slaughters most of the royal family out of fear that someone will try to kill him. Kull, a barbarian from Atlantis, ends up mortally wounding the king. Kull picks up the crown, not knowing what to do with it. Immediately, General Taligaro and the king's cousin each demand that Kull hand him the crown. As a final "fuck you", the king manages to proclaim Kull his successor, pointing out that Kull will now have to live in constant fear of assassination. The high priest confirms that the king has that right, resulting in Taligaro and the king's cousin plotting to get rid of Kull by resurrecting an ancient sorceress. Naturally, it doesn't go according to plan.
  • This trope is what starts the main plot of Maleficent: King Henry, the cruel ruler of the humans, is fatally wounded in battle by Maleficent. Because he has no male heir, he proposes to the noblemen assembled before his deathbed that whoever can kill Maleficent will ascend the throne and have his daughter's hand in marriage. At the same time, Stefan, Maleficent's childhood friend, overhears Henry's decree (as an adult, Stefan now works as a servant in the king's castle) and, realizing that this is the perfect opportunity to fulfill his dream of being king, goes to Maleficent, claiming to have come just to warn her. Once he has her drugged and asleep, however, Stefan cannot bring himself to kill her, and simply cuts off her wings and lies to the king, thus gaining the throne in return. Unfortunately, Maleficent is still alive (if no longer able to fly), and out for revenge...
  • The Prince and the Pagoda Boy involves one for the majority of the film. Once the king dies, he names his eldest son his heir. However, one of his sons disagrees and creates a civil war over the throne. He has his brother assassinated to take his place, and after declaring himself king kills another brother with his bare hands even after this brother surrendered.
  • During Parliament's meeting in The Princess Diaries 2, Viscount Mabrey reveals that his nephew, Lord Devereaux, is another heir to the Genovian throne. Despite Queen Clarisse's objection, the only way Mia can assume her duties as Queen is if she marries within the next 30 days. Devereaux didn't actually want the throne (he was told that was what his father wanted — it was really a lie created by his power hungry uncle), and Mia eventually does gain the crown by initiating a new law during her cancelled wedding to allow a queen to be crowned without being married. The fact that Devereaux and Mia were falling in love with each other probably helped.
  • The Japanese period piece Shogun's Samurai is set entirely around one of these. The Shogun seems increasingly likely to make his younger son Shogun when some court insiders who prefer the elder son poison him, resulting in a situation where several powerful lords (and a scheming, Manipulative Bitch mother) favor the more handsome and charismatic younger son, while the rules and a few court insiders like the Yagyu clan favor the elder son. Interestingly, the director was more known for making Yakuza films, but claimed that there was little difference in the end, summarizing it as "The old boss dies, and the question is about who will become the new boss."
  • Star Wars: The Galactic Empire fell into this days after their loss at Endor. Palpatine never named a legit successornote , Imperial warlords sprung from the ruins of the Empire in a attempt to take back the Galaxy from the newly formed New Republic. That failed and forced the Empire to sign a treaty officially ending its rule though warlords of the ex-Empire escaped into the Unknown Parts of the Galaxy rebuilding the new Empire, The First Order.

  • Many legends of the Trope Namer The Man In The Iron Mask have him a twin brother imprisoned to prevent this. The problem was complicated by a popular belief that of twins, the firstborn was the younger, and the second the older — the birth order showed the order they were conceived in. Either one, therefore, could be described as the rightful heir.

  • In the Belgariad, the throne of Cthol Murgos goes to the eldest heir of the last king. Thing is, the others will be executed. So even before the king dies, his children are usually out to kill each other. When Taur Urgas died, the battle was on. Urgit, the weakest (but most clever) of his sons, took the throne through virtue of having stolen a key to the royal treasury and hiring assassins. And then it turns out he's not even Taur Urgas's son in the first place, but nobody who knows this is willing to say anything, because nobody wanted a legitimate heir of Taur Urgas on the throne. Also, in the first series the great houses of Tolnedra were squaring off over which would produce the next Emperor since the current one was old and had no son. The crisis ends up aborted when the Emperor adopts a talented General as his son and heir.
  • In A Brother's Price, the so-called "War of the False Eldest" was caused by a conflict over whether the daughters of the younger sisters should inherit the throne, as the shared husband of the older sisters was infertile, and hadn't fathered any heirs. Princess Ren and her sisters know about the war, and are very aware of their own responsibility to marry well (that is, a fertile man) and have daughters, to avoid a second succession crisis. This causes conflict, as one of the princesses, Trini, doesn't want to marry again, and splitting the family, so that she doesn't have to marry when her sisters do, is something the royal family never wants to do again, because of what happened the last time.
  • The Chronicles of Amber. What happens when an immortal king's immortal spoiled children, many of whom have been waiting for a chance at the throne and resenting each other for millennia, finally get a shot at the throne when said King goes missing? Chaos.
  • In the Back Story of John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, Zeus died, and the Greek gods have yet to settle on his successor. Which greatly complicates the lives of the main characters.
  • C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: In Prince Caspian, when Caspian's uncle has a son, he intends to kill Caspian, whose throne he usurped, so that there will not be a Succession Crisis.
  • This is the backstory of the Codex Alera series. A battle between the crown prince's army and a barbarian horde killed the main character's parents, as well as the crown prince. The crown prince had no heir and was the only person in the line of succession, which is why the nobles are ruthlessly scheming. When Tavi is revealed to be the dead prince's son, this Succession Crisis moves from the background of the story to the foreground. Later on it turns out that the entire crisis was engineered, with the crown prince having been assassinated during the battle by a conspiracy of other lords in order to destabilize the First Lord.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Scarlet Citadel" when Conan is believed dead, the people resort to choosing quickly.
    "Not entirely," broke in Pelias. "They have heard that you are dead. There is no one to protect them from outer enemies and civil war, they think. Naturally, they turn to the strongest noble, to avoid the horrors of anarchy. They do not trust the Poitanians, remembering former wars. But Arpello is on hand, and the strongest prince of the central provinces."
  • The Culture: Matter starts out with the king assassinated on the eve of his final triumph by his pseudo-loyal counsellor, when the crown prince has already died in the same campaign, the next older brother has to flee the world to escape the counsellor, and the next oldest prince is still underage and unprepared to be king. Intrigue ensues, of course. At one point the princess, who long ago emigrated and joined the Culture, toys with the idea of turning male permanently and claiming the throne, just to mess with people's heads.
  • The Daybreak series has one of these as one of its central conflicts, after DC and the entire federal government are wiped out by a fusion bomb. While the good news is that the cautious President had previously had the Secretary of the Future and his staff removed to a secure location in Georgia beforehand, thus leaving a member of the line of succession safe, the bad news is that the federal officer in charge of maintaining and enforcing the line of succession succumbs to paranoia over the Daybreak crisis, falsely believing it to be a precursor to a foreign invasion. When he and the Secretary have a falling out over priorities (defense versus rebuilding society's infrastructure), the Secretary finds himself imprisoned by a military-backed coup, until his supporters manage to break him free and smuggle him away to Washington State, where he sets up a new Congress. However, the forces in Georgia refuse to recognize his authority in light of the continuing state of emergency, leaving the former United States divided between two rival governments.
    • That cautious President, named Norcross, came into power because of one of these. As Daybreak began, the previous President had to order the shoot down of Air Force Two. This caused him to have a mental breakdown and invoke section three of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, voluntarily removing himself from power. With the VP dead and Speaker of the House ineligible, the president pro tempore of the Senate became the acting president. He proceeds to be a senile, out of touch hack who tries to become a dictator and promptly loses the next election to Norcross. The President comes back to his senses and tries to resume office, but the acting prez has him killed so he can fully succeed. Congress decides enough is enough, impeaches the acting prez and elects Norcross to be the new president pro tempore so he can succeed and start his term early. Then the fusion bomb takes out D.C. and we get the above crisis. Bear in mind, Daybreak is causing the near total collapse of society while this is all going on.
  • The Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz starts with a contested succession, a barely of age King against the heiress of a long line of pretenders. This crisis in turn has its roots in an earlier crisis in which a Caligula-like monarch was replaced by the middle-aged and far from willing lost heir of the original royal line.
  • In the Deverry series, a succession crisis (the old king had no sons, but each of his three daughters, who had married powerful nobles, had given him grandsons) causes a hundred-year three-sided civil war that sets the background for many of the flashback chapters. In addition to that, a central point of the fourth book is averting a potential succession crisis in Aberwyn, with Gwerbret Rhys dead without heirs and his only male relative, his half-brother Rhodry, missing.
  • Invoked and deliberately averted in Dirge for Prester John by the Abir, which decides the king by lottery. And even the the king does die, just plant him and wait a little while. He'll keep ruling in tree form.
  • Defusing a succession crisis in Nabol (Whose dying Lord refused to name an heir just to spite everybody) was a subplot in the Dragonriders of Pern novel Dragondrums.
  • This is the main political problem in Elemental Blessings. In the first novel, it's because the king is sterile, and none of his wives' children are his. In the second, it's because the late king's only biological offspring is so mentally stunted that she's totally unfit to rule.
  • In Firebird (Lackey), Tsar Ivan has eight legitimate heirs, an unspecified number of illegitimate heirs, and nowhere near enough land to provide a decent inheritance for all of them. He encourages his sons to feud amongst themselves in the hopes that they'll start eliminating each other, and to keep them too busy to conspire against him. The protagonist is Ivan's The Unfavorite middle son.
  • The Firebird Trilogy had a rather draconian method of averting these, set in place after a group of young disinherited nobles and royals tried and failed to take over the government, backed by popular support: The only members of the royal and noble families legally allowed to reproduce are the head and the direct heir. On top of that, once enough heirs have been produced to drop someone in the family to fifth in the line of succession, that person was required by law to commit suicide (in times of war, this could be modified to being sent to the front lines to serve until dying for their country).
  • Jane Lindskold's Firekeeper Saga: This is the entire plot of Through Wolf's Eye], after the king's children are all dead. The heroine is brought in as a possible heir because she's the only survivor of the fire that took out the prince and his party, and might be his daughter. (She isn't.)
  • In Griffin's Destiny, the elves are faced with a potential crisis: The king is sick with a plague with a low survival rate, and the next three in line (the king's younger brother and his two sons) are about to go to war with the neighboring human empire. The only other member of the royal bloodline is Jelena, the king's newly discovered daughter, who is a hikui (a half-human). As hikui were considered second-class citizens at best, this would be like Barack Obama being the Democratic nominee for president in 1964. Ultimately averted, as the council of nobles agreed to support Jelena if it came to that (save one noble, who agreed not to oppose her) and the King's brother and younger son survived the battle with the humans.
  • Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde features a frame story with a virtual reality game, the player of which is the illegitimate child of a king. Said king has just died, and named the player his heir, passing over three legitimate sons. The protagonist of Heir Apparent, Giannine Bellisario, must play the game until coronation—or she dies. In real life.
  • The Heralds of Valdemar series features this as a subplot several times. Valdemar's laws require that the Heir be of the nobility, be related to the ruling monarch as at least a cousin, and that they be a Herald. The last part is most important, since it's the Companions who do the Choosing and they're awfully picky about who is and is not fit to be a Herald.
    • In the Arrows trilogy, until Elspeth is Chosen, Selenay has to make do with cousins, (one of them the nephew of the Manipulative Bastard who was trying to gain control of the throne) and even after she's chosen, the court is anxious since there's only one heir and they're at war-what if something happens to Elspeth? And Elspeth nearly doesn't become Heir-In-Fact, since the Manipulative Bastard that Selenay trusted like an uncle hired a nurse to ensure that Elspeth grew up as a selfish, self-absorbed brat who was terrified of Companions; when that fails, he waits until she's old enough to start noticing boys and attempts to set up a blackmail situation that would have Elspeth crippled as a useful Heir -it's only foiled because the Queen's Own is very on the ball. Ironically, Elspeth later abdicates in favor of her recent half-brother and -sister, in order to become the first new Herald-Mage.
    • Much earlier in the history of Valdemar, during Vanyel's time, a crisis is brewing because the king is suffering from a wasting disease that leaves him sterile. This fact is very carefully concealed, and Vanyel, who is gay, makes a secret deal with the king's consort to sire an heir to preserve the line of succession (this is not the only child he conceives under similar circumstances, either). Six hundred years later, his Secret Legacy of mage powers manifests itself in Elspeth.
  • One incident mentioned in the backstory of the Honor Harrington universe involves the daughter of the previous Emperor of the Andermani Empire stopping a civil war between her incompetent brothers by having the parliament declare her a man. No actual surgery, but the same effect.
    • Just to be clear how screwed up the whole thing was, it's worth it to mention that the can of worms was opened when one of said brothers, the ruling Emperor, decided that his prized rose bush was worthy not only of talking with, but of being made Chancellor. Naturally, the rest of the family wasn't really amused, but it still left the problem of deciding who would call the shots after the loony was shipped into an asylum. Fortunately for them, the Cool Big Sis was smart enough to ensure the support of the army and went on to become the greatest Emperor in Andermani history. Y'see, those Andies are a really... colorful bunch sometimes.
    • Another crisis (on a much smaller scale) happens when Honor is believed to be dead, with no direct heir for her Steading on Grayson. In this case, there is someone who is her closest living relative who would be the clear legal heir (and who inherits her Manticorian title and lands), but the politics surrounding it make things more difficult. The solution is for Honor's parents to get busy, resulting in Honor getting a couple of siblings.
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, the missing Ice Crown is supposed to pick out the heir.
  • The Icemark Chronicles: This is one of Thirrin's main worries in Cry of the Icemark. She marks a relative to reign while she is gone, and if she doesn't come back, that line takes over — which goes straight to the whole foreign ruler trouble. To make matters worse, there is no one else who can claim to be an heir — Thirrin is only just fourteen, and childless. Fortunately, it never comes to pass.
  • In Julie Kagawa's The Iron Daughter, a crisis has emerged about whether the current Iron King is the true one.
  • There is only one male heir in The Kingdom of Little Wounds, and like his sisters, he's sickly. It's so bad that people are upset the king didn't have a mistress. The prince dies midway through the book, making the situation worse.
  • A major plot point in Last Sacrifice. Following the regicide of Queen Tatiana Ivashkov, the throne is empty, and multiple candidates compete for the throne.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, there are two succession crises in the backstory. One split the north kingdom in three; the other sparked a civil war in Gondor.
    • The Silmarillion: after the death of Finwë, the Noldor were split in three groups, each following one of Finwë's three sons. The followers of the youngest son, Finarfin, stayed in Valinor, where Finarfin became High-king. The followers of Fëanor and Fingolfin went to Middle-earth, but Fëanor betrayed Fingolfin, burning the ships that took his people to Middle-earth and forcing Fingolfin to lead his people across the Grinding Ice, where many died. Fëanor died before Fingolfin got to Middle Earth, but the two groups would probably have slaughtered each other if Fëanor's eldest — and wiser — son, Maedhros, hadn't waived his claim to kingship and given the crown to his uncle.
  • In the backstory of The Lost Prince, a succession crisis began when the old king was killed and his son and only heir disappeared on the same day, leaving two families to fight it out for the throne. In the present day, the fight is still ongoing, with neither family having managed to gain the throne for long before being overthrown by the other.
  • In The Magids book Deep Secret, the Koryfonic Emperor is so paranoid that his children will overthrow him that he has them all hidden away with adoptive families; at one point he even executes a son who accidentally found out the truth. Then a bomb goes off in his palace, killing him and most of his wives/consorts, and as the worlds-spanning empire descends into chaos the protagonist has to track down someone capable of taking the throne.
  • In Nation by Terry Pratchett, all members of the British royal family resident in Britain are wiped out by a plague, and an heir far down the line of succession (currently on a sea voyage to a remote part of the British Empire) must be found and brought back to British soil within nine months to prevent a survivor of the French royal family from claiming the throne.
  • Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth weaves together the lives of people in a little English town with the Real Life 12th century succession crisis called the Anarchy, triggered when Henry I died without a male heir, leaving his daughter Matilda and nephew Stephen to fight a long war for the succession.
  • In The Prince of Ill Luck, the bastard brother of the Duke tries to kill the Duke and his daughter so he can take over.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda: "The king of the fictional country of Ruritania is abducted on the eve of his coronation."
  • Interesting variation in Quest Of The Unaligned. The protagonist, Crown Prince Alaric, must complete the titular quest before the summer solstice, or he will be ineligible to become king of Caederan. Further complicating things is the fact that the current king and queen have badly screwed up the realm, most of the nobility are counting on Prince Alaric to fix things, and the next heir in line will continue to screw things up. The upshot is that if Alaric can't complete his quest, Caederan will probably have a civil war on its hands.
  • The Riftwar Cycle shows this happening multiple times on two different worlds.
    • In Magician, Lyam is named Rodric IV's heir just before he dies of battle wounds on the grounds that he is the eldest male member of the royal family still alive. Problem was, Rodric was unaware that Lyam's father (who died very soon before) acknowledged his illegitimate son Martin (Who is older than Lyam), which threatens Lyam's position (Since this means that Lyam isn't the eldest conDoin male) and, by extension, the already-shaky politics of the Kingdom. Youngest son Arutha even considers killing Martin in order to prevent dissidents from rallying behind him. Martin takes the initiative to abandon all claim to the throne and places the crown on Lyam's head himself.
    • In Mistress of the Empire, the Imperial succession winds up including everything from assassins and magicians up to siege engines and whole armies. Others were impending in later novels.
    • In Murder in Lamut, various barons were maneuvering for position in the expectation that one of them would become the next Earl of Lamut when the current earl became Duke of Yabon, a question that was answered in Magician when the title was given to Kasumi of the Shinzawai instead without any of the barons in Murder even being considered for the position.
    • Two different novels have the question of the Keshian succession as part of the plot, though they were defused before an actual war broke out. One of them was amusingly subverted when everyone in the court except the actual heirs was squaring off over which prince would be the next emperor, with the war being aborted when upon the old emperor's death, one prince ordered the court to pay homage to their new emperor — his brother.
    • The final book in the series has an all-out civil war break out over the succession of the Kingdom, as the closest living relative to the late king is the ruler of a foreign nation who many of the nobles refuse to accept because they see him as a foreigner (Helped by the fact that he brought his army with him to the old king's funeral in an attempt to influence the succession). This is actually the B plot of the novel, as there is a second crisis on Midkemia that is much, much worse.
  • The main story of the Safehold series opens with the ending of a succession crisis over an Earldom. The resolution is notable because the decision is made not based on legal arguments, but on the fact that the 'rightful' heir bribed the Corrupt Church arbiters.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sharra's Exile. Danvan bids one Alton heir! Dyan sees him and raises him one!
  • Pretty much the entire plot so far of A Song of Ice and Fire and a good chunk of the backstory.
    • The real plot essentially kicks off when King Robert Baratheon is killed via hunting accident. His official successor is Joffrey, but Joffrey is not actually his real son (and has a 0% Approval Rating to boot). The crisis results in the very tellingly named War of the Five Kings, partially as two of the leading nobles, Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy, try to break away from the Iron Throne and set up their own Kingdoms. Further complicating matters are loyalists to the old Targaryen dynasty whom Robert ousted to take the Iron Throne in the first place, though admittedly the king Robert overthrew, Aerys II, was an insane pyromaniac who had just murdered a group of nobles without trial and intended to kill Robert on scant grounds, and Robert had a Targaryen grandmother to help his claim.
    • In the distant backstory, the Targaryen king Aegon IV "the Unworthy" had numerous bastard children whom he legitimised on his deathbed. This, combined with his obvious fondness for his eldest natural son Daemon Blackfyre (to the point of having gifted him with the dynasty's Ancestral Weapon) caused a succession crisis as Daemon and his supporters argued that Aegon intended for him to be his true heir, which led to a war and many of Daemon's descendants also attempting to claim the throne. The last of the Blackfyres (at least, in the male line) was finally put down shortly before the start of the books' proper timeline.
    • An even earlier succession crisis between two Targaryen branches, "greens" and "blacks" is depicted in the novella "The Princess and the Queen". Viserys I declares Rhaenyra, his daughter from his first marriage, as heir. However his children from his second marriage dispute this, and when he dies his eldest son Aegon II declares himself King. Aegon finally wins the war, feeding his half-sister to his dragon, but is poisoned the next year, meaning the throne passes to Rhaenyra's son Aegon III.
    • This is further complicated by the fact a Great Council had made Viserys King by passing over the female line claimant, essentially being a way to avoid a succession crisis. Basically Jaehaerys I's eldest son Aemon died and he declared his second son Baelon heir over Aemon's daughter Rhaenys. When Baelon died the first Great Council was called to determine succession, and between Rhaenys' seven-year old son Laenor Velaryon (whose father Lord Corlys Velaryon was the richest man in the realm) and Baelon's eldest son Viserys, Viserys was decided, apparently showing the male line would always come first in succession.
    • Later another Great Council was called after Maekar I's death. The claimants were Vaella, the daughter of his deceased eldest son Daeron, Maegor, the year-old son of his deceased second son Aerion, his third son Aemon who had taken Maesters' vows, and his fourth son Aegon who was distrusted by many of the nobles for spending a lot of time with the smallfolk. Vaella was passed over, she was young, simple-minded, and a woman, which the earlier GC said couldn't succeed. Maegor succeeding would mean a long regency, also his father Aerion was a psychotic monster and it was feared Maegor had inherited his father's madness. Maester Aemon was offered the crown but refused, saying it should go to his younger brother. So Aegon was elected Aegon V. Complicating matters was one of Daemon Blackfyre's sons turning up to put forward a claim, but he was executed by his half-uncle Brynden Rivers.
    • When Aegon the Conqueror killed Harren the Black and his sons in order to take over the Riverlands, he triggered one of these in Harren's native Iron Islands, with lords on every island (and at least one Drowned Priest) declaring himself the new king and fighting each other. This came to a screeching halt when Aegon flew over and killed most of the claimants, before naming the Greyjoys lords of the islands after they were smart enough to surrender. And then there was another Ironborn succession crisis a century later, when Dalton Greyjoy died without any legitimate children, leaving his (many, many) bastards to fight over his throne.
    • The Reach also had one in its backstory, when the elderly King Garth X went senile without any sons to take over for him, leaving his daughters' husbands to fight for his crown. The chaos was only worsened when a Dornish invasion killed Garth and most of the claimants, leaving the Reach leaderless until a group of lords took power and installed one of Garth's cousins as King.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, we have no less than seven would-be heirs to the king of peak's castle. The ones that die follow the others as ghosts.
  • Star Wars Legends: Palpatine's death caused one of these for the Empire, due in large part to Palpatine having habitually played his possible successors off against each other to keep them off his back. He also never actually designated a successor because he intended to live forever, and Darth Vader (who probably would've been in the strongest position to seize power) died in the process of killing Palpatine. The pretender Trioculus (falsely claiming to be Palpatine's illegitimate son) and the council of Grand Moffs that had replaced Tarkin managed to keep things together for a while, but they were eventually brought down by clashes with both Zorba the Hutt and the Heroes of Endor, and the Empire splintered into a number of warlords vying for the top position (the most powerful for a time was Imperial Intelligence Director Ysanne Isard, but she was forced into hiding after losing Coruscant and Thyferra to the New Republic). They were briefly united again under Grand Admiral Thrawn and later the resurrected Palpatine, but splintered again after the death of each. The remains of the Empire were only finally united for good when Admiral Natasi Daala got fed up with the whole mess, gathered the warlords together, and executed them when they failed to get their act together. At that point, what was left of the Empire was essentially a military dictatorship led first by Daala and then by Admiral Gilad Pellaeon, before stabilizing into the Imperial Remnant led by a council consisting of Pellaeon and the surviving Moffs. It's not until decades later, with the Empire growing again in size and power, that they decide the throne needs to be filled, and Jagged Fel (who had no connection whatsoever to Palpatine) was named Emperor. Technically it took over 40 years for an actual successor to take the Imperial throne.
  • This is the plot of the first three books in Fiona Patton's Tales of the Branion Realm.
  • Prince (later King) Jonathan of Tortall grew up under the pressure of needing to marry and produce heirs in order to prevent this. It became especially urgent after the death of his only close relative and heir, Duke Roger. All other relatives were distant and had no strong claim, and thus there would have been a huge war among the nobility if Jonathan had died without an heir. Luckily, he and Thayet popped out five kids (including three sons) before the second quartet.
  • In the Village Tales series, His Highness the Nawab of Hubli faces one. His nawabate – let no one tell you it's merely titular nowadays: not with the money and influence that even now comes with it – was granted by the sirkar, and its succession based on what the British at that time condescendingly called "native practices and laws," every cousin he has, including some of the third cousins who are his Begum's family, suck up to him and slander each other once it's clear that he's not reproducing (he's not impotent, but he, not his Begum, is infertile). (He picks his brother-in-law / third cousin precisely because he explicitly doesn't want the title.)
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Barrayar has been teetering on the brink of a succession crisis throughout the majority of the series. If anything happens to Emperor Gregor, there is currently no clear line of succession, and according to genealogy, there are about six major potential claimants, with more certain to come out of the woodwork, meaning a civil war to settle who the Emperor is. Vidal Vordarian, subsequently known as "the Pretender," tried to trigger a succession crisis in Barrayar, a sub-plot of The Warrior's Apprentice had another attempt to trigger the succession crisis/war, and Gregor's suicide attempt and subsequent disappearance (over just how Royally Screwed Up the Vorbarra dynasty is) nearly set off another one in The Vor Game. Many of the main characters of the series are very high on the list of possible successors, and wish that Gregor would hurry up and produce lots of kids, already, to get them off the hook. (In Cryoburn, fortunately, he and his wife have produced several.)
    • A non-royal example occurs in A Civil Campaign. One of the Counts dies without children, and rather than let an incompetent (and sadistic) cousin inherit the title, the late Count's sister Donna undergoes gender reassignment surgery so that, as Dono, he can inherit while avoiding the problem of being a woman in Barryar's male-only inheritance system. Given the fact that the Counts hold a large amount of political power, it still counts despite not being royalty, and the political wrangling over which potential heir to support is a major sub-plot of the novel.
    • The same novel also features a second Succession Crisis when a different Count is discovered (by the newly available gene-sequencing tests) to be one-eight Cetagandan ghem. Since the Cetagandans occupied Barrayar for around twenty years, this is not incredibly uncommon, but in this specific case, the Cetagandan blood was on his father's father's side, meaning that his grandfather was not the son of his great-grandfather. Sparks a huge debate over whether this retroactively invalidates the grandfather's inheritance of the Countship, and hence cuts the unfortunate René out of the succession. (Ultimately, René retains his Countship.)
    • There is also a passing mention of "the Countess who was declared a man so she could inherit" some time in the remote past. Not to mention the Count Vortala who named his horse as heir, though that turned out to be a subversion; not only did Vortala patch up his feud with his son and reverse his decision before he died, but the result was a legal precedent enabling Counts to name someone other than a blood relative as their successor should they see fit, which was used to head off several more crises over the years.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In William King's Space Wolf novel Wolfblade, the impending death of the High Lord causes a great deal of politicking among the Navigators. And Cezare attempts to control it by creating a succession crisis in the House of Beliasarus, by killing the Elders who selected the Celestarch and then the Celestarch. He fails.
    • There was a succession crisis going on in the background of the Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor's Hand, with the governor of the planet Cain was on having died without naming a successor a year before, and the issue had yet to be resolved by the time war broke out over a totally different issue. However, since General Zyvan tricks the Council of Claimants (which consisted of the various nobles hoping to become governor) into voting itself out of the loop for the duration of the crisis, it has very little impact on the story.
    • Cain sets off another succession crisis by accident when he kills the Ork Warlord Korbul in Death or Glory. Korbul's sub-bosses are too busy fighting over leadership of the Waaagh to bother with little details like, oh, stopping Cain and his refugees from making it to safety. Cain's only intention during that fight was survival, but he wasn't going to object to the impromptu Ork civil war that ensued (which allowed the Imperial Guard to win the campaign).
  • This happens a couple times in Warrior Cats, despite the fact that the Clans' hierarchy is set up in a way to avoid it: the Clan deputy always succeeds the leader, and the deputy must be chosen before the moon reaches its highest point during the coming night (so that the leader will not be without backup for more than a day).
    • In the first series, most of ShadowClan comes down with a deadly disease, and both the leader and deputy die. That's when Tigerclaw, who had been exiled from ThunderClan as a traitor, steps in and claims leadership. ShadowClan did not know of his previous actions, so they were grateful for such a strong cat as leader.
    • In the second series, Tallstar, leader of WindClan, announces with his dying breaths that Mudclaw is no longer his deputy: Onewhisker now is. Since deputy succeeds leader, and Tallstar managed to announce his decision only to Onewhisker and the leader of ThunderClan, who is Onewhisker's friend, many WindClan cats don't believe it, and start a civil war supporting the old deputy.
    • The guidebook Code of the Clans explains how this setup came to be: The deputy-becomes-leader rule started after there was a case where a leader selected his son as his successor. The son led his Clan into a needless fight, where half the cats disagreed with his choice and those that did listen nearly drowned. He realized that the deputy, due to her rank, had more experience in being in charge of the Clan. The rule that states that the new deputy must be chosen before moonhigh was created after a new leader waited too long to choose her deputy. She died of sickness, leaving the Clan leaderless and with two more dead cats who had attempted to fight for leadership. Eventually the spirit of the previous leader tells the medicine cat in a dream to choose who the new leader will be.
  • This is one of the four thousand subplots of The Wheel of Time. After Queen Morgase of Andor dies or is believed to have died, her daughter Elayne comes to the capital to take her throne, only to find herself embroiled in a huge war of succession against about half the noble houses. Some of them oppose her because they believe she's a puppet of The Dragon Reborn, some believe she's a puppet of the Aes Sedai, some because of offenses against them by Morgase who was being mind-controlled by one of the Forsaken, and some just because they saw it as their opportunity to grab power.
    • Morgase herself acquired the throne after a similar crisis. One of Elayne's major advantages in her political offerings is that a lot of people don't want to go through the same messy business again. There was also a succession crisis in Cairhien, but Cairhienin nobles scheme as easily as they breathe, so political mayhem would have occurred regardless.
  • The war in Wings of Fire revolves around this. The SandWing dragons are having an internal war after the death of Queen Oasis. Her daughters Burn, Blister, and Blaze all want to be the next queen and have dragged other kingdoms into their squabble.
  • The Deed of Paksenarrion: The crisis involved with the heir of Lyonya being absent and unable to take the throne is a low-key source of concern throughout the series. It comes to a head in the last book.
    • Subverted when The Rightful Heir, Duke Kieri Phelan returns and takes his throne. The heir, who is still mourning his previous wife, promises to bite the bullet and re-marry to produce a heir before he dies (he is in his mid-fifties). His courtiers Face Palm, laugh and gently remind him that his mother was an elf, that he can expect to remain alive and fertile (barring disease or accident) for at least another century and that while they would appreciate it if he would father a heir chop-chop so they don't have to go through this crap again, there is no reason to rush things.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: "The Androids of Tara" is basically a version of The Prisoner of Zenda. Prince Reynart must be crowned at a specific time. Trying to stop him is an evil count, who plans to kill him or prevent his attendance so the next in line, Princess Strella takes over — or more specifically an android double. However, the prince has an android double of himself and Strella looks exactly like Romana. Spare a thought for Mary Tamm, who had to play both roles and doubles of each.
  • Much of the first season of Downton Abbey revolves around a variation of this: instead of a country trying to figure out who will be the next monarch, it's a group of nobles—the Crawley family, the head of which holds the title Earl of Grantham—trying to determine who will be the inheritor of their estate and its title, after the heir presumptive dies aboard the Titanic. The current (6th) Earl, Robert would very much like to leave as much as possible to his eldest daughter, Lady Mary, but the terms of his marriage contract with his wife Cora put the kibosh on that. You see, the 5th Earl foolishly stipulated that Cora's fortune would be entailed to the estate—that is, assigned to whomever inherited the title "Earl of Grantham." With a few rare exceptions—and this isn't one—British peerages go to "the heirs male of the body" of the grantee; they cannot be inherited in the female line. Lord and Lady Grantham went on to have three daughters and no sons. The solution was for Mary to marry the next male in line, her second cousin and good friend of the family Patrick Crawley (the Earl and Patrick's father were friends growing up), and thus keep hold of her mother's money, but then the Titanic happened, and Patrick was on it. The next closest male relative is the Earl's third cousin once removed (and thus fourth cousin to Mary and her sisters), and he's a Self-Made Man who's not sure he wants to marry Mary and give up his career as a corporate-law solicitor to "run the estate" (i.e. be an idle aristocrat). Eventually he does, quite happily we might add...but he's so very businesslike about that it drives the Earl mad. He also gives Mary a son, ensuring that the money would stay in the family...and dies literally hours after his son is born.
  • Dynasty is the Wuxia story of the Yongzheng Emperor's ascension, reign and assassination.
  • A variation occurs in Farscape's "Look at the Princess" trilogy. Moya's crew lands on a Sebacean planet where succession goes through the eldest child regardless of gender, but only if they are married (to someone who can give them viable offspring) by a certain age. Since Princess Katralla's DNA was poisoned by her younger brother, she despairs of ever finding a Sebacean male who is compatible and thinks she will have to forfeit the throne. This is particularly problematic since Prince Clavor will lead the society into destruction at the hands of the Scarrans if he is allowed to rule. Fortunately for her, John shows up. As he is human and not Sebacean, he is genetically capable of producing an heir with her and is practically forced to wed her. The Queen even has her daughter artificially inseminated with his DNA to make sure there will be a continuing line.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The show featured this by the end of season 1, with Robert's death causing the "War of Five Kings" between Robert's elder brother Stannis, his younger brother Renly, his son Joffrey, all competing for the Iron Throne. During the chaos two smaller kingdoms also declared themselves independent, not recognizing any king on the Iron Throne and instead their own local high lord. In this case, Stannis is the rightful king as Joffrey (along with all of Robert's children with Cersei) is a bastard and not actually Robert's son. This seems to be resolved with the victory of the Lannisters in the War of the Five Kings and they seem to reestablish control of the throne over the kingdoms.
    • As of the end of Season 6, all the contenders from the War of the Five Kings are deceased, which leaves Cersei Lannister as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms after her youngest son's suicide and Cersei's murder of many rivals after she blows up the Sept of Balor. Daenerys Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, finally comes home to Westeros to reclaim her birthright. However, Daenerys was rendered barren by Mirri's spell and cannot have children. Tyrion attempts to discuss it by offering alternatives about who should succeed her, but Daenerys is unwilling to hear it and will only address this after her conquest is complete. Making things even more difficult is her forming a relationship with the new King of the North, Jon Snow, who is revealed to the audience as the trueborn son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, Aegon Targaryen (making him Ned Stark's nephew, not his illegitimate son, as well as Daenerys' nephew), and therefore, by the laws of succession, is the rightful king of Westeros... if this knowledge becomes public In-Universe, with not even Jon/Aegon knowing this himself..
  • I, Claudius: True to Real Life, the order of succession among the gens Julii is in almost constant flux, pending patricide, fratricide, regicide, suicide, exile, bribes, threats, insanity, back-room politicking, bed-room politicking, poison and favoritism among the Praetorians.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia features a non-monarch version. Frank announces he's retiring and the rest of the gang have to figure out who gets his shares of the bar and becomes the majority owner. Remembering that they all signed a pact where "the next of kin" gets anyone's shares, Dennis and Dee claim the shares as Frank's children. However, Charlie points out Frank is their adoptive father while he may actually be Frank's biological son from an affair Frank had with his mother. Charlie sets out to get a blood test to prove he's Frank's son while Dee and Dennis plot against each other so they will be the sole owner. Eventually, everything is rendered moot when Frank decides not to retire.
  • Merlin is actively trying to prevent this throughout the course of the show by keeping Arthur alive, the undisputed heir. Were he to die at least before he married Gwen, quite honestly, it's hard to imagine what could happen. Then it gets complicated when it's revealed Morgana is his older half-sister, which apparently gives her a legitimate claim to the throne despite her being a female bastard.
  • Happens at the end of season 3 of The Musketeers. King Louis is Secretly Dying and his 6-year-old son is in line for the throne. Governor Feron and Grimaud are plotting, with the help of the King's brother Gaston, to challenge this. To further complicate things, the regent would normally be Queen Anne, however since she is Spanish and France is at war with Spain, that is disputed as well.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • One story arc in the Popeye comics featured King Blozo of Spinachia being pressured into marrying because his subjects were fearing this trope. He didn't like the idea of having a wife but was reconsidering because the people of Spinachia was threatening to depose him and elect a President.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The classic Avalon Hill game Kingmaker is about the Wars of the Roses, see Real Life, below.
  • In 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the death of the chief modron Primus would always set off a Succession Crisis between the four secundi — the only time that modrons would fail to act as a unified force. Slightly subverted in that the decision process involved a cutthroat competition instead of out-and-out war.
    • And once a Secundus became the new Primus, a Tertian had to be promoted up to fill than empty Secundus spot, and then a Quarton had to be promoted up to fill the Tertian position, and so on all the way down.
    • In the Eberron campaign setting, this is what set off the Last War. King Jarot kicked the bucket, and, thanks to the military buildup during his reign for an invasion that never came and his habit of encouraging his children to squabble incessantly, he paved the war for a century-long war that split the unified kingdom of Galifar into twelve current nations of Khorvaire and only ended when one of the original five provinces was wiped off the map and the great-grandchildren of the royals who started it decided things had gone on long enough. Way to go there, Jarot. Unusually, the problem wasn't that there wasn't a dedicated heir, since on his deathbed Jarot declared the queen of Cyre the new ruler of Galifar; it's that of the five possible heirs, one decided that he had the divine right to be king, one believed he had the military right to be king, and one believed it was time to abandon the old tradition of kicking out the old royal family of each nation and handing them over to the new ruler of Galifar's kids.
    • The classic 1st edition module "Destiny of Kings" is all about this. The PCs must find and rescue an 18-year-old prince before his uncle claims the throne.
    • This is set up as a potential plot hook in the Al-Qadim setting. Grand Caliph Khalil al-Assad al-Zahir, Master of the Enlightened Throne, Most High Sovereign of the Land of Fate, the Worthy of the Gods, Scourge of the Unbeliever, Confidant of the Genies, has no sons (despite the best efforts of his harem). It's left up to the GM just what the reason is; suggestions include all his sons are being raised in secret, and a cursed item in the harem causing sterility.
  • The core Back Story of BattleTech is a Succession Crisis that lasted over 400 years, with 5 powers each claiming the throne, known as the Succession Wars. All of these powers have had internal Succession Crises of their own along the way.
    • House Davion had a succession crisis that caused a civil war so bad that they rewrote the rules of succession to be exceedingly specific, so that there could be no ambiguity as to who would succeed who. It... didn't work. Well, technically, the rules would have worked, but when the populace (and various nobles) simply accepted a new ruler in clear violation of those laws, they were shown to be nothing more than ink on a page. A civil war erupted a few years later.
  • In the Legend of the Five Rings setting, they seem to happen regularly to supply plot prizes for the year's tournaments.
  • Part of the Scarlet Empress' policy of keeping anybody from accumulating the power to overthrow her was to make the line of succession as obscure and convoluted as possible. Her Dynasty consists of twelve extended families, and she herself continuously delayed officially announcing a successor, ultimately stating that she would do so on the 1000th anniversary of her reign. This lack of clear succession is one of the reasons why, in the wake of her mysterious and unexpected disappearance, the Realm is on the verge of collapse.
  • Both of the Third Imperium's civil wars in Traveller were succession crises:
    • In the first one a disgruntled admiral assassinated the Empress and declared himself Emperor, only to be killed a couple years later by some of the other claimants. The First Civil War saw eighteen "emperors of the flag" in eighteen years before Arbellatra simply named herself regent and looked for a more legitimate heir for seven years before finally accepting the throne and founding a dynasty.
    • In the Megatraveller timeline Archduke Dulinor assassinated Emperor Strephon and his wife and daughter to proclaim himself Emperor, but the Imperial Moot wouldn't accept his claim and there was a Second Civil War. That one ended in a sentient computer virus tearing the Imperium apart.
  • This happens from time to time in the Empire in Warhammer Fantasy. When an Emperor dies, the Elector Counts often argue on who would be the next Emperor. Once there was the time of the Three Emperors, where three Counts declared themselves as the true Emperor of the Empire.
    • In either franchise, killing an Orc/Ork Warboss will cause a power struggle within the WAAAGH!!!, where the highest ranking Nobs start slugging it out to see who becomes the new Boss. In a best case scenario, the greenskin horde breaks down into a civil war while their enemies mop up the remains.
  • The classic Ironclaw adventure module "The Lost Heir of the Rinaldi" takes place among a brewing succession crisis. The High King Fidelio di Rinaldi has been murdered along with his eldest son, probably by his new wife, the necromancer Lady Amalsand Jakoba, however his second son Fabrizio is missing and could still be alive. The players are usually hired by a banker to whom the king owed a lot of money and who is being pressured by the Great Houses to foreclose on the Rinaldi estate so they can buy it from him, but he can't until they know what happened to the prince. His stepmother drove him completely insane with a curse, he can't even speak coherently. And there's at least two other factions looking for him, and an impostor, and Amalsand wants him dead so her own son can claim the throne.
  • Successors is a game that begins right after the death of Alexander the Great, and chronicles the violent implosion of the Macedonian empire as Alexander's generals fight each other over the empire. Players struggle to either prove themselves the legitimate heir to Alexander's empire, to install one of Alexander's sons on the throne as a Puppet King, or to let Alexander's empire fall, murder his heirs, and carve out the strongest successor state from the ashes.

  • A lot of strategy games are based around a succession crisis. This is not only because it's a highly realistic story, but due to the fact that they are based around wars, that this is actually not that far off from reality. Similar to a group of rebels fighting against a corrupted government.
  • Happens a lot (as you might expect) in the 4X strategy games Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, set in respectively the Middle Ages and the Renaissance/Colonial era.
    • Special note goes to the Crusader Kings 2 expansion pack The Old Gods, in which pagan factions (especially the Norse) are required to have elective gavelkind successionnote  until they reform their religion (if ever). This inevitably results in various succession crises, as your heirs start fighting each other over who has a better claim on a title. Vicious intrafactional fighting follows, since this is the Vikings we're talking about.
    • One of the live action trailers for Crusader Kings 2 shows how one can engineer succession crises in neighboring kingdoms and take advantage of them to invade.
    • Muslim rulers, introduced in the Sword of Islam expansion, are required to take "open" succession, which means that the son who already possesses the greatest title(s) inherits when you die. And Muslims take Decadence penalties for having male relatives with no lands and are expected to take multiple wives based on their rank so it's practically guaranteed that your demense will be split up between your many heirs even before you kick the bucket.
  • In Tales of Graces, Aston Lhant sends his son Hubert off to another country to be raised by the military-based Oswell family. Aston does so in order to avoid a messy succession crisis between Hubert and his older brother, Asbel. It's ultimately deconstructed when Hubert returns to Lhant years down the road. Not only did Aston's attempts to avoid a succession crisis only delay the inevitable, they actually made it far worse than if he'd done nothing. Hubert now has taken multiple levels in badass and in jerkass, promptly curb-stomping Asbel and exiling him from Lhant, then telling off their mother when she tries to intervene.
  • Tales of Vesperia has a succession crisis going on in the background, involving one of the main characters, Estelle. It is resolved rather abruptly when Alexei's insurrection and the Adephagos crisis catapult Ioder into the role of acting Emperor. His performance nets him the support of both the Council and the Knights, making him as-good-as-permanent Emperor. Estelle seems rather relieved at this turn of events, as it allows her to continue her travels and pursue her dreams of being a writer.
  • A succession crisis is what sets several major events of the video game Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume into motion. Depending on the path that the player picks, it also plays out differently, and you play a part in deciding who comes out on top: or so it looks. Kristoff and Langrey are guaranteed to either die or get imprisoned, and the only thing that changes is whether the realm is so badly fractured that Joshua is unable to keep it from collapsing after he takes the throne.
  • A Succession Crisis in fact appears in Tactics Ogre but this actually does not take into play as a key event until later, as the ethnic cleansing and liberation of Walstania are more important in the early parts of the game. It is resolved by the end of the game, either by talking Kachua, the rightful heir as the former king's biological daughter, out of committing suicide in front of Denim or by allowing her to do that and making her adoptive brother, the NEXT closest thing the heir, giving him the custom class of "Lord".
  • Interestingly enough, the events of Final Fantasy Tactics are set forth by a Succession Crisis, and unlike another game made by some of the same people, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, this takes central stage early on, but later the plot about corruption in the Church becomes more important, and the War of the Lions is relegated to the background. In fact, the succession crisis was ultimately instigated and extended by the church, in an attempt to reclaim their moral authority and position of power that was usurped by the strong monarchy.
  • There are two concurrent succession crises in Dragon Age: Origins:
    • The Fereldan succession crisis, caused by King Cailan Theirin's death without a legitimate heir fighting the darkspawn at Ostagar, frames much of the main plot but the protagonist only gets involved after the civil war is mostly over. Problem is, the only candidates for the throne are the late king's wife (who isn't of Royal Blood herself), the bastard son of said king's father (by an elven mother, no less, which would make him a target of Fantastic Racism if anyone ever found out), and the Player Character (but only if they are of the Human Noble origin and choose to run for it). All the while a paranoid manipulative regent with a facade of righteousness makes the mess even murkier. Just to add to that pressure, a nigh-on unstoppable horde of monsters has nearly destroyed the standing army and is getting very close to wiping out the country outright. The remaining army is on the brink of civil war and all foreign aid has been blocked at the borders until far too late to make a difference. Without getting a king/queen to sort this mess out soon, the country is utterly boned. Possible resolutions are: Heroic Bastard Alistair becomes king, Dowager Queen Anora becomes queen regnant, Alistair and Anora marry and rule together (the outcome of Alistair's Companion-Specific Sidequest determining which of them is really in charge), or the Human Noble Warden rules, possibly marrying either Alistair or Anora as well. Additionally, another permutation for a non-Human Noble female PC who romances Alistair (again depending on his sidequest) is for her to become his mistress. Whew!
    • The Orzammar Dwarves are in the middle of a succession crisis of their own. One candidate, the son of the late king, is suspected of framing one sibling for the murder of their brother. The other candidate, the head of another noble house, claims the king said on his deathbed that he did not want his remaining son to be king, but no one else can verify this.
    • A succession crisis is averted in Dragon Age II when Viscount Dumar is killed during the qunari uprising. With no leader available and no heir, the Templars step in and assume total control over the city, which actually makes things worse because the Knight-Commander Meredith is refusing to let a new Viscount be decided, citing the "blood mage problem" as justification for her military rule and that she will allow a new Viscount to be elected once the crisis is averted. If Hawke sides with the Templars at the end, s/he becomes the new Viscount upon Meredith's death.
    • Sebastian also mentions that preventing one of these was a factor in him being Locked Away in a Monastery. His frustration with being The Unfavorite due to being the spare to the spare as the third son led to him acting out by being a womanizing hedonist. His parents feared that if Sebastian's various affairs were to produce any illegitimate children, it would have caused a bunch of trouble down the line for their legitimate grandchildren.
    • It's All There in the Manual that the two strongest clans in Nevarra are gearing up for one of these (the current King and his likely successor are both childless old men).
  • In The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, the king isn't even dead. That doesn't stop anyone from waging wars over the kings illegitimate sons to have a better position once he's dead. The king doesn't like that a bit. Then he dies and things go really to hell.
  • World of Warcraft
    • A succession crisis in the dwarven backstory, called the War of the Three Hammers, ended up splitting the dwarves of Ironforge into the Bronzebeard, Wildhammer, and Dark Iron clans. Technically, the clans already existed, but the succession crisis and the brutal war drove the Wildhammers and the Dark Irons out of Ironforge, resulting in them forming completely separate kingdoms.
    • Even though King Magni Bronzebeard of Ironforge and of Khaz Modan is still alive at the game's beginning, fears of a future crisis result from the discovery that his daughter Moira is pregnant by Emperor Dagran Thaurissan of the Dark Iron Dwarves, following his kidnapping her and allegedly putting her under his spell, though Moira claims that there never was a spell, nor even a kidnapping. Even if the bastard heir is accepted by the king, the rest of the Ironforge dwarves might rebel in sheer horror and disgust at the thought of a half-Dark Iron being their king.
    • This crisis comes to pass in the Warcraft novel, The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, which details the events leading up to the Cataclysm expansion. During the story, King Magni turned to crystal in a ritual to protect his people from the Cataclysm, paving the way for Moira to seize power. The crisis was eventually defused after the Council of Three Hammers consisting of Moira, Muradin Bronzebeard, and Falstad Wildhammer was formed as a power-sharing measure.
    • In one of the comics leading up to Legion, Magni wakes up from his crystal slumber. There are immediately fears that Magni will once again assume the throne, undoing the unity the Council of Three Hammers has achieved, potentially re-igniting the old conflicts and putting everything right back where it started. Fortunately for that, Magni has other issues to contend with, has he becomes the Speaker for Azeroth itself.
    • The Shaman Campaign in Legion forces the shamans of the Earthen Ring to resolve two separate succession crises in Skywall and the Firelands, the elemental realms of wind and fire. Both have been leaderless since their prior rulers, Al Akir and Ragnaros, were destroyed in Cataclysm, and two factions in each realm are warring for final control. The shamans, wishing to unite all four elemental lords to fight the Burning Legion, take the side of the less hostile candidates for leadership against the ones that would ignore or kill them out of hand.
  • Features twice in Blaze Union. In the B route, it's revealed that this was one of the reasons that Luciana and Aegina were ordered assassinated; Alanjame didn't want to deal with a Succession Crisis-inspired civil war while he was trying to take over the country, and in the C route, the fact that Soltier doesn't have an heir and Bronquia would almost certainly destroy itself over picking a new Emperor is why Gram Blaze has no choice but to make sure he stays alive.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Backstory examples:
      • The 1st Era Empire of the Nords collapsed in large part due to a succession crisis. High King Borgas, the last direct heir of Ysgramor, fell in battle. A "moot" was held among the Jarls of Skyrim to name a new High King, but they could not settle on a candidate. The War of Succession broke out, costing the Nords all of their territory outside of Skyrim, with Skyrim itself fractured into warring independent territories. It would take over 50 years for the crisis to end, with Olaf One-Eye being named High King via the Pact of Chieftains.
      • The War of the Red Diamond in the 3rd Era started as the result of such a crisis. After the death of Emperor Antiochus Septim, his 15 year old daughter Kintrya II took over as Empress. However, her aunt, the infamous "Wolf Queen" Potema, accused Kintrya of being a bastard and therefore illegitimate. Potema declared her son (nephew to Antiochus), Uriel III, as the rightful heir. Potema and Uriel were joined by the disgruntled leaders of several of the Empire's provinces in starting the war, as well as an alliance with the Maormer (Sea Elves hostile to Tamriel), who invaded southern Tamriel, creating a two-front war for the strained Empire. Kintrya would be captured by Potema's forces and would die in captivity. However, her supporters, now led by her uncle Cephorus, would strike back and kill Uriel III, ending his claim to the throne. Cephorus would take over as Emperor, defeat most of Potema's forces, and then kill Potema herself after a protracted 10 year insurgency. It was the largest conflict the 3rd Empire of Tamriel had faced since it was founded. (And would remain as such until the Oblivion Crisis.)
    • A subplot in Daggerfall involves this between Princess Elysana and Prince Helseth of Wayrest; they both have a claim to the throne, and it's left to a council to decide who would inherit on King Eadwyre's death. A side quest involves either blackmailing (Helseth) or killing (Elysana) a council member to curry favor for either heir. Between Daggerfall and Morrowind, Elysana is coronated Queen of Wayrest and exiles Helseth and his mother, Barenziah, to Morrowind.
    • Oblivion begins immediately with the simultaneous assassination of the Emperor and his heirs. The Elder Council, lead by High Councilor Ocato, essentially form a Regency. This succession crisis is compounded by the fact that the forces of Oblivion are no longer magically impeded from invading Cyrodiil. It is downplayed, mostly from a deliberate choice on the part of the designers to avoid complicated politics in favor of a relatively simple black-and-white saving the world story, partly from the fact that you early on find out there is a rightful (bastard) heir who is accepted by the relevant authorities. Then he sacrifices his life to stop the Daedric invasion, setting the stage for the succession crisis in Skyrim's backstory.
    • As a consequence of Oblivion, another succession crisis occurs. Ocato is named Potentate (a reserve title which can be granted by the Elder Council, effectively establishing a permanent regency), but is soon assassinated by Thalmor assassins, seeking to destabilize the Empire to make way for the rebirth of the Aldmeri Dominion. War breaks out again as several local powers jockey for the Ruby Throne, eventually ending with the Colovian warlord Titus Mede claiming it. The period is known as the Stormcrown Interregnum, since Potentate Ocato's rule is an extension of the Septim Empire (and Tiber Septim was anointed "Stormcrown" by the Greybeards).
    • Skyrim also takes place during a succession crisis in Skyrim. Shortly before the events of the game, pro-independence Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak challenged High King Torygg to a duel for his throne. It is an archaic but legitimate practice among the Nords. Stormcloak wins by using the Thu'um to kill Torygg. Victorious, Stormcloak and his followers feel that he should be the named the new High King of Skyrim. The Jarls of Skyrim, who vote for the new High King, are torn due to Stormcloak's use of the Thu'um being seen as cheating. Eastern Skyrim secedes under Stormcloak's leadership, while western Skyrim (and the Empire) support Torygg's widow, Elisif, for the throne, leading to Civil War. The Player Character can resolve the crisis by joining the war on either side, and there's also a Game Mod available that lets you take the throne for yourself.
  • Averted, mostly, with the King's Quest universe. King's Quest I: Quest For The Crown is centered around an attempt to avert a succession crisis. By completing the quest given to him, Sir Graham is proven worthy of being the childless King Edward's heir, preventing Daventry from falling into chaos when said king dies mere moments after the quest is complete. Recovering the three treasures was more of a way for him to know the kingdom was in good hands, and a final test for his best knight. The Fan Sequel took it a step further by creating a legendary first king who handed the throne to his trusted knight when he died in battle without heirs. The king's brother was very displeased at being passed over, and founded the Black Cloak Society. In the Air Gem's final test in the fan sequel, Graham can choose whether or not to make the protagonist of King's Quest: Mask of Eternity heir to the throne.
  • Disgaea: Hour of Darkness starts with the Netherworld in the midst of one of these. The rightful heir, Prince Laharl, had been sleeping for several years after his father's death, leading most of the Netherworld to forget about him. The first couple chapters involve him dealing with the numerous contenders looking to be the next Overlord. Disgaea Dimension 2 shows that several years later, this still hasn't blown over, with a sudden appearance by an angel claiming to be Laharl's long-lost sister and rightful inheritor of the throne, and a large faction of demons refuses to accept Laharl's position, and have their own heir to the Overlord title they wish to place on the throne.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars is entirely based around this trope. After the previous king's death, the choice falls between his two sons Roland (good) and Archibald (not so good). The four royal seers to make the decision fall to "tragic accidents": one dies in a boating accident (hit by magical lightning), one slips and falls from the castle wall, one is "randomly" attacked by a dragon, and one dies of food poisoning. Archibald accuses his brother of murder and has him exiled. The player is a general who may choose to support either brother and may even switch sides halfway through. The canonical ending has Roland win, though, becoming the next (and last) King of Enroth.
  • Prior to the events of Suikoden V, there was the Falenan Succession Conflict. After the death of their mother, Princess Falzrahm fought her elder sister Crown Princess Shahrewar for the throne. Rather than a flat-out civil war, both sides took advantage of the royal cabal of assassins known as Nether Gate to kill off supporters on both sides. Eventually, Shahrewar withdrew her claim, only to be promptly assassinated by Falzrahm to ensure the conflict wouldn't continue. Ironically, Falzrahm only ruled for two years before passing away. Having grown up in this poisonous environment, their daughters decided to nip any potential problems in the bud: Arshtat took the throne, while her sister Sialeeds and cousin Haswar agreed to never marry or have children.
    • Unfortunately, this didn't quite work out as planned. Although the next queen (Lymsleia, the protagonist's younger sister) was never in doubt, a crisis occurred with regards to who would marry her and become royal consort and head of the country's military. This is traditionally decided through a tournament of champions, but since House Godwin won it through drugging or discrediting all potential threats to their champion, a lot of people were upset with this choice. The Godwins then tried to solidify their rule by assassinating the current Queen and Commander right away, when Lymsleia is still too young to rule on her own. The prince (the protagonist) was able to survive this assassination attempt, and much of the country begins to look to him as preferential to Gizel Godwin as leader of the Queendom (including the father of another contender for Lymsleia's hand, with whom the Prince takes refuge). And thus the stage is set for the civil war that comprises the majority of the game.
  • Some of the Total War games allow this to happen if your faction leader buys the farm in certain circumstances — usually when the leader dies without any male heirs, but it can also happen when heir presumptive is unpopular enough that one of his royal siblings rebels in an effort to take succession. The manual for Medieval: Total War (which allowed you to choose which side to support) actually suggested engineering one of these to dispose of a weak family line, and a savvy player who sees one coming can pick his best general, give him the biggest army, and then marry him to a princess. If you're going to have a succession crisis, it's best to make sure it's a quick one.
    • The Stainless Steel mod for Medieval II: Total War takes this further, with rulers that can get traits like "Offends the Nobility" and distinguishes between bastard children, appointed regents in case of no blood heir, and actual blood heirs. Unpopular kings or unpopular heirs can cause civil wars in that mod.
  • The manual of Homeworld: Cataclysm reveals the Taiidan Empire fell due a rather unusual one: after the death in battle of Emperor Riesstiu IV the Second at the end of the first game, the empire could have solved the lack of an heir (caused by Riesstiu having all possible heirs executed out of paranoia) by simply cloning him (with Riesstiu regnal name suggesting he too was a clone of Emperor Riesstiu), except the Taiidan Rebellion destroyed the data on his genetic code. Immediately after, generals and fake heirs started shooting each other for the right to rule, with the Rebellion taking over as they were distracted.
  • One of the main plots of Ravenmark: The Scourge of Estellion is the aftermath of the death of the beloved Emperor Sergius Corvius, the ruler of the Empire of Estellion. The late Emperor has two children, not to mention other numerous members of House Corvius. Sergius's eldest daughter Adrise, the so-called Chimney Queen has no interest in the throne, content with her role as the Queen (basically, a department head) of the Court of Industry. Adrise's brother Gratian, though, wants to take the throne for himself. While there doesn't appear to be a problem with there being only one claimant, Sergius's Praetorian Guard called the Reiht claim that Sergius had been grooming another as his true successor, someone worthy of the Obsidian Perch (the Imperial throne) much more than his power-hungry son. Cue the Reiht and the other heir being hunted by the Invocati, troops loyal to Gratian. It doesn't help that the Empire is also being invaded by a vast army from beyond the impassable Cardani Swamps, using the disorganized state of Estellion to their advantage. In fact, the invaders are working with one of the royal advisors.
    • It's worth noting that the neighboring Commonwealth of Esotre has a king but can never succumb to this trope because it's an elected post and a largely ceremonial one at that. The King's Hand (also elected) handles most of the day-to-day activities.
  • One of the scenarios in the Russian campaign in Empire Earth is the result of the dying Grigor Stoyanovich making a choice about his successor. He chooses his mech bodyguard Grigor II. In this case, the crisis happens before Grigor is even dead, as many of his supporters turn against him, appalled by his choice. After brutally putting down the coup, Grigor succumbs to his heart condition, leaving the (even more ruthless) mech in charge.
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance takes place in the middle of one in the Kingdom of Bohemia. After the death of Charles IV, his son Wenceslaus IV, the rightful heir, is kidnapped by Sigismund, one of Charles' other sons, who promptly takes the throne for himself.
  • The plot of Dominions is a war over who gets to be the next Top God after the old Pantokrator left.
  • The plot of strategy video game series Lords of the realm (f.g. Lords of the Realm 2) is entirely based on this trope: after king's death you should defeat other pretendants on the throne as well as they try to do the same thing with you.
  • Meta-example: In a prior version of Dwarf Fortress, if particularly Long-Lived monarchs of particularly inbred families died, it was possible for the succession to enter an endless loop, thus causing a game world to crash irreparably.
  • The Choose Your Own Adventure series Affairs of the Court has the Player Character arriving in court just as the kingdom is going through this—the King/Queen is growing testy with their spouse for their inability to produce a legitimate heir. Naturally, you can use this to slander them and cozy up to the monarch.
  • The War of the Lions in the backstory of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was a five-way succession crisis kicked off when the Emperor of Erebonia died and the crown prince was assassinated. The ultimate winner, Prince Dreichels, wasn't even in the line of succession, as he was the old Emperor's illegitimate son by a common-born mistress, but was crowned anyway on the grounds that he was the last man standing.
  • The Laurentia arc of Nexus Clash had the mess left behind by Laurentian national founding father Lucien Moreau, who wasn't a ruler per se but still had such a expansive business empire that he might as well have been one. Lucien was plagued by the Perfect Solution Fallacy in life and put enormous pressure on all of his children to surpass him, up to and including exiling his illegitimate (and only) son so that a life of hardship would make a man out of him. Once Lucien died, one of his daughters had already married outside the family, another was burned out from from the pressure of being Lucien's overworked lieutenant for so long, and the youngest had never received any training or education in running a business empire and was unprepared when the task of last-ditch backup heir was suddenly dumped on her. The exiled son - by now a violent and bitter man after decades of hardship - returned soon after and took advantage of the situation to seize Lucien's estate for himself.
  • An unusual one in Fire Emblem Warriors, as the problem is neither heir wants the throne: Lianna thinks she doesn't have the self confidence to be an effective ruler, and Rowan thinks being a ruler will weaken him after seeing his father literally die from the stress of ruling. The crisis is put on the backburner once the plot kicks off, and after a bunch of character growth on both Rowan and Lianna's parts the crisis is resolved: they're both crowned as co-rulers of Aytolis.

    Visual Novels 

  • This is one of the biggest problems that faces the Sharen clan in Drowtales. Though Diva'ratrika has largely retired from public life and only officially remained alive, since she was in fact murdered by three of her daughters her daughters have squabbled to assert their own authority. Nishi'kanta has been broken by the taint and the loss of her family, and is thus considered out of the running, but she has disappeared and her plans are unknown, making her a potential Wild Card. As the only unbroken, loyal daughter, Sil'lice is the favorite of what little remains of both Diva herself and those who were still loyal to her like Sker, but she was framed for treason and has few followers left alive. Snadhya'rune, the would be favorite, has pretended to have no interest in ruling, and she certainly has no interest in ruling the Sharen, just the empire. The biggest contenders for the Sharen throne are Sarv'swati and Zala'ess. Sarv'swati continues to control the empire through an impostor Puppet Queen, but Zala'ess has the largest family and amassed the great clans of Nuqra'shareh to back her claim. The fallout when those two inevitably met up again came to a head in chapter 47, leaving us with Sarv'swati is dead by Quaintana's (and Zala'ess') hand(s) through secret sabotage from the latter, and those left alive join forces out of sheer desperation as Snadhya'rune's insanity finally reaches its peak in the form of mass mind control plus plant virus that threatens the entire underworld.
  • In The Silver Eye, Gallitan has one after their king and queen both die within a week of each other, leaving behind only their newborn son.

    Web Originals 
  • Look to the West, being set primarily in the 18th and early 19th centuries, naturally has a lot of them. It even references the Yongzheng Emperor's strategy mentioned in the introduction to this trope...not that it works if the Emperor writing the note is quietly bonkers and chose a son who had died years before as heir.
  • In A More Personal Union, the death of Queen Ursula of Spain prior to the birth of an heir causes a major one of these. Before long, her husband (whose only claim was through their marriage), her brother, and a couple of distant cousins are all fighting for the throne.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The Macedonian Succession Wars (also known as the Wars of the Diadochi, diadochi being Greek for successors) is arguably the Trope Namer and certainly the Trope Codifier. From the ancient world to the modern, Alexander the Great's conquests, and the manner in which his empire and gains were undone by his death, is Exhibit A for "how not to manage succession" and also used to highlight the importance of succession to truly consolidate your gains. These wars were a Gambit Pileup on a bi-continental scale, featuring wars from the Adriatic and Aegean Seas to the Indus River. Half a dozen weak next of kin (the first was a mentally ill half-brother), scheming women, poison, scores of generals battling for supremacy and ripping off kingdoms for themselves resulting in division of his empire, you name it. That's what happens in a culture where the strongest get to rule by killing their rivals.
  • Succession crises started the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession, the Hundred Years War, and the Wars of the Roses, among many others. In medieval England alone, the deaths (sometimes murders) of William Rufus, Henry I, Richard I, Edward II, Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III all led to irregular successions, and other countries have histories no less colorful. In Tsarist Russia, this was particularly a very common thing, with the many Palace Revolutions resolved by the Leib Guards, before the strict succession laws were introduced by Paul I.
    • Re. England: The death of Edward the Confessor also caused a succession crisis with far-reaching consequences. Henry I's death was followed by a nasty civil war called the Anarchy, as Matilda (Henry's only surviving legitimate offspring) was a woman, and so many nobles recognized Stephen, Count of Blois, as King, a claim Stephen backed up with an army; the issue was settled ad hoc by allowing Stephen to reign but having Matilda's son Henry succeed him rather than Stephen's son Eustace. Richard I's death without an heir split the succession between his underage nephew Arthur of Brittany and his unsavory brother John; the British nobles were persuaded to accept John on the basis of "better the devil we know", and ganged up to force some restraints on him when he (as they expected) got out of hand. (John's seven-year-old son was readily accepted as his successor when John died suddenly, soon after the ganging-up at Runnymede.) Edward II was a borderline case, as he was deposed and (allegedly) murdered for Conduct Unbecoming, and his wife and her lover became regents while his son (Edward III) was underage. Richard II's death was not the cause of an irregular succession but its consequence, and neither did Edward V's death cause a succession crisis as he had not even been crowned before he was passed over (you could perhaps argue that he and his brother were murdered to prevent the possibility of a future succession crisis, which is why some people try to pin the blame on Henry VII). Richard III's death ended the Wars of the Roses in favour of a line that had been officially excluded from succession by Henry IV. The death of Edward VI was followed by an irregular succession (Jane Grey, then Mary I), and from the Catholic point of view, so was the death of Mary I.
    • Re. Russia: The period of palace revolutions was largely the result of the law instituted by Peter I, that every reigning Czar or Czarina could name his or her successor freely. (Peter was probably trying to avoid a repeat of Russia's "Time of Troubles", which lasted from 1598 to 1613 and involved six usurpers out of seven actual rulers.) This law resulted in succession being resolved by palace guards, who, being twenty years old young men, usually picked some pretty and adventurous princess, paying little attention to whether she was Romanov or not exactly.
      • The death of Catherine the Great sparked one due the above law and her planning to name her grandson Alexander as heir in place of her son (and Alexander's father) Paul, who she was keeping exiled in the palace of Gatchina, but dying a few days before being able to formally announce it. Alexander, greatly respecting his father and knowing he would become tsar anyway, solved it by hiding until his father arrived to the Winter Palace, at which point he came out and kneeled before him. Once settled, Paul changed the succession law and established a clear line of succession.
    • Re. the War of the Spanish Succession: the Spanish Habsburgs bred themselves into extinction by a series of incestuous marriages, with Charles II being the last of the line, leading to rival claimants backed by France (Philip V Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, second son of Louis, Grand Dauphin, himself son and heir of Louis XIV of France, who was married to the half-sister of Charles II), Austria (Archduke Charles, second son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, who was married to Charles II's full sister, though Archduke Charles was from a subsequent marriage but still was descended from the Spanish Habsburgs) and an Anglo-Dutch alliance (Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria, great nephew of Charles II, was their first choice, but when he keeled over they decided the Austrians were less threatening). The Anglo-Dutch for a while supported Charles of Habsburg, but when his elder brother Joseph I died, this made Charles the new Emperor, and they did not want him to rule both the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. So, when the dust finally settled, Philip got to keep the throne of Spain on condition that he renounce any claim to the throne of France (the current king of Spain, Felipe VI, is a direct descendant). So instead of becoming King Charles III of Spain, Archduke Charles became Emperor Charles VI-and since he had no son, his death would directly lead to the War of the Austrian Succession.
      • Spain has actually had a few succession crises, one right at the beginning when it was formed by the union of Castile and Aragon through the marriage of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. In order to succeed as queen of Castile to her half-brother Henry IV, she had to assert her claim to the throne against Henry's daughter Joanna (Juana) in the War of the Castilian Succession (1475-1479), during which Castile was invaded by armies from Portugal and France. It helped her that Henry IV was rumored to have been impotent and that it was widely believed that his consort, Joan of Portugal, had conceived her with someone else, most likely the courtier Beltrán de la Cueva. Joanna was thus called Juana la Beltraneja and la hija de la reina ("the queen's daughter") by those who contested her succession. Joanna eventually ended her days as a nun, but continued to sign with the traditional Yo, la Reina ("I, the Queen").
      • When Philip V became King after the War of the Spanish Succession, one of his main priorities was to centralize and formally unify Spain (Spain had been practically unified for about 200 years by this point, but officially the two kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were separate countries), and this meant settling on a succession law. Castile traditionally used male-preference primogeniture (a female could succeed to the throne if there were no immediate male heirs; this was the system used in England and Britain until 2013), while Aragon historically preferred semi-Salic Law (a female could only succeed to the throne if there were no male heirs whatsoever, essentially the system used for the French monarchy). In an attempt to pacify Aragon, which had largely opposed him in his own bid to become King, Philip introduced semi-Salic law for all of Spain; conveniently, this also aligned the succession with the French system, which couldn't have been inconvenient for Philip (who was a member of the French House of Bourbon). 120 years down the line, this became a problem: King Ferdinand VII had no sons, only a very young daughter, Isabella. Under Philip's law of succession, this made Ferdinand's younger brother Charles the heir to the throne. However, Ferdinand ignored the laws of succession and declared Isabella his heir. Ferdinand's death in 1833 led to the first of three wars based on this issue.
      • In 1936, Charles' last male-line descendant died, making the exiled King Alfonso XIII (the heir of Isabella who had been forced from the throne in 1931, and was a male line descendent of Ferdinand VII and Charles' brother Francisco, as Isabella had married her first cousin, Francis, Francisco's son) the heir to both lines of the Spanish Royal Family. Ironically, the Carlists (those who has supported Charles and his heirs) opted to ignore this (while producing a conspiracy theory that Alfonso XIII's father Alfonso XII wasn't really Francis' biological son) and instead declared the Duke of Parma, a distant relative of the Spanish Royal Family who had supported the Carlist cause, to be Charles' rightful heir. In 1975, the monarchy was formally reestablished and Alfonso XIII's grandson King Juan Carlos I took the throne.
    • Re. the Austrian War of Succession: Came with the death of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, who was also hereditary King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, Archduke of Austria and Duke of Parma. Charles, lacking any sons, had passed the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, which allowed his daughter Maria Theresa to inherit his hereditary lands. Things were further complicated by the fact that the Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy and that the Prince-Electors in theory could choose whomever they wanted. The situation was comparable in the latter stages of the Polish-Lithuanian "Commonwealth", although here succession was more often settled by bribery than force of arms (although there was a Polish War of Succession in 1734/35). Since the title of Holy Roman Emperor had never been held by a woman, and thus Maria Theresa wasn't a candidate for the title, the plan was for her husband Francis Stephen, Grand Duke of Tuscany to be elected as Emperor. However many of the German rulers, led by Prussia, apposed this and went to war. Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, who was descended from the Habsburgs and was a son-in-law of Charles VI's brother Joseph I, put his claim forward. He was crowned King of Bohemia after his side captured the country and was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Charles VII and claimed the Austrian lands. After his death three years later, his son Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria, made peace with Maria Theresa's faction and renounced his claim on Austria in exchange for the return his ancestral realm of Bavaria, which had been taken by Maria Theresa's forces. Ultimately Maria Theresa was recognized as Queen of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria and Duchess of Parma, while her husband was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Francis I.
  • The Ottoman Turks of the 16th Century had a novel way of avoiding this. With the Sultan usually having many male children via his various harem wives, it became standard practice for the Sultan on his deathbed to name his heir, and the palace attendants would simply strangle all the other potential claimants in their beds. Job done... except that having more than one wife meant that they could start the succession crisis on behalf of their children well before he died and when one of the kids survived they tended to be angrier.
    • Another story on how the Ottomans did things (possibly not accurate, as it came from a history professor but heaven only knows how right he was): All the various princes/contenders would be farmed out to different provinces to practice ruling and government. When the Sultan died, those sons would race for the throne, and whichever of them landed his derrière on it first would get the title, usually followed by a period of fratricide. The point is that the Succession Crisis was built in to the process, in a way that (at least in theory) encouraged survival of the fittest.
      • That is probably a Panglossian interpretation ex post facto, as the first on the throne would not necessarily be the best man for the job, and fratricide and internecine strife had a great potential for weakening the Ottoman Empire vis-à-vis its neighbors and rivals.
    • In fact both the farming out of potential heirs to the provinces and the murder of same are true, the former practice leading to the latter for exactly the reasons stated. The practice of murdering the late Sultan's other sons ended abruptly when a Sultan died young and many of the executed sons were mere children which proved more than the Turks could stomach. The final system, in operation till the end of the Empire, was to literally imprison sons inside the harem until and unless they succeeded, a practice that probably contributed to the high number of mentally disturbed sultans.
    • Of note with regards to the Ottoman custom of strangling other male heirs was the death of Bayezid I as a captive of Timur, which caused his sons to squabble over the Ottoman territory.
    • This Klingon Promotion style of succession led often to situations where there were no other male members of the Othman family line alive except the sultan apparent. To prevent the extinction of the family line, the later sultans invented the practise of Kafes, literally "golden cage", where the other male members of the dynasty were incarcerated, to keep them alive but not endangering the regime of the Sultan.
  • The Roman Empire had a similar problem. Theoretically, the position of Emperor was not inherited: new emperors were supposed to be appointed to the position by the Senate (or by the Senate and the Army, or the Senate, Army, and People, depending who you asked. The Praetorian Guard would claim that the appointment was made by them, as they tended to overthrow any Emperor who didn't bribe them upon assuming the throne, and they once auctioned the throne off outright). This tended to lead to civil wars, since pretty much any senator or general officer could be proclaimed emperor. There was a workaround where an Emperor could nominate a successor during his reign by adopting a respected politician or general — this usually quashed any rival claimants to the throne, but not in every case. The Five Good Emperors (Nerva to Marcus Aurelius) were all "adoptive", but Aurelius' heir was biological and it turned out badly. But he really had no choice, since the only reason his predecessors adopted heirs was because they didn't have sons. Said son's name was Commodus and his malfeasances led to his assassination and another brutal round of civil wars (Tellingly, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire begins with the reign of Commodus). The Byzantine Empire went in for dynasties, which produced more stability, but while dynastic succession increased the legitimacy of an imperial claim, the Byzantines still considered the triad of Senate, Army, and People as having the ultimate authority to decide the succession, leading to some level of conflict.
  • The Byzantine Empire was still subject to these, though — especially in its period of terminal decline. Even the appointment of the last Byzantine Emperor, at a time when Byzantium amounted to Constantinople and a sliver of Greece, was the subject of a succession crisis; Demetrius Palaeologus tried to seize power in Constantinople while his brother Constantine, the rightful heir, was in the Morea. The decline of the empire itself can be attributed to multiple succession crises; the Sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade was the result of an exiled Byzantine prince bribing the crusaders to depose the ruling emperor and seize control for himself, while the main reason the Battle of Manzikert resulted in more than mild border adjustments and coughing up some ransom was the Emperor being promptly deposed after the Sultan sent him home and the whole thing slagging down into civil war.
  • The Frankish Empire had a different type of succession crisis under the Merovingians and Carolingians (until Louis the Pious and his sons): Here the king would divide his realm up among his sons, which frequently led to wars among them as every one of them tried to expand at the expense of the others. And when a king succeeded to get the whole empire by war, murder and/or being lucky enough that his rivals died childless, he would then divide it among his sons and the process would start again. (Germany and France got their start as separate political entities after the division of the Frankish empire among the three sons of Louis the Pious).
  • Yongzheng, the Chinese emperor who won a bloody succession crisis (and killed all but one of his brothers in the process), also tried to avert future crises by... Keeping a succession note prepared when he's alive but hiding it in a location only known to very close confidants. So the succession was made loud and clear when the emperors' health still allowed them to do so, but it's announced after his death.
  • When the Pope dies, the Sacred College of Cardinals elects his successor from among their number at a Conclave.note  The system wasn't always this clear, though. Over its two thousand-year history, the office has seen Popes try to name their own successors, Popes installed by force of arms, and elected Popes contested by candidates chosen by powerful kings or emperors. Individuals who had strong backing to the Papacy but who the church does not recognize as legitimate are called "Antipopes". At one point there was a dispute between two claimants, so the Cardinals chose a third man to replace them, but neither of them stepped down, leaving three men who claimed to be Pope!
    • Eventually, two of the popes were talked into resigning and a new pope was elected who was recognized by everyone. (Or almost everyone: the third pope refused to step down, and spent the rest of his life living in the castle of one of his remaining supporters, where he would regularly perform excommunication ceremonies on the entire rest of the Catholic church for not Respecting his Authoritai.)
    • And all of this says nothing about yet another problem-even when the College is allowed to choose the Pope normally, the bickering can last for a very long time indeed. Several conclaves in the Middle Ages dragged on for months, until eventually, in 1268, the town of Viterbo, where the cardinals had been "electing a pope" for three years (admittedly due to extenuating circumstances such as foreign political pressure, a French army moving in town to make sure the new pope was friendly until a scandal convinced them to leave and the first two choices literally running away) first put the cardinals into forced seclusion, then denied them all materials or sustenance save bread and water, and finally removed the roof of the building the cardinals were meeting in, at which point they promptly elected Gregory X. However, Gregory was off fighting in the Crusades, and he didn't return to take office for another eight months. Upon finally taking the papal throne, Gregory instituted new rules that included requiring the election be held in a closed room, limiting the cardinals to one meal daily after three days in conclave, bread and water after five days, denying them separate quarters, and cutting off their pay for the whole time they were in conclave. A modified form of these rules remains to this day, and since then, very few conclaves have lasted more than a few weeks.
      • Under the current rules enacted by John XXIII, conclaves go to a runoff between the top two candidates if no Pope is elected within a week of the beginning of the conclave, and the number of votes needed to be elected Pope drops from 2/3 to a simple majority.
  • This even happens in republics. The US alone has had its difficulties.
    • The faults of the original electoral college system — whereby the winner would become President and the runner-up Vice-President, which had already resulted in Thomas Jefferson ending up as Vice-President to John Adams, despite them being political enemies — came to a head in the 1800 election, when Jefferson and his running-mate, Aaron Burr, tied on votes, sending the election into the House of Representatives. Jefferson needed a two-thirds majority of that vote to be elected President, but the rival Federalist party tried to elect Burr as President, as a way of sticking two fingers up at Jefferson. On top of that, there was no mechanism whereby Burr could just concede the Presidency to Jefferson, meaning that he would have had to withdraw from the race altogether, which ironically would have left Adams as the Vice-President.note  This resulted in the Representatives voting thirty-five times, with the exact same outcome each time, until Alexander Hamilton was able to persuade enough states to swing toward Jefferson to give him victory. Unsurprisingly, the electoral college was redesigned to have distinct President and Vice-President votes for 1804.
    • The 1824 election was a four-way race in which Andrew Jackson won a plurality of both the popular vote (41 percent) and in the electoral college (99 votes), but not an absolute majority in the latter. Under the Twelfth Amendment it now fell on the House of Representatives to decide on the new president. It elected John Quincy Adams, who had come second in the popular vote (31 percent) and in the electoral college (84 votes). This was denounced by Jackson and his supporters as a "Corrupt Bargain", as it was widely believed that Adams had struck a deal with fourth-placed candidate Henry Clay, whom he appointed as his Secretary of State. All this led to the split of the Democratic Republican party and the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828.
    • Before William Henry Harrison's term, exactly what would happen when a President was unable to fulfill the duties of office had not been settled—perhaps they thought that if the President got sick, the Vice Prez would fill in until the President could return. Harrison got sick, all right—and then he died only one month into his term and the question had to be answered, because Harrison wasn't coming back. John Tyler answered it by stating that he was the President, not the Acting President. Certainly, the Whig party of the United States of America thought THAT was a crisis, as Tyler was essentially a Democrat. For extra trouble for the Whigs: no accidental president filled in for longer than Tyler.
    • Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke towards the end of his term. The solution used in this case—the VP picked up some duties while Wilson handled whatever his wife Edith felt he was up to, and the whole thing was kept secret from the public—was deemed less than optimal. This led to the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which set out detailed rules for Presidential succession in case of death, illness, or other incapacity. US law has also codified a line of succession 18 people deep (who by tradition are never allowed to gather at a single function) to ensure such a crisis won't happen in the future. If anyone other than the Vice President succeeds to the Presidency, under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 [3 USC § 19] he or she would "act as President," in the words of the act, unless and until such time as someone qualifies for the presidency constitutionally (e.g., through election). The act uses the title "Acting President." For reference, the Speaker of the House is next in line after the Vice President, followed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, followed by the Cabinet secretaries in the order their department was establishednote ; the US has never gone beyond the Veep.
  • In 2001, the president of Argentina, Fernando de la Rúa, resigned from office during a period in which the vice presidency was vacant. This set off an elaborate, month-long chain of events in which various officials of the Argentine Congress were either briefly forced to serve as acting president for a couple of days or pre-emptively resigned to avoid having to do the job.
    • A similar situation happened in New Jersey following Christine Todd Whitman's January, 2001 appointment as George W. Bush's head of the EPA. Since the state had no lieutenant governor, a handful of officials from the state legislature served as acting governor for nearly a year until the elected Jim McGreevey could take office. After McGreevey himself ended up resigning, the state constitution was amended to create the position of lieutenant governor (and to officially recognize that anyone who served as acting governor for a particularly long time "counted" as an actual governor).
  • The Soviet Union also suffered this towards the end of the Cold War, eventually contributing to its dissolution. Or rather it was a crisis of reassignment of powers between the union center and the constituent republics; some of the latter, pushed by growing separatist movements, demanded more powers reassigned to them from the union center. The fall itself happened when the Russian Federation, the central republic, jumped on the separatist bandwagon, leaving the union center the center of exactly nothing.
  • Historian Simon Schaama has interpreted the Restoration in England in this way — Charles II became king not because England needed a successor for Charles I, but for Oliver Cromwell, and his son wasn't up to the job.
  • A Canadian example occurred when Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada, died in office just after being reelected in 1891. Macdonald had dominated his Conservative party for so long that, when he died, there was no immediate successor. From 1891 to 1896, the Conservative party had four separate leaders, who each became Prime Minister in turn. Sir John Abbott eventually resigned when he got tired of the job, Sir John Thompson came to be seen as Macdonald's natural successor but died in office, Sir Mackenzie Bowell was forced out of office by a Cabinet revolt, and Sir Charles Tupper eventually took over in the last few months of the Conservatives' mandate. By the time of the 1896 election, the Conservative party was so damaged that it was said that "not even Sir Charles Tupper could put it back together again." Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberal party won the 1896 election handily, and Laurier would serve as Prime Minister until 1910. There was one more crisis before power was handed over to Laurier, when Tupper actually refused to step down as Prime Minister, claiming that only the Conservatives had the ability to rule the country... however, this one was quite easily dealt with, when the Governor-General simply threatened to have Tupper arrested if he refused to leave his position. Tupper, for his part, thought the Governor-General's actions were unconstitutional but ultimately relented.
  • Another Canadian example was the King-Byng Affair in 1926. William Mackenzie King's Liberal government were reduced to second-largest after the previous year's election, but clung onto power via an agreement with the third-largest party, the Progressives. The agreement eventually fell apart after a bribery scandal, and King asked the Governor-General, Lord Byng to call an election so as to let the public decide on whether the Liberals should continue to govern. However, Byng refused to do this, and instead threw the Liberals out of power and installed Conservative leader Arthur Meighen as the new Prime Minister. This naturally resulted in a huge firestorm between those who considered Byng's actions an affront to democracy, and those (including Byng himself) who thought that the Conservatives should have been allowed to form a government after the previous election, and that the Liberals and Progressives had entered into a corrupt bargain. King decided to force the issue and immediately called a vote of no confidence in the new Conservative government, which they lost, and the Liberals won the new election that followed, albeit just barely, and still without a majority. The mess could potentially have dragged on further had the smaller parties chosen to back the Conservatives, but in a stroke of fate Meighen actually lost his own seat, and was quickly ousted as the party's leader, leaving them in no condition to govern.
  • According to many Mexican (and foreign) experts, this could happen in Mexico if the president dies due to natural causes, by an accident or is convicted of federal crimes (like treason), since the Mexican Constitution forbids the president to even quit the office, even if it's the last thing he/she can do, but the authors never thought about these possibilities.
  • Occurred in Australia after the disappearance and presumed death of Prime Minister Harold Holt in December 1967. The job of Prime Minister was expected to go to Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Billy McMahon, however Leader of the Country Party note  and Deputy Prime Minister John McEwen became Caretaker Prime Minister note . He despised McMahon and refused to let him become Prime Minister, saying the Country Party wouldn't serve under him. Instead the job went to John Gorton. However by 1971, McEwen had retired, and Gorton had lost the support of the party note . Gorton then held a motion of confidence in his leadership, which was tied — he then resigned as Leader and Prime Minister. McMahon finally became Prime Minister... only to lose the election to Labor under Gough Whitlam the next year.
  • The reason for the split between Sunni and Shi'a Islam was a dispute over who should have succeeded Muhammad as Caliph. The Shi'ites only recognize the short reigns of Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali, who they felt should have been Muhammad's direct successor, and his son Hassan, while the Sunnis recognize Ali and the three Caliphs who preceded him.
    • The reason this wasn't resolved when Ali was eventually chosen as Caliph by the Sunnis anyway was because the dispute wasn't just over who should rightfully succeed Muhammad, but how succession should even be determined in the first place. The Sunni viewed the Caliph as someone who should be chosen by all Muslims (basically an elected monarchy), while the Shia viewed the Caliph as someone who should be chosen by God, or more practically, by the imams. Thus even when both sides arrive at the same candidate, the divide will remain because there's no guarantee they'll agree on the next successor.
  • When Brazil's first Emperor (Dom Pedro the First) inherited the throne of Portugal, he had to choose between remaining Emperor of Brazil or become Dom Pedro the Fourth, King of Portugal, because the Brazilians, not wanting to be a colony of Portugal again, wouldn't allow their ruler to be the ruler of Portugal as well. He decided to stay in Brazil and pass the Portuguese crown to his daughter, Maria the Second. Unfortunately, her Evil Uncle Miguel managed to usurp the throne and Pedro returned to Portugal to rescue her and restore her to the position. Upon leaving, he abdicated the Brazilian throne in favor of his son Dom Pedro de Alcantara, who'd later become known as Dom Pedro the Second as soon as he became Emperor. Because Pedro II was still a minor when Pedro I abdicated, the Empire of Brazil was ruled by regents until he was deemed ready to rule. During that time, republicans attempted to show Brazil didn't need a monarch. At first, there was a trio of regents; then another trio; then a regent being the sole ruler; then another one; and then the Government decided to declare Pedro the Second an adult so he could finally claim the throne despite being only fourteen years old back then. Forty-some years later, a coup d'etat by some rich landowners ended his rule and Brazil has been a republic ever since.
  • Speaking about Portugal, a Succession Crisis was caused when the young King Sebastian, who succeeded to the throne after the death of his grandfather John III, disappeared in a battle. As Sebastian had no children, his heir was his great-uncle Henry, the brother of John III. Since Henry was the fifth son of John III's predecessor King Manuel I, he joined the church due to his remote chances of succeeding to the throne and became a Cardinal, which naturally meant he was unmarried and without children. Henry attempted to renounce his Church orders and hoped to marry so as to continue the dynasty, but Pope Gregory XIII, who was allied with Felipe II of Spain, who was son of John III and Henry's sister Isabella, as well as maternal uncle to the last King Sebastian, refused to allow this, so when Henry died two years later, the succession was disputed. Felipe II sought the crown, as did António, Prior of Crato, illegitimate son of Manuel I's second son Luís, Infanta Catherine, Duchess of Braganza, daughter of Manuel I's sixth son Edward, Ranuccio Farnese, Hereditary Duke of Parma, Catherine's nephew by her late older sister, and Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, the son of Manuel I's second daughter Beatrice. Ranuccio was the senior heir by primogeniture, however his father Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma was an ally and subject of King Felipe, so his claim was set aside. Infanta Catherine, whose claim was strengthened by the fact that her husband João I, Duke of Braganza was not only a male-line of an illegitimate son of King John I, but was also a great-grandson of Manuel I's sister Isabella, saw some support, but was dismisses due to her gender and distant claim. Emmanuel also was dismissed as he saw that his chances were slim compared to King Felipe II, indisputably the most powerful claimant. He managed to get the Portuguese nobility on his side and many favored a union with Spain given that Spain was profitable while Portugal was in financial crisis. Antonio, who had previously claimed the crown after Sebastian's disappearance, but was passed over in favor of Henry due to his illegitimacy, declared himself king, but he was only recognized in the Azores and was subsequently defeated and sent into exile. Felipe's dynasty would rule Portugal for 60 years until the union of Spain and Portugal was broken and John IV, the grandson of Catherine, Duchess of Braganza, was made king.
    • Portugal has had a few succession crises through the years, the first in the 1380s. Ferdinand I, the last king of the first Portuguese ruling house, had been at war with neighboring Castile for years. His only child was a daughter, so he married her off to King John I of Castile and declared that John would become heir to the Portuguese throne. However, many Portuguese nobles feared this would threaten Portuguese independence, so instead they proclaimed Fernando's illegitimate half-brother, John of Aviz, to be King. The subsequent war was won by the latter, who became King John I of Portugal and founded the Aviz Dynasty of kings.
  • Japan:
    • The four decades without a male being born into the Japanese Imperial Family almost caused them to make the country stop being a Heir Club for Men.
    • The Ōnin War was precipitated by a succession crisis in the Ashikaga shogunate. The shogun Yoshimasa, seemingly preparing to abdicate, announced that, since he had no sons of his own, his younger brother Yoshimi would serve as his heir. The next year, Yoshimasa's son Yoshihisa was born. This led to a feud between the Hosokawa and Yamana clans. Fighting broke out in 1467 and lingered on for about a decade, by which time Kyoto was reduced to ruins and Yoshimasa remained in power, despite having relinquished the title to his son three years before.
    • Another one happened towards the end of the Sengoku Jidai, after Toyotomi Hideyoshi died and left a five-year-old heir.
  • Britain normally avoids this sort of thing in modern times because Parliament actually has the final say on who is crowned, but in 1936 they had a particularly unfortunate one after Edward VIII declared his intention to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. (It was a different time, and even then the two of them being seen schmoozing with Those Wacky Nazis was at least as much of a scandal.) The actual crisis wasn't so much that Edward couldn't be replaced if he agreed to abdicate, which he eventually did, but the serious questions about his younger brother George's ability to take over; he'd had no real training for the job and didn't particularly want it either, to say nothing of his severe speech impediment and subsequent lack of self-confidence. He did alright in the end.
    • A succession crisis was what actually led to Queen Victoria's existence, let alone her reign: at one point George III had numerous grandchildren and only one of them was legitimate: the future George IV's daughter Charlotte. When she died in childbirth, all the other sons of George III scrambled to marry acceptable wives and produce legitimate children to be potential heirs to the throne, seeing how George IV was unlikely to have another one with his estranged wife. Edward, Duke of Kent, and third in line after George IV and the future William IVnote , produced Victoria before he died, making her next in line after William, whose daughters died young.
  • The Allies couldn't quite agree on who should govern France after Napoleon abdicated in 1814. Tsar Alexander I had become friends with the recently elected Crown Prince of Sweden, Charles John – formerly known as Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte – and was partial to the idea of having him on the French throne; meanwhile, Francis of Austria would rather retain the Napoleonic Empire, with his daughter Marie-Louise – Napoleon’s second wife – as a Regent on behalf of her son, the King of Rome. However, Great Britain and the provisional government assembled in Paris by the cunning Talleyrand – who had played a large part in setting up Napoleon's downfall – preferred to restore the traditional Bourbon dynasty, which meant bringing back Louis XVIII – Louis XVI’s brother – from his foreign exile.
    • The same question arose one year later among Napoleon's partisans in the crisis following Waterloo: this time, Marshal Davout and Napoleon's brother Lucien advocated for a military dictatorship to fight off the Allied armies; others wanted to proclaim the King of Rome as Emperor (rather unrealistic now that he was in Austria along with his mother); and there was a Republican faction. In the end, Napoleon abdicated and the Royalists came back with a vengeance.
    • Another succession crisis took place in France following the fall of Napoleon III's Second Empire in 1870. The consensus was that France should be a monarchy, but France's various regime changes in the nineteenth century left them trying to choose from three possible monarchies to restore. There was the Legitimists, who favoured to old Bourbons, overthrown in 1830, the Orleanists, who favoured the succeeding "July Monarchy", which was itself overthrown in 1848, and the Bonapartists, who wanted Napoleon III's son. A Third Republic was set up as a temporary measure while they sorted the dispute out. It took so long that people began to notice that the Third Republic was actually working rather well, so in the end none of the possible monarchies was ever restored. The first (monarchist) President, Adolphe Thiers, said in the end that "it is the republic that divides us least".
    • A succession crisis is how Marshal Bernadotte became the Swedish crown prince (and later king, whose descendants still reign in Stockholm). The Swedish king, Charles XIII, was both elderly and childless, with both his natural son and the adopted son, Charles August, a Danish prince, having died young. Various factions wanted different candidates to succeed King Charles, but the anti-Russian faction, who wanted a French general to ensure Napoleon's support in a potential war against Russia, won out. Ironically, Sweden under Bernadotte wound up as an ally of Russia against Napoleon.
  • There is a looming succession crisis in Japan. The constitution they adopted after World War IInote  limits possible heirs to the Chrysanthemum Throne to male descendants of Hirohito (Emperor Shōwa) or his three (now deceased) younger brothers, of whom only the youngest, Takahito, Prince Mikasa, had children. The problems start with the fact that all three of Prince Mikasa's sons are dead and one of them was childless and the other two only had daughters, anyway. Hirohito had 2 sons, but the younger is childless, while the elder (the current emperor) had only female grandchildren until 2006 when Prince Hisahito was born.
    • This means that, before the birth of Hisahito, there were a grand total of 6 people in the line of succession, with none under the age of 40note . There were many discussions of changing the rules of succession to either allow women -— since Japan has had female rulers in the past -— or include people in the succession who are related to the Imperial Family, but distantly enough that the constitution as it is currently written excludes them. Hisahito's birth has put a damper on those discussions for now, but they will most likely rise again at a future date.
  • Genghis Khan attempted to avert this with his sons by bringing them together and demonstrating how a single arrow could be broken with no effort, but a bunch held together were much harder to break, to emphasize that they needed to stand together to survive. They eventually agreed to have his second son, Ogedei, take over the Empire after his death, since no was one entirely sure his eldest son Jochi was actually his since his mother had been abducted and raped by a rival chieftain around the time he would have been conceived. Genghis' plan worked for about a generation until his grandsons began squabbling over rule of the Empire and eventually caused it to split.
  • In Denmark, King Frederick III made the monarchy hereditary and succession was limited to his male line descendants. Ultimately his male line ended with the childless King Frederick VII, whose heir was his also childless uncle Prince Ferdinand. With no one else left in line, they had to find a new heir. Further complicating the matter was that the Danish king was also Duke of Schleswig and Holstein, which threatened to break away from Denmark and join Germany. The contenders were Frederick, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, a great grandson of Frederick VII's great-uncle King Christian VII, Princesses Caroline and Wilhelmine, daughters of Christian VII's son Fredrick VI, Princess Charlotte of Denmark, Fredrick VII's aunt, and her son-in-law Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, also Fredrick VII's second cousin through King Fredrick V. Ultimately, Prince Christian was named the heir after his mother-in-law and her children renounced their rights in his favor. He succeeded as King Christian IX and his descendants are still on the throne.