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The Wrongful Heir to the Throne

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"Heaven doesn't always make the right men kings!"
Fritz von Tarlenheim, The Prisoner of Zenda

Usually, the Regent for Life is the bad guy. We say usually because in these stories the rightful heir to the throne is usually a heroic figure, a nice if inexperienced youngster, or at least a decent guy who can actually claim legitimacy. While The Usurper is portrayed as greedy, power-hungry, and brutal, willing to exploit the regency to earn the prestige and influence to take power, at any cost.

Problem is, sometimes the positions are reversed.

The heir has the automatic advantage of legitimacy, but what if he's evil? Or just jaw-droppingly incompetent? Or jaw-droppingly incompetent and evil? Even if he is competent, what happens if the kingdom is facing a terrible crisis it would take a much better leader to deal with?

This is the rare Succession Crisis in fiction where the rightful heir to the throne is absolutely not the person for the job. It can be the end of a regency (which now has, for the genuine sake of the realm, to be extended) or it can be the king dying and the heir turning out to be a childish charlatan or, even worse, actively malicious. In this situation, the other claimant has all the qualifications but none of the claim, making for a far more complex (and potentially grey) story.

This trope can also extend into the overthrow of an evil or incompetent monarch, but only cautiously, it has to be another monarch replacing it rather than a non-monarchial La Résistance movement.

This trope allows for an easily set up villain; since the late 1970s, most of the developed world has lived in democratic times and, unlike in the 1940s and beforehand where there were overt or implied religious overtones to rulership, being "in line to the throne" is not believed to make you deserving and capable of leadership. Setting up a character as someone who is born for the throne but has none of the skills or personality for the job makes for an easy Evil Overlord or other evil dictatorial figure for the hero to fight. Used as more than a cheap set up for a villain, this tool sets up a Socialist/Social-Liberal Aesop; its not the circumstances you are born into which should decide your position in life, but who you are as a person and how you react to those circumstances, and a system which bases its system of leadership selection around lineage is bound for failure.

Historically, in Real Life, however, this trope is a mixed blessing at best. True, your current king may be an improvement, but he has set a precedent that the throne belongs to whoever can connive his way into it — often enough without the excuse that the current king is worse than he is. It can set the stage for decades if not centuries of civil war.

Compare to Sketchy Successor.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • While Crown Prince Odysseus of Britannia in Code Geass is not as egotistical or racist like his father or some of his siblings, he is somewhat of a milquetoast Inadequate Inheritor compared to the more competent Schneizel el Britannia, or the actual usurper, Lelouch vi Britannia.
  • In The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Narsus and Daryum believed that Arslan deserved to be the king rather than his father who is a Glory Hound or his cousin who is the legitimate heir but has his anger issues and the thirst for revenge that can lead to disaster. While there is a question on Arslan’s legitimacy, it didn’t matter to his followers because his selfless and pacifist nature are good qualities of a king and that he will bring peace to both Pars and Lustinia.
  • In Magi: Labyrinth of Magic, the King of Balbadd says on his deathbed that he wants Alibaba, his youngest, illegitimate child, to take the throne instead of his eldest, Ahbmad; while Alibaba probably would have been reluctant anyway, the ensuing events cause him to flee the kingdom for several years. Ultimately, he overthrows Ahbmad but turns Balbadd into a republic.
    • There's also a middle son, Sahbmad, but he's a Nervous Wreck with agoraphobia; he does help with the resistance against Ahbmad, but at one point Ahbmad actually threatens him by pointing out what Sahbmad would actually have to do if he tried to steal the throne away, which leaves Sahbmad completely terrified.
  • In One Piece, Wapol is the king of Drum Island but is such a Jerkass and The Caligula that he forced any doctor that didn't work for him personally off the island so the people would have to beg to him for treatment. When he fled the island when it was attacked by pirates, the people were happy to see him go. So happy that the idea of him returning puts the island into a panic.
  • In Ōoku: The Inner Chambers a Gender Flipped Shogun Tsunayoshi and one of her attendants Emonnosuke discuss the 'mandate of Heaven' theory mentioned below under Real Life. By the end of her reign Tsunayoshi believes herself to be this trope, and would welcome someone to kill her. It's unclear if she got her wish or if another trope motivated her murder.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Fantastic Four story, the team put Latveria's hereditary ruler, Prince Zorba, back on the throne, only for him to be as bad or worse than Doctor Doom. When they overthrew Zorba, Doom managed to take power again. Well, at least he's good to his people, sometimes.
    • The Fantastic 4 were unaware at the time, but the reason Doom was Latveria's ruler was because he overthrew Zorva's father, Vladimir Fortunov, because he was an evil and opressive ruler, a Nazi sympathizer and a persecutor of Latveria's Romani population (Victor and his family are Romani).

    Fan Works 
  • In the Rumpelstiltskin retelling The Dressmaker Queen, heir to the throne Prince Leopold Gray is lacking a kindness gene. However, because of the simple fact that he was the oldest, he was to be the king. His grandfather finally had enough and decided to pass on the crown to Gray's younger brother. Needless to say, it doesn't end very well...
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters presents Elyon as this. She is the rightful heir to the Meridian throne both due to succession laws and due to possessing the Heart of Meridian. However, her selfish views on what makes a princess and her self-delusions about Phobos (whom she continues to trust and support) mean that as of this writing, she's currently ill-equipped to actually rule (even if she is still a vastly superior choice to Phobos).
  • In Hesitation, Sybok is an arrogant, xenophobic Jerkass who's filled his household with yes-men and left them to do his job for him (and use all his funds) whilst he spends his time placating his equally-vile consort, but as the eldest son he's King of Vulcan and heir apparent to the Imperial throne. He's also a subversion - whilst he was always kind of awful, much of his unsuitability actually comes from Ty'Lena's machinations.
  • Queen Anne's Legacy: To Catholics and many Protestants, Edward (Henry VIII's son by Jane Seymour) has a more legitimate claim to England's throne than his older half-brother Ambrose (Henry's son by Anne Boelyn), and is Henry VIII's true heir. Unfortunately for those people, a combination of his mother's smothering, Henry's favoritism of his older brother, and a overall sheltered upbringing means Edward grows up to be something of a self-centered Royal Brat who is completely unprepared to deal with the realities and sacrifices of rulership, on top of being a fervent Protestant that is obsessed with destroying all Catholicism in England. All in all, someone who no one with a lick of sense would ever want to be king, regardless of religion. When Edward finally decides to rebel against Ambrose, he struggles to find support in part because of this.
  • Queens of Mewni:
    • Like canon, Dirhhennia was forced to give up her claim in favor of Crescenta. Unlike canon though, Crescenta underwent Adaptational Nice Guy(thanks to this being written before The Magic Book of Spells was published), really was better suited to be queen than Dirhhennia, and there seems to be no hard feelings about the abdication.
    • Many considered Princess Venus to be unfit for the throne due to her promiscuity, and many wondered why Queen Galaxia never disinherited her, particularly as Galaxia had clairvoyant powers and could see the future. Galaxia claims she was unable to see her daughter's future. Some speculate that Galaxia saw what would happen if Venus didn't take the throne, and decided Venus taking the throne was the lesser of two evils.
    • Part of the anxiety Sky felt during her brief reign is because she knew some nobles regarded her as this and would have preferred her sister Etheria (who was briefly regent) as queen, but she didn't know just how many nobles preferred her. It's implied this anxiety, along with a lifetime of animosity between the two, is why Sky named Comet her daughter's regent as she died from complications of childbirth.
  • Shadows over Meridian: The cornerstone of Jade's plan to put Phobos back on the throne is to exploit the flaws in Elyon's reign to break the general public's blind faith in her by making it clear that this trope is at play. As she points out, while Phobos may have been a tyrant, he at least got things done, most prominently managing to maintain a fragile peace between Meridian's various races; by contrast, despite being the heir by tradition and having the Heart of Meridian, Elyon was until recently a normal Earth teenager with no training for being a monarch, and thus has no idea what she's doing, giving more fanatical members of the victorious rebellion free reign to do whatever they want, including persecuting the more "monstrous" races and anyone suspected of being a Phobos loyalist with no regard for rule of law.
  • With This Ring: King Orin of Atlantis thinks that this is the situation in the city-state of Venturia, after the death of Queen Clea; her daughter Ptra was abducted from her in controversial circumstances at a young age, and has been raised in the city of Aurania, never even seeing Venturia since that time. To his consternation, however, it turns out that the Venturian crown is only usually hereditary, and the monarch actually has the right to appoint a successor — which Clea did, choosing one of her senior administrators who is both selfless and competent. (King Orin is upset because he's trying to increase Atlantis' centralisation, which Clea and her successor oppose; Ptra, raised in a different environment, likely would have supported his agenda.) It nearly sparks a civil war, before a referendum reveals that the populace overwhelmingly supports Clea's choice.

    Films — Animation 
  • Played with in The Emperor's New Groove. Kuzco isn't a very good ruler, and no one seems to miss him while he's gone, but Yzma isn't exactly any better.
  • In earlier drafts of Frozen where Elsa was a Tragic Villain, her subjects would have considered her this as part of her Freudian Excuse. The full version of the Cut Song "We Know Better" has them spreading malicious rumors about her powers and darkly hinting that they won't allow her to become queen.
  • Lord Shen from Kung Fu Panda 2 was originally the son of the Emperor and Empress Peacocks of Gongmen City, but they refused to let him become their next ruler, instead making their advisor Master Thundering Rhino (son of Master Flying Rhino) their successor. As a result, Shen in a fit of rage, attacks a village inhabited by pandas, and is banished by his parents, causing Shen to vow revenge (and his parents to die of a broken heart), and one of the pandas from the village he destroyed to eventually face off against him...
  • Nuka from The Lion King II: Simba's Pride is considered as being unfit for the role of Scar's successor by his mother Zira as part of her plan to get revenge on Simba and his pride, so Zira makes Kovu Scar's successor instead. Unfortunately for Zira, Kovu is in love with Simba's daughter Kiara.
  • In Shrek the Third King Harold dies, meaning that Fiona, and by extension Shrek, are rightful heirs to the throne. Neither really wants this position, especially Shrek, so he goes on a quest to find Fiona's teenage cousin, Arthur.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dragonheart, Prince Einon is a Spoiled Brat of a prince that thinks making war is fun. The first time he tries to participate in such an endeavor, during a peasant uprising, he almost dies; the result of this is that he's gifted with half the heart of a dragon. During the same peasant uprising, his father (a similarly nasty piece of work, especially to judge by the novelization of the film) is killed, making Einon a spoiled juvenile brat of a king with half a dragon's heart. He's functionally immortal so long as the dragon with whom he shares a heart remains alive, he's got the political power of the kingship allowing him to do pretty much anything he wants, and he grows up to become a full-blown sadist who happily cracks down even harder on the peasantry and personally abuses almost everyone around him. The alternative ruler would have been his mother, the kindhearted and sympathetic queen, but she just had to save her child. She quickly realizes what a mistake this was, and spends a large part of the next several years trying to undermine his worst plans, up to and including hiring dragon slayers to hunt down his benefactor.
  • Commodus from Gladiator. While his father Marcus Aurelius is preparing to revoke Commodus' right of succession (partially because he sees that Commodus is an Inadequate Inheritor), his death prevents him from going through with it, thus Commodus is technically his legitimate successor. Although admittedly said death happens because Commodus murders him.
  • The Man in the Iron Mask has King Louis XIV of France, who is bankrupting the country with unpopular wars and keeping many mistresses. His brother Philippe is kept prisoner to prevent him from claiming the throne.
  • In the first film, Thor initially isn't ready to be king of Asgard because he's an immature, impulsive prat. By the second film, he's gained the maturity and wisdom required to be king but has matured enough to realize that he doesn't have the necessary ruthlessness, and voluntarily gives up his claim to the throne. He'd much rather be facing evil, protecting the innocent, and fighting the good fight than sacrificing others and having them die for him, however necessary it might be. And the throne is kept by Odin... or rather, Thor's mischievous and deceptive adoptive brother Loki posing as him. And then the third offers a much straighter version of the trope: Odin dies, and thus comes his first born Hela, an Omnicidal Maniac who decides to exercise her right for the throne through all the force (starting by exiling both Thor and Loki) and bloodshed possible.


By Author:

  • Mercedes Lackey likes this one:
    • In the Bardic Voices series, Kestrel was the rightful king of Birnam after his uncle deposed his father, and the uncle has been sending assassins after the poor kid ever since despite the fact that he was suffering from Identity Amnesia thanks to a severe fever he caught while fleeing. It turned out that the father was taxing the people heavily and wasting it on personal luxuries while the uncle was ruling the kingdom wisely, and had been a neglectful father at best on top of that, and once Kestrel found out what was actually going on he couldn't Abdicate the Throne fast enough. And likely would have at the very beginning of the palace coup if his uncle had bothered to ask, for that matter.
    • Played with in The Black Swan. While Queen Clothilde is evil, she's also a pretty good ruler. Her son Siegfried, the rightful king, is an incompetent moron with zero skills in politics or diplomacy (though admittedly, that's mostly because his mother raised him to ensure he wouldn't become a threat to her power).
    • Played with again in Oathbreakers from the Heralds of Valdemar series. The throne of Rethwellen is empty. The King's eldest son and designated heir is poised to take it, and he's a right bastard; the younger Spare to the Throne was an irresponsible philanderer but matured after running away to avoid being murdered by his brother and is now leading a rebellion to take the crown. The twist comes in with the fact that the Crown Prince is not necessarily the legitimate heir; ever since the enchanted Sword that Sings that's supposed to choose the king was stolen, the other members of the royal family vote on who gets the throne. If the protagonists can find the sword in time, and if it does indeed choose the younger brother, then the rebellion will have morality and legality on its side.

By Title:

  • The Accursed Kings: After Phillip IV's death, his borderline Manchild eldest son Louis X takes the throne. He is quickly removed by the machinations of his aunt Mahaut, as is his son, to put his much more competent brother Phillip V, who also disinherits Louis' daughter Jeanne by way of salic law (the Frankish law in the Sales region held that titles could not be inherited through women). He's a good king, but the book skips ahead to his death a few years later, when he has only daughters and so the very law he used to secure his place requires that the throne go to his (just as bad as Louis) brother Charles. Charles also dies, leading to Phillip IV's newphew Phillip de Valois taking the throne, but Phillip IV's daughter Isabelle pushes her son Edward III as king of both France and England. While there's no question that Edward III is a competent ruler, none of the French want to be ruled by an Englishman, and so begins The Hundred Years War. Note that in reality, Louis died of natural causes and the idea of retroactively applying the salic law to the whole of France to justify excluding Edward appears to have been a Shakespearian addition, it wasn't actually mentioned in the court records of the time.
  • The Belgariad: Played with. Silk, or rather, Prince Kheldar, is the nephew of the childless king Rhodar of Drasnia and heir apparent to the throne. However, Silk likes and is good at trade and espionage, and is well aware that he would be a catastrophically bad ruler, to the point that one of the few things that genuinely frighten him is the thought of having to succeed his uncle. That his uncle is one of the handful of people he genuinely likes and respects is only icing on the cake. When Queen Porenn finally gives birth to a healthy baby boy, Silk and the rest of Drasnia sigh with relief.
  • Damodara in the Belisarius Series.
  • The Haldane Restoration in Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novel Camber of Culdi. A younger son of the House of Furstan gets a small force from his father the King of Torenth, gathers other landless younger sons who don't fancy celibacy, and they overthrow the House of Haldane in neighbouring Gwynedd. After 80 years, the Festil-Furstan dynasty has degenerated, such that the latest ruler practices murderous tyranny and brother-sister incest. Camber and his family discover the last Haldane in a monastery, remove him from the cloister, get his vows dispensed, marry him to a ward of Camber's, activate psionic/magical powers in him, and help him overthrow the tyrant — and the new King never forgives them for it, leading to the terrible anti-Deryni backlash of the next several books.
  • Phillipa Gregory's The Cousins' War Series plays with this, portraying the Wars of the Roses from multiple points of view. Edward IV rightfully sees Henry VI as unsuited for the throne and a weak puppet king, so like his father before him, he has pressed his own claim to the throne. Henry's wife, however, sees Edward as an impulsive, immature Pretender who has usurped her son's rightful place, and on top of that Edward's brother George pretty much agrees with Margaret except he thinks he's the right one to replace Edward so he spreads rumors that Edward is not legitimate. Then, when Edward dies, his brother Richard finds evidence that Edward's marriage was invalid, giving Richard an excuse to take the throne from his Royal Brat of a nephew...and so forth. And then of course, there's Margaret Beaufort, who thinks her son Henry Tudor has been chosen by God to replace all of these people.
  • Discworld:
    • Played With in Mort. There's nothing wrong with Princess Kelli, but she's destined to be an "average" queen. Meanwhile, Fate has decreed that her Evil Uncle, upon assassinating her, will unify the Sto Plains and usher in a century of peace. Mort (who saved her from the assassination) is dismayed at the unfairness of him being a "better" ruler even though he's evil.
    • In Wyrd Sisters, Tomjon, the true heir to the throne of Lancre, has no interest in becoming king and wants to continue his acting career. The witches put Verence up as an alternative, claiming that he is Tomjon's half-brother, which is true. They see no need to point out that their shared parent wasn't the previous king but the queen, who got lonely while the king was fooling around with the peasant girls.
    • Guards! Guards! introduces Carrot, who's the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork — he's got a special sword, a Birthmark of Destiny, a natural charisma that would make even Morporkians break out in Spontaneous Choreography, and fulfills a prophecy about the king's return. The thing is, the prophecy never said anything about the true king taking the throne when he returns. Instead, Carrot joined the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and fell under the mentorship of Sam Vimes, a By-the-Book Cop and strict anti-monarchist, and Carrot has also noted that the city's current Patrician, Lord Vetinari, is doing an exceptional if cynical job running the place. So Carrot has never actually pressed his claim to the throne, even though everything about the Theory of Narrative Causality would indicate he'd be a perfect king because he'd prefer it if people followed orders because they were the right orders, and not just because Carrot "is good at being obeyed." That said, Carrot's not above using the implication of his Rightfulness to push the Patrician in certain directions for the benefit of the city.
  • In Dragon Bones, high king Jakoven is the legitimate heir to the throne. He is also a huge jerk who doesn't protect the five kingdoms under him, whose rulers have been demoted to nobles. His bastard half-brother, Alizon, is shown to be both a nicer person and a competent military leader, who cleverly abdicated all political positions when Jakoven became king. This is what saved him from sharing the fate of Jakoven's brother Kellen, who has been imprisoned so as to not get in the way.
  • In the Farseer trilogy, Prince Regal declares the MIA Prince Verity dead in order to have legitimacy for his reign.
  • The country Ravka in The Grisha Trilogy is led by king Alexander III and his eldest son prince Vasily is his heir. However, the king is a rather incompetent, selfish leader and his son Vasily is exactly the same. Prince Nikolai uses this incompetence to convince people to support him as the heir over his brother Vasily. Nikolai has no legitimate claim to the throne since he is the king's second son (and also heavily rumored to be illegitimate), but he is way more competent than his brother and father and also very popular with the people and more importantly the military. Eventually Vasily dies in an unrelated event and Nikolai blackmails his father into abdicating, exiles his parents and becomes the new king.
    • In the sequel series The Nikolai Duology, Nikolai proves to be a pretty good king, improving the lives of the small folk, modernising the military and keeping the country together despite the instability caused by the previous king. In a case of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome, however, people immediately start using the rumors that he's a bastard to try and replace him with a Lantsov cousin, and when they find good enough proof (his mother decides to testify) he realizes he can't overcome the issue. Instead he abdicates and convinces the Ravkan nobles to elect a new monarch, just as they elected the first Lantsov—essentially legitimizing the wrongful heir process, but taking himself off the board.
  • In Legacy, a novelization of the life and queenship of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII sees his younger daughter as this, though for no fault of her own. Following Anne Boleyn's death, he has such a powerful retroactive hatred for the woman that, although he does retain affection for Elizabeth, he can't stand the thought of Anne's daughter ever inheriting his throne. He consoles himself with the idea that his son Edward will get married and sire a bunch of sons, and that even if that should somehow not happen, his elder daughter Mary would be next in line. Of course, as history shows, all three of Henry's children eventually inherited his throne, and Elizabeth held it longer than both of her half-siblings combined.
  • A double dose in The Prisoner of Zenda. The legitimate ruler, Rudolf, is a drunken boor who is unpopular with the people. The Usurper, Black Michael, isn't the most charming or popular guy either, but at least he's competent and respected. But the impostor, Rudolf Rassendyl, puts them both to shame and would make a better king than either of them, prompting young von Tarlenheim's quote at the head of this page.
  • The Raven Tower Discussed regarding Mawat, the famously Hot-Blooded heir to the Raven's Lease. His temper was one of the factors that led to the Council appointing his uncle as Lease instead of him, in hopes that a few more years or decades as Heir would let him mature a bit.
  • The Redwall book Mossflower has this in the form of Tsarmina Greeneyes. While her father Verdauga had a stern but fair rule, Tsarmina, his cruel and impulsive daughter, poisoned him in order to take the throne for herself. As Verdauga began to ail, Tsarmina took over and began demanding more than the woodlanders they ruled could produce. This caused the woodlanders to run from their rule, and so Tsarmina demanded more and more until eventually the castle and garrison is facing starvation because of her misrule. Her brother Gingivere most likely would have made a far better ruler, being kind and fair, but Tsarmina's cruelty and idiocy see the kingdom's downfall.
  • In Shards of Honor, Prince Serg, legitimate heir to the Barrayaran empire, is very much the Caligula. The succession issue is resolved when Serg is allowed to lead a spectacularly overmatched invasion force and the superior candidate Aral Vorkosigan is made regent to the next legitimate heir Gregor, who happens to be six years old. Subverted when Serg's father Emperor Ezar reveals that since Aral actually has a stronger claim to the throne than he did (something Aral disputes) that makes Ezar's whole line "wrongful heirs" at least according to the strict rules of succession. This is convenient for Ezar because anyone wanting to depose young Gregor would have to either kill Aral, which has proven to be remarkably difficult to do or offer him the throne, which he'd commit anything short of genocide to avoid.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Robert's rebellion against King Aerys Targaryen: no question Aerys is the rightful king, but he also has this nasty habit of burning people alive. This would have been averted in the case of his eldest son Rhaegar (at least as far as most of our POV characters believe), had Robert not killed him in the rebellion's final battle.
    • After the rebellion, Ser Barristan gave this as a justification for why he accepted Robert's pardon and served him: while Aerys's son Viserys may have been the rightful king, he was also "his father's son" in many unfortunate ways. Following both Viserys' and Robert's deaths and Barristan's dismissal by King Joffrey, he reassesses his loyalties once more and goes over to Daenerys.
    • Mentioned as part of the backstory in the discussion of what happened after the death of King Maekar. Maekar's oldest two sons both had children, who technically should have been ahead of their uncles in the line of succession, but who were considered "unacceptable" for various reasons.
    • Renly tries to invoke this trope to justify taking the throne for himself. He has no legal claim, but he thinks he would be a better king than either of his nephews or his dour older brother. Subverted in that we really have no evidence that Renly would make a good king other than his own and his lackeys' belief. For example, Loras says of him, "He was the king that should have been. He was the best of them" — but that's his boyfriend talking. The few unbiased opinions we're privy to are much more skeptical about him: basically, he's charismatic and charming, but has nothing else going for him. It is also quite probable he knew his eldest brother Robert's children were not Robert's but sat on the information until it benefited him to publicise it.
    • Tyrion Lannister spends much of the second book trying to make the kingdom a better place despite Joffrey, a sadistic Royal Brat who executes and tortures people for his own enjoyment. Joffrey's regent, Tyrion's sister Queen Cersei, is no better, and Tyrion actually resorts to drugging her with a laxative to keep her out of his way for a day. When their father Tywin shows up to take his place as Hand of the King and de facto regent, he may be a grade-A Jerkass, but his Pragmatic Evil approach still makes him a far sight better for the realm than Joffrey.
    • The people who accept Joffrey and his siblings' illegitimacy generally view Stannis as the legitimate heir to the throne. While he would certainly make a better king than Tommen, he is a stubborn, self-righteous and inflexible man and he would not hesitate to sacrifice all and everything in Westeros to make sure what he sees as "the right thing" happens. His rule would be inaugurated by a bloodbath in which the nobility would suffer heavily, though the realm would probably be a much better place for the smallfolk. Later on, Stannis proves his mettle when he listens to Ser Davos define what a real king does:
      Ser Davos: A king protects his people, or he's no true king at all.
      • Stannis then responds by travelling to the Wall and saving the Night's Watch, in marked contrast to the Lannisters, who try and influence the Night's Watch election, Tywin even mentioning the Wildlings getting past the Wall might help their cause.
    • In the backstory, the supporters of Daemon Blackfyre in the Blackfyre Rebellion saw King Daeron II ("Daeron the Good") as this. They were believers in Asskicking Leads to Leadership and preferred a warrior-king to the bookish but good-hearted Daeron.
    • Daeron's father Aegon IV was also an example of this. He's historically known as "The Unworthy" due to his penchant for hedonism, promiscuity (he boasted of having slept with 900 women), petty cruelty, and just incompetence in general. Unfortunately, his better-loved younger brother Aemon the Dragonknight had become a knight of the Kingsguard, taking him out of the line of succession. Ironically, Aegon's father Viserys II was a very competent ruler who had served as Hand for his brother and nephews...but it is suspected his son poisoned him a year after Viserys succeeded to the throne.
    • Fire & Blood also has the two kids of Aegon the Conqueror, Aenys and Maegor. Aenys is the first-born, but generally weak-willed and too eager to please, a bad thing when you need someone to solidify a dynasty in it's early stages. Maegor, meanwhile, is an Ax-Crazy kind of guy with a fondness for solving every single problem with murder.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, King Elhokar of Alethkar does his best, but he is a Horrible Judge of Character, paranoid, too sheltered by Dalinar acting like a Regent for Life, and painfully aware that he's not a good king no matter how hard he tries. His older sister Jasnah is The Ace, but Alethi primogeniture rules that she's out of the line of succession, even when it becomes increasingly clear who the better ruler would be. It takes his death in Oathbringer and an ongoing apocalypse to get her on the throne, and she rapidly shows how much better she is even with Alethkar being under active siege.
  • In Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, Prince Bryan looks like a gorgeous handsome hero, but as you get to know him over the years, you realize that he's going to be a bratty jerkass king and a terrible husband to the narrator's sister, to whom he's engaged. Adding to the fun, the guy's very paranoid about being poisoned, so getting rid of him may be difficult.
  • In The Granite Shield, the rulers of a fantasy England are entirely legitimate, but also apostates who deny their divine status. A vicious civil war develops when a Royal Bastard is born and raised in the proper faith.
  • The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell has Arthur as King Uther's Heroic Bastard son and Mordred as King Uther's legitimate but treacherous grandson. Unfortunately, Arthur is far too Lawful Good to make himself Regent for Life.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • In Into the Wild, Brokenstar was the rightful leader of ShadowClan, but he was a completely malicious monster, who attempted to destroy the other Clans and killed kits. He eventually had to be driven out and replaced with Nightpelt, an elder.
    • In Follow My Leader, one of the short stories in Code of the Clans, a dying SkyClan leader, Beechstar, names his son Maplewhisker as his successor. However, Maplewhisker is totally incompetent, and nearly kills many of his warriors before he is saved by Robinwing, a SkyClan warrior who makes him step down in favour of a better choice.
  • In Susan Dexter's The Wizard's Shadow, it quickly becomes obvious that the regent uncle is a far better ruler than his nephew the king — and far too conscientious to do anything but step aside when his nephew is old enough.
  • Queen Arrabel in Tanya Huff's A Woman's Work is well aware that her son is not up to her standards of being a monarch and is a romantic idiot. After the conquest of a neighbouring kingdom, she notices that the youngest princess (and sole survivor) of the deposed royal family has a very practical frame of mind and quickly agrees to a marriage to Arrabel's son. The princess is the sole survivor because she convinced her two brothers to launch a failed suicide attack on Arrabel during the family's last stand and arranged for her older sister to have unfortunately become deceased. Queen Arrabel cheerfully expects that her son will suffer a tragic accident very soon after their first child is born, making the daughter-in-law the new heir to the throne, and is quite pleased with the thought of having a competent successor. She's also quite careful not to eat any food given to her by her new daughter-in-law.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Korean Historical Drama Emperor Wang Guhn is about how WG became emperor of Korea. Long story short(er): The previous Empire of Silla fell apart. Wang's predecessor Gung Ye seizes power in northern Korea and proclaims himself Emperor, while in southern Korea General Kyunhwan proclaims himself Emperor, so there's a power struggle between them. Gung then proclaims that he's not only Emperor but also the reincarnation of Buddha and starts going crazy, even having his wife and sons killed because he thinks they're plotting against him. At this point, the other nobles in Gung's camp decide that he's no longer worthy of being followed as Emperor, so they ask General Wang Guhn (portrayed as Gung Ye's most loyal-yet-non-crazy subject - it was his childhood sweetheart who Gung had married and then later killed) to become the emperor. Wang refuses, but the nobles depose Gung anyway, at which point Wang reluctantly takes the throne.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Renly invokes this trope when trying to convince Ned Stark to support his coup for the throne, claiming his complete lack of legitimacy is less important than his own ability to rule.
    • Viserys Targaryen also proves to be that: After his father was killed for being The Caligula, he became obsessed with getting his crown back from the traitor and usurper Robert Baratheon at any cost, proving not much better than his father, so most people were happy to accept Robert as king.
    • Varys admits Stannis has the best claim to the throne, but that he can literally imagine nothing worse than Stannis sitting on the iron throne — which Varys says during Joffrey's reign. Varys says this not due to Stannis' principles but due to his reliance on (and service to) the dark arts. This ultimately proves very accurate, as Stannis goes on to become a Fallen Hero who loses his honor, his dignity, his family and ultimately his life.
  • House of the Dragon, a prequel to Game of Thrones, has this as the central conflict — King Viserys named his daughter Rhaenyra as heir, but his second wife has been trying to invoke this trope to get her eldest son with Viserys, Aegon, named heir. Ironically, all evidence indicates that Aegon would fit this trope, as while Rhaenyra is shown making multiple blunders due to her age and stubbornness, Aegon is totally disinterested in ruling (having been fine with his status as the Spare to the Throne) and is also a depraved Royal Brat and a Serial Rapist.
    • Rhaenyra's second son, Prince Lucerys "Luke" Velaryon, feels he's this as heir to Driftmark, the Velaryon's main stronghold. Aside from the fact that he's not biologically a Velaryon (as his official/adoptive father Laenor Velaryon is homosexual and his biological father is Ser Harwin Strong), he's also understandably daunted that he's expected to succeed Corlys Velaryon, the most famed sailor in Westerosi history, as the commander of the greatest naval power in the world when he gets seasick at the mere sight of a boat. The issue is rendered moot when Lucerys is Eaten Alive in the season finale, beginning the Dance of the Dragons.
  • On Justified Theo Tonin is The Don of the Detroit Mob and everyone is too scared of him to challenge his rule. However, Theo's son, Sammy Tonin, is widely considered to be weak and incompetent and many of Theo's lieutenants would love to replace him as heir apparent. Quarles thinks of himself as Theo's adopted son and sees himself as the proper inheritor. However, his habit of abusing and torturing male prostitutes is too much for Theo to handle and he banishes Quarles from Detroit. Quarles tries to regain his position but is foiled when he runs afoul of Boyd and Raylan. Theo's right-hand man, Nicky Augustine, is the next potential usurper but he also makes the mistake of going after Raylan and Sammy uses this to discredit Nicky and then have him killed. When Theo is forced to flee the country, Sammy is finally put in charge and is so incompetent that the once ultra-powerful Detroit Mob falls apart and is destroyed by its rivals.
  • Prince George in The Palace, though only in a potential sense. In Episode 8, Princess Eleanor starts a rumour about King Richard's possible illegitimacy so that he will be forced to take a paternity test before his coronation. She knows that if he is indeed illegitimate, she will become queen, as the Prime Minister would never allow the supremely unsuitable George to be Britain's head of state.

  • In Goddess Creation System crown prince Jun'er is intelligent, capable, and not really a bad guy, but also irresponsible, lazy, and moody due to being spoiled. With Xiaxi's influence he becomes more stable and hard-working, but when the king dies and Ping Yang Hou takes the throne in a coup people don't really want to see him become king, reasoning that Ping Yang Hou seems capable and even-tempered. It's subverted when Jun'er begins behaving much more seriously and his uncle turns out to be The Caligula, causing most important officials to realize they need the proper heir on the throne after all.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech:
    • Inverted with Thomas Marik. Probably the most capable leader the Free Worlds League ever had. He has no relation to the Marik family, and was a Body Double for the real Thomas Marik, who may or may not have been involved in running the League at all.
    • Caleb Davion became the First Prince of the Federated Suns after he killed his father Harrison Davion when informed that his cousin Julian Davion would be named the rightful heir. Caleb promptly made a series of increasingly bad military choices that has led to the Federated Suns being in more danger of being conquered by its enemies than it ever has been before, and then was killed fighting the Draconis Combine. Julian is now returning to take the crown himself and presumably attempt a Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • In Exalted, the Realm is on the edge of civil war with the Scarlet Empress vanished. The Empress' eldest and most powerful child, Mnemon, would be a shoo-in for the throne (despite the fact that the Realm has no rules for succession; the Empress is supposed to be immortal), except for one thing: she's an absolute bitch at best, and Ax-Crazy at worst (Depending on the Writer). About the only thing the other factions can agree on is that Mnemon is not the one they want to take the Scarlet Throne, leading to it being occupied by an absolutely ineffectual Regent until someone decides to claim it for themselves.
  • In Ravenloft, the father of Nova Vaasa's Prince Othmar stipulated on his deathbed that a Regent should rule until Othmar was fully an adult, then specified that his son (whom he knew to be greedy, power-hungry, and ruthless) not be considered "adult" until he was considerably older than Vaasi custom dictated. Othmar did claim the throne eventually and has proven to be as corrupt of a ruler as his father had feared.

  • This is a very common trope in Shakespeare's history plays, especially the plays dealing with the rise and fall of the House of Lancaster.
    • Richard II was this due to his capricious incompetence, and was eventually deposed by his cousin who would become Henry IV.
    • Averted in Henry IV, Part 1, and Henry IV, Part 2. Prince Hal (the Prince of Wales) hangs out with lowlifes and is complicit in a robbery, but later defeats Henry "Hotspur" Percy who has rebelled against Henry IV in part 1. In Part 2 he reconciles with his dying father then arrests his former companions.
    • Henry VI Part 1 Charles VII of France retakes his throne from the minor Henry VI with the help of Joan of Arc.
    • Henry VI Part 2 Richard, the Duke of York points out that Henry IV's claim was probably illegitimate, believes that he has a stronger claim to the throne, and conspires to rebel against King Henry. His son Edward completes the job in Henry VI Part 3
    • Richard III used this excuse for usurping the throne from his nephew Edward V — the latter was a child and so unfit to rule. The real Richard also cast doubt on Edward's legitimacy.
  • Macbeth: After Macbeth usurps the throne of Scotland, Macduff seeks out the rightful heir Malcolm, but despairs when Malcolm describes himself as a lustful, avaricious bastard who'd become The Caligula if he were crowned. Subverted when Malcolm admits that it was made up as a Secret Test of Character to ensure that Macduff truly wanted to put a worthy man on the throne, then joins Macduff's rebellion.

    Video Games 
  • Lord Wynton from Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is the rightful heir to the throne of Westmarch due to being of the bloodline of Rakkis, the founder of Westmarch. The main problem is that he's also an opportunistic bastard who seeks to murder King Justinian IV in order to claim his throne, plans on being even worse toward anyone who seeks to challenge his rule, and is doing this while Malthael's Reapers are going about on a genocidal rampage against humans in Westmarch, essentially making an already horrific situation even worse. It is little wonder that the Nephalem decides that he needs to be put down when they meet.
  • Played with in Dragon Age: Origins, where Alistair, the resident Hidden Backup Prince, does not want to be king because he sees himself as this. He's got only the best of intentions, but he's rather convinced that he would be a terrible king. Subverted in that, if the player character forces the issue and insists he take the throne, he turns out to be an excellent ruler.
    • The Dwarves are embroiled in a Succession Crisis, with Harrowmont, who was a close friend of the king opposing the scheming and vicious Prince Bhelen solely to prevent him from being the King since he sees him as this. Subverted if Bhelen becomes king: He rules as a benevolent dictator who brutally purges all of his enemies, including all of Harrowmont's surviving family in sequels but is also a progressive ruler who gives rights to the lower class.
  • Played with in Fable III. The player character is the younger sibling of the current king, who has turned out to be an absolute tyrant. The main focus of the game is to organize a rebellion and usurp the throne. But then there's a Halfway Plot Switch, you find out why your older brother was behaving that way, and as the new monarch it's now your turn to make the tough decisions.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, Agustria has recently gone from the wise King Imuka to his son Chagall thanks to a little royal patricide. Although Imuka was able to keep the four fractious lords in line, Chagall's very first order is disobeyed by almost all of them (with Eldigan riding to the capital in an attempt to talk sense, Macbeth taking advantage of war to raid the citizens, and Clement refusing to get involved at all). Only Boldor obeys, and then only because it suits his own agenda. It isn't until his kingdom is on the point of being conquered that Chagall realizes the Big Bad he's following only saw him as a useful idiot. Additionally, Chagall lives in paranoia and resentment of Eldigan, the one lord who is genuinely loyal to him, and may eventually have him executednote  just for trying to point out that Agustria is not going to win a second war with Grannvale. However, the game also deconstructs typical answers to this trope, in that Sigurd's immediate response is to send his troops through Agustria and depose Chagall, which only succeeds in sending the kingdom even further into chaos and making everything worse.
    • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, after spending the first chapter getting the "legitimate" heir on the throne of Daein (Pelleas), he turns out to be a kindhearted person... but very, very unfit for reigning, plus easily manipulated for the purpose of creating a world war. But in a subversion, Pelleas isn't really the real heir in the end, and the "legitimate" heir (Soren) never finds out. After Pelleas either reveals that he's not the legitimate heir or is tragically killed, depending on the path the player takes through the story, Daein winds up being run by the person who was actually the legitimate heir of the neighboring country of Begnion, Micaiah; she did find out the truth, but her Child Prodigy little sister Sanaki had been running the place pretty well, and she considered Daein her home more than Begnion. And if Pelleas is alive, he's said to have willingly left the throne to Micaiah to become one of her advisors, a "work" that fits him much better than actually being the King.
    • It's implied that this trope is the reason Princess Camilla abdicated her claim to the throne in the Birthright route of Fire Emblem Fates: she believed herself to be this compared to her Teen Genius younger brother, Prince (now King) Leo, since their older brother Xander is now dead.note 
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Your crew has to sort out a crisis on Kashyyyk (the Wookiee homeworld). Turns out Zaalbar is the younger son of the local chieftain Freyyr, exiled because he attacked his older brother Chuundar (and used his claws, a major taboo among Wookiees) after learning that Chuundar conspired with Czerka to have his own people harvested as slaves. Chuundar justifies this by saying Czerka has the resources to burn their forest to the ground, Czerka supplies weaponry and technology, and if a few villagers (including political enemies) get shipped off-world in chains, then it's a fair deal. He also sent his father into exile to keep the arrangement intact. Your actions determine how the mess pans out.
  • Exploited in Last Scenario, when Evil Chancellor and Chessmaster Augustus arranged the inheritance of the throne by the capriciously cruel and terribly incompetent Princess Helga. He quickly usurped the throne by killing her and was quite popular with the people for a short while - until he was killed by an own friend, whose life he ruined by manipulating him into killing the former emperor, Helga's father.
  • In Psychonauts 2, the main villain, Gristol Malik, is a selfish, arrogant person. He might not be delusional regarding his claim to the throne of Grulovia, but he is still delusional regarding Maligula, whom he attempts to use, and the popularity of his family. Had he succeeded, he would have been a tyrant.
  • In RuneScape, a returning rightful king has done some unpleasant things in his attempts to claim his birthright. The nature of these things suggests that he is perhaps not the most benevolent potential ruler.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Long Live the Queen, Crown Princess Elodie's actions can paint her this way in the eyes of Arisse, the Duchess of Lilah. She's influential enough to be regarded by many in the kingdom of Nova as their second queen, and, up to a certain point in the game, she quietly observes how Elodie carries herself as a potential ruler. If she decides that Elodie would make for a weak queen, Arisse may garner the support of nobles from other duchies and declare civil war against her.

    Web Animation 
  • A Day With Bowser Jr: Bowser Jr is the heir to the Koopa throne, even he's the youngest among his brothers. The actual heir should be Ludwig. Or so we think; in Two Koopas for a throne (part 3), it's revealed that Ludwig and the other Koopalings are Bowser's biological nephews, not his kids, making Junior Bowser's only true son.

    Web Original 
  • In A Rake by Starlight, the new Baron Tylaris is lazy and borderline incompetent (although he is smarter than he appears, that's not saying much), not to mention that he murdered his father. In an interesting twist, the rebels' plan is to create someone who has a better claim to the throne.

    Western Animation 
  • Earl of Lemongrab of Adventure Time is this. He's a dysfunctional, socially inept, mentally maladjusted, overly-sensitive, obnoxious, rude failed science experiment who has the right to the throne of the Candy Kingdom because Princess Bubblegum made him specifically to be her replacement if something should happen to her. He's not evil - just a butt - but he obviously doesn't know what he's doing when he's ruling a kingdom.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Fire Nation seems to have a system where the firstborn is the heir, but the reigning Fire Lord is allowed to pass him over if he chooses. Zuko, who is honorable even when he is a villain, is Ozai's oldest child, but eventually gets rejected in favor of his psychotic sister, Azula, forcing him to challenge her for the throne in the finale.
    • In the Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra Queen Hou-Ting of the Earth Kingdom was assassinated by the Red Lotus in Book 3. Republic City wanted to set up Hou-Ting's nephew, Prince Wu, as the new Earth King. However, Wu a friendly, harmless, egocentric, and incompetent man child. On Wu's coronation day, Kuvira pointed out that Wu would be a Puppet King and declared herself the ruler of the Earth Empire. At the end of the season, Wu himself decides to reform the Earth Kingdom into a democracy, as even he realized he would be a bad leader.
  • As Gargoyles portrayed Macbeth in various flashbacks as much closer to actual Scottish history (aside from the living gargoyles and various uses of magic) than Shakespheare's play did, King Duncan was a tyrant, while his cousin Macbeth was a good king who only killed and overthrew Duncan after Duncan attacked Macbeth's domain first. Unfortunately, as in real life, it didn't last once Duncan's son eventually came back to return the favor.
  • Played for Laughs in The Simpsons episode "Simpsons Bible Stories." King David (played by Bart) is overthrown by "Goliath II" (Nelson) as revenge for David killing his father. David eventually manages to reclaim his throne, but it turns out Goliath was a benevolent king who built libraries and hospitals. David is arrested and taken to prison.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil:
    • In season 3 it's revealed that Queen Eclipsa's daughter Meteora was rejected by Eclipsa's ex-husband for being half-monster and was switched with a peasant girl named Festivia by the Magical High Commission. This means the (still-living) Meteora is the legitimate heir to Mewni's crown. And while Meteora would've probably grown to be a good queen if raised as one, as-is she's become a cruel villain who wishes to "reclaim" her throne by stealing the souls of all her subjects.
    • In the supplementary guide The Magic Book of Spells, Jushtin was set to inherit the throne, but due to the matriarchal nature of the Butterfly family, was forced to abdicate when his sister Solaria was born. Except all evidence proves that he would have been a better choice — while he was a charismatic and likable young man whose later status as a diplomat secured two powerful allies for the kingdom, she was a genocidal, war-hungry psychopath who ignored all options that would result in a peaceful resolution. Had she not died in battle, the "Total Annihilation Spell" that Solaria was in the process of creating would've killed not only all of the monsters but also probably all of the Butterfly Kingdom's non-Mewman allies (since Demons, Pony Heads, and Seafolk are clearly are biologically inhuman, but are arbitrarily designed as non-monster species simply because they're allies).
    • Dirhhennia was also disinherited in favor of Crescenta because of her poor magic abilities, mental issues, and obsession with spheres. It's hard to say if she would have been a bad ruler (as she didn't seem to be very interested in ruling anyway) but Crescenta was a petty manipulative she couldn't have been any worse.

    Real Life 
  • King Stephen usurped the throne of England from his cousin Matilda — the late king's only living child and the rightful heir — because as a woman, she was regarded as incompetent to rule by the standards of the time (the 1100s). This led to a 19-year Civil War so bad it was called "the Anarchy" — even people at the time thought they would have been better off putting up with a woman for a generation. In the end, history recognizes Stephen as the king of England during this period, even though Matilda managed to occupy the country and hold Stephen prisoner for several years. Matila won in another fashion: her descendants, not Stephen's, ended up on the throne after him, starting with her son, Henry II.
    • In this case, it was really probably more of a no-win situation, since even leaving aside the gender issue, neither Stephen nor Matilda was a particularly nice person, nor did they really possess the temperament to make for particularly good rulers. There was another reason a lot of the Anglo-Norman nobility objected to Matilda: she was married to Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, the original Plantagenet. Normandy and Anjou had a long-standing and extremely bitter rivalry with one another; the Counts of Anjou were generally demonised throughout Europe as having demonic ancestry (as Bernard of Clairvaux is reputed to have put it, "from the devil they came and to the devil they will go"). At the time, few in Norman-dominated England could stomach the prospect of Geoffrey acting as her consort or - in the worst-case scenario - becoming effective King through Matilda.
  • As mentioned above, King Richard III cast aspersions on the right of the young King Edward V to rule, claiming the boy and his brother were not legitimate due to their father's previous marriage to another woman. Richard's motivations for claiming the throne remain in the dark to this day; was he a power-hungry tyrant, or had he simply come to believe that England couldn't survive another boy Puppet King? We will never know what was in the man's heart, but Richard had been raised in a time of brutal war that had resulted from not one, but two, other young boys ascending the throne. Richard II and Henry VI, both of whom grew up to be temperamentally unsuited to wear the crown, were violently overthrown and Richard's father and older brother Edmund died in the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses, along with tens of thousands of common soldiers. Richard, whether he truly believed the evidence that his nephews were illegitimate or not, may have embraced it out of a desire not to see decades of bloody history repeat itself, as well as out of ambition. It is, in fact, a reasonable assumption that it was a combination of both. That fact that Richard's nephews, known to history as the Princes in the Tower, disappeared under his watch hasn't helped history's view of him, with many historians believing Richard had to have killed them. Richard's defenders, on the other hand, point out that it would make no sense for Richard to murder the boys without proof of their deaths. A lot depends on how much you trust the well-known accounts of Richard III's reign, most of which (like Shakespeare's version) was written by people casting aspersions on Richard's own legitimacy in order to invest the otherwise ineligible Henry VII with some kind of legitimacy.
  • This is exactly what happened to King Edward VIII of England. He was always meant to be the king, as the oldest son, and his brother Albert was very much in favour of that particular line of succession.note  As things turned out, though, Edward VIII was absolutely, positively determined to marry outside of the acceptable social circle, and to a widely-rumored-to-be Nazi sympathizer during the prelude to World War II, no less. Edward's determination to flout the accepted rules and standards of the throne meant that he could not be king, not in the eyes of the Parliament, and not in the eyes of the people. Faced with this pressure, he abdicated his throne to his brother Albert, who reigned as George VI, which caused a whole host of problems for Britain's new leader.
  • The "mandate of heaven" ideology propagated by the Zhou dynasty to justify overthrowing the Shang dynasty, stated that the realms they'd conquered had become corrupt and had so lost the favour of the spirits, it was by the spirits' will/with the spirits' blessings that the Zhou had overthrown them (the premise being that without the spirits' approval, overthrowing an imperial dynasty would obviously be impossible), and that everyone should now be good Zhou citizens and pay their taxes and not revolt because that's what the spirits wanted them to do. Unfortunately, the same argument was used against them later on when their empire was on the fritz and has been used for and against a good dozen Empires that have ruled the region since.
  • Tsar Peter III of Russia is often portrayed as an idiot who was allowing the country to go down the crapper. His wife, their union an arranged marriage when he was younger, was Sophia, a German princess from a poor family, and she was a tad more competent and deposed him. She's better known today as Catherine the Great. Most of the stories about Peter's madness were made up by Catherine's spin doctors, but the guy still managed to piss off a number of people with his hero-worship of Frederick the Great of Prussia and announcing crazy projects like phasing out serfdom. Unfortunately for him, many of these discontents were to be found in the Life Guards, which enabled Peter's Tsarina to oust him from power and have him offed. Maybe not an idiot or madman, but probably not a competent, shrewd and decisive ruler (it is speculated that if he had not hesitated to strike at once, he might still have been able to quell Catherine's palace revolution with troops loyal to him). Since Catherine "the Great"note  basically sold out the serfs to their landlords, on whose support she depended, there were several peasants' rebellions during her reign. The most serious was led by Yemelian Pugachev, note  who managed to increase his base by announcing that he was in fact Peter III, miraculously escaped from the forces of the Empress. So even in 1773-1775, over a decade after his death, Peter III was a lot more popular than his consort with a lot of people.
  • In 1830, King Charles X of France was overthrown by riots throughout Paris. He declared his 10-year-old grandson Henry to now be King Henry V, with his distant cousin Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orléans, as Regent. However, Henry was still too closely linked to Charles for many revolutionaries to handle, so as a compromise, when the Duke of Orléans went over to the French National Assembly in Paris in his role as Regent they proclaimed him to be King instead. The Orléans claim was problematic for the Bourbons since his father, Philippe Égalité, voted for the death of the King Louis XVI, his own cousin (and would himself later be executed during the Reign of Terror).
  • Inverted by the Dutch King William III (r. 1849-1890), who was essentially the rightful heir to the wrong throne. After the 1848 revolutions that occurred across Europe, his father King William II, who was fearing for the survival of the dynasty, had reluctantly agreed to a sweeping political reform that massively curtailed the powers of the monarch in favor of the elected body of representatives in Parliament. William III was strongly opposed to this since he wanted to rule as an absolute monarch like his grandfather King William I. It took many years to convince him to even accept his role, kicking and screaming all the way, but he proved a notoriously prickly person who flouted protocol all the time, earning him the nickname "King Gorilla".
  • The reign of Louis XIV over France was described by Voltaire as an "eternally memorable age" for the heights of influence and power France acquired during Louis's time on the throne. However, Louis's heir, the Louis le Grand Dauphin (the French crown prince) lacked his father's drive and intelligence. The Dauphin was a Kindhearted Simpleton who rarely participated in affairs of state and was said to be able to pass a whole day just siting idly in a chair. The king had nothing but contempt for his son, and it was said that the worst way to politically harm someone was for the Dauphin to commend him to the king. The Dauphin died of smallpox before taking the throne, and when the king died he was replaced by his great-grandson Louis XV, who proved to be just as wrongful an heir as the Dauphin ever could.
  • Similar to the above, George III was an effective and respected king until his later insanity - at which point he was replaced by his son George IV, who was generally known for being lazy, fat and little concerned with anything other than his own pleasure. His younger brother William IV "Sailor Bill" was a much more productive and stable ruler.
  • Rightful heir King Duncan and usurping King Macbeth (until Duncan's son reclaimed the throne from Macbeth and his stepson) of 11th Century Scotland had their moralities generally reversed by William Shakespeare in order to appeal to Shakespeare's most famous sponsor and direct descendant of Duncan, King James.
  • Philip II of Spain is viewed this way in the Netherlands. The Habsburgs controlled lands covering most of Western Europe, including Spain, Italy, and much of the Holy Roman Empire. However, Charles V was viewed very favorably, in part because of his personal ties to the Low Countries (he was born in Ghent) and his relatively conciliatory rule. When the Netherlands passed to the Spanish branch, Philip was viewed as a foreign king whose preference for top-down absolute monarchy and the Divine Right of Kings clashed strongly with the parochial interests of the small Netherlandish statelets. The Protestant Reformation exacerbated this, with the iconoclasm against Catholic churches prompting Philip to institute draconian measures in response, resulting in The Eighty Years' War.
  • Speaking of Spain, Ferdinand VII was at first welcomed back to the throne with open arms when the Bonapartes were toppled, but rapidly proved to be an egotistical, incompetent autocrat. By the time his reign finished, Spain was rapidly losing its colonies and its prestige, and was facing political upheavals and civil wars that some argue it still hasn't recovered from.