Follow TV Tropes


Succession Crisis / Literature

Go To

Succession Crises in literature.

  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Dragonriders of Pern: A few of them occur throughout the series:
    • A minor one in Dragonflight, where Lessa, Fax and F'lar are all intriguing over who has the right to rule Ruatha Hold. Lessa is the (unknown) dispossessed rightful heir to Ruatha, Fax is the usurper, and F'lar unseats Fax, but in favor of Fax's son Jaxom rather than in Lessa's favor. In F'lar's defense, nobody but Lessa herself knew at the time that she was farther up the line of succession (and she'd kept it that way to keep herself safe).
    • In the Harper Hall trilogy, Meron deliberately avoids naming a successor as he's dying (he wants a bloody succession fight to spite everyone), until Robinton uses reverse psychology to get him to select the relative he thinks nobody wants - his grand-nephew Deckter, who proves to be a much more reasonable leader.
    • In All The Weyrs Of Pern, Oterel's death requires the other lords to vote on his successor. Thanks to petty political bickering, they have a lot of trouble getting consensus on the one son who isn't blatantly an idiot or wastrel (and who was also initially banished by his father after a disagreement, but it was retracted two weeks before Oterel died because he'd learned of and was proud of what Ranrel accomplished while he was away).
    • The manner of resolving these changes across the books. In Dragonflight F'lar resolves the matter of Fax's succession by himself. In Dragondrums the matter of the Nabol succession requires an explicitly named successor. All the Weyrs has a Council of the combined Lords and Craftmasters electing a new Lord when there is no named successor, with the chosen Lord being appointed after the meeting is over. Skies has another Council-appointed Lord Holder, only this one is appointed moments after being elected by the Council, and is invited to sit on the Council as a full participant for the remainder of the session.
  • 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.
  • Enchanted Forest Chronicles: The villains try to create one in at least two kingdoms.
    • The Mountains of Morning are ruled by the King of the Dragons, but rather than their naming a chosen successor, all dragons of age gather at the Ford of Whispering Snakes and take a special test, to move Colin's Stone from the Ford to the Vanishing Mountain. The stone itself selects the King, giving off a faint vibration that gets stronger and stronger until the dragon either is forced to drop the Stone, be shaken to pieces, or not feel it at all; the one who doesn't feel it and thus makes the entire trip without dropping the Stone is the one who's named King. The wizards later kill the sitting King and use magic to manipulate the Stone so their chosen candidate will be able to carry it; he drops it as soon as the spell is broken, and the rightful King is able to take the throne.
    • The King of the Enchanted Forest is chosen by the family sword, which is linked directly to the Forest's magic; only blood members can use it, and only then if the air, earth and water of the Enchanted Forest, and the fire of the Sword itself, acknowledge them (Mendanbar notes at one point that the sword doesn't always choose the sitting King's oldest son, and considers himself lucky to have followed his father onto the throne) and thus let them directly use the Forest's magic. Family members who haven't been acknowledged (such as the King's wife) can hold the sword but not use it; non-family members can't even do that for more than a second or two (as Morwen discovers when she grabs hold of it to save Cimorene and it feels like she's grabbed the hot end of a poker). The wizards later try to seize the power of the sword and Forest, thinking that one of them can become King if the existing line of Kings is ended. They fail because they didn't realize Mendanbar had a son, who stops them and frees Mendanbar from his prison.
  • The False Princess had one in its backstory, when a prince challenged his older twin sister for the throne because he thought she would be unfit to rule. He lost, and his descendants were barred from the throne. The antagonist is a descendant of his who is attempting to put her daughter on the throne.
  • 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 the book, Giannine Bellisario, must play the game until coronation—or she dies. In real life. (This is not normally the case, but the game's safety systems had been damaged by outsiders shortly after Giannine went into the game.)
  • 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.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • One incident mentioned in the backstory of the universe involves the daughter of a previous Emperor of the Andermani Empire stopping a civil war between her incompetent cousins 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 her brother, 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. Then Honor turns up alive, which lets her retake her Grayson title without incident but creates a new problem with her former Manticoran title. The Queen neatly resolves this by giving her a new, higher title (duchess as opposed to countess).
  • 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 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 The 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 is basically an unfurling, interrelated and churning mess of this/these. As are hefty-sized portions of the backstory, too.
    • 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. Other two contenders are Robert's brothers, Stannis and Renly, with each of them claiming the title of the king. Stannis has a better claim being first in line of succession if you renounce Robert's children as bastards, whilst Renly has a larger political support. 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.
    • This is happening in the Vale in the series proper as well. Jon Arryn, the late Lord of the Vale, was married three times, and only managed to produce one living heir with his last wife, Lysa Tully. And possibly due to damage done to Lysa's womb in a forced abortion in her youth the child, Robert Arryn, is sickly and weak, and not expected to live long. When Jon Arryn dies, leaving Robert as the Lord of the Vale Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish takes advantage of the impending crisis by marrying the widowed Lysa, who always loved him, and killing her in order to become Lord Protector of the Vale until Robert comes of age. This leads to many different parties vying to oust Petyr and take the title of Lord Protector for theirselves. Currently, Petyr is planning to wed Sansa Stark to Robert's heir, a distant cousin named Harry Hardyng, in order to further cement his influence.
    • 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 is killed by one of his salt wives a few years after the Dance of the Dragons ends, he leaves two sons behind, but both are too young to rule (and their mothers are salt wives, not rock wives, so they're not allowed to rule as regents). Before long, his various sisters, uncles, and cousins are propping one or the other of his sons up against each other as the rightful heir, while a pretender claiming to be descended from House Hoare pops up as well. It takes the Westerlands' invasion of the Iron Islands to end this mess.
    • 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.
    • After Jeyne Arryn dies childless early in Aegon III's reign, three different cousins from different branches of the family are soon each claiming to be her true heir and fighting for control of the Vale. When the claimants all refuse royal arbitration, the king's regents finally have enough and send in troops to end the conflict.
  • 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 most of them are quite willing to push behind Ivan's claims to avoid it themselves), 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.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: