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Atia:: Well congratulations, you're good as king now.

Octavian: First Citizen.
Rome

This is a variation of The Emperor. He's a dictator who controls half the universe with an iron fist. No one dares to oppose him. He can order a planet destroyed and no one will so much as try to object. You will probably expect his title to be three pages of Badass Boast, probably ending with something pompous like "The Magnificent." But no. It is short, simple, and unpretentious, quite possibly little more than a job descriptor. His authority doesn't come from his title; it comes from himself.

Also, it's a perfect way to escape responsibility. You don't rule anything, after all; you're just the First Citizen. It can also demonstrate how well you've stayed attuned to the common people and their needs. The pretense that he is just a Permanent Elected Official is common.

Truth in Television, and Older Than Feudalism -- indeed, perhaps more common in Real Life than fiction.

See also Modest Royalty; he is prone to be the rare villainous example of this, as well. Contrast The Magnificent, I Have Many Names and Authority in Name Only.

Often found ruling a ~People's Republic Of Tyranny~.

Examples of Just the First Citizen include:


Literature

  • The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov has a series of powerful offices and personages, all distinct from one another, that match the trope exactly.
    • The Mule is almost the Trope Namer, as he styles himself only "First Citizen of the Union" despite complete domination of 1/10 of the entire Galaxy and impressive mental powers. Part of this stemmed from his innate inferiority complex, as he was aware that no matter how impressively he titled himself he could never change the fact that he was physically misshapen and almost comically deformed. At least two others claimed the title after the Mule's death, but they had neither the personal or imperial power that the Mule possessed.
    • In later books, the highest title, which commanded the most respect and ruled over more territory and people than the Mule ever did, was simply "Mayor of Terminus". It remained from the times when the Foundation was but a single city on an undeveloped world and persisted at least into the times of the Foundation ruling a third of the Milky Way.
    • The head of the Second Foundation is "First Speaker", which is a literal job-description: He gets to talk first at meetings.
    • The Commdor of Korell claims that Commdor simply means "the first citizen of our Republic".
  • The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld series, whose title simply means "member of a political family".
    • It does seem to be a real elected office, though: in Night Watch it's mentioned that the guilds elect him, and the Patrician has an official residence.
  • To some extent, the Stewards of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings. Though they aren't the kings, they control the city much as a king would and in fact the Steward Denethor of "Return of the King" didn't want to give up his title because of the power.
    • The Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien. She controls everything that happens and can read the minds of intruders into her realm, keeps her people safe from Sauron, and is one of the oldest beings in the world, but is simply called the Lady or the White Lady.
      • The White Lady is actually pretty lofty considering White is used in the context of Holy or Divine.
    • Elrond, while "mighty among Elves and Men" and fairly powerful, is simply called "Master Elrond".
  • The Black Company's first (arguable) Big Bad. Sorceress-queen with near-Physical God powers. Ruler of an entire continent, and conquering more. Known simply as The Lady.
  • In Stephen King's The Stand, Randall Flagg refers to himself as "Leader of the People and First Citizen" when issuing proclamations.
  • Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court styles himself The Boss.
  • In Tik-Tok of Oz, the eighth Oz book, there is a land where everyone is a king or queen except that the guy with the position of ruling over all these kings and queens is "the Private Citizen". Even he gets a fancy title, namely "the Great Jinjin," but his subordinates still get to have the regal titles that the Private Citizen doesn't.
  • Lorenzo de Medici in The Agony And The Ectasy, as he was in Real Life.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, the top U.S. governmental position is "Head of State," and its occupant is always referred to simply as "Mr. Thompson"; unimpressive titles both. It's a matter of speculation exactly why the United States no longer has a president in this Alternate History (have they formally abolished the US Constitution?); though Rand said that she wanted characters like Mr. Thompson to seem like mediocrities, and calling him "the President" would have given him a dignity he wasn't supposed to have.
    • Supporting the "Constitution was abolished" theory is the fact that one character is introduced as "Majority Leader of the National Legislature." The US Congress has two chambers, so no single person could ever be the majority leader.
  • In the Codex Alera, Alera is ruled over by the First Lord, who is presented as the "first among equals" with the rest of the Realm being ruled by High Lords who preside over each major city, and the First Lord officially being the ruler of Alera Imperia, the chairman of the Senate, and the executive commander of the combined Legions in times of war. Unofficially, the First Lord rules over all of Alera and the High Lords bow to him. This causes trouble when the Succession Crisis erupts.
  • Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Robert Pierre of the People's Republic of Haven uses the title Chairman of The Committee of Public Safety or simply Citizen Chairman.
  • In the last book of the Mistborn trilogy, a minor villain has turned the capital of the Northern Dominance into a Dystopia where former nobles are gathered up, locked in a building, then burned alive. Due to his "anti-noble" stance, claiming a noble title would be counterproductive, so he instead calls himself the "Citizen".


Live-Action TV

  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After Gul Dukat takes over the Cardassian government, he retains the title "Gul", roughly equivalent to a colonel or navy captain. Sisko says: "Still calling yourself 'Gul'? I'm surprised you haven't promoted yourself back to legate by now." Dukat responds: "I prefer the title 'Gul'; so much more hands-on than 'Legate'. And less pretentious than the other alternatives: President, Emperor, First Minister..."
    • Truth in Television: Colonel Gadaffi, the dictator of Libya for over forty years, who never did promote himself to General, even though nobody would have stopped him.
      • Not to mention the recent dictator of Guinea, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. And that's an army captain, not a naval one (equivalent to lieutenant rank).
    • The Terok Nor novels suggest that, having served under a succession of Legates who are little more than Obstructive Bureaucrats, he's developed something of a grudge against the position.
  • Similarly, in the Original Series, Kirk & co. come across a Roman Empire-analogue planet where Kirk's buddy Captain Merrick has become First Citizen Merikus.
    • Actually somewhat odd, as it's clear he has no power whatsoever. It appears the only reason for keeping him around is to lure other Federation ships to restock their gladiator supply.
  • In the re-imagined Flash Gordon series, Ming is no longer "Emperor Ming the Merciless" who dressed like rulers of Ancient China. Instead, he prefers a military uniform and the self-appointed title of "Benevolent Father". His subjects, though, still occasionally call him "Ming the Merciless" behind his back. And his daughter is still called Princess Aura.
  • Averted with Citizen G'Kar in Babylon 5. He was offered absolute power for organizing the Narn Resistance and participating in the assassination of Emperor Cartagia, but he refused and only accepted his old position of an ambassador. Nevertheless, his fans continue to pester him until the end of the series.
  • An almost literal example in The Prisoner, where every citizen of the Village is known by number rather than by name. The official in charge of the Village is known simply as "Number Two." (The nature of Number One is one of the arc mysteries.)
    • The 2009 remake takes it even further, with there actually being no "Number One" and Number Two genuinely being the sole ruler. Apparently, the lack of a "Number One" is to remind the Villagers that they are all public servants, even their leader. (Apart from 2, the closest thing to a 1 is his wife, identified as M2.)
  • In HBO's Rome, this is Octavian's Insistent Terminology name for his position. A consummate politician, he knows that Romans still despise the notion of a king and thus makes himself one in all but name.
  • Blake's 7: First Citizen Hower of planet Obsidian.


Tabletop RPG

  • Earthdawn sees the leader of the globe-spanning Theran Empire being named the First Governor instead of "emperor." However, this is an Enforced Trope -- one of the founders of Thera summoned several massive earth elementals to create a Sphinx statue that would sit outside the First Governor's palace, watching him for signs of corruption (including making Thera into an empire), and would go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge at its discretion. Not taking up the Name of Emperor is a safeguard against that, even though Thera essentially HAS become The Empire. The also make sure to make the expansive First Governor's Mansion mostly invisible from the outside, though it's unlikely such a powerful magical construct would be fooled.


Videogames

  • Colonel Santiago from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, leader of the Crazy Prepared Spartan Federation. Other examples include Chairman Yang, Commissioner Lal, Sister Miriam, Captain Svensgard, CEO Morgan, Provost Zakharov, Foreman Domai... Big-shot titles are more of an exception than the norm, even by the leaders of the alien factions.
    • Zakharov's actual title in-game is Academician, which is the Russian equivalent of the Western honorific Doctor or Professor.
    • Chairman is a typical title of Communist leaders, like Mao and Khrushchev.
    • Given the Data Angels' anarchistic nature, it can be assumed that Sinder Roze's title Datajack just means "hacker."
    • The only true grand title is Prophet Cha Dawn. Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five is debatable, given that these are machines with no delusions of grandeur.
    • The reason Domai is only known as a Foreman (he doesn't even get a first name) is because his faction is made up of escaped drones (i.e. lowly workers). Naturally, they wouldn't accept anything higher than a title equivalent to "shift supervisor", meaning he's their immediate superior, but that's it.
    • Given that the Morganites are, essentially, a Mega Corp, Morgan's title of CEO means quite a lot.
  • Lynette, First Citizen of Vault City in Fallout 2.
    • Oddly enough, while the title fits, she makes it very clear that she is the leader (more clear than it seems she actually is - she says autocratic rule is absolutely necessary for a government to function, yet she can be overruled by a Council).
  • Chairman Drek from the first Ratchet & Clank game. Runs an organisation that may as well run the entire Blarg homeworld, not to mention is in charge of a lot of there military power. Subverted more and more during the course of the game as he keeps getting more and more prefixes until he's "Ultimate Supreme Executive Chairman Drek" despite how he's not actually gaining anything for the title promotion.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, Nines Rodriguez is very insistent that he is not a leader of the Anarchs, but just a soldier that's survived longer than any other (given that the Anarchs are, well, anarchists, pretending otherwise would be very hypocritical). Despite this, he's obviously the de facto leader of the Anarchs in downtown L.A., since they all look to him for leadership and follow his advice.
  • Inversion in Half Life. Gordon Freeman's crimes have rendered him Anti-Citizen One.
  • In Allods Online, Yasker, the ruler and archmage of the Empire, is styled simply "Leader". Not Emperor, not even Archmage.
  • Played for laughs in the case of Tabitha in Fallout: New Vegas. As a crazed Super Mutant who controls the "State of Utobitha" (AKA Black Mountain), her self-appointed title is "Best Friend Tabitha".


Webcomics

  • Girl Genius: Despite reluctantly controlling most of Central and Eastern Europe, Klaus Wulfenbach seems content with the lowly title of Baron.
    • He also uses this to rub everyone's noses in the fact that yes, they're princes and dukes and whatnot, but a minor house was the one that finally fixed everything.
    • The von Mekkans are seneschals of Heterodyne Lords, and this responsibility includes running the city. Since Wulfenbach conquered Mechanicsburg, they are heads of the shadow government, holding the title of ringers of the Doom Bell.


Western Animation

  • Gargoyles provides a somewhat less villainous example with Oberon, whose sole title is "Lord of Avalon," even though for all intents and purposes he's a Physical God who rules the Third Race as king. His sense of egalitarianism seems especially odd, since as a rule he's not exactly humble.
    • Word of God is that the title is Oberon's attempt at humility, and he does consider himself to be humble- he's just too arrogant to be any good at it. The rest of the Third Race puts up with him because their previous ruler, Oberon's mother Queen Mab, was The Caligula outright, and even Oberon looks good next to her.
  • Dolf in Alfred J Kwak does this when he creates a National Crows Party and uses it to seize power in Great Waterland, in a clear satire of the rise and fall of Nazism. Like Hitler's "Führer", he demands that others refer to him exclusively as "The President" or "President Dolf". Note that he does this in a country that has apparantly been a monarchy for many hundreds if not more years, and where this title doesn't seem to have been widely if at all used prior to Dolf's adoption of it.
  • Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic is, in theory, just one resident of the town of Ponyville, which has a mayor (who is, of course, a mare). In practice, however, it often seems that Twilight wields the real power in town, while the mayor is a figurehead.
    • This is often justified in fanon by pointing out that she's the personal student of their monarch, and is treated like an envoy from her to the town.


Real Life

  • The first Roman Emperors called themselves simply "The First" (Princeps, from which the word "Prince" is derived), after the example of Octavian. The title "Caesar" was of course taken from Julius Caesar but only applied later to the ruler. Augustus was more of a puppetmaster than an explicit dictator (unlike Caesar), seemingly being given, in the end about a dozen individual powers by the senate. I.e. he was de facto Emperor, but de jure just "the first citizen" and the first speaker of the senate.
    • To paraphrase Augustus' own words 'he had no more power than any other magistrate but exceeded all in authority'
    • Speaking of "emperor," the original title (imperator) simply meant "commander" or "general."
    • The possible trope namer, Augustus, was a partial subversion. Although he often used the title princeps, he managed to rack up a pretty long list of lofty superlatives by the end of his life. The one he is most known for, "Augustus", is sometimes translated as "the revered one". The one title he deliberately shunned, however, was "rex", the Roman word for king.
      • Augustus was not a title, or superlative, but an honorific name, it evolved into something of a title over the centuries.
    • In the Roman Republic, "Dictator" was an actual constitutional office -- but one ordinarily left vacant. After the last king was overthrown, the Roman nobles, jealous and suspicious of each other, always feared one would make himself a de facto king, so they built a lot of checks and balances into the system -- e.g., all magistracies with imperium (a combination of executive and judicial power) were collegial; there were always two consuls, chief magistrates, and they served a one-year term and held power in alternating months. Tribunes of the Plebs, ten of them, each had the power to veto any executive action of any kind. But, if there were a serious military emergency, the Senate would elect a dictator, a sole executive with supreme authority, who could pull all the organs of the ramshackle Republican government in the same direction for the duration. A dictator was not subject to tribunician veto and, unlike other magistrates, was immune to prosecution for his acts in office after stepping down; but his power was limited by time -- a dictatorship could last only six months. The office was designed strictly to deal with foreign military threats; but, in the late Republic, after Lucius Cornelius Sulla defeated Gaius Marius in a civil war, he had himself made dictator -- the first in 120 years -- in absence of foreign threat, for the purpose of revising Rome's constitution to his liking. Later, after Julius Caesar defeated Pompey, he had the Senate make him "Dictator Perpetuo," with no time limit. After Caesar was assassinated, Marc Antony had the dictatorship formally abolished. After Octavian defeated Antony, he declined the title -- but, of course, he held the same power as a dictator, for life.
      On the other hand, Cincinnatus was dictator, so it worked before then, and before Sulla no dictator tried to bend the rules pertaining to the office itself.
    • The title of Princeps is a contraction of Princeps Senatus, or "First of Senate", that is, its speaker. It was a distinguished, but not very influential office, which is why Augustus actuall started calling himself that, though it did hold some key powers.
  • When the Zand dynasty ruled Persia, they never actually used the title of "Shah", instead styling themselves as Vakil e-Ra'aayaa (Advocate of the People or People's President). May also overlap with People's Republic of Tyranny, since they were still absolute monarchs, albeit ones with a reputation for benevolency.
  • Josef Stalin zig-zags this by playing it straight and averting it at the same time. For all his power, all the control, all the spy networks and the state he built, he was simply the General Secretary of the Communist Party; his rivals during his rise to power jokingly called him "Comrade Card-Index", as the official role of the General Secretary in the early party was keeping the membership rolls. [1] Someone stated that a title that would reflect his real power would have to be something like "Pope of the Communist church; Czar of Russia; CEO of Soviet Inc." In addition, he also allowed himself to be called simply "Vozhd" (leader/boss) after his fiftieth birthday celebration in 1929, and was given the title "Generalissimus" (the highest possible military rank), although he never wore the insignia. On the other hand, years before becoming General Secretary he did change his birth name from Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili to the Russian equivalent of Joe Steel. During his personality cult he also accepted an immense number of grandiose titles, including "Coryphaeus of Science", "Father of Nations", "Brilliant Genius of Humanity", "Great Architect of Communism", "Gardener of Human Happiness", and many more.
  • And the rulers of the Aztec called themselves "Tlatoani", which means "speaker"
  • Maximilien Robespierre, deputy and Member of the Committee of Public Safety.
    • And shortly thereafter, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. He later gave up all pretense and just crowned himself Emperor.
  • Kim Jong-il was merely the chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission; the actual office of president gets cycled round other people every year or so.
    • He also used "Supreme Commander", "Party Chairman", "Dear Leader", and "Great Leader". His father holds the post of Eternal President, even though he died in 1994. Basically the exact opposite of this trope.
  • The United States "President" (i.e. "the one who presides") was originally conceived as one of those. The style of the King was "By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, Prince-Elector of Hannover, Duke of Brunswick". The longest title the President gets is "the President of the United States" and is generally addressed merely as "Mister President".
    • The style of "Mister President" was chosen by George Washington. (This was in response to the attempts of his vice-president, John Adams, to get the Senate to vote Washington the title of "His Democratic Highness" or possibly "His Elective Majesty". The Senate eventually resolved that Adams would receive the title of "His Rotundity." Adams did not make friends easily.)
  • "Prime Minister", in those countries where the government leader has that title, is just the first minister among equals (primus / prima inter pares) in parliament, no matter how much power (s)he actually has.
    • It goes further than that. In the UK, the title was originally meant as an insult.
      • Actually the UK Prime Minister is something of an aversion: the Prime Minister always officially holds the far more badass title "First Lord of the Treasury", which reflects the way they actually exercise their power.
    • Some, but not all, of the countries with that office also have some form of monarch with no real power. First Minister to the Queen as it were. France has both a First Minister and a President, with different routes to the different posts.
    • The New Russia is actually a presidential republic, but during the Medvedev presidency, the guy in power was still Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Not because he was the Prime Minister, but because he was Vladimir Putin.
      • And now he's back to being President, since the Russian constitution only has a limit on the number of consecutive terms in office. Basically, he can fairly easily be President for 2 terms, then put a puppet in his place for a term, and get "re-elected" after that.
  • The title of "Führer", which Adolf Hitler adopted when he became leader of the Nazi Party and elevated to a government title when they took power in Germany can be simply translated to "guide", although it is generally translated as "leader", which is more in line with fascist philosophy. Although not even nearly as ubiquitously used as Führer, Hitler also awarded himself a number of bombastic titles over the years designed specifically to invoke this trope, including "First Soldier of the German Reich", "First Worker of the New Germany", and "Supreme Judge of the German People". In something of an overlap with Modest Royalty, Hitler's ceremonial uniform was also much more staid than you would expect from a man in the process of conquering the world. He wore a plain uniform with only the awards that he earned in World War One, which looks funny in contrast to, say, Goering, who swanked it up with silks and furs and every medal he could lay his fat hands on.
  • And before him Mussolini did the same thing with "Duce".
    • And General Franco - "Caudillo"
      • Although Mussolini (as is often forgotten) was merely a Prime Ministerial figure and (unlike Hitler) was never head of state in Italy, that being King Victor Emmanuel II. Mussolini was only ever head of state of the short-lived Nazi puppet regime (the 'Italian Social Republic') following his ousting from power in most of Italy. However, he merely retained his title of "Duce" even in this situation.
      • Mussolini was also the commander-in-chief of the Voluntary Militia for National Security (otherwise known as the Blackshirts), but his official rank was "First Honorary Corporal."
      • Franco is an aversion, he dumped on himself as many titles as he could think of, including "invictus", "Generalissimo of the Armies of land, sea, and air", and "Glorious Caudillo of the National Rising".
  • In 1653 the English Parliament offered Oliver Cromwell the crown and, after two weeks of deliberation, he turned it down (twice) and instead accepted a republican office with equivalent powers - Lord Protector. This was mainly to try and bring in more support for the deeply unpopular parlamentarians (most of whom had not gone into the civil war wanting to remove Charles I, Cromwell included) by creating a more monarchical system to bring in more and broader civilian political support, while not provoking the army who were dead set against any revival of the monarchy by that point. The post was still referred to as 'His Highness', and a second investiture of Cromwell was a royal coronation in all but name.
  • The shogun of feudal Japan, whose title simply meant "general" and was condensed from a longer one meaning roughly "commander-in-chief against the Eastern Barbarians" (i.e. the poor, beleaguered Ainu).
    • Take note that besides Regent for Life, another precedent in Japanese politics is the position holder will retire from the position to hold real power.
  • The original Muslim state, the Caliphate, was one of these: "Caliph" comes from the Arabic word "Khalifah", which is Arabic for "successor" (to the Prophet, that is). Ruling an empire that stretched from Spain to Central Asia, the Caliph was constantly reminded that he was just a half-decent replacement for the plain illiterate orphan who had founded the religion.
    • In the early days of the Caliphate, humility was taken seriously. Omar, the second Caliph, used to tool around Medina in a shabby old robe and gave away nearly all of his (gigantic) income to the relief of old soldiers and their orphans.
    • The Prophet himself. "Messenger of God" was the only title he held. And even then, he wasn't even the Head of State. The Qur'an explicitly states that GOD holds the title "King of the Realm". Meaning that the Prophet ruled as the equivalent of a Governor-General (like in Australia).
  • Popes have always signed their letters as "the servant of the servants of Christ," even back in the days when they ruled half of Italy and were carried around everywhere in fancy thrones/sedan chairs.
  • In French absolutism (Louis XIV etc.), the king was also called the first servant of the country.
  • Muammar al-Gaddafi hadn't held any formal position of power since resigning as prime minister of Libya in 1972 -- however, he was dictator all the way up until 2011, and was often referred to as "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" or "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution." This was taken to absurd levels during the recent civil war. Gaddafi kept insisting that he could not step down because there was nothing to step down from.
  • The Medici family ruled Florence like this during the Italian Renaissance. Florence was a republic, and its people took pride in their freedom and democracy; which didn't stop the Medicis from becoming de facto monarchs, since they used their enormous banking finances in order to buy the loyalty of every important office-holder. Hence, Cosimo and Lorenzo made all of the decisions without ever holding a public office. (However, after 1530, the Habsburg family gained political control over Florence, and thus turned the Medicis into hereditary dukes, thus shattering the illusion of "just the first citizen".)
  • In ancient Macedonia the king was the "First among equals", and the king's Companions tended to simply address them by name. People kicked up a big fuss when Alexander the Great adopted the customs of the defeated Persians (i.e. asking them to bow etc...)

Notes

  1. Because of Stalin's use of this trope, the de facto leader during the history of the U.S.S.R. was always the person filling this post, regardless of whether or not that person was also the Premier.
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