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

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

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

...pity that the new sucks.

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

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

In the event of the old ruler trying to do something about the successor to ensure this doesn't happen, you have an Inadequate Inheritor.

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

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Sketchy Successor include:

Anime and Manga

  • Defied on The Twelve Kingdoms as the next ruler is not necessarilly the child of the previous king, but rather has to be chosen by the Kirin each time the previous one dies, as the fact that they are given nigh-immortality when they become kings/queens means that the king will live forever as long as they don't screw things up, so usually they don't have to worry about who'll be the successor for a few centuries. However, this part isn't always true. Youko's predecessor only ruled for about six years; in comparison, En-Ou has ruled for more than 500 years.



  • The proverbially wise King Solomon in the Old Testament of The Bible was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. The first item on Rehoboam's agenda was to so piss off 10 of the 12 tribes he was governing that they rebelled against him and split the kingdom of Israel in two permanently. He subsequently allowed the Egyptians to capture Jerusalem and take all Solomon's treasure.
  • Robin Hood has King John standing in for Good King Richard.
  • Happens at the end of Oscar Wilde's short story "The Star-Child". The title character, who used to be cruel, has learned to be a good person, and found out that he is the king. Due to the lessons he has learned, he is a good king and brings peace and plenty to the kingdom, but the Happy Ending is mitigated by the last lines:

 Yet ruled he not long, so great had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing, for after the space of three years he died. And he who came after him ruled evilly.

  • Defied in Heralds of Valdemar series, where King Valdemar prayed to every God for a way to ensure that his successors would always be worthy people, and then two white horses jumped out of the grove on the palace grounds, chose him and his son and from then on the Heralds were created, all chosen by Companions which ensured that they were capable and good o heart, and only a chosen person could inherit the throne.
    • Even with the above safeguards, the 'not quite as competent' variant comes into play during the Last Herald Mage trilogy. Elspeth the Peacemaker managed to use diplomacy and marriage alliances to avoid major problems with neighboring realms. However her son predeceased her in a freak accident, and when the crown fell to her young grandson everything started going south
    • Played straight though with the King of Hardorn who was a pretty good king and ally of Valdemar, until his son Ancar killed him and took over, started oppressing and pretty much enslaving his people and began a war with Valdemar AND Karse.
  • Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Mallory had as King Arthur's successor a relative nobody named Constantine, the son of one of the lesser knights, no less. Given that, whether historical or legendary, Arthur's Britain was quickly supplanted by the Saxons he opposed, his successor may have had no footprint at all.
  • This trope starts off the action in Harald, with the death of the king who forged the alliance that kept The Empire at bay and his replacement's incompetence.
  • Though it varies a bit based on the book, the eponymous Wizard of The Wizard of Oz series is depicted as an incompetent charlatan who sent Oz backwards under his leadership, which he usurped from the previous monarchy. The theme is expanded in greater detail in the Wicked books.


  • The late King Hamlet (from Hamlet) is considered a ruler among rulers. King Claudius assassinated him to get the job and spends his reign doing nothing but trying to keep people from becoming suspicious.
    • Also inverted at the end of Hamlet, after everyone has died. The Danish crown is passed down to King Fortinbras, monarch of Norway. Throughout the story, it is mentioned that Denmark and Norway are having conflicts, but by the end, the entire Danish royal family is dead and Fortinbras is implied to be an improvement over Claudius.

Video Games

  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Maric Theirin is remembered as a lot better King of Ferelden than his son Cailan. Subverted with Alistair if you "harden" his personality and make him King: in that case, he becomes a ruler much better than everyone expected, perhaps on par with his dad.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • Marcus Aurelius was the last in the line of Five Good Emperors of The Roman Empire's golden century. Lacking a good successor (like the four emperors before him, who always adopted theirs), he let his son Commodus take the throne, starting off a long chain of events that led to Rome's fall.
  • King John of England is frequently described as a poor replacement for King Richard the Lionhearted. The truth is, arguably, that neither was much good; King John may have lost disastrously in France and sparked a (noble, not peasant) revolt in his own lands due to exorbitant taxes, but King Richards punitively expensive crusading was the reason why King John had to raise those taxes in the first place. And couldn't have done much for John's French campaigns either. John wasn't a good king by any means, but Richard was arguably just as bad.
    • Probably a straighter example, then, would be both Richard and John playing this trope straight in regards to Henry II.
  • The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, is tremendously popular, to the point of having shrines erected in his honor. Though Thailand has many protests, sometimes violent, the king himself is very very popular. Whoever replaces the king will be far less idealized, whether it's the government at large or a blood successor.
  • Takeda Katsuyori was the type whose father Shingen was a genius at war. Sadly, Katsuyori could not hold Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu at bay, and he and his immediate family committed harakiri upon his defeat.
  • Richard Cromwell, heir to Oliver Cromwell. The English deposed him and restored the Monarchy.
    • Which gives the impression that they thought,"At least HE was a Badass whatever else he was. Richard is not. And if we must have Nepotism we might as well have a king and be done with it."
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