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There is a rightful holder of some position of authority -- the throne, the presidency, the chairmanship of a company, or something else. But someone with a lesser claim, or no claim at all, in some way manages to grab the position.

How this is done varies. The Usurper (usually a he) might have managed to drive out the rightful holder in disgrace. He might have managed to kill the previous holder while the rightful heir is unable to respond. He might have pulled off a classical coup. However, one thing is always in common: the move to power is always done clandestinely, except maybe in the final phases of a coup.

The displaced and rightful holder may end up as Man in the Iron Mask, Noble Fugitive, The Exile. May cause a Civil War. Often appears with The Evil Prince or the Evil Vizier.

Fiction being fiction, this is often bad, and it's usually Truth in Television as well, though for different reasons. See The Wrongful Heir to the Throne.


Examples

Film - Animated

  • Played with in The Emperors 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.
  • Scar from The Lion King, who murdered his brother Mufasa for the throne of Pride Rock.

Literature

  • A Song of Ice and Fire -- Robert Baratheon is referred to as "The Usurper" by supporters of the Targaryens, the royal family Robert overthrew. The efforts of Daenarys, only surviving heir to the late King Aerys, to reclaim the throne she feels rightfully hers is a major subplot of the series.
  • Conan the Barbarian -- the novella A Witch Shall Be Born, with Salome to Taramis.
  • Chronicles of the Kencyrath -- Kenan to Randiroc, as Lord of one of the Highborn houses.
  • Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey -- King Charlis, but subverted.
  • The Videssos cycle by Harry Turtledove -- Ortaias Sphrantzes in An Emperor for the Legion.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda -- Another subversion where the imposter/usurper is better fitted to rule than the rightful heir.
  • In Wyrd Sisters, Tomjon the true heir to the throne of Lancre has no interest in becoming king and wants to become an actor instead. 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 he's the queen's illegitimate son rather than the King's and as such has no claim to the throne.
  • In 1824: The Arkansas War, Henry Clay manages to claim the presidency in ways that were not necessarily unconstitutional, but definitely unethical.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Nintendo Adventure gamebooks had one of these, believe it or not. Luigi is kidnapped/asked by Bowser to try and find his daughter Wendy, who's mysteriously disappeared. When Luigi investigates, he actually finds that Wendy has snuck off to start her own rebellion, stealing the magic wands belonging to her brothers. She then plans to combine the seven wands into one super wand and overthrow Bowser to rule the Koopas in his place.
  • In Transformers Exiles Ransack wanted to be the ruler of Velocitron by any means necessary, after losing his chances in a race twice, he decides to do it by force, plunging Velocitron into civil war.

Tabletop Games

  • In the Star Fleet Universe, one of the Kzinti nobles felt he was most qualified to become the next Patriarch (Kzinti head of state), and that the previous Patriarch was still alive and well was only a technicallity, becoming known in history as The Usurper. When he was defeated (or was he, some think he won and assumed the idenity of his predecessor), he fled and attempted to destroy himself, only to find an unknown sanctuary. His grandson tried again, having proudly kept the title, as his father did before him.

Theatre

  • Claudius of Shakespeare's Hamlet, who murdered his brother, the old King Hamlet, for the throne. Or not, depending on the interpretation you watch. Sometimes Claudius is the typical evil despot and Hamlet is the rightful heir, fighting for the powers of decency. Other interpretations imply that Claudius is a decent ruler with a semi-legitimate claim to the throne (being the dead king's brother), and further that Hamlet would be a terrible ruler, since he might actually just be insane.

Western Animation


The Other Wiki has a list of historical usurpers, not all of them wholly bad.

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