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My parents were rather...traditional. They wanted the heir and the spare, and I was left in the cold.
—Sebastian, Dragon Age II
In history books you will occasionally see references to the term "an heir and a spare" which reflects the desire of kings and queens of the time to have at least two male heirs.
"Wait a second..." you ask. "You only need one prince to inherit the throne!"
Yes, true. But we're talking about medieval times here, where child mortality was through the roof even for the rich. Even if you got two children to survive past the age of five, they could still get a nasty illness, or get killed in a training or hunting accident, or even be killed by plotting traitors who want the throne to themselves. Plus, monarchs were often expected to be warriors, so the heir might be killed not only training for battle but possibly in battle as well. Anything could happen to the oldest child.
The thing is, the spare isn't expecting to inherit the throne. He may not even be trained for it, he may grow up with expectations of being a great general, a great knight, or a skilled administrator, but he's not going to be raised to the throne in the same way his older brother is. So when the worst happens and the spare becomes the heir, cue panic.
"I wasn't prepared for this! I didn't ask for the throne!"
But everyone expects the rightful heir to suddenly step in and do a bang up job in a position that he hasn't been prepared to do, while they still grieve for the loss of their older brother. Note that it doesn't have to be an explicit "older brother dies, younger brother takes over" situation. Something may happen to the heir, forcing a regency. A bastard who never thought of taking the throne due to his illegitimacy may find himself the only one with the claim and the right to combat the Evil Uncle who assassinated his brother and nephews. The closest analogy to this would be the Falling Into the Cockpit scenario in Humongous Mecha shows.
Note that it doesn't count if the spare offed the heir to get to the throne... or even if they are eager to get onto it. They have to show signs of being a Reluctant Ruler who would really rather someone more prepared took over it. If the actual throne holder, in addition to the heir, is lost at the same time, then the Spare ends up finding that he is in the big chair now.
Considering how this is frequently also The Reveal, expect unmarked SPOILERS!!!
- Chagum in Seirei no Moribito is the Emperor's second son, and Spare to the Throne. Unlike most examples he did apparently receive schooling because his older brother suffers from a Soap Opera Disease, and becomes the heir apparent after his brother succumbs to it halfway through the series. In either case, he is remarkably calm (although clearly not-too-pleased) about it.
- To Die at Dawn by Allronix, written for the King's Quest universe. Considering Alexander-Gwydion was a slave less than a fortnight earlier, while his sister was the one prepped for the duty, it's pretty justified.
- One of the central conflicts in The King's Speech is King George VI's ascension to the throne when his older brother abdicates. He felt totally unprepared, largely due to a pretty serious stammer. Of course, this is Based on a True Story (see the real life section below).
- Inverted in The Horse and His Boy—it turns out Shasta the peasant boy is actually one of two twin princes of Archenland, kidnapped as a babe. And since he's the older of the two twins he's next in line for the throne, which delights his brother no end because he never wanted to be the heir (and is by extension now the spare).
- In the same book, hot-headed Prince Rabadash, the heir to the throne of Calorman, is given permission to raid nearby Archenland in pursuit of Queen Susan. His father the Tisroc discusses this trope with his advisor, commenting that he can afford to lose Rabadash and promote a more biddable "spare" in his place.
- In Discworld, King Verence of Lancre was raised as a clown (part of the Fools' Guild) and didn't even realize he was an heir. At first, he exhibited signs of this trope, but later decides it's definitely better than being a Fool and turns out to be quite a good king:
But Verence had kingship thrust upon him. He hadn't been raised to it ... In the role of ruler, then, he had started with the advantage of ignorance. No one had ever told him how to be a king, so he had to find out for himself. He had formed the unusual opinion that the job of a king is to make the kingdom a better place for everyone to live in.
- The Mote in God's Eye. Commander Roderick Blaine was the second oldest son in a noble family, who wanted nothing more than a Navy career and the chance to become Grand Admiral someday. His older brother George was in line to inherit the estates and title when their father retired but was killed in battle, leaving Rod as the heir.
- At the age of eleven, Aral Vorkosigan watched as his mother and older brother were slain by a death squad sent by the mad emperor Yuri. While these events happened before the time of the books, they are of critical importance in the relationship between his father, Count Piotr Vorkosigan, and his son, Miles. His mother, Cordelia, was poisoned while pregnant, and the boy was considered lost by both Count Piotr and their doctors, who called for an abortion, with the intent of trying again for a healthy heir. Years later, while Miles was briefly dead, his clone-brother, Mark, who had been created in a plot to replace him and destroy the Imperium, had to face the concept that if Miles was truly lost (dead and rotted), he might have to take up his progenitor's place as heir to the Countship of the Vorkosigan District in the Council of Counts.
- At one point, Aral himself calls himself the "spare."
- Shows up peripherally in The Hallowed Hunt (one of the Chalion series), as the eldest son of the hallowed King has already died. Succession politics aren't central to the plot, but they are a crucial detail.
- In Warbreaker, the oldest princess was groomed from birth to become the God-Emperor's wife. The second oldest princess was the "spare," trained in case something happened to her sister. Their father sent the youngest princess instead.
- In the Prince Roger series by David Weber and John Ringo, Prince Roger is the Heir Tertiary to the throne of the Empire of Man (third in line, after his older brother and sister); nobody, including his own family, can decide whether he's an Upper Class Twit or a potential traitorous usurper, so he is specifically not given any guidance in how to exercise power. Then he gets marooned on a Death World, and then he finds out he was actually safer on that Death World than his brother and sister...
- The title character of I, Claudius (see Real Life below).
- The main character of Andre Norton's first published novel, The Prince Commands, didn't have a clue he was of the Morvanian royal family until he was eighteen, when his guardian introduced him to some visiting nobles with the words, "This is His Royal Highness." And then they told him that his grandfather the King had been assassinated, and the Crown Prince died in an ... accident ... before he could be crowned, and guess who's next up for the throne?
- Torovico in the Firekeeper novels was the second son of the Healed One. He was training to be a dancer. When his elder brother died in a hunting accident, he ended up the next ruler of New Kelvin. He tries to do a good job, but he didn't take learning a few of the secrets reserved only for the Healed One and the primary heir well.
- From The Elfstone of Shanarra we get the elven prince Ander Elessedil who s not in favor with his father and doesn't see any reason why he'd ever be king, never even considered the possibility. And then SURPRISE, his older brother is dead and father incapacitated. The writing made it fairly clear this was the direction things would go from fairly early in the story.
- Pops up all over the place in A Song of Ice and Fire due to a messy and protracted multiway civil war with a high casualty rate. Before the main story begins, Ned Stark was this to his brother Brandon, and Maester Aemon was offered this but abdicated in favor of his younger brother (who was called "Aegon the Unlikely" for how far down the line of succession they had to go to finally find someone to take the job). Renly and Stannis vie for this after the death of older brother Robert. Tommen is this to older brother Joffrey, Daenarys to Viserys, and in A Dance With Dragons it is revealed that Rhaegar Targaryen's son Aegon is alive after all, making him potentially this to Daenarys. And depending on how things go, either Bran, Rickon, or Jon is likely to become this to Robb. There are probably dozens of other minor examples that don't spring immediately to mind.
- In The Fairy Godmother, the heroine's eventual love interest is the second son of a king. His older and younger brothers both become kings, leaving him to decide what he's going to do with his life if he doesn't want to hang around and be decorative.
- Nevyn of the Deverry series was the third of four princes, and as such was spare to the spare, with another spare behind him. Given that situation, Prince Galrion (As he was known then) felt that leaving the court to study magic would be a far more productive way to spend his life than just being a drain on the privy purse. His father disagreed. Rhodry was spare to the Gwerbrethryn of Aberwyn until his half-brother rose to the seat and failed to produce an heir. Later on, there's Yraen, who as the younger son of a younger son of a king, was even further down the line of succession, and became a mercenary.
- Prince Borric of the Riftwar Cycle was originally a spare to the throne, but his cousin drowned, his aunt passed childbearing age, and his father renounced his claim to his brother's throne in favor of his children.
- In TheQueenOfAttolia, the queens of both Attolia and Eddis were this; Attolia's brother was poisoned and Eddis' died in a riding accident.
- In the Belisarius Series Eon of Axum was the younger son of Negasa Negast Kaleb... then the royal palace was blown up by Malwa agents with his father and brother (along with his child and two concubines) inside.
- A modern example: After President Keeler in 24 is incapacitated by a missile strike that takes out Air Force One, Vice President Logan is sworn in as President. He looks for all the world like he's going to pee himself out of nervousness for the entire rest of the season.
- A second modern example: Prince George from The Palace. For most of the series, he shows no interest in ever being a monarch, and tells his older sister Eleanor that if their brother Richard dies, she can be queen. However, when Richard's legitimacy is challenged in Episode 8, making George's ascension an imminent possibility, he starts to think that it might not be such a bad deal. (Of course, being an immature Royal Brat, he would almost certainly fail spectacularly in that role.)
- Dragon Age Origins has this in Alistair, who reveals early on that he is of royal blood... unfortunately he's a bastard, so he wasn't raised to the task. Needless to say, he's not happy about the idea of becoming king after being trained for something completely different and being quite forcefully assured that his illegitimate status would prevent the question.
- And it's sequel, Dragon Age II gives us Sebastian Vael, who is the spare to the spare as the youngest of three children. Initially he resented his brothers for this, then settled into life at the Chantry and was happy there. When his family gets slaughtered and Sebastian is suddenly the rightful ruler, he's not sure he wants to be prince anymore. Hawke can push him one way or another. In the end game, if Anders lives, Sebastian decides to take back his throne for real this time in order to exact vengeance.
- The novel The Calling introduces an illegitimate child of King Maric's. The child's name is not given. It's either Alistair (which means he's a half-elf who looks human) or yet another illegitimate child. In the first case, this means that the woman Alistair considers his mother adopted him.
- Appears twice in Dragon Quest V:
- Prince Harry's half-brother, Wilbur, never wanted to be king, but his mother orchestrates Harry's kidnapping, forcing Wilbur onto the throne so she can be Queen Dowager. When Harry returns ten years later, Wilbur is desperate to hand it over to him, and is completely stunned when Harry refuses.
- In Gotha, Albert only rose to the throne after his elder brother disappeared; though he has done a far better job than Wilbur, he's still a Reluctant Ruler who immediately tries to hand the reins over to the just-arrived heir, despite the fact that his newly rediscovered nephew has only just learned of his Secret Legacy and has had about zero training as a ruler. Which may help further explain why his first act as ruler is to promptly disappear for ten years.
- Dragon Quest VIII has a similar situation with King Argonia, an Unexpected Successor who had to step up after his elder brother disappeared while pursuing his lost love. While he has shaped up to be a good ruler, his own son is none other than Prince Charmless, causing his father no end of grief over how horrible he would be once it's time for him to hand down the crown. In the Golden Ending, he's presented with his brother's son at a rather awkward time for a family reunion, and it's heavily implied he cedes the right to rule after him to this new arrival, giving his own son the shaft.
- Suikoden V has a non-royal example with the House of Barows. After his older brother Hiram was assassinated during the bloody Succession Conflict, Euram was thrust into the role of his father's heir, as well as dealing with his mother's extended BSOD. This stress of this helps shape him into the irritating Epic Failing Upper Class Twit everyone has to deal with during the events of the game, until Character Development enables him to grow out of it.
- Has happened many, many times in the history of the Kingdom(s) of Great Britain:
- Surprisingly enough, four sons of Aethelwulf, King of Wessex succeeded each other on the throne. Neither was the first son. First son Aethelstan (died between 851 and 855) was known as a warrior prince and defeated a Viking invasion in 851. He predeceased his father. Second son Aethelbald (reigned 856-860), third son Aethelberht (reigned 860-865), fourth son Aetheldred (reigned 865-871) and fifth son Alfred the Great (reigned 871-899) each rose to the throne. Thankfully Aethelwulf was fertile; otherwise the Wessex succession would have ended in the 9th century.
- Eadred, King of England (reigned 946-955) was a younger son of Edward the Elder. He was the spare to his brother Edmund the Elder (reigned 939-946). When Edmund died, his sons were underage, so the adult Eadred rose to the throne. He died childless and was succeeded by his nephew Eadwig the Fair (reigned 955-959).
- Edgar the Peaceful, King of England (reigned 959-975) was the second son of Edmund the Elder. He was the spare to his older brother Eadwig the Fair. However the unpopularity of Eadwig with sections of the Anglo-Saxon church and nobility, helped Edgar claim the throne in a civil war. When Eadwig died childless, Edgar became king by default. His nickname "Peaceful" is a reference to the long-lasting peace and stability of his own reign.
- Aethelred the Unready, King of England (reigned 978-1016) was the second son of Edgar the Peaceful. His older half-brother Edward the Martyr (reigned 975-978) was the heir and took the throne. However Edward was a weak ruler. His reign was marked by internal conflict within the Ango-Saxon nobility and the church. A famine did not exactly help his popularity with the general population, either. When Edward was murdered in 978, 10-year-old Aethelred was the obvious heir.
- Edmund Ironside, King of England (reigned 1016) was the second known son of Aethelred the Unready. He was the spare to his brother Aethelstan Aetheling (980s - 1014), a "warrior prince" with a large collection of swords, prized war horses and combat equipment. The sudden death of Aethelstan made Edmund heir by default. He was about 24-years-old when rising to the throne became an option for him. His poor relationship with his father ensured internal conflict for the following two years.
- Harthacnut, King of England (reigned 1040-1042) himself owed the throne to the death of his older, paternal half-brother Harold Harefoot (reigned 1035/1037-1040). They were both sons of Canute the Great, King of England and Denmark (reigned 1016-1035). However, Canute chose to divide his kingdom upon his death. Harold rose to the throne of England and Harthacnut to that of Denmark, becoming rivals and enemies. But when Harold died suddenly, childless, Harthacnut became king by default.
- Edward the Confessor, King of England (reigned 1042-1066) owed his throne to the early deaths of various brothers, half-brothers (paternal and maternal) and stepbrothers. By the time his maternal half-brother Harthacnut died, Edward was the obvious candidate to the throne. All other sons of King Aethelred the Unready (reigned 978-1016) were dead, as were all sons of Canute the Great, leaving only Edward and a handful of nephews scattered across Europe. Edward was a son of Aethelred, a stepson of Cnut and the only viable heir on English soil.
- William II Rufus, King of England (reigned 1087-1100), was the third son of William I the Conqueror. First son Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy (c. 1054-1134) was arguably the most obvious candidate, but his open conflict with their father lost him much favor. Second son Richard, Duke of Bernay (c. 1054/1055 - 1081) was killed in a "hunting accident," leaving William Rufus as the heir presumptive and, ultimately, the successor to his father upon his death.
- Henry I Beaucler, King of England (reigned 1100-1135), was the fourth son of William I the Conqueror. William Rufus had named Robert as his heir, but when William II died in a "hunting accident" of his own, Robert was away in the First Crusade. Henry took advantage of the situation to take control of the royal treasury, recruit the leading barons of England to his cause and usurp the throne. By 1106, Henry managed to depose Robert and claim Normandy for himself, securing his succession.
- Empress Matilda, claimant to the English throne (from 1135 to 1153) and ancestor of the Plantagenet kings, was the eldest daughter of Henry I Beauclerc, but his initial heir was her brother William Adelin (1103-1120). When William died in the White Ship tragedy along with most of the vessel's passengers and crew, Matilda was about 18 years old and was already the widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. Left without male heirs, Henry took the unprecedented step of making his barons swear to accept his daughter Empress Matilda as his heir. Matilda spent her "reign" in a civil war against her cousin Stephen (reigned 1135-1154), the rival candidate.
- Richard I Lionheart (reigned 1189-1199) was the third son of Henry II. He became the eldest surviving son of Henry II in 1183. First son William IX, Count of Poitiers (1153-1156), died young due to a seizure. Second son Henry the Young King (co-ruler 1170-1183) died of dysentery, having already survived his only child. Richard was already 26 years old before rising to the throne became an option for him. He would spend the next six years of his life in open conflict with his father. Richard himself would ultimately die with no legitimate children
- John Lackland, King of England (reigned 1199-1216) was not an obvious candidate to the throne. He was the fifth son of Henry II, and thus a younger brother of Richard I. The fourth son of Henry II, Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (1158-1186), was supposedly trampled to death in a jousting tournament, but he was survived by three legitimate children. Two of them were still alive in 1199 and typically outranked John in the succession. His nephew Arthur was the heir for most of Richard's reign. Richard supposedly picked John as his heir in a deathbed decision, probably because John was an adult, while Arthur was 12-years-old. The decision would lead to a war between uncle and nephew.
- Edward II, King of England (reigned 1307-1327) was something of a surprise candidate, though he had been the heir almost since birth. He was born in April 1284, the fourth son of Edward I Longshanks. First son John (1266-1271) died before their father rose to the throne. Second son Henry (1267-1274) was the first heir of Edward I but died young. Third son Alphonso, Earl of Chester (1273-1284) was the heir at the time of Edward (II)'s birth. He died suddenly in August 1284, leaving the infant Edward as heir.
- Richard III, King of England (reigned 1483-1485) was the eighth son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and the fourth to survive to adulthood. Three brothers and their possible descendants would outrank him in the Yorkist succession. First son Edward IV (reigned 1461-1470, 1471-1483) took the throne and was survived by seven legitimate children. Second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland was killed in the aftermath of the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, dying childless. Third brother George, Duke of Clarence was privately executed in 1478 but was survived by two legitimate children. In 1483, Richard (III) was only tenth in the order of succession. He used some doubts on the legitimacy of Edward's marriage to declare all of his royal nephews and nieces to be bastards. He used the attainder of George (for treason) to also bar his children of the succession. By doing so, he eliminated the succession rights of everyone who had a superior claim to himself in a single stroke. It pays to be the de facto Regent.
- Henry VIII, King of England (reigned 1509-1547) is sometimes suspected to have been this to an extent. He was the second son of Henry VII and became heir at the age of 11. His older brother, Arthur (1486-1502), was supposed to get the throne. Arthur fell ill and died, possibly of the mysterious "sweating sickness," which was an epidemic between 1485 and 1551. Henry got the throne instead. Arthur would have been coached personally by his father and would have been given far more guidance than Henry on how to actually be king. Specifically, Henry VIII was prepared to take a role in the church instead. Kinda funny when you consider that he ended up as the head of a church after he became King.
- Mary I (reigned 1553-1558) and Elizabeth (reigned 1558-1603), Queens regnant of England, were the only daughters of Henry VIII to live to adulthood. While both served as the heiress presumptive at times, they were eventually displaced by their younger half-brother Edward VI (reigned 1547-1553). They only rose to the throne by outliving Edward and overcoming his efforts to remove them from the succession.
- Charles I of England and Scotland (reigned 1625 -1649) was the second son of James VI/I. His older brother Henry Frederick (1594-1612) was trained to become King and was considered robust and athletic. He died suddenly of typhoid fever in 1612, leaving Charles as the heir to the throne at the age of 12. Charles was weak and sickly since birth, and had to overcome physical infirmity (weak ankles) just to walk as a child.
- James II of England/James VII of Scotland (reigned 1685-1688) was the second son of Charles I and the spare to the throne. He rose to the throne by outliving his older brother Charles II (reigned 1649/1660 - 1685), who died without legitimate issue (his illegitimate issue, on the other hand...).
- Anne, Queen Regnant of Great Britain (reigned 1702-1714) was the second daughter of James II/VII. She was the spare to her older sister Mary II (1689-1694). She only rose to the throne by outliving Mary II and William III.
- William IV of the United Kingdom (reigned 1830-1837) was not an obvious candidate for the throne. He was only the third son of George III. The first was George IV (reigned 1820-1830). The second was Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, a famous military reformer. Frederick was the heir presumptive for most of their brother's reign, but he died suddenly in 1827.
- George V (reigned 1910-1936) was a spare, serving in the Royal Navy for twelve years (1879-1891)--he even got a tattoo of a red and blue dragon on his arm while in Japan. He became the heir when his (somewhat insane, possibly gay) older brother Albert Victor died without issue even before grandma died (giving him on the order of 20 years prepare for the job, but he still would have preferred not to take it at all). It's theorized that the reason these most recent two Georges were such excellent constitutional monarchs is that they hadn't expected the crown and as a result hadn't had the prospect of the crown get to their heads.
- When Edward VIII (reigned 1936) abdicated, his successor, George VI (reigned 1936-1952), was reluctant to take up the post, as he had never expected or wished for the position. He had served in the Royal Navy during World War I (he had to sit out much of it on account of ill-health).
- For one thing, he had a dreadful stammer and a fear of public speaking. Indeed, it's widely suspected that part of the reason for his death at a relatively young age (56) was due to the stress of being King throughout WW 2.
- It also helped avoid Royally Screwed-Up: since the two Georges were junior royalty, they were allowed to marry less-royal spouses. George V married Mary of Teck, a fourth cousin and a member of very junior German royalty. George VI married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who wasn't even royal but rather the daughter of a Scottish Earl—in what was essentially a love match, no less (Bertie proposed three times before she said "yes").
- Roman emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54) was never seriously expected to inherit the throne in his youth. While the Roman Empire had a fairly loose set of succession laws (basically the heir was appointed and didn't even have to be directly connected by blood), Claudius was still too far out on the periphery early on, and by all accounts he was not an ambitious man anyway. He essentially became emperor by outlasting everyone else (including Emperor Caligula), who were all too busy killing one another off to pay the "doddering old fool" any serious attention.
- Henry II of France seemed relatively fortunate to have three sons at the time of his 1559 death in a jousting accident. However sickly young Francis II died roughly a year and a half later (December 1560) at age 16, his brother Charles IX acended the throne at 10 only to die without issue of tuberculosis in 1574, and Henry III (who smuggled himself out of Poland less than a year of gaining that throne) was assassinated in 1589 leading to a worsening of the ongoing wars that did not really cease even after Henry II's son-in-law Henry of Navarre was crowned in 1594.
- 18 year old Manuel II (the Unfortunate) of Portugal was a younger son who had just started his studies at the Portugese Naval Acadamy when his father Carlos I was killed and his brother Luis Filipe mortally wounded by anti-monarchist radicals in 1908 (Manuel was in the same carriage and suffered a minor wound to the arm). A coup forced him and his surviving family to flee to Britain within three years.
- Bashar al-Assad was going to be an eye doctor, while his brother Bassel was being groomed to ascend to the position of dictator of Syria. One high speed car crash later and Bashar ended up with a sudden and drastic career change into a series of positions calculated to allow him to build networks of support, eliminate rivals, and gain experience in leadership. Six years after the crash that killed Bassel, their father Hafez died and Bashar assumed absolute power.