I have a country which, prior to the events of the story, had been ruled by a monarchic dynasty for a good 200-300 years. This dynasty was ended by violent upheaval. The reign of the monarch who replaced the dynasty was similarly violently overturned after about twenty years. The initial dynasty A lacks plausible heirs, as does the coup-maker B.

Given that monarch C who deposed the tyrant is competent and well-liked, is a return to dynastic rule a priority? What social or political factors would come into play if, for example, she declared no intent to produce a natural heir and instead groomed a chosen successor? I know that there is historic precedent for adopted heirs, but what I'm getting at is the forces behind the process of change.

For general reference, the society is very class-stratified. However, the merchant class and the guilds hold a lot of the political power, and most of the old aristocratic bloodlines have been diluted or wiped out.

Edit: Some additional information in response to comments: monarchy is nominally absolute, but functionally dependant on the governing bodies of the major cities, which have steadily gained more power and independence. Prior to dynasty A there existed one or possibly two other monarchic dynasties.

Dynasty A was destroyed in a violent massacre and the story is widely known even 20 years later or more. Monarch B (the tyrant) ascended via control of the military, and Monarch C (current ruler) has a good reputation with the military but nothing like the same level of loyalty as her predecessor.

In short: assuming a female monarch with a generally positive reputation is dependant upon the good will of a number of guilds and powerful/wealthy merchant houses, would the lack of a natural heir be an obstacle to maintaining this approval?

  • $\begingroup$ Is there any form of government or senate at all in existence or does the monarch have complete (and delegated) power? $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Nov 12, 2014 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ What existed before the 200-300 years of dynastic rule? A different dynasty? Nothing? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Nov 12, 2014 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ Couple questions...How well is history recorded? Are people generally aware of the reasons dynasty A was deposed, or is that ancient history compared to the 20 tyrants reign? And potentially the most important...who controls the military? $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Nov 12, 2014 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ Actually there is little to no precedent for a monarch having an heir passing him over for a non-relation. The 5 Adoptive Emperors had no heirs except the last...who ended the Adoptive rule for his son Commodus. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Nov 13, 2014 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Oldcat I'm asking specifically about a situation with no natural heir. $\endgroup$
    – lea
    Nov 13, 2014 at 6:38

5 Answers 5


Feudalism vs Centralization

There are very different scenarios depending on how the society is organized.

In a feudal environment, where the whole social hierarchy is based on hereditary titles, an ending of a dyasty wouldn't change the concept of "dynastic rule", as most other power players hold power only because of the same concept - so either some other dynasty would take over the throne, or possibly the vassals would split up and become independent holdings with different dynasties heading each of them.

In a heavily centralized environment (god-kings, bureaucratic empires) this may be a trigger for a regime change. If the "head" position was already weak enough compared with the "system", then the system might remove the position; (wasn't Cromwell a similar situation?), or some powerful bureaucrat may rule without the title (i.e., USSR which wasn't ruled by its presidents but by a formally irrelevant clerical post - general secretary of party), or someone may simply assume the mantle and suppress everyone who insists on heredity - either successfully or not.

There's no such thing as no heirs

There are always heirs, only sometimes they're distant enough and too politically weak to make any claims. There are many, many cases in history where "initial dynasty A lacks plausible heirs" but still multiple claimants appeared. If you methodically exterminate the whole extended family up to fourth-degree cousins, then there are fifth and sixth degree cousins remaining, plus a few people who claim to be third-degree cousins who survived in hiding or of bastard descent (some of them in reality, some "manufactured"). There literally can't be a situation where there isn't a heir unless an isolated society is 100% exterminated - we're all related, most likely both me and you are claimants to the throne of Charlemagne through one of his great-great-(great-*n)-grandfathers.

The only thing that may prevent heirs-claimants to appear is if everyone who matters is happy with the current arrangement; otherwise such claimants will be maintained for generations by internal or external opposition, as a potential tool in future.


There are examples in History like the Compromise of Caspe in which representants of the possible heirs and the classes and guilds decided on the best heir for the Kingdom, avoiding a war.

Nearer to your Monarch C scenery is Hugh Capet, being elected as King of the Franks when no close heir to Louis V was available, and him being not on the lineage of Charlemagne at all. He appointed his son Robert II not just as heir, but crowned him as King while he (Hugh) was still alive. He did this not only for establishing a dynasty, but for providing the Kingdom of the Franks (nowadays France) with stability, since as of Hugh's Death there was already a completely crowned and consecrated King to whom all counts and barons had already pleaded allegiance.


The first priority is always to restore the dynasty. He must have a legal heir as soon as possible. Otherwise, If the leader dies, nobody will be in charge. Other members of the dynasty might try to take control but they might not have the legitimacy to do so. They must convince landlords, and other important supporter that they are the rightful ruler. That is not easy. You need to get the support of the nobility, the guilds, the people (to some extent), and the support of other countries might help a lot. Even if your lucky, your likely to face another civil war.

That said, keeping control of the country without a dynasty would probably require to change the country into a republic or something else. If he is not a revolutionary, a religious zealot trying to establish a religious government or an oligarch if he is part of a guild, I don't see why he would change the government. If a monarch want's to keep his country but do not want to restore/establish a dynasty, it won't be easy.

  • $\begingroup$ It wouldn't be impossible for this 'chosen heir' to rule with no blood tie (in Rome, Nerva appointed Trajan to universal acclaim). But then the pressure would just shift to that new sovereign to name a new heir, blood or otherwise. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Nov 13, 2014 at 0:05

This is a pretty interesting scenario.

One thing you will want to consider is the question of political theory. As Vincent says, "The first priority is always to restore the dynasty."

Well, yes, but why?

Because if there's no alternate principle of political legitimacy, the lack of dynastic continuity is a very grim prospect indeed, for all concerned (except, I suppose, the opportunists who feel ready to profit from chaos - and even they often prove to have been overly optimistic about their chances.)

We call it "political theory", but it's really the question of how to preserve any sort of ordered society. From there, we have the leisure to inquire further into what's the best kind of ordered society. Still, in the situation you describe, people will be desperate for that first assurance: desperate to believe that there's a reasonable future in this charismatic leader.

How can she provide such assurances? She won't have the benefit of Enlightenment thinkers like Rosseau or Locke, let alone post-Enlightenment theorists of legitimacy like Marx; won't have the benefit of a proletariat that's been raised to think for itself. In short, she won't have any alternate narrative of hope and confidence to replace the promise of dynastic legitimacy.

If you want her to be able to hold on to power in any reasonable way, you can do it in two ways, as far as I can see.

You can portray her as providing a new dynasty of some sort (by declaring an heir in an acceptable fashion, if she has no heirs of the body).

Or, you will need to provide an alternate political theory that can win the allegiance of a preponderance of the populace and the brokers of power. There are some interesting possibilities there: you mention the governing bodies of major cities, the guilds, and the wealthy/powerful merchant families.

Historically, this has frequently been a likely kind of social matrix for generating challenges to the political domination of royalty. When the people who manage the money and the local governments encounter political philosophies that challenge the right of royalty/nobility to interfere in their business, they tend to like what they hear. :-)

You would need to plausibly establish precedent, and provide the alternate political theory with some historical depth. Given that, you could have a very dramatic story on your hands.


It seems extremely unlikely for a monarch not to have a bunch of potential heirs.

Henry, Count of Chambord died in 1883, the last male lineage descendant of King Louis XV (died 1774). The French monarchists were split into two different groups. The Legitimists accepted a distant cousin by male lineage, Juan Count of Montizon, the Carlist claimant to the Spanish throne, as the rightful heir. Their latest common male lineage ancestor had died in 1711, 172 years before. The Orleanists accepted an even more distant cousin as the rightful heir of France. His latest male common ancestor with the Count of Chambord had died in 1643, 240 years earlier.

King Henry IV became king of France in 1589 as the male lineage cousin of king Henry III. Their latest common ancestor in male lineage, King Louis IX, died in 1270, 319 years earlier.

Elector Maximilian II Joseph of Bavaria died without close male relatives in 1777. Bavaria was inherited by his closest male line cousin Charles IV Theodore. Their latest male lineage common ancestor, Duke Louis II of Bavaria, died in 1294, 483 years earlier.

King William III of The Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxemburg died in 1890. His daughter Wilhelmina became Queen of the Netherlands. But the throne of Luxemburg (which their dynasty hadn't even possessed until 1815) passed by agnatic or male lineage succession. So King William III's closest male lineage relative was the heir. Adolphe, former Duke of Nassau, was the seventeenth cousin once removed of King William III. Their latest common male lineage ancestor, Count Henry II of Nassau, died in 1251, 639 years earlier. Adolphe is considered the most distant relative to ever inherit a throne.

In 1290, the little Queen Margaret, the Maid of Norway, died on her way to Scotland with no close heirs. In the "Great Cause", about fifteen men claimed the Scottish throne. Her closest relative among the competitors, Nicholas de Soules, was her second cousin by an illegitimate line, while the most distant relative, John Comyn, was her sixth cousin once removed.


And when the Lancastrian Prince of Wales and his father King Henry VI were killed in 1471, that was just about the end of the Lancastrian branch of the English royal dynasty. There were no more legitimate descendants of the first Lancastrian King, Henry IV. So there were no possible Lancastrian claimants left, right?

How about King Alfonso V of Portugal (1432-1481) whose grandfather King John I married Philippa of Lancaster, the oldest sister of King Henry IV? King Alfonso's sister's son as the later Emperor Maximilian I, who married Mary the heiress of Burgundy whose grandmother was a daughter of John I and Philippa, thus giving their son King Philip I of Spain a double dose of the Portuguese Lancastrian descent. Philip married Queen Juana la Loca of Spain who was a great great granddaughter of John I and Philippa, adding more to the Lancastrian heritage of his children including Emperors Charles V and Ferdinand I.

Perkin Warbeck, Yorkist claimant to the English throne, agreed that his rights would go to Maximilian if he died without heirs. These facts may partially explain why Maximilian claimed to be the heir to England.

King Henry IV's next oldest sister Elizabeth married the first Duke of Exeter and in 1471 her heir was Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter (1440-1475).

Henry IV's third sister Catharine married King Henry III of Castile and in 1471 her heir was her grandson King Henry IV, though eventually it would be her granddaughter Queen Isabella I , mother of Queen Juana la Loca. So yet another Lancastrian descent for Emperor Charles V, who some people said had a better claim to the English throne than King Henry VIII. In fact Emperor Charles V did once threaten to invade and conquer England.

As you may remember the Yorkist claim made by descendants of the fifth oldest son of King Edward III was descent through female links from the third oldest son of Edward III, but the Lancastrian claim was through descent from the fourth oldest son of King Edward III, claiming that female descent was irrelevant for inheriting the throne. When Prince Edward and King Henry VI were killed in 1471 their killer Edward IV the Yorkist king thus became their heir according to the Lancastrian claim of seniority by male lineage descent.

So any die hard Lancastrians would have to scramble to find some other claimants. King Henry Iv did have some younger half brothers, the Beauforts, illegitimate children of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Catharine Swynford. John and Catharine were later married in 1396 and their children were legitimated - though it is controversial whether that was valid for succession to the throne.

Unfortunately for Lancastrian supporters, the last two male Beauforts were killed in 1471, leaving only descendants through female lines - and denying the inheritance of the throne though female lines was a main basis of the Lancastrian claim. The senior female heiress of the Beauforts was Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII Tudor. But Charles Somerset, first Earl of Worcester (c.1460-1526) was an illegitimate and legitimated son of Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset. If any claim to the male lineage inheritance of the throne could pass through an illegitimate but legitimated son, it might better pass through another illegitimate but legitimated son than through a woman of legitimate birth.

And then there were the actual descendants of the House of Lancaster instead of relatives of it. Thomas of Lancaster, Duke of Clarence, had an illegitimate son Sir John Clarence who was allegedly the ancestor of the de Langlee family in France. John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, had an illegitimate daughter and a grandson. Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester, had an illegitimate daughter, Antigone of Gloucester, who married the Earl of Tankarville. Their grandson John Grey (died 1497) Baron Grey of Powis was their heir in 1471.

The succession to Queen Elizabeth I of England was widely speculated about during her long reign despite her discouragement of it. Among the many candidates suggested were four claimants to the throne of Portugal and thus to the Lancastrian succession. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succession_to_Elizabeth_I_of_England[1]


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