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Assuming standard medieval "firstborn son or next closest male relative" inheritance. A King (A) dies without heir. His Brother (B) inherits the throne. 8 months later the dead King's (A's) wife gives birth to a Son (C), conceived by the dead King (A) before he died.

Who is now the rightful King? C is the firstborn son of the rightful King, so there's a strong case it should be him. But B has been crowned King before anyone knew C would come along.

Obviously either way the throne will be very unstable (which is my intention) but who is the "rightful" King?

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closed as too broad by James, Frostfyre, Hohmannfan, Green, TrEs-2b Sep 19 '16 at 22:19

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Whoever is left standing after the fight. $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Sep 18 '16 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ Well that depends on how your Order of Succession is written. But leaving that deliberately vague sounds like a great plot generator. :) $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 18 '16 at 18:12
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    $\begingroup$ As tends to be the case when two people both have a legitimate claim to something, it's whoever wins the fight that ends up with the something. Without more details or specifics, it sounds like either one could be the rightful king, but infants generally don't make good leaders... the baby (or his supporters) would probably wait until he comes of age to rule before putting him on the throne, which is something you need to consider. Someone ruling on behalf of an underage monarch is known as a regent, FWIW, and it's common enough that there's a word for it. :) $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Sep 18 '16 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ Rightful according to what rules? As soon as you answer that question, you'll have to answer to yours. $\endgroup$ – jpmc26 Sep 19 '16 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ Taaam taaam tatataaatam Tam Tam Tatatatam Tatatam... Winter has come $\endgroup$ – bolov Sep 19 '16 at 7:32

11 Answers 11

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Chances are good you have a civil war, a BIG one

Look at Japan for my reasoning, specifically the Ōnin War. Long story short, the emperor doesn't have a kid, so he asks his brother if he wants to be emperor when he steps down. His brother says yes, but then the king has a kid, now it's time to play who's going to be the next shogun (which is basically an emperor), vote on your iPhone 7 now.

Everyone voted so hard that the palace burned down and the empire shattered into dozens of smaller clan based territories.

In the British royal family, another uncle/nephew situation happens. When Edward IV died in April of 1483, he passed the crown off to his son, who was only twelve. Because his son was 12, he had his brother, Richard III, to take super good care of him until he was old enough to rule. Richard III was a super cool uncle who had fun times with his favorite nephew for about three months until Edward's son promptly disappeared, leaving grieving uncle Richard the king.

So at the very least the child will disappear and at the worst, your country will shatter.


As to who is the rightful king is, it depends on your rules of succession. If they follow English rules, it is the uncle, he has already been coronated. If you follow the Japanese rules, it is who ever the old king picks before he dies.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe your "vote on your iPhone 7" comment comes from this video (which is incredibly informative) youtu.be/Mh5LY4Mz15o?t=164 $\endgroup$ – Ari Lotter Sep 19 '16 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ @aerobit absolutly love that video so much $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 19 '16 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ @UncleTres I believe you should link to that video as a reference, given that you're basically paraphrasing it. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Sep 19 '16 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ Didn't even bother attributing the source of the video you ripped basically your first two paragraphs word for word from. $\endgroup$ – FiringSquadWitness Sep 19 '16 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ imo this doesn't actually answer the question. Yes there's likely to be a civil war, but it sounds like that's the point of the setup. The question is, who is the rightful King in this situation? Maybe some point of treaty depends on it. Maybe there's some magic that only the rightful king can use. This answer doesn't even try to address it. $\endgroup$ – Tacroy Sep 19 '16 at 4:17
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The question of who is the "rightful" king depends entirely on the political doctrine of the country in which it happens.

I mean think about it this way: if JFK's wife had a baby six months after he was assassinated, would the baby become President? Obviously not, because American political doctrine explicitly accounts for who becomes President if the current President dies in office.

That being said, it sounds like we're talking about a stereotypical European monarchy, probably post-Magna Carta. In that case you're talking succession via primogeniture. Do we have any examples of a similar situation happening in a European monarchy? Well, history is rich and varied, so indeed we do!

Turns out that in France in 1316, something similar happened. Old King Louis the Quarreler was on his deathbed, but his wife was pregnant. He made some contigency plans, which involved his brother being regent for the baby, should it turn out to be a boy. The king passed, the regent took over, in a few months the baby was born and died five days later, and the regent didn't have to move out of his comfy chair.

Now, this was slightly different than your case - the old King had made arrangements for his brother to take over the regency. In your hypothetical situation, it sounds like the old King either didn't know about the pregnancy, or was somehow unable to make arrangements for it.

These things depend on the actual laws of your kingdom, and more specifically they depend on the concrete wording of the laws. Further, and this might be something they've worked out for other forms of inheritance, it also depends on whether or not your country considers the infant a person at the time of the king's death.

In that case there's three different scenarios:

If the law is written such that the crown transfers immediately upon the death of the previous King, and at that point it transfers to the next heir as defined by primogeniture, and the law does not consider a baby in the womb to be a person for the purposes of inheritance, then the "true king" is the brother B.

On the other hand, if the law considers the baby in the womb to be a person for the purposes of inheritance, then the "true king" is the child (even if he is otherwise indisposed at the beginning of his reign, what with the gestating and all). If he turns out to be a she, then whoops! She wasn't ever King, it was the brother B all along.

On the third hand, if the law is written such that the crown always belongs to the heir of the previous King (which is easy to do with sloppy writing), and the law does not consider a baby in the womb to be a person, then the "true king" is B until the baby is born, at which point the crown transfers to the baby.

So at this point, the question becomes: what are the laws and political doctrines of your country? That'll tell you who the legally-determined "true king" is. If you have some sort of magic that rides on the legal definition of the true king, this might even matter.

But like all the other answers have said, the real mark of a king is keeping your butt on the throne. Whoever manages to do that, by hook or by crook, is the "true" king.

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    $\begingroup$ That. In some countries, titles go from brother to brother, not from father to son. In other countries kings were elected. Without knowing the rules of the country the question is impossible to ask. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Sep 19 '16 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for introducing me to the cognomen "Louis the Quarreler." $\endgroup$ – Michael Seifert Sep 19 '16 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ I kind of disagree with your third hand. The brother is the true king while babe is in the womb, when babe comes out of the womb he is not the heir of the current king and as such falls into the king's nephew's place in the line of succession. This would be along the lines of god ordains the monarch and as such once one is made monarch it is a god given right that cannot be take away. $\endgroup$ – Myles Sep 19 '16 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ SOME countries even have a waiting period of 9-12 months from the king's death before the coronation of the new king, for just such a reason. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Sep 20 '16 at 3:34
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Standard primogeniture means first born inherits. Anyone who isn't born yet when someone dies can not inherit. When the king dies, the brother B inherits and the throne continues with his bloodline. Traditionally, kings stay king until they die or abdicate, so when the kid C is born, B stays king and will inherit the crown to his children.

However, inheritance conflicts are traditionally solved through bigger army diplomacy. So when there is a large amount of wealthy people who would for some reason consider B a bad king and would rather be ruled by C (which would mean regency by the mother of C until C is old enough), then there is a chance they might hire some soldiers and start a succession war.

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My answer's not all that different than some of the others, except that I'll add War of the Roses...

Rules can be different, but standard is: born before the king dies in the succession line. Basically, I am joining chorus of the other answers...Under the standard rules, unless the kid is born prior to the King's death, the King's brother does inherit. However, this child is the perfect vehicle for anyone not satisfied with the way the brother does things. Succession would pass the King's son right up and there would be a bit a of a scramble to decide exactly what position the son would hold.

Now, if the King knew about the pregnancy prior, and wrote up some successionlaws, then, yeah, baby can inherit with a regent.

Of course it will be unstable--oh and, going to say, do look into the War of the Roses. There were all kinds of fake princes, many of whom only bore a passing resemblance to the people they were supposed to be. It was pretty epic. And they actually kept two of the fakes in noble households after they were revealed, just so they could trot them out when another fake came round or if rumors started that a former fake was actually real.

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    $\begingroup$ Not "standard" by any means. There have been some kings who were postume sons. Also, claims to the throne/civil wars do not happen because someone has strong claims and creates a faction; usually the factions exist before and use (or fabricate) whatever claim suits their needs. If the country is at peace and without strong factions, claims are decided in a more civilized manner. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Sep 19 '16 at 8:58
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When a king dies or is recently crowned, the standard rule applies:

You can argue to have a strong claim if you have some claim and powerful backers, or are yourself powerful. The weaker the actual claim, the stronger your backers need to be.

If you win the resulting power play, history will write down that you did indeed have a strong claim. If you lose the resulting power play, history will write down that you did not have a strong claim. If there was some kind of settlement with members of both parties surviving, it could go either way.

Inversely, if you have what seems to be a strong claim on paper (based on historical precedent), and someone else also has a claim yet is more powerful, history will either write down that you did not have a strong claim, or it will simply mention that you died under mysterious circumstances.

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The answers are all well and good, but miss a key point that is largely ignored. A child is not considered the child of a man, even when it is 100% certain the child is theirs, until the child is officially recognized by the man.

That means that the child has no official claim on the throne even if the relationship is known 100%, because the child is not recognized as a possible heir to the throne.

Sometimes the rules are different, but not often. This also means that a heir doesn't have to be the genetic offspring of the king to be the heir in many cases, because a man can recognize whoever they want as their child.

The reason that non-recognized offspring can make claims is due to royal blood is considered holy and are rightful rulers, therefor, if you can link yourself by blood, even if your line isn't recognized "officially", those claims in that thinking is valid.

The most likely thing to happen though, if the brother/regent/king doesn't want a possible future war is to marry his daughter to the kid and raise him as his own kid. This way it ensures his line, and prevents factionalization, unless he already has a son and then it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to marry him off to a foreign powerful land who needs a male ruler.

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    $\begingroup$ In many places a prince becomes king immediately after the king dies, regardless of age. Of course in case of a regency the king powers are rather limited while the regency is effective. Doing otherwise could be very dangerous because it would limit the legitimacy of the government. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Sep 19 '16 at 9:04
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Depends. is it a nordic country? if so, nordic contries were ruled by what we call agnatic (male-only) seniority ( the oldest son or the oldest capable living relative) or regented seniority ( the oldest capable family members rules until the oldest capable son is mature), and the brother has a strong claim on it.

is it a anglo-saxon or frankish country? if so, we're in a agnatic regented primogeniture, the first son of the deceased king is the only rightful ruler, though his reign may be in the hands of a capable relative elected by a noble council.

is it a old norse / iron isles (ASOIAF) kingdom? if so, a council of nobles will pick the next successor from a group of candidates.

is it a dornish (ASOIAF) / 7-8th century spanish muslim -like country? if so, it's an agnatic-cognatic primogeniture with no stablished regency, you might end up with a 1yo king (or queen) ruled by his council.

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Looking beyond Europe, the closest facimile of your situation in Persia in 309.

Hormzid II died in 309 AD. He had three sons and his wife was pregnant with what turned out to be the fourth.

His son Narseh took the throne for a couple of months and was generally reputed to be a tyrant. 14 days after the child was born (a son!) the grandees assassinated Narseh, blinded the second oldest son, exiled the third oldest son out, and crowned the youngest child king as Shapur II. (My source is this excellent book, summary at wikipedia). Good thing they got a son I suppose.

As for what happened to the kingdom....it worked out great. You can read about Shapur II on wikipedia under the title "First Golden Era," which tells you about all you need to know. Shapur reigned for 70 years of stability, expanded Persian rule in Arabia, killed Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate in battle (the last pagan Emperor, fyi), forced Rome to cede Armenia and Georgia to Persia as client states, etc.

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I would imagine the most likely scenario would be that as soon as the pregnancy is verified, the new king (ie the brother) would do everything he possibly could to arrange a termination. Whether that just means forcing an abortion or actually killing the former queen would depend on how well disposed he was to her, but assuming he actually wants to keep the throne, this baby is such a major threat that he realistically can't do anything else. If he doesn't kill the baby (preferably before it is born) then he risks his country going down in the flames of a civil war. He hasn't been on the throne long enough to have a strong enough support base to be able to let the child live.

His only other realistic option is to step aside from the throne (and possibly offer to act as regent until the child is of age). However, given that he's already been legally crowned king this would mean formally abdicating, which could have implications for any future claims to the throne either by himself or his heir's. He needs to be careful here because he would still legitimately be the next in line after this new baby; he doesn't want to throw that away because what if this child were to die before having children of his own? A formal abdication could take him off the list of succession permanently.

From the queen's perspective, as soon as she realises that she's pregnant she's going to realise the implications to her own safety. She'll need to quickly work out which of her friends are actually loyal to her. She's also going to need to make news of the pregnancy public knowledge as quickly as possible; if everyone in the country knows about it, it will make it much harder for the new king to act against her. That said, depending on his character he may try to do so anyway. There's even a risk that someone else may try to kill the child without the king's approval, on the grounds of supporting the king or avoiding a war.

Finally, there is one potential way out of the predicament for all parties. The king could raise the question of legitimacy. If the pregnancy and birth were concealed for even a couple of weeks, it would be very easy to argue that the baby was actually conceived by someone other than the former king; ie it would be put to the public that after the king's death, the queen had sought solace in the arms of another. Thus the child has no claim to the throne. The queen would need to be part of this for it to work, so she would need to knowingly allow the child to lose his rightful throne in exchange for allowing him to live and/or avoid a civil war. Perhaps he'll be given a consolatory Dukedom as some kind of compensation (the queen would have be in a very strong position at the negotiation table on this).

It would even be possible for the concocted story to be that the father was actually the new king... which would be a way for them to "do the right thing" for the child (ie give him his rights, eventually). But this is unlikely as the new king would need to be complicit in the story, and it really wouldn't sound good for him to have been doing that to his brother's wife right after he died. Plus it would have implications for the line of succession of the new king's actual children.

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If the old king (A) explicitly stated that his brother (B) should succeed then this would overrule the claim of (C). Even if he didn't the brother (B) would still legally be king because the brother was king before the child was born. When the child was born he would be born as a prince of the blood, not a royal prince. This means his place in the line of succession would come after the brother's (B) children.

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I think current laws are rightful. If man die he's posessions are inherited by his parents (but our A likely lost his parents some time ago) wife and children. If new child was born after his father die and if there's no doubt about A was his father - the posessions are redistributed to take some part to new child.

So if there is no doubt about C is first son of A (for example if A's widow relocated to convent after A dies), C becames true king, and B can be a true regent while C is younger than age of majority. And of cource B could kill infant C if he want to stay a legit king.

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