Both fiction and (contemporary at the time) conspiracy theories have many examples of "The king chooses to place a worthy replacement on the throne instead of his own not-qualified-to-rule offspring; with said impostor being presented to the populace as an actual heir by blood" trope.

Were there any actual historical events that fit that pattern? If there were many, who was the latest known?

Just to be clear, I'm interested in cases where (almost) everyone was told that the "heir" was indeed a child of the monarch, at the monarch's wish, and replacing an actual child (independently of said child surviving).

This does not include an usurper (like LzheDmitry I) who claimed blood relation to the previous king without being acknowledged by that monarch himself.

  • Can't help but think of Catherine the Great, Tsarina of all the Russias, even though she was a wife and not a child. She was born and raised in a minor German noble family, and became the strongest man in all Russia. By all the rules and laws of the time she was clearly an imposter, yet through a combination of good timing, playing her cards well, and the hatred and contempt with which her husband was held she succeeded. Apr 20, 2014 at 22:59
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    @PieterGeerkens - Again, imposter implies pretending to be some other person. NOT holding a post under your own name, whether illegitimately or legitimately. Now, if Catherine held the post by pretending to be an offspring of Romanoffs (as opposed to a wife), that'd be an imposter; but I don't recall her doing so.
    – DVK
    Apr 20, 2014 at 23:10
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    There are many known false Royal heritage claims, but you seek cases where the parent supported or instigated the claim. I am skeptical that could occur in a heredity monarchy, where every move of the Monarch and those in line are watched. Furthermore you ask the impossible: it succeeded and yet was discovered.
    – andy256
    Apr 21, 2014 at 0:08
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    @andy256 - there are always witnesses to things. Who tend to leave memoirs. Or genetic research. I don't see it as even remotely impossible to discover.
    – DVK
    Apr 21, 2014 at 0:13
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    @RazieMah Perhaps the appropriate response is "Which is reasonable." :-)
    – andy256
    Apr 21, 2014 at 22:48

2 Answers 2


Sweden in 1810 - 1818. The monarch legally adopted a French general as the official heir. It took generations for the resulting rift between dynastic factions to be healed by a royal marriage. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Bernadotte

  • 1
    But Bernadotte was not claiming to be a different person that was an actual heir.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 1, 2014 at 0:14

It was often alleged that a disliked monarch was not who he claimed to be, that his alleged parents, despairing of having real children, pretended to have a child that was really unrelated. Thus the births of royal children were often very public with many high ranking witnesses, and yet despite that a monarch's enemies would continue to claim that he was a false child.

Examples: Emperor Frederick II and King James VIII and III aka The Old Pretender.

  • I cannot help but be reminded of the "birthers" of Twenty-First century United States. May 21, 2017 at 22:46

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