This question is hard to summarize in one line. It's about succession

In monarchies, succession is afaik always determined by blood ties.

I’ve noticed also that, in dictatorships where the dictator is allowed to specify his successor, he tends to pick a son or possibly (see Cuba) a brother.

I’m just wondering: Has there ever been a case where someone was allowed to pick his successor, and he actually picked a person who could be reasonably construed as the best one for the job, rather than picking based on family ties?


In 1066, King Edward the Confessor named Harold II Goodwinson his successor on his deathbed, bypassing his grandson, the legitimate heir.

Not that that turned out too well for Harold.

But some of the Roman emperors did it, especially the five “Good Emperors”. Nerva, for example, adopted Trajan as his heir, Trajan picked Hadrian, Hadrian picked Antonius Pius, Antonius Pius picked Marcus Aurelius.

Notibly, Marcus Aurelius didn’t do that…and the Imperial title passed to his son, Commodius, who was terrible.

The present king, His Most Catholic Majesty Juan Carlos is doing a fine job in Spain. He was put on the throne by the dictator Francisco Franco.

Karl XIII of Sweden, the childless last of the Vasa Kings (not counting the deposed insane nephew he succeeded) adopted Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, Marshall of France under Napoleon, as the ideal king to succeed him, which he did as Karl XIV Johan; Karl XVI Gustaf on the Swedish throne today is his lineal descendent.

Try reading (or watching) I, Claudius some time.

Edgar, Edward’s Heir Apparent, was his great nephew, not grandson. He by-passed his nephew Edward as unlikely to be confirmed by the Witan. Of course, William always maintained that Edward II had named him, irrevocably, Heir while Edward was in exile in Normandy, and that his subsequent naming of Edgar (and then Harold) was invalid.

I thought of this, but I believe that he expected Juan Carlos to continue ruling the country in pretty much the same way as it was before. It was Juan Carlos who had another idea.

I think Adolf Hitler chose Karl Dönitz as his successor. Dönitz was a career sailor, and not a Nazi, but I can’t say if he would have been good as President of Germany if he had been allowed to hold the post longer.

That’s practically a counter-example. The picked, adopted heirs (who were all blood relatives (I think - was Tiberius related to Augustus by blood, or just marriage?)) in that show were all worse than the Emperor who picked them.

Nice try, but the Anglo-Saxon monarchy did not operate on the basis of primogeniture. After the king died, the next king was whoever the Witan decided he should be - there was no “legitimate heir”. It’s true that they usually chose a member of the ruling family for the job, but there wasn’t any requirement for them to choose the late king’s eldest son, or any relative at all. In practice the job went to whoever had the most power and influence at the time.

No, it’s not a counter example. A major portion of the story tells how Augustus tried to groom a capable successor who would continue to serve in the capacity of the benevolent tyrant. And how he was thwarted at every turn. Tiberius, who was his step-son, was pretty much his last resort. As far as family ties, that was pretty much inevitable, since in Roman society one’s family connections were at least as important as (and often far more important than) one’s own abilities or accomplishments.

True, but then, he was pretty much next in line anyways, after his father, who renounced his rights in his son’s favor. His father’s older brothers both renounced their rights to the throne because of health (one was a hemophilliac and the other a deaf-mute) and unequal marriages. I’m reading a good bio of Juan Carlos by Paul Preston. It’s called Juan Carlos: Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy.

The last King then before Juan Carlos, before Franco took over, was Juan Carlos’s grandfather, Alfonso XIII. The reason Franco skipped over the present king’s father, Don Juan, is because he knew that Don Juan would never continue Franco’s regime. Little did he guess that Juan Carlos would do the same!

Actually, Hitler declared that upon his death his position would be split into two: the Chancellor and the President. Hitler chose Dönitz as the President, but Joseph Goebbels as the Chancellor. The only problem was that Goebbels was committed suicide almost immediately after Hitler—he was Chancellor for only one day.

Good point. I was thinking more of Caligula, who was picked by Tiberius so the Romans would remember his rule fondly, and Nero, who Claudius picked in a misguided attempt to restore the Republic by having as terribe an Emperor as possible. Disclaimer: I know I Claudius was a historical novel and diverts from actual history in many regards. I’m just commenting on the novel.

Well, really, one did have to be of Royal blood- but in several cases (the various sons of King Æthelwulf, that last of which was Alfred the Great) a brother succeeded another. Edmund I succeded his half-brother (Æthelstan).
On the death of Eadred, who had no children, Eadwig was chosen to be king since he was the oldest of the children in the natural line of the House of Wessex

His brother Edgar succeeded him.

Ethelred II, the Unready, succeded his half-brother, Edward II, after Edward was murdered. One of the worst Kings of England.

Edward III, the Confessor was a brother to Edmund II, (Ironside).

HaroldII was Edward the Confessor’s Brother in Law.

Edgar the Atheling was a Grandson of Edmund Ironside.

In theory, there was three steps- showing Royal Blood, Voting in by the Witan, and then “acclamation” by the City of London. However, none of this was written in stone. William the Bastard was a distant kinsman of Edward the Confessor. He went through the motions of getting the Witan to accept him (more or less by sword-point), and London to acclaim him.

Later Kings of England weren’t always the eldest son, either. Henry I was WilliamII brother.

Edward IV was not a child of any of the Henry’s, he was the grandson of EdIII.

Richard III succeeded his brother EdIV.

Mary and Elizabeth both succeeded their little known Brother EdVI, Henry 8’s son.
Henry VII was about as close you can get to “no relation” (in a way, he was EdIII’s great, great grandson) , but his father had married a Queen of England.

James II succeeded his brother Charles II.

And so forth.

Harold II was about the closest we come to “picking someone who was the best for the job”, as the Aethling was simply too young, and the Vikings would have deposed him.

Here’s an interesting Wiki article:

Imperial Roman succession was sometimes hereditary, sometimes not. Emperor Claudius II Gothicus nominated an unrelated general, Aurelian, as his successor over his own brother, just for one example.

I’m not going to quote DrDeth’s long post #15, and I suspect he has the Anglo-Saxon inheritance principle down pat. But his point as regards post Conquest inheritance needs some clarification. I think the principles can be clearly summarized in five principles:

  1. Children inherit before siblings.
  2. Males inherit before females.
  3. Elder inherits before younger.
  4. The death of an heir does not work to disinherit his/her own heirs.
  5. In the absence of children or siblings, determine the next heir by reference to the previous monarch’s surviving heirs, going back to George II if necessary.
  6. Since 1689, being a Roman Catholic or married to one excludes you from succession.

Every British monarch has inherited by application of these principles, with the exception of Henry IV and William III, who were high in the line of succession but not at the top of the list, and inherited due to special circumstances at the time plus the right of conquest.

This is not strictly relevant to the OP, but does require clarification.

And Richard III, don’t forget! (He did claim that the rightful heirs, weren’t, true.) Also I’d say that Henry VII stretched those rules pretty hard.

But yes, thanks for the clarification.

Except he didn’t rule by right of blood; he ruled by right of conquest. His connection with the Lancastrian branch was tenuous (he wasn’t actually the Lancastrian heir – that was the king of Portugal), so he didn’t try to rule by claiming he was the rightful heir: he ruled because he defeated Richard III and conquered the country.