13 Of The Most Intense Royal Sibling Rivalries From History



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Vote up the most intense rivalries among royals.

Sibling rivalries can be intense in any context, but especially in royal families. After all, royal rivalries between siblings often have geopolitical repercussions, with entire kingdoms at stake.

If there's one thing royals have learned throughout history, it's the importance of having an “heir and a spare”: one child to inherit the throne and another on standby in case anything happens to the first. Although this theoretically makes sense, it has also fostered royal rivalry when soon-to-be kings and queens must contend with other siblings who have legitimate claims to the throne. How can a monarch consolidate his or her own authority - and how can younger siblings make a play for the throne?

One solution is straightforward, if risky: eliminate the competition. Unlike patient royal heirs, some soon-to-be monarchs have killed their siblings to ensure that they never pose a threat. Conversely, queen or king siblings have schemed against their crowned family members to usurp their position and claim authority for themselves. 

At the same time, not all royal rivalries have ended in bloodshed. Some royals simply want their siblings’ support, and that can get complicated when a monarch has to juggle a number of competing responsibilities.

From fratricide to smear campaigns and everything in between, these rivalries and family feuds demonstrate that there’s nothing inherently noble about royal families - they can be just as dysfunctional as the rest of us.

Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

  • Ottoman Ruler Mehmed III Killed 19 Of His Brothers And Stepbrothers, And Was Within His Legal Rights
    Photo: Seyyid Lokman, Nakkas Osman / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    182 VOTES

    Ottoman Ruler Mehmed III Killed 19 Of His Brothers And Stepbrothers, And Was Within His Legal Rights

    When monarchs pass with multiple children, succession can become a fatal game of musical chairs. After all, siblings weren't just brothers or sisters; they were rivals to the throne.

    Ottoman rulers came up with a violent solution: the so-called law of fratricide. Introduced by 15th-century sultan Mehmed II, the law empowered rulers to dispose of their brothers to prevent conflict or challenges to the throne.

    Mehmed III came to power in 1595, long after the previous Mehmed had passed, and was enthusiastic about enforcing the law of fratricide. According to an article in JSTOR Daily, Mehmed III murdered 19 of his brothers:

    When Mehmed III was crowned, he called his nineteen brothers into the throne room. They had nothing to fear, he told them, for he had only brought them there to be circumcised. In the next room, the assassins were waiting. One by one, the princes trouped in. One by one, they were throttled with a silken bowstring. The youngest was only eleven. 

    Mehmed III didn't stop at killing his living brothers. He also executed 15 women pregnant with his father's unborn children. He thus consolidated his authority through bloodshed by killing the competition.

    182 votes
  • After Aurangzeb Executed His Younger Brother, He Sent The Head To Their Father
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    63 VOTES

    After Aurangzeb Executed His Younger Brother, He Sent The Head To Their Father

    Shah Jahan of the Mughal Empire oversaw the construction of the Taj Mahal, a monument in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. One of the greatest legacies of Shah Jahan's reign is thus associated with everlasting love. However, at least one of his sons didn't share his father's reverence for familial affection.

    As Shah Jahan weakened, he proclaimed that his eldest son Dara Shikoh would succeed him. Aurangzeb, Dara's younger brother, did not like this, and inaugurated a power struggle. Their armies clashed, ultimately ending in Dara Shikoh's defeat. Aurangzeb showed no mercy to his older brother; instead, he decapitated Dara Shikoh in 1659 and allegedly sent his head to their grief-stricken father. 

    In another act of fratricide, Aurangzeb had another brother, Murad, charged with murder and executed

    Thanks in part to his calculated fratricide, Aurangzeb does not enjoy the same reputation as some of his Mughal predecessors. Despite his influence over a 50-year reign, he remains “one of the most hated men in Indian history.”

    63 votes
  • After Cleopatra VII Married Her Brother Ptolemy XIII, They Dragged Egypt Into A Civil War (And Their Sister Arsinoë IV Joined In)
    Photo: Louis le Grand / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    37 VOTES

    After Cleopatra VII Married Her Brother Ptolemy XIII, They Dragged Egypt Into A Civil War (And Their Sister Arsinoë IV Joined In)

    Cleopatra VII may have been the final pharaoh of Egypt, but she achieved power through grit, determination, and warfare against her own family. 

    When her father passed in 51 BCE, she and her younger brother-husband Ptolemy XIII inherited the Egyptian throne as co-rulers. It soon became clear the siblings were not suited to a power-sharing arrangement, especially as Ptolemy tried to consolidate authority. Tensions between them boiled over into a civil war, and Cleopatra fled in exile.

    She found support in her war against her brother in the form of Julius Caesar, the Roman general and statesman who arrived in Alexandria in 48 BCE. She joined forces with Caesar; they became lovers and worked to repel Ptolemy's troops. The young king did not survive.

    The civil war wasn't just between Cleopatra and Ptolemy. Their sister Arsinoë joined the civil war, throwing in her lot with her brother. When Ptolemy passed, Arsinoë stepped into his shoes in the war against her sister. Caesar defeated her, too. Unlike Ptolemy, Arsinoë survived, and Caesar captured her, dispatched her to Rome to march in his triumphal parade, and later exiled her to Ephesus.

    After the passing of Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra married another younger brother - Ptolemy XIV - while involved in a romantic partnership with Caesar. This Ptolemy also met an early end; some people allege Cleopatra was behind his demise – and also that of Arsinoë at Ephesus a few years later.

    These passings paved the way for Cleopatra to consolidate power as Egypt's queen. Although she ultimately lost Egypt to Rome, no one can doubt her devotion to her kingdom. As biographer Duane W. Roller noted:

    Cleopatra VII was an accomplished diplomat, naval commander, administrator, linguist, and author, who skillfully managed her kingdom in the face of a deteriorating political situation and increasing Roman involvement.

    37 votes
  • Louis XVI's Brother, The Count Of Provence, Publicly Questioned The King's Virility
    Photo: François-Hubert Drouais / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    107 VOTES

    Louis XVI's Brother, The Count Of Provence, Publicly Questioned The King's Virility

    In 1770, a 14-year-old Austrian princess married the heir to the French crown. When her husband assumed the throne four years later, the couple ruled as King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette - the last king and queen of France before revolution. 

    The French court never fully warmed to Marie Antoinette, a fact made even more obvious as the young couple apparently had trouble consummating their marriage. After all, this was a political issue: Only through consummation could Louis father an heir to the throne. Without a legitimate heir, his younger brother Louis Stanislas Xavier, the Comte (Count) of Provence, was next in the line of succession.

    The Count was only too happy to be close to the throne. He made it clear that he was not an ardent loyalist to his brother and sister-in-law. Instead, he and his wife entangled themselves in court intrigues against the royal couple. They heard and encouraged rumors and gossip about the king and queen's private life. 

    In 1778, Marie Antoinette finally gave birth to a baby, Marie-Thérèse. She wasn't a male heir to the throne, but she did quiet rumors about the couple's infertility. The Count used the occasion of his niece's christening to besmirch his brother and sister-in-law yet again. During the ceremony, he stood in as godfather on behalf of the child's real godfather, the King of Spain. As historian Lady Catherine Charlotte Jackson reported some years later:

    It is asserted that the grand almoner who performed the baptismal ceremony having omitted as superfluous the question whether the child presented for baptism was the legitimate offspring of the king and queen, the Comte de Provence reminded him of it. When it was put to him, he replied “Yes;” but with a peculiar smile and motion of the head, intended to attract, as it did, general notice, and, as he knew, was understood as he wished. If this really be true, one can hardly imagine anything more infamous. It is, however, quite consistent with his character as hitherto and afterwards developed, and with the conduct he had steadily pursued towards the kind and queen from the day of their accession.

    Through his winks and nudges, the Count suggested that his niece was not the king's legitimate daughter - and, implicitly, that his brother wasn't virile enough to father his own child. The Count was thus subtly accusing his sister-in-law of having an affair.

    Ultimately, rumor, gossip, and scandal played a significant role in delegitimizing Marie Antoinette and the royal court in the years leading up to the French Revolution. In this sense, the Count's pillorying of his brother and sister-in-law was part of the same sentiment in the court of public opinion that would eventually lead to their downfall.

    And their downfall came mercilessly. When Louis XVI was beheaded during the French Revolution, the Count reportedly was not very emotional. Roughly 20 years later, he would become King of France.

    107 votes
  • Mary I Threw The Future Elizabeth I Into The Tower Of London
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    102 VOTES

    Mary I Threw The Future Elizabeth I Into The Tower Of London

    Before they ruled as Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, the Tudor half-sisters shared a similar position in their father Henry VIII's life: As daughters, they were less valuable to Henry than his young son and heir Prince Edward, so they generally lived on the periphery of their father's life. After all, Henry wanted a son to his succeed him. The succession, he felt, wasn't secure in the hands of a daughter.

    Initially, Mary and Elizabeth's shared status ensured that they had a positive relationship. As historian Tracy Borman told BBC History Magazine:

    They should have been enemies from the get-go, but in fact they were very close when Elizabeth was a child. This was because Mary - who was 17 years older than her half-sister - took pity on Elizabeth.

    But things were complicated in the treacherous environment of the Tudor line of succession. Although their half-brother inherited the throne in 1547 when Henry passed, Edward reigned for only six years. His passing at the age of 15 inaugurated a power struggle.

    The throne should have passed to Mary by birthright, but there was one big problem: Mary was Catholic, and Henry VIII had christened his kingdom a Protestant one when he established the Anglican Church of England in 1534.

    To block Mary from becoming queen after his demise, Edward had named the family's Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey as heir to the throne. But Jane's reign barely started before it ended: The teen was queen for only nine days before Mary ousted her.

    Although Mary was now queen, she didn't feel secure in her position. After all, Elizabeth was no longer a child. Worse for Mary, Elizabeth was a Protestant claimant and thus a convenient rallying figure for dissenters. To defang Elizabeth and keep a close eye on her, Mary imprisoned her in the Tower of London for suspected treason. However, there was no meaningful proof of her disloyalty, so she was eventually released and placed under house arrest.

    Mary was hesitant to make Elizabeth her heir. She married and tried to conceive, but that didn't work out. She also attempted to convert her sister to the Catholic faith. It didn't take. 

    Ultimately, Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558 after Mary passed at the age of 42. She restored Protestantism, but also had to field questions about succession

    Elizabeth didn't have any siblings to lock up, but she imprisoned another family member: her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots.

    102 votes
  • Caracalla Killed His Brother And Co-Ruler Geta While The Latter Was In Their Mother's Arms
    Photo: Julien de Parme / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    48 VOTES

    Caracalla Killed His Brother And Co-Ruler Geta While The Latter Was In Their Mother's Arms

    When the Roman emperor Septimius Severus passed in modern-day York, England, in 211 CE, he believed that his two sons, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (AKA Caracalla) and Publius Septimius Geta, should rule the Roman Empire together. Unfortunately, neither man was interested in sharing power with the other, and the discord between brothers intensified into a full-on power struggle. 

    To get Geta out of the way for once and for all, Caracalla turned to fratricide. As the senator and chronicler Cassius Dio recounted, Caracalla lured his brother to a meeting with their mother, who knew nothing of the plot to end Geta's life:

    Thus Geta was persuaded, and went in with him; but when they were inside, some centurions, previously instructed by Antoninus, rushed in a body and struck down Geta, who at sight of them had run to his mother, hung about her neck and clung to her bosom and breasts, lamenting and crying: “Mother that didst bear me, mother that didst bear me, help! I am being murdered.” 

    And so she, tricked in this way, saw her son perishing in the most impious fashion in her arms, and received him at his death into the very womb, as it were, whence he had been born; for she was all covered with his blood, so that she took no note of the wound she had received on her hand. But she was not permitted to mourn or weep for her son, though he had met so miserable an end before his time (he was only twenty-two years and nine months old), but, on the contrary, she was compelled to rejoice and laugh as though at some good fortune; so closely were all her words, gestures, and changes of colour observed. Thus she alone, the Augusta, wife of the emperor and mother of the emperors, was not permitted to shed tears even in private over so great a sorrow.

    Caracalla survived his brother by only six years, and his act of fratricide foreshadowed his own violent end - while in modern-day Turkey, one of his own soldiers assassinated him. 

    The Roman historian Herodian claimed that when news of Caracalla's assassination reached Rome, senators were happy to hear it – a fact that underscores how loathsome his reign had been. 

    48 votes