Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Tom Canty and Prince Edward are born in London on the same day. Tom, however, is unwanted, and Edward has been long awaited. While the prince lies robed in silks, Tom grows up in the filth of Offal Court. As a small child, Tom is forced by his father to beg during the day and is beaten by him at night. Gathering a ragtag court of street urchins around him, Tom often pretends that he is a prince. Father Andrew, a priest who lives in Tom’s house, teaches Tom to read.
One day, hoping to see Prince Edward of England, Tom visits the royal precincts, but when he approaches too near, he is cuffed by a guard and ordered away. Edward, who has witnessed the incident, protects Tom and takes the young beggar into the palace. There, in the privacy of Edward’s chamber, Tom confesses his longing to be a prince. When the two boys exchange garments, they discover that they are identical in appearance. Before they can switch clothes again, Edward is mistaken for the beggar boy and thrown out of the palace. He wanders helplessly in the streets, mocked by people whom he approaches with pleas that they pay homage to him as their rightful prince.
In the palace, it is thought that the prince has gone mad because he can recall none of the royal matters that he is supposed to know. King Henry VIII issues an edict that no one should discuss the royal lapse of memory, and Edward’s half-sister, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I); his cousin Lady Jane Grey; and his whipping boy, Sir Humphrey Marlowe, kindly try to aid the supposed prince, who by this time is too frightened to confess that he is Tom Canty, a beggar dressed in the prince’s clothing.
While he had been ill, King Henry VIII had given the great seal of the kingdom to Prince Edward for safekeeping. Henry now demands the return of his seal, but Tom reports that he does not know where it is.
The Prince of Wales is still wandering the streets as a homeless waif when King Henry dies. Edward is found by John Canty, Tom’s father, and brought to Offal Court, but during the wild celebration of the ascension to the throne of the prince of Wales, Edward escapes from his supposed father. Again tormented by crowds who laugh at his protests that he is the king of England, Edward is rescued by Miles Hendon, a disinherited knight and the son of a baronet. Thinking Edward is mad, Miles pities the little boy and pretends to pay him the homage due to a monarch.
Miles had loved a girl named Edith, who was coveted by Miles’s brother, Hugh. Hugh had gained his father’s confidence by trickery, and Miles had been turned from home. Edward declares that Miles has suffered unjustly and promises the adventurer any boon he might ask. Recalling the story of De Courcy, who, given a similar opportunity by King John, had requested that he and all of his descendants might be permitted to wear hats in the presence of the king of England, Miles wisely asks that he be permitted to sit in Edward’s presence, for the young king has been ordering Miles about like a personal...
(The entire section is 1248 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In The Prince and the Pauper, Twain brought together several of his literary interests. His interest in old European civilization, which had been so successfully employed in his travel book The Innocents Abroad and had been essayed again in A Tramp Abroad (1880), is here focused on England, with emphasis upon life in London. (He will come back again to the theme in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which also returns to the idea of taking the novel back into the past.) The novel does not forget the part of Twain’s literary gift that is most celebrated: his interest in boys and how they cope in situations that are not without serious consequences. Twain also had wider ambitions for the novel, and he makes use of it to comment upon politics, social problems, and the relations between children and parents or, as often is the case in his books, surrogate parents.
The book is directly related to the fairy tale genre, and it starts simply enough with the unusual, but not impossible, idea that a London street urchin, who looks surprisingly like Prince Edward, is taken into the palace by the prince. They innocently change clothes, and the prince goes off to chide the guard who mistreated his new friend, only to be thrown out on to the street despite his claim that he is the prince. Then the real trouble starts, both for him and for Tom Canty, the beggar boy, for whom the danger is less physically obvious but potentially serious if he is discovered to be an imposter.
Twain then begins an interleaved narrative of the adventures of the two boys, both determined to get back their identities. However much they protest, they fail to impress and are considered mad. Tom, sensing how precarious his situation is in the palace, goes about accumulating as much knowledge as he can about how he ought to act, hoping to wait out the absence of the prince. His task is complicated by the death of the king and the subsequent need for the prince to take a serious role in governing the country even before he is crowned. Pleased in part by the comforts of his position, he...
(The entire section is 866 words.)
Chapters 1-2 Summary
In London, two boys are born. Edward Tudor, the Prince of Wales, is born to great celebration, having been long hoped for by the people of England as well as by his family. There is rejoicing throughout London at the arrival of a male heir to the throne. Tom is born to the Canty family in the poor district near London Bridge. He is seen as just another burden and mouth to feed.
The years pass, and Tom is revealed to be living in third-floor, single-room lodgings in Offal Court with his family: his drunken father and grandmother, his subdued mother, and his twin sisters Bet and Nan. The girls are good hearted but ignorant. Tom’s father, John Canty, is a thief and regularly comes home to beat his wife and children, especially Tom. Tom’s grandmother is a beggar and takes up the beatings when John Canty leaves off. Whenever Mrs. Canty tries to slip some extra food to Tom, she also receives a beating from her husband.
Also living in the house is Father Andrew, a pensioned priest who gives Tom as much education as he can. Tom learns a little Latin, but his primary interest is in the tales Father Andrew tells. He is enthralled by stories of princes and the lives they lead. Tom imagines what it would be like to be a prince, to be pampered and well fed. More than anything, Tom wants to see a real prince, but his comrades laugh at him.
Eventually, through his reading and his dreaming, Tom’s speech and mannerisms resemble more those of a prince than a pauper. He is held with deep respect by the other residents of Offal Court. He even grows in wisdom, as if he were raised in a palace with the best mentors of the land. People, even adults, come to Tom for advice.
Tom organizes his friends into a royal court, complete with guards, chamberlains, equerries, lords, and ladies-in-waiting, along with a royal family. Despite the dirt and filth of his daily life, Tom begins to take more care with his cleanliness, splashing around in the Thames River for a bath rather than just for fun.
One January day, Tom wanders the streets of London, looking through the shop windows at the rich displays of food and dainties. He longs for release from his impoverished life. That night, he dreams that he is surrounded by real lords and ladies and all the glories of royalty. He awakens to be disheartened even more by his meager surroundings.
Chapters 3-4 Summary
As Tom Canty wanders around London, he makes his way to the royal palace at Westminster. He looks through the gates and at last sees a prince dressed in his glorious array. The guard smacks Tom away, but the prince, Edward Tutor, sees this and berates the guard for his cruelty.
The prince invites Tom into the palace, seeing that he is weak and hungry. He asks the poor boy about his family. He is outraged to learn that Tom’s father and grandmother beat him and vows that he will make sure that they are properly punished, even if the Tower of London is reserved for more noble criminals. Tom tells about his mother and sisters, who are kind although poor.
Prince Edward describes his equally kind sister Elizabeth and cousin Jane Grey, but restrains himself in his description of his mean elder sister Mary.
Tom assures Edward that his life is not all hardship. He relates the fun he and the other poor children have along the banks of the river. This intrigues Edward, since his life is pretty constrained as a prince. He suggests that he and Tom change clothes, just for fun. When they do, they notice that they look identical, even down to voice and mannerisms.
Edward notices a bruise on Tom’s hand where the guard struck him. Furious, Edward runs out after putting away an “article of national importance.” He confronts the guard with his cruelty, but the guard, thinking that the prince is the pauper, strikes him and throws him outside the palace gate.
Chased down the road by the laughing crowd, Edward cries out royal oaths to the mob, which only makes them laugh harder. When he falls silent from fatigue, the crowd loses interest in him and leaves.
Edward finds himself at Grey Friars’, renamed Christ’s Church, which is a hospital for poor boys. Edward reasons that the people here will return him to the palace, but the poor boys treat him as roughly as the mob as soon as Edward demands that they take him to his father the king.
They march him out of the hospital, and Edward is forced to walk through the rain, hoping to find Offal Court and Tom’s family, who he is sure will return him to his father. Edward is caught by John Canty, who exclaims that he is out late at night with nothing to show for his begging. Edward tries to convince John Canty that he is not Tom, but John merely drags him back to Offal Court to face the consequences of his unprofitable day.
Chapters 5-6 Summary
Tom continues to admire his appearance in the mirror and wanders around the room, examining the rich articles displayed there. After some time, he begins to worry since Edward has not returned.
Soon Lady Jane Grey arrives and sees that the boy she believes is her cousin is not as he usually is. Tom tells her that he is Tom Canty and wants to go back to his humble home. Lady Jane thinks that he is truly ill and rushes out of the room.
The rumor quickly spreads throughout the palace that the Prince of Wales has gone mad. Tom leaves the room and walks through the palace, eventually coming to a room filled with courtiers and a large man sitting on a chair. He soon discovers that this is King Henry the Eighth,...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
Tom must submit to having his clothes changed for the noonday meal. He is not allowed to dress himself but has a team of servants to perform the ceremony.
He is escorted to a banquet hall, where a sumptuous table is spread for him alone, although the room is filled with servants, each with his own duty. One fastens a napkin around Tom’s neck and another tastes Tom’s food, lest it be poisoned. The chaplain stands to say grace before and after the meal. The Lord Chief Butler, the Lord Great Steward, and the Lord Head Cook all stand in attendance. Amazed at the number of servants, Tom is not aware that he personally has hundreds more, all of them dedicated to meeting his every need and whim.
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
That evening, a river pageant is held in honor of the Prince of Wales’s investiture. Lighted barges float along the Thames to the palace, each bearing soldiers, diplomats, or noblemen. Tom appears, dressed in bejeweled splendor. His life as a celebrated prince is in deep contrast to his lowly life as a pauper.
In the meantime, John Canty has captured Edward, the true Prince of Wales. Edward resists John’s grip, but Canty raises his cudgel to strike the boy. A figure intervenes and the stroke hits him instead, knocking him to the ground.
Canty hauls Edward into Offal Court to the one-room lodgings of the Canty family. Edward keeps insisting that he is a prince and must be returned to his father the king....
(The entire section is 467 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
Tom, along with Princess Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey, is carried by barge to the Guildhall, where their arrival is celebrated with great ceremony.
In the meantime, Edward is trying to enter the Guildhall but is held back, obviously being a pauper. He is trying to reach Tom, who he has decided has usurped his place as the Prince of Wales and must be arrested. As he berates the guards, a friend arrives, bearing the name of Miles Hendon. Miles himself looks to be a faded prince and is also the butt of the crowd's jokes.
As the crowd advances on Edward, a mounted messenger rides through the mob to proclaim that King Henry is dead. As the people inside the Guildhall react by kneeling before Tom, the poor boy...
(The entire section is 471 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
After eating, Edward lies down to sleep after ordering Miles to undress him for the night. Miles covers him again and lies down across the door, as Edward had told him to do.
In the morning, Miles measures Edward and tells him to go back to sleep, covering up even his head. Miles goes out to buy some second-hand clothes for Edward to replace his rags. He plans to take Edward to his father’s home at Hendon Hall, some distance from London.
He returns and mends the clothes as Edward sleeps. When he is finished, Miles tells Edward to wake up but finds that Edward is gone. The servant arrives, bringing breakfast. Miles learns that a youth came for Edward with the message that he was to meet Miles at Southwark....
(The entire section is 455 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
The following day, Tom receives the foreign ambassadors. With the Earl of Hertford’s assistance, Tom speaks the words appropriate for a king in receiving diplomats. He manages to look and sound like a king, but he does not feel at ease. He sees most of his time as wasted with royal business, but he enjoys a few hours with his whipping boy, who instructs him in some useful information about palace life.
After a few days, Tom grows more easy in his role. Hertford is chosen as the Lord Protector, being most in touch with the king’s royal duties.
One day, Tom looks out the window and sees a mob. He sends someone to find out what is happening, surprised at the speed with which he has picked up the voice of...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
Miles Hendon hurries across London Bridge to Southwark but finds no sign of Edward, the youth, or the ruffian. He decides that Edward’s most likely course of action would be to try to find Miles, his only friend, perhaps even going toward Hendon Hall. Miles sets off in that direction.
In the meantime, Edward is taken by the youth and the ruffian into the countryside to a wood. They find shelter in a dilapidated barn. There the ruffian takes off his disguise of an eyepatch and bandage to reveal himself as John Canty. Edward demands to know where Miles is (to whom he refers as his servant), but Canty simply laughs at his pretensions.
He tells Edward that he has changed his name to John Hobbs and that Edward...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
Edward awakens the next morning to find that a rat has fallen asleep on his chest. He realizes that since he cannot sink any lower, his circumstances are about to change for the better.
Two young girls enter the barn and are surprised to see him there. When he announces that he is the king, the girls readily believe him. Their mother, however, believes him to be a deranged tramp. A widow, the woman gives him some food and tries to determine where he has come from. He shows no signs of knowing any of the places she names. She tries to find out his occupation, finally deciding from his interest that he used to be a servant in the palace kitchen.
She sets him to watching some cooking food while she does some...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
Edward awakens to find himself bound and gagged, the mad monk sitting nearby with a knife. He tries to cry out when the monk asks him if he has prayed the prayer for the dying.
Soon he hears the sound of someone approaching. A knock on the door reveals Miles Hendon, who tells the monk that he is seeking a boy who has escaped from outlaws. The monk reveals to Miles that he is an archangel, which Miles plays along with. The monk says that he sent the boy out on an errand, but Miles knows that Edward would never leave on such a task.
As Miles and the monk speak, Edward tries to make sounds loud enough for Miles to hear. Miles does indeed hear, but the monk says that the sounds came from outside. He and Miles go...
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Chapters 23-24 Summary
A constable approaches, but Edward resists any attempt to take him to the court for questioning. Miles warns him that he should submit himself to the law just as any of the king’s subjects would since the law of England is even more supreme than the monarch.
Edward sees the wisdom of this and allows himself to be brought before the justice of the peace. When the woman’s package is revealed, it is a dressed pig, which the woman claims is worth three shillings and eightpence.
At this, the justice orders the court cleared and the doors closed. He warns the woman that any one who thieves something above the value of thirteen pence ha’penny is subject to the death penalty. He pleads for her to change the...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary
Edward discards his rags and dresses in the clothes Miles bought for him on London Bridge. They leave London and travel across country, staying at a village overnight.
Miles continues to act as the servant to Edward’s “act” as the king. He tells Edward that the mad monk returned to his hut and was upset that Edward had escaped. When Edward tells Miles that the monk planned to kill him, Miles regrets not killing the “archangel.”
Miles looks forward to arriving at his old home, Hendon Hall. When he reaches the village, it seems to him unchanged. At Hendon Hall, Miles’ brother Hugh is the first to see them. Hugh, however, claims not to recognize Miles as his brother. He says that the family received...
(The entire section is 424 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
Miles and Edward are chained in an overcrowded cell, subjected to seeing the violence criminals inflict on one another. The jailor mocks him as an imposter and brings in an old man to see him. Miles recognizes him as Blake Andrews, who used to be a servant for the Hendon family. The old man looks at Miles and says that he does not know him.
The jailor leaves, but Andrews returns and tells Miles that he does indeed recognize him. He promises that he will proclaim the truth, even if he is strangled for it. Over the next few days, Andrews comes to “abuse” Miles, all the while bringing him some delicacies. Miles gives these to Edward, who is suffering badly in jail.
Andrews tells Miles that Arthur Hendon,...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapters 29-30 Summary
When Miles’ term in the stocks is completed, he and Edward are told to leave the village and not return. As they ride back to London, Miles ponders what his next course of action must be to regain his inheritance.
He thinks of Andrews’ comment about the kindness of the new king. He decides he will try to appeal to King Edward for his assistance, although he is not sure whether a man with such a poor appearance as he now has will be allowed into the royal presence. He remembers an old friend of his father, Sir Humphrey Marlow, who held a position in the royal palace and might be able to get him in to see King Edward.
Edward is also deep in thought, and Miles forgets his intention of treating the boy as...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapters 31-32 Summary
On Coronation Day, Tom Canty rides in the pageant to the cheers of the London citizens. He sees two of his friends from Offal Court and wonders what they would think if they knew who he really was.
He is stunned when he recognizes his mother among the crowd. His hand flies up, the habit that he acquired in his younger days when he was startled by an explosion of gunpowder. His mother recognizes the sign and cries out to him as her son. When he says, “I do not know you, woman,” a guard knocks her down into the street.
Tom is haunted by the expression on his mother’s face when he denied knowing her. The Earl of Hertford sees that his countenance fell after seeing the pauper woman and urges him to change...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
Chapter 33 and Conclusion Summary
Before he can get across London Bridge, Miles Hendon is the victim of pickpockets and is left with nothing but his sword. Rather than pawn his only weapon, Miles tramps along with the coronation procession. Afterward he finds himself in the countryside, where he lies down to sleep.
The next morning, he decides to go to the palace and sue for aid. He encounters the former prince’s whipping boy and asks if Sir Humphrey Marlowe is within. Since Sir Humphrey is the whipping boy’s father, Miles is allowed in. He carries the letter Edward had written and is thus shown into the presence of the king.
Miles is shocked to see his former traveling companion sitting on the royal throne. To test the truth of what he...
(The entire section is 415 words.)