Chapter I introduces the reader to the two boys born on the same day in different environments. one boy is a pauper born to a por family. The other child is born to the king and is a young prince. Tom Canty was the poor boy and Edward was the rich child. Tom is mistreated by his father but is still a pleasant lad. He has a special friend in Father Andrew.
Chapter 2 finds Tom outside the gates of the castle where he sees a young prince playing in fine silken robes. Tom is near the gates looking through when a soldier jerks him away. The prince sees how the boy is treated and calls for the soldiers to bring him to him. He has the boy fed in his quarters and they get to know each other for a brief period. The prince is amazed by Tom's telling him about his life for he has had very limited experiences. The prince longs to see what it would be like to be free of duties and stuffy gatherings. They switch clothing and find that they look just a like. Later the soldier throws Edward out of the castle and mistakes him for the pauper.
Chapter 3 leaves the young prince trying to cnvince others that he is really the Prince but it does him no good. He tries to talk down to people and is soon beat up by some boys. Tom's drunk father finds him and drags him home. He thinks the boy has gone crazy.
Chapter 4 has Tom back at the palace enjoying his new found wealth and food. However, after the prince does not return he becomes frightened. He knells to people he should not and they think that he has gone mad as well. Tom tries to tell the truth but it only makes the king think that the boy is ill as well.
Chapter 5 has Tom feeling like a prisoner in the castle. He is dressed and resented like a pet. He does not know how to act like a prince and even drinks the water brought to him at the table for him to wash his hands. The king is very ill and getting sicker. He looks for a seal that the prince had hidden before he left.