What was Tom's first official act after being declared king in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper is, of course, a story about role reversal and learning empathy for others. Tom Canty, a poor boy who has spent his young life dreaming about living a life of luxury, suddenly becomes (at least to the world) Edward Tudor, the Prince of Wales and son of Henry VIII. Edward has always wondered what it would be like to live a life without the encumbrances of nobility, and he suddenly learns, firsthand.

In chapter fourteen, Tom suddenly becomes King of England because his father (actually Edward's father) has died. His first act as king reveals his kind heart and compassionate temperament, as well as his youth and inexperience.

Humphrey Marlowe is Tom's official whipping boy. Every time that Tom did not know his lessons properly, Marlowe was whipped (because of course a prince can never be punished). Now that Tom is king, Marlowe is afraid he will be out of a job and he will no longer be able to support himself and his sisters. The new king assures his whipping boy that he will continue his lessons and continue to make mistakes, ensuring Marlowe's continued employment.

Of course, Tom is king and he could just as easily have gifted Marlowe in another way and spared him the whipping, but he is young and unaware of his royal prerogative. Tom does what he knows to do for the poor whipping boy, demonstrating his compassion and kindness. 

“Yes, King Edward VI lived only a few years, poor boy, but he lived them worthily.” 

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The Prince and the Pauper

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