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.