The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope Hawkins is a nineteenth-century action and thriller novel about the abduction of the king-to-be of fictional Ruritania. This novel was the beginning of a long line of similar novels that take place in fictional European worlds, including perhaps the most famous: The Princess Bride.
The novel begins just before the coronation of the king. Without this coronation, he will not legally and truly be king because of the inner workings of the government in Ruritania, so it is stressed that it is completely necessary that the coronation happens successfully. The king, however, is drugged and kidnapped so that he can't attend the ceremony, and he is locked away in the small town of Zenda.
While he is imprisoned, the plot proceeds forward to have Michael (King Rudolph's half-brother) claim the throne as the next rightful heir to the monarchy. Michael's mistress, Antoinette de Mauban, and Count Rupert of Hentzau, who later becomes a more prominent villain, have their own goals and schemes in mind that complicate matters and make both the original coronation and the ensuing seditious plot all the more difficult to plot successfully.
In order to prevent Michael from succeeding the throne, Rudolph's advisers persuade the king's English cousin, Rudolf Rassendyll, to impersonate him and take the crown in his stead, and then to have them switch it back to the rightful king whenever he is found; if he isn't, Rudolf can be a sort of acting king. Unfortunately, Rudolf falls in love the king's fiancee, Princess Flavia, but he is unable to reveal his true identity to her because it will ruin their plot. Rudolf sets out and succeeds in rescuing the king, who is then able to accept the crown and legally become the king. Unfortunately, Flavia and cousin Rudolf must part ways in spite of their burgeoning romance.
To his sister-in-law, Lady Rose Burlesdon, Rudolf Rassendyll is a great disappointment. In the first place, he is twenty-nine years old and has no useful occupation. Second, he bears such a striking resemblance to the Elphbergs, the ruling house of Ruritania, that for Rose he is a constant reminder of an old scandal in which her husband’s family was involved. More than one hundred years before, a prince of the country of Ruritania had visited England and had become involved with the wife of one of the Rassendyll men. A child was born who had the red hair and the large, straight nose of the Elphbergs. Since that unfortunate event, five or six descendants of the English lady and the Ruritanian prince have had the characteristic nose and red hair of their royal ancestor. Rose finds Rudolf’s red hair and large nose a disgrace for that reason.
Rassendyll himself, however, has no concern over his resemblance to the Ruritanian royal family. A new king is to be crowned in that country within a few weeks, and Rassendyll decides to travel to Ruritania for the coronation to get a closer view of his unclaimed relatives. Realizing that his brother and sister-in-law will try to prevent him from taking the journey if they know his plans, he tells them that he is going to take a tour of the Tyrol. After he leaves England, his first stop is Paris, where he learns something more about affairs in the country he is to visit. The new king, also called Rudolf, has a half brother, Michael, duke of Strelsau. Michael would have liked to become king, and it is hinted that he will try to prevent the coronation of Rudolf. Rassendyll also learns that there is a beautiful lady, Antoinette de Mauban, who loves Michael and has his favor. She, too, is traveling to Ruritania for the coronation.
When he reaches Ruritania and finds the capital city crowded, Rassendyll takes lodging in Zenda, a small town approximately fifty miles from the capital, and prepares to travel to the capital by train for the coronation. Zenda is part of Michael’s domain; his hunting lodge is only a few miles from the inn where Rassendyll is staying. Rassendyll also...
(The entire section is 1,579 words.)