The first chapter of The Prince and the Pauper announces the birth of Edward Tudor, Prince of Wales, and that of Tom Canty, a pauper.
In this chapter, the narrator tells of Tom’s poverty, recounting the deprivations of Tom’s formative years in Offal Court, the part of London where Tom and his family live. Tom lives with his mother, his father, his fifteen-year-old twin sisters Nan and Bet, and his grandmother. The narrator tells of the drunkenness, violence, and hunger that plague this poor area. Father Andrew, a kindly old priest who teaches an eager Tom reading, Latin, and writing, is also introduced. Tom gradually becomes fixated on the idea of seeing a prince; he is also increasingly aware of the ‘‘sordidness of his surroundings.’’
Tom wanders around London and finds himself at the palace, where carriages are arriving and departing. Prince Edward is among the nobles in the carriages, and Tom is lucky enough to be able to peer through the bars of the gate to catch a glimpse. He is knocked back roughly by one of the soldiers. The prince happens to notice the incident; he chastises the soldier and asks that Tom be brought inside. After the two are alone in Edward’s private chamber, the boys exchange descriptions of their lives and circumstances. Tom is in awe of the luxury in which Edward lives, and Edward longs for the freedom to play that Tom possesses. Out of curiosity, the two exchange clothing and notice that they bear a striking resemblance to each other. Edward sees the wound the soldier inflicted on Tom; he runs from the palace to admonish the soldier. But, dressed in Tom’s ragged clothing, he is mistaken by the soldier for a common beggar and is thrown into the street, despite his insistence that he is the prince.
Edward is lost and alone in London, mocked and abused each time he insists he is the prince. He becomes aware of the injustices in his kingdom with each new indignation done to him. He is found by Tom’s drunken father. John Canty, assuming the boy is Tom, thinks he is mad when he says that he is Prince Edward.
Tom, not having any idea what has happened, begins to grow uneasy when he realizes how long the prince has been gone. When other members of the royal household see what appears to be Prince Edward claiming to be but a poor beggar named Tom Canty, they assume he is mad. The king, Henry VIII, instructs everyone to ignore his protestations, and insists that the prince’s madness is temporary. Tom’s previous mimicry of royalty in the games he used to play and his knowledge of reading and Latin contribute to the misunderstanding that he is Edward. Tom is uneasy, but he cannot find a way to escape.
Tom is instructed by two of the king’s trusted nobles, the Earl of Hertford (Prince Edward’s uncle) and Lord St. John, on how to conduct himself in the presence of others. Thinking Tom is a very ill Edward, everyone treats him with the utmost kindness, gentleness, and respect. Tom’s discomfort begins to lessen.
Tom is served his first royal dinner, alone save for his attendants, who ignore his crude manners. When he is finally left alone, he discovers a book on courtly etiquette and manners, with which he begins to instruct himself.
Tom is questioned about the location of an official seal of the king, but he does not know what object he is being asked about. The king needs the seal in order to command the beheading of the Duke of Norfolk. Chapter 9 The narrator describes a grand pageant on the river, a parade of lavishly decorated boats and barges, presided over by Tom.
Prince Edward is about to be beaten by Tom’s father when a man steps in to protect the boy. With his cudgel (a short stick used as a weapon), John Canty knocks the man to the ground. Edward is then brought to the Canty home, where he encounters Tom’s sisters, mother, and grandmother. He asserts that he is Prince Edward, and they think him mad. Canty hits Edward. Tom’s mother steps between Edward and Canty and receives the remainder of the blows herself. When all settle down to sleep, she considers the possibility that the boy is in fact someone else and attempts to contrive a test to determine whether or not the boy is actually her son, who has gone mad. Edward fails her test, but Tom’s mother is nevertheless certain the boy is her own son. This test becomes important later in the story. Tom’s mother describes the way her son, once startled by fireworks, always brought his hand to his face to cover his eyes, palm out, rather than shielding his eyes with the palm of his hand inward, the way most people do. She shines a candle in Edward’s face to see which way his hand will shield his eyes, and it is not Tom’s way. During the night, Canty is awakened and told that the man he struck in the street earlier was Father Andrew, and that he has died as a result of the blow. Canty rouses his family, fleeing the house and the authorities who will soon be after him. The escape is hampered by the festive atmosphere along the river, where people have gathered to watch the river pageant. Edward manages to run off when Canty finally unhands him. Edward believes Tom has usurped him. He vows to have Tom hanged for high treason.
Tom is enjoying the luxury of the royal barge. After the journey down the river, he presides over a celebration in his first public experience as the prince. From the crowd, Edward sees Tom, and he begins to shout that he is the prince. The crowd mocks him cruelly. A man named Miles Hendon sees Edward and takes pity on him, saving him as he is about to be physically attacked. Soon afterward, a bugle is heard, and a messenger from the palace announces that King Henry VIII has just died. Edward becomes King Edward VI in that moment, although it is Tom who is now looked to as the king.
Being pulled along by Hendon, Edward grieves his dead father and wonders at the notion that he is now the King of England. Hendon takes Edward to London Bridge, where the pair encounter John Canty, who claims Edward is his son. Seeing that the man appears to be violent, and that Edward insists the man is not his father, Hendon continues to protect Edward, and takes him to the inn where he is staying. He is impressed by Edward’s persistence in asserting that he is royalty and by his regal nature. Hendon humors what he believes to be the boy’s false notions and treats him as if he is in fact the recent prince, now king.
Hendon lets Edward sleep while he goes out to purchase better clothing for him. When Hendon returns, he finds that the boy is gone. He questions a servant and is told that a youth came to the inn, saying that Hendon wanted the boy Edward to meet him. Edward then departed with the youth.
At the palace, Tom is dealing with the notion that he has become the King of England. He has more duties to attend to than he did as prince, most of which he does not fully understand. He finds the talk of money, petitions, and proclamations to be tedious and dull. He also discovers he has a ‘‘whipping boy,’’ a youth who is paid to receive any lashes that Edward would have for misbehavior, such as failure to attend to his lessons. Tom finds the boy a useful source of information about the royal family and all the activities of the palace. With the whipping boy’s help, Tom appears to everyone else to be Edward (once again sane) rising admirably to his new role as monarch, although when asked about the location of the official seal, he still can offer no information.
Several days pass with Tom as king. He is dreading his first public meal, and as the hour approaches, he feels ‘‘the sense of captivity heavy upon him.’’ When Tom looks out a window and spies a mob of approaching people, he wonders aloud what is happening. The Earl of Hertford orders a messenger to discover the source of the commotion. It is announced that three people from the crowd are to be executed, and Tom demands that they be brought before him. He hears their stories, assesses the facts, and eventually sets them all free. Everyone is impressed with his intelligence and his kindness, for the former king was known to be cruel and punishing, prone to sentencing people to torture and death.
Tom’s confidence is growing and he no longer dreads the upcoming dinner. He begins to feel comfortable and confident and bears himself like royalty. The dinner he dreading is endured without any mistakes on Tom’s part.
Miles Hendon searches for Edward, who is being dragged along by Tom’s father, John Canty. Canty has joined up with his band of petty thieves and criminals, and Edward is forced to travel among them and live as one of them. His insistence that he is King Edward is mocked.
Edward travels with Canty’s ‘‘troop of vagabonds.’’ When Edward has a chance at escape, he takes it. He finds a barn to sleep in and after a fearful moment of realizing he is not alone in the stall, he discovers a young calf next to him. He huddles against the animal for warmth, and is grateful just to be warm and sheltered. Having these two things, he finds that he is actually happy.
Stepping out of the stall the next morning, Edward encounters two little girls. When they ask who he is, Edward says he is the king, and they believe him. Edward is relieved to be able to tell them his story, and they listen attentively. The girls bring Edward to their mother, who pities him, but of course does not believe him. Edward speaks comfortably and knowledgeably about matters of the court, so the mother, thinking Edward must have worked in a noble household or even the palace, questions him subtly about a variety of occupations. Edward is allowed by the mother to sit at the table and eat with the family, and he agrees to eat with them, owing to her kindness toward him. The woman finds a number of chores for Edward, and he does them, but he eventually abandons the family when he finds that John Canty and Hugo, one of his men, are approaching.
Edward travels onward, and discovers a hermit, who welcomes him into his home. The hermit claims to be an archangel, and Edward becomes fearful that he is the prisoner of someone truly insane. The hermit, however, begins to chat in a friendly way and feeds Edward supper, and Edward’s fear begins to lessen. When Edward falls asleep, the hermit binds him and ties a cloth around under his chin and atop his head so he cannot open his mouth. He sharpens his knife and says that he blames Edward’s father for preventing him from becoming Pope, and that he therefore intends to kill Edward.
Edward wakes up in terror but is unable to move or cry out. The hermit rants and is about to kill Edward, but voices are heard outside the cabin. The hermit drops his knife, and leaving Edward alone in the room, goes to see who is at his door. It is Miles Hendon, who has been tracking Edward. The hermit tells Hendon that Edward has been here and that he will shortly return. Meanwhile, Edward is attempting to draw attention to himself with as much noise as he can make. To get Hendon out of the cabin, the hermit tells Hendon that together the two of them will go look for the boy. While they are gone, John Canty and Hugo find Edward, untie him, and take him.
Rejoined with Canty’s band of vagabonds, Edward is now placed in Hugo’s care. While the group attempts to make some use of Edward, he refuses to beg by the roadside for money for them, or to play any role in their treachery. Several days go by. Hugo, seeking to rid himself of the troublesome boy, finds a way to make it appear as though Edward has stolen a woman’s parcel. Edward is captured. Hendon arrives, and his presence ensures that Edward will at least be tried in a court of law rather than being treated roughly by the crowd.
Hendon accompanies Edward, along with the wronged woman, to the judge. When the woman tells the judge what her parcel was worth (the parcel contained a butchered pig) the judge informs her that the penalty for the theft of an item of that value would be hanging. The woman becomes upset and asserts that she certainly does not want Edward hanged. The value of the parcel is subsequently adjusted so that Edward can avoid such severe punishment. Hendon next overhears the constable who had witnessed these proceedings offering to buy the pig for the adjusted, lower value. She exclaims that she would not sell it for such a low price, as it cost her much more. He threatens to have her charged with lying under oath and says that this will also result in Edward’s being hanged. She sells him the pig for the lower price and goes off in tears. The judge sentences Edward to a short imprisonment and public flogging.
Hendon arranges for Edward to escape his prison sentence. He approaches the constable and tells him that he overheard the way the constable tricked the woman. Hendon knows the constable fears that the judge will learn this information, and he also senses that the judge was reluctant to sentence Edward at all and would not pursue him if he escaped. Hendon also convinces the constable to return the pig to the woman.
Hendon and Edward embark for Hendon Hall, Hendon’s family home. Hendon has previously recounted the tale of his brothers and his own exile, and he anticipates being welcomed warmly and being hopefully reunited with his love, Lady Edith. Upon his return, however, Hendon’s brother Hugh, who is now married to Edith, acts as if he does not recognize Miles at all; nor does Edith.
Hendon contemplates how he can regain his former life and assert the truth of his identity. Edith appears and tells him to flee for his life, for Hugh is ruthless. She continues to claim that she does not recognize him. Officers enter and, overpowering Hendon, take both Hendon and Edward to prison.
Days pass in the squalor of the prison. Various men are brought before Hendon and are asked to identify him. All claim not to recognize him. Finally, an old man who has claimed not to know Hendon approaches when he has the chance and acknowledges Hendon as his former master. The old servant brings food and information to Hendon and Edward during the coming days. When the servant reveals the rumors that King Edward (Tom) is mad, the real Edward begins to wonder whether the pauper boy he left in his chambers has been impersonating him all this time and is acting as king. Hendon and Edward are befriended by two women being held in the prison for their religious beliefs. Soon afterward, the women are burned at the stake for their beliefs while the other prisoners and a crowd watch. They discovered other prisoners who were destined to receive cruel punishments. Edward is desperate to break out of prison and reclaim the crown.
Hendon learns that his punishment is to stand in the pillory for two hours. (The pillory was a wooden frame through which the head, hands, and feet were held in place. It was erected in a public place, and punishment included having various objects thrown at the prisoner by a crowd.) When Hendon is secured in the pillory, a member of the crowd throws an egg at Hendon’s face. Edward rises to Hendon’s defense and is consequently ordered to be whipped. Hendon insists on taking Edward’s lashings himself. Edward quietly makes Hendon an earl as a show of gratitude and respect.
Hendon is released from the pillory, and he and Edward depart for London. They arrive on the eve of the coronation of the new king. Hendon and Edward are separated.
Tom is about to be crowned King of England. He admits to feeling guilty and ashamed when he thinks of Edward. He has also grown increasingly regal and dignified, while retaining his kindness and gentleness. He falls asleep happy the night before Coronation Day, looking forward to the official ceremony in which the kingship will be bestowed upon him. Edward himself has just arrived outside Westminster Palace, where the coronation is to take place.
A procession, known as the ‘‘Recognition Procession,’’ begins. It is a grand parade through the streets of London in which Tom, mounted on a war house, gazes upon his royal subjects. He sees two old friends from Offal Court but turns away from them. Tom’s excitement, despite this glimpse of his past, increases. Soon, however, he recognizes his own mother staring up at him. Startled, he raises his hand to his face, palm facing outward, and in so doing reveals his true identity to his mother. As he passes, she grasps his leg and calls out to him, but an officer snatches her away and he denies knowing her. Tom’s shame is so great he can barely continue. His excitement has evaporated, along with his confidence and regal bearing. With some encouragement he makes it through the procession, but his transformation does not go unnoticed by his closest advisors.
At the coronation, just as the Archbishop of Canterbury is about to place the crown on Tom’s head, Edward appears, announcing that he is the true king. As Edward is about to be seized, Tom orders him not to be touched. He claims that Edward is indeed the king. Panic and chaos ensue momentarily. Edward’s uncle, the former Earl of Hertford, whom Tom has made the Duke of Somerset and who is also now the Lord Protector (the chief representative of an underage king), examines Edward in his vagabond’s clothes with ‘‘an expression of wondering surprise.’’ The resemblance between Tom and Edward is noted, and as both boys insist Edward is the true king, the nobleman attempts to find ways to confirm Edward’s true identity. It is the location of the official seal that is determined to be the one thing that only the real Edward would know. Once the object is finally described to Tom, he is able to help Edward remember precisely what Edward did with the seal just prior to leaving the palace in Tom’s clothes. The whole story comes out, and Edward is at last proved to be king.
In the final chapter, Hendon’s true identity is also confirmed. King Edward bestows on Tom the title of ‘‘King’s Ward,’’ and he and his mother and sisters are provided for. Edward reveals how he stole into the palace with a group of workmen and hid until the coronation. Conclusion The confession of Miles Hendon’s brother Hugh is revealed, as is Hugh’s manipulation of Edith. Hugh abandoned his wife, left for the Continent, and shortly died, whereupon Hendon, now Earl of Kent, married Edith. We also learn that John Canty, Tom’s father, disappeared and was not heard from again, and that King Edward attempted to save all the people wrongly sentenced to punishment or death that he had encountered during his travels. Edward’s reign is described as short but merciful.
Sara Constantakis (Editor), Novels for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 31, Mark Twain, Published by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.