Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
The novel opens with the announcement of the birth of Tom Canty, a pauper, and Edward Tudor, the Prince of Wales. The two boys grow up in different surroundings and are unaware of each other's existence. Tom lives in Offal Court, one of the poorest localities of London, where his drunken father forces him to beg in the streets. However, he finds time to learn Latin and read the books of Father Andrew. The old legends and histories he reads haunt his mind, and he starts visualizing himself as the prince. One day, after wandering about the streets, he walks towards the royal palace. The guards, catching him gaping through the gates, accost him, but the prince comes to the boy's rescue. He takes Tom to his chambers and inquires about his family. When Tom expresses a desire to wear princely clothes, he and the boy exchange their clothes. The striking resemblance between them surprises the two boys. Then, on an impulse, Edward storms out of his room to punish the sentinel who had behaved rudely with Tom. The guard mistakes him for Tom and pushes him out of the gate. The prince is thus thrown into the harsh world outside.
Edward experiences exhaustion and hunger as he walks through the streets of London. When he reaches Offal Court. John Canty apprehends him and, mistaking him for his son, gives him a beating. Father Andrew comes to rescue the boy from Canty's onslaughts and is struck by Canty. When Canty learns that Father Andrew is dying from his blow, he flees London with Edward in his grasp. It is the eve of a long procession down the Thames and ceremony at the Guildhall in honor of Tom, however, and, in the confusion, Edward escapes. Edward heads for the Guildhall, which he reaches as Tom is being honored there. The guards and crowds jeer him when he calls himself the prince and are about to attack him when Miles Hendon appears on the scene and rescues him.
In the meantime, the courtiers believe that Tom is Edward, and when the boy tries asserts his true identity, they dub him as mad. Tom is then taken to meet Henry VIII. When the boy fails to recognize the king, Henry VIII also expresses doubts about the sanity of the boy and advises him to relax his mind. Tom is thus forced to play the part of the prince. Slowly, he gets acquainted with the norms of the palace and reconciles himself to his situation. After the king's death, he feels the burden of responsibility on his head, but starts playing his role in earnest. He gives orders for the release of Duke of Norfolk, whom his father had condemned to death, and pardons several prisoners. The public appreciates his benevolent acts and cheer his wisdom and mercy.
Edward is made to live among vagabonds and ruffians. He deplores their behavior, but learns that many of these petty criminals are the victims of the unjust and harsh laws of England. One day, he is sent to beg with Hugo, a young member of the band. When Hugo tries to cheat a passerby out of his money, Edward exposes his deceit and makes his escape. That night he takes shelter in the barn of a peasant. The next morning, he is found by the peasant family. Although the children believe Edward, the mother does not; she asks him numerous questions and has him perform various household chores in order to test his identity. When John Canty approaches the house, Edward escapes, and next takes shelter in the house of a mad hermit. The hermit tries to kill the boy, but before he can lay hands on him, John Canty and Hugo arrive and carry him away. Once again Edward is thrown in the company of thieves and beggars.