Historical Notes on the Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain


The novel the Prince and the Pauper is based on actual historical events happened in 16th century England. Therefore, it is necessary as students to have certain amount of knowledge about the historical allusions and terms to have a better understanding about the novel. 

You may read the characterization of the novel here:


Who were the Tudors

The Tudors were an English royal dynasty. In 1485, the first Henry Tudor became King Henry VII. Other kings and queens of the Tudor family succeeded him. The Tudor dynasty was succeeded by the Stuart dynasty because none of King Henry VIII’s children had children to succeed them. Elizabeth I was the last Tudor monarch. When she died in 1603, she had no children, so James I, who was both a Stuart and a descendant of King Henry VII, succeeded her.


Edward Tudor, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VI)

One difference between the historical Edward VI and the fictional Edward VI in this novel is their ages. The historical Edward VI assumed the throne at age 9. Mark Twain told his illustrators that he wanted Edward VI and Tom Canty to be pictured as if they were 13 or 14 (Foreword xvi).

Edward VI, of course, was King of England from 1547 until his death in 1553. He was born in 1537, and his parents were King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. King Henry VIII could be a harsh ruler, but under King Edward VI, some harsh laws regarding treasure and heresy were relaxed. Under King Edward VI, the country grew more Protestant. King Edward VI died at age 15 of tuberculosis.


Elizabeth, Jane Grey, Mary.

Jane Grey

Jane Grey was Edward’s first cousin. Her life came to a bad end. One of the problems of having kings and queens as political leaders is that sometimes a power struggle results when a clear successor does not exist. When Edward died, a political faction proclaimed Jane Grey Queen. She reigned for a little more than a week, then was dethroned, found guilty of treason, and beheaded. She was less than 18 years old when she died.


Mary reigned as Queen of England after having Jane Grey executed for treason. She was born on February 18, 1516, and she became Queen Mary I of England on July 19, 1553, reigning until she died on November 17, 1558. She was known as “Bloody Mary.” She was an intolerant Roman Catholic and had many Protestants executed.


Elizabeth became Elizabeth I, Queen of England. When she died without children, the Tudor dynasty came to an end. She was born on September 7, 1533, and she died on March 24, 1603, having been queen since November 17, 1558. Her father was King Henry VIII and her mother was Anne Boleyn, so she was Edward’s half-sister. Elizabeth ruled for many years, and she gave her name to an era. William Shakespeare is known as an Elizabethan playwright because he was writing plays during her life. A Protestant, Elizabeth was very much more religiously tolerant than Mary.


What is a patrician

A patrician is a member of the upper classes. Anyone who is a member of the aristocracy is a patrician. The prince is a patrician. When the pauper Tom is mistaken for the prince, he is treated as if he were a patrician.


About the lord St. John

William Paulet (1485?-1572), baron St. John of Basing, was lord steward of the royal household and lord president of the privy council.


About the Earl of Hertford

Edward Seymour (1506?-1552), Earl of Hertford, was the brother of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, and therefore the uncle of young Prince Edward. A successful military commander and influential member of the king’s privy council, he was named lord protector of the realm upon the accession of Edward VI, serving in effect as king. Military defeats abroad, the failure of his policies at home, and disenchantment with his arrogance, ambition, and greed led to his downfall. He was condemned on a charge of felony and beheaded in January 1552.


The Lord Chancellor and his main duty

At the time of this novel, Thomas Wriothesley (1505-1550), Baron Wriothesley of Titchfield, was lord chancellor of England. He kept the Great Seal, which of course King Henry VIII used to sign important political documents. The lord chancellor of England is an important job; the chancellor is the king’s chief minister as well as the chief judicial authority in the kingdom.


What is Guildhall

Guildhall is an important public building. In it, officials conducted the municipal affairs of London. The prince heads for Guildhall because he knows that important officials will be there because of the installation of the lord mayor of London. In addition, the prince knows that he the prince was supposed to attend the banquet, so another reason to go to Guildhall is that he knows that Tom Canty and Elizabeth and the lady Jane Grey will be there.


People on the London Bridge

The people who live on London Bridge have sometimes been there for generations. They know London Bridge and very little else. Sometimes, when a resident of London Bridge moves away to the countryside, the quiet gets to him, and he returns to London Bridge, where he easily falls asleep amid the noise and bustle. The people who live there know each other intimately. In addition, they know each other’s mothers and fathers and grandparents intimately. The aristocracy of London Bridge are the people whose ancestors have lived there for centuries.



It means, “The king is dead — long live the king.” Or, in other words, “The old king is dead —

may the new king live long.”


A Mooncalf

Mooncalves: in the 16th century “mooncalf” referred to an aborted fleshy mass; later it became a term for a born fool. Twain is probably using the term anachronistically.


A Ruffler

As Mark Twain knew from Francis Grose’s Dictionary, the begging crew, male and female, was divided into 23 distinct castes, with the “rufflers” being the first in that hierarchy.


The hermit and his anger at King Henry VIII

In the note on p. 304, we read:

In blaming Henry VIII for Father Andrew’s outcast status, Mark Twain may have had in mind the king’s dissolution of monasteries and sale of their lands, carried out in the 1530s and 1540s to supply the royal coffers.

King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, starting with the smaller, less powerful monasteries, and working his up to the bigger, more powerful monasteries. Much of the wealth of the monasteries ended up in his royal treasury. For example, much of the land owned by the monasteries was sold, with King Henry VIII getting the money. Not surprisingly, the religious in the monasteries wanted the money to go to charity.

In addition, the hermit blames King Henry VIII for his not becoming pope. Apparently, the hermit thinks that if the monasteries had not been dissolved, then he would have become pope.

You may read the summery of the novel here:


Most of these terms are based on the discussion guide by David Bruce. So to appreciate his great support you can visit his site www.smashwords.com .

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