The Prisoner of Zenda

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The Prisoner of Zenda
Hope Prisoner of Zenda cover.jpg
Cover to 2nd edition
AuthorAnthony Hope
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre Adventure fiction, Ruritanian romance
Publisher J. W. Arrowsmith
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages310 (first edition)
OCLC 41674245
823/.8 21
LC Class PR4762.P7 1999
Preceded by The Heart of Princess Osra  
Followed by Rupert of Hentzau  
Frontispiece to the 1898 Macmillan Publishers edition, illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson Zenda1 Gibson.jpg
Frontispiece to the 1898 Macmillan Publishers edition, illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson

The Prisoner of Zenda is an 1894 adventure novel by Anthony Hope, in which the King of Ruritania is drugged on the eve of his coronation and thus is unable to attend the ceremony. Political forces within the realm are such that, in order for the king to retain the crown, his coronation must proceed. Fortuitously, an English gentleman on holiday in Ruritania who resembles the monarch is persuaded to act as his political decoy in an effort to save the unstable political situation of the interregnum.


A sequel, Rupert of Hentzau , was published in 1898 and is included in some editions of The Prisoner of Zenda. The popularity of the novels inspired the Ruritanian romance genre of literature, film, and theatre that features stories set in a fictional country, usually in Central or Eastern Europe, [1] for example Graustark from the novels of George Barr McCutcheon, and the neighbouring countries of Syldavia and Borduria in the Tintin comics.


On the eve of the coronation of Rudolf V of Ruritania, he encounters his distant relative, English nobleman Rudolf Rassendyll, come to witness the festivities. The two men look very much alike. The future king and his loyal attendants, Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim, wine and dine their new acquaintance at a hunting lodge. However, Rudolf V's younger half-brother Michael, Duke of Strelsau, sees to it he is presented a bottle of drugged wine. His friends cannot rouse him the next morning.

Not showing up for the coronation would prove disastrous, but Sapt believes that fate has sent Rassendyll to Ruritania. He persuades the Englishman to impersonate the King. They hide the King in the cellar of the lodge and proceed to the capital. The ceremony goes off without a hitch. However, when they go to retrieve the real King Rudolf, they find that he has been abducted.

Rassendyll must continue his deception, but at least Duke Michael cannot unmask him without incriminating himself. While Sapt searches for the King, Rassendyll becomes acquainted with the beautiful Princess Flavia, who is beloved by the people. He learns that everyone expects them to wed. Despite himself, he falls in love with her, and she with him.

Help comes from an unexpected source. Antoinette de Mauban, Michael's mistress, does not want to lose him to Flavia. She confirms that the King is being held in the castle at Zenda. Rassendyll, Sapt, von Tarlenheim and ten picked men go "hunting" nearby. An attempt is made on Rassendyll's life by three of the Six, Duke Michael's most trusted henchmen. When that fails, Rupert Hentzau, one of the Six, visits Rassendyll to present Michael's offer of a million crowns to leave the country. When Rassendyll turns him down, Rupert flees after trying to kill him with a dagger. Rassendyll is only wounded in the shoulder.

They take captive Johann, a servant working at the castle, and bribe him into telling all he knows. At the first sign of an assault, King Rudolf is to be killed, and his corpse dropped secretly into the water. Michael would be no worse off than before, as Rassendyll could hardly accuse him of regicide.

A few days pass. Rassendyll swims the moat at night to reconnoiter. He kills a sentry in a boat. He hears King Rudolf talking to one of his captors, then returns to his friends. However, they are discovered by three of the Six. Two of the Six are killed, at the cost of three of Sapt's men, but Rupert reaches the safety of the castle.

Later, they encounter Rupert again, this time accompanying the body of his friend, one of the Six killed earlier. Rupert privately makes another proposal: Have Sapt and von Tarlenheim lead an assault on the castle. With them and Duke Michael all dead (with Rupert's assistance), the two of them would have all the spoils to themselves. Rupert reveals a contributing motive; he is attracted to Antoinette de Mauban. Rassendyll turns him down.

More information is extracted from Johann, including the alarming news that King Rudolf is very ill: Ill enough for Duke Michael to send for a doctor. Rassendyll offers Johann another large bribe to open the front door at two in the morning. Rassendyll enters the castle by stealth before then, then watches as Rupert, caught trying to force himself on Antoinette, stabs the outraged Michael. Then, outnumbered by Michael's men, he dives into the moat. Rassendyll kills one of the Six and takes the key to the cell holding King Rudolf. The King is guarded by Detchard and Bersonin. Rassendyll slays Bersonin, but Detchard hurries to murder the King. The doctor sacrifices himself, grappling with Detchard before being murdered, giving Rassendyll time to catch up to and kill Detchard, with the King's assistance.

Rupert appears at the drawbridge, defying Michael's men, and challenges Michael to fight him for Antoinette. However Antoinette cries out that Duke Michael is dead. Rassendyll has obtained a pistol, but cannot bring himself to shoot Rupert. Antoinette has no such qualms, but she misses, and her target leaps into the moat. Then Rassendyll hears Sapt's voice he realizes that reinforcements have arrived. With King Rudolf no longer needing his protection, Rassendyll pursues Rupert. Rupert allows him to catch up. Before their duel can reach a conclusion, however, von Tarlenheim arrives, and Rupert races away on horseback.

When Princess Flavia learns, by accident, about Rudolf Rassendyll, she faints. King Rudolf is restored to his throne, but the lovers are trapped by duty and honour, and must part.


The novel has been adapted many times, mainly for film but also stage, musical, operetta, radio, and television. Probably the best-known version is the 1937 Hollywood film. The charismatic but Machiavellian Rupert of Hentzau has been interpreted by Ramon Novarro (1922), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (1937), and James Mason (1952).




  • Jhinder Bandi (ঝিন্দের বন্দী-'The Prisoner of Jhind') is a Bengali translation by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. The author wrote 'I admit the source by its name' (নাম দিয়াই বংশপরিচয় স্বীকার করিলাম) meaning, he named the fictional province, Jhind in tribute to Zenda in the original novel.
  • Jhinder Bandi (1961): a Bengali film directed by Tapan Sinha, starring Uttam Kumar as the protagonist Gourishankar Roy (a youth from Kolkata ) and the king Shankar Singh of the fictional Jhind state, Soumitra Chatterjee as the antagonist Moyur-Bahon with Tarun Kumar as Gourishankar's brother Udit, based on the novel by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay of the same title.
  • Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) is a Bollywood film starring Salman Khan and Sonam Kapoor that follows a similar plot. However, in this adaption, Rassendyll is married to Princess Flavia in the end.
  • Gwange Wangyidoen namja, also known as Masquerade , is a 2012 Korean movie taking place during the Joseon dynasty that largely parallels the story in Prisoner of Zenda, but may be based on conjecture about a \historical person, king Gwanghaegun of Joseon, and a 15-day period where records are missing from the annals of the Joseon Dynasty.

Radio and TV

Comic books


Many subsequent fictional works can be linked to The Prisoner of Zenda;[ opinion ] indeed, this novel spawned the genre known as Ruritanian romance. What follows is a shortlist of those homages with a clear debt to Anthony Hope's book.


In a popular but very questionable account, a German circus acrobat named Otto Witte claimed he had been briefly mistaken for the new King of Albania at the time of that country's separation from the Ottoman Empire, and that he was crowned and reigned a few days. However, the date of this claim (1913), and the lack of any evidence to back it up, suggest that Witte made up his story after seeing the first film version of the novel.

Author Salman Rushdie cited The Prisoner of Zenda in the epigraph to Haroun and the Sea of Stories , the novel he wrote while living in hiding in the late 1980s. The novel has been part of the syllabus of higher secondary schools in Pakistan for over three decades. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anthony Hope</span> English novelist (1863-1956)

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, better known as Anthony Hope, was a British novelist and playwright. He was a prolific writer, especially of adventure novels but he is remembered predominantly for only two books: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau (1898). These works, "minor classics" of English literature, are set in the contemporaneous fictional country of Ruritania and spawned the genre known as Ruritanian romance, books set in fictional European locales similar to the novels. Zenda has inspired many adaptations, most notably the 1937 Hollywood movie of the same name and the 1952 version.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swashbuckler</span> Stock character in literary works

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Ruritania is a fictional country, originally located in central Europe as a setting for novels by Anthony Hope, such as The Prisoner of Zenda (1894). Nowadays the term connotes a quaint minor European country, or is used as a placeholder name for an unspecified country in academic discussions. The first known use of the demonym Ruritanian was in 1896.

<i>Rupert of Hentzau</i> 1898 novel by Anthony Hope

Rupert of Hentzau is a sequel by Anthony Hope to The Prisoner of Zenda, written in 1895 but not published in book form until 1898.

<i>The Heart of Princess Osra</i>

The Heart of Princess Osra is part of Anthony Hope's trilogy of books which spawned the genre of Ruritanian romance. This collection of linked short stories is a prequel: it was written immediately after the success of The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and was published in 1896, but is set in the 1730s, well over a century before the events of the first novel and its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (1898). The stories are set in the fictional country of Ruritania, a Germanic kingdom, and deal with the love life of Princess Osra of the House of Elphberg. Osra is the younger sister of Rudolf III, the shared ancestor of Rudolf Rassendyll, the English gentleman who acts as political decoy in The Prisoner of Zenda, and Rudolph V, the absolute monarch of Ruritania.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James K. Hackett (actor)</span> American actor

James Keteltas Hackett was an American actor and manager.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ruritanian romance</span> Literary genre of fictional royalty

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<i>The Prisoner of Zenda</i> (1979 film) 1979 film by Richard Quine

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1979 American comedy film directed by Richard Quine that stars Peter Sellers, Lynne Frederick, Lionel Jeffries, Elke Sommer, Gregory Sierra, Jeremy Kemp, and Catherine Schell. It is adapted from the 1894 adventure novel by Anthony Hope. The novel tells the story of a man who has to impersonate a king, whom he closely resembles, when the king is abducted by enemies on the eve of his coronation. In 1952, an earlier adaptation of the story was made into a film starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger, and directed by Richard Thorpe.

<i>The Prisoner of Zenda</i> (1937 film) 1937 film by John Cromwell

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1937 American black-and-white adventure film based on Anthony Hope's 1894 novel of the same name and the 1896 play. A lookalike has to step in when his royal distant relative is kidnapped to prevent his coronation. This version is widely considered the best of the many film adaptations of the novel and play.

<i>The Prisoner of Zenda</i> (1952 film) 1952 film by Richard Thorpe

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1952 Technicolor film version of the 1894 novel of the same name by Anthony Hope and a remake of the 1937 sound version and the 1922 silent. This first color version, made by Loew's and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Pandro S. Berman. The film stars Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, and James Mason, with Louis Calhern, Robert Douglas, Jane Greer, and Robert Coote in supporting roles. The screenplay, attributed to Noel Langley, was nearly word-for-word identical to the 1937 Ronald Colman version. It was written by John L. Balderston, adapted by Wells Root, from the Hope novel and the stage play by Edward Rose. Additional dialogue was written by Donald Ogden Stewart. Alfred Newman's 1937 music score was adapted by Conrad Salinger; Newman was unavailable to work on this version. The cinematography was by Joseph Ruttenberg, the art direction was by Cedric Gibbons and Hans Peters, while the costume design was by Walter Plunkett.

<i>Rupert of Hee Haw</i> 1924 film

Rupert of Hee Haw is a 1924 American silent film starring Stan Laurel and drawing on the Ruritanian romance of Rupert of Hentzau, Anthony Hope's sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda.

<i>The Prisoner of Zenda</i> (1922 film) 1922 film directed by Rex Ingram

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1922 American silent adventure film directed by Rex Ingram, one of the many adaptations of Anthony Hope's popular 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda and the subsequent 1896 play by Hope and Edward Rose.

<i>Prisoner of Zenda</i> (1988 film) 1988 Australian film

Prisoner of Zenda is a 1988 Australian animated adventure film from Burbank Films Australia. It was originally released in 1988. The film is based on Anthony Hope's classic 1894 English novel, The Prisoner of Zenda, and was adapted by Leonard Lee. It was produced by Roz Phillips and featured original music by John Stuart. The copyright in this film is now owned by Pulse Distribution and Entertainment and administered by digital rights management firm NuTech Digital. In the UK, the distributor was by Waterfall Home Entertainment.

<i>Princess Flavia</i> Musical

Princess Flavia is a 1925 operetta in three acts based on Anthony Hope's novel The Prisoner of Zenda, with book and lyrics by Harry B. Smith and music by Sigmund Romberg.

The Prisoner of Zenda, Inc is a 1996 television film starring Jonathan Jackson and William Shatner. It was produced for Showtime Networks under their family division, and first aired in September 1996. The film was written by Rodman Gregg and Richard Clark.

Rupert of Hentzau is a 1964 British television series based on the 1898 novel Rupert of Hentzau, which ran for six half-hour episodes. It starred George Baker, Barbara Shelley, Peter Wyngarde, John Phillips, Tristram Jellinek, Sally Home and Derek Blomfield. It was recorded at the BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane, west London. All six episodes are listed as being lost.

<i>Rupert of Hentzau</i> (1915 film) 1915 British film

Rupert of Hentzau is a 1915 British adventure film of the silent era. It was directed by George Loane Tucker and starred Henry Ainley, Jane Gail and Gerald Ames. It was based on the 1898 novel Rupert of Hentzau by Anthony Hope, the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda (1894). It tells the story of the journey of an Englishmen to Ruritania in Eastern Europe where he is forced to impersonate a King to thwart the plans of a villainous aristocrat Rupert of Hentzau.

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1913 silent film adaptation of a play by Edward E. Rice, which was in turn based on the 1894 Anthony Hope novel of the same name. It was directed by Edwin S. Porter and Hugh Ford, and starred stage actor James K. Hackett, Beatrice Beckley and David Torrence.

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1915 British silent adventure film directed by George Loane Tucker and starring Henry Ainley, Jane Gail and Gerald Ames. Shot at Twickenham Studios, it is an adaptation of 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. A film based on the 1898 sequel Rupert of Hentzau was released shortly afterwards with the same director and cast.

<i>Rupert of Hentzau</i> (1923 film) 1923 film

Rupert of Hentzau is a 1923 American silent adventure film directed by Victor Heerman and starring Bert Lytell, Elaine Hammerstein, and Lew Cody. It is an adaptation of Anthony Hope's 1898 novel Rupert of Hentzau, the sequel to The Prisoner of Zenda.


  1. John Clute and John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy , p. 826 ISBN   978-0-312-19869-5
  2. "The London Theatres", The Era , 11 January 1896, p. 9
  3. The Brits in Hollywood Sheridan Morley, Robson Books 2006, p. 161, ISBN   978-1-86105-807-2
  4. VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2008, Visible Ink Press ISBN   978-0-7876-8981-0
  5. Halliwell's Top 1000, John Walker, HarperCollins Entertainment ISBN   978-0-00-726080-5
  6. 1 2 Halliwell's Film Guide 2008, David Gritten, HarperCollins Entertainment ISBN   978-0-00-726080-5
  7. "The Prisoner Of Zenda". Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  8. B-Berry and I Look Back, Dornford Yates, Ward Lock 1958, p. 148
  9. Masroor, Aroosa (28 July 2010). "Recycling textbooks, ad infinitum". The Express Tribune . Karachi . Retrieved 7 March 2018.