The Real Princess

By Hans Christian Andersen

Illustrated by William Penhallow Henderson

Portrait of the Princess holding a rose; a tree and a castle in the background

The Young Prince Seeks a Real Princess

There was once a Prince who wanted to marry a Princess. But it was only a real Princess that he wanted to marry.

He traveled all over the world to find a real one. But, although there were plenty of princesses, whether they were real princesses he never could discover. There was always something that did not seem quite right about them.

At last he had to come home again. But he was very sad, because he wanted to marry a real Princess.

Who Came in at the Castle Gate

One night there was a terrible storm. It thundered and lightened and the rain poured down in torrents. In the middle of the storm there came a knocking, knocking, knocking at the castle gate. The kind old King himself went down to open the castle gate.

The kind old King opens the door of the castle to the Princess, water streaming out of her hair and out of her clothes

It was a young Princess that stood outside the gate. The wind and the rain had almost blown her to pieces. Water streamed out of her hair and out of her clothes. Water ran in at the points of her shoes and out again at the heels. Yet she said that she was a real Princess.

The Old Queen’s Test

“Well, we will soon find out about that!” thought the Queen.

She said nothing, but went into the bedroom, took off all the bedding, and put a small dried pea on the bottom of the bedstead. Then she piled twenty mattresses on top of the pea, and on top of these she put twenty feather beds. This was where the Princess had to sleep that night.

In the morning they asked her how she had slept through the night.

The Princess showing the mattresses and complaining about the lack of comfort

“Oh, miserably!” said the Princess. “I hardly closed my eyes the whole night long! Goodness only knows what was in my bed! I slept upon something so hard that I am black and blue all over. It was dreadful!”

At Last a Real Princess

So then they knew that she was a real Princess. For, through the twenty mattresses and the twenty feather beds, she had still felt the pea. No one but a real Princess could have had such a tender skin.

So the Prince took her for his wife. He knew now that he had a real Princess.

As for the pea, it was put in a museum, where it may still be seen if no one has carried it away.

Now this is a true story!

From Andersen's Best Fairy Tales by Alice Corbin Henderson.
Chicago, New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1911.

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