The scene is London; the time is an autumn day, sometime between 1525 and 1550. On this particular day, two boys are born, Tom Canty and Edward Tudor. The Cantys are very poor and the baby is not wanted. The Tudors, on the other hand, are rich and powerful, and all of England celebrates the birth of this long-awaited child. There are bonfires, feasting, dancing and parades which last throughout the day and on into the night. Edward Tudor lies in his crib in his silks and satins: Tom Canty lies in rags.
The Prince and the Pauper is Twain's most carefully plotted novel, but unlike Twain's greater novels (such as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer), where there is a great deal of character development, in this novel the characters are scarcely developed at all; instead, they are used largely as pawns to move the plot forward. Therefore, the main emphasis of the novel is not on character; it is on Twain's ingenious plot devices. In this first chapter, the plot begins with the birth of two boys — Tom Canty and Edward Tudor — on the same day in the same town: London, England. Twain immediately begins to contrast the two boys: one is very poor and unwanted, and the other is very rich and very much desired. As is typical of so many of Twain's novels (in particular, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer), the main characters are young, innocent boys. Throughout the novel, Twain will continue the series of contrasts between the two boys which he sets in motion here.