Angelina; Or, The Mystery of St. Mark’s Abbey

Angelina; Or, The Mystery of St. Mark’s Abbey

Angelina; Or, The Mystery of St. Mark’s Abbey. A Tale of Other Days

Author: Thomas Peckett Prest
Publisher: Edward Lloyd
Publication Year: 1841
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 14 x 21.5 cm
Pages: 236
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .P74 An 1841

Angelina is one of Thomas Peckett Prest’s serialized works from 1841 that centers around murder, mystery, and forbidden love.

Material History

The novel, having come out in serialized parts, was likely assembled by a G. Sharpe, whose name is handwritten on this page prior to the title page. The book was probably popular at the time and its ownership most likely transferred, leading this writing to be crossed out.

Angelina: Or, the Mystery of St. Mark’s Abbey. A Tale of Other Days by Thomas Peckett Prest was published in 1841 in serialized parts. Releasing the novel in parts lowered the cost of producing the book as a whole. Each section would have been sold using an image on the first page of the part as an incentive to purchase it. For this reason, each page with an image has a corresponding label at the bottom of the page to signify its order among the parts. The parts were presumably compiled by a G. Sharpe, whose signature appears on the blank pages prior to the assembled novel’s frontispiece and title page. Along with his signature is the date handwritten as follows: July 16, 1841. However, the name and date are crossed out, implying that this edition had multiple owners.

The book is bound in a cloth detailed with an artificially ingrained texture. Sharpe chose to use leather on the edges of the cover and the binding of the spine which has kept the exterior of the book in great condition for its age. The pages are speckled with red thinned out paint which was a common aesthetic for nineteenth-century books. The book is in very good condition due to the binding that Sharpe chose for the book. However, the pages have become slightly yellow and brittle with age. There are some pages that were saturated by a substance as well as a few torn pages that have been mended by the Special Collections archivists. The book was easily elegant in its day, as can be seen through the careful measures taken by Sharpe in binding it. The worn quality of Angelina demonstrates its popularity when Prest was at the prime of his career.

The detail in the images of Angelina are impressive compared to other texts of its days, displaying aesthetic visions specific to the author. Images during the Gothic period of literature were produced through making woodblock prints. Such prints were created by physically carving into wood to create the desired image. They would have been lined up with the text and inked during the printing process. At the beginning of the book, opposite the title page, is a frontispiece, which is the largest image in the book and the only image that possesses a quote. It reads, “They soon entered a spacious and lofty cavern, round which were piled on immense number of casks, chests, bales of goods, while arms and ammunition were there in abundance.” This sentence describes the setting most important to the narration in Angelina.

The frontispiece was created by a woodblock print, meaning that the artist carved wood with precision to create such images. This is the only image in the novel that has a quote beneath it which describes the setting central to the novel. Across from the frontispiece is the title page that includes the full title and a list of Prest’s other works below his name.

As to the type itself, the font size is much smaller than is usually seen today. The margins are typical in size, yet there is no inner margin which is a current stylistic feature for books. The images are placed every four pages on the front of the right page since it was released as parts rather than an entire novel. The images are a page and a half in size, featuring artistry of woodblock printed images that are hard to come by anymore.

Textual History

Angelina: Or, the Mystery at St. Mark’s Abbey was published in 1841 by Edward Lloyd of London. Lloyd regulated many newspapers, the most successful of them being Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper and The Penny Sunday Times and People’s Police Gazette; Angelina was published in the latter. He gained the nickname “father of the cheap press” as he sought to bring exciting literary works to the lower classes. Lloyd played a part in history through assisting the rise of the serial novel in which a new part would appear in successive weekly editions of a newspaper. Angelina, in particular, is one of many of Prest’s successful serial novels that appeared courtesy of Lloyd and his work as a newspaper proprietor. Journalist Anne Humphrey’s states that “perhaps half of Lloyd’s penny bloods” were written by Prest, who was “one of his most prolific and most successful authors”. The significance of the serial novel and the success of Angelina are both referenced in the preface of the novel Angelina.

This page of Angelina is missing letters in many places.

Interestingly, the edition of the novel housed in the Sadleir-Black Collection does not include a preface at all, though a preface does appear in other editions. The preface can be found online through a scanned edition published courtesy of the New York Public Library on Google Books. 

The preface functions as both a historical reference as well as an advertisement. The first paragraph of the preface discusses the popularity of Angelina upon its release in the “penny” press, which led its pieces to later be compiled into a novel format. The author of the preface informs the readers that Angelina’s pieces were originally published in The Penny Sunday Times and People’s Police Gazette

Prest appears most frequently in scholarly works related to his involvement with the serial novels of the penny press. Prest’s work in particular falls under the category of penny dreadfuls, or the terror genre of the penny press. This nineteenth-century phenomena began through its reproduction of eighteenth century gothic fiction via cheap means. Currently, only one of Prest’s works, The String of Pearls is more widely recognized as a significant and impactful part of this literature.

Though there is a lack of information on Prest himself, the author obviously sought to promote himself through an advertisement which is the second half of the preface. The phrase “New and Entirely Original Tale of Romance and Pathos” along with Prest’s upcoming works Emily Fitzomord; Or, The Deserted One and The Death Grasp; Or, A Father’s Curse emphasize the importance in self-promotion for both Lloyd and Prest.

Despite their combined efforts, Prest experienced a success limited to his day and age as only one of his characters is truly known today. However, Angelina, being one of Prest’s earlier works, most likely influenced the author’s writing style and, therefore, his subsequent works. In particular, the elements of terror in Angelina were just the beginning of Prest’s concepts that would appear in The String of Pearls. The latter work was adapted for the theatre which debuted in March of 1847 and is the basis for the modern-day movie adaptation Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (“Sweeney Todd”). While Angelina can be found in modern day print published by HardPress and accessible via Kindle. Its current lack of reviews allude to the lack of popularity Prest receives today. The String of Pearls, on the other hand, can be readily found in print and in theatrical adaptation.

Narrative Point of View

Angelina: Or, The Mystery of St. Mark’s Abbey is told through third-person omniscient narration. The narrator does not play an active role in the storyline; however, they hardly makes himself known until the end of the novel, when the backstories of characters are finally revealed. At this point, they speak directly to the reader before divulging events of the past that have remained hidden. Overall, the narration is very detailed and elaborative, yet the narrator remains detached in their descriptions of events and emotions. The narrator follows the protagonist, Angelina, until she becomes separated from her loved ones, which happens frequently in the novel. When Angelina gets kidnapped, the narrator proves their omniscient perspective in cycling through each scenario for Angelina, her Uncle Woodfield, and her lover Hugh Clifford.

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration: 

Saint Mark’s Abbey had evidently been a splendid edifice, but it had been left to decay for many years, and few persons in the place would venture to approach it after night-fall, for, like most old buildings, it was reported to be haunted, and many appalling legends were related by the old gossips, as they sat trembling before their blazing fire on a winter evening, concerning the dreadful crimes which had been perpetrated within its mouldering walls. The more reasonable, and less superstitious portion of the community, however, accounted for the noises that had been heard to issue at various periods from the gothic pile, in a far more probable way; and it was strongly suspected that the abbey was, in fact, the retreat of a gang of robbers or smugglers—more particularly the latter, and although the proper authorities had hitherto failed in making any satisfactory discovery, it was still hoped that they would succeed ere long in doing so, and in setting all doubts upon the subject at rest. (2)

In this passage, the narrator is describing the setting most central to the novel, St. Mark’s Abbey, or what is left of it. The description of the abbey is done through focusing on the conditions surrounding the ruins, which sets the tone for the setting itself. The narrator uses their omniscience to impart the emotions of the surrounding peoples who keep their distance from the ruins, regardless of what they believe. The narrator first relays the more superstitious group of people who have heard rumors of terrible crimes being committed within its now decaying walls. After this, the narrator describes the more realistic option, which foreshadows the end of the novel when it is revealed that Angelina’s mother, Matilda, and her mother’s cousin, Emmeline, are still alive. The narrator’s knowledge of both scenarios reflects their omniscience.

Sample Passage of Direct Address:

We will now proceed to detail the particulars of the “strange eventful history” connected with the principle characters in our narrative, and with which the reader is, no doubt, anxious to be made acquainted. (215)

This passage occurs at the end of the novel, just before the backstories are revealed. The narrator uses the pronoun “we” to describe who is telling the story, an intimacy that is reinforced by the inclusion of the word “our” later in the sentence. Interestingly, the narrator, who usually sets the mood though their lengthy descriptions, here decides to directly address the readers. By saying that the reader is “no doubt, anxious to be made acquainted,” the narrator breaks the fourth wall, reminding the reader of the fictive nature of the content in making a clear cut between the present and the past.


The novel begins with the protagonist, Angelina, who is accompanied by her cousin, Lauren Woodfield. While in the deserted ruins of St. Mark’s Abbey, the young ladies see the apparition of a woman that warns Angelina not to return there for her own safety. However, Angelina’s brave spirit only causes her to become increasingly curious as she sees another apparition while exploring a nearby cavern during a storm. This apparition is a handsome man that plays the flute and appears later in Angelina’s dreams. Upon waking from this dream, Angelina returns to the cave, this time finding a door leading to a gallery. Coincidentally, this gallery belongs to St. Mark’s Abbey. To her surprise, Angelina finds she is not alone when she sees the villainous Baron de Morton and his servant Rufus. The pair are quietly discussing a terrible secret. Angelina accidently reveals herself to the Baron, who becomes frightened upon believing her to be a ghost related to his dark deeds. The narrator here divulges the Baron’s history, most importantly stating the interesting nature of his brother’s disappearance followed by his marriage to a widowed baroness. Angelina then overhears a conversation between Rufus and the Baron, in which they speak about Angelina and proclaim that she must die. Angelina returns home shaken.

The cover of the book is cloth detailed with an artificially ingrained texture.

The first apparition of the woman returns, this time visiting Angelina’s uncle, Arthur Woodfield, with whom she lives. The apparition speaks to him privately, causing Arthur to be stern during an unexpected meeting with the Baron when he shows up at the Woodfield’s. Afterwards, the Baron leaves obviously upset and Arthur refuses to talk to his family about either the Baron or the woman. The only insight he gives them is through the promise he forces Angelina to make: she can never return to the Abbey.

Despite her promise, Angelina returns many weeks later, this time discovering a sliding picture frame that conceals a room similar to Angelina’s dreams. She witnesses a woman running about the ruins but she refuses to speak and runs away instead. Upon searching the premises, she is startled upon finding a chest containing bones. Angelina resolves to leave but runs into the Baron, who is frightened of her, initially believing her to be a ghost. Suddenly, the Baron grabs her arm and attempts to end her life, just as she had experienced in her dreams. The flute-playing apparition appears and saves her from the Baron, revealing himself to actually be a young man. Without introducing himself, he makes it obvious that he wants to protect Angelina. The next night, Angelina hears a sweet melody coming from beyond her window; she looks out to see the stranger once again. 

The next day, Angelina is wandering outside, contemplating her feelings toward the mysterious stranger, when he appears and admits his feelings towards her, presenting her with a miniature of himself. That evening, while exploring the cavern, she sees the handsome stranger with some smugglers. Angelina is captured and taken aboard a ship by a different group of bandits. They eventually reach land, where she discovers she has been captured under the designs of the Baron, who questions her of her origins and her parents; Angelina knows none of her descent beyond the Woodfields. Bridget, who resents being married to one of the bandits, takes care of Angelina. It is only after Angelina attempts to make her solo escape that Bridget opens up to her. The castle where Angelina is being held captive has a dark history including the possible murder of the Baron’s brother who mysteriously disappeared; this information is striking to Angelina as she has felt a cold arm on her every night as she sleeps. Bridget then hints towards the portrait on the wall, behind which is a doorway that leads to a room where Angelina can overhearing the Baron’s conversation with Rufus. The Baron states that his suspicions have been confirmed and Angelina must be executed; Rufus  tells him to wait. Shaken by these comments, Angelina puts her faith in Bridget, who sacrifices herself to save Angelina. 

Returning to the Woodfields, the narrator reveals that the female apparition is actually a woman known as Kate of the Ruins who is friends with the mysterious stranger and smuggler, Hugh Clifford, or Angelina’s mysterious stranger. After Kate seeks out Arthur, Hugh reveals his plans to rescue her; Bridget aids them. Kate speaks to Angelina, warning her against reciprocating the flirtatious nature of her relationship with Hugh. Later that night, Angelina wakes to see yet another apparition giving her a kiss on the cheek, which Kate attributes to her imagination. However, Bridget had mentioned that Kate of the Ruins was in touch with the supernatural and had bewitched the grounds of St. Mark’s Abbey. 

The next day Angelina and her uncle return home, only to hear a knock on the door and find Hugh, wounded. The Woodfields take care of him and Laura senses the romantic tension between Angelina and Hugh. Despite Kate’s warning, the affections between the pair only intensify until Arthur catches them during a rendezvous. Arthur reprimands them both and is backed up by the sudden appearance of Kate, who reminds them of the conversations she had with each of them. Their forced separation leads to despair for all parties involved. Angelina’s aunt and cousin question Arthur’s decision; he responds ambiguously, expressing empathy yet stating that the pair cannot be. Kate makes Angelina promise not to become involved with Hugh, revealing that she is speaking on behalf of Angelina’s deceased mother. The sight of her mother baffles her as it is the same apparition who kissed her on the cheek earlier. Angelina’s depressive state convinces Arthur to send Angelina to stay with Mrs. Montmorency, a distant relative whose daughter, Charlotte, is around the same age as Angelina. 

This image shows Angelina’s surprise in observing the apparition of her mother. This is the beginning of the seventeenth part of this serially published novel. Small woodblock images are placed at the beginning of each part as incentive to buy and read it.

A few months later, Angelina looks out the window to see that Hugh has found her. The pair argue about their fate due to his persistence in finding her, but they are interrupted by ruffians who kidnap them. Ruthven takes Angelina to an underground dungeon in which she hears the moans of someone suffering; the Baron shows her that it is Bridget and she passes out. When Angelina comes to in a nice room, the Baron enters, proceeding to profess his love for her but is steadily refused; he attempts to bribe her with Hugh’s freedom and refrains from kissing her when he looks upon the painting behind her in fear. Angelina is reunited with Bridget, who has healed and is to be contained with her. Bridget goes on to tell her story, which is very similar to Angelina’s; however, in this case, it was Bridget’s parents who forbid their relationship, believing the façade that Rufus showed them. She married Rufus against her will, after which they eventually ended up at the old Grey Tower. It was then that Rufus left, returning with Angelina in tow. When it was discovered that Bridget helped Angelina escape, she is tortured and nearly dies of starvation. Bridget then discloses information about Ophelia de Morton, the woman in the portrait, whom she says that Angelina resembles. She speaks of the mysterious death of Ophelia’s husband, Baron Edward de Morton. Shortly after, the baroness married Edward’s brother since she was carrying his child. The baroness, referred to as the “Lady of White,” was brought to the old Grey Tower, where she bore a stillborn child, although there is said to be some doubt about its fate. It is said that this Lady’s musical talents, once heard in the tower, can still be heard from the ruins of St. Mark’s Abbey. After this bonding experience, Bridget and Angelina are forced onto a boat.

Meanwhile, Ms. Montmorency and Charlotte look for Angelina and write to Mr. Woodfield about her disappearance after they find blood near her miniature of Hugh. Mr. Woodfield persists on seeing the baroness Orillia, Baron de Morton’s wife, to demand the Baron’s location, explaining the situation to her. She is flustered as he catches her in the middle of an affair and is uncompromising as she thinks that Angelina is replacing her in the eyes of her husband. Mr. Woodfield responds by hinting at having more noble blood than she does. The baroness feels vengeful towards Angelina and sends for the Marquis Florendos, whom she has grown fond of, so he can assassinate them. 

Mr. Woodfield leaves knowing he must get justice for both himself and the baroness to protect his niece. He becomes suspicious of the help from Kate of the Ruins, but she changes his mind in revealing her knowledge of his true identity, Sir Eustace Arlingham, and produces a treasure which he had left in the ruins of the Abbey years ago. The pair proceed to talk about his long-deceased sister Emmeline, who she reveals herself to be. She admits to him that Angelina is not her child and that Angelina’s mother, baroness Matilda de Morton, is alive. Furthermore, she states that Hugh is her child but he has yet to find out. Emmeline explains that her and Matilda have been watching over Angelina and assures him of her own innocence. He believes her and follows her to the vaults in which Matilda has been living.

Returning to Hugh’s circumstances, he is being held captive and losing hope for his lover, Angelina. He is saved by Winston, a former crew member of his, who is sent to attend to him. The pair leave together, explaining the reasoning behind Bridget and Angelina’s sudden leave from the old Grey Tower.

The ship carrying Bridget and Angelina wrecks, and the pair miraculously end up at the fisherman’s hut where Hugh and Winston are taking shelter. They all return home the day after Emmeline’s confession, but before their lineage can be exposed, the baroness Matilda enters, giving in to Angelina’s cries for her mother.

The narrator goes on to tell the story of the family Arlingham, which was of wealthy and noble descent. Lady Emmelina and Sir Eustace are the children of Sir Edward Arlighman and the baroness Arlingham. The four of them lived in a castle with their cousin, the orphan child of the baroness’ sister. After the sudden death of the baroness, Sir Edward passed away, leaving Eustace in charge of himself, his sister, and their cousin. Eustace and Matilda both found lovers who got along with one another as well as Emmeline. One day, the five of them witness a shipwreck which leads to their meeting of Sir Vincent Rosenford and his two companions. Upon seeing Vincent, Eustace’s wife shudders at him and begins to go mad. Sir Vincent and one of his companions, Lord Dalton, make frequent visits, and Lord Dalton eventually asks for Emmeline’s hand. Eustace urges her to marry him and she eventually gives in. However, after a short period, she elopes with Sir Vincent. As a result, Eustace’s wife gets deathly sick but has one last period of reason in which she admits that Sir Vincent was her first love and that they had an affair after his repeated visits and persistence with her. With this confession, she passes away. Eustace’s bad luck continues as Emmeline’s story is viewed as scandalous, causing him to lose his title in the court. Before he can receive a prison sentence, he escapes on a ship headed to Flanders, where he recreates his identity and eventually remarries. One day, he finds a baby at his door with a note from Emmeline to take care of her child, which she wanted to name Angelina.

Returning to present day, Emmeline apologizes to Eustace and points out that he should not have forced her into marriage. She then explains that her marriage with Lord Dalton became a good one, and that she actually bore his child, contrary to rumors. However, Lord Vincent Rosenford followed her and confessed his love, becoming cynical upon her denial of him. He told her that she should not deny him and proceeded to kidnap her while she is on a walk one evening. Emmeline expresses the anguish she felt as she was forced upon a ship that was then destroyed by a storm. It was not until after this event that she met Captain Clifford, who saved her and her infant son from drowning. Captain Clifford then became a smuggler, but he continued to look after Emmeline’s child. Emmeline recalls that he made a vow to be another parent to the child regardless of circumstance. Emmeline had then attempted to return home only to hear of Eustace’s scandals, which she emphasizes are now irrelevant. Shortly after, Emmeline returned to Captain Clifford and was introduced to his wife, who also takes pity on her. Emmeline also sought out her cousin’s current husband, the Baron de Morton, brother of her prior husband. To her shock, he informed her that the baroness has passed away. Unfortunately, it was upon her return to the Cliffords in which she was kidnapped, this time by Rufus and some ruffians; she was taken to the old Grey Tower. Upon her escape, she returned to the Cliffords to find that his wife has passed away, causing him to return to sea with her child, Hugh. Luckily, having possession of some money allowed Emmeline to return to a place that Captain Clifford had shown her, which was connected to the ruins of an old abbey, which the readers know as St. Mark’s Abbey. To her astonishment, Emmeline finds the baroness Matilda there. Emmeline then stops her narrative there, requesting that the baroness herself iterate the rest of the story. After the baroness refuses, Emmeline continues, telling of the cruel manner in which Matilda’s second husband treated her.

After forcing a secret marriage in the middle of the night, the baron stole her away to the old Grey Tower, in which she bore him a baby girl. Matilda was told that her baby was a stillborn; however, she felt that the baron was somehow responsible not only for the fate of their child, but for the mysterious disappearance of her first husband. After Matilda healed, she sought out her old nurse, explaining the situation to her. She instead found the daughter of her nurse, who was told by her husband of the deliverance of a baby to their neighbors. Matilda ran next door, looked upon the baby, and instantly recognized her as her own. The baroness also recognized a mark of companionship on her daughter’s arm, signifying that it was Bridget’s parents who saved baby Angelina. Matilda resolved then to live in the abbey, following the same line of thought as Emmeline in seeking shelter in the supposedly haunted place. In this way, Matilda and Emmeline were reunited. Captain Clifford returned, informing Matilda that her child was being attended to by a nearby nurse. The women related to him their plan of being covert in order to deliver retribution. Emmeline then relates that it was her who delivered the baby to Eustace so that he would care for the child. Emmeline recalls having been worried about the locket which she had left with Angelina; Eustace recalls his curiosity about it initially. 

The storyline ends here as Emmeline concludes by coming back to her warnings to Eustace, Hugh, and Angelina, which can be understood as prevented due to its ill-timing as this was before the true nature of their births were revealed. The book finishes with a conclusion that doles out poetic justice. Sir Eustace Arlingham seeks justice via the court for himself, his sister, and their cousin. The king pities them and returns to them their respective riches and titles, having heard some news of the baron’s death along with his confessions of treason. Emmeline is reunited with her husband, and Hugh with his true parents. Orillia shamefully runs off with the Marquis Florendos after hearing word of her husband’s death. Angelina and Hugh get married and are surprised when they are approached by Bridget, who was miraculously cured. These three live together in their castle near the Woodfields and the Daltons. Angelina’s cousin, Laura, finds a gentleman whom she marries. Lady de Morton revives the abbey and the narrator explains the use of Emmeline’s scare tactics, such as the chest of bones, to ward of any early discovery of the pair’s plot. The author ends with “Thus, then, do we end ‘This round unvarnished tale’”—referring to the cyclic tropes of the novel and of life in general (236).


Humpherys, Anne. “Edward Lloyd.” British Literary Publishing Houses, 1820-1880, edited by Patricia Anderson and Jonathan Rose, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 106. Detroit, Michigan, Gale, 1991. Literature Resource Center.

“Preface” to Angelina; or, The Mystery of St. Mark’s Abbey. A Tale of Other Days by Thomas Prest. London, Edward Lloyd, 1841 via Google Books.<>

Prest, Thomas. Angelina; or, The Mystery of St. Mark’s Abbey. A Tale of Other Days. London, Edward Lloyd, 1841.

“Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,

Researcher: Samara Rubenstein

The Royal Twins

The Royal Twins

The Royal Twins: Or, The Sisters of Mystery

Author: Thomas Peckett Prest
Publisher: G. Purkess
Publication Year: 1848
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 14cm x 21.5cm
Pages: 148
University of Virginia Library Call Number, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .P74 Ro 1848

This 1848 Thomas Peckett Prest novel tells the tale of twin girls who endure kidnapping, fire, and secrecy, all as a result of the 1772 Royal Marriage Act.

Material History

The Royal Twins; Or, The Sisters of Mystery is a gothic novel by Thomas Peckett Prest. The title appears regularly throughout this particular book in various forms. Embossed in gold down the spine of the tightly-bound, brown leather cover, the title, shortened to The Royal Twins, is also printed at the top of each page in the novel, including the pages of illustration. There are two separate title pages: one with the full title centered against an otherwise blank page and one accompanied by a full-page black and white illustration that depicts a scene from the beginning of the story.

One of the two title pages for The Royal Twins features a large illustration

Originally, the author’s name was not printed anywhere in the book; there was only indirect indication of the author—mentions of his previous works are printed in small letters underneath the book title on the two title pages. These other works include Ela the Outcast, The Smuggler King, and The Old House of West Street, suggesting a well-published author. The author’s name that appears in the book now on a blue sticker as “Thomas P. Prest” has been pasted on the first title page and on the spine of the book, most likely after the book’s publication.

At first glance, this particular volume seems extremely well-kept and well-preserved. The novel, being only 148 pages in length, makes for an overall slim and neat book. Measuring from the cover, the book is 14 cm wide and 21.5 cm tall. The two-toned leather cover is smooth and unworn, the corners only showing the slightest bit of wear and tear. Upon opening it, the binding still feels tight, almost as if it were not read much in its past life. There are no marks or stamps of previous ownership in the book. The paper, though yellowed, has not softened much, retaining a brittle sharpness, and its thin quality enables the reader to see through to what is printed on the other side of the page. The only other obvious signs of age are various spots that have arisen from impurities in the paper and chemical reactions to being kept in a humid or damp environment.

An anonymously written preface precedes the story, mentioning that the following text has already been “well-received” by the public. This suggests that this book may not be the story’s first edition or publication, although no other officially documented publications of this story have been found from before 1848. The preface also goes on to include a little bit of background knowledge to events and ideas related to the story, such as the Royal Marriage Act. At the very end, a date and location indicate where and when the book was published: London, April 1848.

The pages contain a simple, squiggly border surrounding the body of text with the title of the novel printed inside the border at the very top. The font is small, neat, and closely set, filling up the interior of the page and leaving little white space. The sixteen chapters are not spatially separated; each picks up right where the last left off. They are numbered in Roman numerals, and while they are not titled, they are accompanied by a succinct, one-line description underneath the chapter number of what plot events occur within each respective chapter. Pages of illustration feature rather frequently throughout the book, about one for every few chapters. Nineteen in total, these inked, black-and-white line drawings go along with story events. Illustrations are numbered at the bottom right-hand corner, and are also accompanied by the full book title, split to border the top and the bottom of the illustration, a layout unlike the other pages that contain only text. Watered down red ink, flecked onto the edges of the pages with a brush, add a decorative touch to an otherwise plain book.

Textual History

Published during the rise of penny dreadfuls, The Royal Twins was only one of the many such novels that prolific British penny periodical writer Thomas Peckett Prest wrote. Other works include: Ela, the Outcast (1839), The Hebrew Maiden (1840), and The String of Pearls (1846), perhaps more famously known in the form of the later rewritten Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, although to whom the credit for this last work should be given is rather ambiguous and debatable (Smith 26–28).

The author’s name—appearing on the title page here as Thomas P. Prest—was pasted in, most likely after the book’s publication

Ela, the Outcast, in particular, became Prest’s most successful novel, featuring prominently on the classified advertisement sections of nineteenth-century British periodicals, such as Cleave’s Gazette of Variety and The Penny Satirist, that boasted the current popular penny dreadfuls (Cleave’s 4; Penny 4). Prest, who seemed to rather frequently adapt his prose works to the stage, wrote a version of Ela for stage as well, and it was well-performed by The Queen’s Theatre in 1842. Newspapers like The Age and The Satirist; or, the Censor of the Times ran advertisements for showings of this Prest play, describing it as “successful,” “highly interesting,” and “a tale of most thrilling interest” (Age 1; Satirist 41; Cleave’s 4). Prest wrote a few more major plays towards the end of his career: The Miser of Shoreditch, performed by the Standard Theatre in 1854; Lucy Wentworth, a prize-winning play performed by the City of London Theatre in 1857; and “the highly successful romantic drama” The Idiot Boy, performed by City of London Theatre in 1858 (James and Smith; Northampton Mercury; The Era).

Prest’s talents were very widespread; not only did he make a name for himself as a novelist, but also as a songwriter, a performer of his own songs, and a general literary hack for minor independent publishers, most notably Edward Lloyd. The two rose to prominence in the realm of ephemera together. Prest, originally working as Lloyd’s factotum, started writing satirical penny weekly serial versions of Charles Dickens’s works and later branched out into original fictional works that Lloyd edited and published as quickly as possible (James and Smith). In fact, an article on the editor’s publishing legacy written in the 1904 edition of The New York Times Book Review describes Lloyd as “sinning in good company” with Prest (Williams 566). This established Lloyd as a popular publisher of this sort of cheap fiction, and, in turn, established penny dreadfuls as a genre that held massive potential, tapping into the rapidly expanding reading population and love of sensational stories.

This New York Times article, actually a reader’s submission to publication, features an abundance of glowing praise for the Lloyd publishing house, speaking to the high esteem and approval that the British masses had for the man and his purpose. Edward Lloyd became known as “the father of the cheap press” and was among the first to devise new techniques of printing and advertising to achieve his success in production and distribution of these publications (Humpherys). His advertisements for new titles were accompanied by strings of other recent and popular works as assurance of known quality for the reader—a technique seen within this particular copy of The Royal Twins as well. He issued advertisements for his serial and book publications in his own newspapers as well. The Penny Sunday Times and its Companion contained much of his own fiction, and Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper listed the contents of his fictional periodicals, announced new titles, and advertised important reprints in special columns of their own. Additionally, Lloyd would include a complete list of current Lloyd publications that was compiled anew every six months, serving years later as one of the best resources for bibliographers (Smith 10).

The Sadleir-Black copy of The Royal Twins includes a preface, referencing the Royal Marriages Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1772. The act reveals itself as central to the plot of the novel at the end of the story, when all the revelations regarding the titular twins’ parentage occur. The Royal Marriages Act required the consent of the reigning monarch before any marriage of a descendant of George II could be seen as legitimate. Without consent, any marriage contracted was void. This act was a way to guard the royal family from diminishing their status through unbalanced marriages. It is also precisely the reason that the twins in the book, born of an unapproved and unmatched marriage, had to be raised in secret, separate from their noble parents. In the preface, the unknown author criticizes the act for its cruelty. The act was repealed in 2011.

It is interesting to note that while The Royal Twins dealt with political issues at the time, was popular with the public, according to the text’s preface, and several other works by Prest were recognized enough to be adapted into play versions, there are no reviews, subsequent versions or editions, or further adaptations of this story in particular.

Narrative Point of View

The Royal Twins: Or, The Sisters of Mystery is primarily told in the third person by an omniscient narrator. However, the narrator does address the audience directly throughout the novel as “reader,” and occasionally refers to him or herself using the collective “we.” Because of the narrator’s omniscience, character’s feelings are often stated explicitly for the audience, leaving little room for confusion towards the characters’ emotions in any given scene. Much of the characterization is told rather than shown. Additionally, the narrator gives the reader prior knowledge that the characters themselves do not know yet through use of parentheses. The narrator often precedes the main action of an event with a warning statement that alerts the reader of upcoming plot twists. The narration is at once entertaining and vigorous, even as it is filled with many winding, descriptive sentences. Although wordy at times, the diction is quite standard, reading rather easily.

Sample Passage:

Charlotte, in spite of herself, and notwithstanding she could not understand the feeling found it impossible to conquer a sensation of sadness and regret when Mr. Milford made use of these observation; and she was surprised to find the strong impression on the stranger had made on her even on their first meeting; and she was very dull and less talkative for the rest of the evening than she was accustomed to be; and in spite of all her efforts to the contrary, notwithstanding she really felt vexed with herself, she could not banish the form of the handsome and interesting Henry Stirling from her imagination She could not but also entertain a secret wish that he would fulfill his promise and visit them again shortly. Pure and innocent as it is possible for mortal to be, Charlotte could not for a moment suppose that there was any harm or danger in encouraging these thoughts; but alas, woful [sic] experience was destined to teach her otherwise.

Never was a man more deceptive or dangerous that he who called himself Henry Stirling (for that was not his real name), handsome, accomplished, wealthy, and nobly connected, he possessed the most unbounded power wither for good or evil, and unfortunately his, vices predominated over his good qualities. […] The reason of his assuming the name by which we have introduced him to the reader will be explained in the course of the narrative. (93-94)

The omniscience of the narrator, combined with consistent addressing of the audience in The Royal Twins, serves to create an overall objective and intimate storytelling effect. With the narrator holding the collective knowledge of all the characters thoughts, and directly revealing this insider knowledge, the narrator holds the audience in confidence. This invites the reader to come to more certain conclusions regarding the coding of the various characters: George, the corrupted villain; Charlotte and Augusta, the virtuous sisters; Milford, the self-sacrificing hero. The clear descriptions and long periodic sentences often hold conclusions in suspense until the very end of the sentence or paragraph, delivering heavy impact on the reader. This form of suspense parallels the uncertainty and mystery surrounding the twin sisters that reign throughout the story until the final revelation at the novel’s conclusion.


A married couple, James and Mary Milford, along with their infant son, live on the most impoverished, filthiest street of an English town called Whitechapel after a serious downfall in fortune. In a chance encounter one day, Milford meets a strange man on the road. When the stranger calls Milford by his true name, James Clavering, Milford recognizes him as a man that his late grandfather used to be friendly with (the novel never explains why Milford decided to go by this name instead of Clavering). As the two men catch up, the stranger offers Milford a proposition that would catapult his destitute position to one of comfort and independence. This offer piques Milford’s curiosity, and the man, who insists on remaining unnamed, arranges for a second meeting the next night at the Milford home to discuss the details of his unique offer if he were to accept.

The following night, the stranger arrives at the Milford’s house and persuades Milford and his wife to accept the proposition. He elaborates a little upon it, saying if the couple were to do a task for him, they would be placed in much better conditions than Whitechapel. Milford and his wife accept, and they, along with their son and the stranger, leave their current home immediately. Despite asking, the stranger refuses to tell the couple the destination of their journey, saying everything would be explained in due time.

An illustration of the royal twins as babies

Mr. and Mrs. Milford are blindfolded upon arrival, and find themselves in a well-furnished apartment. The stranger makes the two swear an oath of secrecy before bringing in a middle-aged woman, holding twin girls in her arms. The man finally explains the proposition in full: the Milfords are to take in the two infants and raise them as their own children until an undisclosed time. In return, the Milfords would receive enough money to give them an education and a place to live. The man does reveal that the twins are named Augusta and Charlotte and that they are of noble descent; however, they must not know the truth about their heritage until the proper time. He further tells them that if anyone knows the truth about the twins and the events of this night, lives would be at stake. The Milfords take the infants from the woman, and they, their own infant son, and the stranger travel once more to their new home. At their new home, the stranger takes his leave of the couple, saying he does not know when they will be able to meet again. Before bed, Milford notices that Augusta is wearing an extremely valuable locket necklace. Inside the locket is a miniature portrait of a woman whom the Milfords notice extremely resembles the infant girls.

The next morning, Mr. and Mrs. Milford meet two female servants, Mrs. Morton and Martha, whom the stranger hired to assist in childrearing and housekeeping. They also explore the house, and in the drawing room, discover a portrait of the same woman in Augusta’s locket, which they conclude must be the twins’ mother.

The narrator then tells of the Clavering family’s past history, revealing how Mr. and Mrs. Milford arrived at their state of severe poverty. Milford’s uncle had stripped Milford of his share of his grandfather’s inheritance out of jealousy and malice, reducing him and his wife to homeless beggars before meeting the stranger.

The months pass rather peacefully. The stranger continues to send letters and money to support the Milfords and to remind them of the importance of their secrecy. The twins Augusta and Charlotte grow to be beautiful and intelligent young children under the couple’s care. A few years later, Martha accompanies the young twins on an outing. When Martha arrives back home, she is crying and agitated, and recounts how a woman stole the girls from her and carried them away in a carriage. She describes the lady as resembling the one in the portrait in the drawing room. Mr. and Mrs. Milford are thrown into worry. On the third day of the twins disappearance, the Milfords are surprised to see them delivered back home by the strange man. He leaves soon, and Milford asks the girls to tell them everything that happened during the kidnapping. The sisters reveal that the woman who snatched them away was very kind yet showed extreme emotion towards them. The stranger also acted very kindly towards them, and had taken them home from the woman’s house on the third day. The Milfords are certain now that this woman is the twins’ mother, and suspect that somehow, the woman and the stranger are related as well. From his kindness in delivering them back to Mr. and Mrs. Milford, they suspect that the stranger is also somehow related to the twins.

More years pass, and while Augusta and Charlotte grow ever more beautiful, intelligent, and virtuous, the Milfords’ own son, George, develops an angry temper and associates with gamblers and criminals. He grows sullen towards their parents and jealous of the twins for stealing most of his parents’ affections. He begins to suspect the twins are not actually his sisters until one night, he overhears the entire truth as Mr. and Mrs. Milford are talking, and begins to plan his parents’ downfall.

A series of misfortunes fall upon the Milfords in quick succession. Mrs. Milford dies from illness, casting her husband into grief and an illness of his own. Additionally, his money supply runs dangerously low; the stranger had not kept in contact with the Milfords for a period of time. This resulted in having to let go of Martha and Mrs. Morton’s services, as well as moving to a new, poorer location with a different landlord. Augusta and Charlotte must work as maids in neighboring houses to provide money for the family. In order to keep up his extravagant gambling life, George uses his knowledge of the truth about the twins to blackmail his father into supporting his spendthrift lifestyle, knowing if his father refused, he would be endangering the secrecy he vowed to keep.

One day during this period of time, Milford takes the twins on a walk, and they witness a man fall off an uncontrollable horse. They quickly take him to their home and tend to his injuries. The entire family become quite taken with the man; Charlotte especially is struck by his good looks and falls in love. Before he leaves, he tells them he is named Henry Stirling and hopes to return to see the family soon, for he had also noticed Charlotte and desired to take her as his wife. However, Milford soon receives a letter from the stranger, warning him that Stirling’s character is dangerous and not to let him too close. To the disappointment of Charlotte, Milford tells Stirling they cannot associate with him any longer because of class differences and not to come again. Stirling departs upset and likewise disappointed. Stirling meets George on the way back from the Milford’s, and they make a deal in which George would help Stirling obtain Charlotte for a price.

One night, the twins wake up to their house on fire. Struggling to find any way out of the burning house, they are finally rescued out by Stirling, who happens to be passing by. The fire leaves the family homeless once more, and they are forced to rent in an extremely poor area. Charlotte’s love for Stirling burns stronger than ever after seeing him again, and George becomes a messenger for Stirling and Charlotte, communicating for them without Augusta or Milford’s knowledge. Stirling continues to woo Charlotte until he receives her consent to elope with him when Augusta and Milford are away on a walk.

When Milford and Augusta learn about Charlotte’s disappearance from a witnessing neighbor, Milford’s health takes a drastic turn for the worse, rendering him too weak to get out of bed. Days pass, and his health continues to decline until he feels the day of his death. He laments that he will not get to see Charlotte one last time before he dies. He is in the process of revealing to Augusta the secret of her birth before he dies, when Charlotte bursts through the door, having run from Stirling, apologetic, regretful, and terrified for her father’s health. Milford rejoices at getting to see both twins before he goes. He finally tells them that he and Mary are not actually their parents, and dies.

An illustration of Mr. Milford’s deathbed

A funeral is held for Milford a few days later. The next day, the stranger surprises the twins and reveals himself as their uncle and the Duke of M—. He tells them the entire truth of their birth: the twins are, in fact, the Ladies Charlotte and Augusta, and their parents are the Countess of C— and the Prince of Wales, the second most powerful man in England. Because of passage of the Royal Marriage Act, the marriage of the twins’ parents, unapproved of by the king, was considered illegal, and therefore illegitimated their birth, thus the reason for their secret upbringing. The twins then realize the strange woman who had kidnapped them as children and the woman depicted in the drawing room portrait and locket miniature was their mother, the Countess. The next day, the Duke takes the twins to be reconciled with their mother, and a joyful reunion ensues. Charlotte is eventually officially married to Henry Stirling (revealed to be an Earl), and Augusta to another distinguished nobleman. Meanwhile, George squanders away all his money and property and lives a miserable life.


The Age [London, England], Issue 6, February 06, 1842.

Cleave’s Gazette of Variety [London, England], October 12, 1839.

The Era, May 9, 1858, in British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900. Gale.

Humpherys, Anne. “Edward Lloyd.” British Literary Publishing Houses, 1820-1880, edited by Patricia Anderson and Jonathan Rose, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 106. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1991. Literature Resource Center.

James, Louis and Helen R. Smith. “Prest, Thomas Peckett (1809/10–1859).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, May 2008,

Northampton Mercury, April 27, 1867, 8, in British Library Newspapers, Part III: 1741-1950. Gale,

The Penny Satirist [London, England], Issue 153. March 21, 1840.

Prest, Thomas Peckett. The Royal Twins: Or, The Sisters of Mystery. London, G. Purkess, 1848.

The Satirist; or, the Censor of the Times [London, England], February 06, 1842.

Smith, Helen R. New Light on Sweeney Todd, Thomas Peckett Prest, James Malcolm Rymer and Elizabeth Caroline Grey. Bloomsbury: Jarndyce, 2002. 

Williams, Henry Llewellyn. “Henry Llewellyn Williams’s Reminiscences of the Famous Old English House of Lloyd.” New York Times Book Review, August 20, 1904.

Researcher: Melissa Zhu