Thomas Mann originally intended Royal Highness to be a novella but by the time it was completed in 1909 it had become a novel. Success allowed him to indulge he said, and in Royal Highness he pays tribute to his recent courtship and marriage.
It is undeservedly one of Mann's most neglected books, perhaps overshadowed by later masterworks. Lyric, subtle and filled with unforgettable characterisations, Royal Highness is a highly entertaining novel with a happy romantic ending. At its heart is the courtship and marriage of a prince and the daughter of an American millionaire with a flair for horse-riding and mathematics.
It is also a complex multifaceted work that with humour and irony, deals with human nature, loneliness and the need for love. Part political satire, part social allegory, readers familiar with German history will enjoy its many allusions. The prince's deformed arm clearly refers to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Set before World Wars changed the face of Europe, in a poor nameless principality during the reign of the house of Grimmburg. The moribund principality lurches close to bankruptcy while its decaying monarchy clings on to its hereditary ceremonial prerogative. In the prelude a telling encounter between the young prince and a military officer satirises the Prussian military tradition. Later, a son with a deformed hand, Klaus Heinrich, is born to the Grand Duke and his wife. Overlooked in the disappointment is the gypsy's prophecy that a one-handed prince will one day save the country.
"It is Klaus Heinrich, the younger brother of Albrecht II, and heir presumptive to the throne. There he goes, he is still in view. Known and yet a stranger, he moves among the crowd—people all around him, and yet as if alone. He goes on his lonely way and carries on his narrow shoulders the burden of his Highness!"