"The Princess and the Pea" (Danish: "Prindsessen paa Ærten"; also published in English as "The Real Princesss" and "The Princess on the Pea") is a short story for children by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was first published on May 8, 1835, along with "The Tinderbox", "Little Claus and Big Claus" and "Little Ida's Flowers", in an inexpensive booklet without a cover. It was published again in 1837, together with "The Little Mermaid", "The Emperor's New Clothes", "Thumbelina" and five other stories, in the first complete volume of Andersen's Fairy Tales Told to Children.
The story centers around a test which is designed to prove whether or not a young woman's claim to be a princess is true. Although she is separated from it by a great many mattresses and quilts, the young woman can feel a pea in her bed and is unable to get a decent night's sleep. Her extreme sensitivity is conclusive proof that she is genuinely of royal blood.
Similar tales exist in the folklore of India and several European countries. Andersen claimed to have heard the story of "The Princess and the Pea" when he was a child. It is probable that he heard a version of the Swedish folktale "The Princess on the Seven Peas" because no version of the story is known to have existed in Danish folklore before Andersen's time.
A 1959 Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress, in which Carol Burnett played the heroine Princess Winnifred, was based on Andersen's story. The story was also adapted as a six-minute animated IMAX film in 2001 and a full-length animated feature film, an American-Hungarian co-production, in 2006.
A prince searches the world, looking for a princess to marry. He meets many women who claim to be princesses but he doubts that any of them are what they claim to be. He returns home disappointed.
One evening, there is a terrible thunderstorm. A young woman arrives at the prince's city, seeking shelter from the rain. She claims to be a princess, although, having been soaked by the storm, she does not look like one.
To test the young woman's claim, the queen prepares a special bed for her. The bed is made up of twenty mattresses and twenty quilts, underneath which there lies a pea. In the morning, the young woman says that she did not sleep well. She could feel something in her bed and got badly bruised as a result of lying on top of it.
The fact that the young woman could feel the pea beneath twenty mattresses and twenty quilts is proof that she is a real princess. She and the prince are married and the pea is put on display in a museum for many years to come.
- Versions of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea" in Danish and English on Wikisource.
- Public domain audiobook of "The Princess and the Pea" on YouTube.