Cinderella Style: A commoner by birth, or with only minor ties to nobility. Nonetheless, through hard work, perseverance, and the help of some musical animals, she'll swoop into the ball and make the prince her "husband". Other classics of this type: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and King David
The Goose Girl Style: Those who plotted against the princess succeed, and she is forced into a menial position, or enslaved, until her story comes out. Usually, the princess knows who she is, but isn't able to tell the truth, and she may be ignorant.
A common technique is to combine this with Cinderella. The heroine wins the prince, perhaps even marries him and has his child; then her enemies triumph over her, and she must flee until she is restored. Bride and Switch is also common, just before the wedding. Such a combination occurs in The Wonderful Birch and The Maiden Without Hands
This is Older Than Feudalism, and has long since gone into being a Dead Horse Trope when used in a serious application. However, sweeten the deal with a deconstruction or other device, and this will work quite well in a modern setting.
Epidemic in the Fairy Tale, it often reappears in retellings of fairy tales. This is a common reason why kings who have promised the Standard Hero Rewarddecide instead to assign another Engagement Challenge, and then another. And another. . . (This is usually very unwise in the long run.)
Christopher Booker takes the Cinderella version for his second plot, Rags to Riches. According to his scheme, the hero seems to get everything he wants very early, only to lose it through a serious character flaw, which leads to the darkest moment for the hero (e.g., in the original Aladdin, when the villain had stolen both the lamp and the princess). Then, of course, the hero manages to face his flaws and gets an even better prize than the one he would have been content with early on.
May combine with She Cleans Up Nicely and Lineage Comes from the Father.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
In Tower of God, the 10 Great Families tend to adopt strong and talented children, among them orphans, to become Rankers and Princess candidates. The reason for this is that the Families apparently don't get it on that much (except for KoonEduan). The way to riches is very hard and dangerous though, as seen with Androssi Zahard's backstory.
Usagi/Serena is a Sleeping Beauty, being a reincarnated princess with the forces that destroyed her kingdom hot on her heels. She does find out the bad guys are after her early on, but not that she's a princess until late in the first season.
Actually, her boyfriend/future husband Mamoru is a Gender Flip Sleeping Beauty, he eventually finds out he was heir apparent to the Earth Kingdom back in the past.
And in the manga, all the main senshi are Sleeping Beauties, former princesses of their respective planets. (Except Pluto, who is probably closer to a Snow White since she never lost her memories of the Silver Millennium, and spent her time guarding the Door of Time)
Chibiusa is a Snow White type, coming back in time to before her mother rose to power to receive Senshi training and having to live like a civilian with Usagi and her family. Subverted in the sense that the Senshi already know she's a princess. After all, she's Mamoru and Usagi's future daughter, though they don't learn that detail until later.
There's a reasonably clever subversion in Mai-Otome. From the start we're expected to figure out that Mashiro isn't the real princess - meanwhile, the main character, Arika, conspicuously has the same birthday and a prerequisite necklace and all. But as it turns out, that's a Red Herring, and in fact, it's Nina, the Rival Turned Evil, who unbeknowst to all was the princess. The scene in which Big Bad Nagi finds out is priceless. Ultimately thanks to Character Development, Mashiro turns out to be the one best suited to be a princess anyway. Mai-Otome Zwei hints that Mashiro might be a legit heir after all - she greatly resembles the Queen of Windbloom from 300 years ago.
The manga has a good subversion as well. The 'Mashiro' we know in the story is an impostor for the real (deceased) Mashiro, that was clear from the first chapter. Then it turns out the real Mashiro isn't dead. THEN it turns out the impostor was Mashiro's twin brother, secreted away Sleeping Beauty style in case Mashiro went insane and/or died. In a few chapters he went from an impostor to nobody to the sole heir of Windbloom (once the real Mashiro bit the dust, anyway).
Lucia of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch is a Sleeping Beauty in the manga (though she finds out her lineage very early) and a Snow White in the anime. Hanon, Rina and Caren are Snow Whites as well throughout the series.
Kaitou turns out to be a Sleeping Beauty, as the lost prince of a destroyed mermaid kingdom who was adopted by humans as a child.
The entire Band of the Hawk from Berserk are Cinderellas, as they're all common mercenaries elevated to knighthood. Griffith, however, is the biggest example. At his highest point he had a good chance of marrying Princess Charlotte and becoming heir to the kingdom. This is portrayed fairly realistically, though, as Griffith does have to deal with a couple of assassination attempts by disgruntled nobles. Its subverted when Griffith goes through a Heroic BSOD, gets captured and tortured by the King, and the Band of the Hawk become outlaws.
Asuna and Negi of Mahou Sensei Negima! are both Sleeping Beauty types, turning out to both be members of the royal family of the Vespertatia Kingdom in the Magic World. It subverts the Genre Blind guardian bit, as they were probably both safer before they started getting involved with their legacies.
In the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, it's revealed that the Narutaki twins Fuka and Fumika picked up a pair of animals which turned out to be princes from the Magic World. Within five years they were married and already had their first kids.
Similarly, Cute Bookworm Satomi Hakase is implied to have become a Cinderella. She's a very smart student from Earth who's all but stated to have married a much older man in a very high position of political power in the Magical World. Said man is none other than governor Kurt Godel.
Somewhat special case in Mei-chan no Shitsuji as Shinonome Mei whose family is described as 'just getting by' finds out she's actually the heir to the very rich Houga family after her parents are killed in an accident, and her friend and classmate Shibata Kento comes from a family of butlers that serve her family.
C-ko is a long-lost alien princess. Sixteen years earlier, her people lost her, and she ended up crashing down to Earth. They do eventually find her, leading to this discovery (and invoking this trope).
Youko Nakajima from The Twelve Kingdoms is a Sleeping Beauty who started out the series as an Ordinary High-School Student, became Trapped in Another World and then discovered that she was actually the appointed ruler of one of the series' titular countries. Unlike many Rags to Royalty stories, this one doesn't end with her getting the throne—she has to fight wars, consolidate her power and deal with the treacherous nobles and officials who plot to overthrow her.
Similarly, Naotaka Komatsu aka Shoryuu was another Sleeping Beauty... sorta. He was a nobleman on Earth, but by the time he found out he was the appointed ruler of the Kingdom of En, he had lost everything in a brutal local war, making him a sort-of Goose Guy. Then he switched to Sleeping Beauty as he was revealed to be the King, and like Youko he had to fight off treacherous courtesans and officers to make sure he wouldn't lose either his power or his life.
Katekyo Hitman Reborn! uses this trope in the form of a "Rapunzel Style". Sawada Tsunayoshi is a normal highschooler until the hitman tutor shows up at his doorstep and tells him he's a candidate for the tenth generation boss of a mafia. Hilarity ensues.
Empress Marianne of Code Geass would be a definite Cinderella case, a commoner by birth who rose to prominence as one of the Knights of the Round, before becoming one of The Emperor's imperial consorts.
Her children Lelouch and Nunnally also fit into this trope, as Snow Whites. They know they're royals, but have been sent away to the former Japan and then to a Boarding School for rich kids and thus few people (at the start) know who they truly are.
The title character of Naruto is a mix between the cinderella type and the sleeping beauty type. First starts as an outcast orphan who was regarded as a no good troblemaker without a future. Slowly grows up into a respectable and eventually idolized figure as his achievements grow. Then it is revealed that not only is his father the late Fourth Hokage, but that his mother's family was also related to the Senju, making him also related to the First, Second AND Fifth Hokage. In layman's terms, he has the blood of FOUR of the ninja equivalent of kings in his veins. But of course, none of this is actually adressed by anyone in the manga....for the time being anyways.
Though to be honest, his relation to the Senju clan is incredibly distant. It isn't as distant as his mother's connection was, considering Mito Uzumaki married the 1st Hokage and is Tsunade's grandmother.
Jeanne de la Motte/Valois, a Cinderella type (in the very fictionalized manga/anime and Real Life). And the most twisted Cinderella ever. A beautiful peasant girl raised by the seamstress Nicole Lamorliere, she claims to be a long lost Valois princess and manages to get an old noblewoman to listen to her plight, then kills her benefactor to inherit her riches. It gets worse, and worse, and worse...
Jeanne's stepsister Rosalie Lamorliere is a sort of Sleeping Beauty type. Her mother gave Rosalie up to the aforementioned Nicole Lamorliere (who apparently was her former maid) when she was a teenage girl and Rosa was a baby, thus Rosalie has no idea of how her biological mom has gone Rags to Riches in the meantime and considers herself the biological daughter of Nicole for a long while. she later becomes the confidant and companion of Oscar Francois the Jerjays, a very high-ranked noblewoman.
Nadja Applefield from Ashitano Nadja is a big case of Sleeping Beauty. Nadja was raised in an English Orphanage of Love and always believed her parents died of iillness; when she's about to turn 13 and leave, however, she's sent a trunk with her mom's very fine belongings and a card that says her mother is actually alive, What is not exactly explained in the card is that said mother is a member of an extremely rich and noble clan in Austria... and that many people want Nadja out of the way since she's the biggest candidate to be the heiress of said clan. Even when she only wants to find her beloved mother. From the moment Nadja finds out and leaves her Orphanage of Love to work with the Dandelion Troupe, she goes from Sleeping Beauty to Snow White: one of her goals is learning more about her mother and her biological family, as well as meeting up with her.
From Fushigi Yuugi, we have You Houki. She was a poor farm girl, taking care of her ailing father, when she was asked to join the emperor's harem (much to the ire of her former boyfriend Suu, later revealed to be Hotohori's half-brother). She didn't want to go at first, but her father pressured her saying she'd have a better life. Hotohori eventually chooses her to be his Empress Consort, and after he dies, she becomes a kind Empress Dowager who supports their son and future Emperor.
Sumi Kitamura from Stepping On Roses. She's a Sleeping Beauty because she's Aiko, the sister of her arranged husband Soichirou's rival Nozomu Iijuin; she went lost as a very little girl, and was found by a then teen-aged Eisuke Kitamura in a rose garden.
In One Piece, in the Dressrosa arc, the Toy Soldier/Kyros was revealed to be a lowly street thug before marrying Rebecca's mother, Scarlett and becoming a member of royalty.
In Child Ballad #89 "Fause Foodrage," a nobleman's infant daughter is exchanged for the infant prince. After the prince learned the truth and overcame the usurper who would have killed him, he marries the daughter.
Attack on Titan: It turns out that Historia Reiss is royalty. The Survey Corps plan on performing a coup d'état to replace the king (who may or may not be royalty) with Historia so that she can kill off the corruption in the Government.
Justified in Fables. Briar Rose can never stay poor thanks to a blessing placed on her at birth so when she loses her entire fortune fleeing the Adversary she quickly recoups it with a few smart business deals. One character notes that if she were to give away her fortune on a whim: "she'd probably win the lottery the next day".
Plourr Illo, a Boisterous Bruiser expy of Anastasia, went into hiding and later became a pilot for the Rebellion after revolutionaries killed her family. She wasn't in rags, exactly, but she lived as well as any of the other pilots and kept her heritage a secret.
Bone Thorn was unaware of her royal legacy. Her grandma told her that she is meant to lead a kingdom as the next queen. Thorn becomes Queen in the end.
In "The Beautiful Damsel and the Wicked Old Woman", a prince marries a peasant girl because she is beautiful, weeps pearls and brings flowers when she can smile, and sews exquisitely, but when she is coming to the wedding with an old woman, the woman gouges her eyes out and thrust her into a cave, to replace her with her own daughter. But the girl weeps pearls and buys back her eyes, and when she can see, she sews a handkerchief that the prince recognizes, so she regains him.
In Grimms' "The Girl Without Hands", the miller's daughter marries a king; then the Devil conspires against her, she is driven out to the wilderness, but the king follows her and she regains her place.
In "The Maiden with the Rose on her Forehead", a woman finds a beautiful girl in enchanted sleep in her husband's house. Not knowing she is his niece, she enslaves her, but her husband finds out and restores the girl to her proper station. A similar plot is found in "The Young Slave".
In "The Goose Girl", the heroine's servant overpowers her and makes her promise not to tell anyone; then the servant passes herself off as the princess and has the heroine turned into a goose-girl. She escapes when she confesses to a stove rather than a person.
In "Maid Maleen", after the princess falls in love with a prince her father does not approve of, the father imprisons her in a tower. Then he loses his kingdom and is unable to get her out. She and her maid burrow out and live in appalling poverty until she can find her way to the prince's kingdom and win him back.
Oh, nettle-plant, Little nettle-plant, What dost thou here alone? I have known the time When I ate thee unboiled, When I ate thee unroasted.
In "Catherine and Her Fate", Catherine, having chosen to be miserable in youth and happy in old age rather than the other way round, ends up as a Scullery Maid — except that her Fate, being an Anthropomorphic Personification, is always showing up and wrecking her position for seven years. Finally, however, her Fate gives her a MacGuffin, and when the king needs it, he decides to give her its weight in gold. It takes his whole treasury, he demands the story, and when she is done, he decides to marry her.
In "Adalmina's Pearl", the cruel princess loses her enchanted pearl and becomes a plain, dumb peasant girl. Thanks to a back up enchantment, her heart however turns good now, and stays that even after she gets the pearl back.
so little Annie the goose-girl came to have the king of England's son for her husband after all, just because it was written that she should have him.
Ironically, despite her Trope Codifier status above, Cinderella herself would fall more precisely under "Goose Girl Style." As Jane Yolen has pointed out, Cinderella was already nobility and/or an heiress, just made to wear rags and work a menial job by her Wicked Stepmother.
"'Cinderella' is not a story of rags to riches, but rather riches recovered; not poor girl into princess but rather rich girl (or princess) rescued from improper or wicked enslavement."
Because of a cough during a reincarnation spell, unlike Sailor Moon canon where Usagi is the long lost princess, Nanoha Takamachi is the Sleeping Beauty Moon Princess in White Devil of the Moon. Also unlike Usagi, Nanoha is not happy to hear about it, especially when she gets a look at her past self and starts viewing it as a King Thrushbeard situation. She ultimately declines to revive the Moon Kingdom, preferring her job at the TSAB.
Film — Animated
Don Bluth's Anastasia. Anya wakes up, eights year old with no memory, and spends the next ten years of her life in an rundown orphanage, hoping her Orphan's Plot Trinket means she has a family who loves her somewhere. She takes a chance and follows her one clue to Paris, determined to not rest until she finds out who she really is. This pays off, and she discovers she's actually Her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, and has a grandmother who has long been searching for her.
Though this trope is somewhat subverted in that Anya/Anastasia goes from Royalty to Rags to Royalty Again to Not Really Royalty, Seeing As She Was In Love With A Non-Royal And There Is The Whole Matter Of Joseph Stalin Being In Charge, But Presumably Happy And Comfortable.
Shrek: Princess Fiona is a Snow White, kept in a tower until her curse is reversed.
Rapunzel from Tangled is a Goose Girl type; a princess who was kidnapped as a baby and had her heritage kept secret from her by Gothel, who wanted to use her Magic Hair. Also, Flynn is a Cinderella, as he's an orphan and a thief who marries Rapunzel.
The Barbie version of the story also portrayed Rapunzel as a stolen princess. In the original fairy tale, she is a Cinderella type.
Pictured above: Disney later subverts this with The Princess and the Frog. Tiana marries Prince Naveen officially becomes a princess by marriage. But she doesn't get the royal treatment and instead opens up her own restaurant with Naveen.
Han and Leia are a special case in that an insignificant smuggler of no importance ends up with the adopted daughter of a powerful nobleman from one of the oldest and most prestigious human planets, who already had her own career in the highest levels of galactic politics.
While far from poor, Emperor Palpatine started his life as a member of a small noble family of the lowest rank on the tiny backwater planet Naboo. Instead of working his way up through the political hierarchy of the Galaxy, he instead staged a conflict that made his people look like victims in the power plays of the major powers and showed the face of a humble older man just wishing to save his home, which got him enough of a sympathy bonus to be selected as a trustworthy and impartial caretaker for major reforms in the Galactic Republic.
If Expanded Universe is taken into consideration, Han could be a descendant of the family that ruled Corellia in the distant past. Could because 1) the claimant to the throne Han's descended from could be an impostor, 2) number 1 could have just been said to make Han's heritage more opaque by his request, 3) Corellia's a democracy anyway at this point, and 4) the whole point of that was to prove that Han had the heritage and credentials to marry Princess Leia... but they weren't going to let anything stop them from doing that anyway, especially since the only real threat to their engagement found love elsewhere.
Which if the above is taken into consideration means their three children and granddaughter also are descendants of royalty. Then again, their granddaughter is already a Snow White, the lost heir to the Hapes Consortium.
Pan's Labyrinth has Ophelia as a Sleeping Beauty; she's the reincarnation of a fairy princess, but must pass many tests to prove she is still more royalty than human, and hasn't been corrupted by living among us. Word of God is it's all true, not a mere trick or her "escapism" method to try coping with a truly horrid life in the middle of the Spanish Civil War.
The eponymous King Ralph is a male Cinderella, though he's not exactly sweeping princesses off their feet. Rather, he comes by his office by accident of birth, after every other member of the royal family dies in an explosion.
The fantasy film Quest Of The Delta Knights, which may be best remembered as having been shown on MST3K, had a Sleeping Beauty character. The two young heroes, Tee and Leonardo da Vinci, rescue a prostitute named Thena from having to spend the night with evil Lord Vultare. The trio are captured by a group of warriors from a neighboring country, the leader of whom takes Thena aside for a private interview. She tells him a short form of her life story, and he comes to the (rather incomprehensible) conclusion that she is none other than his own long-lost younger sister, Princess Athena.
The 1987 Ally Sheedy vehicle Maid To Order offers a modern King Thrushbeard in the story of a wild spendthrift heiress who is magically banished into the working class to learn humility, compassion and the value of a buck, thanks to her Fairy Godmother.
Overboard had a similar plot, only it was a case of accidental amnesia and the scheme of a lower class workman (that the spoiled heiress had earlier insulted) that sent her to live the life of a poor housewife. She regains her memory and wealth at the end of the story, and marries the poor workman after dumping the loathsome husband she'd had before the accident.
Maid In Manhattan, with Jennifer Lopez as a hotel maid (Cinderella), Ralph Fiennes as a Congressional candidate staying at the hotel (The Prince), Natasha Richardson and Amy Sedaris as airheaded socialites also lusting after him (the Wicked Stepsisters), Lopez' coworkers as a collective group of fairy godmothers, and the museum benefit where things come to a head (the Ball).
In the film Working Girl, Tess McGill starts as an overworked and unappreciated secretary living in Staten Island with a deadbeat boyfriend. By the movie's ending, she pulled off a major business merger, gained a new job and a Wall Street analyst lover.
Her first boyfriend wasn't a deadbeat, he had a perfectly good blue-collar job and before the movie ended had achieved his aim of owning his own boat. However he had no sympathy with her white-collar aspirations and he cheated on her.
In In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, Farmer is a simple farmer with no aspirations other than to grow crops and be a good husband and father. When his son is killed and his wife captured by the Evil SorcererBig Bad, he goes to try to get her back and avenge his son. Meanwhile, the kingdom of Ehb is under siege from the sorcerer's mindless horde of creatures called the Krug. King Konreid meets Farmer and is told by his wizard that Farmer is his long-lost son. Farmer neither believes him nor does he care. During the first battle with the Krug, the king is betrayed and mortally wounded by his nephew Duke Fallow. On his deathbed, he convinces Farmer that the latter is his son. Farmer becomes King Camden Konreid.
The whole plot of The Prince and Me is that American medical student Paige falls in love with the young King Edvard of Denmark, and becomes a Cinderella who must find a way to prove her worth to the people of his country.
The Princess Diaries books are a deconstruction — Mia was as happy as any other teen at first and horrified to discover she was a princess. Being a princess is difficult, and her grandmother is...trying...to say the least. However, Mia eventually discovers she has gained fame, which she can use to try and right what she sees as social injustices and wrongs.
Emberella in Witches Abroad starts out as a parody of Cinderella, but turns out to be a more-or-less straight Sleeping Beauty.
Captain Carrot in the Watch series is a parody of the male Sleeping Beauty; once he learns his true heritage, he makes damn sure no-one finds out. ( Including executing one persistant monarchist for treachery against the Patrician.)
Wyrd Sisters is also a subversion of the male Sleeping Beauty: Like Carrot, Tomjon doesn't want the job once he learns his heritage, so it instead goes to his half-brother Verence who's actually a half-brother on the mother's side and so, strictly speaking, doesn't have Royal Blood at all.
Sergeant Nimashet Despreaux in John Ringo and David Weber's Prince Roger series subverts the trope by recognizing that it is not a good idea for a bodyguard to be attracted to the person she's guarding. Also, since she is from a hick planet, she doesn't want to get anywhere near the Deadly Decadent Court that plagues the Empire of Man. She actually has to be ORDERED by her CO to have a relationship with the prince because they need to get him out of a depressed funk. Later on, when he becomes heir to the throne, she gets cold feet. She then has to be ORDERED by her CO to marry him so that she can serve as his moderating influence and conscience.
In the children's novel Just Ella, by Margaret Haddix, the trope is subverted. Having gotten to the ball by her own devices, she is dogged by rumors it was really a fairy godmother. She finds that court life is stifling, the poor are horribly downtrodden, and Prince Charming is stupid and unfeeling.
Kate Forsythe's Rhiannon o' the Dubhslain (a Sleeping Beauty).
Thanks to Royally Screwed Up, in Deep Secret, Maree, Nick, and Rob the Centaur are all secretly Princes/Princesses; Nick / Nicothodes is of the Snow White variety, while Maree and Rob are both Sleeping Beauties. While Maree / Sempronia is technically the eldest and next in line, Rob the centaur in the one who ascends to the throne. Sort of.
Edgar Rice Burroughs's heroes and heroines are generally of high birth but sometimes feature as Sleeping Beauties or Snow Whites.
Tarzan of the Apes turns out to be an English nobleman.
In The Master Mind of Mars, the heroine, Valla Dia, is in flight after the conquest of her city; only at the end she does reveal herself to be the princess of it.
In A Fighting Man of Mars, the hero meets a slave girl Tavia; only at the end it is revealed that she is a princess by blood. (Even she didn't know.)
The Cave Girl was a ship-wrecked child of Spanish nobility.
In The Monster Men, the hero is revealed to be amnesiac, and an upper-class American.
In The Chessman of Mars, the hero, a prince, disguises himself as a poor mercenary because he had given the heroine a bad first impression as a prince.
Mercedes Lackey adores this trope. Granted, half of Misty's work is retelling of fairy tales, but she really does get a kick out of this particular type of tale.
Show Whites: Maya Witherspoon of Serpent's Shadow and Phoenix and Ashes and Winterhart of the Mage Wars trilogy.
In John Barnes' One for the Morning Glory, Calliope is secretly the princess of a neighboring country, smuggled to safety. She ends up getting herself crowned and then marrying Prince Amatus and being queen, although at one point she does wish that she could marry Amatus as just the nobleman's daughter she passes herself off as; as a princess, the political aspects are a little obvious.
Greek Mythology goes a step beyond with the Legend of Eros and Psyche. Although Psyche is actually a princess by right, she goes one scale higher, to get married by the God of Love himself in disguise. Then Zeus makes her immortal.
Ceddy, AKA Cedrik Errol, of Little Lord Fauntleroy, is another example of the 'rags to riches' and 'hidden nobility' part of this trope. His father was the son of a very rich and anti-American Lord, his mother was the orphaned and much abused lady-in-waiting of a Rich Bitch, they got together despite the Parental Marriage Veto, after the dad was disinherited they lived a middle-to-poor-class but happy life with little Cedric, and it's only after the father's death that Cedric learns his origins and then goes to England to meet his paternal family.
Princess Augusta a.k.a. Mickle of Lloyd Alexander's Westmark is a combination Sleeping Beauty/Goose Girl type: she doesn't remember her royal heritage thanks to traumatic amnesia, and the country believes that she's dead. Deconstructed somewhat in the sequels, where noble and foreign disapproval of her commoner upbringing sets the plot in motion.
Also from Lloyd Alexander are Taran and Princess Eilonwy in the Chronicles of Prydain. Eilonwy is an aversion of the Snow White in that she isn't on the run from her royal lineage, but was stolen as an infant. She's somewhat of a Goose Girl, in that she is perfectly well aware that she's a Princess of Llyr, but when she meets protagonist Taran in the first book, she doesn't bother to mention it at any point - not because she feels like she needs to hide the truth, but simply because rank doesn't matter to her. (This is averted in the animated adaptation, where she always introduces herself as a princess.) Taran himself, by the end of the series, is a Cinderella who makes a very abrupt transition from assistant pig-keeper to High King.
In many chivalric romances such as Vitae Duorum Offarum, Emare, Mai and Beaflor, and La Belle Helene de Constantinople, the heroine escapes her father threatening marriage and wins the heart of a king. After she has a child, she is slandered and driven out again, only reuniting with her husband after much tribulation. (See "The Girl Without Hands" under Fairy Tales.)
In the Chivalric RomanceRoswall and Lillian, the hero is attacked by his own servant and must promise to never reveal the attack to save his own life. He wins the princess in a tournament with the aid of magical helpers who give him armor and weapons.
Aragorn/Strider, of The Lord of the Rings, is somewhere between Goose Girl and Snow White. He's the heir to two dynasties (one a dynasty and people without a proper state, the other a land without a king), lives with his identity hidden for safety reasons, and was kept ignorant of his heritage during his childhood in Rivendell (which was nowhere near "rags" territory). As an adult he takes on the leadership of his people, and spends most of his time away from home fighting the horrors of the Enemy, whether to protect unwitting hobbits and Men in Eriador or as leader in the armies of Rohan and Gondor under the name Thorongil. Additionally, his line has been living this way for more than a dozen generations before their kingdom is finally restored.
Aragorn's early life is a lot like that of King Arthur, who was placed for adoption by Merlin to keep him hidden and safe from his enemies until he could claim his throne.
Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy uses the Goose Girl: Freed slave Thorby goes through most of the novel with a variety of foster parents until he finally reaches a point where he can be identified by his footprints. He discovers that he's Thor Bradley Rudbek, long-lost heir of the obscenely wealthy Rudbek clan, sold into slavery as an infant when his parents were attacked by Space Pirates.
Lessa of the Dragonriders of Pern series is a grown-up Snow White/Goose Girl ragged princess (albeit a Tsundere with emphasis on the Tsun) whose family was destroyed when Fax took over her Hold. She changes her goal — instead of taking back leadership of Ruatha Hold, she becomes a queen dragon rider and Weyrwoman (an even higher social rank).
By the end of the Seventh Sword trilogy, this happens several times. The first of which is Katanjii, a minor character who breaks his arm early on, but discovers that he has a strong business sense that enables him to make business deals that always benefit him, despite his small stature, young age, and seeming innocence. The trilogy concludes with:
Nanjii, (Katanjii's older brother becoming the world's greatest swordsman, when he had started out as a poor protege).
Sonshu, the main protagonist becomes a king who is well-loved despite spending most of the story being despised by everyone.
Jaa, Sonshu's love interest and a slave becomes Sonshu's queen.
Octavian in the Codex Alera series is a male in the Sleeping Beauty style, and his mother Isana was a Cinderella in the backstory and is a Goose Girl during the events of the main plot. Octavian only reveals his birthright after he has proven himself a brilliant military commander.
Jame, the heroine of P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath series, is a Sleeping Beauty type; she believes herself the outcast, ragtag daughter of a minor Lord, but she turns out to be the sister of the Highlord of the Kencyrath — a situation that doesn't make her all that happy, because she chafes under (and eventually rejects) the restrictions of the role.
Likewise, his foil Aravis was a Snow White: she ran away from her noble home after being badly shaken by the death of her much loved older brother and not wanting to be the Trophy Wife to a high-ranked and much older Smug Snake (which was arranged by her Wicked Stepmother). She becomes Cor's girlfriend, then wife, and with time, the Queen Consort of Archenland.
In Beowulf, Hrothgar's queen is described as queenly and wearing gold, but her name is "Wealhtheow," which means "foreign slave."
In the Book of Esther of The Bible, Esther is chosen to be queen (to replace Queen Vashti after her husband Ahasuerus/Xerxes banished her from the empire). Esther is an ordinary young girl, and at that one of the Jews living in exile in Babylon, but she is chosen by the king himself out of a harem on account of her beauty.
Princess Jenna from the Septimus Heap series grew up in a poor Wizard family before being called to become Princess at her tenth birthday.
In Fred Saberhagen's Book of Swords trilogy, or rather, its backstory, Yambu, the Silver Queen, was the rightful ruler of...Yambu, after her parents, the previous king and queen, were killed. Unfortunately, the people who killed them had somehow gotten the idea that they should be in charge now, so Yambu had to go on the run as a fugitive, where she was helped by a mysterious stranger who called himself the Emperor. Despite appearing to be a clown, he turned out to be a great warrior and a powerful wizard, and saved her repeatedly and became her lover, and ultimately led a successful military-diplomatic campaign to put her back on the throne. It was at that moment that he asked her to marry him, but....
Subverted with Yambu's daughter (by the Emperor), Ariane. Yambu, fearing her as a rival to her power, sells her into slavery. She is rescued from slavery by Baron Doon and his companions before anything really bad happens to her, but she is never put on the throne, and never returns to a state of royalty.
Played straight, though, with Mark: he grows up as a peasant, but becomes Prince Consort of Tasavalta after he marries Princess Kristin.
Wendy in the Trylle Trilogy is a Sleeping Beauty Style. She finds out that she is actually a changeling troll who replaced her host family's original child, and she is actually the princess of the Trylle kingdom.
The protagonist of The Bitterbynde undergoes an extremely dramatic Cinderella transformation. At the start of the first book, she's a deformed, nameless, spurned, and hated scullery servant in a noble house. By midway through the second book, she's won a name, a title and land, and is engaged to the King-Emperor, although this does not last.
In John Moore's Fractured Fairy Tale, The Unhandsome Prince, Caroline knows she's destined for this. It was hard work finding the right frog to kiss. The only problem is that the standard deal is for a handsome prince. She knows that she's beautiful, and she'll be damned if she's going to settle!
In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary and Rue, Toby observes that as a duchess, Luna looks like a goosegirl raised to her position.
* Alaric in The Quest of the Unaligned is a Sleeping Beauty with a bit of a twist. He was never in any danger, rather he was sent to live in the city-state of Tonzimmiel instead of his native land of Caederan in order to ensure that he grew up magically balanced, away from the disruptive wind magic influencing the court. The original plan might have worked, but Alaric's Tonzimellian caretakers died when he was still fairly young, before they'd told him anything about his heritage, and he was sent into the orphanage system and only found just in time.
His Love Interest Laeshana is a fairly straight Cinderella. She is born into the white-sashes, the small caste of peasant mages despised by Caederan's nobility. However, her hard work, native brilliance, and loyalty to Prince Alaric conspire such that by the end of the story she is the second most powerful mage in the world and Crown Prince Alaric's bride.
Live Action Television
Guinevere does it Cinderella style on Merlin going from serving girl to Queen of Camelot by becoming Arthur's wife.
And in the final episode becomes Queen Regnant when Arthur bequeaths Camelot to her.
Once Upon a Time has several instances, which is fitting, given that the characters are the fairytale characters.
The series protagonist, Emma, is a Sleeping Beauty style. She thought she was abandoned and left to die by callous jerks of parents, growing up with a hellish set of foster homes. Finding out her parents are Snow White and her Prince Charming is a shock to say the least, and the series merrily deconstructs it.
Prince Charming undergoes a Cinderella version, but more complicated: he's one of two identical twin brothers born to a poor woman, with one of them being sold to a childless king. When the sold one dies, Charming is forced to take his twin's place.
Cora (the evil queen's mother) is an extremely pitch black take on the trope. An impoverished miller's daughter, she was humiliated publically (and cheated out of her payment for the flour shipment) when the princess tripped her, causing her bag to spill. She went out to invoke this trope out of pure rage and desire to get even. Cora learned a lot more magic than spinning straw to gold by Rumplestiltskin (becoming his lover in the process), marrying a minor prince with absolutely no backbone that she openly held in contempt, cheating Rumplestiltskin when he tried to claim her end of the deal, and then giving birth to a daughter (Regina) just so the daughter could be used as a tool to get Mommy Dearest even more power. Oh, and she murdered the princess who humiliated her by using magic, part for revenge for being tripped and part to force her daughter to marry the widower.
In H.M.S. Pinafore, Josephine's marriage to Ralph, since he is really the Captain.
In Ruddigore, both Hannah and Rose marry baronets.
In The Pirates of Penzance, Major General Stanley's Back Story — he even bought an estate and its contents, which included the buried ancestors. His daughters proceed to marry the pirates when they are revealed to be noblemen.
Tetra of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker follows the Sleeping Beauty version of this trope, though in a partial subversion, she doesn't get to really return to her status as royalty because the entire Kingdom of Hyrule pulls an Atlantis and stays forever sealed at the bottom of the Great Sea. This doesn't really bother her much, though, because she hates being called Princess Zelda anyway.
Subverted in Sly 2: Band Of Thieves, where one of the villains is a tiger crimelord named Rajan, who climbed up from poverty through a life of crime . While presenting himself as royalty (via the self imposed title "Lord of the Hills" and his "newly purchased "ancestral palace""), he's a thug in king's clothing with no real title or royal blood.
Sly While (Rajan) goes to great lengths to convince others of his royalty, he's really trying to convince himself.
In Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Almaz is a Cinderella example in two of the endings. In the Good ending, he ends up marrying Princess Sapphire Rhodonite. In the more jokey "Almaz Ending," Mao's father deems him Overlord of the Netherworld, much to his own dismay.
Lyndis from Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword is a mix of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. She knows she's the princess of the Lorca tribe since her Disappeared Dad was the chieftain... but she certainly does not know that her Missing Mom was a former princess of the Lycian royalty. The first part of the game is dedicated to her finding out about her mom's origins, taking off to meet up with her still-living grandfather and defeating her Evil Great Uncle.
Even more so: if Lyn marries either Eliwood or Hector, she can become the co-ruler of either Pherae or Ostia and reassure her Snow White traits. She's not the only potential Cindy, either: both guys have brides who are either mercenary Pegasus Knights (Fiora, for Eliwood; Farina and Florina, for Hector) or a travelling dancer and half-human, half dragon (Ninian, for Eliwood).
The same game has two Cinderellas: Louise and Hellene. They're two childhood friends who are also members of very minor noble clans, who marry into much-higher families: Louise is Happily Married to Pent of Reglay, while Hellene becomes the Queen of Bern via marrying King Desmond... and it gets worse for her. At the same time, we meet three Snow Whites: Priscilla and Raymond of Cornwell, whose clan was overthrown due to their supposed corruption; and Rath from the Kutolah tribe, banished away from his tribe Because Destiny Says So.
In the prequel Sword of Seals, some of the girls that KidAnova Roy can marry aren't exactly your average noblewomen: the Genki Girl dancer (and adoptive daughter of an Etrurian general, but still) Lalum, Tomboy Princess Sue from the Kutolah tribe aka Rath's daughter, Action Girl and mercenary Pegasus Knight Shanna, and the druid Sophia who's also a half-dragon.
The first was a young woman with minor Lopto blood, which was a very bad thing as her children would either become vessels for the Dark God Lopto or be the parents of a possible vessel. Cigyun escaped her home in a Verdane forest to see the world, married the Lord of Velthomer (from the also noble Fala clan) and had a son (Alvis) with major Fala blood and minor Lopto blood; however, she was mentally broken due to how much her husband cheated on her, so she cheated back on him with Prince Kurth, who belonged to anotherHeroic Lineage (Narga). When the Velthomer lord found out and killed himself, the despaired Cigyun escaped back into to the Forest while pregnant with Diadora, and died giving birth to her.
The second is a young girl living in a secluded forest, who was always told to not leave the tiny village, but didn't know why she should be in complete isolation. As she is Cigyun's daughter, Deirdre has minor Lopto blood too and from her dad's side she is the long lost crown princess of Grandvale with major Narga heritage, but her caretakers refuse to tell her the truth. She leaves the Forest too and marries Sigurd, living happily with him (and having Seliph) until Magnificent Bastard Manfloy kidnaps and brainwashes her... to become her half-brother Arvis's wife. And yep, their incestuous child Julius does become the vessel for Lopto, and kills Deirdre once possessed. Good thing Deirdre manages to spirit her and Alvis's other incestuous child, Julia, and she ultimately joins her half-brother Seliph's rebellious group.
Also, Deirdre's eldest son Seliph and his friends aka the kids of the first generation characters belong to different cathegories, depending on their backstories. They're most commonly Snow Whites (Seliph, Leif, Oifaye, Shanan, Lester and Lana, Ulster and Larcei, Patty, Ares, Arthur, maybe Altenna, Phee and Ced, Delmud and Nanna), but we also have some Sleeping Beauties (Leen and Corpul) and Goose Girls/Guys (Faval, Teeny). Additionally, Lewyn is a subversion: he is the King of Silessa and should be in the throne, but he rejects his heritage (to the point that he gets pissed off when Seliph calls him "King") and prefers to be the Team Dad for Seliph's group so he can fight for the freedom of the empire. ('Sides, if he DOES have kids with Forseti blood, the son will be crowned at the end of the game.) Oh, and the aforementioned Deirdre's daughter/Seliph's half-sister Julia is a Snow White, amnesiac and away from her noble family - thus unable to recall that she's the Imperial Princess of Grandvale and the current holder of the Narga major blood.
It should also be mentioned that, if you don't get the kids of the first generation charas, they're replaced by expies who are generally commoners. The exceptions are the stand-ins for Arthur and Teeny, Amid and Linda, who are Snow Whites related by blood to the characters they're "replacing".
Additionally, in Thracia 776 we get some more of these. Leif, Nanna and Miranda are Snow Whites fighting to get their kingdoms back, to start. Evayle turns out to be an amnesiac Seeping Beauty since she's the long lost Princess Briggid; her adoptive daughter Mareeta and Mareeta's father Galzus are a Goose Guy and his Goose Girl daughter.
Fire Emblem Tellius gives us a mixed Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in Micaiah, who goes from a cute fortuneteller on the streets to leader of La Résistance to general to Queen of Daein, in the meantime learning that she is in fact the rightful heir to the empire of Begnion... which she does not end up ruling, and her little sister Sanaki remains in power..
It also both subverts and averts the Sleeping Beauty type with Pelleas and Soren. Pelleas, a poor orphan who got the power of charming spirits, suddenly found himself the lost prince of Daein and became king - but it turned out to be a mistake, and he wasn't royal at all - and, in his case, being thought of as the Prince completely destroyed his lifeand caused his death. (Unless you gather the requirements to recruit him into your group, that is.) Soren, the true prince, never learned of his heritage and remained a commoner — but considering how things went with Pelleas (and who his birth father is), then it was much better he remained this way.
If a female Avatar marries Prince Chrom, she will become the future Queen of Plegia and a Cinderella type. Or she can marry the nobleman Frederick and remain as Chrom's close friend and advisor, or get together with Basilio aka one of the Khans of Regna Ferox, or marry one of Chrom's potential sons (Brady or Inigo), or marry Virion and help him recover the Duchy of Rosanne. If a male Avatar marries Chrom's little sister Lissa or his older sister Emmeryn if you recruit her via Spot Pass, he will also be Cinderella'd into the Ylissean Royal Family; alternatively, he can marry Lissa's best friend Maribelle and be the husband of a future countess, or marry any of Chrom's possible daughters (Kjelle, Cynthia, Lucina)... or marry the other Khan of Regna Ferox and Basilio's rival, Flavia, or marry close retainers and minor noblewomen like Cordelia, Sully and/or Sumia. Since the Avatar's Archnemesis Dad Validar is the King of Plegia after Gangrel's fall, the Avatar of either gender is actually a Sleeping Beauty... and the Soul Jar of Grima as well.
The female Avatar can also subvert it if she falls for either the post Heel-Face Turn Gangrel and/or Walhart (neither is a ruler anymore), or Yen'fay (he's a Fallen Prince from an alternate timeline). Same goes to the male Avatar if his bride is Say'ri (as Yen'fay's sister, she's a Fallen Princess - though she might have a chance to get Chon'sin back in the future.)
Fable II gives us an interesting example. The Hero is a pauper as a child, but then his/her Secret Legacy is discovered, which is that he/she is descended from a badass master of strength, marksmanship/litheness, and magic. After the tragic death of his/her sister at the hands of the Big Bad, he/she grows up, masters the aforementioned skills, and defeats the Big Bad. However, rather than marry into royalty, he/she forms his/her own monarchy, and because he/she is a Hero (master of said skills), he/she and his/her children, the main characters of Fable III, are referred to as nobility, and having royal blood.
Which comes back to bite said family in the ass in the Fable III DLC "Traitor's Keep", when a general who was imprisoned by the Hero's despotic son stages a coup, and argues that the royal family is tyrannical and unnecessary, with no real claim to rule Albion besides its magic powers.
It's strongly implied that the main character in SuikodenIV may, in fact, be Prince of the Kingdom of Obel. This isn't a straight example, though, because said main character comes into his own independantly of royal lineage. (In fact, assuming the title would've been a drop in status by the time it comes up.) It does cast the fight with King Lino in a new light, though, doesn't it?
In Suikoden Tactics this continues, with King Lino indicating he plans to name the Suikoden IV hero as his successor, without ever knowing that the kid is his biological son and thus already the crown prince.
In King's Quest III, the slave Gwydion is actually the long-lost Prince Alexander of Daventry.
He's not the only one who gets this landing on his plate. In the first game, Graham was a Cinderella style—son of a minor knight who worked his way up the ranks, returned the kingdom's lost treasures, and was given the crown by the childless King Edward. Edgar in the fourth and seventh game was under a situation closer to Gwydion's. Cassima was put into a Goose Girl situation in the fifth game by Mordak. Fanon speculates the Cinderella route comes full circle with Connor after the eighth game. That depends on whether or not you want to acknowledge the game even exists.
The player character him/herself can also undergo this in a Riches to Rags to Royalty fashion if the Warden is of the human noble origin. If that's the case, the Warden is the younger son/only daughter of the Cousland family, who are second highest in precedence only to the royal family themselves, but the events of their origin story have caused them to become a Goose Girl/Guy. This Warden can become Prince Consort (if male) by marrying dowager Queen Anora, or Queen-Consort (if female) by marrying the hardened Alistair.
The Dwarven Noble origin has a similar path: Exiled for killing their elder brother and heir to the throne (either truly or due to being framed by the younger brother), the Dwarven Noble later ends up being declared a Paragon; essentially riches to rags to deification.
In Dragon Age II, Hawke may become a viscount if s/he side with the templars at the end. Ruling a whole city is a pretty big step from being a penniless refugee.
Star Wars: The Old Republic has a few of them. The Republic culture doesn't support royalty per se (unless it's Elective Monarchy like the Zeltrons or Naboo), but Alderaan is their exception. All Republic players can be knighted by House Organa (yes, Leia's adoptive family) in the world quest. The Jedi Consular steps up to represent a minor house of nobility at a peace conference, and a Dark Side choice can net them a title of "Lord of Alderaan" by ruining one of the rival houses. Imperials, ever more inclined to royalty and its trappings, can do better; the Sith Inquisitor goes from being plucked off the auction block due to Force Sensitivity and sent to Korriban to the Emperor's co-dragon (with the Sith Warrior). The female Bounty Hunter can also get this if they take an offer to marry an Imperial-aligned Alderaanian noble, becoming a Baroness.
The Total War series has version of this. If a peasant, generic army captain leads your forces to victory in a battle, he may be adopted into the royal family. Then if he marries the right princess, and the right people die, he could end up leading your faction as emperor of the known world!
Lost Odyssey has Jansen as a Cinderella type where he was a commoner until the end of the game where he marries Ming and became king of Numara.
Also played with later- Stocke is the resurrected, amnesiac crown prince. The main thing this qualifies him for is not ruling the country, but dying.
Quain'tana of Drowtales, who went from starving commoner, to mercenary, to leader of a group of mercenaries, to leader of larger band of mercenaries and from their ended up the founder and leader of one of the single most powerful clans in the city of Chel'el'Sussoloth, controling a military force ten times larger then the next most powerful clan.
Villain example: In Sluggy Freelance, the demon lord Horribus (as well as his siblings Deplora and Terribus) were originally the demon equivalents of rednecks, with the simple names Horb, Plorb, and Terb, until Horribus's role in conquering the Dimension of Pain earned them all aristocratic status.
The same occurs for long suffering member of Horribus's Quirky Mini Boss SquadPsyk, who is made the new demon lord Psykosis.
While not a princess per se, Agatha Heterodyne in Girl Genius is a Sleeping Beauty type, the long-lost daughter and only survivor besides her mother, who happens to be the Big Bad, sort of of the powerful Heterodyne family. Raised by Parental Substitutes and protected from her heritage as a Spark by a locket her uncle made for her, she grows up having no idea she's heir to one of the most important families there is in a world run by Mad Scientists.
All-Furs and the prince in "Iron Hans" are Snow Whites,
the farmer's clever daughter is a Cinderella.
Played around a lot in Kevin & Kell. Lindesfarne (the adopted daughter of Kevin) is believed to be the lost heir of the British throne. Determined to get the paparazzi off her back, she seeks out and finds Chertsey, another hedgehog that was in the orphanage the same time as her. Finding her through her handprints and a police record, Lindesfarne gets paparazzi-in-training Fiona to leak out that Chertsey might be the lost heir. DNA tests prove that Lindesfarne was the actual heir, but she conspired to put Chertsey in her place because it made a better Rags to Royalty story and she wanted to stay with her family.
And here is where it gets interesting. It turns out years later that Chertsey's DNA matches Lindesfarne's...because Domain runs parallel to a universe where humans are the dominant species, and every animal in Domain has a counterpart in the human world, proven because if they cross over, they turn into their counterpart, DNA match and all. Lindesfarne, it turns out, originated from the human world and crossed over to Domain as a baby by accident, making her Chertsey's counterpart. So in short, both Lindesfarne and Chertsey are Sleeping Beauty types. Not that Lindesfarne ever intends to go back to the human world or stake her claim-she'd much rather be a scientist.
Lampshaded in an episode of Muppet Babies where they begin an fantasy where Piggy is a queen, but she notices she's wearing a peasant outfit.
Piggy: I guess this is one of those "rags to riches" stories.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic the commoner Twilight Sparkle creates new magic, which causes her to become an alicorn, and is coronated as a princess as a result of that, making her a Cinderella. Expanded Universe revealed that Cadence had done the same thing to become a princess.
Sofia the First and her mother thanks to the latter's marriage to King Roland the Second.
Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, was the first ever commoner to marry a British monarch; she had aristocratic ancestry but at the time they met she was the penniless widow of a defeated minor soldier. Their fairytale happy ending was slightly ruined by the Wars of the Roses, though.
Prince William's wife Kate Middleton, the current Duchess of Cambridge, was described as a commoner as she is only upper middle class rather than nobility.
Prince Edward's wife Sophie Rhys-Jones, now the Countess of Wessex, was also an upper-class commoner, as was Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, Prince Andrew's ex-wife.
Princess Letizia Ortiz, married to the Spanish heir Felipe de Borbón, was a commoner Hot Scoop. She studied in a public school and high school and her parents are a nurse and an unknown journalist. The Prince fell in love making this story a Cinderella type.
King Rama IV of Thailand (you know, from The King and I) spent twenty-seven years in a monastery after an usurper stole his father's throne. He was a devout monk who insisted on strict observance of the Southern School Buddhist monastic rules, which included things like chastity, moderation and poverty (a Buddhist monk is permitted a small number of robes, a begging bowl, a fan and very little else.) Upon the death of the usurper he became king, and inherited a whole load of palaces, servants and concubines.
In a real-life "Goose Girl" example, King Clovis II of France (7th century) married an Anglo-Saxon noble who'd been sold into slavery.
King Charles XIV John was born as Jean Bernadotte and came from a lower-middle class family in Pau, France. He joined the army early on and eventually became Marshall of France under emperor Napoleon, the 1st Sovereign Prince of Ponte Corvo and also married Napoleon's ex-fiancee Désirée Clary. Later on, because of a number of strange circumstances, he was adopted by the childless king of Sweden and made successor and founded the house of Bernadotte which still rules Sweden to this day.
Also of Swedish royalty, but of a later stripe: Prince Daniel, spouse of Crown Princess Victoria, was born in a rural Swedish town as the son of a social worker and a postal employee.
Princess Grace of Monaco. Not exactly rags, since her father was a self-made millionaire, but she still was a descendant of Irish bricklayers, and became a princess by marriage.
Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby was a common single-mom before she married Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and became Crown princess.
King Jaja of Opobo in what is today coastal Nigeria was born the son of peasant farmers further inland in the 1800s. He was kidnapped and sold as a slave to King Pepple of Bonny. He eventually ran the king's trading business so well that Pepple freed him, and made him Chief of his own War Canoe House. Later, Jaja led a group of disenchanted War Canoe Houses in a trade war with the town. They left Bonny, founded another port town, Opobo, and Jaja was proclaimed its first King. His War Canoe House is still the ruling House in Opobo today. (Jaja himself later got into a trade dispute with the British over rights to buy palm oil from the hinterland, was abducted, imprisoned in England, and died off the Gold Coast on his way back home).
Every biography of a famous conqueror is this. Many times it is an epic rather then strictly based on truth.
Theodora, the daughter of a bear trainer and a dancer/actress in 6th century Constantinople, went from prostitute to empress of the Byzantine Empire through her marriage to Justinian I.
Justinian himself was born a Thracian peasant and engineered the rise of his uncle to the throne before inheriting it himself.
Basil I, founder of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, was born to Armenian peasant parents and eventually became Emperor, proving to be competent enough to establish his dynasty.
Temujin was born to Mongol nobility, but was driven into exile with his mother and for a time he was even enslaved by his family's enemies. He later conquered most of the world, making him an extremely successful Sleeping Beauty type. For the non-scholarly types, you might know him as Genghis Khan.
The Roman Emperor Diocletian, was born to parents who were former slaves (some sources even say he himself was born a slave). After joining the Roman Army, he eventually climbed the ranks to become one of the emperor's top generals. After the death of both the emperor and his son during a battle in Persia, Diocletian was proclaimed emperor. He would go on to make reforms that would bring the Roman Empire out of the Crisis of the Third Century.
While Diocletian was an extreme case, the office of Roman Emperor technically was not hereditary, as the emperor was elected by the Senate. The situation of being de facto hereditary came from the reigning emperor's ability to force the Senate to elect a chosen heir as a co-emperor, who at his death would automatically become the only emperor. But, sometimes, the emperor would pick a competent general and have him elected as successor.
While not exactly royalty, more than one Roman Catholic Pope started his life in poverty or as mere middle-class and ended up as the highest authority in Catholicism. Some examples are: St. Pius X (Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, Country Mouse and son of a post office worker in a tiny village), Blessed John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli, doubling as Country Mouse and an Impoverished Patrician since his sharecropper family descended from a secondary noble branch) and Blessed John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, son of a Polish ex-military officer, thus as much urban middle-class).
The actual Pope (as of 2014), Francis, is one of these too. Son of Italian immigrants who lived in Argentina, graduated from schoool with a chemistry diploma and worked as a chemical technician, a bar bouncer and a janitor before entering the Jesuit Order and ascending in the hierarchy until he was made Pope.
Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark began her life as an accounts manager for several advertising agencies, and later a realtor specializing in luxury properties. Cue the Sydney Olympics, Crown Prince Frederik and a pub, and let the fairytale begin.
Emperor Hongwu, founder of the Ming Dynasty of China, was born as a peasant, lived as a beggar after a plague wiped out his family, and spent some time as a monk before becoming a warlord and eventually emperor.
Liu Bang, founder of the Han dynasty, was also born as a peasant.
A lower-class woman named Martha was born ca. 1684, became the maid of a Protestant cleric in Livonia, before marrying a Swedish dragoon. When the town she lived in was conquered by the Russians, she first lived with the Czar's friend Menshikov before becoming Peter the Great's mistress. Peter persuaded her to join the Orthodox church under the name Yekaterina (Catherine) and, after she had given birth to three daughters, married him in 1712. When Peter died, she became Russia's first reigning empress, Catherine I.
It was somewhat common for Sultans and other Muslim kings to elevate their favorite concubine to a de-facto Queen status.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Born a normal peasant Kinoshita Tokichiro and eventually got drafted as a sandal-bearer for Oda Nobunaga, he proves himself to be crafty and resourceful enough that Nobunaga promotes him to general, and eventually he avenges his lord's death, unifies Japan and becomes the most powerful and richest man in there.