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Rags to Royalty

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In her case, everyone glosses over the frog phase.
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A classic of literature, this Changeling Fantasy is as simple as it is sublime: the beautiful, hard working, put upon commoner girl who never loses her hope will be a princess or queen by the story's end. That much is certain, what varies is how she goes from Rags to Royalty. The following is a non-exhaustive list of common variations:

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 Reward decide 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.

Due to social expectations/gender double standards, male versions of this trope are rarer (especially ones involving a romance between a rich woman and a poorer man), but do exist in fiction and real-life.

May combine with She Cleans Up Nicely and Lineage Comes from the Father.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Ballads 

    Comic Books 
  • 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".
  • X-Wing Rogue Squadron: 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 Donna Troy's original (and least convoluted) backstory she was an unclaimed orphan rescued from a fire by Princess Diana and taken to the princess's home to be treated, whereupon the queen took a shine to the child and adopted her into the royal family.
  • Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons focuses on the journey of Hippolyta from a widowed peasent woman to legendary Queen of the Amazons.

    Films — Animated 
  • Don Bluth's Anastasia. Anya wakes up as an eight years old with no memory, and spends the next ten years of her life in a 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. Subverted in that she ultimately chooses to live away from the public eye with her non-royal love interest, Dimitri.
  • Shrek: Princess Fiona is a Snow White, kept in a tower until her curse is reversed.
  • Disney's Aladdin is a poor street urchin who begins dating the Sultan's daughter. In the semi-canon sequels, he marries Jasmine and becomes royalty.
  • 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 series turns Eugene into a Sleeping Beauty as he was sent away from his kingdom as an infant after his father failed to destroy the Moontstone.
  • Barbie movies:
    • The Barbie version of Rapunzel also portrayed Rapunzel as a stolen princess. In the original fairy tale, she is a Cinderella type.
    • In another movie, Barbie as the Island Princess, she's a Sleeping Beauty type instead: she's a lost princess believed to have died when her ship sunk, when in reality she had survived and spent several years in an island.
    • Barbie: Princess Charm School had Blair Willows, a poor waitress who turned out to be the presumed dead heir to the kingdom.
    • Barbie in a Mermaid Tale had Merliah, a mermaid princess who was raised on land since she was born with legs and to protect her from her evil aunt.
    • Barbie: The Pearl Princess had Lumina, a mermaid who lived with her elderly aunt, turn out to be a princess. Her aunt was a witch who was hired to kill her by the villain who wanted his own son on the throne, but the witch had a change of heart and raised the princess in secret instead.
  • Disney later subverts this with The Princess and the Frog (pictured above). Tiana marries Prince Naveen and officially becomes a princess by marriage. But she doesn't get the royal treatment and instead opens up her own restaurant with Naveen.
  • The Rapunzel variety happens to Daria in The Princess and the Pea.
  • In Trolls, the scullery maid Bridget ends up becoming King Gristle Jr.'s girlfriend. They married by the time of the following TV special Trolls Holiday, and thus Bridget is now Queen of the Bergens.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, it turns out that King Candy is a usurper, and Vanellope is the rightful, deposed princess and ruler of Sugar Rush. She decides to ditch the Princess title for a presidency instead.
  • Frozen II: Anna and Elsa's mother Iduna came from a tribal village to the north of Arendelle. Their father, then young Prince Agnarr, encountered her on a visit.
    • While it isn't explicitly stated, Kristoff, who also started off as a commoner, would have at least been a Prince Consort or a king by the time of the film's epilogue.
  • Animal version in The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride with Kovu, who ruins his mom’s takeover plan but goes from living in the Outlands, starving and battling termites, to being the Pride Lands’ prince thanks to his romance and marriage to Simba’s daughter Kiara.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: While Jon Snow had it better off than most people in Westeros with a privileged upbringing in a castle and had a family he loves, who love him, he was still the illegitimate son of Ned Stark and as such, couldn’t inherit his father’s titles or lands. He is proclaimed by the Northern Lords as the King in the North at the end of Season 6. Season Seven however, revealed he's the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark,note  making him the Sleeping Beauty rightful king of Westeros. Ned hid his identity to keep him alive, as Robert had driven the Targaryens off the throne and had those he could get to killed.
  • 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, she 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 Swan, is a Sleeping Beauty style. She thought she was abandoned and left to die by callous jerks of parents, growing up in 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.
    • ◦Rumplestiltskin went From Nobody to Nightmare. A poor sheep farmer and weaver, he was willing to do anything to prevent his son from being forcibly conscripted into a pointless war. It ended with him making a whopper of a Deal with the Devil, then killing said devil, only to become the next Dark One, with all the wealth and comfort he can imagine. Only when his Drunk On The Darkside actions cause his son to run away does he start reconsidering things.
    • Cora (the evil queen's mother) is an extremely pitch black take on the trope. An impoverished miller's daughter, she was humiliated publicly (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.
  • Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace:
    • A Ruo is a deconstruction. She goes from being a maid to being one of Hongli's concubines, but she got there by framing Ruyi for murder. When her crimes are revealed she loses everything and ends up worse off than she was as a servant.
    • Yanwan also starts out as a maid then becomes a concubine. She climbs much higher than A Ruo, briefly gains control of the harem, and becomes the mother of the next emperor.

    Theatre 
  • Many times in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan:
    • The Yeomen of the Guard: Elsie's marriage to the Colonel.
    • 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.
  • William Shakespeare. Some of these are dukes rather than kings or princes—but sovereign ones.
    • As You Like It: The duke is forced into exile in the Back Story, and in the play, his daughter Rosalind has to follow him. They are restored at the end both to each other and to their rightful titles.
    • Cymbeline: The young princes are raised as shepherds but identified at the end.
    • Measure for Measure: Isabella marries the duke at the end
    • Pericles, Prince of Tyre: The prince is ship-wreaked and only restored at the end.
    • The Tempest: Prospero's deposition means both he and Miranda are this.
    • Twelfth Night: Viola ends up marrying the duke.
    • The Winter's Tale: Perdita is raised as a shepherdess, although a princess.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Prince Zuko and his uncle General Iroh spend the second season as outright fugitive Snow Whites. Iroh seems to prefer this to the Royally Screwed Up Fire Nation court, while Zuko... has a harder time coping for various reasons. Zuko not only gets his royal life back, but he gets the throne too.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Muppet Babies where they begin a 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.
  • In Steven Universe It is revealed that Steven's mom Rose Quartz (who became a part of him) is actually Pink Diamond and on Homeworld, Diamonds are the ruling monarches, making him a Sleeping Beauty while Rose Quartz herself was a Snow White since she faked her own shattering and hid away as a Rose Quartz.
  • Winx Club has two. The first is Bloom, the last(well formerly last) princess of Domino who was sent away as an infant when the kingdom fell. The second is Roxy, the last Earth fairy and daughter of Morgan the(now former) queen of the Earth fairies.
  • LoliRock has Iris, a magical princess sent to Earth as a baby to protect her from the evil Gramorr.
  • W.I.T.C.H. has Elyon, the princess and later Queen of Meridian. She was spirited away to Earth by loyal servants to protect her from her evil older brother, though said brother initially lied and said that she had been kidnapped by traitors.
  • Subverted in Samurai Jack. Ashi starts off as the daughter of an insane cultist, but she ends up falling in love with Jack and finding out that her father is Aku. The latter results in her being used as Aku's puppet, and she and Jack never have the chance to get married since killing Aku in the past results in her getting wiped from the time line during the wedding.

 
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STF: Once Upon a Princess

Sofia was originally a girl with a commoner's background who worked in a shoe shop with her widowed mother. Then her mother met King Roland and both fell in love at first sight; eventually the two married, and suddenly she's royalty.

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