The Rose and The Ring is a satirical work of fiction written by William Makepeace Thackeray, originally published at Christmas 1854 (though dated 1855). It criticises, to some extent, the attitudes of the monarchy and those at the top of society and challenges their ideals of beauty and marriage.
Set in the fictional countries of Paflagonia and Crim Tartary, the story revolves around the lives and fortunes of four young royal cousins, Princesses Angelica and Rosalba, and Princes Bulbo and Giglio. Each page is headed by a line of poetry summing up the plot at that point and the storyline as a whole is laid out, as the book states, as 'A Fireside Pantomime.' The original edition had illustrations by Thackeray who had intended a career as an illustrator.
The plot opens on the royal family of Paflagonia eating breakfast together, consisting of King Valoroso, his wife, the Queen, and their daughter, Princess Angelica. Through the course of the meal it is discovered that Prince Bulbo, heir to the neighbouring kingdom of Crim Tartary, and son of King Padella is coming to visit Paflagonia. It is also discovered, after the two females have left the table, that King Valoroso stole his crown, and all his wealth, from his nephew, Prince Giglio, when the prince was an infant.
Prince Giglio and Princess Angelica have been brought up together very closely, Princess Angelica being considered the most beautiful and wisest of any girl in the kingdom and Giglio being much overlooked in the household. Giglio, besotted with his cousin gave her a ring belonging to his mother, which, unknown to them, was gifted to her by the Blackstick and that held the power to make the wearer beautiful to everyone who beheld them. After an argument with Giglio, about the arrival of the long-awaited Prince Bulbo, Angelica throws the ring out of the window and can be seen for her own self.
Prince Bulbo, in his turn, possesses a magic rose, with the same power as the ring and coming from the same source of the Fairy Blackstick, though equally unaware of it, and upon his arrival causes Angelica to be madly in love with him.
Angelica's governess, Countess Gruffanuff, finds the magic ring in the garden and whilst wearing it convinces Giglio to sign a paper swearing to marry her. She then gives the ring to Angelica's maid, Rosalba. Unknown to all is that Rosalba was the only child of the true king of Crim Tartary. When Rosalba wears the ring, to take the warming pan around the bedrooms, Princes Bulbo and Giglio immediately fall in love with her, along with King Valoroso, exciting the rage of The Queen, Angelica and Gruffanuff, and leading to her to be driven from the house.
In response to Giglio's rudeness, Valoroso orders him to be executed, but his Captain of the Guards, Count Kutasoff Hedzoff takes Bulbo to the scaffold instead, where he is timely reprieved by Angelica, who takes his rose and returns to her former beauty and marries him.
Giglio is forced to flee and, with some help from The Fairy Blackstick distinguishes himself as a student. In the meantime Rosalba has returned to Crim Tartary and discovered her heritage. King Padella, after his offer of marriage is refused, orders Rosalba to be thrown to the lions. Giglio, upon hearing this, takes back his throne in Paflagonia and leads his army to rescue Rosalba, using the captured Bulbo as a hostage.
When Padella refuses to exchange Giglio decides that he had better keep his word and put Bulbo to death, as threatened. However, the lions set upon Rosalba happen to be the exact same lions which she grew up with in the wild, prior to being found by Princess Angelica, and carry her on their backs to Giglio's camp, where the pair are reunited.
Giglio and Rosalba return to Paflagonia along with Bulbo, now wearing the fairy ring. But when they sit down to breakfast on their wedding day Gruffanuff produces the paper pledging Giglio to herself. Wishing to put him in his place for his earlier arrogance, the Fairy Blackstick refuses to help at first and Giglio is forced to take to Gruffanuff to the church in Rosalba's place. However, when they reach the building The Fairy Blackstick transforms the doorknocker back into Gruffanuff's real husband, long believed dead after being bewitched by the fairy herself many years before. Giglio and Rosalba are then free to marry and do so. The Fairy Blackstick then leaves, never to be heard of again.