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The Prisoner of Zenda location
Other name(s) Kingdom of Ruritania
Created by Anthony Hope
Genre Ruritanian romance
Type Monarchy
Notable locations Strelsau (capital)
Language(s) German

Ruritania is a fictional country in central Europe which forms the setting for three books by Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), The Heart of Princess Osra (1896), and Rupert of Hentzau (1898). The first and third are set in the recent past, between the 1850s and 1880s. The second is set in the 1730s, though it refers to subsequent events that happened between that time and the time of writing.

The kingdom is also the setting for sequels and variations by other writers. It lent its name to a genre of adventure stories known as Ruritanian romances, and is used in academia to refer to a hypothetical country.

In literature and creative arts[edit]

Hope depicts Ruritania as a German-speaking, Roman Catholic country under an absolute monarchy, with deep social, but not ethnic, divisions reflected in the conflicts of the first novel.

Geographically, it is usually considered to be located between Saxony and Bohemia; the author indicates that the capital city, Strelsau, is reached by railway from Dresden. The distance and direction are not clearly stated, but to reach Strelsau from Paris the hero must pass through Dresden then cross the border and travel some 60 miles to the capital. It is probable that Hope had Prague in mind for Strelsau, described in the novel as second only to Paris in terms of desirability for an ambassadorship. In The Heart of Princess Osra, set in the 18th century, Hope refers to a palace "which stood...where the public gardens now are (for the Palace itself was sacked and burnt by the people in the rising of 1848)". In this novel, it emerges in passing that Jews were not then allowed to hold an interest in land in the capital.

Other, more recent authors have created homages set in Ruritania, such as Simon Hawke's science fiction re-working The Zenda Vendetta (Time Wars Book 4) (1985), John Spurling's After Zenda (1995) and John Haythorne's The Strelsau Dimension (1981).

Neither Hawke nor Spurling adheres to the Hope canon; their works show influences from the film adaptations. Hawke relocates Ruritania to the Balkans, and makes it smaller and more socially cohesive; Spurling, who places the country in the Carpathians, thus hinting at its being in fact the former Habsburg province of Transylvania—today part of Romania—introduces ethnic and linguistic divisions; Haythorne puts Ruritania on the Northern side of Czechoslovakia to Spurling's setting, in approximately the same location as Hope's original.

Hope's novels resulted in "Ruritania" becoming a generic term for any small, imaginary, Victorian or Edwardian Era, European kingdom used as the setting for romance, intrigue and the plots of adventure novels. It lent its name to a whole genre of writing, the Ruritanian romance, including the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon. An early reference in a non-canonical story is the mention in "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client", a Sherlock Holmes short story from 1924, of an ocean liner named the Ruritania. In Evelyn Waugh's 1930 comedic novel Vile Bodies, one character is a deposed and maudlin "ex-King of Ruritania"; he is presumably the same figure who appears in several witty P. G. Wodehouse stories, mostly as the doorman of Barribault's Hotel.

Later authors develop the idea further. Ruritania inspired other fictional countries, such as Ixania in Eric Ambler's The Dark Frontier, Riechtenburg in Dornford Yates' Blood Royal and Fire Below, and Evallonia in John Buchan's Castle Gay and The House of the Four Winds, which share with the original the depiction of complex power struggles in which a visiting protagonist from a real country becomes deeply involved.

In 1970 Neiman-Marcus selected Ruritania as the subject of its annual fortnight, in which the arts, culture, and goods of a country are highlighted both in the store and through special events. Previous subjects included real countries including England, France, Italy and Denmark.

In the 1974 novel Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser, Ruritania is claimed to be a fictional country based on the (equally fictional) Duchy of Strackenz that borders Germany and Denmark, and the events of The Prisoner of Zenda were simply imitations of the adventures of Harry Flashman whilst in Strackenz.[1]

In Uncanny X-Men #204 (April 1986), Nightcrawler rescued a New York businesswoman, Judith Rassendyll, from the X-Men's enemy Arcade; she subsequently learned that she was the hereditary queen of Ruritania and relocated there to claim her crown.[2]

In 2006, Ignacio Padilla published La Gruta del Toscano (ISBN 84-204-7072-4), a novel in which Ruritanians discover a cavern in the Himalayas, somewhere on the border between China and Nepal. The cavern seems to be an earthly replica of Dante's inferno, and several expeditions try to reach its ninth circle, including one directed by "La cofradía de Zenda", a group of Ruritanian mountaineers. Part of the action is set in Strelsau, capital of Ruritania.

Ruritania is featured in the animated series Count Duckula, in which it is depicted as a popular ski resort, with competitions in winter sports held in the Ruritanian town of Danglegoggle.[3]

Ruritania is mentioned in "The New Traveller's Almanac". In Back in the USSA, Princess Flavia of Ruritania marries into an alternate history Romanov dynasty.

Gay-themed online novels (2004–2018) by Michael Arram[4] are set mostly in Ruritania/Rothenia and start where Hope's books end. In Arram's version of the setting, modern-day Rothenia speaks mostly its own Slavic language (Central Slavic with heavy Germanic influences).

In academia[edit]

"Ruritania" is used as the placeholder name of a hypothetical country to make points in academic discussions, much as Alice and Bob are in logic and computing.

Jurists specialising in international law use it and other fictional countries when describing a hypothetical case illustrating some legal point.[5] Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer cited Ruritania as a fictional enemy when illustrating a security treaty between Australia and Indonesia signed on 8 November 2006: "We do not need to have a security agreement with Indonesia so both of us will fight off the Ruritanians. That's not what the relationship is about," he said. "It is all about working together on the threats that we have to deal with, which are different types of threats".

Similarly a British Court when contemplating a publication ban relating to a childhood sexual assault case, referred to the country of origin of the child as "Ruritania", further explaining "The boy was described in the judgment as having 'dual British and Ruritanian nationality'." [6]

Walter Lippmann used the word to describe the stereotype that characterized the vision of international relations during and after the First World War.[7]

Ruritania has also been used to describe the stereotypical development of nationalism in 19th century Eastern Europe, by Ernest Gellner in Nations and Nationalism, in a pastiche of the historical narratives of nationalist movements among Poles, Czechs, Serbians, Romanians, etc. In this story, peasant Ruritanians living in the "Empire of Megalomania" developed national consciousness through the elaboration of a Ruritanian high culture by a small group of intellectuals responding to industrialization and labor migration.

Author and humor theorist Isaac Asimov, when telling ethnic jokes that were based entirely on ethnic slurs, would transplant them to Ruritania, e.g.,

Q: Why do Ruritanian dogs have flat faces?
A: From chasing parked cars.

Author J. G. Ballard, in refusing a CBE, described the British Honours System as a "Ruritanian charade that helps to prop up our top-heavy monarchy".[8]

Economist Ludwig von Mises discussed currency reform for Ruritania and its "rurs" in the expanded edition of The Theory of Money and Credit (1912), chapter 23. He also references it in Human Action. Murray Rothbard, a former student of von Mises, also mentions the fictional country in his own works.[9]

Author and mathematician Vernor Vinge discusses the "Ruritania of the mind"[clarification needed] in his space opera A Deepness in the Sky (1999).

Vesna Goldsworthy of Kingston University, in her book Inventing Ruritania: the imperialism of the imagination (Yale University Press, 1998), addresses the question of the impact of the work of novelists and film-makers in shaping international perceptions of the Balkans in the framework of an anti-Western type of modernism which has received much criticism from other academics. Goldsworthy's rather tendentious theories consider stories and movies about Ruritania to be a form of "literary exploitation or narrative colonization" of the peoples of the Balkans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Macdonald Fraser, George. Royal Flash (1974) London: Pan Macmillan Publishing
  2. ^ Summary of this story,
  3. ^ Count Duckula Season 4, Episode 3, "Alps-a-Daisy". First broadcast January 19, 1993
  4. ^ "Mike Arram's page on". Retrieved 2018-07-20. 
  5. ^ Cf., e.g. Adrian Briggs, The Conflict of Laws, 3rd edition 2013, p. 305: ″[T]he question whether A obtained good title to a camera which he bought in Ruritania is governed by Ruritanian law, even if the camera had been delivered on hire purchase terms or under a conditional sale to A's seller in England.″
  6. ^ Cobain, Ian (11 October 2014). "Culture Books Publishing Ex-wife of well-known performer obtains injunction against book to protect son". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Walter Lippmann Public Opinion (1921). See Chapter X.
  8. ^ Obituary
  9. ^ "One method of the birth of a State may be illustrated as follows: in the hills of southern “Ruritania,” a bandit group manages to obtain physical control over the territory, and finally the bandit chieftain proclaims himself “King of the sovereign and independent government of South Ruritania”; and, if he and his men have the force to maintain this rule for a while, lo and behold! a new State has joined the “family of nations,” and the former bandit leaders have been transformed into the lawful nobility of the realm." p. 16-17, 2009 edition published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute, ISBN 978-1-933550-48-0

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