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King Rudolf V, of the small Balkan country of Ruritania, meets his exact double, Major Rudolf Rassendyll, an English cousin of his who is on holiday, the night before his coronation. The king then takes his cousin to his lodge, where they toast their shared ancestors. The dissolute king unknowingly drinks wine that has been drugged by his villainous half-brother "Black Michael," Duke of Streslau and Lord of Zenda Castle, who wants the throne. The next day, Rudolf poses as the king while the real monarch lies unconscious in the lodge cellar. The coronation is a success, but Rudolf unwittingly falls in love with the king's intended, Princess Flavia, who, upon finding him a reformed man, loves him for the first time. Colonel Zapt, determined to make the real king an honorable man, returns to the lodge and finds Josef, a loyal servant, dead and the king missing. Rupert of Hentzau, a courtier, is seemingly in league with Michael, but is really after the king's mistress, Lady Antoinette. As part of Michael's scheme to murder Rudolf and bury him as the king, Rupert blackmails Rudolf into meeting him alone, demanding ransom money for the king's return. Rudolf goes to Antoinette's room at the castle and she offers to help him if the king's men let Michael live. She then gives Rudolf an earring and tells him to watch for a messenger bearing its match, and he escapes. Michael and Rupert then have the king moved to Zenda Castle, where they keep him in chains. After Rupert tries to bribe Rudolf into keeping the kingdom for the two of them, Michael tries to force the king to write an abdication, but he refuses. Antoinette's messenger arrives with plans for Rudolf to swim across the moat to Antoinette's room that night. Because the king will be killed at first alarm, Rudolf must fight the guards and rescue the king before the drawbridge is lowered for Colonel Zapt's approaching army. The plan works until Rupert, seeing Antoinette's door open, enters and kisses her. When Michael walks in on them, he and Rupert fight and Rupert stabs him. Antoinette then confesses her scheme to save the king and Rupert kills the messenger as he tries to lower the drawbridge. Rudolf then kills the guards who are about to kill the king and, following a sword fight with Rupert, slices the drawbridge rope. When the troops storm the castle, Rupert dives into the moat. The king lives and is now kind-hearted and sober. Crediting Rudolf with teaching him how to be a ruler, the king wants to exonerate his cousin, but Zapt insists on keeping the double identity a secret to all but Flavia. When she and Rudolf meet again, they swear their love and she nearly gives up the throne to be with him, but, with the words "honor binds a woman, too" chooses to forfeit her love for Rudolf and become Ruritania's queen.