ERB Summary Project
The Mad King by Duane J. Adams 1998


Peter of Blentz—Regent

(von) Coblich—Minister of War

Ernst Maenck—Captain


Barney Custer

Emma von der Tann—Princess

Otto Butzow—Lieutenant

Dr. Stein


Yellow Franz—bandit

Rudolph—camp boy


Herr Kramer—shopkeeper

Ludwig von der Tann—Prince

Ferrath—a rider

Victoria Rubinroth—Princess

Victoria Custer

Count Zellerndorf

Stefan Drontoff—Custer

General Petko

The Mad King

Summarized by
David Bruce Bozarth

Illustrated by Duane Adams


World War I was on the horizon in 1914. Edgar Rice Burroughs was obviously following the European reports in the news media of national pressures and intrigue when he put pen to paper (so to speak) to mine a distinctly American interest of European royalty and politics. This early Burroughs novel is a tale of confused identities and look-a-like characters, initially published in All-Story Weekly as The Mad King (part one) in March of 1914. The follow up of Lutha's travails (Lutha is a fictional European monarchy) was Barney Custer of Beatrice (part two) which appeared in Blue Book Magazine in August the following year (1915). This Prisoner of Zenda-like homage was eventually collected and published as a first edition by A. C. McClurg in 1926. There was an immediate Gossett & Dunlap reprint, then a long hiatus until 1940 before additional reprints were available. The title was then out of print until ACE SF BOOKS reprinted this Gaustrakian tale of adventure and romance in 1964.



Regent Peter of Blentz has sequestered the old king's mentally unbalanced son who, after Peter's 10 year corrupt reign, has escaped. Peter of Blentz and his minister of war, Coblich, are distressed; plans to swiftly recapture Leopold are entrusted to Captain Maenck. American Barney Custer is touring the homeland of his mother. He sees a placard regarding the mad king at a stop to fuel his automobile. Custer's German is perfect and he sports a full, reddish-brown beard, a similar description to that posted. Custer resumes his road tour. A young girl on a runaway horse passes the auto on the treacherous road . Risking life and limb Barney rescues the woman, but loses the animal, car, and himself over the edge of a ravine. Uninjured, he climbs up the embankment to humorously introduce himself as "...the mad king of Lutha."


Custer is surprised when the woman acknowledges him as Leopold. Barney swiftly explains all, but Princess Emma von der Tann is unconvinced. Her father supported the old king and Barney's destination, the Old Forest, confirmed her belief that Barney was, indeed, Leopold. She is concerned that "Leopold" may be less than sane because of his protests; however, she is determined to deliver the man to her father. Fearing Peter of Blentz and Maenck, they avoid roads. Barney has his doubts. He believes the girl demented to take his joke to heart. Humoring her, the two travel toward Tann through the forest. The couple is accosted by an armed ruffian hoping to claim the reward for Leopold's capture. In the scuffle that follows, both men fall from a hilltop into a steep ravine. Three soldiers hear the shot and arrive as Emma reaches the bottom. Seeing Custer unmoving, she believes he is dead.


Lieutenant Butzow and his men soon discover "Leopold" is alive. Additional soldiers arrive and the troop takes Barney and Emma to Blentz. Custer defends Emma's honor upon arriving, with Butzow preventing a swordsman from killing the American. Moments later the couple is delivered to Maenck. Failing to convince the governor of Blentz Castle that he is not Leopold of Lutha, Barney again defends Emma against scurrilous comment and again Butzow intervenes to save the unarmed American. Though Butzow is sympathetic, he and a company of guards take Barney and Emma von Der Tann to separate quarters.


Maenck makes a pass at Emma before imprisoning her and is rebuked. Emma examines her quarters, a suite, noting a full-length oil painting of a previous Blentz princess. Meanwhile, Barney is escorted to Dr. Stein. Stein intends to medicate "Leopold." Joseph, a servant who stays behind proves to be a Tann supporter. He indicates a plot to slay the mad king. Joseph reveals a secret passage by which Barney can escape. Custer will not go without Emma. Joseph reveals that Emma and Leopold were betrothed as children which presents Custer with a dilemma because of the mistaken identity. Joseph leaves then returns with news of Emma's location. He describes the escape route as both plan the rescue of the Tann princess. Barney suggests an alternative plan. Joseph notes that the seal ring of Lutha is not on Barney's hand, and assumes it has been stolen from "Leopold." Barney and Joseph enter the secret passage and emerge in an empty room above. Custer leans out the window and hears something in Emma's apartment which agitates him greatly.


Emma is visited by Maenck via a secret door, his intentions are not honorable. She struggles, hitting him with a copper bowl. Maenck nearly strangles the girl and drags her across the room. Custer breaks the window and enters, sword in hand. Maenck flees through the secret door behind the painting. Using the rope and Joseph's help from above, Emma is pulled to safety, but not before Barney kisses Emma and avows his love. Thinking he is Leopold, the girl's response is affirmative. Maenck and a dozen men return. Barney leaps from the window into the moat. Custer enters the dark woods beyond and eludes Maenck's men. Traveling south through the night, he avoided main roads. The trail became mountainous and difficult. Near midday he meets two brigands on horseback. After a wary conversation, they agree to lead him to the Old Forest. Custer becomes suspicious and decides to part company, but is detained at gunpoint.


Custer is taken to Yellow Franz of the Black Mountains, a blond bandit who mistakes him as Leopold. Rudolph, a camp boy, brings food and water to the confined American. Franz dispatches Herman to Ludstadt. Custer chats with Rudolph, who is a ransom hostage. Herman returns the next day. Peter will pay no ransom for a live king but will pay for proof of Leopold's death. The Blentz prince intends to be coronated in three weeks. Franz comes to murder Barney. Delaying on the pretext of prayer, Franz tires and approaches to have it done with. Raising the gun, there is a report. Franz falls dead, killed by Rudolph defending his king. Taking Franz's weapons, Barney and the boy leave the camp. They elude the bandits, forced to hide in the hills for nearly 3 weeks. Rudolph becomes ill from exposure. The day Custer decides to get medical help, they are discovered by two of Franz's men. In the ensuing gun battle the bandits are dispatched, but Rudolph is killed and Custer wounded.


On horseback Custer rides down from the mountains. By chance his path takes him to the site of his auto wreck. Riding into Tafelberg, he enters the shop where he had been once before. Herr Kramer, the shopkeeper, is startled to see the king, believing him to be in a nearby sanatorium. Leopold was found pinned beneath the roadster. Kramer takes Custer to the hospital where Leopold is recovering. Custer unmasks Leopold, who had denied he was king, and offers his services. Leopold, however, is a frightened, weak man. Speaking at length, Barney encourages Leopold. Barney departs for Tann for help, but another has been watching.


At dusk Custer arrives by horse at the Tann castle. Learning Prince Ludwig von der Tann, Emma, and retainers have departed for the Lustadt coronation, he races into the night. Not yet arrived by daybreak, Custer encounters Butzow and mounted troop. Butzow intends that Barney, believing the American to be Leopold, be crowned instead of Peter. Realizing that Leopold would lose the throne if the Blentz prince was crowned, Custer agrees. They enter the cathedral in time to stop the coronation. A short battle is fought. Peter and his men withdraw. Custer orders the coronation delayed two days.


At the palace, Barney seeks to convince Butzow he is not Leopold. Skeptical, Butzow agrees to accompany Custer to Tafelberg that evening. Custer has garments made that Leopold might wear. He meets with foreign dignitaries and locals and performs satisfactorily in Prince Ludwig's opinion. Barney speaks with Emma, again stating he is American. She is unconvinced and again proclaims her love. After dark, Custer and Butzow leave Lustadt. During the day retreating Peter meets a rider named Ferrath. He is told Leopold lives and is at Tafelberg. Peter sends Coblich, Maenck and Stein, his lieutenants, to the sanatarium. Custer and Butzow arrive just as Peter's men take Leopold. Springing forward, the two men engage Peter's minions. During the battle Leopold slinks away and is captured. Custer and Butzow are overwhelmed and injured. Coblich and Maenck race away with Leopold. Barney and Butzow regain consciousness in the hospital with superficial wounds. They learn of Leopold's abduction.


The American and Butzow search for Leopold. Butzow enters Blentz castle and is told Leopold is not there. Returning to Barney, hidden in the woods, Butzow reveals Peter is gathering an army to take the Lustadt palace; the lieutenant urges they ride for the capital so that Barney can stand in for the coronation. Barney is reluctant; they ride to Lustadt. Ludwig is relieved to have the king returned. A cavalry officer reports that Peter has gathered a respectable army. The next morning Peter attacks Lustadt. Observing the unfolding battle, Barney directs troop movements. Leading a squadron of horse, Barney successfully attacks Peter's cannons. Seeing the day lost, Peter retreats then asks conference. Barney sends a delegation. Peter states he only saves Lutha from an imposter, which causes Ludwig confusion. Peter is unable to unmask the imposter. Barney suggests all hostilities cease, that Peter might provide better proof.


Barney's continued search for Leopold by Butzow's men is unfruitful. Elsewhere, Peter waits for Coblich. Coblich arrives with word that Leopold is secure. Peter determines the king must die. Coblich is given the order to murder Leopold. After Coblich leaves Peter announces to those gathered that the body of Leopold has been found and that Custer and Butzow are the assassins. Peter and his retainers ride to the cathedral. An hour before the coronation Barney is frustrated by the unsuccessful search. Ludwig, struggling with uncertainty regarding Custer, speaks to him saying none but a Rubinroth would sit the throne. Barney understands his parent's silence regarding her (she is a Rubinroth) early life. A messenger arrives, Custer sees him privately. Dismissing Ludwig, Barney sends for Butzow, who arrives while the American shaves his beard. Explaining the king as been found, both men accompany the Tafelberg shopkeeper. They arrive in time to prevent Leopold's murder. Maenck is shot, Coblich escapes. At the cathedral, Peter feels confident. He tells the crowd Leopold is dead and that the imposter has fled and announces himself king. Coblich rushes in. Going to Peter he says "Maenck is dead and the imposter has stolen the king." Von der Tann hears the report and questions Peter. A weak excuse is offered and the Blentz prince urges the coronation proceed. Suddenly the doors of the cathedral open and a trooper shouts "Make way for Leopold of Lutha!"


Barney, Butzow and the remainder of the Royal Horse escort Leopold into the cathedral. Peter recognizes Leopold and begs forgiveness. Emma looks into the eyes of Leopold and the clean-shaven stranger and knows who is the king and who is the king of her heart. Leopold has Peter removed and is crowned. Later Leopold, Barney and Butzow explain all to Ludwig. Barney reveals he is the son of Princess Victoria Rubinroth, who eloped with Barney's father years before. This knowledge eats at Leopold, who begins to view Barney as a possible contender for the throne. Barney refuses any reward and leaves the chamber, meeting Emma on the way to gather his things. Pleading forgiveness for the deception, Barney hears Emma's plaint: "I can never forgive you," she cried, "for not being the king, for I am betrothed to him--and I love you!" They kiss and are discovered in embrace by Leopold. Emma is sent away by the king and Barney is given 48 hours to leave Lutha. Shortly, Butzow warns Custer that Leopold has changed his mind and plans to arrest and hang the American for treason: Emma has spurned him. The two men mount horses and race into the night. Near the border at dawn, Barney urges Butzow to return, but the Luthanian refuses. A troop of Luthanian cavalry chases them across the border.



In Beatrice, Nebraska, Custer chats with his sister Victoria who is on her way to a bridge game. Barney and Butzow discuss the latter's imminent trip to Lutha, both concerned of war between Austria and Serbia and the possibility that Lutha will be drawn in. That evening Barney's corn mill is destroyed, apparently by lightning, though Butzow suggests, the next day, it might have been deliberate. The Luthanian speaks of a warning received from von der Tann and also reveals Leopold might wish Custer dead to win the hand of Emma. As Butzow departs from the station, Victoria is unhappy to see him go. Butzow promises to return. Several nights later Ernst Maenck attempts to bomb the Custer homestead. Maenck flees and the next day Barney pursues him to Lincoln. Missing Maenck, Barney takes the train to New York where he obtains newspaper credentials and scans passenger ship manifests. Maenck has departed and Barney takes the next steamer to Europe. Entering via Italy, he continues to Austria but cannot proceed on his newspaper credentials past Burgova. Custer takes a room. Weary, Custer sleeps, but is awakened later by the voices of plotters in the next room. The voices are those of Count Zellerndorf of Austria and Peter of Blentz. Zellerndorf relates that he has convinced Leopold that Peter, Von Coblich and Maenck are his friends and warned Leopold that if von der Tann's desired alliance with Serbia is allowed, it will go hard for Lutha. Maenck speaks apologetically for failing to kill Custer. Zellerndorf departs after giving military passes to the three plotters.


Custer makes furious plans. Emma and family were in danger, as well as Leopold. If he could reach Lutha first...but he lacks travel papers. Boldly, the American sneaks into the conspirators' room to steal the passes. Exiting, he is discovered and chased. Punching a pursuer, Custer ducks into his room and escapes through the window. Running through an alley, his route is blocked by a sentry with the pursuit nearing. Blocked, he prepares for desperate action when a woman's whisper comes from above. A rope is lowered and he climbs to safety. The Serbian woman thought she was saving another, but does not give Barney away. She holds him at gun point, searches him, then locks Custer in an upstairs room until Stefan returns. Sleeping the night, Barney awakes to hear voices through a dumb-waiter. The girl questioned by Austrians searching for Stefan. She asks if they know him by sight. Receiving a negative, she then "remembers" a Stefan in the little room at the top of the stairs. Securing the door as best he could, Barney escapes through the skylight and across the roof tops. A misstep drops him through a skylight into a roomful of Austrian officers. He is captured, questioned and beaten. Not long after, the Austrians pursuing him arrive and identify Barney as Stefan Drontoff, Serbian spy.


Custer explains he is American before the staff officer, but he is not believed, having in his possession the passes for Peter and his men. Willing to give some respect for the claimed American citizenship, the general sends for Peter. Peter, Von Coblich and Maenck identify Custer as the man who stole the papers, and emphatically state he is not "Bernard Custer." The Austrian turns Barney over to the firing squad. Placed with thirty others, the execution commences. Barney falls and three bodies cover him. That night a thief enters the execution site to pilfer the bodies. Just as he is about to cut a finger from a hand to obtain a ring, the dead man rises. The thief cries out and flees, Barney runs the other direction. He takes refuge in a manhole.


Following the sewer tunnel, Custer enters deep water and loses his footing. Moments later he surfaces on the river. Swimming to the opposite side, avoiding encamped Austrians, he emerges in a wood near the water's edge. Moving away, he is stopped by a sentry. Barney kills him. Changing clothes, he pushes the corpse into the water. He walks south for several hours, reaching a village just before dawn. Custer is discovered by a sergeant and patrol; mistaken as a sentry he is ordered to fall in. The detail is later dismissed at a temporary barracks. Last to enter, Barney turns and hurries across a yard into an alley. Sentries are everywhere. Biding his time, hoping for a better chance, he locates a horse shed and sleeps. The sound of motor cars wake him to daylight. An Austrian headquarters has been established on the same property. Determined to steal a car, he works out a mad scheme and accomplishes it. Approaching the frontier, Barney drives through a company of soldiers marching to the front without incident. The border is 25 miles away.


Leopold and Ludwig disagree on the king's pardons for Peter and his men. Ludwig warns again how precarious Lutha's position remains between the warring nations. Angered, Leopold demands the father force the daughter to marry him; Ludwig refuses and departs, noticing that Count Zellerndorf awaits without and probably overheard the exchange. Zellerndorf plays upon Leopold's insecurities by saying Custer is dead and that von der Tann aspires the throne for himself or daughter. He suggests the people of Lutha think Leopold is the puppet of Ludwig and to disprove that, the king should visit Prince Peter at Blentz castle. The following day Austrian troops violate Lutha's neutrality. Ludwig, seeking an audience with Leopold, learns the king is at Blentz. After meeting with the Serbian minister who brought the news, Ludwig and staff ride to Blentz. They are turned away by Austrian guards surrounding the castle.


Ludwig sends a staff officer to Leopold at Blentz. If there was no answer in 24 hours the chancellor of Lutha will assume Leopold a prisoner. Upon reaching Lustadt, Ludwig calls up the military, preparing for the worst. He meets with the Serbian minister. At Blentz, Leopold is entertained and mislead. Peter states the Serbs have invaded Lutha and the Austrians come to defend Lutha. Peter and Zellerndorf hope Leopold will order the arrest of Ludwig, but are foiled, primarily because the king loves Emma. Zellerndorf recommends Leopold marry Emma immediately as a way to unite all factions in Lutha. Intrigued at the prospect of compelling Emma to marry under threat of her father's arrest, Leopold tacitly agrees. Emma is lured from her father's castle by messengers saying her father had a stroke. Later, surrounded by Maenck's men, she is taken toward Blentz. Emma breaks away through rough country. She almost succeeds but is caught at a wire fence. As a trooper drags her from the horse, a man from the woods strikes him down.


Barney Custer leaves Austria and enters Lutha without incident. Nearing Tann, however, he encounters an encamped Austrian army. Unable to bluff his way through, the Austrians fire and give chase. Pushing the car to the limit, Barney is dismayed when the machine falters some distance later, a bullet having drained the radiator. Nearing a bridge and woods, he ditches the car over the railings and escapes on foot. For a week he travels through the woods and mountains. He obtains a change of clothes from a farm house wash line, adverse to continue wearing an Austrian uniform in Lutha. Chance brings him to Emma's rescue.


Custer takes the fallen trooper's weapons. For an instant Emma thought he was Leopold, but knew different when he spoke. A pursuing Blentz trooper mistakes Barney as Leopold. Barney fires, dropping the trooper. He flees, carrying Emma across a stream. The girl fires upon their pursuers, killing one and scattering the rest. Emma and Barney move toward Lustadt, eluding all pursuit. That evening they enter a town for food and rest. A villager is suspicious and moments later the couple is again hiding from Maenck's men. From a behind a hedge they hear Maenck issuing orders. Barney steals a car and they leave the town, pursued by men on horse. Emma returns fire, felling a horseman. Nearing the main highway, and better road, the car runs out of gas.


Barney and Emma surrender. Maenck arrives and they are taken to Blentz and the king. Barney is recognized, sending Leopold into a fit regarding report of the American's death. He orders Barney executed at dawn under the Austrian spy conviction. Emma repulses Leopold, who orders her confined in the adjoining apartment. Barney is locked in the same room where he was confined two years earlier. When Maenck leaves Barney makes use of the secret passage, coming eventually to the panel in the king's room. He hears Leopold order Emma summoned. Daringly, he enters, forces Leopold to change clothes, identities, and rooms. Realizing Leopold might not convince Peter's men he was not Custer, the American fetches the king back. When a knock announces Emma's arrival, Barney sends her away. He forces Leopold to write a pardon for the American, then takes Leopold back to the tower prison. Barney summons Emma to the king's room. Thinking he is Leopold, Emma bargains for Barney's life by agreeing to marry if the American is set free. Barney shows her the pardon, then suggests they leave at once for Tann. Obtaining horses with the reluctant assistance of a Blentz officer, they exit the castle; Barney leaves the pardon with the officer of the gate. Outside, on the road, Custer ties up the officer. He and Emma ride away.


Barney makes use of an overheard password to pass through the sentries at Blentz. The couple rides for hours, Emma confused by the man beside her. At sun rise they entered Lustadt and are met by a troop commanded by Butzow. Butzow does not recognize Barney as he reports Austrian troop movements within Lutha and Serbian offers to assist in ousting them. Custer takes command of Butzow's troop and instructs that Ludwig be summoned immediately. General Petko, the Serbian minister, is invited to bring in a Serbian army corps to defend Lustadt. Zellerndorf is given 24 hours to remove all Austrians from Lutha. The Luthanian army is in place at Lustadt.


The enthusiastic population is notified Lutha has declared war upon Austria and volunteers are called. The battle is fought with Custer riding the front line. The following morning, the defense holding but doomed to fail, the Serbian forces finally arrive. Custer leads a charge from the left flank and by day's end the Austrians are in retreat from the combined forces of Lutha and Serbia. Ludwig's messenger to Blentz, recently escaped, brings a report to Emma. Peter plans to execute "the American" at dawn to curry favor with the Austrians. Emma speaks of this to "the king." Barney reveals his identity. Custer vows to rescue Leopold and to extract from him the king's blessing that he and Emma are free to marry. To this strange marriage proposal Emma says yes.


Leopold desperately seeks to prove his identity at Blentz. The execution is postponed and for three days life is terror for Leopold. The Austrian defeat is learned; Leopold is questioned how he "Barney Custer" turned the king's favor away from Austria. Barney arrives with Butzow, but is unsuccessful at obtaining the prisoner's release. They ride away. Leopold is taken from the cell and down to the west wall.


Barney, Butzow and 20 troopers ride away, but once out of sight, the American leads the group into Blentz castle by a secret passage. The rescue party arrives before Leopold is executed, but in the battle Barney is shot in the breast and the king wounded in the left leg. The men are carried to the royal apartments for care. Peter and Maenck are under house arrest. Alone with Leopold, Custer states the terms under which he will return the king's identity, among them Emma's hand. Resigned to the inevitable, Leopold creates the documents Barney dictates. Satisfied, Barney goes to sleep.


That night Leopold rises in darkness, observed by Maenck watching from the secret door, dons the apparel of the king and stands over the sleeping American with drawn sword. The coward is unable to complete the act. Taking the papers, he leaves. Rousing the guard for a trip to Lustadt, Leopold locates a Blentz servant and commissions him to murder the American. Leopold leaves Blentz. Maenck reports to Peter "the American's" actions. Peter sends Maenck to Lustadt, seeing a glimmer of possibilities with the changed situation. Meanwhile, the old servant builds a box, like a coffin, and digs a hole. He then enters the castle carrying a sharp axe. In Lustadt, Butzow reports to Ludwig and Emma, speaking highly of the king's bravery. At noon Leopold arrives with the Royal Horse. Shortly, a note is delivered to Emma from the king. It states that "the king" died of his wounds and that "B.C." would keep the throne. It urged her to marry him that afternoon. Confused by the uncharacteristic note, Emma eventually replies affirmatively. The announcement is made to the public. At the ceremony, Emma and Butzow notice the king's limp and both, for different reasons, realize something is amiss. To stop the proceeding Emma fakes a faint. Butzow carries her out, with the king, the bishop, and Ludwig following.


Prince Peter is arrested at Tafelberg and sent to Lustadt. Maenck reaches the captial undetected. At 3:30 Maenck goes to the cathedral. Locating the king in company with Emma, Butzow, Ludwig and the bishop, the assassin fires. Meanwhile, hours earlier at Blentz, Barney avoids death by the old servant's axe. He ties the man up. Discovering his papers gone, Barney realizes Leopold's plan. Obtaining a horse, the American races for Lustadt. Butzow shoots Maenck, who falls across the king's body. Emma watches, horrified. Custer enters to hear Maenck's dying words, "That man is not the king." He sees Barney and points, "There is the king." Barney explains the last change of identities. Emma comes to him. Ludwig convinces the American he has no choice, that Rubinroth blood flows in his veins, and proclaims Barney king.


Barney Custer is crowned, marries Emma, and Butzow is elevated in rank.