Two men sit on stage one in a thrown the other crouched beside, talking intently

King John

William Shakespeare

King John explores inheritance and illegitimacy and the subsequent political deals and struggle for power. It is one of Shakespeare’s least performed plays.


Shakespeare's King John is a rarely-performed history play which tells the story of John's reign from 1199 to 1216.

Becoming King

King Richard I, the revered 'Lionheart', is dead. His youngest brother John has become King of England.

The French argue that the throne should belong to Arthur, the young son of John's other deceased older brother Geoffrey.

As war is declared between England and France an inheritance dispute is brought before by the King by the Falconbridge family.

The Illegitimate son

Queen Elinor immediately recognises the elder Falconbridge (the 'Bastard') as the illegitimate son of her favourite son Richard the Lionheart.

The Bastard is welcomed to Court as a Plantagenet. French and English forces separately converge on the strategic town of Angiers in France.

The fearful citizens propose that the opponents should be united by a marriage between Lewis the Dauphin, heir to France, and John's niece, Lady Blanche.

Arthur's mother Constance is furious that the French have given up on her son's claim. At the wedding celebrations John is visited by Cardinal Pandulph and excommunicated by the Pope for failing to agree to Rome's choice for Archbishop of Canterbury.

Back to War

The papal legate Cardinal Pandulph stirs the French to resume war against the English. The two united families go to war.

Arthur is captured and John suggests to the Bastard that she execute the boy. She cannot, and lets him live.

Young Arthur dies from a fall while trying to escape. Suspecting foul play over Arthur's death King John's Noblemen defect to follow the Dauphin and fight against Englishmen on English soil.

John now needs Pandulph's intervention to stop the battle with Lewis. Lewis commands an army of both French and English Nobles.

The Battle

John capitulates to the Pope's wishes. He learns that his Mother Queen Elinor is dead. Pandulph is unable to influence the battle. The Bastard wins the day on the field. The French invasion forces lose their supplies in a shipwreck and are defeated.

A New King

John leaves the battlefield, falls sick and dies. His son Henry becomes king. The Bastard records how near England came to disaster.