The Life and Death of King John

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The Life and Death of King John is a play written by William Shakespeare, chronicling major points in the reign of King John. King John is a villain and usurper, who wins the crown from France, but dies in the end. Parts of the play are set in Northampton castle. This play does not include King John's signing of the Magna Carta and is focused on his wars and battles with France.


The play opens with messengers from France declaring that King John is a usurper and his nephew Arthur, is the true King of England. John and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, prepare for war defiant of France. Before the war begins, a case arrives over the legitimacy of Philip, the bastard son of Richard I. Philip is proud of his bastardy to Richard and agrees to fight against the French for King John.

At the city of Angiers, King Philip of France and Lymoges, Duke of Austria, pledge to help Arthur become King of England. Arthur is a young boy and not enthusiastic to claim the throne, but his right is mostly championed by his mother, Lady Constance. King John and his forces arrive at Angiers and prepare to fight. The city of Angiers does not acknowledge either John or Arthur as King of England and remains neutral. Each side tries to win the battle, but no clear victor emerges. Angiers arranges a marriage of peace between John and Philip through Lewis, the dauphin, and Blanch of Spain.

Constance is grieved that Philip and Lymoges both agree to the peace. However, circumstances change when a legate from the Pope, Pandulph, demands that King John allow Stephen Langton to become Archbishop of Canterbury. When John refuses, he is excommunicated and Pandulph orders Philip to break his treaty. Philip only reluctantly breaks his word. The two armies fight each other and Arthur is captured by John. John then arranges for a henchmen named Hubert to kill Arthur. Arthur's mother, Constance, despairs.

However, Hubert finds he cannot murder Arthur and tells the King falsely that Arthur is dead. The English nobles guess that John killed Arthur and decide to join the French. Hubert relieves John by saying that Arthur is alive. Unfortunately, Arthur tries to escape from the Tower and falls down onto hard stones and dies. The English nobles find his dead body. Hubert and the Bastard both are grieved when the nobles resolve to join the French.

Lewis, the dauphin, attempts an invasion of England. Despite the Pope re-communicating John and declaring him King, Lewis and the English nobles continue their war. The defeat is averted when the nobles learn Lewis will betray and murder them. Furthermore, Lewis' supply ships are destroyed. However, it is a victory for England and not King John. John had ordered the pillaging of monasteries, provoking a monk to poisoned him. King John dies and is succeeded by Prince Henry, who becomes Henry III. The English nobles pledge their loyalty to him.


King John:: The treacherous and crafty King of England. He tries to maintain his realm and cities in France, but loses the hearts of many of his nobles. He dies by poisoning.

Prince Henry: The son of King John, who inherits the throne.

Arthur, Duke of Bretagne: The nephew of John, by his elder brother, Geoffrey. The French try to make his claim for the throne, but he is taken captive and while he is not murdered, he dies trying to escape.

Earls of Pembroke, Essex and Salisbury: The English Lords, who help King John claim the throne, but who are disgusted with his apparent murder of Arhtur. The switch to the French temporarily, until they learn that the French plan to betray and kill them.

Hubert de Burgh: The person King John hires to murder Arthur. However, he pities Arthur and cannot commit the deed. He is grieved when he finds Arthur dead.

Robert Faulconbridge: The son to Sir Robert Faulconbridge, who is younger than Philip the Bastard, his brother. He claims all of his father's lands by right of his legitimacy.

Philip the Bastard: The bastard of Lady Faulconbridge and King Richard the Lion-Heart. He is one of the few nobles to remain with King John against the French. He is primarily responsible for preventing the French invasion from succeeding.

King Philip of France: The King of France, who is easily won away from Arthur's claim, by the marriage agreement. He only reluctantly recommences war between himself and England.

Lewis, the Dauphin: The Prince of France, who marries Blanch and becomes next in line to the throne of England. He tries to conquer England, but fails when his supplies fail on the seas and the English nobles learn of his evil intents.

Lymoges, Duke of Austria: The Duke of Austria, who fights for Arthur's claim. He develops an animosity for Philip the Bastard and is killed by him.

Cardinal Pandulph: The legate of the Pope, who declares the excommunication of King John. He breaks the peace between France and England and thinks of a way for the Dauphin to conquer England. However, he switches sides again and re-crowns King John.

Melun: A French Lord, who gives away the French plans to kill the English nobles.

Queen Elinore: The mother of King John, who goes with him to help him in France. She dies midway through the play.

Constance: The mother of Arthur, who fervently supports his claim to the crown. She dies of grief when her son is captured.

Blanch: Lady of Spain and the niece of King John. She is married to the Dauphin in an attempt to make peace between France and England. However, the peace does not last.

Lady Faulconbridge: The mother of Philip the Bastard and Robert Faulconbridge. She admits that Richard I was Philip's real father.

Lines and Quotes

"Ha majesty! How high thy glory towers,
When the rich blood of Kings is set on fire!
-Philip the Bastard, Act II, Scene 1

External links

Open Source Shakespeare - King John [1]