King John minimized

This is a story of the era of the Magna Charta, forced on England’s King John in 1215. But the story of the Magna Charta, the foundation for all civil rights legislation, was not included in the play.  The play’s central theme is the seemingly perpetual conflict among descendents of a deceased monarch, King John being the great-great-grandson of William the Conqueror, the Frenchman who conquered England in 1066.

1. King John hears from the French ambassador that young Arthur Plantagenet, the son of one of the king’s deceased older brothers, “in right and true behalf” should be England’s king. We learn that Lady Faulconbridge was the mother of two sons, one being the son of her husband; the other the son of Richard I (or Richard the Lion-Hearted), another of King John’s older brothers.  Richard’s son becomes Richard Plantagenet, known here as the Bastard.

2.  The French and English kings meet outside Angiers, both claiming the city as theirs. The Bastard suggests the kings bombard the city. A frightened Angiers spokesman suggests as an alternative that the French Dauphin, Louis, marry Blanche, the daughter of King John’s older sister. They do. The French king and young Arthur’s mother, Constance, King’s John’s sister-in-law, get along fine. France’s king forgets about Arthur.

3. Constance is distraught over the wedding. Pandulph, a cardinal representing the pope, is upset with King John; upset because the king doesn’t always follow the pope’s suggestions. Pandulph excommunicates him. King John captures young Arthur and takes him back to England, telling Hubert, an aide, to “kill Arthur.” Pandulph convinces the young Dauphin Louis to invade England.  He does.

4. Hubert’s assignment is to take out Arthur’s eyes. Shakespeare has naïve Arthur talk not only Hubert out of it, but as well the executioner who ends up leaving his irons cold. Arthur is left in prison but dies trying to escape. We learn Constance has died in France. King John becomes frightened, the Dauphin having success after success in his battles in England.

5. King John has Pandulph administer a second coronation, King John deciding it’s in his best interest to get back in Rome’s good graces.  The Bastard informs the king that “London hath received like a kind host the Dauphin.” King John has the Bastard “manage the present time.” Pandulph tries to get the Dauphin to back off, the Dauphin responding “am I Rome’s slave?”  We learn that significant French reinforcements are “sunk on Goodwin Sands.” King John is poisoned by a monk and soon dies. The Dauphin and his forces return to France. The Bastard anoints King John’s son Prince Henry as Henry III, pledging to support him “forevermore.” The year is 1216 A.D.