Study Guide

The Lion in Winter

by James Goldman

The Lion in Winter Summary


Act 1, Scene 1
Act 1, scene 1 is set in the castle chamber (bedroom) of Alais (pronounced ‘‘Alice’’) Capet, a beautiful twenty-three-year-old woman who is the mistress of King Henry. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s wife, has been imprisoned by Henry in a tower for ten years, but is being let out to join the family at court for Christmas. Henry explains that, since his eldest son Henry died the previous summer, he has yet to name a new heir to his throne. He tells Alais that, while he plans to name John as heir, Eleanor wishes to see Richard made heir. Henry, who is fifty years old, points out that his primary goal is to ensure that the lands he has amassed under his rule will remain unified after his death, rather than being broken up by a civil war between his sons.

Act 1, Scene 2
Act 1, scene 2 is set in the reception hall of the castle. Richard, Geoffrey, and John, who are the sons of Henry and Eleanor, have arrived for the Christmas Eve festivities. Richard is twenty-six, Geoffrey is twenty-five, and John is sixteen. Soon Eleanor, who is sixty-one, and then Henry and Alais enter the hall.

Finally, King Philip II of France, a young man of seventeen, arrives to discuss political matters with Henry. Based on a treaty between Henry and King Louis VII of France (Philip’s father) made sixteen years earlier, Philip’s sister Alais has been promised as the wife of whichever son Henry names as heir to his throne. As part of this treaty, Henry was given the French region of Vexin. Philip informs Henry that he must either marry his heir to Alais immediately, or he must return the Vexin region to French rule.

Henry explains that he has not yet decided which of his three sons to name as heir and so cannot see Alais married until he has decided whom she is to marry. He points out that if he dies without an heir and without leaving all three sons contented with their lot, a civil war will break out over the question of who is to be the next king. Philip, however, maintains his stance that either Alais must be married to an heir immediately or Henry must return the Vexin region to France.

After Philip leaves, Eleanor mentions the fact that she raised Alais, who was brought to Henry’s castle as a girl and grew up there. Alais and Eleanor exchange words, clearly regarding each other as rivals for Henry’s affections. After Alais leaves the room, Henry assures Eleanor that he will never set her free from imprisonment in the tower because she tried more than once in the past to lead a civil war against him. Eleanor asks Henry why he cannot simply return the Vexin region to Philip, but Henry explains that it is a strategically important territory that he cannot afford to forfeit.

Act 1, Scene 3
Act 1, scene 3 is set in Eleanor’s chamber at the castle, where Henry announces that he has decided to name Richard as his heir and that Alais will be married to Richard. After Henry, Alais, and John leave the room, Eleanor points out to Richard and Geoffrey that Henry is only bluffing with this proposal and that he has no intention of naming Richard as his heir, or of marrying Richard to Alais. Eleanor attempts to convince Geoffrey and Richard to scheme with her in order to ensure that Richard marries Alais and is made heir, but both men refuse her offer.

Act 1, Scene 4
Act 1, scene 4 is set in the reception hall, where a Christmas tree has been put up. Geoffrey convinces John to side with him and Philip in starting a war against Henry. After Henry and Alais enter and the others leave the hall, Henry explains to Alais that he has no intention of marrying her to Richard or of naming Richard as heir.

Eleanor enters the hall with an armful of wrapped Christmas presents and begins to arrange them under the tree. Soon, Alais leaves the room, and Eleanor and Henry discuss the various ramifications of Henry’s supposed promise to name Richard as heir. Henry tells Eleanor that he wants to take the Aquitaine region from Richard and give it to John, as compensation for not naming John as heir. Eleanor, however, insists that he not give John the Aquitaine. She begs Henry to give the Aquitaine, which was hers before she married him, back to her. It seems that although the Aquitaine is under the rule of Richard, Eleanor has the legal authority to determine whether or not Henry transfers the land to John. Henry, however, proposes that he will set Eleanor free from imprisonment if she allows him to transfer the Aquitaine to John. Eleanor responds that she will only agree to this if Henry arranges for Richard and Alais to be married immediately.

Henry agrees to Eleanor’s proposal, immediately calls his sons, as well as Alais and Philip, together and informs a castle priest that he is to marry Richard and Alais that very moment. Alais protests that she does not want to marry Richard, but she is physically dragged by the others to stand with Richard before the priest. Just as the priest is about to begin the marriage rites, Henry mentions that the marriage will go through only on the condition that John is given the Aquitaine. When Richard...

(The entire section is 2107 words.)