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Synopsis and Characters

A person speaks with their hands in an animated manner while a king looks on from the side. He is wearing a cape and holding a sword.
Photo of John Hoogenakker and Netta Walker by Michael Brosilow.


It is Christmas 1183 – a few months after the death of King Henry II’s heir, Henry the Young King – and the Plantagenet family is in tatters. King Henry II’s once-loving wife and now sworn enemy, Eleanor of Aquitaine, has been released from prison for her yearly Christmas visit and is seeking vengeance at any cost. Henry and Eleanor’s three sons – Richard, Geoffrey, and John – are profoundly incompetent, consumed by petty sibling squabbles and gridlocked in duplicitous scheming as they grapple to win their father’s throne. Henry’s mistress, Alais (who just happens to be betrothed to his son, John), is running out of patience, demanding either a wedding or the return of her much-needed dowry. Plus, her brother, Philip, turns up to see one of those outcomes through. And you thought your holidays were complicated!

Check out this trailer for the 1968 film version starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole!


  • Henry Plantagenet II: King of England (played by John Hoogenakker)
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of England; married to Henry; mother to Richard, Geoffrey, and John (played by Rebecca Spence) 
  • Richard Lionheart: Eldest son of Henry and Eleanor; Eleanor’s favorite (played by Shane Kenyon)
  • Geoffrey: Middle son of Henry and Eleanor; nobody’s favorite (played by Brandon Miller)
  • John: Youngest son of Henry and Eleanor, and Alais’s fiancé; Henry’s favorite (played by Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton)
  • Alais Capet: A French princess; she is in a relationship with Henry, but betrothed to his son, John; her brother is Philip Capet, King of France (played by Netta Walker)
  • Philip Capet: King of France and Alais’s brother (played by Anthony Baldasare)

Character Map

A family tree depicts the relationships between characters in The Lion In Winter. The Plantagenet family is as follows: Henry II, King of England, is connected to his wife the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Below them are their three sons: Richard Lionheart, the oldest; Geoffrey, the middle son; and John, the youngest. Next to the Plantagenet family are the Capet siblings, including Philip, the King of France, and Alais, a princess. A dotted red line connects Alais with Henry II and Philip with Richard, indicating a sexual/romantic relationship.


A castle.
Photo of the Château de Chinon; courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Lion in Winter is set at Christmas, 1183, just six months after the death of King Henry II and Eleanor’s eldest son, also called Henry (and known as Henry the Young King), who was supposed to inherit the throne.

The play takes place at the Château de Chinon, the French seat of the King of England at the time. The castle was rebuilt and extended during King Henry II’s reign, becoming his favorite home and the administrative center of his kingdom.

A color coded map shows the land King Henry II held during his reign. In 1150, Henry inherited almost all of modern-day England and a chunk of northwestern France, including Caen and Chinon. Henry acquired a large portion of southwestern France through his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152. This section includes Poitiers and Bordeaux. He also used conquest or diplomacy to gain more territory in northwestern France, including Nantes, and parts of eastern Ireland. Additional lands in the UK and France acknowledged Henry’s sovereignty or were claimed by him. Overall, Henry ruled all of western France and a large portion of central France.
A map of lands held by King Henry II; map courtesy of Rex Factor.

Note for Teachers

Students may be disturbed by two relationships in the play: that between King Henry II and Alais Capet, and Richard Lionheart and Philip. Both of these relationships began when one party was still a young teenager. Consider contextualizing this situation for students: relationships we understand today as coercive and abusive used to be historically accepted dynamics.

Teachers may also wish to prepare students for the production by reviewing the concept of dowries and marriage as an exchange of property. 

Posted on October 21, 2023 in Learning Guides, Productions

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