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In 1183, King Henry II of England summons his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he has imprisoned for 10 years in Salisbury Tower for her part in civil wars and plots against him. Henry has called a Christmas Court at Chinon Castle to determine which of their three surviving sons--the impetuous Richard, the conniving Geoffrey, or the clumsy and insecure John--will be named successor to the crown. Also present are Henry's mistress, Princess Alais, who has been promised as wife to the new heir, and her 18-year-old brother, Philip, the king of France. Henry chooses John as successor, but Eleanor, fully aware that Henry holds all three sons in low esteem, proclaims that the throne rightfully belongs to Richard. Almost immediately, the protagonists plot to attain their own selfish ends: Eleanor offers to yield Aquitaine if Richard is named heir; Geoffrey, neglected by both parents, conspires with John and Philip to rob Richard of the throne; and Henry confesses to Alais that he intends to get his way without giving her up. It is decided that an alliance with the king of France might solve all their problems, and Eleanor sends Richard to convince Philip of the merit of their cause. The youthful king is equal to the machinations of his elders, however; confronting Henry, he exposes the homosexual bent of Richard, the treachery of Geoffrey, and the disloyalty of John. Outraged, Henry disowns his sons and demands from Eleanor an annulment of their marriage, declaring that he will marry Alais and father a new heir, but Alais insists that Henry execute his sons to protect any child she might bear. Intent on murder, Henry descends into the dungeon where his sons are imprisoned, but Eleanor has preceded him and armed the three princes to aid their escape. Although Henry raises his sword over Richard's head, he cannot bring himself to wield it. Once the others have left and Eleanor and Henry are alone, the two adversaries face the incontestable truth that the bond between them is too strong to be broken by any struggle for power. The next morning, with nothing resolved, Henry escorts Eleanor to the barge that will return her to prison; she leaves, hopeful that there will soon be a summons to appear at Chinon for an Easter Court.