The Lion in Winter

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The Lion in Winter is a 1966 play by James Goldman, depicting the personal and political conflicts of Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their children and their guests during Christmas 1183. It premiered on Broadway at the Ambassador Theatre on March 3, 1966, starring Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris, who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Eleanor. It was adapted by Goldman into an Academy Award-winning 1968 film of the same name, starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. The play has been produced numerous times, including Broadway and West End revivals.


Set during Christmas 1183 at Henry II of England's castle in Chinon, Anjou, Angevin Empire, the play opens with the arrival of Henry's wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he has had imprisoned since 1173. The story concerns the gamesmanship between Henry, Eleanor, their three surviving sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John, and their Christmas Court guest, the King of France, Philip II Augustus (French: Philippe Auguste), who was the son of Eleanor's ex-husband, Louis VII of France (by his third wife, Adelaide). Also involved is Philip's half-sister Alais (by Louis VII's second wife Constance), who has been at court since she was betrothed to Richard at age eight, but has since become Henry's mistress.


The play premiered at the Ambassador Theatre on March 3, 1966, playing for 92 performances and closing on May 21, 1966.[1] Directed by Noel Willman, it starred Robert Preston as Henry, Rosemary Harris as Eleanor, James Rado as Richard, and Christopher Walken as Philip. Harris won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.

George Peppard, perhaps most famous for his role on the hit eighties series "The A-Team", directed and starred in a well-received 1992 touring production of the play. Susan Clarke played opposite.

The play's Broadway revival in March 1999 starred Laurence Fishburne as Henry and Stockard Channing as Eleanor, directed by Michael Mayer. Channing was nominated for a Tony award.

The play was produced in 2002 by the Unseam'd Shakespeare Company.[2]

The play was revived in November 2011 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, starring Robert Lindsay as Henry, and Joanna Lumley as Eleanor, directed by Trevor Nunn.

The play formed part of the Summer and Fall 2012 Seasons at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse, presented in complementary repertory with William Shakespeare's King John.

A 2014 production by the Colony Theater Company in Burbank, California starred Mariette Hartley as Eleanore and Ian Buchanan as Henry. Brendan Ford played Richard, and Hartley's daughter Justine as Alais.


  • Henry II, King of England (Male, 50) – Though aging, Henry is still very nearly as vital as he ever was. His manipulations of family and others are portrayed as spontaneous and emotional as opposed to the well-thought-out stratagems of Eleanor, and the cold, calculating machinations of Geoffrey.
  • Queen Eleanor (Female, 61) – Eleanor is the wife of Henry and a beautiful woman of hot temperament, and great authority and presence. She has been a queen for nearly 46 years and is thoroughly capable of holding her own in a man's world. She schemes against Henry and loves him intensely at the same time. She has contempt for her children but is not willing to see them harmed.
  • John (Male, 16) – He is the youngest son of Henry and Eleanor. He is sulky and sullen, with a boyish outlook on his position; many in the play describe him as a spoiled brat. He is described in the play as pimply and smelling of compost. He is Henry's favourite, but also the weakest. He vacillates throughout the play, not out of cleverness, but out of fear and weakness. He is easily tricked and manipulated by Geoffrey.
  • Geoffrey (Male, 25) – He is a son of Henry and Eleanor, and a man of energy and action. He is attractive, charming and has the strongest intellect of the family; he is also a cold, amoral schemer. His view of himself is of one who yearned greatly for the love of his parents while receiving none. Yet the play leaves open to question whether any of Henry's three sons should be thought to have been truly loved by either Henry or Eleanor, and not merely used by King and Queen as pawns in their ceaseless scheming against one another.
  • Richard (Male, 26) – The eldest surviving son of Henry and Eleanor, their second son Henry having recently died. Richard is handsome, graceful and impressive and has been a famous soldier since his middle teens. War is his profession and he is good at it. He is easily the strongest and toughest of the three sons/princes. Richard and Philip II have been sexually involved prior to the action of the play. However, Philip declares that he participated in the affair purely for political purposes, whereas Richard indicates he had genuine affection for Philip.[3]
  • Alais Capet (Female, 23) – She is in love with Henry. Everyone underestimates her intellect and power. She is initially portrayed as innocent, but by the end of the play has begun to acquire a ruthless streak of her own, insisting that Henry imprison his three sons for the rest of their lives in the dungeon.
  • Philip II, King of France (Male, 18) – He has been King of France for three years. He is not initially as accomplished as Henry in manipulating people, but seems to acquire greater skills at this during the play. He is impressive and handsome without being pretty.

Historical accuracy[edit]

The Lion in Winter is fictional, and none of the dialogue and actions is historical. There was not a Christmas Court at Chinon in 1183, but the events leading up to the story are generally accurate. There is no definitive evidence that Alais was Henry's mistress (although Richard later resisted marrying Alais on the basis of that claim). The real Henry had many mistresses (and several illegitimate children). Eleanor had persuaded their sons to rebel against Henry in 1173, and for her role in the rebellion, she was imprisoned by Henry until his death in 1189. While some historians have theorized that Richard was homosexual, historians remain divided on the question.

Dramatic adaptations[edit]


The play was adapted into a 1968 film, with Peter O'Toole as Henry and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor, and a 2003 television movie with Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close.

Pastiches and parodies[edit]

A radio parody of The Lion in Winter entitled The Leopard in Autumn by Neil Anthony was originally broadcast in BBC Radio 4 in 2001 and 2002 and re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra in 2011. Broadcast in two series, it starred David Swift as Prince Ludovico, the ambitious and henpecked ruler of Monte Guano (the smallest and most inconsequential city-state in Renaissance Italy), Siân Phillips as his wife Princess Plethora, Graham Crowden as Francesco (Ludovico's perpetually drunken secretary), Saskia Wickham as Countess Rosalie (Ludovico's mistress [with Plethora's full knowledge and approval]), and as Ludovico's perpetually squabbling sons: Nick Romero as the overly religious Salvatore (whose ambition is to become Pope some day), Paul Bigley as Allesandro (an eternally hopeful would-be artist and inventor) and Christopher Kellen as Guido (a fierce follower of Martin Luther).

The Fox TV drama Empire is explicitly based on The Lion in Winter. It concerns a dysfunctional family that owns a record label named Empire, with all the members scheming and manipulating for power. There are numerous allusions to the play: the family is named Lyon, the father runs an empire while the mother, a very formidable woman, has been imprisoned for many years. Together, they have three sons: a serious, studious, master manipulator son; an intelligent, talented son, who is gay and the mother's favorite but rejected by the father; and a youngest son who is a favorite of the father, but who is spoiled and irresponsible. The recently freed mother schemes with the father and three sons for control of their empire, while at the same time slinging numerous verbal barbs at each other.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Lion in Winter". Playbill. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  2. ^ "Unseam'd Shakespeare Company". Archived from the original on July 17, 2011.
  3. ^ Palmer, R. Barton (2009). "Queering the Lionheart: Richard I in The Lion in Winter on stage and screen". In Kathleen Coyne Kelly & Tison Pugh (ed.). Queer movie medievalisms. Ashgate. p. 58.
  4. ^ "Everyone Keeps Comparing Empire to King Lear, but the Lion in Winter is Its True Predecessor".

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