The King of England. John is the third son of Henry II. His older brother, Richard the Lionhearted, was king before him. Legally, his dead brother Geoffrey's son Arthur should have become the next king, but John takes the throne because Richard appointed him. The legitimacy of his rule is therefore in doubt--but John is happy to go to war to defend himself. However, his indifference to the decrees of the pope and his willingness to steal from the monasteries threaten his rule as much as the question of his legitimacy. But finally, it is his order to have Arthur killed that destroys the support of his lords. His robbery of the monasteries leads to his death at the hands of a monk.
John's mother, Eleanor encourages John to have a strong hold on the throne even if his legitimacy is in question. She and Arthur's mother argue enthusiastically about who should be the next king. Eleanor's death in France means John is not adequately informed about the French invasion and briefly leaves him in despair.
The King of France, Philip is Arthur's champion, and demands that John abdicate in favor of his nephew. Yet Philip easily changes his mind and joins with John's family in marriage when the citizens of Angers suggest that Louis and Blanche marry. Philip is forced to change his mind again when Pandolf insists that he defend the pope and go to war with John. However, Philip's main problem is that he keeps losing his armies crossing the ocean between France and England.
Son of John's elder brother, Arthur is the rightful heir to the throne. His mother, Constance, masterminds his attempt to seize the throne, and Philip provides the military strength he needs. Yet Arthur wishes he had nothing to do with the complex political life and dreams of being a simple shepherd. He convinces Hubert not to kill him, but then dies when he foolishly leaps off the castle walls in an effort to escape.
Illegitimate son of Richard the Lionhearted, the Bastard's proper name is Philip; he is named for his father, King Philip. He claims his inheritance from his foster father but then gives it to his younger brother, choosing to become a knight instead. At first he is a mischievous figure, urging the French and English to unite to destroy Angers and stealing money from monasteries (at John's request), but he soon becomes John's main supporter after all the king's lords abandon him. The Bastard speaks directly to the audience, interpreting and analyzing scenes. By the end of the play, his honorable behavior has made him look even better than John, but he has a string of bad luck when he loses half his army. He is persistent, though; he tries to declare war on Louis even after peace has been declared.
Philip's son, Louis marries Blanche and thus becomes another distant heir to the English crown. Pandolf encourages him to seek out this claim, so he attacks England. However, his reinforcements are lost in a storm at sea, and Louis letss Pandolf broker a peace treaty with England.
A messenger from the pope, Pandolf first arrives to ask John why he has resisted the pope's nomination for archbishop. He excommunicates John and threatens to excommunicate Philip unless he breaks with John. Later he urges Louis to attack England, but then accepts John's belated recognition of the pope's requests. He tries to convince Louis to stop the attack, but fails, until Louis loses his army and needs Pandolf to negotiate peace between the nations.
One of John's men, Hubert is assigned to look after Arthur, but John asks him to kill Arthur. Hubert is so touched by Arthur's innocence that he cannot kill the boy, and he returns to John with the false news that Arthur is dead. When John accuses Hubert of having convinced him to kill Arthur when he didn't want to, Hubert reveals that he didn't kill Arthur. Yet when Arthur is found dead, the nobles assume Hubert killed him. Later Hubert is on hand when John is poisoned at a monastery and he informs the Bastard.
Arthur's mother, Constance convinces Philip to be her son's champion in his quest for the throne. After Arthur is captured, she mourns extravagantly and accuses Philip of having sold her out by arranging a marriage between Louis and Blanche.
One of John's followers, Pembroke switches allegiances when he believes Arthur has been killed at John's instruction. Later he returns to John's side and swears allegiance to his son after John dies.
One of John's followers, Salisbury switches allegiances when he believes Arthur has been killed at John's instruction. Later he returns to John's side and swears allegiance to his son after John dies.
One of Philip's men, killed by the Bastard.
Niece of John, Blanche marries Louis, thus cementing a bond between John and Philip. When Pandolf insists Philip break with John, Blanche is distraught to have to choose between her family and her new husband.
One of John's followers.
Lord Bigot is one of John's followers.
One of Louis's men, Melun tips the English lords off after he is wounded, telling them Louis means to behead them if they beat John's army in the invasion.
The Bastard's younger (legitimate) brother, Falconbridge claims his father willed his inheritance to him, but the Bastard possesses it legally because he is their mother's oldest son. But he regains the land when the Bastard forfeits it.
The Bastard's mother, Lady Falconbridge committed adultery with Richard the Lionhearted. Her oldest son was therefore illegitimate, though the legal heir to her husband's property.
A messenger from France, Chatillon speaks for Philip when he asks John to abdicate in favor of Arthur, beginning the first battles between the nations.
John's son, Henry becomes King Henry III at John's death, and the lords all swear allegiance to him over his father's dead body.