KING JOHN AND MATILDA
a synoptic, alphabetical character list
Loyal but brutal servant to Chester. He takes Lady Bruce and her younger son George into captivity and receives a letter from his imprisoned master to treat his captives no better than he is treated. He has already denied them food, and when Lady Bruce rejects his sexual advances, he starves them to death. He takes the King's commission to murder Matilda in the convent. He is lured out of hiding by Matilda's cousin Young Bruce and killed in revenge for all three deaths. Before dying, he absolves the King from the deaths of the Bruces by confessing to his own motivation (frustrated lechery) for starving mother and son.
A ruthless Earl of the King's party. First seen betraying Matilda's trust, tricking her into a compromising meeting with the King. The King sends him with the Queen to follow Matilda to Hertford and force her into another meeting. He captures Young Bruce meanwhile and threatens him with torture and madness. In turn, Young Bruce captures him. From prison Chester sends his servant Brand the fatal letter, which orders him to treat his prisoners as he is treated himself. Despite his escape, the letter leads Brand to starve Lady Bruce and her young son to death. He is inferred to be one of the disguised masquers who accompany the King to abduct Matilda again. Before the King learns of Matilda's death, Chester brings news of the approach of the forces led against the King from France by Richmond and the Dauphin. (A slight discrepancy here, as Chester is also listed amongst the retinue, in mourning, who later arrive with Matilda's cortège: it is not clear how he can do both in the same scene).
The King's Confessor (named only in a letter as Eustace). He contrives with John to write the letter that gains access to the Abbey for Brand, Matilda's murderer, on the pretext of sending friendly greetings to her. His religious credibility is used to cause her death, though it is not made clear whether he is complicit or the King's dupe.
Baron Robert, or Robin Fitzwater, brother to Lady Bruce and father to Matilda. Leader of the party opposed to King John, seconded by Old Bruce. He is campaigning for the restoration of the liberties confirmed in Magna Carta and later, he is opposed to the King's reconciliation with Rome. His principal personal grievances are the King's persistent attempts to violate his daughter, and progressively, to revenge the atrocities committed by the King's party throughout the play. Ardent to reform but not to depose the King, Fitzwater is resentful of being called a rebel. He resists Leister's suggestion of offering the crown to the King of France and proposes the plan to enlist the Dauphin merely as their ally, a plan that prevails. He makes the fatal paternal mistake of persuading Matilda to dance with the masquer who turns out to be the King in disguise. The glove he loses in the ensuing mêlée is used by Hubert to trick Richmond into ensuring Matilda's abduction. When Matilda takes sanctuary in the Abbey, he seems to accept the King's promise of honorable marriage for Matilda, but his attempt to persuade her to relent is a test of her chastity and her refusal delights him. After her death, he is persuaded to put aside personal revenge in the public good. He accepts the King's show of penitence for his daughter's death.
Younger son of Lord and Lady Bruce, his name is inferred from the text, where he is only listed as 'Boy.' John wants him as a hostage for his family's behavior. His mother's attempt to smuggle him away in a hamper is foiled, and Brand takes them both into captivity. His mother rejects Brands sexual advances, and they are both starved to death. Mother and son poignantly offer each other their own flesh to eat that one might survive the ordeal.
He is an Earl loyal to John. He hotly denies the ongoing rumors of his part in the death of Arthur Plantagenet. He swears to Lady Bruce that he intends only to take her young son as an honorable hostage for the King. He brings the King the news that Young Bruce has rescued Matilda. This news prompts the attack and rescue of Chester. During the fight following the masquers's attempt to abduct Matilda, Hubert ensures their success by taking up Fitzwater's glove and using it as a false token. He shows it to Richmond and convinces him that it betokens her father's instructions to take her away. He tries to tempt Matilda to accept the King's advances, but he is persuaded to relent and convey her in safety to sanctuary at Dunmow Abbey. He sends John the news that she has taken her vows and later accompanies her cortège in mourning.
King John's second wife and Queen. Loyal to John in political strategies, she occupies the Bruces's castle with Oxford. There she assures Lady Bruce of Hubert's innocence of the murder of Arthur Plantagenet. The King sends her on to persuade Chester to force Matilda's co-operation. She is, however, violently jealous of Matilda and attacks her physically. Ultimately, Isabel is persuaded that Matilda is innocent of trying to seduce her husband. She is moved when Matilda generously exculpates her to Young Bruce, and so befriends her. Isabel endures the King's fury after Matilda's escape and is sent to pursue Fitzwater. Next, she is sent as the King's envoy to the opposition and treated with courtesy: Richmond arranges the masquers' visit to entertain her with dancing, which turns into a successful attempt by the King and his party, in disguise, to abduct Matilda again. Isabel is again enraged when Matilda seems to be relenting to Hubert's persuasion to accept the King's attentions. She joins Matilda in pleading with Hubert to give Matilda safe conduct to the Abbey where she might become a nun. Isabel is absent when the King discusses divorcing her in order to make Matilda an honorable offer of marriage. She escorts Matilda's cortège in mourning to Windsor, where, with everyone else, she accepts the King's declaration of penitence.
Volatile and unreliable King of England. He has already reneged on the promises of Magna Carta, provoking a party of nobles to rise against him, six years into the papal interdict against him for disloyalty to the Church. He is, however, preoccupied with his thwarted passion for Matilda. The king is obsessed with Matilda, in fact, to the detriment of making any political decisions intelligently. His various attempts to compromise and seduce her fail, and he is embroiled in campaigning against the rebel nobles led by Matilda's father (Fitzwater) and uncle (Bruce). He sends Oxford and Mowbray to spy on and capture the Bruces's castle. He fails, however, to seduce Matilda when she defends herself at knifepoint and flees. He follows her to her father's castle, where he denounces the disaffected lords as rebels and traitors. He never accepts their protestations that their actions are to reform, not usurp his rule. He has to decide whether to accept the Pope's offer of reconciliation, which the rebel lords oppose. John sends his Queen, Isabel, in pursuit of Matilda. He also sends Lady Bruce and her son into captivity while he negotiates with the papal legate, Pandulph. He submits to Rome and agrees to pay a massive annual tribute to the Pope. Pandulph is convinced of the king's true repentance, and so he regains his status as absolute ruler of England, with a papal blessing. This greatly strengthens his resolve to defeat his opponents. He demands Matilda from her father and threatens to imprison all his enemies in the Tower. He is delighted at the news of Matilda's capture, but he becomes equally distracted by news of her escape. He leads his party, disguised as masquers, to abduct Matilda. He captures Fitzwater and tries to persuade him that he wishes to divorce his wife and marry Matilda, and he believes he has convinced Fitzwater to support him. The Lady Abbesse defies him, however, and refuses to surrender Matilda to him, and this causes him to realize that Fitzwater's 'persuasion' of Matilda was only a successful test of her chastity. He therefore contrives to have Matilda murdered in the abbey by enlisting his Confessor, Eustace, to write a letter persuading the Abbess to admit Brand with a note in which the king relinquishes Matilda and wishes her well. His token is a poisoned glove that kills her when she kisses it. Before learning of the success of his plot, he tries unsuccessfully to enter Windsor Castle, but the rebels repulse him. His lords bring news of hostile reinforcements vastly outnumbering his army, and he is persuaded that he will loose his crown if he does not promise to uphold Magna Carta and leave Matilda in peace. Upon this advice, he rescinds the murder, but it is too late. Matilda's cortège arrives in general mourning. John professes complete repentance and acknowledges her as a martyr. His sincerity is generally accepted with relief.
Welcomes Matilda to the safety of Dunmow Abbey. She refuses the King's demands to surrender her. The letter sent by Eustace, the King's Confessor, fools her, and she gives admittance to Matilda's murderer Brand. She accompanies Matilda's funeral cortège in the final scene.
Old Lord Bruce's wife and sister to Fitzwater. Mother to Young Bruce and a younger son, George. She attempts unsuccessfully to defend her castle against the King's army and fails to rescue George, who is taken as a hostage. Her effort to smuggle him away in a hamper is detected and both are captured. Imprisoned with her son by the King, she is left in the charge of Brand. She rejects his lecherous advances and both she and young George are starved to death. The king's opponents, led by her brother and husband add this cruelty to their grievances against the King.
An older lord of the faction opposed to the King. He joins the discussion of the King's failure to uphold Magna Carta and agrees that John's assault on Matilda should be avenged. He brings news of the arrival of the papal legate and is present as an opponent of the King's ceremonial submission to Rome. He makes the suggests that the rebels offer the English crown to the King of France, but the other rebels reject this. He takes Windsor when the King captures Fitzwater. With Old Bruce, he defies the King from Windsor Castle. News of rebel reinforcements and the arrival of Matilda's cortège persuade John to accede to the rebel's demands.
LEWIS, THE DAUPHIN
A "ghost character." King John's opponents approach him to be their ally in the wars against John. He invades England, accompanied by Richmond. These reinforcements help to outnumber John's forces and persuade him to accede to the demands of the rebels.
Fitzwater's daughter and kin to the Bruces. She is the unwilling object of the King's passion. She has sworn chastity after the death of her true love, the murdered Earl of Huntington. All the King's attempts to seduce her fail. She must at one point defend herself from him at knifepoint, after which she flees to her father's castle. The King's party later takes the castle. Queen Isabel attacks her in a jealous rage, but she persuades Isabel that she is innocent of courting the king's attentions. She remains a hostage until her cousin, Young Bruce, rescues her from the Earl of Oxford. When masquers arrive to entertain the Queen (present as the King's envoy to the rebels) she is innocently persuaded by her father to join the dance. It is a trick, however, and the King who is in disguise as a masquer abducts her. She is taken away and again entrusted to the Queen and Hubert. She seems to relent to Hubert's persuasion to accept the King, but persuades him instead to deliver her to sanctuary at Dunmow Abbey, where she takes vows as a nun. Here the Lady Abbesse defends her, but they are tricked into allowing the King's Confessor to meet Matilda. Thus gaining admittance, Brand murders her on the King's orders. He proffers her a poisoned glove, which she kisses by way of accepting the King's apology. Young Bruce avenges her death by killing Brand. The King rescinds his order to murder her too late. Her funeral cortège is brought at last to Windsor where she is mourned in song and praised for her piety and chastity. (She is cognate with Maid Marion, as Robert, Earl of Huntington, her late love, is a traditional alias of Robin Hood.)
Of the King's party. He is sent with Oxford to spy on and capture the Bruces's castle. Presumably, he is present amongst the unnamed witnesses who support the King during his ceremonial submission to Rome. Also presumably he is one of the disguised masquers who assist in the abduction of Matilda and part of the ensuing mêlée. When the King is denied entrance to Windsor Castle, Mowbray brings the news of the approach of Young Bruce's army of twenty thousand men, one of the reports which persuades the King that his cause is hopeless.
OLD LORD BRUCE
Married to Fitzwater's sister, father of Young Bruce and a second boy, George. He is second only to Fitzwater in opposition to King John. The restoration of the rights of Magna Carta is his main political demand; the safety of his family and the honour of his niece Matilda concern him equally. His castle is taken by the Queen and Oxford; his wife and young son taken prisoner. He vows civil war if they are harmed. (Chester's servant, Brand, later starves them to death.) He is on hand to oppose the King's ceremonial submission to Rome and at the party where disguised masquers abduct Matilda. With Leister, he takes and holds Windsor Castle against the King. When the King repents for Matilda's murder, he agrees to forgo vengeance for the sake of the public good.
Of the King's party. He is sent by the King, with Mowbray, to spy on the Bruces's castle in Guildford, which he later takes for the King. Old Bruce threatens civil war if his action leads to any harm to his wife and son. Oxford supports the King's submission to Rome; he advises John that Matilda must be won by persuasion, not force. He takes charge of Matilda when she is captured and is wounded by Young Bruce in a duel during her rescue. When the King's party abduct her again, disguised as masquers, he is waiting in charge of the barge that takes her away. He continues to support the King in his attempts to retrieve Matilda and beat the rebels, but he joins in the general grieving and reconciliation that ends the play.
The Papal Legate, sent from Rome with terms for the end of the six-years' interdict against King John. Pandolph persuades the King to submit his crown and pay a huge annual tribute to the Pope; he also presides over the ceremony where John, ignoring the furious protests of his opponents, swears to the terms with Rome.
A young lord opposed to the King. A member of the party who deplore the King's rejection of Magna Carta and also his predatory assaults on Matilda. He is with Old Lord Bruce when he discovers the King's party has captured his castle and family. He is with Young Bruce to assist in the rescue of Matilda, and he captures the Queen and Chester. Richmond infuriates the King with reports of his notable military successes, but with Young Bruce, he fails to defend Matilda from the King's next assault and the rescue of their prisoners. After the King's ceremonial submission to Rome, he is proclaimed a traitor in his absence. He agrees with Fitzwater's unpopular suggestion that the French Dauphin should be enlisted as their ally. When the Queen arrives as envoy, he innocently arranges the masquers's entertainment, which turns out to be the King's party in disguise. He thereby unwittingly helps in the successful abduction of Matilda. He is fooled by the token of Fitzwater's (stolen) glove into allowing Matilda to be taken away. He escapes to France after the ensuing mêlée. In the final scene, Chester brings the King news that Richmond is accompanying the Dauphin and French troops to support the uprising against him, contributing to the uneven odds that ultimately persuade the King to submit.
ROBERT, EARL OF HUNTINGTON
A "ghost character." He is named as Matilda's late betrothed true love, whose death by poison causes her to swear perpetual virginity. Her committed chastity has frustrated the King's passion since long before the start of the play. (A traditional alias of Robin Hood, though this is not specifically alluded to in the play.)
SIR WALTER BLUNT
Possibly a "ghost character" or a mute character. He is named as the custodian of Windsor Castle, where the King sends Lady Bruce and her young son to be incarcerated. In the Windsor scenes, therefore, he might be inferred as present.
Lord Steward of England, and of the King's party. He brings the King news of the arrival of Pandulph and explains to him the political advantages of submitting to Rome. He might be inferred to be present at the King's ceremonial submission to Rome, the masque when Matilda is abducted, and other occasions when the King's men are present in force but otherwise unnamed.
Older son of Lord and Lady Bruce, Matilda's cousin and 'a young Tamburlaine' opposed to the King. He is one of the swashbuckling heroes of the play. He has been sent by Fitzwater to take Matilda to safety in Hertford. Captured by Chester, Young Bruce defies his threats of torture. He is rescued by Richmond; with him they recapture the castle and imprison the Queen and Chester. (Meanwhile, his mother and young brother are made hostages and starved to death in prison by Chester's servant, Brand.) He is appalled at Matilda's ill treatment and vows revenge, but he believes her when she protects the Queen by saying that her guards and not the Queen herself assaulted her. Fitzwater refuses to hand him over as one of the hostages demanded by the King after his ceremonial submission to Rome. With Richmond, he fails to defend Matilda from the King's assault on their convoy, but he again rescues Matilda from Oxford, whom he wounds in a sword fight. After the King's next victory, Young Bruce wants to attack Windsor directly but is persuaded by older and wiser campaigners to proceed more subtly. He is furious when the king's men, disguised as masquers, infiltrate their stronghold on the pretence of entertaining the Queen and abduct Matilda. He climbs the Abbey walls to check on Matilda's safety, but he finds her dead. He lures Brand, the murderer, out of hiding, extracts from him the confession that he has also killed Young Bruce's mother and brother, and kills him with extreme violence, vowing to make known the story of the King's guilt. He is one of Matilda's mourners in the cortège which arrives at Windsor to confront the King.