Incognito, the Duke of Suffolk is on his way to France with two gentlemen when a fight breaks out with a party which is led by a lieutenant of a small sailing vessel. Eventually, the Duke of Suffolk is taken prisoner, and he is condemned to death despite his revelation that he is a prince. Indeed, the Lieutenant, who was inclined to spare the Duke’s life while his identity was incognito, is all the more eager to have Suffolk executed, arguing that it was the Suffolk who had been the cause of the Duke of Gloucester’s death; that it was Suffolk who betrayed the English in France; that it was Suffolk who married off the English king to the daughter of a worthless king; and that it is Suffolk on whom falls the blame of England’s current state, i.e. on the verge of a civil war. When one of his gentlemen urges the Duke to plead for his life, Suffolk refuses to, arguing that he would rather die than beg and grovel before a mean peasant. Consequently, Walter Whitmore, one of the Lieutenant’s men and someone whom Suffolk actually dreads, executes Suffolk. Presently, one of the Duke’s gentlemen, promising that there will be a reckoning, bears the Duke’s corpse to court where it will be shown the King and Queen.
Two commoners George Bevis and John Holland decide to join Jack Cade’s popular uprising. When they do, they are in the company of Dick the butcher and Smith the weaver, who are busy undermining Cade’s assertions with comments aside. Cade, for example, proclaims that his mother is a Plantagenet, while Dick and Smith agree that she was a midwife and a pedlar’s daughter. Cade proclaims that he is a member of a renowned house, while Dick and Smith agree that Cade was born homeless and must resort to stealing to get by. Nonetheless, when Cade proclaims himself the rightful king of England, Dick and Smith join the mob in applauding the proclamation. Presently, Cade and the mob pass judgment on a clerk. Because he can write, they hang the clerk as a sympathizer of the English nobility. At this point, Michael, one of Cade’s followers arrives to warn Cade of the King’s men who are fast approaching. Cade and his followers decide to stand their ground. At the head of the King’s men are Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother William Stafford. They assure Cade and his followers that the King will forgive them all if they disperse. Otherwise they will all meet a traitor’s fate: death. Cade makes his case as the rightful king of England, exasperating Stafford and his brother. The Cade followers approve of Cade’s assertion and declare that Lord Say, who they claim had relinquished the dukedom of Maine to the French, as an enemy of the state. Stafford orders a herald to ride throughout England and announce that all followers of Cade will be deemed traitors and put to death forthwith. The brothers leave to prepare their forces. Dick the butcher remarks how well organized that king’s men are, but Cade argues that the mob’s disorder will serve them well.
Cade’s followers and the King’s men engage in armed combat with the result that the Stafford brothers are killed courtesy of Dick the butcher. Jack Cade commends Dick the butcher who advises Cade that their advantage will multiply if they free the prisoners in jail. Cade promises to do all that he can to assure their success and presently he has his followers march to London whilst having the corpses of the Staffords dragged with his horse.
On account of Suffolk’s decapitated head, Queen Margaret is persuading herself to think of revenge as a way to avoid becoming degenerate through excessive mourning when the King, who is absorbed with the problem Jack Cade is posing, wonders if the Queen would mourn even half as much were he to die. The Queen assures the King that his death would be far more devastating, but she continues to mourn for Suffolk . Meanwhile, the news of Cade and his followers’ arrival in London and the havoc that they are wrecking, compels the King to repair to Killingsworth. Lord Say decides to stay in London and hide, arguing that the mob’s hatred of him would only jeopardize the King if Say were in the King's company.
A citizen, allied to the King, arrives at the Tower to ask Lord Scales for help on behalf of the Lord Mayor. Scales dispatches what men he can spare, arguing he and the Tower are under siege from Jack Cade and his followers as well. Nonetheless, he urges the citizen to do his utmost in fighting for his King and country as he—Scales—will most assuredly do himself.
Striking his sword on the London Stone, Jack Cade pronounces himself Lord Mortimer and adds that anyone who would call him by any other name is a traitor. By and by, a soldier who comes running and yelling Jack Cade, presumably to warn Cade of impending danger, is struck down and killed. Dick the butcher informs Cade that an opposing army has gathered at Smithfield. Cade orders his army to march to Smithfield. He also gives the order to have London Bridge, and the Tower if his men can manage it, burned.
Matthew Gough who had been dispatched by Lord Scales to aid the Lord Mayor has been killed, and presently Dick the butcher urges Jack Cade to assume that his pronouncements constitute the Law of England. John Holland and Smith the weaver agree amongst themselves that that would be folly, but Cade thinks that’s a good idea and to that end he has the documents of Parliament burned. Presently, Lord Say, who is in George Bevis’ custody, is brought before Cade and his followers. Charging Say with a variety of offenses, including selling England’s dukedoms to the French, corrupting the English by instituting grammar schools and the teaching of such vile things as nouns and verbs, and imprisoning and hanging commoners for being unable to read, Cade condemns Lord Say to death. Lord Say objects, arguing that he has offended no one currently present, that he has only faithfully served his King and country, and that it would be a bloody crime if Cade and his followers did not spare Lord Say his life. Though moved by Lord Say’s entreaty, Cade reiterates his pronouncement to have Lord Say executed. His followers agree, their main contention being that a man who sits and works behind his desk all day can’t be as honest and upright as the man who works with his hands and gets them dirty. By and by, Lord Say’s and Lord Say’s brother-in-law Sir James Cromer’s heads are beheaded and paraded through London.
Jack Cade is in the midst of his triumph when Lord Clifford and the Duke of Buckingham approach and address the rebels thus: The King will let bygones be bygones if the rebels disperse this very instant. The rebels hail the King, compelling Cade to argue that the nobles have enslaved the commoners, and that it’s only right that they fight for what is rightfully theirs. Subsequently, the rebels throw all their support on behalf of Cade. Clifford, however, argues that Cade isn’t Henry V’s son, that the French seeing how the English are fighting amongst themselves are liable to invade England in due time, and that the English should come to their senses and realize the French are their enemy and not their fellow Englishmen. When the rebels cheer in support of the King, Cade realizes that his is a losing cause and makes a hasty get away. Consequently, Buckingham promises a hefty reward for he who manages to find and behead Cade.
The King reflects how he would rather trade places with a commoner than be king when he gets some good news. Cade’s followers have given themselves up to the King’s mercy. Indeed, they are brought before the King to hear the King’s sentence for better or worse. As promised, the King pardons them all when a messenger arrives with news of the Duke of York who is approaching England with a powerful army that includes Irish soldiers, the Duke’s justification being that he intends to use his forces to oppose the Duke of Somerset who York deems a traitor. To appease York, the King sends Buckingham to negotiate while temporarily imprisoning Somerset at the Tower. Somerset willingly lets himself be imprisoned, arguing that he will give his life for the King.
Famished and on the run, Jack Cade sneaks into a garden where he feeds on raw vegetables. The garden belongs to Alexander Iden, an esquire of Kent, who is content with the modest life that he has. Indeed Iden is proud of the fact that he isn’t ambitious and doesn’t aspire to acquire wealth as others are wont to do. Presently, he is challenged by Cade who assumes that Iden is one of the multitudes who is trying to hunt Cade down and turn him in to the authorities. Iden objects, arguing that he has no idea who Cade is, never mind that Cade is trespassing. Cade boasts that he will kill Iden, but Iden, seeing the state Cade is in, argues that there is no way that Cade will have the strength to overcome Iden. Cade assaults Iden only to divulge his identity before dying at Iden’s hands. Realizing that this is the scoundrel Jack Cade, Iden decides to have the body buried in a dunghill, and take the chopped off head to court to be presented to the King.