On behalf of Philip of France, the ambassador of France Chatillion delivers a message to England’s King John: Relinquish territories—including Anjou, Touraine, and Maine—to his nephew Arthur Plantagenet or prepare to go to war over them. Without hesitation, King John chooses to go to war, a decision King John’s mother Elinor has her reservations about; she is of the persuasion that the matter could have been handled to their advantage diplomatically. Nonetheless, the matter is thus settled and Chatillion dismissed when King John is informed of a strange, internal dispute which requires his intercession. King John agrees to hear the dispute, and as the disputants are being fetched, King John renders his decision to finance the war with funds from religious orders. Presently, the disputants appear. They are Robert Faulconbridge and his half-brother and elder Philip the Bastard. The former, citing his father’s will to disown Philip and to grant all his lands to Robert, petitions the King to legitimize his father’s claim and wish. Contrary to expectations, Philip doesn’t deny that he is a bastard. In fact, he embraces that he is one and argues that there is no dishonor in it on which basis he is willing to relinquish his claim to Sir Robert Faulconbridge’s lands provided that his—Philip’s—suspicion that his real father was King John’s deceased brother King Richard Cordelion is acknowledged. Impressed by his pluck, Elinor promises to acknowledge that Philip does indeed derive from royal lineage provided if Philip does indeed do what he has he pledged to do. When Philip gladly relinquishes his rights to Sir Robert Faulconbridge's lands, he is newly dubbed Sir Richard Plantagenet. Subsequently, Richard reconciles with his half-brother and is presently told to get ready to attend to state affairs vis-à-vis France.
Alone, Richard reflects on his good fortune, of how being acknowledged the son of a former king and being made an instant peer of England is worth the giving up of his inheritance of Sir Robert Faulconbridge’s lands when he is accosted by his mother Lady Faulconbridge, who is accompanied by her servant James Gurney. Angry with Robert whom she suspects of running a campaign to deny Philip of his birthright (as far as she’s concerned Philip and Robert are brothers, not half-brothers), Lady Faulconbridge demands to know where Robert is. Philip dismisses James Gurney so that a sensitive matter may be settled once and for all between him and his mother. Arguing that Sir Robert wasn’t his real father, Philip urges his mother to come clean about who his real father was. When Philip informs her that he had conceded his birthright to his brother and along with it his claim of being the legitimate heir to Sir Robert Faulconbridge, Lady Faulconbride admits that Philip’s father was really King Richard Cordelion. When she urges her son not to hold this against her, Philip argues that no one could fault her for being unable to deny a man who has confronted and prevailed over a lion. Moreover, he argues that if anyone accuses her of having sinned that he will personally see to it that the accuser will eat his words.