The Hollow Crown brings together four filmed adaptations of Shakespeare's History Plays - Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. Starting in the year 1399, this continuous story of monarchy follows events during sixteen years of dynastic and political power play. Kings, with their families and followers, are threatened by rebellion and conflict. The story takes us from the Royal Court at Westminster to battlefields in England and France. These rich films are woven with the finest of Shakespeare's poetry and are filmed in the architecture and landscape of the period.
King Richard is called upon to settle a dispute between his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. Richard calls for a duel but then halts it just before swords clash. Both men are banished from the realm. Richard visits John of Gaunt, Bolingbroke's father, who, in the throes of death, reprimands the king. After seizing Gaunt's money and land, Richard leaves for wars against the rebels in Ireland. Bolingbroke returns to claim back his inheritance. Supported by his allies, Northumberland and the Duke of York, Bolingbroke takes Richard prisoner and lays claim to the throne.
The heir to the throne, Prince Hal, defies his father, King Henry, by spending his time at Mistress Quickly's tavern in the company of the dissolute Falstaff and his companions. The King is threatened by a rebellion led by Hal's rival, Hotspur, his father Northumberland and his uncle Worcester. In the face of this danger to the state, Prince Hal joins his father to defeat the rebels at the Battle of Shrewsbury and kill Hotspur in single combat.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Shrewsbury, Northumberland learns of the death of his son. The Lord Chief Justice attempts on behalf of the increasingly frail King to separate Falstaff from Prince Hal. The rebels continue to plot insurrection. Falstaff is sent to recruit soldiers and takes his leave of his mistress, Doll Tearsheet. The rebel forces are overcome. This brings comfort to the dying king, who is finally reconciled to his son. Falstaff rushes to Hal's coronation with expectations of high office.
Henry V has settled onto the throne and has the makings of a fine king when the French ambassador brings a challenge from the Dauphin. Inspired by his courtiers Exeter and York, Henry swears that he will, with all force, answer this challenge. The chorus tells of England's preparations for war and Henry's army sails for France. After Exeter's diplomacy is rebuffed by the French king, Henry lays a heavy siege and captures Harfleur. The French now take Henry's claims seriously and challenge the English army to battle at Agincourt.
Against the backdrop of wars in France, the English nobility quarrel. News of the English defeat at Orleans reaches the duke of Gloucester and other nobles. After the funeral of Henry V, his son, the infant Henry VI, is proclaimed king. Seventeen years later, Henry sits on the throne whilst the rivalries at court continue - Plantagenet has learned of his own strong claim to the crown. After Rouen falls to the French, Plantagenet, Exeter and Talbot pledge to recapture the city from the Dauphin but the French, led by Joan of Arc, defeat the English. The valiant English commander Talbot and his son John are killed. Warwick and Somerset arrive too late for the battle but join forces with the survivors and retake Rouen. Somerset captures and woos Margaret of Anjou as a potential bride for Henry VI. Plantagenet takes Joan of Arc prisoner and orders for her to be burnt at the stake. Despite Gloucester's protests, Margaret is introduced to the court as Henry's queen. Margaret complains that Eleanor, Gloucester's wife, behaves like an empress. Eleanor is banished and warns Gloucester that he is in great danger. Gloucester is accused of high treason and is murdered at the Tower of London on the orders of Somerset, whilst he and Margaret make love in the palace. Henry banishes Somerset and Suffolk after Gloucester is found dead. Plantagenet is incensed when Margaret is able to bully Henry into reversing the sentence. Plantagenet makes his claim for the throne and sets the Houses of York and Lancaster in open opposition.
After the Battle of St Albans, Plantagenet and the Yorkists ride to London to claim the throne. Henry negotiates to keep the crown for his lifetime but agrees to disinherit his son Prince Edward. Margaret is outraged and attacks Plantagenet at his house, slaughtering the duke and his youngest son Edmund. Elder brothers Edward, George and Richard escape and swear to avenge the murders and destruction of their house. The Yorkists are victorious at the Battle of Towton and Plantagenet's eldest son is crowned Edward IV. Henry VI is imprisoned in the tower and Margaret escapes to France with her son Prince Edward. Warwick travels to the French court to find Edward a bride. Word arrives that Edward is already betrothed to Elizabeth Woodville. Humiliated, Warwick switches sides and joins the House of Lancaster. Together with Margaret and the French king, Warwick forms an alliance to place Henry back on the throne. George, Edward IV's brother, also joins with Warwick after failing to secure a good marriage or advance at court, but returns to the Yorkist cause moments before the Battle of Tewkesbury. The Lancastrians are defeated and Warwick is killed. In the aftermath of battle, Richard slays Prince Edward in front of a distraught Margaret. Richard returns to London and murders the former King Henry in his cell. The court of Edward IV congregates for the christening of a new heir to the throne. The Yorkist dynasty seems secure.
At Westminster, Richard speaks about his deformity, the evil plots he has laid, and the decadence at court. George, brother to Richard and the king, is arrested during a birthday feast for Prince Edward and led away to the tower. King Edward takes ill and collapses at the end of the feast. Richard arranges for George's murder in the Tower of London. King Edward makes one last effort to end family disputes, but Richard interrupts with the news of George's death. After Edward also dies, Richard starts to take control. Rivers and Grey are executed for treason and Prince Edward and Prince Richard are sent to the Tower for safe keeping. After a council meeting, Hastings is also executed. Buckingham persuades the citizens of London to plead with Richard to take up the throne. Richard is crowned at Westminster Abbey with Anne as his queen. Unrewarded for his efforts, Buckingham distances himself from Richard and his regime. Now, without the support of his main henchman, Richard III hires Tyrell to murder the princes in the tower. The Duke of Richmond and his supporters join forces to seize the crown and overthrow Richard. In his underground quarters at Westminster, Richard becomes isolated and paranoid. He takes Stanley's son hostage and arranges for the murder of Anne. Richard is forced to lead his army to confront Richmond at Bosworth Field. Buckingham is executed for desertion. Stanley joins forces with Richmond and Richard's army is outnumbered. Richmond delivers the fatal blow to Richard in single combat and Richmond is crowned Henry VII. The Houses of York and Lancaster are united, the white rose with the red.