Lamenting the loss of his wife and lack of male issue, Leir decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters so they might attract the most powerful husbands. He proposes a love test to secure his own beliefs. The elder two daughters, smarting over Cordella’s obvious but demure superiority, learn of the king’s intentions before he acts, leading them to conspire against her—they know she will not flatter him falsely, and that Leir will react badly. Their plan works. Lier divides his kingdom in two, disinherits Cordella, marries his two daughters to Cornwall and Cambria, and goes to live with Corwnall and Gonorill.
Meanwhile, the King of France decides to come to England with his lustful servant Mumford disguised as pilgrims to woo a daughter of Leir. They encounter Cordella, now an intended seamstress. After some sparring and joking, each confesses their identity, she her condition, and he his love without condition or dowry, from which they hie to a church and are married, the same day as her sisters, after which they repair to France (Leir obviously knows this later in the play).
Things go badly at Gonorill’s, and she cuts Leir’s pension in half. Before she can cut it off entirely, to force Leir to Ragan’s, Leir acts on his own to leave with his trusted aide Perillus. Cornwall decides to send a messenger to certify this fact, but Gonorill intervenes, and pays the messenger to kill Leir and report back falsely. Leir reaches Ragan’s, who feigns a warm welcome, but then pays the same messenger twice to kill both Leir and Perillus. She arranges the meeting whence the act is to proceed (after which she plans to kill the messenger), but Leir and Perillus talk the messenger out of it, after which they decide that they must go to France and beg Cordella’s forgiveness just to survive.
Meanwhile, Cordella’s continued blue mood suggests to the King of France that a reconciliation with Leir is in order. He, Cordell, and Mumford adopt peasant disguises and head for England. They (naturally) meet Leir and Perillus, starving and pitiful, and dressed in sailor’s clothes taken in exchange for their better clothes to pay for their passage across the channel. After confessions on both sides, Leir’s believable because he does not know he is speaking to Cordella, recognitions occur, the King organizes an army, proceeds to England, and defeats both sisters in what appears to be no battle at all, as sisters and their husbands have so alienated the people that they cannot sustain an army. (France et. al. are also aided by two drunk watchman who sit in a tavern while the King’s army lands.) The sisters and their husband flee, and Leir concedes his regained kingdom to France and his daughter, Cordella.