Beautiful Emilie Le Breton, parson's daughter on the Isle of Jersey, is only 15 years old and a tomboy. Lillie's mother arranges a brief London visit to show Lillie a Season, but she is too shy and innocent to enjoy it. She falls in love with a local fisherman but her father forbids her to see him again. Determined to marry a wealthy man, she encourages Edward Langtry to court her.
Lillie discovers Edward is financially strapped, not the millionaire she thought. Lillie develops typhoid fever, and convinces the doctor to tell Edward she needs to go to London to recover. Lillie loves London, but bad news takes her back to Jersey. Edward joins a London club, which draws him further apart from Lillie. Lillie finally crashes society to a thunderous reception.
As Lillie acquires more admirers, her old friends see less of her and her husband sinks deeper into alcohol. Lillie is resigned to her popularity vanishing when the Season ends. She plans to leave Edward when the Prince of Wales dangles an irresistible lure in front of her.
Bertie remains smitten with Lillie and even builds her a seaside house. When visiting Crown Prince Rudolph is so smitten with Lillie that he ignores his social duties, Bertie arranges Lillie to be presented to the Queen, and Lillie acquires a new lover.
A scandal sheet trumpets a rumored Langtry divorce, and Edward is unable to collect his Irish rents. Lillie makes a new friend: W.E. Gladstone. Edward files suit against the scandal sheet and sends the publisher to prison. Lillie has fallen in love with her latest conquest, Prince Louis of Battenberg. Dean Le Breton is dismissed from his parish for sexual misconduct. Lillie receives some astonishing news.
Lillie stages an American tour, marred by hostile American critics and newspaper accusations of an illicit romance with American millionaire Freddie Gebhard. Returning to England leads to stage triumphs and problems with creditors, and a visit from Freddie with an intriguing suggestion.
Lillie's affair with a rich jockey who enjoys shocking society worries Patsy, as Squire Abington has a history of abusing women. He wants to marry Lillie, but Edward still refuses to divorce her. Lillie doesn't break with Squire even after he beats her, but she collects money and gifts. Lillie starts racing the horses Squire gave her. Oscar Wilde is arrested for sodomy, convicted, and imprisoned. Lillie finally gets her American divorce and Edward is committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Lillie's jewels are stolen from the bank, and Lillie goes back on stage to raise money. Lillie marries Hugo de Bathe, 20 years her junior, but can't keep him faithful. Lillie rebuilds an old theatre, which she renamed the Imperial. Ian Malcolm wants to marry Jeanne Marie even though the family won't accept Lillie. After Ian tells Jeanne her father was Prince Louis, she is so angry at her mother's deceptions that Jeanne refuses to see Lillie again.
Lillie grieves over Bertie's death. Jeanne still holds the past against Lillie and refuses to see her. Prince Louis asks Jeanne to forgive him and Lillie. In New York, Lillie patronizes a dance hall where she pays for partners and winds up in an altercation with another patroness. Lillie organizes a benefit show in support of British forces. After WWI ends, Lillie moves to the French Riviera. Jeanne's son Victor reconciles his mother and Lillie.