Training soldiers off in the countryside, Prince Richard is unaware that his father the King is ill. A messenger is sent to tell him, but scheming Prince John has him killed and a false message sent that causes Richard to go off to make a treaty with the unpredictable Lady Catherine. In the mean time, the King dies and John insists that in Richard's absence, he should become the new King.
Back in London in 1189, Richard and his men receive no welcome, only to find his brother Prince John has kidnapped their mother, Queen Eleanor and is intent on installing himself as the new King. Searching for the Queen, the Lionhearts find a trail of her jewelry in the forest.
Having sent several of his friends in pursuit of three escaped prisoners, Richard is concerned when he hears that they have taken refuge in the castle of a knight who feeds his foes to his wild animals.
Zara and her brother Umbaldo issue a challenge to Richard. He must choose a champion to defeat Umbaldo. Should Umbaldo win, Richard will pay service to Zara - should he be defeated, Zara will become Richard's bride.
In Lebanon, Richard and his men find a dying boy near a supposedly friendly abbey with monks renowned for helping pilgrims and travelers. The monks have in fact been replaced by a band of murderous thieves who have assumed the robes of the friars. Richard infiltrates by posing as a fellow cutthroat.
Fearing for her safety, Richard orders Queen Berengaria to return to England, so she takes her entourage yet tries to travel in disguise. She's captured not by Saladin or Muslim raiders, but by unscrupulous rival crusader Conrad of Montferrat.
Within sight of Jerusalem and victory, Richard readies for a final battle with the Muslim forces, but he realises his erstwhile allies are undependable. The Austrian King is losing interest because he won't get enough glory, and the French King and his troops outright leave the crusade, just as word is received the enemy forces are about to abandon the city.
The "Little People" of the subtitle are the tax payers of outlying counties. They've been dunned for four large payments and are nearly bankrupt. Richard finds they have been tricked into paying by false documents backed by Prince John's soldiers.
In a small backward town, Richard finds the local peasants living in fear of a hermit living in a nearby cave, who blackmails them with threats of invoking a supernatural power over their water supply. After seeing the beautiful Lady Diane, the hermit insists she be forced to marry him, or the land will go dry. The King investigates the cave to find the source of the supposed wizardry.
After a desperate man steals Richard's horse, the squire of Fitzgeorge castle takes him in. He can't see the man's son though he served gallantly in a crusade with him. The serving maid tells of a plot, where it was actually a serf that fought alongside the King, and the real scion of Fitzgeorge hid back in England.
A young knight in training is Miguel from Navarre. His days are spent under Richard's tutelage, but nights find him deeply in debt to disreputable owners of a gambling den in town. They threaten him with complete disgrace by exposure, unless he conspires with them in a plot to steal the crown jewels.
A charlatan posing as a monk named Nicholas goes from town to town selling indulgences, and bearing a forged document of authority from King Richard, intends blackmailing nobles who supported Prince John's attempted coup. Richard seeks whoever is behind the phony friar, and pursues him to a country inn.
Arthur, the young prince of England, is to visit his uncle, King Richard, from his home in Brittany. But the knight that's to escort him is waylaid and a kidnapper takes his place. To find the outlaws, Richard goes under cover as a lowly sailor to find out where their hideout is.
As Richard's coronation in Westminster Abbey draws near, great importance is placed on the clothes to be worn by important guests to the ceremony. One such costume is smuggled out so that one of the lords, who will lose his status if Richard comes to full power, can disguise himself and get close enough to kill him so exiled Prince John will come to the throne.