In the fifteenth century, in London, Rowland Lacy, spendthrift nephew of the Earl of Lincoln, and Rose, daughter of Sir Roger Oteley, Lord Mayor of London, fall in love, but obstacles to their wedding seem insurmountable, a fact which causes them much unhappiness and distress. Neither of their elders favors the match. Sir Roger has sent Rose into the country, to Old Ford, and Lincoln has contrived to have Rowland appointed to head an army leaving soon to fight in France.
Rowland, however, tells his cousin, Askew, that he must attend to serious business for three days, bids him command his troops until he arrives either in Dover or in France, and shares with Askew the considerable purse which Lincoln and Oteley have given him. As they talk, Simon Eyre, who declares himself the shoemaker of Tower Street, comes with his men, Hodge and Firk, to ask the release from service of Ralph, another workman who has been drafted. His release is denied, and Ralph leaves Jane, his pretty wife, little comforted by an initialed pair of shoes which he has made for her as a parting gift.
At Old Ford, in the meantime, Rose is informed by Sybil, her maid, that Lacy has led his troops off to war, and Rose sends Sybil back to learn if he truly has gone to France. In reality, Lacy has been reduced to learning the shoemaker's trade in Germany after squandering his travel fund. He returns to London, and, disguised as a Dutch cobbler, finds work at the shop of Simon Eyre where he hopes to hear news of Rose.
Soon Lacy, who calls himself Hans and speaks in broken English, meets a sea captain whose cargo must be sold at a rare bargain. Lacy lends his war purse to Simon to buy the cargo, and Simon, disguised as a rich merchant, makes so shrewd a deal that he becomes wealthy overnight--with considerable assistance from Lacy, who has plied the sea captain with drink.
The Earl of Lincoln has received shameful tidings of his nephew from Dodger, his spy: a battle has been fought in France, but Lacy was not there. The Earl sends Dodger to watch for the truant at Rose's home. Here, Rose outrages her father by refusing to marry Hammon, a wealthy young Londoner who made her acquaintance while hunting at Old Ford. Hammon himself, made somewhat dubious by Rose's conduct, reflects: "There is a wench keeps shop in the Old Change, to her will I ... and will prefer her love before the world."
Ralph, lamed in the war, comes back to Eyre's shop seeking Jane; but she, because of a quarrel with Simon's wife, has gone--where, no one knows. Firk comes with the news that Simon has been elected Sheriff of London. The new dignitary invites all his men to make holiday, and to meet him for a celebration at the Lord Mayor's house at Old Ford where he has been bidden to dinner.
At the home of the Lord Mayor, the shoemakers are merrily dancing when Rose spies Hans. She immediately thinks: "How like my Lacy looks yond' shoemaker." She brings him wine, and although he speaks his thanks in his broken tongue, she is convinced that he really is Lacy. Rose tells Sybil of her suspicion. The maid wagers that when they return to London, Lacy will find a way to meet and wed her. They return to town, and Sybil furthers her wager by going to Eyre's shop to bid Hans come to fir Rose's new shoes.
Shoes are also the means of providing help in Ralph's search for his wife. Jane, working in a London shop, is the girl with whom young Hammon is in love. She has told Hammon that her husband is fighting in France, but he has recalled a letter which says Ralph is among the dead, and Jane is now ready to marry him. She insists that the shoes Ralph made for her as a last gift be duplicated for her wedding. When one is brought to Eyre's shop for a pattern for the new pair, Ralph recognizes it, and learns that Jane is to be married next morning at St. Faith's church.
Lacy, as Hans, goes to Rose's home, deceives her father with his disguise, and finds opportunity to tell Rose to steal to the home of Simon, who is now the new Mayor of London. There they will be secretly married. Rose does as he directs. Sybil then hastens to tell Oteley and Lincoln that she has fled with the shoemaker. The angry Oteley answers: "A shoemaker!... I'll not fly after her. Let her starve, if she will: she's none of mine." Firk, to confuse them further, tells Otelely and Lincoln that Hans and Rose are to be married in the morning at St. Faith's. Lincoln now suspects that Hans is Lacy, and he and Oteley prepare to stop the couple at the church. Firk mischievously reflects that they will, in reality, only disrupt Jane's wedding while Hans and Rose are being wedded at the Savoy.
At Simon's house, the new Mayor agrees to help in the wedding of Hans and Rose; he sends his wife to attend at the ceremony. He promises that he will intercede for Lacy with the King, who is to be his dinner guest. He also fulfills his pledge that, if made Lord Mayor, he will feast all the shoemakers of the city and set Shrove Tuesday, this day, as a holiday.
At St. Faith's, Ralph and his shoemaker friends are waiting, armed with cudgels, to take Jane away from Hammon and restore her to him. He has fitted her shoes that morning, but she has not recognized him as her husband because of his lameness and his war-weathered face. But she has wept at the resemblance and Ralph feels that she still loves him. When Jane, Hammon, and his party appear, they are confronted by Ralph--and Jane flies happily to Ralph's arms. Unable to tempt Ralph with gold to free her, Hammon gives the couple twenty pounds to right the wrong he has done them, and sadly leaves. Emerging from a three-hour vigil, Lincoln and Oteley also learn, to their disgust, that the wedding couple is not Hans and Rose.
Dodger, Lincoln's spy, now brings word that Hans and Rose are already married at the Savoy, and Lincoln and Oteley hasten away to influence the King to annul the marriage. The shoemakers hurry to the great new hall which Simon has built for the holiday feast. Firk leads the march to the feast, crying: ... "O my brethren! There's cheer for the heavens: venison pasties walk up and down piping hot, like sergeants; beef and brewies come marching in dry-fats; fritters and pancakes come trowling in in wheelbarrows; scuttles, and tarts and custards come quavering in in malt-shovels!"
Amused by the antics of Simon and the merry feasting of the shoemakers, the King grants a full pardon to Lacy, urging Lincoln and Oteley to forgive the lovers. They insist that the marriage be voided, and so the jolly monarch duly divorces them--only to marry them anew. When Lincoln protest's that Rose's blood is too lowly for Lacy, the King promptly knights Rowland, thus giving Rose a title.
The King grants yet another favor: he names Simon's new hall the Leadenhall, and grants to the shoemakers the right to hold two market days there weekly. He joins in the banquet, "and will say, I have not met more pleasures on a day."
Back to Thomas Dekker