Rose Oatley (daughter of Sir Roger Oatley, the lord mayor of London) and Roland Lacy (nephew of Sir Hugh Lacy, the earl of Lincoln) are deeply in love. However, acutely aware of class differences between the two young people, Sir Hugh vows to stop the wedding. To avoid any possible courtship, the elder Lacy has his nephew given a command in the army of King Henry V, who is preparing to invade France.
But Roland has other ideas. Claiming pressing business in London, he turns his command over to his cousin, takes the disguise of a Dutch shoemaker, Hans Meulter, and signs on as an apprentice with Simon Eyre, a London shoemaker who makes shoes for the king and other notable families. Meanwhile, Rose, confined to her father’s house in a London suburb is pining for her love.
At the same time Simon is trying, to no avail, to convince officials to allow Ralph Damport, his journeyman who has also been drafted into the war, to stay home with his new bride, Jane. Ralph, resigned to going, gives Jane a farewell gift of a pair of shoes he had made for her. Some time later, and complicating the love affairs even further, Hammon and Warner while hunting deer in the lord mayor’s estate meet Rose and her maid, Sybil. Hammon, mistakenly believing Ralph has died in the wars, falls immediately in love with Rose (who also fears her husband is dead), and Warner loses his heart to Sybil. When Hammon confesses his love, Jane dismisses him, declaring that she intends to remain single, but if she ever remarries she will accept his proposal.
Back in town, Roland (disguised as Hans) has speculated in an unclaimed ship’s valuable cargo, making an enormous profit for his employer, Simon the shoemaker. As a result, Simon is made an alderman; then, affluent and popular, soon advances even further in political rank. However, Sir Hugh has learned from a servant that his nephew Roland is not in France with the army, and he sends the servant to discover his whereabouts, forcing Roland to keep his disguise and try to avoid discovery.
Meanwhile, Ralph, wounded but not dead, returns to London. Seeking his wife, he learns that she left the Eyre household soon after he was forced off to war. Crushed, he at first attempts to find her but eventually assumes she is either dead or has left him.
Rose, learning of Roland’s presence in the city, arranges to see him on the pretext of having him fit her for a pair of shoes. They finally meet each other again, although Roland is dressed as a Dutch shoemaker, and they plan their wedding the next day at St. Faith’s Church. Upon hearing this, Sir Hugh gloats, thinking that his nephew will never be able to marry this middle-class girl. However, Sir Roger is furious this time, thinking his daughter is now marrying beneath her class, and now it is he who vows to stop the wedding. Stepping up the confusion and the comedy, Sir Hugh later realizes the Dutch cobbler is his nephew and also vows to stop the wedding, hurrying out to St. Faith’s Church.
At the shoe shop back in town a servant brings in a pair of shoes and requests that a similar pair be made for another upcoming wedding—this one also in St. Faith’s Church and also the next day. The assignment for the wedding shoes falls on Ralph who recognizes the shoes as those he gave Jane when he left for the wars. He also quickly heads for the church, making his own vow to stop this wedding.
At the church, Ralph and his fellow shoemakers, armed with cudgels, confront Hammon and Jane, who had recently accepted her husband’s death and decided to remarry. Hammon resents the intrusion of the base craftsmen, but Jane is confused and excited by the sudden realization that her husband is not dead.
Hammon patronizingly offers Ralph twenty pounds to relinquish his wife, but Ralph, insulted, refuses and takes Jane home. Next, Sir Hugh and Sir Roger arrive, hoping to stop the wedding of Rose and Roland. However, the young couple has outfoxed everybody and been married at another church.
In a grand and hilarious finale, Simon Eyre, now the lord mayor of London, gives a breakfast for all London apprentices, and the king pardons Roland and blesses him and Rose, saying that “love respects no blood, / Cares not for difference of birth or state” (21.104-05).