VI Part III is a history play about the struggle for power during the
reign of a young English king.
Written: Between 1590 and 1592.
1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's
based Henry VI Part II primarily on accounts in The Chronicles
of England, Scotland and Ireland (Holinsheds Chronicles), by
Raphael Holinshed (?-1580?), who began work on this history under the royal
printer Reginald Wolfe. The first edition of the chronicles was published
in 1577 in two volumes. Shakespeare also used
The Union of Two Noble
and Illustre Families of Lancastre and York, by Edward Hall (?-1547).
VI Part III is set in various locales in England and France, including
the following: (1) London, England: Parliament House, the royal
palace, the Tower; (2) Wakefield, England: Sandal Castle and a battlefield;
(3) Herefordshire: a plain near Mortimer's Cross; (4) York;
(5) Yorkshire: battlefield between Towton and Saxton, a park near
Middleham Castle; (6) northern England: a forest; (7) France:
the palace of King Lewis XI; (8) a plain in Warwickshire; (9) Warwick:
Edward's camp; (10) West Midlands: Coventry; (11) Barnet:
battlefield; and (12) Tewksbury: a plain.
Henry VI: Pious and timorous king of England (House of Lancaster) who
sometimes yearns for a simpler life. He is at odds not only with his Yorkist
foes but also with his domineering wife.
Margaret: Ambitious wife of King Henry.
Prince of Wales: Henrys son, a smart, stout-hearted, regal young man.
He is everything that his father is not.
Plantagenet, Duke of York: Yorkist (White Rose) throne claimant who
fails to gain the crown.
Earl of March: Proud and insolent son of Richard Plantagenet. Edward
becomes King Edward IV, the first ruler in the House of York.
George, Richard: Sons of Richard Plantagenet.
of Lancaster Faction: Duke of Exeter (Henry Holland), Earl of Oxford
(John de Vere), Earl of Northumberland (Henry Percy), Earl of Westmoreland
(Ralph Neville), Lord Clifford (John Clifford), and the Marquess of Montague
of York Faction: Earl of Warwick (Richard Neville), Duke of Norfolk,
Earl of Pembroke, Lord Hastings, Lord Stafford, Sir John Mortimer, Sir
Hugh Mortimer, Sir John Montgomery, Sir John Somerville, Sir William Stanley.
Woodville (Lady Grey): Widow of Sir Richard Grey (killed in fighting
at Saint Albans). She marries Edward, the son of Richard Plantagenet, and
becomes his queen.
Rivers: Brother of Elizabeth Woodville (Lady Grey), the new queen.
XI: King of France.
Sister of the French Queen.
Earl of Richmond: Noble youth descended from the Lancasters. He seems
destined for greatness.
Tutor to Edmund (Earl of Rutland), Mayor of York, Lieutenant of the Tower,
Nobleman, Two Gamekeepers, Huntsman, Soldiers, Attendants, Messengers,
Watchmen, Son That Has Killed His Father, Father That Has Killed His Son.
wretched man! would I had died a maid
never seen thee, never borne thee son,
thou hast provd so unnatural a father
he deservd to lose his birthright thus? (1.1.223-226)
Yorks sons, Edward and Richard, importune their father to take back the
throne that he yielded. Edward says: Now you are heir, therefore enjoy
it now: / By giving the house of Lancaster leave to breathe (1.2.15-16).
When York says he is bound on oath to the agreement with Henry, Richard
argues that an oath not taken before a true and lawful magistrate (1.2.26)
is not binding. He also says: How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown,
/ Within whose circuit is Elysium (1.2.32-33). York then agrees to seize
the throne immediately or die (1.2.38). .......To
retain her standing as queen, Margaret raises an army and clashes with
York at Wakefield. She conquers. Yorks son Edmund is tortured and killed.
York himself, taken prisoner, endures taunts and mocks. The queen crowns
him with a paper diadem and says, Now looks he like a king! (1.4.99).
Lord Clifford, a supporter of Margaret and the Lancasters, stabs York.
Margaret stabs him again for good measure. .......After
York dies, Margaret orders him decapitated. The head is placed on the gates
at York. The queen then wins another battle at Saint Albans over the Earl
of Warwick. Warwick carries news of the defeat to Yorks sons Edward and
Richard. Warwick says Margaret and Clifford, who have wrought the easy-melting
king like wax (2.1.175), are now marching on London thirty thousand strong
to reclaim the throne for Henry. Warwick stiffens his resolve and predicts
that with the help of his remaining forces, along with loyal Welshmen and
troops under the Duke of Norfolk, the Yorkists will yet win the day. Edward,
who has now become Duke of York to succeed his dead father, can then claim
the crown. .......When
the armies meet between Towton and Saxton in Yorkshire, the meek king watches
from a distance as Warwick and the Yorkists rout the queen. She flees with
her son to France, and Clifford is taken prisoner and beheaded. Edward,
Duke of York, is proclaimed King Edward IV. Warwick then lays out the schedule
for the new monarch: First, he must hie to London for his coronation. .......Then
he must marry Lady Bona, the sister of the King of France, because having
France thy friend, thou shalt not dread / The scatterd foe that hopes
to rise again (2.6.95-96). Warwick embarks for France to arrange the marriage. Now
that Edward is king, his brother Richard becomes Duke of Gloucester. George,
another brother, becomes Duke of Clarence. Poor Henry is captured in the
north of England and imprisoned in the Tower of London. While Warwick is
on his mission in France, Edward falls in love with a beautiful widow,
Lady Grey, and seeks to make her his queen. But even as Edward prepares
to run the realm, a new rivalry takes shape: His brother Richard, a hunchback
who has no conscience, begins lusting for the crown and plotting to overthrow
Edward to get it. .......In
France, Margaret denounces Warwick in an attempt to block the proposed
marriage between Lady Bona and Edward IV. Such a marriage, she believes,
would end all chances for Henry to reclaim the throne. Nevertheless, Louis
XI approves the alliance. But all is for naught, for word arrives from
England that Edward has married Lady Grey. This affront to Warwicks honor
so angers him that he breaks with Edward and aligns himself with Margaret
in her effort to restore Henry. Margaret welcomes his change of heart,
saying, Warwick, these words have turnd my hate to love; and I forgive
and quite forget old faults. The French decide to support Warwick and
Margaret, but Louis first asks for a pledge of loyalty before he provides
aid. Warwick then offers his oldest daughter to Margarets son, Prince
Edward, in holy wedlock (3.3.250). When the prince accepts the proposal,
Louis appoints his high admiral, Lord Bourbon, to ferry troops to England. .......In
England, many of King Edwards followers are unhappy with his marriage
to Lady Grey. The Duke of Clarence, Edwards own brother, is so incensed
that he joins with Warwick and agrees to marry Warwicks youngest daughter.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, stands by Edward, but only because he wants
to keep the crown in the familythe better to usurp it later. After Warwicks
forces enter England, they capture King Edward, then free Henry from the
Tower of London and reinstall him as king. However, the meek Henry has
had enough of governing. He asks Warwick and Clarence to rule jointly in
his stead while he pursues a quiet life of prayer. .......Meanwhile,
Edward has escaped to Burgundy, thanks in large part to Gloucester. After
raising an army, he returns to England to reclaim the throne. He and Gloucester
capture Henry, return him to the Tower of London, and engage Warwick in
battle at Coventry. Clarence decides to switch sides again, saying he will
not bend the fatal instruments of war (5.1.95) against his brothers.
He tells them, Pardon me, Edward, I will make amends; / And, Richard,
do not frown upon my faults (5.1. 108-109). Both brothers welcome him
back to the fold. .......Margaret
then arrives from France with fresh troops. But she is defeated near Tewkesbury,
and she and her son are taken prisoner. When Margarets son spits insults
at Edward, Gloucester, and Clarence, they stab him in turn as he writhes
on the ground. Gloucester then returns to London with all dispatch. After
entering the Tower, he tells Henry, Thy son I killd for his presumption
(5. 4. 36). Then he stabs Henry. Edward is restored to the throne, Margaret
is exiled to France, and Gloucester remains on the prowl, still dreaming
of the crown he will one day wear. .
struggle for power divides a kingdom. The House of Lancaster, to which
Henry VI belongs, and the House of York vie for power. The Yorkists believe
they were cheated out of the throne in 1399, when Henry Bolingbroke became
king as Henry IV. Within the House of Lancaster, there is also division.
The Duke of Suffolk conspires with the queen to oust Henrys protector
so that they can exert more control over the young king.
preys on the weak. Self-seekers, including Henrys own wife, attempt
to manipulate the king in order to further their own ends.
leaders invite upheaval. Henry VI is an upright but weak king who is easily
manipulated. His failure to assert his authority is in part responsible
for the discord during his reign.
is an irresistible elixir. Henry VI persuades Richard Plantagenet to
delay his ascendancy to the throne until after Henry has completed his
reign. However, Plantagenets son Richard urges his father to seize the
throne immediately, saying, How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown, /
Within whose circuit is Elysium (1. 2. 32-33).
can be just as ruthless as men. Queen Margaret, who envies anyone who
stands in her way of achieving power, presides at the torture and death
of Yorks son. Then she crowns York, taken prisoner, with a paper diadem
and says, Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king! (1. 4. 99). Lord
Clifford, a supporter of Margaret and the Lancasters, stabs York. Margaret
stabs him again for good measure. After York dies, Margaret orders him
climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel,
can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to
resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. The climax of Henry VI Part III occurs, according
to the first definition, when Edward reclaims the throne. According to
the second definition, the climax occurs when Gloucester stabs Henry in
the Tower of London.
VI: Saintly Scholar
depicts Henry VI as weak and ineffectual, as he was in real life. However,
the historical Henry did possess some praiseworthy qualities, notably his
piety as a devout Catholic and his love of learning and education. He exhibited
the latter quality when he established Eton College in 1440 as the King's
College of Our Lady of Eton Beside Windsor,
for deserving boys who enrolled. Henry also founded Cambridge University's
King's College to enable Eton boys to continue their education. Both Eton
and King's College continue operation today as two of England's most respected
educational institutions. As for Henry's famous saintliness, Edward Hall,
a historian who graduated from Eton and King's College, described it in
a history that Shakespeare used as one of his sources for the play. Hall
He did abhor of his own
nature, all the vices, as well of the body as of the soul; and from his
very infancy he was of honest conversation and pure integrity; no knower
of evil, and a keeper of all goodness; a despiser of all things which were
wont to cause the minds of mortal men to slide or appair. Besides this,
patience was so radicate in his heart that of all the injuries to him committed
(which were no small number) he never asked vengeance nor punishment, but
for that rendered to Almighty God, his Creator, hearty thanks, thinking
that by this trouble and adversity his sins were to him forgotten and forgiven
(qtd. in G.B. Harrison, ed. Shakespeare: The Complete Works. New
York: Harcourt, 1952, Page 143).
Badge of Ruthlessness: a Foreshadowing
play opens at the House of Parliament in London with a bit of black humor
that foreshadows the ruthless, bloodstained machinations of Richard, Duke
of Gloucester, as he murders his way to the throne in another Shakespeare
history play, Richard III. First, Edward, Prince of Wales, tells
his fatherRichard Plantagenet, Duke of Yorkthat he either killed or severely
wounded the Duke of Buckingham. As proof, Edward shows his father his bloody
sword. Not to be outdone, Montague then displays his sword, stained with
the blood of the Earl of Wiltshire. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, then ends
the game of one-upmanship by throwing down the head of the Duke of Somerset.
Plantagenet then says, Richard hath best deservd of all my sons (1.1.19).
VI, though a good man, was one of England's weakest rulers. Ironically,
his father, the warrior king Henry V, was one of England's strongest and
most beloved monarchs. Henry VI may have inherited his father's throne,
but not his genes. Perhaps even more ironic, though, is that Henry VI was
king of England for approximately 40 years, a term of office far longer
than all but a few English monarchs.
of the Roses
Bolingbroke's ascendancy to the English throne as Henry IV was the germinal
event that triggered the War of the Roses (1455-1485) between the House
of Lancasterfounded by Bolingbroke's father,
John of Gauntand the House of York. For additional
information on the War of the Roses,
of the Houses of Lancaster and York
of Lancaster: Henry IV ("Bolingbroke," son of the Duke of Lancaster),
1399-1413. Age at death: 47. Henry V (son of Henry IV), 1413-1422. Age
at death: 34. Henry VI (son of Henry V, deposed), 1422-1471. Age at death:
of York: Edward IV (son of duke of York), 1461-1483. Age at death:
41. Edward V (son of Edward IV), 1483. Age at death: 13. Richard III ("Crookback,"
brother of Edward IV) 1483-1485. Age at death: 35.
Questions and Essay Topics
Which is the most admirable character in the play? Which is the least admirable?
Write an essay that uses Henry VI Part III to demonstrate how ruthless
politicians maneuver to get their way.
Write a psychological profile of King Henry VI or his wife, Margaret.
Do King Henrys loyalists support him because they like him or because
they believe he is the rightful king?
In monarchies, rulership passes to a son or daughter of the king and queen.
Is a monarchy a flawed system of government? Or does it ....have
Does Richard Plantagenet have a legitimate claim on the throne?