chronicle play in five acts, first performed in 1589-92 in a two-part
chronicle with Henry VI, Part 2 under the combined title The Whole Contention
between the two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke. Part 3 was first published
in quarto in 1595 and was printed from revised fair copies in the First
Folio of 1623. It is the third in a sequence of four history plays (the
others being Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2, and Richard III) known
collectively as the "first tetralogy," treating the Wars of
the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York. Shakespeare's primary
sources for the historical events were the chronicles of Edward Hall and
In the wake of the Yorkist victory at St.
Albans, York now has the crown of England. Henry arranges for a parley
and presents an offer to York...
The Duke of York enters the throne room with
his sons and followers, wondering where King Henry has fled to after their
recent battles. Warwick urges York to take the throne. As York sits, Henry
enters with his followers, who want to fight York right there. Henry urges
calm and asks York to descend from the throne. York makes public his alleged
claim to the throne, while Henry defends his hereditary possession of
the crown. Suspecting that his claim to the throne may be spurious, Henry
asks York to let him rule while he lives, and he will pass the throne
on to the house of York on his death.
York agrees and departs, but Henry's nobles
are astonished that he would deny his son the birthright of becoming king
on his father's death. This infuriates Margaret; Henry's queen, she arrives
and accuses him of being an unnatural father for having disinherited his
son and a bad ruler for thinking that York will let him rule.
Back in the town of York, Richard's sons
Edward and Richard, and his follower Montague, urge York to take the throne
immediately, rather than await Henry's death. York insists he has sworn
an oath to let Henry rule, but Richard easily convinces him that the oath
was not binding. Meanwhile, At Sandal Castle, Margaret's hastily convened
forces arrive to challenge York.
Clifford captures and kills Richard's other
son Rutland, on the way home, who wants to avenge his father's death at
York's hand. York's troops are losing the battle, and York is captured
by Margaret and Clifford. She offers him a handkerchief dipped in Rutland's
blood and challenges him to wipe his tears with it. He rails against her,
calling her unnatural, and Clifford and Margaret stab him to death.
Edward and Richard wonder about the fate
of their father, when they see a vision of three suns on the horizon,
which Edward believes is a sign that the three York brothers must become
as one. Richard isn't so sure, preferring to keep his allegiance only
to himself. A messenger arrives with news of York's death, and the brothers
are devastated. Warwick and Montague prepare to march to spar again with
Margaret's forces, bringing the aid of York's other son George's troops.
Margaret and Clifford, with their followers,
meet Henry at the town of York. Clifford urges Henry to undo his disinheritance
of his son, but Henry isn't convinced that sons automatically appreciate
that which their fathers leave them, since he didn't enjoy his father
Henry V's legacy. Edward and his men burst in and demand the throne. The
nobles from each side insult each other, and Henry tries to speak, but
none will listen to him. Edward blames Margaret's pride for the civil
war, and he declares that they will have to argue on the field of battle,
since she won't let Henry speak.
Richard hunts Clifford on the field of battle
in order to revenge his brother's and father's death. The tides of the
battle ebb and flow as Henry watches from afar, he sees two soldiers drag
dead bodies away from the scene of the fighting, trying to find valuables
to steal. As the soldiers remove the armour from the bodies, one discovers
he has accidentally killed his own father, and the other, his son. Henry
mourns that the battles of the nation have come to this level of unnaturalness.
Henry's son Prince Edward urges him to flee.
Wounded, Clifford dies, Edward sees he has
won the battle, though is unable to find Henry. They head to London to
crown Edward and to give new titles to Richard and George. Meanwhile,
as Henry wanders through the forest, he is arrested by two men who support
Edward and put in the Tower of London. Edward sends Warwick to France
trying to broker a marriage between Edward and the King's sister-in-law,
Bona, and Margaret goes to France petitioning the King of France to come
to Henry's aid against Edward.
In London, Lady Gray petitions Edward to
get her land back. He takes a liking to her and asks her to marry him.
His brothers are annoyed to hear Edward's enthused announcement of his
imminent marriage. Richard, alone, considers his potential route to the
throne. Many people stand in his way, but what alternative is there? He
could enjoy the pleasures of the court, but his physical abnormalities,
including a hump back and withered arm, make him undesirable. Therefore,
nothing remains for him but to connive and plot to get the crown. He decides
he will play the role of the good brother and subject, while he plots
ways to eliminate everyone in his way to the throne.
In France, Warwick and Margaret arrive at
the same time. King Louis decides to give the hand of his sister, Lady
Bona, to Edward, thus, denying Margaret aid, when a messenger arrives
with news of Edward's marriage. Insulted to have been sent on a futile
errand, Warwick changes sides, pledging his allegiance to Henry. Louis
gives Margaret troops to fight with Edward.
Meanwhile, back in England, further dissension
is sown between the York brothers. Richard seeks the throne for himself,
Edward, his brothers and lords discuss his
marriage. They receive news that Warwick and Margaret have joined forces.
George is so upset by Edward's new marriage that he leaves with Somerset
to join with Warwick. In preparations for the coming battles, Warwick,
manages to capture Edward before the major combat begins. Seeing George
on the enemy's side, Edward gives up the throne and consents to be imprisoned
at Warwick's brother's estate. Thus temporarily restoring Henry to the
throne, yet Richard and Hastings soon spring Edward from his self-imposed
house arrest and gather a force to meet Warwick
Warwick, George, and their nobles find Henry
in the Tower and free him. Henry says he wants to be king in name only,
and he names Warwick and George as joint protectors of the kingdom. They
receive word that Edward has escaped to Brittany, from where he soon returns
with reinforcements. Returning to the town of York, Edward thinks he wants
only to be the Duke of York, but his followers urge him to seek the crown.
Clarence rejoins his brothers as well, and at Barnet and Tewkesbury,
Henry's followers go to gather troops to
battle Edward. Edward and Richard capture Henry and send him to the Tower
before they march to meet Warwick's army. Edward's army meets Warwick's
forces, and Edward asks Warwick if he will again swear allegiance to him.
Warwick refuses. Warwick's supporters arrive, including George. Richard
convinces George to break with Warwick, and the forces prepare to fight.
Wounded in battle by Edward, Warwick dies.
Warwick's surviving supporters, Somerset and Oxford, go to join Margaret's
Though the French troops attempt to rally,
Margaret and the Prince of Wales are captured; the sons of York slay the
Prince, but Edward grants mercy to Margaret
Margaret urges on her forces, and they meet
Edward's army. Edward wins this battle; he sends Somerset and Oxford away,
kills Prince Edward, and imprisons a mourning Margaret. Richard sneaks
off to the Tower, where Henry awaits.
Anticipating Edward's further mercy to Henry,
Richard pays a visit to the Tower of London, where Henry is held as prisoner
Henry prophesizes that thousands will suffer
because of Richard's deeds, for Richard was born under all the most inauspicious
and evil signs. Richard kills Henry and declares himself separated from
the ties of family and brotherhood. Since he was punished by the heavens
with such unfortunate physical attributes, he will fight for himself alone
hereafter. And with Henry and his son out of the way, Richard's next goal
is to eliminate George and Edward.
Edward's son has been born, and George and
Richard kiss the child. Edward calls for festivities to celebrate his
attainment of the throne. At last there is no one to oppose him--except
his own brother.
For now Edward holds the throne as King Edward
IV, but Richard yet plots his own means to usurp the crown for himself.
As a whole, the three parts of Henry VI create
an arc of escalating dissension and violence--from the petty jealousies
at court and the glorious war with France in Part 1 to the class warfare
of Jack Cade's insurrection in Part 2 to the bloody stabbings of the duke
of York, King Henry, and the prince of Wales in Part 3--paving the way
for anarchy and, ultimately, reconciliation in Richard III.