Henry VI Part 3 simplified

Synopsis

York, Richard Plantagenet, had killed Old Clifford during the only battle in the War of the Roses, Old Clifford having been a very loyal friend to Henry VI.  That battle had been fought at St. Albans right at the end of Part 2.  In that same battle, York’s son Richard had killed Somerset, the leader of the red rose contingent, and the red rose people were those very loyal to Henry VI. These deaths so unnerved the king and queen that the two of them, along with Young Clifford, all three of them fearing for their lives, had beaten a hasty retreat to London.  They escaped the pursuit of a group of their enemies, a group that included York, his sons Edward and Richard, along with Salisbury and Warwick.  York had said “Shall we after them?”  Warwick had responded “Nay, before them, if we can.” 

At the time the battle at St. Albans ended, Young Clifford had promised to seek revenge for his father’s death at the hands of Richard Plantagenet, saying “York not our old men spares; henceforth I will not have to do with pity; meet I an infant of the house of York.”  The deaths of Old Clifford and Somerset are central to some of the main events in this Part 3 history. 

Henry VI Part 3 opens at the Parliament House in London with Warwick saying “I wonder how the king escaped our hands.”  Young Clifford is now Lord Clifford. As further background, the duke of York’s son, Richard, the one who had killed Somerset at St. Albans, was born with a deformed back and is occasionally referred to as Crookback Richard.  The other major father-son team, other than York and his son Richard, is Salisbury and Warwick, both Nevilles through John of Gaunt’s Beaufort line, their Lancaster connection.  These Nevilles had chosen mid-way through Part 2 to support York, he having persuasively convinced them that he was the rightful heir to the throne.  Warwick, known as The Kingmaker, and Richard Plantagenet’s son, Richard, play major roles in this period of English history. 

Meanwhile, back in the Parliament House, Richard Plantagenet (York) boldly steps up onto the platform and sits on the king’s throne.  The “bashful” king enters and puts up but a modest fuss.  Warwick plays hardball, causing the king to wilt, the king saying “Shall I stand and thou sit in my throne?”  York responds “It must and shall be so – content thyself.”  The king concedes the crown to York’s heirs, conditioned on his holding the crown until he dies, infuriating his wife and breaking the heart of his son, the young Edward, the Prince of Wales.

The king’s wife, Margaret, tells the king that she will seek a divorce, will take their son with her and will lead the “northern lords” in her fight against the York rebels.  The king’s disillusioned key allies, Westmorland, Northumberland and Lord Clifford exit. Westmorland has been in these plays for a long time.

A determined Queen Margaret assembles a twenty thousand man army, no small task, doing just what she said she was going to do.  Separately, York, with the help of two of his uncles, Sir John and Sir Hugh Mortimer, all aware of Margaret’s plans, assemble an army of their own, but a smaller one, five thousand men.  The duke of York’s sons, Richard and Edward, seem to spend a lot of their time trying to figure a way to get the crown from Henry VI.  Richard says to his father “The crown of England, father, which is yours.”  York replies, “Mine, boy?  Not till King Henry be dead.  I took an oath that he should quietly reign.”  Edward responds “But for a kingdom any oath may be broken.”  The five of them (the three Yorks and the Mortimer brothers) are confident that their five thousand troops are every bit the match for a twenty thousand man army, one led by a woman.  They’re wrong.  The battle begins.

Lord Clifford practically stumbles upon the seventeen year old Edmund, the earl of Rutland, York’s second son, and kills him.  This act was consistent with his pledge at St. Albans that “henceforth I will not have to do with pity; meet I an infant of the house of York.”  Soon the queen, Lord Clifford and Northumberland enter and capture their premier nemesis, Richard Plantagenet. Clifford and the queen both cruelly mock him. She puts a paper crown on his head saying “Ay, this is he that took King Henry’s chair.”  She then knocks the paper-made-crown from his head.  York verbally lashes out at the queen with such insults as “She-wolf of France” and “O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide!” With Northumberland doing his best to draw calm and compassion and civility to the situation, the queen says to him “What, weeping-ripe, my Lord Northumberland? Think but upon the wrong he did us all.”  Clifford and the queen viciously and fatally stab York, the queen saying “Off with his head and set it on the York gates, so York may overlook the town of York.”  This murder of the powerful duke of York, murdered by the Queen of England, a man with the most legitimate of royal blood lines, represents a major moment in this period of English history.

Later, Edward and Richard learn that their father (York) was killed by Clifford and by the queen.  They have also lost their brother Rutland, Lord Clifford having killed him.  Edward, Richard and George are now known as the Plantagenet (or York) brothers. On a relative basis, the duke of York, the father, was considered one of the good guys.  Richard Neville, the earl of Warwick, known here as Warwick, at this point still a Plantagenet supporter, enters to report that the troops put together by the Plantagenet brothers’ father have fled, exposing many of their leaders to capture and death. With Warwick’s counsel and support, the York brothers regroup.  Warwick takes charge.  He names Edward the Duke of York, Richard the Duke of Gloucester and George the Duke of Clarence. 

Separately, Lord Clifford tries to encourage Henry VI to be a tougher monarch, saying “To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?”  The modest king says simply “I’ll leave my son my virtuous deeds behind.” 

Warwick and the Plantagenet brothers enter the outskirts of the city of York. They challenge the king, queen and Clifford.  The two groups of adversaries exit separately.  Clifford advises the king to go his own independent way saying “I would your highness would depart the field; the queen hath best success when you are absent.”  The king agrees. At about this point, the queen says to her husband “My lord, cheer up your spirits --- our foes are nigh, and this soft courage makes your followers faint.  You promised knighthood to our forward son. Unsheathe your sword and dub him presently.  Edward, kneel down.”  The king knights the boy saying “Edward Plantagenet, arise a knight.”  The king exits, lamenting the strife of the civil war, soon wandering almost aimlessly, alone, in the fields near York. Exhibiting his softer side, Shakespeare has a soldier enter, a soldier who realizes that he has just killed his father, and then has another soldier enter, realizing that he has killed his son.  These are heavy times for the king; heavy times for everybody.  Lord Clifford, seriously injured, enters and faints. The Plantagenet brothers enter and hear a groan.  Edward, duke of York says “See who it is.  If friend or foe, let him be gently used.”  Richard, duke of Gloucester says “Revoke that doom of mercy, for ‘tis Clifford.”  The Plantagenet brothers mock the unconscious Clifford, Richard the more so.  Finally Warwick says “Ay, but he’s dead.”  Speaking to Edward he says “And now to London with triumphant march, there to be crowned England’s royal king; from whence shall Warwick cut the sea to France, and ask the Lady Bonne for thy queen.”  Edward duke of York responds “Even as thou wilt, sweet Warwick, let it be.  For in thy shoulder do I build my seat.”  Warwick ends the scene saying “Now to London to see these honors in possession.” 

Later, Henry VI, having been “exiled” to Scotland, is “captured” by two gamekeepers as he randomly walks through the countryside in the north of England. The gamekeepers take him to prison.  Separately, a little raucously, Edward, now the duke of York, woos the recently widowed Elizabeth Lady Grey.  A little later, alone on the stage, Richard legitimately solicits our sympathy, lamenting his physical disadvantages when it comes to wooing and winning women. 

In France, Queen Margaret, her son Prince Edward, Warwick and the earl of Oxford are received by King Louis, France’s king, and his sister-in-law, the Lady Bonne of Savoy.  Significantly, a self-appointed Warwick, there with less than full authority to propose to Lady Bonne on Edward’s behalf, suggesting she become his wife and queen, if of course she and France’s king agree.  Aside Queen Margaret says “If that go forward, Henry’s hope is done.”  Lady Bonne and the French king accept Warwick’s proposal.  Queen Margaret and Oxford strongly disagree with the prospective marriage, but the confident, self-directed and persuasive Warwick wins the moment.  A messenger enters and through a series of letters lets the principals know that Edward has married the Lady Grey, creating an awkward moment, to say the least. An infuriated Warwick, feeling betrayed (but he is the one who had suggested this match-up) turns his allegiance back to Henry VI.  This turn of events is welcomed, of course, by Queen Margaret and her son Prince Edward.  An upset and embarrassed King Louis offers Warwick military support.  A proud and angry Warwick here offers his daughter Anne as the young Prince Edward’s future wife, quickly accepted by Queen Margaret and her son. 

Back in England, convinced that his brother Edward’s hasty marriage to the Lady Grey would anger Warwick and France’s king, Clarence decides to join Warwick, while his brother Richard decides the most direct route to the crown for him is to continue to show support for his brother Edward. Warwick and his allied French troops enter England.  Warwick is so appreciative of Clarence’s decision to join him that he offers his other daughter Isabella to be Clarence’s bride.  Warwick captures Edward IV and has him taken to London’s Tower, to be watched over by the Archbishop of York.  Edward IV escapes, assisted by his brother Richard.  Lady Grey reports that she is pregnant.  Meanwhile, a lieutenant helps Henry VI escape from his prison.  He soon joins Warwick and Clarence.  They protect him. Shakespeare shows through Warwick and Clarence how strong-willed and confident men can show exceptional kindness through their acceptance of the very detached-from-reality Henry VI.  But then he is still the more legitimate king.  Edward, Richard and Hastings arrive at the city of York where Edward is re-energized and re-commits his efforts to take the crown from Henry VI.  Warwick dispatches his aides to round up soldiers to fight the proclaimed-by-Warwick Edward IV and his army.  They plan to meet at Coventry.  Warwick has Henry VI remain in London, but he is soon captured by two of the Plantagenet brothers and taken to the Tower. 

Warwick arrives at Coventry, climbing up onto the city’s walls. Edward IV along with his brother Richard soon arrives.  The two sets of foes verbally spar. Warwick’s allies, Montague, Somerset and Clarence, arrive.  Richard quietly and convincingly has a heart-to-heart talk with his brother Clarence.  Clarence shifts his support back to his brother Edward, reuniting the three Plantagenet brothers.  Warwick challenges Edward to meet and fight at Barnet.  Edward agrees.  Later, near Barnet, Warwick enters, very seriously wounded.  As he was dying, Warwick, a hero in his time, says, “What was pomp, rule and reign is now but dust.  And, live we how we can, yet die we must.” 

Edward IV and his forces win the battle.  Near Tewkesbury, Queen Margaret, Prince Edward, Somerset and Oxford are brought forward as captives.  Oxford is sent to prison.  Somerset is executed.  Somerset was the son of the Somerset who, back in Henry VI Part 1, had (along with Richard Plantagenet) initiated the War of the Roses.  All three Plantagenet brothers stab the young Prince Edward to death; Shakespeare drawing the prince as the most eloquent and talented of young men.  Queen Margaret is escorted away.  Richard leaves for London to visit Henry VI in the Tower.  Henry VI stands up to Richard, mocking him during their meeting in his prison cell.  Richard kills him. Earlier one might have had some sympathy for Richard and his physical disability, but certainly no longer.  Sinisterly ambitious Richard sets his sights on his brothers as his next targets.  The play ends with Edward IV and his Queen Elizabeth, the Lady Grey, celebrating the birth of their child, the new Prince Edward. 

Principal Characters

Clifford.  Lord Clifford in Part 3 is the Young Clifford of Part 2.  He spends his brief time in the play avenging the death of his father who died at the hands of York in Part 2.  He is a descendant of Lionel, Edward III’s third son.  He is ruthlessly loyal to the queen, killing York’s young son Rutland, and later, along with the queen, helps slay the defenseless York.  He dies alone in the civil war midway through the play.

Edward.  Edward is Edward Plantagenet, York’s oldest son, known early as the Earl of March.  In Act 2, following the death of Edward’s father, the duke of York, Warwick names Edward the Duke of York, a big title, in honor of his great grandfather.  This Edward is later proclaimed by Warwick, known as The Kingmaker, as Edward IV.

Edward III.  Edward III died in 1399, and has no role in this play, of course, or in any of the other Shakespeare histories, but his legacy lives on, believe us.  He had eight sons, and three of them left descendents who played key roles in Shakespeare’s version of fifteenth century England.  Edward III’s surname was Plantagenet; so all these descendents are Plantagenets.  Some use the surname, where others use their family title.  Edward III’s third son was Lionel, the Duke of Clarence.  His fourth son was John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster.  His fifth son was Edmund of Langley, the Duke of York.  The titles Clarence, Lancaster and York are huge in this series of histories. 

Elizabeth Lady Grey.  Lady Grey is an attractive recent widow who cleverly goes along as Edward aggressively and rakishly pursues her. They quickly marry; she becoming England’s Queen Elizabeth.  The play ends with the birth of her son, the latest Prince Edward.

George.  George is George Plantagenet, Richard Plantagenet’s (the Duke of York’s) third son.  George is known as the Duke of Clarence, but more often as Clarence.  The title, Duke of Clarence, represents a big title, having been the title of Edward III’s third son, Lionel.  Clarence shifts his support to Warwick at the time his brother abruptly marries the Lady Grey.  However later he shifts his allegiance back to his brother, figuring his family tie to the house of York is where his allegiance should be.

Hastings.  William Hastings is one of two brothers-in-law to both Warwick and Montague.  He remains loyal to the young Plantagenet brothers throughout. 

Henry, Earl of Richmond.  Richmond is Henry Tudor, the son of Margaret Beaufort (a distant descendent of John of Gaunt and his second wife, Catherine Swynford) and Edmund Tudor.  Richmond is introduced briefly in Act 4, Scene 7.  He marries Elizabeth, Edward IV’s only daughter.  He is the future King Henry VII, known as the first Tudor king. The War of the Roses ended during his time.

Montague.  Montague is the Marquis of Montague.  He is John Neville, Warwick’s brother.  He and Warwick are both descendents of Joan Beaufort, Gaunt’s daughter.  Their sister is Catherine, wife of Oxford; Oxford being one of Henry VI’s most ardent supporters.  As you’ll see, the Nevilles are everywhere.

Mortimers.  Sir Hugh and Sir John Mortimer are York’s uncles, his mother’s brothers, Lionel’s great-grandsons.  Lionel was Edward III’s third son, the order in which the sons were born being a major issue.  The Mortimer brothers are killed in the major battle of the civil war early in the play when the queen and her band of northern lords fight the Yorks and their white rose supporters. 

Norfolk.  Norfolk is the Duke of Norfolk.  He is John Mowbray.  He married Ralph and Joan Neville’s second daughter, Catherine.  He is Warwick’s great-uncle, consistently loyal to the Yorks.

Oxford.  Oxford is the Earl of Oxford, Warwick and Montague’s brother-in-law, married to their sister.  He enters the play late in Act three and is very loyal to Henry VI.  He is in Paris with Warwick, Queen Margaret, France’s King Louis and the Lady Bonne when they hear that Edward had married the Lady Grey.  Late in the play, Oxford is captured by the York faction and sent to prison. 

Prince Edward.  This Prince Edward is King Henry’s and Queen Margaret’s young son.  Shakespeare has him display the courage and boldness of his grandfather, Henry V.  He is stabbed to death late in the play by all three Plantagenet brothers.  At the very end of the play, King Edward and his Queen Elizabeth have a son, who becomes the latest Prince Edward. 

Richard Neville.   Richard Neville is better known as Warwick, the Earl of Warwick.  His father is Salisbury, one of the earls of Salisbury.  Warwick’s father was also a Richard Neville.  Salisbury is not in this play.  Warwick’s mother was Alice and Alice was the daughter of Ralph and Joan Neville.  To make it more confusing in terms of lineage and issue, Warwick marries Anne de Beauchamp, the great granddaughter of the original York, Edward III’s fifth son.  Shakespeare has the Nevilles playing major roles throughout this fifteenth century, Ralph Neville having married Gaunt’s daughter.  The omnipresence of the Nevilles is a reason we think a Neville someplace helped Shakespeare shape these plays.  He and his father (Salisbury) had switched their allegiance to York midway through Part 2, but then late in this play he turns his support back to King Henry VI.  He is “The Kingmaker.” 

Richard Plantagenet.  Plantagenet or York, as he was often called, was Richard Duke of York.  His lineage on both his father’s and mother’s side is relevant.  His father was Richard, Earl of Cambridge, a son of Edmund Langley, Duke of York, the fifth son of King Edward III.  York’s father was hanged by Henry V as a traitor.  His mother was Anna, daughter of Roger Mortimer, the son of Philippa and Edmund Mortimer, Philippa being the daughter of Lionel, the third son of Edward III.  York is captured in the major early battle and then stabbed to death by Clifford and the Queen.  Earlier in that major battle, Clifford had stabbed and killed Rutland, York’s second son,

Rutland.  Rutland is Edmund Plantagenet, the Earl of Rutland, Richard Plantagenet’s second son.  At age seventeen, Rutland is stabbed to death in Act 1 by Lord Clifford.  His role in the play is minor, but his murder was significant.

Somerset.  Somerset is an Edmund Beaufort, the Fourth Duke of Somerset, the son of the Second Duke of Somerset, an original principal in the War of the Roses.  The older Somerset was killed by York’s son Richard late in Part 2.  This Somerset enters the play in Act 4.  He is very much the red-rose supporter of the Lancastrians.  Late in the play, Somerset, along with Oxford, is captured by the Yorks, and then executed.

The Play