Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
VI Part II is a history play about the struggle for power during the
reign of a young English king.
VI Part II was written between 1590 and 1592. It was published in 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 (Holinshed’s 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).
action takes place in England, beginning in 1445. The locales include London,
including the palace, the streets, and various other places; Saint Albans,
about 20 miles northwest of London; the county of Kent, along the English
Channel in southeastern England; Blackheath, about six miles southeast
of central London; Kenilworth Castle, in Warwickshire; and plains between
Dartford, a borough east of central London, and Blackheath.
Henry VI: Saintly but weak monarch of the House of Lancaster, symbolized
by a Red Rose.
Duke of Gloucester: Uncle and protector of the king.
Henry Beaufort: Bishop of Winchester, Self-seeking great-uncle of the
Plantagenet, Duke of York: Leader of the House of York, symbolized
by a White Rose. He believes he has a claim on the throne of England. He
encourages commoners to rise up against the Crown. The resulting discord,
he believes, will enable him to step in and seize the throne.
Richard: Richard’s sons. Richard is the famous villain of Shakespeare’s
play Richard III.
of Anjou: Bride of King Henry and, thus, the new queen. She despises
her husband and conspires with his enemies.
of Suffolk (Willam de la Pole): Conniving Lancaster politician who
deceives and manipulates the king.
of the Lancaster Faction: Duke of Somerset, Duke of Buckingham, Lord
Say, Lord Clifford, Lord Clifford’s Son
of York the Faction: Earl of Salisbury, Earl of Warwick.
Cobham (Nell): Duchess of Gloucester, wife of Humphrey.
Scales: Governor of the Tower.
Cade: Rabble-rousing commoner who preaches the overthrow of the nobility
but, calling himself “Lord Mortimer," believes he deserves the throne.
of Cade: Matthew Goffe, George Bevis, John Holland, Dick the Butcher,
Smith the Weaver, Michael.
Opposing Cade: Sir Humphrey Stafford and His Brother, William Stafford.
Iden: Gentleman of Kent who kills Cade.
Gentlemen: Prisoners with Suffolk.
Whitmore: Murderer of Suffolk.
John Hume, John Southwell
Spirit raised by Bolingbroke.
Neighbor, Second Neighbor, Third Neighbor: Neighbors of Thomas Horner.
Simpcox: An impostor who pretends that a miracle restored his sight.
Sea Captain, Shipmaster, Master’s Mate, Clerk of Chatham, Mayor of Saint
Albans, Wife of Simpcox, Two Murderers, Beadle (Church Official), Sheriff,
Officers, Citizens, Prentices (Apprentices), Falconers, Guards, Soldiers,
Messengers, Lords, Ladies, Attendants, Aldermen, Herald, Petitioners.
VI, of the House of Lancaster, became King of England as an infant on Sept.
1, 1422, after the death of his father, King Henry V. Henry VI reigned
from 1422 to 1461 and from 1470 to 1471. After serving merely as a figurehead
in his boyhood and adolescence, Henry began to rule on his own in 1437,
at age sixteen. Henry VI Part II continues the story begun in Henry
VI Part I, which ended with the marriage of Henry to Margaret of Anjou
in April 1445, when Henry was twenty-four.
play focuses primarily on the following: (1) an attempt by schemers in
the Lancaster faction to oust Henry’s uncle and protector, Humphrey, Duke
of Gloucester, in order to gain control of the weak king; (2) a struggle
by supporters of the House of York to replace Henry with a man they believe
is the rightful king, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York; (3) an uprising
against the Crown led by a commoner, Jack Cade, who is joined by aristocrats
as well as other commoners.
hostilities in France end (as recounted in Henry VI Part I), young
King Henry VI receives his bride, Margaret of Anjou, in England. But the
new queen comes at a high price, thanks to the devious Earl of Suffolk.
He has signed a treaty ceding the dukedoms of Anjou and Maine to Margaret’s
father, the King of Naples. Although the agreement dismays Henry’s protector,
the good Duke of Gloucester, it pleases Henry.
Michael J. Cummings...©
all, he has won the beautiful Margaret. What Henry does not know, however,
is that Suffolk himself covets Margaret, who does not shy away from his
leering eyes. What is more, Suffolk means to manipulate the boy king to
gain more power for himself. But failing to see through Suffolk, the king
makes him a duke.
rivalry between the Houses of Lancaster and York continues. Richard Plantagenet,
Duke of York, is now convinced that he should sit on the throne. Whatever
hastens history along–namely unseating the king–would be most welcome.
the Lancaster faction plots to oust Gloucester. Although Gloucester is
next in line to the throne, he does not seek it. He wants only to fulfill
his duties as Lord Protector of Henry. But because he stands as a barrier
between the Lancasters and their grab for power, they know they must get
rid of him if they hope to succeed. They have an ally in Margaret. No delicate
flower, she is strong-willed and ambitious, and she seeks to dominate her
weakling husband, whom she despises. Therefore, anything that further emasculates
the king–in particular, the removal of Gloucester–would work to her advantage.
The plotters decide to use Gloucester’s fickle wife, Eleanor, to bring
him down. Because her husband would become king if anything happened to
Henry, she dreams of wearing a crown and sitting in “the seat of majesty"
(1.2.38). Gloucester scolds her for such thoughts, but she nevertheless
continues to entertain them. Then the plot against Gloucester unfolds:
Hume, a priest, comes to Eleanor’s house to tell her that “a spirit rais’d
from depth of under ground" (1.2.83) will be summoned to foretell a glorious
future for her. Eager to peer into the beyond, she welcomes to her garden
a conjurer named Roger Bolingbroke and a witch named Margery Jourdain to
perform the necessary ceremonies to rouse the spirit. After it appears
and makes predictions amid lightning and thunder, enemies of Gloucester
burst in and arrest her for sorcery. They had arranged the snare, and it
worked perfectly. Eleanor is tried and sentenced to be banished to the
Isle of Man after three days of public penance. She is to walk through
the streets barefoot, dressed only in a sheet and carrying a taper in her
hand. Gloucester’s shame and grief overcome him. He asks to resign and
the king relieves him of his protectorship. Margaret is jubilant. Now,
she thinks, an opening is clear for her and Suffolk to rule behind the
meanwhile, become involved in the quarrel over who should be king. Thomas
Horner, an armorer, tells his apprentice, Peter, that the crown rightfully
belongs to the Duke of York. At least that is what Peter maintains. Horner
denies the story. They argue and fight a duel. When Peter wins and Horner
confesses to treason before dying, the king rewards Peter.
distraught Gloucester watches in a street as his wife carries out her penance.
She warns him that he, too, will become the victim of plotters. In fact,
Margaret and Suffolk, along with the Duke of York and Cardinal Beaufort
(Bishop of Winchester) are conspiring against him at that moment. Gloucester
has resigned, true. But the conspirators want him completely out of reach
of the king. When he is summoned to Parliament, they accuse him of treason,
imprison him, and plot his murder.
rebellion stirs in Ireland. Winchester, with Suffolk’s blessing, urges
York to invade Ireland at the head of an army to quell the rebellion. (With
York also out of the way, Winchester and Suffolk think, they will have
the kingdom to themselves.) York rejoices at the opportunity to lead an
army. Before embarking, he encourages a commoner named Jack Cade to foment
discord at home. York will then have an excuse to return from Ireland with
his army to seize power.
two murderers hired by Suffolk strangle Gloucester. When Suffolk tells
the king that Gloucester has died in bed, Henry faints. Pretending innocence,
Suffolk tries to comfort the king. But Henry is onto him and says:
not thy poison with such sugar’d words;
Earl of Warwick informs the king of the reaction of the House of Commons:
The legislators believe Gloucester was murdered and demand revenge. After
Warwick examines Gloucester’s body, he says Gloucester’s “face is black
and full of blood, / His eye-balls further out than when he liv’d" (3.2.177-178).
Warwick then accuses Suffolk and Winchester of the murder. Suffolk is banished.
Winchester suddenly takes ill and dies. After Suffolk sets sail for France,
English pirates capture him off the coast of Kent. Suffolk identifies himself,
hoping to gain release. But the pirates, blaming him for England’s troubles,
kill him. They then send a memento of Suffolk to the queen: Suffolk’s head.
not thy hands on me; forbear, I say:
touch affrights me as a serpent’s sting.
baleful messenger, out of my sight!
thy eye-balls murderous tyranny
in grim majesty, to fright the world. (3.2.51-56)
rabble-rousing Jack Cade has gained a following among his fellow commoners.
They mean to overthrow the nobility and make everyone equal. One of his
followers, Dick the Butcher, suggests a top priority for the mob: “The
first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers" (4.2.41). Cade agrees. But
while espousing “democracy," Cade–calling himself Lord Mortimer–has come
to believe that he rightfully deserves the throne. The rabble enter London
as Cade shouts, “Kill and knock down!" (4.8.3). The Duke of Buckingham
confronts them and offers a pardon to all who go home and keep the peace.
The Duke of Clifford follows up by plying the rebels with patriotic words:
“Who loves the king and will embrace his pardon, / Fling up his cap, and
say ‘God save his majesty!’ "(4.8.13-14).
verbal joust ensues between Clifford and Cade. Clifford wins and the mob
turns against Cade. Cade flees to the countryside, where he is killed trying
to steal food from a garden. York returns from Ireland at the head of his
army. Although he wants the crown, he shrinks from demanding it. Instead,
he requests that the Duke of Somerset, a Lancaster and an old adversary,
be arrested and sent to the Tower. The king approves the request.
However, when the king fails to make good his word and Somerset remains
free, the angry York declares himself the true king. His sons Richard and
Edward stand beside him to defend his claim, as do the Dukes of Warwick
sides with the king. Thus, the War of the Roses–between the House of York
and the House of Lancaster–begins. In a battle at St. Albans, York wins
after he kills Clifford and his son Richard kills Somerset. York then marches
on London after the king calls for Parliament to convene.
The 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 Henry’s protector so that they
can exert more control over the young king.
Ambition preys on the
weak. Self-seekers, including Henry’s own wife, attempt to manipulate
the king in order to further their own ends.
Weak 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
Treachery’s weapon is
deceit. As the Yorkists and Lancastrians fight over the throne, they
both use deceit to manipulate the king. Henry’s own wife, Queen Margaret
of Anjou, conspires with the Duke of Suffolk, a Lancastrian, to gain control
of Henry and his kingly powers. Richard Plantagenet, the leader of the
House of York, foments rebellion against the king among the commoners.
The uprising will enable Plantagenet to step in at the right time with
his army to quell the rebellion and then seize the throne. When Plantagenet
returns from Ireland at the head of an army, Buckingham, the king’s messenger,
asks why Richard had raised so great an army without the king’s permission,
then brought “thy force so near to court"? (5. 1. 25). In an aside (a passage
spoken only loud enough for the speaker to hear), Richard reveals his true
I am far better
born than is the king,
Then, speaking loudly enough
for Buckingham to hear, he pretends that his sole purpose is to protect
More like a king, more kingly
in my thoughts;
But I must make fair weather
Till Henry be more weak,
and I more strong. (5. 1. 31-34)
The cause why I
have brought this army hither
Jealousy promotes treachery.
Queen Margaret envies anyone who stands in her way of achieving power,
including Buckingham, Somerset, and Richard Plantagenet. Most of all, however,
she resents Eleanor Cobham (the Duchess of Gloucester), the wife of the
king’s lord protector, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The queen, commiserating
with Suffolk, says of Eleanor:
Is to remove proud Somerset
from the king,
Seditious to his Grace and
to the state. (5. 1. 38-40)
Not all these lords
do vox1 me half so
Sinfulness eschews saintliness.
Devious, disloyal Queen Margaret despises her husband. One quality of his
that especially irritates her is his piety. She tells Suffolk that
As that proud dame, the
Lord Protector’s wife:
She sweeps it through the
court with troops of ladies,
More like an empress than
Duke Humphrey’s wife.
Strangers in court do take
her for the queen:
She bears a duke’s revenues
on her back,
And in her heart she scorns
Shall I not live to be aveng’d
on her? (1. 3. 58-65)
[A]ll his mind is bent to holiness,
To number Ave-Maries2
on his beads;3
His champions are the prophets
weapons holy saws4
of sacred writ;
His study is his tilt-yard,5
and his loves
Are brazen images of canoniz’d
I would the college of the
Would choose him pope, and
carry him to Rome,
And set the triple crown6
upon his head:
That were a state fit for
his holiness. (1. 3. 38-46)
climax of the play occurs when the plotters murder Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester,
the king's uncle and protector. Without him, the kingdom falls into disarray,
precipitating the deaths of various noblemen and ultimately leading to
Yorkist Richard Plantagenet's attempt to seize power.
Following are examples of
figures of speech in the play.
sword should shed
hot blood, mine eyes no tears. (1.1.107)
make cheap pennyworths
of their pillage (1.1.211)
Dame Eleanor gives
to bring the witch:
come amiss, were she a devil. (1.2.94-96)
as she is,
She vaunted ’mongst
her minions t’other day
The very train of her worst
better worth than all my father’s lands,
Warwick, my son,
the comfort of my age,
deeds, thy plainness, and thy
Have won the greatest favour
of the commons. (1.1.179-181)
as the silly owner of the goods
Weeps over them, and wrings
his hapless hands,
And shakes his head, and
trembling stands aloof, 216
all is shar’d and all is borne away,
Ready to starve and dare
not touch his own:
So York must sit and fret
and bite his tongue
his own lands are bargain’d for and sold. (1.1.214-220)
champions are the prophets and apostles; 40
weapons holy saws of sacred writ;
study is his tilt-yard. . . . (1.3.40-42)
It is great sin to
swear unto a sin,
But greater sin to
keep a sinful oath.
Who can be bound by any
solemn vow 192
do a murderous deed, to rob a man,
force a spotless virgin’s chastity,
reave the orphan of his patrimony,
wring the widow from her custom’d right, 196
And have no other reason
for this wrong
But that he was bound by
a solemn oath? (5.1.190-198)
Ring, bells, aloud;
burn, bonfires, clear and bright,
To entertain great England’s
lawful king. (5.1.5-6)
The speaker addresses
bells and bonfires.
Thus droops this
lofty pine and hangs his sprays;
Thus Eleanor’s pride dies
in her youngest days. (2.3.48-49)
Humphrey is compared
to a tree.
Small curs are not regarded
when they grin;
But great men tremble when
the lion roars. (3. 1. 20-21)
Comparison of humans
Now ’tis the spring, and
weeds are shallow-rooted;
Suffer them now, and they’ll
o’ergrow the garden. (3. 1. 33-34)
Implied comparison of
humans to weeds
My lords, at once: the care
you have of us,
To mow down thorns that
would annoy our foot,
Is worthy praise (3.1.68-70)
Comparison of problems
[M}y heart is drown’d with grief,
Whose flood begins to flow
within mine eyes, (3.1.202-204)
Comparison of tears of
grief to a flood
[L]et my words stab him,
as he hath me. (4.1.68)
Comparison of words to
a stabbing instrument
[D]ark shall be my light, and night my day. (2.4.44)Personification
Pride went before,
ambition follows him. (1.1.169)
Pride and ambition become
Barren winter, with his wrathful
nipping cold (2.4.5)
Winter becomes a person.
Why droops my lord,
like over-ripen’d corn . . . ? (1.2.3)
Comparison of the lord
Our kinsman Gloucester is
From meaning treason to
our royal person,
As is the sucking lamb or
harmless dove. (3.1.71-73)
Comparison of Gloucester
to a lamb and a dove
thou, like the adder, waxen deaf?
Be poisonous too and kill
thy forlorn queen. (3.2.82-83)
Comparison of a human
to a snake
My brain, more busy than
the labouring spider, 344
Weaves tedious snares to
trap mine enemies. (3.1.344-345)
Comparison of the act
of thinking to the labor of a spider
the more memorable lines in Henry VI Part II are the following:
Small things make
base men proud. (4.1.121)
Suffolk is insulting
a captain who defends the king.
True nobility is exempt from
Defiantly, Suffolk praises
himself before his beheading.
I will make it felony to
drink small beer. (4.2.40)
In this hyperbole, Jack
Cade makes a promise in an attempt to rally support for his rebellion.
The first thing we do, let’s
kill all the lawyers. (4.2.43)
Dick the Butcher utters
this line to Cade as the commoners make plans to bring down the government.
irony is a literary device in which the author allows the audience to know
what a character does not know. In Henry VI Part II, the audience is well
aware that Queen Margaret and Suffolk are plotting against the king. The
king himself, however, is not aware of their schemes.
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 that of all but a few English monarchs.
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, providing scholarships
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
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 (also spelled
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).
Shakespeare sums up the king's
moral and political approach toward injustice in the following lines spoken
stronger breastplate than a heart untainted!
of the Roses
is he armed that hath his quarrel just,
he but naked, though lock'd up in steel
conscience with injustice is corrupted.(Act III, Scene II, Lines 232-235)
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 Lancaster–founded by Bolingbroke's father,
John of Gaunt–and 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.
1. vox: Vex.
2. Ave-Maries: Hail
Marys, or Ave Marias. A Hail Mary is a Catholic prayer praising Mary, the
mother of Jesus, and Jesus himself. It also asks Mary to pray for the person
reciting the prayer.
3. beads: String
of beads, called a rosary, resembling a necklace. Catholics finger the
beads of a rosary to count the number of Hail Marys and other prayers–including
Our Fathers (Lord’s Prayers)–they have recited.
4. holy saws: Sayings
from the Bible.
5. His study is his tilt-yard:
A tilt-yard was a fenced-in area where knights jousted. This yard was referred
to as the lists. In this passage, Queen Margaret mockingly says her husband,
the king, would rather read books than don armor and joust.
6. triple crown:
The tiara worn by the pope. It has three crowns.
Questions and Essay Topics
1. Which character in the
play is the most admirable? Which is the least admirable?
on DVD (or VHS)
2. Write an essay that uses
VI Part II to demonstrate how ruthless politicians maneuver to get
3. Write a psychological
profile of King Henry VI or his wife, Margaret.
4. Do King Henry’s loyalists
support him because they like him or because they believe he is the rightful
5. 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 its merits?
6. Does Richard Plantagenet
have a legitimate claim to the throne?
and Cleopatra (1974)
Nunn, John Schoffield
Johnson, Janet Suzman
You Like It (2010)
Laskey, Naomi Frederick
You Like It (1937)
Ainley, Felix Aylmer
Comedy of Errors
Howard, Irene Worth
Bloom, Richard Johnson, Helen Mirren
Box: The Comedies
Box: The Histories
Box: The Tragedies
Olivier, Jean Simmons
Gibson, Glenn Close
||David Tennant, Patrick Stewart,
Gielgud, Bill Colleran
Burton, Hume Cronyn
Scott, Eric Simonson
Scott, Blair Brown
Branaugh, Derek Jacobi
Banks, Felix Aylmer
VI Part I
Benson, Trevor Peacock
VI Part II
VI Part III
Stride, Claire Bloom, Julian Glover
Pasco, Keith Michell
Brando, James Mason
Heston, Jason Robards
Cusack, Susan Engel
Mower, Ann Lynn
Olivier, Colin Blakely