King Henry VI, Part II: Plot Summary
From Stories of Shakespeare's English History Plays by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
The first act opens in the palace in London, when the Duke of Suffolk delivers up to
his master 'the fairest Queen that ever King received.' After welcoming Margaret of Anjou
with a kiss, Henry VI prays every earthly blessing may accompany them, while she returns his
greeting by terming him 'alder-liefest sovereign.'Commenting upon her beauty, which is equalled
only by her sweet speech, Henry bids the lords do homage to her, and after the Queen has graciously
thanked them, Suffolk delivers the articles of peace to Gloucester. Glibly enough the latter reads
aloud the marriage contract; but when he sees Anjou and Maine were surrendered to Reignier,
his voice falters, and Winchester, at the King's request, finishes the perusal. Pleased with his bride,
his Majesty rewards Suffolk with a duchy, relieves York of his regency over the ceded parts of France,
and thanking the rest for their services, bids them prepare for Margaret's coronation.
When the royal party has left, Gloucester laments that France, conquered by Henry V, should be thus tamely relinquished. His passionate, indignant speech makes Winchester exclaim they will keep France, although Gloucester demonstrates
Anjou and Maine are its keys. The other nobles agree with him, and Warwick rages because towns,
won by his sword, are thus ceded peacefully. All marvel at a royal marriage where the bride brings no dowry, until Winchester reproves Gloucester for speaking too freely, thus making the latter rejoin that if he remains here they will doubtless
renew their former quarrels. He therefore departs,
bidding all present remember 'France will be lost ere long.'
After he has gone, Winchester hints that because Gloucester is next heir to the crown, he is courting the good-will of the people, who may yet find him 'a dangerous protector.' This reminds Buckingham that Henry is now old enough to govern
alone, so he suggests they oust Gloucester from office. Not only does Winchester warmly subscribe to this, but promises to win over Suffolk. When he has gone, Somerset suggests he or Buckingham should take Gloucester's place and influence
the King. They, too, departing, Salisbury bitterly comments 'pride went before, ambition follows
him,' ere he adds these two work only for their own advancement. He declares he never saw anything objectionable in Gloucester's conduct, and that he mistrusts Winchester. Then, turning to his son (Warwick), and his brother (York), he suggests they three unite to curb the pride of Suffolk, Winchester, Somerset and Buckingham, a proposition Warwick cordially accepts, but York only conditionally, as is proved by his muttered aside. This
settled, Salisbury suggests they set things in train,
although still sighing because Anjou and Maine are
Left alone, York murmurs Paris is as good as lost, Normandy wavering, and the King wholly
absorbed in his bride, who brings great trials to England. Then, foreseeing Gloucester and the
peers will soon quarrel, he decides to bide his time, to raise the standard of York, and compel Henry to relinquish the crown.
The curtain next rises at the Duke of Gloucester's, where his wife, Eleanor, wonders why he looks
so downcast, when he might assume the crown whose cares have rested on his shoulders so many
years. When Gloucester sternly bids her 'banish the canker of ambitious thoughts,' and ascribes his
dejection to a dream, she coaxes him to narrate it in exchange for one of hers. Then he relates how
he dreamt that his staff of office lay broken in twain, while on either half rested the heads of
Somerset and Suffolk. His wife interprets this to signify that those who interfere with him will
surely lose their heads, and states she dreamt she was enthroned at Westminster, where Henry and
Margaret did homage to her! Such a vision seems so presumptous to Gloucester, that he chides her,
saying it should satisfy her to be the second lady in the realm, and that unless she is more careful, she
will tumble her husband and herself 'from top of honour to disgrace's feet.' Seeing his anger, the
Duchess pleads this was only a dream, and has barely pacified him, when a messenger comes to invite him to St. Albans, where the King and Queen are hawking. Instead of accompanying Gloucester,
Eleanor promises soon to follow him, muttering after he has gone, 'follow I must; I cannot go before, while Gloucester bears this base and humble mind.' Then she grimly adds that, were she in
her husband's place, she would soon 'remove these tedious stumbling-blocks and smooth my way upon
their headless neck.'
A moment later her secretary addresses her as Royal Majesty, a title which surprises her until he
explains it was promised her by a witch. When he offers to show her how this woman calls up spirits
from the underworld, the Duchess eagerly accepts, and bestows upon him a reward. Left alone, the
secretary proposes to make merry with her gold, revealing how he has been hired by Suffolk to undermine the Gloucesters, a feat he expects to accomplish, thanks to Eleanor's ambitions, for they plan to attaint her, as a first step in Gloucester's downfall.
In the palace, petitioners eagerly await the Lord Protector, and when Suffolk enters with the Queen,
one of them by mistake, thrusts his petition at him. His attention thus attracted, Suffolk seizes the petition, and shows the Queen it is addressed 'To my Lord Protector.' After examining all the papers, she finds they contain sundry complaints, for one accuses Suffolk of dishonesty and another states the
Duke of York claims the throne. This latter claim so enrages the Queen, that Suffolk orders the accuser detained, so his case can soon be heard. Then, to suppress the petition against her favourite, Suffolk, the Queen tears all the rest to pieces, under pretext they are addressed to the Protector, and not to the King, showing such wrath that the petitioners
Addressing Suffolk fiercely, Margaret indignantly demands whether her husband will always
have to remain under tutelage, vowing she would never have married him had she not fancied he resembled Suffolk 'in courage, courtship and proportion.' She bitterly adds his time is so taken up with prayers and religious rites, that she wishes 'the college of the cardinals would choose him Pope
and carry him to Rome.' When Suffolk implores
her to be patient, she complains she is surrounded
by Gloucester, Winchester, Somerset, Buckingham,
and York, all of whom seem far more powerful
than their Monarch. But Suffolk assures her his
faction, including the Nevils, Salisbury, and Warwick, will soon prove more influential still. The
Queen, however, now angrily admits that all the peers together do not vex her so much as that
'proud dame,' the Lord Protector's wife; who sweeps through the court, bearing 'a duke's revenues on her back,' and boasting that one of her trains far outvalues all Reigner's estates. Hearing
what umbrage Eleanor has given, Suffolk informs
the Queen Gloucester will soon be disgraced, and
her foes so weeded out that she can 'steer the
happy helm.' Meanwhile, he suggests they side
with Winchester and his friends, as they will thus
more promptly rid themselves of Gloucester.
At this moment, trumpets announce the entrance
of the King, who remarks it is indifferent to him
whether Somerset or York hold the reins of state.
Haughtily, York states if he did demean himself in
France, — as his enemies state, — he should be denied
the regency, while Somerset rejoins that did he feel unworthy he would yield his place to York. Hearing Warwick pronounce York the more deserving of the two, Winchester contradicts him, and a quarrel ensues, in which even the Queen takes part.
Finally, Gloucester endeavours to still it by remarking his Majesty is old enough to decide, whereupon
Margaret retorts such being the case, he needs no further Protector. Calmly, Gloucester explains that although he
has protected the realm, he is ready to resign his office whenever his Majesty wishes, while Suffolk
mutters he protected England until it is wrecked.
When Winchester, Suffolk, Buckingham and the
Queen further proceed to accuse Gloucester of plundering the commons, squandering great wealth,
showing extreme cruelty, and sacrificing the English conquests in France, he abruptly turns on
his heel and silently marches out of the room. The Queen, who has dropped her fan, now rudely boxes
the Duchess' ears because she does not immediately stoop to pick it up, and Eleanor, resenting such
treatment, hisses that if she could only come near the Queen's beauty with her nails, she would set
her 'ten commandments' in her face! Because the gentle King tries to pacify her, he is warned his
wife will yet ruin him, ere the Duchess marches out, declaring not even the Queen 'shall strike Dame
Eleanor unrevenged.' She is followed by Buckingham, who triumphantly whispers to Winchester
'her fury needs no spurs, she'll gallop far enough to her destruction.'
Having cooled his wrath by a walk in the quadrangle, Gloucester returns to show his real devotion
to King and country by advising Henry to appoint York as regent of France. When Suffolk objects
that York is unfit, the latter rejoins he is considered so, merely because he refuses to flatter Suffolk's pride, and adds he knows Somerset will try to detain him in England until France is lost. The
fact that he was denied due assistance once before,
is corroborated by Warwick, just as two prisoners
are brought in who accuse York of treachery. Because Warwick and the King show surprise, Suffolk explains how one of these men overheard the other declare the Duke of York was rightful heir
to the English crown and the King a mere usurper.
To elicit the truth, Henry closely questions the
prisoners, one of whom asserts York did make this
claim, although he now denies it. In his bewilderment, Henry VI then asks Gloucester's advice, and is told to make Somerset regent of France, appointing a day when these two men can prove
their veracity in a judicial duel. Although Suffolk rejoices at this decision, one of the prisoners
seems terrified at the mere idea of resorting to arms,
while the other seems eager for the fray.
We now behold Gloucester's garden, where the
witch arrives with the Duchess' secretary, who bids
her carry out her promises. These two are accompanied by Bolingbroke, who is to play a part in this
trickery, and who gleefully assures the secretary the Duchess will require all her courage to face their
magic, as he and one of his confederates intend to be busy down 'below.' After he has gone, the
secretary directs the witch to throw herself upon the ground, and sets her accomplices to work. A moment later Eleanor appears on the balcony, begging an answer to her questions as soon as possible. In
reply, Bolingbroke states spirits appear only in darkness, and cautions her not to be afraid whatever
she may see. Then he draws a circle, and reads a Latin conjuration, after which, amid lightning
and thunder, a spirit slowly rises from below. From this spirit the witch obtains replies to three
questions she reads aloud. The first is "What shall become of the King?" to which answer is given that
the Duke who is to depose Henry, is still alive, but will die a violent death. When asked what
will befall the Duke of Suffolk, the spirit rejoins, 'He shall die by water,' and to the third question,
which regards the fate of Somerset, it advises him to shun castles! Then, as it obstinately refuses to
speak any more, the spirit is sent back 'to darkness and the burning lake,' amid much thunder and
At that moment, York and Buckingham break
into the garden to arrest all present as traitors, for
incantations are actionable. Because her husband
is Protector, Eleanor considers these threats vain,
until Buckingham orders her and the rest removed.
Then he and York examine the premises, and read
aloud the paper whereon the spirit's answers have
been jotted down by one of the conjurors. They
conclude treachery is patent, and propose to carry
this document to the King, who is hunting at St.
Albans with the Lord Protector, for whom these
tidings will 'make a sorry breakfast.' Rejoicing
at the speedy humiliation of a hated foe, Buckingham goes off to announce at court what has been
discovered, while York sends a servant to invite Salisbury and Winchester to sup with him on the
The second act opens at St. Albans
just as King, Queen, and courtiers return from the
hunt, commenting upon their sport. Presently,
the conversation turns to politics, and the two factions begin to quarrel, egged on by the Queen, who
takes an active part in all such frays. The remarks they make become so bitter, that secret challenges are exchanged, before the King can silence the strife.
A townsman now proclaims that a blind man has received his sight at St. Albans' shrine, and the
pious and credulous Monarch is just giving fervent thanks, when the Mayor enters, followed by others,
bearing aloft on a chair the person upon whom the miracle was wrought. Brought before the King,
Henry questions him, only to learn he was born blind, a fact his wife confirms. Next the man reveals how he was called in his sleep to visit this shrine. When Winchester comments on his lameness, he ascribes it to a fall from a tree while
picking plums, a statement so suspicious, in connection with his alleged lifelong blindness, that
Gloucester begins to examine him, pretending to think he cannot yet see. Not only does the man
insist his sight is good, but answers all Gloucester's questions in regard to colours, displaying such suspicious knowledge for a man born blind, that the Protector discovers he is a lying knave.
Then, turning to all present, Gloucester inquires
whether they care to witness a second miracle, and
sending for a stool, directs the man to jump over it
under penalty of being whipped. At first the
cripple insists he cannot move, but at the first stroke from the beadle's whip, leaps nimbly over the stool,
while the assistants jeeringly exclaim another miracle has indeed been performed! To discourage further
impositions of this kind, Gloucester then orders both man and wife whipped through every market
town, until they reach home.
The rabble gone, Winchester and Suffolk comment upon 'Gloucester's miracle' until Buckingham appears, when the King inquires what news he brings? In reply, Buckingham reports the arrest
of the Protector's wife, as ring-leader in dangerous
practices against the state and against the royal
life. These tidings please Winchester, but when
he ventures to taunt Gloucester, this afflicted nobleman bids him not trouble a man in dire distress.
As far as he himself is concerned, Gloucester has loved his King and the commonweal above all else;
so he sadly states that if his wife so far forgot honour and virtue as to betray them, he abandons
her to the law. After deciding to remain at St. Albans for the night, the King promises to proceed to
London on the morrow, and there 'poise the cause in justice's equal scales, whose beam stands sure, whose
rightful cause prevails.'
In a garden in London we overhear York talking to Salisbury and Warwick after supper, in regard to his title to the English crown. When his interlocutors beg him explain his rights, York gives
his genealogy, proving that he descends from an
older son of Edward III. than the present King,
a fact neither Warwick nor Salisbury can deny.
By his exposition it seems plain the crown would
have gone to Edmund Mortimer, had he not been Owen Glendower's prisoner, and when York adds
that he now Inherits these claims, his friends recognise he has the best right to the crown. For that
reason Warwick halls him rightful sovereign, while Salisbury acclaims him 'Richard, England's King!'
After thanking them both, York rejoins he will not be King until crowned, and until his sword has
been stained 'with heart-blood of the House of Lancaster.' Meantime, he advises his partisans
to wink at SufFolk's Insolence, and bear with Beauford's pride and Somerset's ambition, until they
can dispose of Gloucester, when It will be time enough to turn against their tools. This settled,
the conspirators separate, Warwick predicting that 'the Earl of Warwick shall one day make the
Duke of York a King,' in return for which flattering promise, York assures him Warwick shall
then 'be the greatest man in England but the King!'
The royal party is seen in the Hall of Justice,
where the Duchess of Gloucester and her accomplices have just been tried. Bidding Dame Eleanor
stand forth, the King informs her she is sentenced to death; but, that while four of her companions
will be executed, and the witch burned, she will merely undergo public penance, and be banished to
the Isle of Man. While the Duchess bitterly exclaims banishment Is welcome, her husband moans
he cannot justify her since the law has condemned her, and sadly watches her led away. Then he begs
permission to depart, too, since 'sorrow would solace, and mine age would ease.' Accepting his
resignation, Henry VI announces he will henceforth be his own Protector, while his Queen joyfully
welcomes this first sign of independence.
When Gloucester has gone, Elizabeth exclaims
they are sovereigns at last, and Suffolk openly rejoices that Gloucester's pride should be abased and
Eleanor shamed. The royal party are about to leave, when York reminds them they still have a
judicial combat to witness. Hearing this, the King issues all necessary orders, while York remarks he
never saw anyone so terrified as one of the champions.
In the next scene we behold the master-armourer,
attended by his neighbours, plied with drink, while
his opponent is supported by the apprentices in the
same way. Healths galore are drunk, and many
good wishes and witticisms uttered, ere the signal
for the fight is given. After a brief encounter, the
apprentice fells the armourer, who, before dying,
confesses he is guilty of treason. Thereupon, the
apprentice boastfully proclaims right has prevailed,
and the King orders the corpse removed and the
The curtain next rises on a street, where Gloucester and his servants are stationed, and where the
ex-Protector is anxiously inquiring the time? On hearing it is ten, he pities his poor wife whose tender feet must tread these cold sharp stones. All at once Eleanor draws near, escorted by the sheriff,
draped in a penitential sheet, holding a taper, and
followed by a mob. But when the servants
indignantly propose to snatch their mistress from the
sheriff, Gloucester sadly bids them respect the law.
Beholding her husband, the Duchess wonders
whether he has come to witness her shame, and in
reply to his recommendations to be patient, denounces him for not defending her, and accuses her
foes of having entrapped her. Then she bids the
too credulous Gloucester beware, lest his 'foot be
snared,' a warning he scorns, saying one must offend before being attainted, and that twenty times
more foes than she claims assail him, will do him no harm as long as he is 'loyal, true and crimeless.'
He is just reminding his wife her penance will
soon be over, when a herald summons him to Parliament at Bury next month. Although surprised
Parliament should be convened without his knowledge, Gloucester promises to be present, and when
the herald has gone, commends his wife first to the
sheriff's tender mercies, and then to those of Sir
John Stanley, who is to convey her to the Isle of
When the Duchess demands why he does not take
leave of her, Gloucester exclaims his tears speak
for him, and, after watching him out of sight,
Eleanor begs to be removed as quickly as possible,
showing relief when told she will be treated according to her rank. Her pathetic farewell to the
sheriff, — who regrets having been compelled to discharge a painful office, — is scarcely over, when
Stanley bids her throw aside her penitential sheet
and array herself for their journey, although she
bitterly exclaims her shame cannot be shifted with
her garb, and she longs to hide forever behind prison
The third act is played in the Abbey at Bury St. Edmund's, just as the King opens Parliament. His Majesty is wondering at Gloucester's absence, when the Queen suddenly points out a man,
so altered by sorrow, as to be unrecognisable.
Still, she insists Gloucester has recently shown a
stiff, unbending demeanour, and exclaims he is plotting against his King, — gossip confirmed by Suffolk,
Buckingham and York. All unite in accusing Gloucester of evil practices, cruelty, and misappropriation of funds, hinting, besides, these are trifles compared to matters time will yet bring to light!
Although touched by his friends' solicitude 'to mow
down thorns that would annoy our foot,' Henry VI deems his uncle innocent, while the Queen insists
'the welfare of us all hangs on the cutting short that fraudful man.'
Just then Somerset enters, announcing the definite loss of France, news the King receives with
pious resignation, but which York, in an aside, keenly regrets, since he had hoped soon to rule over
France and England too. He has just muttered, 'I will remedy this gear ere long, or sell my title
for a glorious grave,' when Gloucester approaches the King, apologising for his absent-mindedness.
Before his plea can end, Suffolk arrests him on a charge of high treason, to which Gloucester
haughtily rejoins a 'heart unspotted is not easily daunted.' When York accuses him of receiving
bribes in France, Gloucester states how, instead, he often advanced money to pay the soldiers, and in reply to the accusation that he often devised strange tortures, he claims his one fault as Protector was too great leniency. Instead of asserting his authority, the feeble King urges Gloucester to clear himself from all charges, although he admits 'my conscience tells me you are innocent!' After warning his Majesty against his accusers, — although they
protest, and the Queen scornfully remarks 'I can give the loser leave to chide,' — Gloucester is led
away, exclaiming, 'King Henry throws away his crutch before his legs be firm to bear his body.'
Gloucester gone, the King sadly leaves the courtiers to 'do or undo' as they think best, and withdraws, telling his wife he will go and weep for Gloucester, whom he considers remorselessly sacrificed by
his foes. While some of the courtiers follow him,
the Queen, turning to the rest, states her husband is
far too tender-hearted, and that Gloucester 'should
be quickly rid the world, to rid us from the fear
we have of him.' But Winchester insists his death
should at least appear legal, and Suffolk reminds
all present how the King and commons would defend him. Because York deduces from this that
Suffolk does not wish Gloucester to die, this nobleman assures him no one is more eager for the Protector's death, although York has the most cause to dread this rival. After some discussion, — in the
course of which the Queen approves of all Suffolk says, — all present pledge themselves to ruin
Gloucester, just as a messenger arrives from Ireland, demanding help to quell a rebellion. While Winchester is of opinion speedy measures should be devised, York sarcastically suggests Somerset be sent thither as Regent, seeing he was so fortunate in France! This taunt causes Somerset to interfere,
whereupon York asserts had he been sent to
France, he would not have lost all and returned home, — as Somerset has done, — without a wound!
The old quarrel is thus about to be renewed, when the Queen calls the nobles to order. After some discussion it is decided York shall proceed to Ireland, whither Suffolk Is to forward him troops.
Meanwhile, Winchester Is to attend to Gloucester, so all separate to attend to their different affairs.
The rest having gone, York exclaims all he
hitherto lacked was men, and that this rebellion in
Ireland will supply him with an army, which will enable him to obtain the throne of England. Meantime, he grimly warns those who have hitherto
scorned him, 'I fear me you but warm the starved
snake, who, cherish'd In your breasts, will sting
your hearts.' Next he reveals that Jack Cade, personifying Mortimer, will stir up trouble in England, in the midst of which he intends to return from Ireland with an army, to reap the harvest
Cade sows, and, Gloucester dead, to usurp Henry's
place on the throne.
The scene again changes to Bury St. Edmunds,
where two murderers enter, whispering the Duke
of Suffolk should be informed Gloucester has been
slain as he ordered. One of these men, stricken
with remorse, wonders whether ever so penitent a
criminal was seen, just as Suffolk enters, eagerly
inquiring how they sped. On hearing Gloucester
Is dead, he promises the murderers a reward, after
making sure all has been arranged just as he prescribed.
A moment later the King enters, ordering his
uncle Gloucester summoned to be tried. While
Suffolk goes in quest of the accused, the King bids the Lords be seated, and charges them to 'proceed
no stralter 'gainst our uncle Gloucester than from
true evidence of good esteem he be approved in
practice culpable.' The Queen, also, virtuously
hopes justice will prevail, thus greatly pleasing the King.
Just then Suffolk re-enters, pale and trembling,
and in reply to Henry's questions, reports Gloucester dead in bed. While the Queen exclaims, Winchester deems this the fulfilment of God's judgment; and as the King swoons, a commotion ensues and remedies are suggested, until, returning to
his senses, the Monarch wonders whether he has heard aright? Because he shrinks from Suffolk, the bringer of bad tidings, the Queen hotly defends this nobleman, who avers that although Gloucester
was his enemy, he mourns his death. Meantime,
the King refuses to look at the Queen, who wonders whether Gloucester poisoned his mind against
her, and tries to move him by feelingly describing
all she suffered on her way to join him.
A disturbance without heralds the arrival of
Warwick, Salisbury and some commoners. After
demanding whether it is true Gloucester has been
slain, Warwick states 'the commons, like an angry
hive of bees that want their leader, scatter up and
down and care not who they sting in his revenge.'
Sadly rejoining it is only too true the Duke of
Gloucester is dead, the King bids Warwick ascertain what can have caused this sudden demise, charging Salisbury while he does so to hold the multitude in check.
The King has just been praying God to avenge his uncle's murder, when Warwick re-enters, followed by bearers with the body, which is laid at
the King's feet, while Warwick proclaims villainous
hands have been laid upon this mighty corpse. When Suffolk demands what warrant he has for
such a statement, Warwick points out the bloodshot face, the starting eyes, and describes how hair
on the sheets testified to a violent struggle. When Suffolk indignantly exclaims he and Winchester, —
who had charge of the Duke, — are no murderers, Warwick hints they were, nevertheless, the dead
man's bitter foes. In anger the Queen wonders bow anyone can suspect Suffolk of taking Gloucester's life, whereupon Warwick rejoins that seeing a butcher with bloody axe beside a heifer, one necessarily concludes he slew the animal. Turning
to Suffolk, the Queen then sarcastically inquires whether he is a butcher, thus forcing him to bluster
that although his sword is 'rusted with ease,' It is ready to prove his innocence. Winchester,
Somerset and others are just leaving, when Warwick mutters he will meet this foe, with whom he
exchange taunts, which cause the Queen to sneer, while the King sighs that a heart untainted is
man's best defence.
Because Suffolk and Warwick now re-enter with
drawn weapons, the King chides them for appearing thus, although Suffolk claims he has been attacked. A moment later the commoners arrive, and are charged to wait in the adjoining room, while
Salisbury informs the King of their demands.
Then, addressing Henry, he states Suffolk must
either be condemned to death or banishment, or the commoners will do justice upon him, for they believe him guilty of Gloucester's death. Undaunted by the clamour of these 'rude unpollsh'd hinds' Suffolk defies them, while the King bids Salisbury assure them he appreciates their affection and will
Salisbury having gone to deliver this message,
the Queen pleads for 'gentle Suffolk,' but Henry
insists that having promised he must keep his word.
Turning to Suffolk, the King then bids him depart,
warning him should he be found in England three
days hence, 'the world shall not be ransom for thy
life.' After ordering Warwick to attend him,
Henry leaves the stage, where the Queen and Suffolk linger alone, her majesty vehemently cursing
husband and counsellors, and wondering why Suffolk does not curse them too. From his point
of view curses are Inadequate, as he sets forth in
a speech which comforts the Queen. When he
groans, however, at the thought of leaving her,
Margaret gives way to her grief, confessing it is harder to part with him than to die. Banishment
from her seems so cruel to Suffolk, that after bidding
her 'live thou to joy thy life,' he despairingly assures her his sole satisfaction henceforth will be to
know she is alive.
As they are about to separate, a messenger rushes through the hall, and when asked where he is going,
replies that Winchester, seized with mortal illness, Is calling for the King, muttering queer remarks
about Gloucester. While he hurries on to deliver this message, the queen wonders how she can live
without Suffolk, from whom she reluctantly parts, assuring him a faithful messenger will enable them
The curtain next rises in the bed-chamber, where
Henry VI, Salisbury and Warwick have come to
visit Winchester. Bending over the sick man, the
King implores him to speak, while Winchester,
fancying his majesty is Death, beseeches him to let
him live. Hearing these entreaties, the King feels
sure only one who has lived an evil life can deem
the approach of death so terrible. When Warwick in his turn, tries to make Winchester recognise his master, the dying man wails they can bring him to trial for he is ready to confess all about
Gloucester. As his wild words betray his knowledge of some guilty secret, the King, watching him
pass away, bids him hold up his hand if he thinks
of God and heavenly bliss. Seeing Winchester
makes no sign before expiring, Henry solemnly
charges all present 'forbear to judge, for we are
Act IV The fourth act opens on the coast of
Kent, after a fight at sea, just as a captain boasts
of his prisoners, among whom is Suffolk. After
questioning them, the captain decides to pardon
some and ransom others, reserving Suffolk for immediate execution. In hope of escape, Suffolk reveals who he is, but the captain decrees that a man
who betrayed the King by making love to the Queen
deserves to die! Although such death seems unworthy of a man of his rank, Suffolk rejoins 'true
nobility Is exempt from fear,' and when the sailors
rail at him, as he Is led away, reminds himself how
a slave killed Tully, how Brutus stabbed Caesar, how savage Islanders slew Pompey the Great, and
adds he is about to perish at the hands of pirates! The captain has just ordered the other prisoners
released, when the executioner returns, and flings
Suffolk's body at his feet. One of the prisoners immediately oilers to take charge of It, murmuring he
will carry It to the King, and that, should his Majesty refuse to bury It, the Queen will do so, since
living she 'held him dear.'
A number of labourers assembled on Blackheath
are noisily proclaiming Jack Cade will change the
face of England, make them all magistrates, and deliver the wealth of the land into their hands. But,
when Cade himself joins them, boasting his father was a Mortimer and his mother a Plantagenet, they
mutter his parents were only common people, since he was born under a hedge. Rashly promising
when he is King that seven half-penny loaves shall be sold for a penny, and beer pots be double the present
size, Cade is cheered by his rude followers, who next propose to kill all lawyers. This move meets
Cade's approval, because the only time he used a seal it led to his undoing, and he sentimentally
argues 'is not this a lamentable thing, that the skin of an Innocent lamb should be made parchment.
that parchment, being scribbled o'er, should undo a man?' A clerk being brought before him, he
sentences him to death for reading and writing.
A moment later, when told the Staffords are drawing near with the King's forces, Cade exclaims noblemen can only fight men of their own rank, and kneeling down, knights himself. When the Staffords appear, promising pardon to all who submit,
Cade claims to be true heir to the throne, and sets
forth his parentage so defiantly, that the Staffords
feel sure York must be prompting him. But, in
an aside, Cade asserts he invented this story himself, and, in his turn, offers to act as protector for
King and realm. Without paying further heed to
his pretensions, Stafford bids a herald proclaim
that all who follow Cade are rebels, and will be
treated accordingly, ere he goes away. Meantime,
Cade urges the rioters to march on to London, killing all save 'such as go in clouted shoon,' since
those in his estimation are the only thrifty men in the realm.
In another part of the Blackheath an encounter
takes place between the King's forces and those of
Cade, whose butcher friend does doughty deeds.
After donning the gaudiest garments he can strip
from the dead, Cade proposes the bodies of his victims be dragged to London whither he is bound
to free all prisoners.
The curtain next rises in the capital, where the
King enters a hall reading a supplication, and the
Queen bearing Suffolk's head! Having heard that
grief softens the mind, Margaret wonders how anyone can gaze without weeping at the severed head
she lays on her throbbing breast! Meanwhile,
Buckingham inquires what answer Henry VI proposes to make to the petition he holds. Humanely,
the King decides to parley with Cade, leader of the
rebels. Then noticing his wife's sorrow, he questions how she would have acted had he been
slain, and hardly believes her assertion 'I should not mourn, but die for thee.' Just then, a messenger reports the rebels are already at Southwark, where Cade is proclaiming he will be crowned in
Westminster Abbey. So it is suggested his Majesty should retreat, until forces can be raised to put down
the rebels, who have slain both Staffords, while the
Queen wails that were only Suffolk alive, the trouble would soon be quelled. When another messenger
reports Cade has secured possession of London Bridge, the King and Queen hastily depart, for their
advisers assure them no one can be trusted.
We next behold the Tower, whence the governor inquires whether Cade has been slain. The
citizens below rejoin he is killing all who resist, and that the Lord Mayor begs the governor of the
Tower help him save the city. Although shorthanded, the governor promises aid, but warmly
urges the citizens themselves to 'fight for your King, your country and your lives.'
In Cannon St., Jack Cade arrives with his rebels,
and, striking London-stone, proclaims himself
master of the city, condemning to death any who
venture to address him save as Lord Mortimer. He
has just ordered wine to flow from all the conduits,
when a soldier rushes in, calling him by name, for
which he is immediately slain. Then, learning an
army is on its way. Cade orders the burning down
of London Bridge and the Tower to check its
After defeating the royal troops in Smithfield,
Cade hotly bids his men pull down the Savoy, and
burn the records of the realm, proclaiming that once
he is King, his mouth shall be England's sole parliament and people shall hold all things in common.
Then he accuses one of his aristocratic prisoners
of having sold France, and of raising the taxes,
and after proffering equally ridiculous charges
against others, sentences them all to death. Next
the heads of the two Staifords are ordered placed
on poles, and when brought before him, are made
to kiss, on the plea that these men loved each other
when alive. Cade also bids the rioters use these
heads as standards when they sack the city, making
them embrace at every corner.
The next scene is played in Southwark, where
Cade enters with the rabble, bidding them knock
down all who oppose them or throw them in the
Thames. When Buckingham and Clifford appear
as royal emissaries to offer pardon to all who will
return to their allegiance, the rebels cry 'God save
the King,' but as soon as Cade reviles them, the
mutable multitude again wildly promise to follow
him. Reminded by Clifford that they are turning
against the son of Henry V, they respond to this
appeal to their patriotism, and veer about once more,
until Cade wonders whether a feather was ever 'so
lightly blown to and fro as this multitude?' Feeling unsafe, he finally decides to hide, and slips away
under cover of the tumult. On discovering he has
gone, Buckingham promises a reward of a hundred
crowns to any man who brings his head to the King.
We next behold Kenilworth castle, where King,
Queen and Somerset appear on the terrace, his
Majesty moaning no monarch ever commanded so
little quiet as he, and confessing his sole ambition
is to be a subject. As he concludes this speech,
Buckingham and Clifford announce the rebellion quelled, as is proved by the arrival of its leaders,
with halters around their necks. Because the ever
merciful King forgives the rebels and dismisses them
to their various counties, they joyfully scatter cheering loudly, 'God save the King!'
They have barely gone, when a messenger reports York on his way from Ireland with a powerful army, to remove Somerset, whom he terms a traitor, and accuses of giving the King bad advice.
Moaning that between Cade and York the realm
is like a tempest-tossed ship, the King bids Buckingham meet this new foe and inquire why he comes
hither in arms. Henry adds, that to satisfy York,
Somerset shall be sent to the Tower, a humiliation
this nobleman accepts for the country's weal. Then,
the King leaves the scene with the Queen, hoping
soon to learn to govern wisely, so his people may
not have cause to curse his reign.
The curtain next rises on a garden in Kent, where,
after hiding in the woods for five days, the famished
Cade arrives in quest of vegetables to sate his
hunger. He Is soon disturbed by the contented
master of the garden, whom he fiercely threatens,
stating he must either steal a meal or starve ! The
owner of the garden, fights and defeats his opponent, who, when dying, reveals his identity. Concluding he has performed a worthy deed, the master
of the garden proposes to treasure his sword hereafter as a relic. Then the rebel having expired on
his soil, he drags the corpse to the dung-hill, and
cuts off his head, which he intends to bear in
triumph to the King, leaving the trunk 'for crows
to feed upon.'
The fifth act opens on Blackheath,
where York arrives with the Irish army, declaring
he has come to 'pluck the crown from feeble
Henry's head.' A moment later Buckingham approaches, saying he is sent to greet him in case he
means well, a speech which only serves to rouse
York's wrath. Still, when he hears Somerset is in
the Tower, he consents to dismiss his army, and orders his sons to be sent to the King as hostages.
Buckingham is about to escort York to the royal
tent, when Henry himself appears, and beholding
them arm in arm, concludes peace has been made.
He therefore questions York, who admits he came
to fight Somerset and Cade. Just then the latter's
head is laid at the King's feet by the master of the
garden, and proves so welcome a trophy that, in
return. His Majesty hastens to knight and reward
All is promising well, when Margaret appears
with Somerset, who, after all, has not been imprisoned, and whom it would have been wiser to
keep out of York's sight. On beholding his foe, York reviles Henry VI and vows he shall no
longer rule over England! Because such a speech is high treason, Somerset immediately arrests York,
who, instead of kneeling as he is told, calls for his sons, declaring they will defend him. Because
Margaret refuses to accept these youths as hostages. York denounces her in no measured terms, just as
his sons Edward and Richard appear, closely followed by the two Cliffords.
Seeing Clifford do homage to the King, York
asks him why he does not bend the knee before him,
as he is rightful monarch? Not only does Clifford deny this claim, but declares York and his sons
are prisoners. Because York summons Salisbury and Warwick to his aid, Clifford hisses if they
are York's bears, he will soon bait them to death,
and is amazed to see them refuse the usual homage
to Henry. In reply to a royal reproof, Salisbury states they have decided York is rightful heir
to the English throne, and when the King reminds them of their oath of allegiance, he adds 'it is a
great sin to swear unto a sin, but greater sin
to keep a sinful oath.' Hearing this, the King
bids Buckingham defend his cause, while York defies both him and Clifford. The scene closes,
therefore, after an exchange of challenges, with the
exit of the contending parties in opposite directions,
both fully determined to settle their quarrel by battle.
At St. Albans, this battle is waged between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions, during which
Warwick loudly calls for Clifford to come and
fight him, after vainly seeking him on the field.
Instead of Clifford, York appears, reporting a recent
encounter between them. Then, as Clifford draws
near, Warwick exclaims the time has come for one
or both to die, and prepares to fight him. But
York, — who hates Clifford too, — persuades Warwick to yield him first claim and depart. After an
exchange of taunts, Clifford and York fight, and the
latter triumphing, hastens away just as Clifford's
son arrives on the scene. On perceiving his father's
body, the youth gives vent to grief, vowing this
sight has frozen all pity in his veins, and swearing that hereafter he will unrelentingly pursue the house
He has barely removed his father's remains, when
York and Somerset enter fighting. Before long,
Somerset falls, and his opponent utters a speech of
triumph over his body. More fighting ensues ere
the King and Queen flit across the stage, his Majesty
pitifully moaning it is impossible to outrun heaven.
Indignant because he will neither fight nor flee,
Margaret starts on hearing trumpets, and declares
that should they fall in the foe's hands they will
'see the bottom' of their fortunes. Still, if they
can only escape to London, she hopes they may yet
retrieve the day. Just then, young Clifford joins
them, urging them to flee, and predicting the
time will come when Henry will triumph and his
enemies be defeated.
The last scene in the play occurs In the fields
near St. Albans, whence the Yorkists retreat with
drums beating and colours flying. Because York
inquires what has become of Salisbury, Richard explains that he was thrice in danger, thrice
helped to remount, and thrice rescued, the 'will in his old feeble body' having enabled him to do wonders on the field. Then Salisbury himself appears,
congratulating York upon the result of the day, thanking Richard for having saved him, and announcing their foes have fled. Hearing this, York decides to follow them to London, where the King proposes to summon Parliament, and where it behooves him to arrive before the writs can be issued.
This Warwick considers sound advice, but before leaving he proclaims that 'St. Albans battle, won by famous York shall be eternised in all age to come.' Then he invites all present to escort York to London, and the play closes with his hope that many 'more such days as this to us befall.'
The Rebellion of Jack Cade
Shakespeare's Treatment of Joan of Arc
Did Christopher Marlowe Write the Henry VI Trilogy?
The Essential Student History Quiz (with answers and illustrations)
Elements of Shakespeare's History Plays
Characteristics of Elizabethan Drama
Shakespeare's Reputation in Elizabethan England
Shakespeare's Impact on Other Writers
Four Periods of Shakespeare's Life
Shakespeare's Writing Style
Words Shakespeare Coined
Quotations About William Shakespeare
Why Shakespeare is so Important
Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels
Shakespeare's Blank Verse
Top 10 Shakespeare Plays
How many plays did Shakespeare write?
Shakespeare's Attention to Details
Shakespeare's Portrayals of Sleep
Quotations About William Shakespeare
Why Shakespeare is so Important