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Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary



King Henry and Queen Margaret have arrived at the city gates of York, accompanied by their son, Prince Edward, and their supporters Clifford and Northumberland. Henry is horrified by York's death, but Clifford urges him not to be so lenient with his subjects—especially those who rebel. Henry is hesitant to accept this advice: he fears York's murder will bring divine wrath upon the House of Lancaster. A messenger announces that Warwick and York (meaning Edward, who has inherited his father's title) are nearby with an army 30,000 strong—not coincidentally, the same number reported for Margaret's forces in the previous scene.

This next part is easy enough to follow in performance but can be confusing to readers. For the first time in the play, Prince Edward (son of Henry and Margaret) is onstage at the same time as Edward (son of York and now, with his father's death, Duke of York in his own right). Edward of York arrives, accompanied by his brothers Richard and George, along with Warwick, Montague, and Norfolk. He commands Henry to give him the crown or face "the mortal fortune of the field" (i.e., another battle). Richard and Clifford trade insults, and Northumberland and Warwick jump into the fray as well. Henry urges everyone to be quiet, but—as has been the norm for a while now—nobody listens to him. In a sort of tag-team speech, the three sons of York (Edward, Richard, and George) blame Margaret for all the kingdom's troubles: if she had simply allowed "the gentle king" (i.e., Henry) to rule as he wished, there would have been no need for civil war. Having scored a few points against Margaret, the York brothers march offstage and prepare for battle.


This scene showcases two inverse developments on the Lancastrian side of the chessboard: Henry continues his decline from king to pawn, even as Margaret completes her transformation from pawn to queen. Henry finds himself unable to command even a moment of silence, let alone an end to the rebellion; his subjects—if indeed they can still be considered his subjects—talk about him in the third person, as though he's not even in the room. He has become, as Edward puts it, "the gentle king," a kind of pet monarch who provokes pity and sometimes annoyance but never respect. When he attempts to parley with the Yorkists, Margaret tells him to "defy them ... or else hold close thy lips." Coming from his wife, this treatment is perhaps not so shocking, but then Lord Clifford joins in, instructing Henry to "be still." A king who gets shushed by his own noblemen isn't really a king at all.

Margaret, meanwhile, has emerged as the de facto leader of the Lancastrian faction. In Henry VI, Part 1 she was a young French noblewoman, married off to King Henry without any real say in the matter; in Part 2 she operated by stealth and deceit, overthrowing her enemies with the help of powerful courtiers. Now, however, she stands in nobody's shadow: she—not Clifford—commands the Lancastrian army, and she—not Henry—is enemy number one in the eyes of the Yorkists. At the end of the scene the York brothers unroll a laundry list of grievances against Margaret, indirectly confirming her success as a ruler and commander. In pronouncing her responsible for their father's death, Edward and Richard recognize her—correctly—as the true head of the Lancastrian counterinsurgency.

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