Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary



Back at the palace in London, the Yorkists continue to celebrate. First onstage are Richard and Clarence, accompanied by Somerset and Montague. The two brothers exchange a few sardonic jokes about Edward's hasty marriage. Then Edward himself comes onstage with his bride, Lady Grey (now Queen Elizabeth). He is joined by a gaggle of other English noblemen, of whom only Hastings has a speaking part.

Noting that Clarence is looking "pensive," Edward asks his brother what is the matter. Clarence, without hesitation, replies that Edward has made a huge mistake in marrying Lady Grey, a decision that has provoked the wrath of King Lewis and the Earl of Warwick. Edward, unhappy with this response, asks Richard for his opinion of the marriage, and Richard sarcastically claims to be pleased with the match. One by one the other lords chime in, with only Hastings defending King Edward's decision.

In subsequent conversation, Richard and Clarence reveal that King Edward has begun marrying off his courtiers, seemingly at a whim. Edward, in response to these grievances, merely reaffirms that "Edward will be king/And not be tied unto his brother's will." Shortly thereafter, a messenger arrives and essentially restates the outcome of Act 3, Scene 3: Margaret and Warwick have joined forces and, with the backing of France, are preparing to make war on Edward. Clarence sees this as the last straw and announces his defection to Warwick's side; Somerset goes along with him. Edward's remaining noblemen try to cheer him up with pledges of loyalty.


Back at the beginning of Act 2, Edward prophesied that he and his two brothers would join forces, creating an unstoppable alliance that would drive out the Lancastrians and establish a Yorkist dynasty. Much has changed since then: Clarence has lost his patience with Edward's philandering and politicking, and Richard, though outwardly loyal, is clearly bent on taking the crown for himself by any available means. In short the York family has begun to drift apart, and the three suns on Edward's coat of arms are beginning to look more and more like a mirage.

Clarence may seem to be acting hastily when he abandons his brothers in the middle of a civil war. In fact he has at least three reasons for deserting Edward, though not all of them are equally compelling. First he claims to be unhappy with Edward's sudden marriage to Lady Grey, which has spoiled any chance of peaceable relations with France and indirectly provided Queen Margaret with reinforcements at King Lewis's expense. Moreover, Clarence complains that Edward has left him out of the marriage bonanza while other, lesser courtiers are cashing in: Edward is "bestow[ing]" heiresses on various court favorites while leaving his brothers "to go speed elsewhere." Additionally, though he does not say as much, Clarence may fear that Edward's impulsiveness will jeopardize his hold on the throne, opening the door to a Lancastrian restoration.

History, by the way, vindicates Clarence's misgivings about Lady Grey. Whatever her personal charms or talents, the new Queen Elizabeth brought little to the marriage in terms of political influence (another parallel with the young Margaret of Anjou). She did, however, talk her husband into appointing several of her relatives to high posts in the newly established Yorkist government. To further aid the Woodville family's ascent in English politics, Edward arranged marriages between Elizabeth's male relatives and the daughters of various noblemen. In this scene the process of populating the court with Woodvilles is already in motion, as evidenced by Richard and Clarence's barbed remarks on the subject. When he rises to power in Richard III, Richard will reverse this trend by imprisoning and executing several of the queen's relatives.

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