Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Act 4, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

King Henry has just been released from the Tower of London. He now stands surrounded by his supporters—Warwick, Clarence, Somerset, Oxford, and Montague—along with the young Earl of Richmond, who appears only in this scene. Henry, the first to speak, thanks the Tower Lieutenant (his jailor) for treating him kindly during his imprisonment. Next, acknowledging his own unfortunate track record as a ruler, he "resign[s]" his "government" to Warwick. Feigning modesty, Warwick politely suggests that this honor be given to Clarence, who likewise deflects the compliment; ultimately Henry proclaims them both Lord Protectors of England.

With that settled, the new Protectors lay out a plan of action: Edward will be proclaimed a traitor, his property confiscated, and the order of succession restored to the House of Lancaster. Henry further asks that Queen Margaret and Prince Edward be brought back from France since the war seems to be over for now. The king then notices the Earl of Richmond, whom he declares "England's hope." He predicts that Richmond will eventually succeed to the English throne and urges his fellow noblemen to look after the young man.

Into this moment of tranquility comes a Post, bearing news of Edward's escape. Warwick, angered by this turn of events, rushes offstage to prepare for the inevitable confrontation. Somerset, Oxford, and Richmond remain onstage for a moment. The two older men acknowledge that if Edward should "repossess the crown," Richmond will likely be put to death in the ensuing purges. To prevent this, they plan to ship him to Brittany to wait out the war in safety.

Analysis

For the third (or so) time in the trilogy, King Henry simply gives up on being king, handing over his official responsibilities to a team of regents he believes he can trust. This culminates a lifelong trend for Henry, who from his infancy was reliant first on a powerful Lord Protector (Part 1) and then on his politically savvy wife Queen Margaret (Parts 2 and 3). Physically, Henry has grown up and perhaps even begun to grow old, but in terms of political acumen he is still a child, unwilling to take responsibility for any of the difficult moral problems kings habitually face. This abdication-in-all-but-name will not even save Henry's life: to prevent another uprising, the Yorkists will want the old king dead and not merely deposed.

Henry's prophetic speech about the Earl of Richmond may seem like an odd interruption at this point in the play. Preoccupied as he is by thoughts of his wife and son, Henry nonetheless takes the time to deliver a regal-sounding blessing over the head of the young earl:

This pretty lad will prove our country's bliss.
His looks are full of peaceful majesty,
His head by nature framed to wear a crown,
His hand to wield a scepter, and himself
Likely in time to bless a regal throne.

This seemingly farfetched prediction proves accurate, though it takes almost the entirety of the next play (Richard III) for it to come true. Richmond, alias Henry Tudor, is the nobleman who eventually assumes the throne as Henry VII, founding the Tudor dynasty in the process; his reign will indeed be welcomed as an era of "peaceful majesty" after 30 years of intermittent civil war. The inclusion of Henry Tudor was likely intended as a patriotic gesture, since his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth I, was the reigning monarch at the time of the play's premiere.

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