King Henry VI
In previous plays King Henry has been presented as a child monarch (Part 1) and as a pious but naive ruler who would rather pray than govern (Part 2). This play continues the trend by casting Henry as a man of peace in a time of widespread and unavoidable war. Over the course of Part 3 Henry gradually "checks out" of the monarchy, leaving matters in the hands of his wife, Queen Margaret, and his noblemen. When he does attempt to lead, he is consistently outmaneuvered both by his enemies (the House of York) and by allies who see him as a burden or a nuisance.
From her first appearance onstage in this play, Queen Margaret reveals herself to be a no-nonsense ruler who refuses to negotiate with the Yorkist rebels. Margaret deeply resents Henry's efforts to reach a compromise with the enemy; eventually she begins dismissing Henry from the battlefield altogether, preferring to lead the troops herself. This decision provides fuel for enemy propaganda: Margaret comes to be seen as an overambitious corruptor of the essentially innocent king.
As the son of King Henry and Queen Margaret, Prince Edward is the heir apparent to the English throne at the beginning of the play. He is disinherited by Henry's decision to adopt York as heir in exchange for ending the civil war. Unlike his father, Edward is willing to fight for his right to wear the crown, though he is usually portrayed as too young to do so effectively. In his relatively few lines, Edward shows a preference for the policies of his tough-minded mother over those of his soft-hearted father.
Earl of Warwick
Although he is of only middling rank (earls fall below marquesses and dukes in the British peerage), the Earl of Warwick is arguably the most powerful English nobleman at the beginning of the play. His support enables the Duke of York to prevail in his early campaign against King Henry. After York's death, Warwick is instrumental in installing York's son Edward as the new king. In Act 3 the newly crowned Edward IV humiliates Warwick by sending him to seek the Lady Bona as England's new queen, then marrying Lady Grey while Warwick is away on his mission. Warwick responds by abandoning the Yorkist cause; he is killed in Act 5 while fighting on the Lancastrian side.
Duke of York
At the end of Part 2 the Duke of York emerges as a serious rival to King Henry, defeating the king's forces in the Battle of Saint Albans. The next major engagement, the Battle of Wakefield, takes place early in Part 3 and marks a serious reversal of fortunes for the Yorkists. York himself is killed in this battle, but three of his sons live on, with the eldest—Edward IV—eventually seizing the throne.
King Edward IV
Edward emerges as the de facto leader of the Yorkist faction after his father, the Duke of York, is slain in battle. With Warwick's help, he is crowned King Edward IV and succeeds in deposing Henry. He is briefly deposed but escapes from a loosely monitored house arrest in Yorkshire. After raising an army in Flanders, he returns to England and ousts Henry for good.
Mocked and spurned for his physical deformities, Richard has become a misanthropic schemer who seeks only power. He urges his father to seize the crown so that one day it will pass to him. When his brother Edward becomes king, Richard is created Duke of Gloucester, but he still has his eye on the ultimate prize: the English crown. As the play continues, Richard becomes more and more openly villainous, eventually revealing his willingness to kill his brothers and nephews if it will gain him the throne. His murder of King Henry in Act 5 foreshadows his later violent reign as Richard III.