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Henry VI, Part 3 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 3 | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Act 1

The Duke of York and his followers arrive in London, having defeated King Henry and his followers at the Battle of Saint Albans. Henry meets the Yorkists in the Palace of Westminster and agrees to make York his heir in exchange for an end to the civil war. York, however, is easily persuaded to violate this bargain; Queen Margaret, Henry's wife, has no intention of keeping it in the first place since it means her son, Prince Edward, will never be king. Raising an army of her own, Margaret overcomes York at the Battle of Wakefield. Lord Clifford, one of Margaret's foremost supporters, exacts revenge for his father's death by killing both York and his school-aged son, Rutland.

Act 2

Dazed by the loss of their father and brother, the sons of York regroup. Edward, the oldest son, assumes the title of Duke of York and continues to defend his family's claim to the throne. He is supported in this pursuit by his younger brothers Richard and George, the latter eventually known as the Duke of Clarence. After further defeats at the hands of the Lancastrians (i.e., Margaret and her supporters), the Yorkists score a pivotal victory at the Battle of Towton, where Clifford is slain—a serious blow to the House of Lancaster. King Henry, meanwhile, is horrified by the human toll of the war being fought in his name. Escaping into daydreams of a simpler life, he leaves the command of the Lancastrian forces in the hands of Queen Margaret. The Earl of Warwick emerges as a major supporter of the Yorkist faction.

Act 3

After the defeat at Towton, King Henry escapes to the north, where he lives as a fugitive until he is discovered, captured, and brought to the Tower of London. Edward of York, now duly installed as King Edward IV, sends Warwick on a mission to seek a marital alliance with Lady Bona, sister-in-law to the French king. While Warwick is away, however, Edward decides to marry the comparatively lowborn Lady Grey instead. Feeling that Edward has played them for fools, Warwick and King Lewis XI of France decide to join Queen Margaret in her quest to reclaim the throne for King Henry. In a chilling soliloquy, Edward's brother Richard reveals his own ambition of seizing the crown, whether by trickery or by violence.

Act 4

As King Edward settles into his new life as monarch, he arranges a series of dubious matches among his nobles, giving the marriages the force of law by personal decree. George (the Duke of Clarence), annoyed by Edward's willfulness and perhaps doubtful of his long-term ability to rule, defects from the Yorkist faction to his brothers' anger and surprise. Seeking to secure his kingdom, Edward embarks on a military excursion to Warwickshire but is ambushed and captured by Warwick, who has just returned from France, where Margaret and Prince Edward remain for the time being. With Richard's help, Edward soon escapes from his confinement at Middleham Castle; in the meantime King Henry is freed from the Tower and briefly resumes his reign, only to be ousted yet again by Edward a few scenes later.

Act 5

The Earl of Warwick marshals his forces at Coventry but is dismayed to find Clarence has rejoined his brothers on the Yorkist side. Unable to defend Coventry with his remaining forces, Warwick meets Edward and the other Yorkists at Barnet and is killed in the ensuing battle, which proves to be a major defeat for the Lancastrians. Queen Margaret arrives from France with reinforcements, and the Yorkists move to intercept her at Tewkesbury, where they once more prevail. In the aftermath of this battle, Margaret and Prince Edward are taken prisoner; the former is exiled and the latter slain by his Yorkist captors. Richard, meanwhile, slinks away to the Tower of London, where he murders King Henry. With the Lancastrians finally out of the way, Edward contentedly reassumes the throne, unaware of Richard's plan to claim it for himself.

Henry VI, Part 3 Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Yorkists win the war's first Battle at Saint Albans.

Rising Action

2 King Henry VI agrees to make the Duke of York his heir.

3 Queen Margaret defeats York at the Battle of Wakefield.

4 Yorkists rebound at the Battle of Towton.

5 The fugitive King Henry is captured and imprisoned.

6 King Edward IV flouts the French by marrying Lady Grey.


7 Yorkists overcome Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

Falling Action

8 King Henry is murdered in the Tower of London.


9 King Edward enjoys the throne uncontested—for now.

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