Character Directory


King Henry is not the leading figure in any of the Henry VI plays. In Part 1 he is a child, and even the story of the nobles who presume upon his weakness is overshadowed by the account of the military loss of France and the bravery of Talbot. In Part 2 Henry is merely a witness to the political developments that occupy the play: the fall of Gloucester and the rise of York. In Part 3 he is more articulate but no less helpless. Pious and plaintive, he is crushed between the contending forces that his weakness has allowed to rise. He is finally killed, and his corpse appears early in Richard III

Henry is a virtuous man; he is gentle, thoughtful, and governed by a sense of moral values. However, fate has placed him on a throne and he lacks the ruthless vigor required of a medieval ruler. In fact, he is a paragon of weakness—a vacuum into which disorder rushes—and the History Plays are about order and disorder. 

In 1 Henry VI the king is an infant at the outset and only a young man at the end. He is distressed by the rivalries he sees around him but is unable to resolve them, being entirely incompetent in worldly matters. In his most important scene in the play (4.1.134-173), Henry makes a grave error in his haste to defuse the hostility between York and Somerset, dividing the English military command between the two disputants. At the close of the play, he succumbs to the unscrupulous arguments of the Earl of Suffolk and agrees to marry Margaret, a decision that the subsequent plays demonstrate to have been disastrous for England and for Henry himself. 

In 2 Henry VI the king, although an adult, is no more in control of his kingdom than he was in his youth. His chief interest is religion, and, in the face of dangerous dissensions, his only response is to preach the virtues of unity and peace. He is thoroughly manipulated by others, first by Suffolk and then, after that lord's death, by Queen Margaret. He permits the rum of Gloucester, although knows it to be unjust. Even when faced with the bloody rebellion led by Jack Cade, the king cannot take decisive action, but again thinks first of his religion. When York rebels, opening the Wars of the Roses, Henry is again quite helpless. He realises his own unsuitability for command and regrets his position in life. 

In 3 Henry VI the king attempts to bring about an end to the growing civil war, but the leaders of the two factions, York and his son Richard on one side and Margaret on the other, will not be appeased. Henry protests the barbarities that ensue. He is the only important character in the play who does not espouse the principle of revenge, but he cannot influence the action. His position as king is well exemplified during the dispute among the nobles in 2.2, where he twice demands to speak (at 117 and 119-120) and has no chance to say another word in the scene. In 2.5, a scene central to the play, Henry withdraws from a raging battle to meditate lyrically on the virtues of a pastoral existence that is as far removed from his reality as it imaginably could be. In stark contrast, he immediately witnesses the grief of the Son That Hath Killed His Father and the Father That Hath Killed His Son. He is completely dispirited after these incidents; this gentle man is finally crushed by his world. Only as he is killed does Henry again come alive on the stage, prophesying the future crimes of his murderer, in anticipation of the next play in the cycle, Richard III. 

The character and career of the historical Henry VI are less clearly delineated. While he was certainly not the strong, activist monarch that his father, Henry V, had been, it is uncertain how much his courtiers manipulated him. He possessed the powers of a medieval king and could not be defied if he were to insist on something. Even in Shakespeare, when he decrees the banishment of Suffolk, the earl leaves. However, it is uncertain when and on what points he stood firm, so we cannot know how much he is to blame for the wartime policies of the 1440s (in Part 1), for the unrest of the following decade (in Part 2), or for the policies of the civil war period. It is known that, in the early 1450s, Henry was literally incompetent for a time, being beset with a mental illness that rendered him speechless and almost immobile. The playwright chose to ignore this episode (during which York ruled and the country remained stable and at peace)—perhaps because it would have aggrandized York, perhaps because he wished to avoid offending the dignity of a ruler. . . 

In any case, Shakespeare was more concerned with drama than with history, and, as Henry's character develops through the plays, we can observe the young playwright learning how to devise a suitable tragic figure whose very virtues are his undoing. The germ of some of Shakespeare's great characters is here: a man who is good finds himself in a situation where his limitations generate an evil that crushes him. In Richard II, and later in Hamlet and King Lear, the drama can rest upon this predicament. However, in the Henry VI plays the playwright had not yet honed his skills so finely and Henry VI can merely speak of his woeful ineffectuality while the world sweeps him away.


Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447 is the youngest son of King Henry IV and the brother of King Henry V and the dukes of Clarence and Lancaster. He is an important figure in the aristocratic disputes of the Henry VI plays, presented as the chief cause of the English loss to France in the Hundred Years War. In the later works, where he is a younger man, he is a minor character. 

In the Henry VI plays Gloucester engages in a running dispute with his uncle the Bishop of Winchester. He is depicted as a valorous defender of England's honor, whereas Winchester is an opportunistic politician. Their feud rages through 3.1 of Part 1, after which it is replaced in importance by that between York and Somerset. In Part 2 Gloucester's wife, the Duchess of Gloucester, is convicted on charges of witchcraft and banished. Then, in 3.1, Gloucester himself is arrested at Burst St. Edmunds, falsely charged with treason, and killed. Hired murderers flee the scene of the crime at the beginning of 3.2; the Second Murderer regrets the deed because the duke's death had been marked by religious penitence. 

After Gloucester's death the country slides into civil war, and we are meant to see him as having been the guardian against such an event. In order to magnify the duke's virtues, two otherwise irrelevant anecdotes are inserted into the story. In 2.1 Gloucester demonstrates his perceptiveness by exposing the imposter Simpcox, and in 3.1 he wisely postpones a potentially explosive issue, York's appointment as regent in France, until a marginally related dispute can be resolved. These incidents demonstrate the qualities of prudence and judgment that are shortly to be denied the country by the duke's murder. 

The historical Gloucester was very different from the 'good Duke Humphrey' (2 Henry VI, 3.2.322) of these plays. Shakespeare, following his sources and the established opinion of his own time, was opposed to the political position of Gloucester's enemies and he thus depicted Humphrey as a patriot. Winchester headed a 'peace party' that advocated a withdrawal from a war virtually lost. Gloucester and the 'hawks' of the day, however, insisted that the war go on. In the History Plays Shakespeare presents the view that the French were able to drive the English from France only because of English disunity, and Gloucester's insistence on continuing the war was taken to demonstrate a patriotic faith in English arms that the 'peace party' lacked. 

Gloucester was in fact selfishly ambitious, quite willing to pursue his own interests at the expense of the country's, once the restraining influence of Henry V was gone. After Henry's death Gloucester's power was restricted by a council of nobles who recognized his headstrong selfishness. He rebelled; the dispute with Winchester at the Tower of London (1 Henry VI, 1.3) reflects Gloucester's actual coup attempt of 1425. A year later, he eloped with the wife of a close friend of the Duke of Burgandy, England's most important ally, and then recruited an army to support his new wife's claims. A duel with Burgundy was avoided only by the annulment of the marriage. This affair was among the grievances that Burgundy cited when he eventually defected from the English alliance against France. Later Gloucester scandalously married his mistress, Eleanor Cobham, who, as Duchess of Gloucester, was found guilty of treason and witchcraft. 

No evidence has ever been offered to support the belief that Gloucester was murdered. Although he died while in Suffolk's custody, historians generally believe that his death was natural. No question of murder arose at the time, and Suffolk's banishment only occurred some years later, for different reasons. 

In 2 Henry IV and Henry V, set years earlier, Gloucester's role is minor. He is present at his father's deathbed in 4.4 and 4.5 of the first play, and in 5.2 he commiserates with the Chief Justice on the treatment the jurist expects to receive from the new king, whom he believes is an enemy. In Henry V Gloucester is an almost anonymous member of the king's entourage.


John Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford (1389-1435) is the younger brother of King Henry and uncle of Henry VI. (The same individual appears as Prince John of Lancaster, in 1 and 2 Henry IV.) In 1 Henry VI Bedford is a regent, ruling France for the infant King Henry. Bedford opens the play memorably, mourning the deceased Henry V in portentous terms: 'Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!' (1.1.1). In Act 2 Bedford proves himself a capable warrior when Orleans is captured, but in Act 3 he is an aged invalid, confined to a chair, whom Joan La Pucelle taunts as 'good grey-beard' (3.2.50). He dies happily after witnessing the English victory at Rouen. 

The historical Bedford did die in Rouen, though at the age of 45 or 46, while the city was under English rule; the battle scene in the play is fictitious. He outlived Joan of Arc by several years. In fact, he played a major role in Joan's capture and trial, but Shakespeare transferred this important aspect of his career to York in order to lend importance to the character who was to be a leading figure in the civil wars to come. 

In Henry V a younger Bedford is an inconsequential member of the King's entourage. The historical Bedford, however, played an important role in the English conquest of France. Although he is present at the battle of Agincourt in the play, he was actually in England at the time, ruling in Henry's absence. Then he won a crucial naval battle in the second of Henry's campaigns in France. This campaign is ignored by Shakespeare, although it was actually more important than Agincourt in precipitating the final French surrender depicted in 5.2.


Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (1337-1427) is the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and younger brother of the Bishop of Winchester. In 1 Henry VI Exeter speaks of his position as the 'special governor' (1.1.171) of the infant King Henry VI, which reflects his historical appointment, under the will of Henry V, as the new King's tutor. Although the historical Exeter died a few years thereafter, before most of the events of the play, Shakespeare kept him alive to function as a periodic commentator on the action, like a Greek Chorus, predicting disaster for the feuding English. For instance, he closes 3.1 with a grim forecast of the Wars of the Roses, hoping that his own 'days may finish ere that hapless time' (3.1.189-201). 

In Henry V, set a decade earlier, Exeter is a valued follower of his nephew the King, but he has no distinctive personality. He bears a boldly defiant message from Henry to the French King and the Dauphin in 2.4, and in 4.6 he recounts the death of the Duke of York at Agincourt, in tones reminiscent of courtly epic poetry. Thus Exeter's formulaic speeches help to maintain a distinctive tone in both plays. 

The historical Exeter, though born a bastard, was granted princely titles and incomes even before being legitimized by his father at the age of 40. He was an important military commander under both Henry IV and Henry V, and he was named an executor of the latter's will. As in Henry V, 3.3.51-54, Exeter was made Governor of Harfleur after its capture by Henry, though it is unclear whether or not he fought at Agincourt. He was not named Duke of Exeter until after most of the events of Henry V; Shakespeare took this minor inaccuracy from Holinshed’s Chronicles.


Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester (1374-1447) Historical figure and character in 1 Henry VI, illegitimate son of John of Gaunt, older brother of the Duke of Exeter, and uncle of the dukes of Somerset (1, 3). The same historical figure appears in 2 Henry VI, where he is known as Cardinal Beaufort. In 1 Henry VI, 1.1, Winchester's feud with the Duke of Gloucester interrupts the funeral of Henry V, introducing dissension as a major theme of the play. Winchester reveals depths of criminality by plotting to kidnap the infant king, Henry VI, although this plan is not followed up; it seems to be presented solely as an indication of the bishop's character, although it may constitute a remnant inadvertently left in place after a revision. The bishop and Gloucester wrangle further, until their followers are battling in the streets. The king pleads for peace and, while Gloucester is willing, Winchester only reluctantly and hypocritically agrees to a truce. 

The quarrel between York and Somerset takes precedence in the rest of the play, and the bishop's role diminishes. In 5.1 he turns over to the papal Legate a bribe owed to the pope for his promotion to cardinal. This does not affect the course of the play, but it confirms Winchester's image as an unscrupulous villain. 

Shakespeare depicts Winchester as a Machiavel, unscrupulously ambitious and persistently at odds with 'good Duke Humphrey' of Gloucester. The historical Winchester led a 'peace party' that opposed Gloucester in the 1440s. To some extent, Winchester's stance was dictated by his rivalry with Gloucester; each aspired to power in the vacuum created by the king's extreme youth. On the other hand, Gloucester, as brother of Henry V and a veteran of the battle of Agincourt, was committed to total victory in France and adamantly opposed any compromise. Winchester favored an accommodation with the enemy to end the long and costly conflict. Shakespeare's position, which his sources and most of his contemporaries shared, was that England lost France as a result of internal dissension that counteracted English valor, which would otherwise have won out. Thus both the sources and the playwright favored the 'hawk' Gloucester—in reality something of a monomaniac whose actions significantly hurt the English cause over the 'dove'  Winchester, probably the sounder statesman.


Somerset (3), John Beaufort, Duke of (1403-1444) is the rival of the Duke of York. Somerset selects a red rose as his emblem in response to Plantagenet's adopting a white one in the Temple garden scene (2.4). Thus, fictitiously, do the Wars Of The Roses begin. Somerset is depicted as dishono rable. He is unwilling to fulfill his agreement to accept the opinion of a majority in his dispute with Plantagenet, declaring that his argument was 'here in my scabbard' (2.4.60), and he goes on to taunt his rival about his father's execution some years earlier. When their quarrel erupts again at Henry VI's coronation in Paris (4.1), the king unwisely attempts to settle it by dividing the command of the French troops between them. Then the death of Talbot is attributed to York's and Somerset's refusal to provide him with reinforcements. 

The historical Somerset quarreled with York over the divided command in Normandy in the early 1440s, and Shakespeare uses this material in the sequence culminating in Talbot's death, which actually took place nine years after Somerset's own. Moreover, Somerset was a prisoner in France in 1421-1438 and thus could not have had taken part in the quarrel with York at the king's coronation or in the Temple garden scene. Thus John Beaufort's younger brother Edmund, his successor as Duke of Somerset and a character in 2 Henry VI, is sometimes considered to have been a co-model for the Somerset of 1 Henry VI.  However, Edmund did not succeed to the title until 1448—later than all the events in 1 Henry VI except the death of Talbot, which Shakespeare linked to an episode that unquestionably involved John, the divided command. Therefore, it seems best to regard John Beaufort as the Somerset of this play.


Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (1411-1460) is a claimant to the throne of England against the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenets.  York attempts to seize the throne at the end of 2 Henry VI, launching the Ware of the Roses. He fails, dying early in 3 Henry VI, but his son becomes King Edward IV. The Yorkist cause thus succeeds, only to be brought to ruin (in Richard III) by the greedy machinations of York's younger son, Richard III, who inherits his father's ruthless ambition. 

In 1 Henry VI York's claim to the throne is established. His father, the Earl of Cambridge, has been executed for treason (as is depicted in Shakespeare's Henry V) for supporting the royal claims of Edmund Mortimer). The dying Mortimer bequeaths his claim to York, his nephew, in 2.5 of 1 Henry VI, thus laying the groundwork for the conflict to come. York feuds with the Duke of Somerset, even at the expense of military disaster in the Hundred Years War. 

In 2 Henry VI York's story is at first overshadowed by that of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, whose murder is seen as making the civil war inevitable. Early in the play, York reveals his ambition to seize the throne, but this crafty planner keeps a low profile, even when his appointment as Regent in France is given to another Somerset, the brother and successor to his old rival. York participates in the plot against Gloucester, but the chief conspirators are the Duke of Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort. 

York is placed in command of an army and sent to crush a revolution in Ireland. He sees that these troops will permit him an opportunity to seize the crown. Despite the grand boldness of his scheme and his demands on himself for extraordinary courage, York's morality is sorely limited; he is prepared to expend any number of lives in the pursuit of his own ambition. He arranges for Jack CADE to foment a revolting England, providing an excuse for him to bring in his army. 

After Cade's rebellion, staged in Act 4, York returns with his army, demanding the imprisonment of Somerset. When this is not done, he announces his claim to the throne and proceeds to battle the King's troops at St. Albans. York's forces are victorious, but the King escapes to London. Thus the civil war has begun as the play ends. 

In 3 Henry VI York compromises: King Henry will be permitted to rule in his own lifetime but will pass the crown to York or his heirs. Richard persuades his father to seize the throne anyway, just as Queen Margaret, who has herself rejected Henry's deal, arrives with an army. In the ensuing battle, York is captured; after a dramatic scene (1.4) in which Margaret mocks him viciously, the Queen and Lord Clifford stab him to death. In his last moments, York heaps insults on Margaret and weeps over the death of his young son Rutland, with whose fate the Queen had taunted him. 

York generally functions more as a foil for other characters or incidents than as a well-developed figure himself. In 1 Henry VI his ambitious rivalry with Somerset functions as a dark backdrop to the upright and patriotic career of Lord Talbot; in Part 2 his machinations are similarly contrasted with the fate of 'good Duke Humphrey' of Gloucester. In the latter half of Part 2 and in Part 3, York simply exemplifies aristocratic ambition in a mechanical manner dependent largely on mere assertion, backed by the tableaux of the battlefield. Even his death scene serves chiefly to present Margaret in the vicious, warlike personality she assumes in that play. Only in his darkly malevolent speeches of Part 2 is he a stimulating villain, and even then he is overshadowed by Suffolk. In any case, as an agent of evil York pales before the grand Machiavel that his son Richard is to embody. 

York's function as an archetype of selfish ambition is achieved at the expense of historical accuracy. The historical York actually had little role in the action of 1 Henry VI; his presence is magnified in order to prepare for his role in Parts 2 and 3. The character's rise begins with the return of his dukedom to him in 3.1 of Part 1, but in fact, York had never been kept from that title and so could not be restored to it. York and the Duke of Somerset launch their quarrel in Part I, though in reality the contest between York and Lancaster was not consequential until many years later. Further, the quarrel is made the cause of Talbot's defeat and death, but the divided command depicted by Shakespeare had occurred elsewhere and 10 years earlier. Also, York is assigned elements of the career of the Duke of Bedford. All of these fictions serve to foreshadow the conflict to come, establishing as a longstanding feud a rivalry that actually only developed some years later. 

The greatest difference between the historical York and Shakespeare's character is a basic one: York's ambition is presented as a long-meditated plot to usurp the king's power. In fact, although he was undeniably a powerful figure who attempted to dominate the political world of England in the 1450s, York has nonetheless been considerably misrepresented by Shakespeare. He showed no intention to seize power until very shortly before he actually attempted to do so in 1455, the action that sparked the fighting at St Albans. He had competed fiercely with Somerset for power, but only for power as a minister under King Henry. He seems to have acted to usurp royal authority only when it became evident that his career and very possibly his life would be in great danger from Somerset and Margaret if he did not. Shakespeare has simply eliminated a great deal of intricate and fascinating politics, most notably any reference to York's capable rule in 1453-1454, when King Henry was insane and unable to speak. 

It was not the playwright's concern in composing the Henry VI plays to render history accurately. He depicted unscrupulous aristocratic rivalry leading to civil war, thus demonstrating the importance of political stability. One of the ways in which he achieved his end was to make of the Duke of York a simple paragon of selfish ambition, and his success is demonstrated in the effectiveness of this fairly one-dimensional character in providing the impetus for a great deal of complicated action in the three Henry VI plays.


Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1382-1439) Historical figure and character in 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. In 1 Henry VI Warwick declares for Plantagenet in 2.4, and in 3.1 he presents King Henry VI with a petition in favor of Plantagenet's restoration as Duke of York. He is present but unimportant in later scenes. In 2 Henry IV and Henry V we see Warwick as a younger man. In 2 Henry IV he is an adviser to King Henry IV. He soothes the king's melancholy and rouses him to action in 3.1, and he defends Prince Hal in 4.5, asserting that his debauchery is instructing the young man in the ways of evil, from which he will reform himself. This passage is intended to confirm the essential nobility of the future King Henry V. In Henry V Warwick speaks only one line as a member of the King's court. 

The historical Warwick was much more important in the affairs of his time than the character is in the plays. As a young man, under Henry IV, he distinguished himself in the army, serving against Glendower’s Welsh rebellion and at the battle of Shrewsbury. He was a highly successful general under Henry V and governed the occupied towns of Calais and Rouen at various times. Upon the king's death, the infant Henry VI was placed in Warwick's care. In 1Henry VI Warwick is overshadowed by York, whom Shakespeare wished to emphasize, although the earl was actually a more successful and prominent figure. When he died, Warwick was governing occupied France as regent for Henry VI. 

Shakespeare confused Richard Beauchamp with Richard Neville, a later holder of the same title: in 2 Henry IV, 3.1.66, Beauchamp is misnamed Neville, and in 2 Henry VI, 1.1.117-120, episodes from his military career are claimed by Neville. It is sometimes thought that Neville was expressly intended as the Warwick of 1 Henry VI, but, although the chronology of that play is hopelessly skewed, certain key features point to Beauchamp.  Although Shakespeare was seemingly unaware of the distinction, it seems likely that Richard Beauchamp is the Warwick depicted.


William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, later Duke (1396-1450) is an ambitious nobleman. Suffolk attempts to control King Henry VI through his influence on Queen Margaret, whose marriage to Henry he engineers in I Henry VI With Cardinal Beaufort Suffolk leads the plot against Duke Humphrey of Gloucester and personally engineers his murder The downfall and death of 'good Duke Humphrey' presented as a man whose judgment and honesty might have saved the country from the Wars of the Roses, dominates the first half of 2 Henry VI Suffolk is thus largely responsible for a national catastrophe and he is accordingly treated as an arch-villain calculatingly treacherous and unscrupulous, who will stop at nothing. 

In 1 Henry VI Suffolk emerges as a figure of importance for the first time in 5.3. He has captured Margaret of Anjou in battle and has fallen in love with her on sight. Plotting to make her his paramour although he is already married, he decides to marry her to King Henry. He offers her a bargain; he will make her Queen of England if she will be his lover She defers to her father, Reignier, who demands the cession of two territories, Anjou and Maine, before he will give his consent. Suffolk agrees to arrange it. In 5.5 Suffolk overcomes the scruples of the Duke of Gloucester and convinces the king to break a previous marriage agreement and wed Margaret Suffolk closes the play with a soliloquy in which he proposes to rule the kingdom through Margaret when she is queen. Thus Suffolk's ambition lays the groundwork for the disasters of the civil strife to come. 

At the outset of 2 Henry VL Suffolk presents Margaret to Henry, who is delighted with his bride, although the terms of the marriage contract include the cession of Anjou and Maine, to the anger and disgust of the assembled nobility. Suffolk's capacity for intrigue is immediately made evident in 1.2, when the renegade priest Hume, having agreed to recruit sorcerers for the Duchess of Gloucester, reveals that he is being paid by Suffolk to set the Duchess up for arrest and prosecution. (The Duchess' seance produces a prediction that Suffolk will die by water.) In 1.3 Suffolk takes advantage of the minor episode of the armorer Horner to embarrass the Duke of York, a potential rival. When Margaret complains to Suffolk of the arrogance of various nobles, he replies that his plots will conquer all her enemies. One of them, the Duchess is banished in the next scene. In 3.1, after Gloucester has been arrested for treason, Suffolk urges that he be murdered by any means necessary, lest he be acquitted of the charge. Suffolk hires the Murderers, and we see him arranging to pay them in 3.2. However, he has gone too far; King Henry, stimulated by a furious reaction from the Commons and his own grief at Gloucester's death banishes Suffolk from England for life. Suffolk proceeds to vent his anger with a bloodcurdling series of imprecations on his foes (3.2.308-327).  

The farewells of Suffolk and Margaret at the end of 3.2 reveal their passionate love. Shakespeare often as here, made a point to emphasize the complexities of human character by evoking some sympathy for a villain. We can, astonishingly, forget Suffolk's viciousness for a moment as he laments the prospect of dying without Margaret. 

Suffolk comes to an appropriate end. We see him for the last time, on a beach in Kent, as the prisoner of pirates who have captured the ship carrying him into exile. The Lieutenant of the pirates assigns each captive to a different crewman, who can collect a ransom for each life. However, the pirate who receives Suffolk has lost an eye in the battle for the ship-he wants vengeance and proposes to kill his prisoner' He identifies himself as Walter Whitmore, and, as Walter was pronounced 'water' by the Elizabethans, Suffolk sees that his death could fulfill the prophecy made to the Duchess of Gloucester in 1.4. The Lieutenant proves to be an English patriot who detests Suffolk for the damage his ambitions have done the English cause in France, and he recites Suffolk's political offences in virulent terms before turning him over to Whitmore for execution. Suffolk dies with an arrogant courage that can be admired.

The historical Suffolk was a grasping, ambitious, and extortionate aristocrat, but he probably did not earn the place he occupies in Shakespeare and in the chronicles that were the playwright's sources. He was an inept general and unsuccessful minister who bore some of the responsibility for the loss of France at the end of the Hundred Years War, and he did receive a dukedom, which he abused monstrously, for his role in arranging the marriage of Henry and Margaret. But his love affair with the queen is entirely fictitious, based on a passing remark in the chronicle of Edward Hall. The cession of Anjou and Maine occurred some time after the marriage, on the king's initiative; while Henry was doubtless influenced by Margaret, who was possibly supported by Suffolk, the duke did not arrange the matter himself. Suffolk was Gloucester's enemy, and he instituted his arrest at Bury St. Edmunds.  Edmunds, having called Parliament to that remote location, within his own territories, in order to do so.  But Gloucester was probably not murdered, although rumor immediately and ever after laid his death to Suffolk. In any case, Suffolk was neither charged nor punished; in fact, his position grew stronger than ever after the deaths of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort.  Not until three years later, when Normandy was finally and irrevocably lost, did Suffolk's enemies find their opportunity to undo him, and even then he was banished for only five years, not life. However, as in the play, his ship was captured by another one, whose crew took it upon themselves to execute the man they believed had slain 'good Duke Humphrey'. This murder proved to be the opening event in the revolt of Kentishmen led by Jack Cade .


Lord John Talbot (before 1388-1453) In 1.1 Talbot's reported capture seems to magnify English woes. The Messenger who brings this news describes how Talbot's actions in battle had raised English morale. Talbot's account of his captivity, relatedin 1.4, after he has been ransomed, further demonstrates his capacity to daunt the French enemy The king acknowledges Talbot's virtues when he repeats his father, Henry V's, remark, 'A stouter champion never handled sword' (3.4.19). 

Talbot's fate is closely linked with that of Joan La Pucelle in an alternating sequence of victories and defeats that closes with Joan's ignoble capture and death in Act 5, presented in contrast to Talbot's own glorious fall in the immediately preceding battle The war reaches its theatrical climax in these scenes (4.2-7), in which the brave Talbot fights and dies along with his young son, John. He is doomed by the dispute between the dukes of York and Somerset, which prevents reinforcements from reaching him. Sir William Lucy, who comes to collect his corpse, delivers a formal, elegiac recital of Talbot's feudal titles, reminding us how little removed Shakespeare was from the Middle Ages. 

Throughout the play, Talbot carries the burden of destiny for the English in their struggle with the French. He is also contrasted with the selfish noblemen whose ambitions cause dissensions within the English leadership that lead to the losses to France. While the noblemen engage in squabbles and arguments, Talbot is consistently virtuous. Heightening the contrast, Shakespeare rearranged history so that the jealous rivalry of York and Somerset becomes a direct cause of Talbot's death. 

In his Pierce Penniless, a book of social commentary published in 1592, Thomas Nashe remarked on the contemporary theatre's capacity to thrill its public with works depicting patriotic stories 'long buried in rusty brass and worm-eaten books'. He chose a single example as sufficient to prove his point: 'How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French to think that after he had lien two hundred years in his tomb he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new-embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least, at several times, who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.' This passage, the earliest known literary reference to 1 Henry VI, suggests to us how successful the young Shakespeare had been when he created Talbot, a clean-cut hero for his times similar to those played by John Wayne in ours.


John Talbot (also known as Young Talbot, c. 1425-1453) is the son of Talbot, England's heroic general. John appears in 4.5, fighting courageously beside his father. When Talbot realises that the coming battle is a doomed one, he attempts to persuade John to flee and save his life. The young man, citing the family honor, refuses in 4.6.42-57. John does die, and, in 4.7, Talbot, dying himself, addresses his son's corpse, praising John's exploits in the battle.  Shakespeare intended the melodramatic deaths of Talbot and John to contrast with the selfishness of YORK (8) and SOMERSET (3), whose disputes denied the heroes reinforcements. To increase the poignancy of the comparison, Young Talbot is said to be his father's only son, but, in fact, several others carried on the Talbot line. Further, John appears quite young, although the historical figure was in his late twenties and had a number of children.


Sir Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March (1391-1425) is the uncle of Richard Plantagenet to whom he bequeaths his claim to the throne. In 2.5 Plantagenet visits his aged and dying uncle in the Tower of London, where he is a prisoner. Mortimer tells of the deposition of King Richard II by Henry IV, head of the Lancastrian branch of the royal family. Mortimer, of the York branch, had been the rightful heir to the throne. An attempt to install him as king had resulted in his imprisonment for life while still a young man. Mortimer names Plantagenet his successor, and he dies. Mortimer's appearance in the play establishes York's claim to the throne, anticipating developments in 2 and 3 Henry VI. 

Mortimer's claim to royal descent was rather more controversial than the play suggests, for it depended on succession through a woman, a principle of inheritance often not accepted in the medieval world. In any case, the play mistakes this Mortimer for other historical personages, for Shakespeare's sources were likewise confused. By his reference to his mother (2.5.74), this Mortimer seems to be Edmund Mortimer, actually his uncle and neither an earl nor in the royal line of descent. (However, Mortimer appears in 1 Henry IV, where the confusion continues and he is given this Mortimer's ancestors.) In his lifelong captivity, the character in 1 Henry VI resembles both a historical cousin of his and a Lord Gray of Ruthven (a brother-in-law of the other Edmund Mortimer), both of whom died in prison late in life. The actual Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, died a free man at the age of 36. His loyalty to the crown had been demonstrated. In 1415, his brother-in-law (and York's father), the Earl of Cambridge, plotted to kill King Henry V and place Mortimer on the throne. This was the attempt that is inaccurately described in 1 Henry VI. In fact, Mortimer himself revealed the conspiracy when he learned of it, and Cambridge, with two others, was executed for treason. His sentencing is enacted in Henry V, 2.2, though Mortimer is not mentioned.


Sir John Fastolfe (c. 1378-1459) is an English officer in the Hundred Years War. In the play Fastoife is depicted as a cowardly soldier whose hasty retreats cause great losses to the English. His retreat at Patay, near Orleans, was recorded in the chronicles that were Shakespeare's sources, but the playwright magnified this single event in order to create a striking contrast to the heroism of the play's most important figure, Talbot.  The defeat at Patay is reported in 1.1 by a Messenger, who says that Fastoife has 'play'd the coward' (1.1. 131). In 1.4 Talbot describes his resultant captivity, and he rails against the 'treacherous Fastoife' (1.4.34).  Fastoife first appears on stage in 3.2; he is fleeing ignominiously during the assault on Rouen, an entirely fictitious episode. Asked whether he is abandoning Talbot, Fastoife replies, 'Ay, all the Talbots in the world, to save my life' (3.2.108). Finally, in 4.1, Talbot angrily tears the Order of the Garter from Fastolfe's leg, describing again the action at Patay. The king promptly banishes the coward, who departs in silence. 

The historical Fastoife had a very different career. The incident at Patay, which did not result in Talbot's captivity, is viewed by modern historians as having been chiefly due to bad generalship by Shakespeare's hero, necessitating a sensible withdrawal by Fastoife, his fellow commander. The Duke of Bedford seems to have been most upset by the episode; it is he, not Talbot, who stripped Fastoife of his Garter (temporarily and probably without authority) while an investigation was conducted at Talbot's request. The investigators exonerated Fastoife completely, and he went on to complete a distinguished career as a general and diplomat. 

The only early text of 1 Henry VI, that in the First Folio of 1623, names this character Falstaffe. Subsequent editors, however, generally have used the historical figure's correct name, thereby avoiding confusion with Shakespeare's great comedic figure Falstaff.


Sir William Lucy is an officer who seeks reinforcements for Talbot during that general's fatal battle in Act 4. Lucy approaches both York and Somerset, but these noblemen  are feuding; each blames the other for Talbot's position, and each refuses to send assistance. Lucy grieves for the loss of England's conquests in France, emphasizing Shakespeare's point that only dissensions among the English made a French victory possible.

GLANSDALE An officer that is killed by the same cannon shot that kills the Earl of Salisbury at the siege of Orleans.
GARGRAVE An officer that is killed by the same cannon shot that kills the Earl of Salisbury at the siege of Orleans.

Mayor of London in 1.3 the Mayor breaks up a brawl between the men of the Duke of Gloucester and those of the Bishop of Winchester. In 3.1 he tells the king's conference of further disorders. The incidents serve to illustrate the spreading social chaos that aristocratic dissensions have engendered.


Lieutenant Richard Woodville (d. c.1440) is the commander of the Warders at the Tower of London who refuse to admit the men of the Duke of Gloucester; Woodville cites orders from the Bishop of Wincester. The historical Woodville became the father of Elizabeth Woodville, Lady Grey, later Queen of England, and of Lord Rivers, both of whom appear in 3 Henry VI and Richard III.

VERNON Vernon is a follower of Richard Plantagenet against the Duke of Somerset in the scene that establishes the rivalry that will eventually lead to civil war. Later in 3.4 and 4.1 he disputes with Basset, a back of Somerset.  By demonstrating the involvement of lesser figures, these incidents illustrate the damage to English morale caused by the dissensions among the nobility.
BASSET Basset is a partisan the Duke of York and disputes with Vernon  By demonstrating the involvement of lesser figures, these incidents illustrate the damage to English morale caused by the dissensions among the nobility.

Charles VII, King of France (1403-1461) is the historical Charles VII who became King of France upon the death of his father Charles VI, as is recorded in 1.1. However, he is throughout the play referred to as the Dauphin (sometimes rendered as Dolphin), a title traditionally applied to the eldest son of a French monarch and not to a king. This reflects the historical English position that the treaties following the conquests of Henry V gave the French crown to the English king.  Charles' enthronement was therefore an act of rebellion, and the French subsequently drove the English from their lands. 

In the play, Charles is not readily distinguishable from the other French noblemen, who are all depicted as boastful but inept, treacherous, and cowardly warriors. Charles moons lovingly over Joan La Pucelle at first—for instance, in 1.2.110-117—but he is quick to turn on her at the first misadventure of their campaign (2.1.50-53). In his final scene (5.4), he takes the advice of his nobles and agrees to a peace treaty with the intention of violating it later.


Reignier, Duke of Anjou and King of Naples (1409-1480) is one of the French leaders and father of Margaret.  Like the other French leaders, Reignier is depicted as a boastful but ineffectual warrior who demonstrates that the French could not have defeated England but for dissensions among the English. He is not himself of any importance in the play, but his presence paves the way for the appearance of his daughter in Act 5.  She will marry Henry VI and become a principal character in 2 and 3 Henry VI.

The historical figure on whom Reignier is based is better known as Rene the Good, a proverbially popular ruler of Anjou and parts of Provence, who governed his territories wisely and displayed a penchant for literature and the arts. He wrote the text and may have painted the illustrations of one of the most beautiful of late medieval manuscripts, known as King Rene's Book of Love. Rene inherited the kingdom of Naples, including most of southern Italy, from a distant relative, but he ruled there for only four years; he was driven out in 1442 by Alfonso ofAragon, who ruled in Sicily. However, while Rene retained no kingly income or power (from Naples or from more remote claims to the kingdom of Hungary and the former Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem), his royal status made him an important figure in European international relations. His daughter was thus a fitting bride for a king of England.


Philip, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1467) is an ally of the English in the Hundred Years War who defects to the side of France. Early in 1 Henry VI Burgundy assists the English at Orleans and Rouen; then in 3.3 Joan La Pucelle persuades him to align himself with France. In Henry V, set some years earlier, a younger Burgundy encourages Henry V and the French King to make peace in 5.2.23-67. He speaks at length on the horrors of war, in a passage that contributes much to the play's modern reception as an anti-war work. Burgundy then attends the French King in the final negotiations of the treaty of Troyes, which occur off stage while Henry courts Katharine. Upon returning, Burgundy jests lewdly with Henry about his forthcoming marriage.

The historical Burgundy was not an ally of France at Troyes, and he was a much more important figure than his role suggests. He was a cousin of Charles VI, the French King of the play, and he ruled the most powerful of the independent French duchies. His father, Duke John (1371-1419), was the Duke of Burgundy mentioned in Henry V 3.5.42 and 4.8.99; Duke John fought against Henry at Agincourt. He was murdered in the factional disputes over the rule of France during Charles' frequent bouts of insanity, and Philip of Burgundy, upon inheriting the duchy, sought support from outside the circle of French rivalries. He sided with England and thus assured Henry V's victory, a phenomenon that Shakespeare, focusing on the accomplishments of the English King, ignored in Henry V. Burgundy's subsequent alliance with England under Henry VI was marred by many disputes over policy and by his feud with the Duke of Gloucester; he eventually restored his family's traditional amity with France, helping to drive the English from the country in the 1450s, as is depicted in 1 Henry VI.  However, both historically and in Shakespeare's sources, Joan of Arc had nothing to do with Burgundy's defection, which took place four years after her death. This alteration serves to amplify the importance of Joan, who is Shakespeare's chief representative of the deceitful and villainous French.


John, Duke of Alencon (1409-1476is one of the French noblemen who lead the forces of Charles VII against the English. Like his fellows, the Bastard of Orleans, Reignier, and Charles himself, Alencon is depicted as a type, a bragging but inept, treacherous, and cowardly warrior. Alencon's father was the French knight whose glove Henry V of England is said to have taken during the battle of Agincourt (Henry V, 4.7.159).

GOVERNOR OF PARIS An official commanding the capital of English occupied France.
MASTER GUNNER A French solider in the besieged cit of Orleans.  The Master Gunner instructs his son that their cannon is trained on a certain tower where the English leaders are known to stand watch.  The boy fires the shot that kills the Duke of Salisbury
BOY Son of the master gunner, who fires the shot that kills the Duke of Salisbury.
GENERAL A French office on the walls of Bordeaux.  He rejects Talbot's demand for the surrender of the city in 4.2.
Sergeant The Sergeant is a French solider.  In 2.1 just before the English retake the town of Orleans, the Sergeant posts sentries who then fail to warn the others of the English attack.  This, with numerous other incidents, points up the military inadequacies of the French army, thus helping to emphasize the importance of dissensions among the English promoting France's victories.
PORTER A servant of the countess of Auvergne who assists in her attempt to capture Talbot.
SHEPARD The father of Joan La Pucelle.  This humble figure encounters his daughter after she has been captured and condemned to death, but she refuses to acknowledge him, claiming to be descended from a long line of kings.  He responds by cursing her. This incident, entirely fictitious, is simply part of the play's strong anti-French bias.

Countess of Auvergne is a French noblewoman who attempts to capture Talbot by means of a ruse. She invites him to visit her castle, pretending an innocent desire to meet so valiant an hero in person. He receives the invitation in 2.2, but, suspicious, he plans a counter-ploy. In 2.3 she springs her trap, but following his plan, a troop of soldiers immediately frees him. Talbot gracefully accepts the Countess' apology. This episode is entirely fictitious, probably derived by the playwright from similar events in the 'Robin Hood' cycle of tales. It serves to emphasize the virtues of Talbot, whose eventual loss to the English is one of the climaxes of the play. In attributing such deceit to the French, implicitly denying their military strength, the episode contributes to the play's chief point—that the successes of the French could not have occurred without dissensions among the English.


Joan La Pucelle (Joan of Arc) (c. 1412-1431) is a leader of the French forces in the Hundred Years War. The historical Joan of Arc was known as La Pucelle, 'the virgin', in her own lifetime, and Shakespeare takes the name from the chronicles. In Acts 1-4 Shakespeare's Joan is in some respects difficult to distinguish from the other French leaders, Charles VII, Alencon, and Reignier; like them, she is intended to show, by her trickery and lack of military valor, that a French victory would have been impossible without the English dissension that is the play's chief theme. Unlike her fellows, though, Joan can be a charismatic leader. In 1.2 she revives the morale of the French after a lost skirmish, and in 1.5 she leads them in breaking the English siege of Orleans, as the historical Joan had done. 

This is as much of the real Joan of Arc's life as the play reflects, however. The English capture of Orleans in 2.1 is entirely unhistorical, as is, of course, the French leaders' flight from a single English soldier. Similarly, Joan's devious tactic while taking Rouen in 3.2, is fictitious; in fact, the actual anecdote that Shakespeare drew upon tells of an English strategy in a different battle. In 3.3 Joan convinces the Duke of Burgandy to abandon the English cause; in actuality, Burgundy did not withdraw from his alliance with En- gland until well after Joan's death. 

In Act 5 the playwright recasts Joan as a villainess in an altogether more absolute manner. Joan's sorcery in 5.3, where she calls up Fiends, is simply intended to blacken her image. (Similarly, the other characters insult Joan freely throughout the play, casting aspersions on her courage and her virginity and frequently accusing her of witchcraft.) Lastly, in Shakespeare's most glaring misrepresentation of Joan, she makes a cowardly attempt, in 5.4, to avoid execution, first by claiming royal birth and refusing to acknowledge her father, the Shepherd, and then by disavowing her virginity and claiming to be pregnant. She goes to her death cursing England and the English.

The play's uncharitable attitude towards Joan of Arc has stimulated much hostile criticism. In fact, this feature was once taken as evidence of non-Shakespearean authorship, on the grounds that no great writer would stoop to such propagandistic viciousness. However, such keen anti-French sentiments were common in Elizabethan times, as well as in the play's source material, such as the chronicles of Hall and Holinshed, and modern authorities, whatever their opinions as to the authorship of 1 Henry VI, do not find it odd that a playwright should have portrayed Englishmen insulting Joan in this manner. 

The historical Joan, born Jeanne Dare, began at the age of 12, to hear voices that she understood to be those of angels and of God, advising her to lead a holy life Later the voices instructed her to help Charles VII drive the English from France. In 1428 she persuaded a local military commander to take her to Charles' court, where she convinced Charles to permit her to lead a small army to relieve besieged Orleans Remarkably, her troops were victorious, and she is still known as -the maid of Orleans'. Her continued participation in the war infused the French with the courage and confidence that turned the tide of the conflict. She was captured by Burgundian forces in 1430. Her captors sold her to the English under Warwick, who arranged for a -show trial' for heresy before a French ecclesiastical tribunal. She was convicted and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Her conduct at the trial was, by all accounts, dignified and honorable entirely unlike that of the Joan of the play. In 1456 her admirers obtained a retrial, at which her innocence was pronounced. She was declared a saint by the Catholic Church in 1920.

WARDERS Soldiers manning the Tower of London who refuse admittance to the Duke of Gloucester in 1.3, citing orders from the Bishop of Wincester.

Captain is an English officer. When Talbot is invited to visit the Countess of Auvergne, in 2.2, he rightly suspects a trap and confers with the Captain. Though he is not seen in 2.3, the Captain is presumably responsible for the troop of soldiers who immediately free Talbot when the trap is sprung.  The same character (or perhaps a different Captain) challenges the cowardly Fastolfe, who is fleeing from the battle in 3.2. And, in 4.4, a Captain precedes Sir William Lucy in seeking reinforcements from the Duke of Somerset.


Soldier is an English infantryman. In 2.1, during the retaking of the town of Orleans by the English, the Soldier, crying the name of the great English warrior Talbot, drives the French leaders, including Charles VII and Joan La Pucelle, from the stage. He gleefully claims the clothing they have left behind in their panic. This episode, entirely fictitious, emphasizes the importance to the English cause of the noble Talbot. It also serves to ridicule the French, thus furthering the play's point that only dissensions among the English could have resulted in French victories. 

Soldier Any of four French Soldiers, disguised as peasants, accompany Joan La Pucelle and gain entrance to the English-held city of Rouen in 3.2. They spy out the weakest gate and signal the other French troops, who enter and capture the city. This episode emphasizes the treacherous nature of the French by contrasting Joan's deceitful ruse with the unalloyed valor of the English hero, Talbot.

SCOUT French soldier who brings news of the English army's approach.


One servant that aids the mortally wounded Talbot on the battlefield and mournfully announces the arrival of the corpse of the hero's son, John, killed in the fighting.

The servingmen are any of the servants attending the Duke of Gloucester.  In 3.1 the king and his noblemen, assembled in the Parliament House to settle the feud between the bishop and the duke, learn that the large household staffs of these two are fighting in the streets. 

Fiends Any of group of demons that are summoned by Joan to help her, however they answer that they cannot.  She is captured soon after.


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