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

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.


Cardinal Henry Beaufort, (1374-1447) Historical figure and character in 2 Henry VI, a leader of the plot against the Duke of Gloucester that dominates the first half of the play. The Cardinal, the illegitimate son of John of Gaunt, is a great-uncle of the King and a powerful secular lord in his own right. (The same historical person appeared in 1 Henry VI as the Bishop of Winchester, where his rivalry with Gloucester is developed; he is sometimes referred to in 2 Henry VI as Winchester—as in 1.1.56.) In 1.1 the Cardinal smoothly recruits other noblemen to his cause, accusing Gloucester, the heir apparent to the throne, of self-interest, turning against him what should be to his credit—his patriotic anger at the King's foolish cession of lands in his marriage contract. The Cardinal and Gloucester agree to fight a duel in 2.1, but they are interrupted. At the end of that scene, word is brought that Gloucester's wife has been arrested for witchcraft, and the Cardinal gloats that his rival, abruptly humiliated, will not have the heart to fight. 

When Gloucester himself is arrested for treason, in 3.1, the Cardinal and his confederates agree that the Duke should be murdered, and the Cardinal volunteers to hire the murderer, although Suffolk actually performs that deed. After Gloucester's murder, word is brought to the King that the Cardinal is dying of a sudden illness. When the King and Warwick visit him in 3.3, he appears to have a bad conscience. The Cardinal's ravings are not quite specific but they nonetheless convict him.

Historically, Cardinal Beaufort, although he was in fact a rival of Gloucester, was not his murderer; in fact, Gloucester was probably not murdered at all. The Cardinal may not even have had anything to do with Gloucester's arrest by Suffolk, which led to the Duke's death, for Beaufort by this time had largely abandoned his political role and retired from public life. Shakespeare's version of the Cardinal's death is pure fiction; he actually died at home in a normal manner at the age of 73, some months after Gloucester's death. However, the playwright held the opinion, along with his sources, that 'good Duke Humphrey had been victimized by his rivals, and he accordingly made an unscrupulous villain, or Machiavel, of the Cardinal, who was actually a far more prudent and statesmanlike figure than Gloucester.


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.


King Edward IV of England (1442-1483) is the simply known as Edward until Act 3 in 3 Henry VI, King Edward IV receives his crown as a result of the machinations of his ambitious father, the Duke of York, and his heirs are murdered later by his brother, who succeeds him as Richard in.  

In 2 Henry VI Edward appears in 5.1 to support his father in his claim to the throne. Edward has only one line, which Richard immediately tops. In 3 Henry VI, although Edward comes into his own, he continues to be overshadowed by his brother. He becomes King, but the leadership of the Yorkist cause is clearly provided by Warwick, prior to that lord's defection, and by Richard. Edward displays the unscrupulous ambition that characterizes the aristocrats in all the Henry VI plays. He baldly displays his own dishonesty, claiming that '. . . for a kingdom any oath may be broken: /1 would break a thousand oaths to reign one year' (1.2.16-17). However, Edward is outclassed in criminality by his brother Richard.

Edward demonstrates a selfish disregard for the responsibilities of kingship, and his behavior necessitates a renewal of the Wars of the Roses. He ignores the benefits of an alliance with France and abandons a marriage to Lady Bonain order to satisfy his lust for Elizabeth). In the resulting war, he indulges in pointless bravado and permits himself to be captured in 4.3. After the final Yorkist victory, Edward casually allows Richard to murder the finally displaced King Henry, demonstrating a lack of concern for civil order that typifies England's corrupt public life. In Richard III Edward appears only in 2.1, on his deathbed. He learns of the death of Clarence, and his dismay, it is implied, leads to his own rapid demise. His death is reported in 2.2. 

Shakespeare's treatment of the reign of Edward IV is extremely unhistorical, for the playwright wished to emphasize the disruption of English public life that the coming of the Tudor dynasty repaired. Edward's 22-year tenure is presented as a rapid succession of quarrels and battles. In fact, though, Edward was a very competent ruler. He was judiciously merciful to most of the Lancastrians; he introduced badly needed financial reforms; he withdrew from France—at the cost of considerable personal popularity, but to the immense benefit of the country. His marriage to Elizabeth was not the chief, or even an important, cause of Warwick's rebellion. Although his lusty appetites, given much emphasis in the play, were well known to his contemporaries, they do not seem to have interfered with his public duty, although it has been suggested that over-indulgence in wine and women may have resulted in his early death.


Richard III, King of England (1452-1485) is character in 2 and 3 Henry VI and title character of Richard III. Known simply as Richard or Gloucester until he is crowned in 4.2 of Richard ///, his ambition never ceases to drive him towards that moment. Richard is more than simply a villain; his dazzlingly evil nature, combining viciousness and wit, makes him as important and valuable to the drama, especially in Richard III, as any hero. He was Shakespeare's first great creation, marking a tremendous advance over earlier, more ordinary characters.  

Richard makes his first appearance late in 2 Henry VI, when he is called to support his father, the Duke of York. His role is minor; he is present chiefly as a foreshadowing of the sequels to the play. He is nevertheless a cleanly drawn figure, sardonically epigrammatic. For instance, he encourages himself in battle with the cry, 'Priests pray for enemies, but princes kill' (5.2.71). His bold and willfully, even pridefully, cruel nature is already evident, after only a few lines.  

In 1.1 of 3 Henry VI Richard's extraordinary personality bursts forth. As the nobles recount their exploits at the battle of St. Albans, Richard abruptly throws down the head of Somerset, saying, 'Speak thou for me, and tell them what I did (1.1. 16).' Richard's blood-thirstiness, not unmixed with dry humor, is evident throughout the play, pointing towards the horrors he is to commit in Richard III. In his famous soliloquy at the end of 3.2, he describes himself as able to '. . . smile, and murder whiles I smile'; he will 'set the murderous Machiavel to school' (3.2.182, 193). Killing the imprisoned King Henry VI, Richard raises'his bloody sword and sarcastically crows, 'See how my sword weeps for the poor king's death' (5.6.63). This bloody villain is fully conscious of his own viciousness and savors it with a cocky irony that seems very modern. At the close of the play, he even delightedly identifies himself with the arch-traitor of Christian tradition, Judas Iscariot. Richard's monstrously evil nature is thoroughly established in 3 Henry VI, in order that it may attain fullest fruition in Richard III

In Richard III the title character has the secondlongest part in all of Shakespeare's work (only HAMLET speaks more lines). He murders his way to the throne, killing his brother, his young nephews, his wife, and a number of political opponents. He is still a spectacular villain, with a fondness for commenting humorously on his atrocities before committing them. Once he becomes king, however, his wit and resourcefulness desert him; he clumsily alienates his allies, and quite simply panics when he first gleams of the approach of Richmond. In Act 5 he dies in battle, defeated at Bosworth Worth Field.  Richmond's triumph releases England from the violence and treachery of the Wars of the Roses

The personality of Shakespeare's Richard is formed in part by his physical deformity—a hunched back—referred to many times in the plays, often by Richard himself. At the end of.? Henry VI, for instance, he says, '. . . since the heavens have shap'd my body so, / Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it' (5.6.78-79). He rationalies his rejection of human loyalties by theorizing that his physical nature has placed him beyond ordinary relationships. Thus he can claim, 'I am myself alone' (5.6.83). Others agree with him: a number of characters associate Richard's deformity with his evil nature. Queen Margaret, for example, asserts, 'Sin, death, and hell have set their marks on him . . .' (Richard III, 1.3.293), and various of his enemies identify him with a range of carnivorous animals and with such repulsive creatures as spiders, toads, and reptiles.

However, our fascination with Richard derives largely from the disturbing reality that he has undeniably attractive qualities as well. He has charisma and self-confidence, and he is plainly quite intelligent. He has great energy combined with immense self-control, and, probably most tellingly, he is extremely witty. He cracks a joke even as he plots the murder of his brother in 1.1.118-120 of Richard III

Richard wins admiration even as he repels because he plays to the audience directly. Through his monologues and asides, he brings us into an almost conspiratorial intimacy with him. He sometimes tells us what is shortly going to occur, and then comments on it afterwards. In practicing deceit, he also takes on different roles, much as an actor does: he plays a loyal follower of his brother King Edward IV, a lover opposite Lady Anne, a friend to his brother Clarence, and a pious devotee of religion before the Mayor and his entourage. 

With the collapse of his fortunes, Richard's personality changes. He loses his resilience and subtlety; he panics and is disorganized in the face of crisis. We learn that his sleep is troubled; such insomnia was a traditional consequence for royal usurpers, and Shakespeare's sources impute it to Richard conventionally, but the playwright makes more of it, letting both Anne and Richard himself remark on it, before presenting us with an actual nightmare vision in 5.3 of Richard III. At this low ebb, Richard seems almost deranged. He recognizes his terrible isolation from humanity and despairs, crying out in anguish that his death will neither receive nor deserve pity from anyone. However, Richard recovers his spirit later in the scene and leads his men into battle with renewed flippancy. 

Richard represents a well-known type who was a popular figure on the Elizabethan stage, the grandiose villain, first embodied in Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe, still popular when Richard III premiered. However, the character has a longer pedigree than that. The medieval Morality Play featured a villain figure, the Vice, whose resemblance to characters in Shakespeare and Marlowe is not coincidental; both writers must have been familiar with the Vice since childhood. But Richard also incorporates a more modern archetype, the Machiavel, a calculating politician whose misdeeds are directed towards particular ends. The Vice's lewd jests and common horseplay give way to a grave assessment of political interest, although verbal wit is part of the Machiavel's character. The Machiavel is a naturalistic figure—a human being, if a depraved one—while the Vice is more allegorical in nature. Thus Richard's personality has a humanly believable quality that is lacking in the criminal-king of traditional history. 

It is plain that Shakespeare's character bears very little resemblance to the actual King Richard III, who ruled only briefly. Surviving accounts of his times were written largely by his enemies, and modem scholarship has discovered that the reality of his reign borelittle resemblance to the version Shakespeare received and popularized. 

Richard has long been envisioned as the physically repellent hunchback of legend. Thomas More first wrote of Richard's physical deformity, and Shakespeare followed suit. However, at his coronation Richard was stripped to the waist for anointing, in accordance with tradition, and this exposure seems to have provoked no comment. In fact, a hunched  back is nowhere evident in contemporary portraits or accounts of the man. It appears to have been a malicious fiction, although Shakespeare surely believed it to be true. More interesting are the playwright's purposeful alterations of the historical record as he had it. As was his usual practice, Shakespeare took many liberties with his already unreliable sources. For instance, at the end of 2 Henry VI, Richard is made to participate in a battle that occurred when he was only three years old. Richard actually lived in exile until after Edward was crowned. His part in history did not begin until the battle of Barnet, enacted in Act 5 of 3 Henry VI. Shakespeare wrote him into the action earlier, in order to begin to approach the grand denouncement in Richard III, which he must have foreseen as he wrote the Henry VI plays. Richard also provides an interesting foil for Edward's tenderer character. 

This premature introduction is magnified by giving Richard the desire to rule long before the question arises in the sources. Shakespeare's Richard begins to think, 'How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown' (3 Henry VI, 1.2.29), fully 23 years before he comes to put one on. Not only does this generate a long, slow rise in tension, but it also emphasizes Richard's nefarious ambition early. Thus, when he is finally brought down, the resolution of England's predicament is a clear one: Richard's career has been so strikingly criminal that his death stimulates no further fighting in revenge.  The historical Richard was a very different man, innocent of most, if not all, of the crimes imputed to him. Shakespeare's sources attributed the murder of Henry VI to Richard, and the playwright added urgency to his villain's action by inventing an impetuous journey to London for the purpose. Modern scholars hold that Edward gave the order for the ex-king's death; Richard, as Constable of England, would have been responsible for seeing the order carried out. Henry's son, the Prince of Wales, murdered by Richard and his brothers in 5.5 of,? Henry VI, actually died in battle. Richard appears to have opposed the execution of Clarence, which was definitely Edward's doing, historically. Richard's wife. Lady Anne, died naturally. 

That Richard did seize the throne is indisputable; that he had long plotted to that end seems unlikely. He could not have anticipated Edward's death at 40, and he seems to have been committed to a career as a ranking prince. He was clearly a trusted and reliable subordinate to his brother, governing the difficult northern provinces with marked success for 12 years. Edward had named Richard, the obvious choice, to serve as Protector after his death, ruling for his son, the Prince of Wales. But when Edward died, Queen Elizabeth and her relatives attempted a coup, keeping the news of the king's death from his brother, assembling military forces, and arrangeing for the Prince's hasty coronation. However, Richard overcame these manoeuvres and assumed his role as Protector. He apparently had plans for Parliamentary confirmation of this arrangement, along with the boy's later coronation, when another coup was attempted. Richard crushed this plot, but he now decided to forestall a third coup by taking the crown himself. It is impossible, with the evidence that is known today, to reconstruct the events of June 1483 precisely, but, as far as history indicates, this marks the beginning of the process that Shakespeare presents as starting two decades earlier. Also, Richard III compresses Richard's two-year reign into a few frantic weeks. He seems to have been a quite competent king, though the shortness of his troubled reign makes judgment difficult. Shakespeare was unconcerned with the strengths or weaknesses of Richard as ruler; he simply wanted to introduce Richard's splendid crash immediately after his seeming success. 

Richard may or may not have murdered Edward's two sons. Once presumed guilty—at least in good part on the strength of Shakespeare's evidence—Richard has attracted defenders in recent years. It has been observed that, once securely in power, he did not need to have them killed; that the Duke of Buckingham, thought to have coveted the crown himself, had a better motive; that Richmond, as Henry VII, might well have killed them, as he did a number of other possible pretenders to the crown.   However, the two youths were never seen again after entering the Tower in 1483, and responsibility must lie with Richard. 

This does not make him the fierce killer of the plays, of course; if he did have the princes murdered, he was simply following a fairly ordinary political convention of the day. However, what Shakespeare's rendering of Richard's career lacks in historical validity, it more than makes up for in theatrical success. Richard as a magnificent evildoer has entered our cultural consciousness, and there he remains; we can hardly wish it otherwise.


Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (1406-1455) is a Lancastrian rival of the Duke of York). Edmund is the younger brother of John Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset in 1 Henry VI, inherited both the rivalry and the title after John's death in 1444. The Somerset-York feud is a central feature in 1 Henry VI; however, 2 Henry VI focuses first on the fall of the Duke of Gloucester and later on the sudden rebelliousness of York, and this Somerset is a relatively minor figure. 

He is sufficiently consequential, however, that the Duchess of Gloucester, seeking political advice from the supernatural world, questions a Spirit about his future in 1.4. It is prophesied that Somerset should fear castles, a warning that at the time seems incomprehensible. In 1.3 Somerset is appointed the King's Regent in France, and he reappears in 3.1 to announce the loss of France, evidencing the harm that infighting among ambitious noblemen has done to England. When York returns from Ireland with an army, he demands Somerset's imprisonment. Somerset volunteers to go to the Tower if the king wishes, and York is placated. However, York encounters Somerset, still free, in 5.1 and takes the fact as cause for an armed rebellion. In the ensuing battle, the first of the Wars of the Roses, Somerset is killed by York's son beneath a tavern sign depicting a castle, thus fulfilling the prophecy. (In 1.1 of 3 Henry VI, Richard displays Somerset's head as a demonstration of his prowess in battle.) 

One theme of 2 Henry VI is the death of' good Duke Humphrey' at the hands of scheming nobles, who thereby deprived England of its only chance of avoiding the civil war that erupted during Henry's weak reign. Shakespeare desired to compress the events that led to that war, and he eclipsed Somerset's political importance in the process. Somerset was the favorite of Queen Margaret after the fall of Suffolk in 1450. However, Somerset had been the commander under whom Normandy was lost in the late 1440s, and he was Henry's chief minister in 1453, when England was irrevocably defeated in southern France. He was therefore in extreme disfavor at the time. So, even though Margaret would have preferred Somerset to act as Regent in the summer of 1453, when King Henry succumbed to a disabling form of insanity, his unpopularity with both the aristocracy and the public inhibited her, and York was given the post. He governed well and faithfully until late in 1454, when the King recovered. At this point, Somerset was restored to office, and it was this action, probably taken at Margaret's insistence, that led York to gather an army and eventually declare himself king. Shakespeare thus omits several years of intricate political maneuvering in order to clarify York's drive for the throne.


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 .


Sir Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (d. 1455) Historical figure and character in 2 Henry VI, an ally of the Duke of Suffolk against Gloucester and later of King Henry VI against the Duke of York. Buckingham enters Suffolk's conspiracy cheerfully, nominating himself as a possible replacement for Gloucester as Lord Protector (1.1.177-178). When the Duchess of Gloucester is driven from the assembled court by Queen Margaret, Buckingham volunteers to follow her, remarking that the woman's anger will make her 'gallop far enough to her destruction' (1.3.151), and in the next scene, indeed, Buckingham is able to arrest the Duchess for witchcraft. When Gloucester himself is arrested, Buckingham impatiently urges on the action (3.1.186-187). In 4.4 Buckingham counsels the King during the rebellion led by Jack Cade, and, with Clifford, he later (4.8) defuses that uprising by presenting the rebels with the King's offer of pardon. In 5.1 he acts as the King's representative to the Duke of York. Shakespeare's peremptory, sharp-spoken Buckingham rings one of the notes of individual personality among the group of fractious nobles that mark this play as an improvement over 1 Henry VI

The historical Buckingham died in the battle of Northampton, and his death is noted in 3 Henry VI (1.1), though it is placed at the battle of St. Albans, fought at the close of 2 Henry VI. His son, Henry, Duke of Buckingham, figures in Richard III.  Bullcalf, Peter Minor character in 2 Henry IV, one of the men whom Falstaff recruits for the army in 3.2. Bullcalf claims to be ill, despite the robust appearance his name suggests, but he is recruited anyway. However, his friend Ralph Mouldy secures release for them both by bribing Corporal Bardolph. The episode satirizes the notoriously corrupt practices of 16th-century recruiters.


Lord Thomas Clifford (1414-1455) is a backer of King Henry VI against the claims of the Duke of York. Clifford first appears as a representative of the King, offering a pardon to the rebel followers of Jack Cade in 4.8. Following York's declaration of rebellion in 5.1, Clifford supports the King and exchanges insults and challenges with the Earl of Warwick, but in the ensuing first battle of St. Albans, he is killed by York. His son. Young Clifford, on seeing his father's corpse, vows revenge on the followers of York, anticipating events in 3 Henry VI. In a famous instance of Shakespeare's carelessness, Clifford's death is reported in different ways in 3 Henry VI. In 1.1.9, it is stated that Clifford was killed by common soldiers, which almost surely is historically accurate. However, in 1.3.5 and 1.3.46, his son declares that he was killed by York. The playwright was following separate accounts in his sources, making good dramatic use of the son's reported remark—probably a rhetorical one—and forgetting to omit the altogether more plausible version.


Lord John Clifford (c. 1435-1461) is the obsessed avenger of his father's death, who kills both the Duke of York and his young son, Rutland. As Young Clifford, this character appears briefly in Act 5 of 2 Henry VI as a supporter of King Henry VI against the Duke of York and as a participant in the battle of St. Albans. On the battlefield, he sees the dead body of his father, Thomas Clifford, whom York has killed, and he delivers a famous speech (5.2.40-65), a rhetorical comparison of this death with the last judgment, closing with a vow of revenge that prefigures some of the most dramatic action in 3 Henry VI. 

In the later play Clifford's bloodthirsty quest for revenge reflects the bestiality that England's aristocracy has descended to as the civil war progresses. 'Patience is for poltroons', he cries (1.1.62), when King Henry tries to placate an angry earl. In 1.3, when he encounters Rutland, a child attempting to flee the battle of Wakefield, he kills the boy, despite his pleas for mercy, citing his own father's death as justification. When York is captured in 1.4, Queen Margaret can only with difficulty restrain Clifford long enough to enjoy herself tormenting her enemy with an account of Rutland's murder. Finally, unable to wait any longer, Clifford kills York also. In 2.2, before the battle of Towton, Clifford chastises King Henry for his 'harmful pity' in a speech filled with the animal imagery that contributes to the impression of savagery that runs so strongly throughout the play. Ironically, it is another bloody deed by Clifford that costs his side the battle: when Warwick hears that Clifford has killed his brother, that seemingly defeated leader is aroused and inspires the Yorkists to rally and win the day. In 2.6 Clifford appears, wounded in this battle, to deliver a death-bed speech in which he regrets the weakness of the monarch that has brought the country to this bloody pass. He recognizes that his enemies are upon him, and he dies daring them to wreak their vengeance on him. When they recognize him, before they realize he is dead, they taunt and mock him. 

Shakespeare took his account of Clifford's revenge on Rutland from Hall, but it is entirely unhistorical. Rutland was not a child; he was an officer in the Yorkist army. While he did die at Wakefield, it was never known who killed him. Moreover, it is not known who killed Clifford's father at St Albans either; he died in the\hick of the battle, as the playwright also reports in 3 Henry VI (in 1.1.9), in a famous instance of Shakespearean carelessness. Lastly, Clifford did not die at Towton, but in a skirmish several days earlier. He was struck in the neck by an arrow, as in the play, but was reported at the time to have died instantly.


Richard Neville, Earl of (Salisbury 1400-1460) is a patriotic nobleman, distinguished from the selfishly ambitious aristocrats around him. In 1.1 Salisbury and his son, the Earl of Warwick, determine to support the Duke of Gloucester, an honest and capable minister, against his enemies. In general, Salisbury is overshadowed by Warwick, who is to be a major figure in 3 Henry VI. For example, in 3.2 Salisbury, speaking for the enraged Commons, demands that Suffolk be punished for Gloucester's murder. However, it was Warwick, a hundred lines earlier, who had established Suffolk's guilt.

Salisbury's finest moment comes in 5.1, when he announces his support of York's claim to the throne. Reminded by King Henry VI of his oath of allegiance, Salisbury replies, It is great sin to swear unto a sin, /But greater sin to keep a sinful oath ...' (5.1.182-183).

The historical Salisbury was the son of the Earl of Westmoreland, who appears in 1 and 2 Henry IV. He was also the son-in-law, and thus successor to the title, of the Salisbury who dies at the siege of Orleans in 1 Henry VI. Shakespeare distorted Salisbury's political career considerably. Although he was not an enemy of Gloucester, he was not a notable ally of that lord either. As a great magnate of northern England, Salisbury was rather more limited in his concerns than the patriot depicted in 2 Henry VI. His chief rivals were the Percy family, of neighboring Northumberland, and he did not become close to York until, well after most of the events in the play, York's rival, Somerset, fell into a dispute over land with Warwick. As Somerset's enemy, York became the Nevilles' friend, and the family allied itself with York in time for the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. Salisbury was later captured at the battle of Wakefield and executed at Pomfret Castle, although this is not mentioned when the battle occurs in 3 Henry VI.

The early backing of York's cause by Warwick and Salisbury in 2 Henry VI seems intended to show how even the apparently upright patriots among the aristocracy became caught in the web of hypocrisy and falsehood that pervades all of these plays. It also serves to foreshadow Warwick's importance as the chief Yorkist in 3 Henry VI. It is sometimes argued on textual grounds that Salisbury originally had a small role in 1.2 of 3 Henry VI, but that the character was eliminated, perhaps before any performance was given, as a measure of economy for the acting company, and Salisbury's lines were given to Montague. 


Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (1428-1471) is the chief backer of the Duke of York and then the leader of an effort to dethrone York's son Edward IV after he has become King. The Earl of Warwick in 1 Henry VI was his father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp, and Shakespeare confused the two. Early in 2 Henry VI, Shakespeare has Neville laying claim to certain of Beauchamp's military accomplishments (1.1.118-120). 

The young nobleman of 2 Henry VI is a bold, hot tempered soldier, unswerving in his devotion to serving the cause of right. A proud and spirited youth, Warwick is unafraid to contradict such high-ranking lords as Cardinal Beaufort. Like his father, the Earl of Salisbury, he seeks the good of England rather than personal advancement, in contrast to the other aristocrats. York confides in the Nevilles his intention to seize the throne, claiming descent from Richard II, whose crown had been usurped by Henry VI's grandfather. Warwick and his father agree to support York, accepting the validity of his right to rule. In Act 5 Warwick distinguishes himself as a warrior, fighting with York's forces at the opening battle of the Wars of the Roses. He closes the play exulting in their success and hoping for more to come, thus anticipating the action of 3 Henry VI.

It is in the later play that Warwick becomes a major figure in the wars. After York is murdered by Queen Margaret, Warwick becomes the leading lieutenant for the Duke's sons. He boosts their spirits, encouraging Edward to claim the throne himself, and he leads them to war against Margaret. When the battle of Towton is all but lost, Warwick's rousing vow to revenge the death of his brother restores Yorkist morale and the day is saved. 

In consequence, Edward is crowned and Warwick seems to have accomplished his goal. He goes to France and negotiates a political marriage for Edward, thus securing the Yorkist position by acquiring a strong ally. However, his arrangements are peremptorily cancelled when word arrives that Edward has married an English commoner, who becomes Queen Elizabeth. Warwick, furious that his plans have been dismissed and that his promises to the French king have been dishonored, immediately allies himself with Margaret and the displaced Henry VI. He succeeds in capturing Edward and restoring Henry to the throne, but Edward escapes and himself captures Henry. In 5.2 Warwick is mortally wounded at the battle of Aarnet. He dies musing on the insignificance of his former power and influence. 

The historical Warwick, known as the 'kingmaker', was indeed the chief architect of Yorkist success, and Shakespeare's account of his drive and ambition ring true. However, in his need to compress the sequence of historical events, the playwright distorted the developments behind Warwick's defection to Margaret, which in the play seems so sudden as to be almost frivolous. Shakespeare preserved the essential features of the story, but Warwick's motives were rather more complicated and humanly interested than those of the fickle figure in the play. 

Relations between the kingmaker and his former protege became strained once Edward was in power. Although Warwick disapproved of Edward's marriage, it did not occur while he was in Paris arranging another one; nor was it the principal cause of their split, which did not occur until years later. The two fought over foreign policy, and Warwick's opinions were increasingly ignored. Moreover, when Warwick tried to arrange a marriage between his daughter and Edward's brother George, the king angrily rejected the idea. In 1469, eight years after Edward's coronation, George and Warwick staged a coup. Warwick ruled for nine months in Edward's name, but the king gathered loyalist supporters and drove the usurpers from the kingdom. It was at this point that Warwick, desperate, accepted the proposition of King Lewis, Louis XI of France, that he ally himself with Margaret and restore Henry to the throne. Accordingly, his other daughter, Anne, was betrothed to the onetime Prince of Wales, Margaret and Henry's son. As in the play, this alliance briefly placed Henry back on the throne before losing the battle of Barnet, where Warwick did indeed die.


Lord Thomas Scales (d. 1460) is the commander of the Tower of London during the rebellion led by Jack Cade in 4.5. Scales, whose historical role is accurately presented, helps drive the rebels from London. Scales is also mentioned in passing in 1 Henry VI as having been captured by the French (1.1.146), as indeed he had been historically.


Lord James Finnes Say, (d. 1450) is the treasurer of England who is captured and killed by Jack Cade’s rebels. Lord Say is presented as a noble and courageous man who volunteers to stay in London when the rebels approach in 4.4, although he knows that they particularly hate him, for unspecified reasons. He refuses to retreat with the king, lest his presence endanger the monarch. Seized by the rebels and taken before their leader in 4.7, Say is roundly insulted by Cade and accused of deeds ordinarily considered good, such as founding a school. He pleads his own virtues, but is beheaded by the rebels. 

Shakespeare incorporated this merciless execution of a patently good man into his version of Cade's rebellion in order to paint it as thoroughly evil. Just as the reality of the revolt was different, so was Say a different sort of nobleman than the one depicted here. He was a widely despised landowner in Kent, greedy and oppressive, and a close associate of the equally detested Duke of Suffolk. Moreover, as Treasurer, he was generally held responsible for the high taxes necessitated by the same misrule that had sparked the rebellion. When the rebels neared London, the King's government did not hesitate to imprison Say in the Tower as a sop to public sentiment before fleeing itself. When the rebels were welcomed into the city, one of their first acts was to execute Say, who made no defence that was recorded.


Sir Humphrey Stafford (d. 1450) is a nobleman sent, in 4.2, to deal with the rebellion led by Jack Cade.  An arrogant aristocrat, Stafford takes the position least likely to defuse an uprising, addressing the mob as Rebellious hinds, the filth and scum of Kent.' (4.2.116). He and his Brother are killed in the skirmish that follows in 4.3. Stafford was not related to the Duke of Buckingham, another figure in the play, although he bore the same name.

William Stafford Brother of Sir Humphrey.  He accompanies Sir Humphrey on a mission to put down the revolt led by Jack Cade.  The brother supports Stafford in his undiplomatic approach to the rebels in 4.2; they are both killed in the skirmish in 4.3.

Sir John Stanley is a nobleman to whose castle on the Isle of Man the Duchess of Gloucester is banished in 2 3. In 2.4 Sir John escorts the Duchess from London after she has been humiliated by being paraded through the streets. He is sympathetic to her for her husband's sake, and promises to treat her 'Like to a duchess, and Duke Humphrey's lady' (2.4.98). The Isle of Man, in the middle of the Irish Sea, is remote and isolated even now; in the 15th century it was an ideal place of exile. Sir Thomas Stanley inherited the island from his father, Sir John, with whom Shakespeare confused him. John had received it in 1406 from Henry IV, as a reward for supporting the deposition of Richard II.


Sir William Vaux (d. 1471) is a messenger who announces the terminal illness of Cardinal Beaufort in 3.2. Vaux gives a vivid account of the Cardinal's guilty raving about the murder of the Duke of Gloucester. The historical Sir William Vaux was a minor member of the entourage of the Cardinal. He later died fighting for Henry VI at the battle of Tewkesbury. His son was the Sir Nicholas Vaux who appears in Henry VIII, and his grandson was the poet Sir Thomas Vaux.


Matthew Goffe (d. 1450) In 4.5, during the battle to drive Jack Cade’s rebels from London, Lord Scales asserts that he will assign Goffe to a sector of the fighting, and, in a stage direction at the beginning of 4.7, Goffe is said to be killed in a skirmish. The historical Gough, a renowned warrior in the French wars, had shared command of the Tower of London with Scales, and he was indeed killed while fighting the rebels. His phantom presence in the play may reflect an actual appearance that was deleted in a revision.


Some editions, following the Contention, or Bad Quarto, assign this rank to the Lieutenant, who appears in 4.1. This small difference presumably resulted from an actor or viewer's assumption that the leader of the pirates would be called their captain. The Quarto presents a reconstruction of the play from memory, while the Lieutenant's rank in the First Folio edition and its successors is believed to come from the original manuscript.

Master The master is a petty officer on a pirate ship.  In 4.1 the Lieutenant of the ship awards to the master the ransom of a Gentleman.  One of several captured by the pirates.

Walter Whitmore is a sailor on a pirate ship and the executioner of the Duke of Suffolk in 4.1. The Lieutenant of the vessel gives Whitmore the authority to collect a ransom from Suffolk, whom the pirates have captured from another ship. Whitmore, having lost an eye in the battle for the ship, wants revenge, not ransom, and lie insists, over the Lieutenant's protests, that he will kill Suffolk. When he identifies himself by name, it is as 'Water' Whitmore, the Elizabethan pronunciation of his name, and Suffolk is reminded of the prediction made by a Spirit in 1.4 that he would die by water. When the Lieutenant learns who Suffolk is, he denounces the Duke's political crimes and sends him with Whitmore to be beheaded. Whitmore returns with Suffolk's head and body and gives them to a released prisoner, a Gentleman, who is to take them to London.

Gentlemen Either one of two gentlemen who are captured with the Duke of Suffolk.  After the gentlemen agree to pay their ransom, Suffolk is executed and one of the gentlemen is released to deliver the ransom messages to London and he delivers Suffolk's severed head as proof to Queen Margaret.

John Hume (active 1441) is a dishonest priest who arranges to hire a witch, Margery Jourdain, and two sorcerers, John Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke, for the Duchess of Gloucester. The Duchess wishes to read the future so that she can prepare for a possible coup against King Henry VI. In 1.2 Hume reveals in a soliloquy that he is also in the pay of the Duke of Suffolk, who seeks the Duchess' downfall as part of his campaign against her husband, the Duke of Gloucester. Consequently, Hume's information leads to the arrest of the Duchess, along with that of Hume and the magicians, at a seance in 1.4. Hume's confederacy with Suffolk does him little good, for the king sentences him to death in 2.3 for his part- in the plot.  Historically, Hume, whose first name was actually Thomas, was pardoned, for reasons that the chronicles do not specify; there is, however, no evidence that he was an agent of Gloucester's enemies. Shakespeare's reason for omitting Hume's pardon, seemingly appropriate to his presentation, is not apparent. Perhaps the playwright intended a subtle intimation of treachery on Suffolk's part. Or this may simply be an instance of the petty inconsistencies to which the playwright was persistently susceptible.


John Southwell (d. 1441) is a sorcerer whom Hume employs, along with Bolingbroke and Margery Jourdain, to summon a spirit for the Duchess of Gloucester, who wishes to see the future to prepare for a possible coup. In a seance in 1.4 Southwell helps Bolingbroke to cast a magic spell that summons the spirit Asnath, who answers questions about the king and a certain noblemen. Southwell is arrested, along with his fellows and their client, by the dukes of York and Buckingham. In 2.3 the king sentences him to be strangled. The historical Southwell was a priest. He died in prison the night before his scheduled execution.


Roger Bolingbroke (d. 1441) is a sorcerer who, along with John Southwell and Margery Jourdain, is hired by Hume to summon and question a spirit for the Duchess of Gloucester, who wishes to know the prospects for a coup. Bolingbroke addresses the spirit, Asnath. He asks it questions, provided by the duchess, about the futures of the king and nobles. They are all arrested by the dukes of York and Buckingham. In 2.3 the king sentences Bolingbroke to be strangled. The historical Bolingbroke was a priest. His execution was of a sort reserved for particularly heinous criminals: he was hanged and then publicly disemboweled and quartered.


Thomas Horner is an armorer who is reported to have remarked that his client the Duke of York was 'rightful heir to the crown' (1.3.26). Homer's apprentice, Peter, informs the Duke of Suffolk of Homer's assertion, and Suffolk brings them both before the court in an effort to embarrass York. Horner denies Peter's assertion, and a trial by combat is ordered by the Duke of Gloucester, the Lord Protector. Thus a potentially explosive issue is postponed and diverted into what will prove a minor spectacle for the court. Also, at Gloucester's recommendation, the reappointment of York as Regent of France is withheld until this question should cool off. Thus the episode serves to illustrate Gloucester's qualities of prudence and discretion—ironically not long before his downfall. 

Horner, though expected to win the combat against the cowardly Peter, arrives at the contest drunk in 2.3 and is slain by his apprentice. Dying, he confesses that Peter's account had been true, and the apprentice is exonerated. Although the combat is not treated seriously by the court, it prefigures York's rebellion in the Wars of the Roses, which begins later in the play.


Peter is an apprentice to an armorer, Thomas Horner. In 1.3 Peter reports that his master has said that the Duke of York is 'rightful heir to the crown' (1.3.26). This bit of hearsay is seized upon by the Duke of Suffolk, who accuses York of treason and has Peter repeat his account later in the scene. Homer denies having said such a thing, and the question is referred to a trial by combat. This procedure, a judicious postponement of a potentially explosive issue, is ordered by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester. In the meantime, at Gloucester's suggestion, York's reappointment as Regent of France is postponed until the matter is resolved. Thus, as his downfall approaches, 'good Duke Humphrey' is given an opportunity to display the qualities of prudence and judgment that are shortly to be denied the country through the selfish ambitions of Suffolk and others. 

Although Peter is desperately afraid to fight, Homer arrives for the contest drunk in 2.3, and Peter slays him. The dying armorer confesses the truth of Peter's report, and the apprentice is exonerated. Although the nobles do not take this clownish incident seriously, the episode prefigures York's actual treason, which sparks the Wars of the Roses, later in the play.

Clerk of Chatham.

Clerk is a victim executed by the rebels led by Jack Cade. Cade and his men are suspicious of the clerk's literacy, which they construe as a sign of hostility towards the peasantry. They are particularly infuriated by the fact that his given name is Emmanuel, a word often used to head legal documents. Cade orders him hung 'with his pen and ink-horn about his neck' (4.2.103-104). The incident is one of several that Shakespeare uses to depict Cade's rebellion as an anarchic uprising by ignorant peasants concerned only with killing their betters, although historically this was not the case.

Mayor of Saint Alban's. The Mayor accompanies Simpcox, a confidence man who is presented to the king's hawking party in 2.1.

Saunder Simpcox is an imposter who claims to have been blind and had his sight miraculously restored. The gullible villagers of St. Albans present him to the king's hawking party and the equally credulous Henry VI begins to congratulate him, but the Duke of Gloucester exposes the fraud through clever interrogation. Simpcox, who has also said he is lame, is whipped on Gloucester's orders, and he naturally runs away from the whipper, further revealing his imposture. Gloucester orders Simpcox and his Wife to be whipped through every town until they arrive at the remote village they have claimed to come from. The incident, besides providing a bit of low comedy, was intended by Shakespeare to demonstrate the sound judgment of Gloucester.


Alexander Iden (active 1450) is a landowner who kills the rebel Jack Cade, who has hidden in his garden, in 4.10. Iden represents an ideal of the English country gentleman and small landowner. He is the very opposite of the subversive and destructive Cade, and also of the scheming noblemen whose ambitions are the chief business of the play. We see Iden before he knows of Cade's presence, enjoying his garden and rejoicing in his lot. Challenged by the desperate and angry Cade, Iden refuses to send for help. They fight, and Iden kills Cade, cursing the rebel as he does so. In 5.1 he presents King Henry VI with Cade's head and is knighted.  Shakespeare created this paragon of the minor gentry from a bare mention of Cade's killer in the chronicles. The historical Iden was a sheriff of Kent who presumably killed Cade for the sizeable bounty that was offered for the rebel's head, which he in fact collected.


Jack Cade (d. 1450) is the leader of a rebellion and pretender to the throne of England. Cade, whose revolt occupies most of Act 4, is presented as a buffoonish but brutal figure. He makes preposterous promises to his followers and proposes to legislate on such matters as the length of Lent. He also whimsically executes people for being literate or for being ignorant of an arbitrary change in his title. He enthusiastically seconds a follower s proposal: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers' (4.2.73). In the case of Lord Say, the victim s actual virtues, such as having been a benefactor of education, are used by Cade as grounds for his death. Cade orders the destruction of London Bridge the Tower of London, and the Inns of Court as well' All this viciousness is explained as having been commissioned by the Duke of York in order to give him a reason to bring an army into England and suppress the rebels.   

In presenting this episode, Shakespeare took remarkable liberties with history, for not only did the historical York have nothing to do with Cade's rebellion, but the uprising itself is based in part on accounts ot a different event, the Peasants' Rebellion of 1381 when there were attempts to destroy London Bridge and the Inns of Court. The proposal to kill the lawyers ( also dates from the earlier revolt, which was a much more anarchic and bloody affair than the one actually led by Cade.             

The historical Cade was probably Irish; he had married into a minor landholding family in Kent and the rebels he led were lesser gentry, artisans, and tradesmen-that is, members of the nascent middle class. Their revolt was intended to achieve well defined ends that were expressed in a document, the Complaint of the Commons of Kent', which demonstrates an informed awareness of real political problems. It refers to the loss of France and subsequent Kentish business losses, and to excessive taxation and the extravagance of the royal household. It complains of the dominance of the Duke of Suffolk among the King's councilors, for Suffolk was hated in Kent as an unreasonable and extortionate magnate. 

As Cade and his men approached London, in June 1450, they ambushed a party of royal troops and killed the commander, Sir Humphrey Stafford and his Brother, as in the play. At this point, the royal government placed Lord Say in the Tower of London as a sop to popular sentiment, and fled to the countryside. (Say was a widely detested Kentish landowner and no model aristocrat, as Shakespeare presents him. On July 4, the people of London welcomed the rebels into the city, and Say was taken from the Tower and executed. After several days, the Kentishmen had seemingly worn out their welcome, for the citizens aided by the Tower guards under Lord Scales who appears in the play, drove them south across the Thames into Southward There, the King's pardon was offered to all who would disperse, and most did Cade himself did not, and he was pursued and killed by Alexander IDEN, who was the Sheriff of Kent and not the simple, patriotic landowner of the play. 

Shakespeare thus took a real episode from the period of his play and altered its character in order to make certain points. From the prevalent Elizabethan point of view, which Shakespeare shared, Cade and others like him were traitors pure and simple propagators of vicious and immoral doctrines that could only undermine society. Thus the playwright felt perfectly justified in depicting Cade's undertaking as a more brutal and violent event than it in fact was tor an important point addressed by the history plays' is the value of political stability. The distinction between Cade's revolt and the 1381 uprising was unimportant to Shakespeare; each constituted an unacceptable subversion of a properly ordered society. 

The episode of Cade, as it is presented, serves three purposes. First, it provides comic relief after the sustained political battle, ending in the murder of Gloucester, of Acts 1-3. The buffoonery of Cade and his followers is in an old tradition of comical rusticity that Shakespeare always favored. However the humor quickly turns vicious, and the evil of anarchy is abundantly demonstrated, which is the second function of the action. The uncontrolled common people mirror the dissensions of the nobles and demonstrate conversely Shakespeare's most important political point—that all social good derives from a stable monarchy. Third, the episode is associated with the rise of York and thus serves to introduce the final sequence of the drama the ambitious advance to open rebellion by that lord.  Thus aristocratic ambition is demonstrated to have directly produced tragic disorder among the common people.

MICHAEL He is a follower of the rebel Jack Cade. In 4.2, Michael brings back word that Sir Humphrey Stafford is approaching with troops to put down the rebellion.
SMITH Smith is a follower of Jack Cade.  As the rebels are introduced in 4.2, Smith indulges in several joking asides at the expense of his leader, exhibiting the buffoonery that was one aspect of Shakespeare's characterization of Cade's uprising.
DICK Dick the butcher is a follower of Cade and makes several jokes at his leader's expense in 4.2.  Dick also delivers the famous line "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers. "
HOLLAND Holland disuses the rebellion with his friend George Bevis and they join the rebels when they appear.  Holland also makes several joking asides.  An actor by this same name is known to have acted with Shakespeare's company and that the character was simply given his name.
BEVIS Bevis discusses Cade's rebellion with his friend John Holland in 4.2 and the two men revolt.  In 4.7 Bevis serves as the guard over the captured Lord Say.  Since Holland is known to have been a minor actors of the early 1590's, George Bevis probably was also, and his name likely give to this character.
First Murderer One of 3 murderers that kill the Duke of Gloucester.  The First Murderer calmly accepts payment for the crime from the Duke of Suffolk, thus distinguishing himself from the second murderer who is conscience stricken.
Second Murderer One of 3 murderers that kill the Duke of Gloucester.  He regrets the deed because their victim had died religiously.

Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) is the French-born Queen, and later widow, of King Henry VI. Taken as a single role, running through four plays, Margaret is surely the greatest female part in Shakespeare. She develops from an ingenuous young woman thrust into prominence, through a career as a scheming plotter and a courageous and persistent military leader, to a final appearance as a raging, Furylike crier of curses against her triumphant enemies. 

In 1 Henry VI Margaret plays only a brief role as a French prisoner of war intended as a bride for King Henry by the devious Suffolk, who loves her himself. Her importance is chiefly to prepare the groundwork for the action of 2 Henry VI. She replaces Joan La Pucelle (Joan of Arc) as the symbolic Frenchwoman who plagues an England that is divided by the selfish ambitions of the aristocracy. Her appearance marks the completion of one disaster, the loss of France, and begins another, a civil war. 

In 2 Henry VI Margaret's flawed personality is demonstrated early on. She conspires with Suffolk to bring about the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester because she resents Gloucester's influence over the King and her own resulting insignificance. She displays an evil temper when she abuses the Petitioners in 1.3; later in this scene she mocks her husband's piety. When Gloucester is forced by his wife's disgrace to leave his position as Lord Protector, Margaret exults, comparing Gloucester's relinquished scepter of office to an amputated limb (2.3.42). We are not surprised when this bloody-minded woman proposes killing her enemy to ensure against his possible return to power. When the King mourns Gloucester's subsequent murder, Margaret dares to complain that Henry is paying too little attention to her. Henry banishes Suffolk from England for his part in the crime, and, as the Queen and the Duke bid each other farewell, they reveal their passionate love. Shakespeare, aware as always of the complexities of human nature, offsets his portrait of this villainess by evoking a glimmer of sympathy for a woman losing her lover. 

In 3 Henry VI the Queen assumes a major role in the civil war, replacing the ineffectual King at the head of his armies. Her bold and cruel nature reveals itself most fully at the battle of Wakefield, when York has been captured. Margaret insists on postponing his death so that she may torment him with barbs and, most chillingly, with evidence of the murder of his child, Rutland. Before he dies, York rages at her, calling her a 'she-wolf of France' (1.4.111), an epithet that has been applied to her by writers ever since, and as a 'tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide' (1.4. 137), a line that was parodied in the earliest reference to Shakespeare that has survived. 

At the crucial battle Townton, Margaret is plainly the leader of the King's forces; in fact, she orders Henry to stay away from the fighting. Although the battle is lost and York's son Edward is enthroned in Henry's place, Margaret refuses to give up and she goes to France in search of military aid. When she is once again prepared to fight, she sends word to Edward, 'Tell him my mourning weeds are laid aside, / And I am ready to put armour on' (3.3.229-230). Despite her viciousness, this dauntless warrior does command some admiration. 

The subsequent battle of Tewkesbury results in Margaret's final defeat. Forced to witness the killing of her son, the Prince of Wales, Margaret is reduced to lamentations and curses ironically similar to those delivered by York just three acts earlier. Richard, later Richard III, wishes to kill Margaret, saying, 'Why should she live to fill the world with words?' (5.5.43). He aptly predicts her role in Richard III. 

Margaret's role in that work is limited to only two scenes, but it is a very powerful element of the play, for she represents Nemesis, the personification of retribution through fate, a theme that underlies the entire minor Tetraology, which Richard III closes. In 1.3 she heaps elaborate curses upon her victorious foes, reserving for Richard her choicest and subtlest imprecations, hoping that his punishment not come to pass until his 'sins be ripe' (1.3.219). In the formal and theatrical manner of a Greek Chorus, Margaret restates past grievances and suggests future developments. She departs with the prediction that her enemies will come to regard her as 'a prophetess' (1.3. 301). Before her return, in 4.4, many of her curses will have been substantially fulfilled through Richard's murderous malignity, and Richard's own downfall is in progress. Several of Richard's victims reflect on Margaret's curses as they go to their deaths, thereby making more evident her role as Nemesis. 

In 4.4 Margaret gloats over the misfortunes of Queen Elizabeth, and leaves for France, content that she has stayed in England long enough to witness the fall of those who brought about her decline. As she departs, the climax of the play is about to unfold, and she has fulfilled her function. As an almost supernatural embodiment of Vengeance, she has represented an amoral world that is now to be overcome by the Christian reconciliation of Richmond. 

Although Margaret of Anjou was a central figure in the Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare took considerable liberties with her story. He magnified the importance, and the evil, of a Queen who only naturally used her strengths to shore up the fortunes other incompetent husband. Her foreignness and her gender made her useful as a witchlike figure at the centre of the web of treachery and violence that characterize the plays of the minor tetralogy. 

For instance, Margaret's love affair with Suffolk, from its beginnings in 1 Henry VI, is entirely fictitious. In Part 2 Shakespeare ascribes to her an important role in English politics almost from the moment she sets foot in England in 1444. In fact, Margaret was a 14-year-old bride with no political experience, placed in an unfamiliar court and country, and she had little or no impact on English affairs for a decade. The fall of the Duchess of Gloucester, which she helps bring about in the play, occurred historically before her arrival. The Duke of Gloucester was probably not murdered, and Margaret had little to do with his political defeat in any case. In 1453 she attempted to assume the Regency of the realm during the period of her husband's insanity (ignored by Shakespeare). However, government by a Frenchwoman was unacceptable to the English aristocracy, and York was appointed Protector. His replacement by the Queen's protege, Somerset, eventually led to the opening of the wars, with the first battle of St. Albans. 

The Queen was not present at that conflict, as she is in Shakespeare, but in the period immediately following it, she became an important leader of Henry's forces. However, the central incidents in the playwright's version of Margaret's role as a leader are fictitious. The Queen was not present to seize control on the occasion of Henry's concessions to York, enacted in 1.1 of 3 Henry VI; nor was she a party to the killing of York, depicted with such extravagance in 1.4. Although she was indeed a force behind the later renewal of Lancastrian hopes, Warwick was far more important. She was in any case neither captured at Tewkesbury nor forced to witness her son's death; he was actually killed in the fighting, and she escaped to be captured a week later. She was imprisoned for several years and then ransomed by the King of France, to whose court she retired for the last six years of her life. 

In Richard III Margaret's mere presence constitutes a final distortion of history, for she first appears on an occasion that actually took place only after her death in France. Shakespeare ignored this reality in order to use once more, in a highly symbolic manner, the strong but malign character he had developed in the course of the Henry VI plays.


Duchess of Gloucester, Eleanor de Bohun (1367-1399) is sister-in-law of John of Gaunt and widow of Duke Thomas of Gloucester. In 1.2 the Duchess visits Gaunt to discuss her husband's murder. She blames King Richard II for his death and passionately entreats Gaunt to avenge it. He insists that vengeance against a king may be taken only by God, and the Duchess wrathfully expresses the hope that Bolingbroke will kill Mowbray, whom she says murdered Gloucester at the king's order. Then she resignedly asserts that she will soon die of grief and departs for her home. Her death is reported in 1.1. The episode casts light on the conflicts of 1.1 and 1.5, making clear to the audience that Richard is implicated in Gloucester's murder and that Bolmgbroke‘s accusation of Mowbray is embarrassing to the king. Although the Duchess appears to be Gaunt s contemporary, she was actually a generation younger, (being only 32 when she died, reportedly of grief at the v death other only son. Shakespeare's rendering other as an older woman helps to heighten the pathos of the vanishing medieval world that colors his story of the king's fall.


Margery Jourdain (d. 1441) is a witch hired by Hume to summon a spirit for the Duchess of Gloucester.  In 1.4, at a seance, Margery summons the spirit Asnath, and, after it has been questioned by the sorcerer Bolingbroke, she is arrested, with her fellows and the Duchess, by the dukes of York and Buckingham. In 2.3 the King sentences her to be burned at the stake. The historical Jourdain claimed to have magical powers and was convicted of using them in the employ of the Duchess, and she was indeed burned at the stake.


Soldier is a messenger who enters the camp of the rebel leader Jack Cade in 4.6, unaware that Cade has just declared it an act of treason to address him as anything but 'Lord Mortimer'. The Soldier, knowing no better, calls out for 'Cade'; the leader orders him set upon, and he is killed. This incident serves to present a vicious side of the uprising, which has earlier been treated as a focus of broad humor. Now Cade, in addition to being a buffoon, is shown to be a blood-thirsty tyrant in the making.


Post is a messenger who brings word of an Irish rebellion in 3.1.


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