Character Directory

KING HENRY the Sixth

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.


Prince Edward of Wales, (1453-1471) is the heir apparent to King Henry VI. The young Prince Edward, son of Henry and Queen Margaret, has inherited his mother's bold and courageous spirit, and, unlike his father, strongly opposes the efforts of York and his sons to seize the throne. He reproaches his father for his weakness on several occasions, and he presents a consistently fiery front to the usurpers; in consequence, he is stabbed to death by Edward and the other York sons after being taken prisoner in the battle of Tewkesbury in 5.5. The young Prince is a model of chivalry and thus rather dull, but he is intended as a symbolic figure, rather than a developed personality. He serves as a foil for his father's more complex and human weakness, and, further, as a suggestion of what might have been—an instance of the rigor and pride kingship demands. Shakespeare saw its absence in Henry VI as having been tragic for England. The Ghost of the young Prince appears in Richard III.   The murder of the captive Prince was part of the Tudor version of the Wars of the Roses, but it is apparently fictitious. Shakespeare took it from his chief source, Edward Hall but according to earlier accounts, he was killed in the battle, a much more likely end.


Lewis is insulted when King Edward IV of England voids his agreement to marry the French King's sister-in-law. Lady Bona. Lewis agrees to back an effort by Margaret and Warwick to invade England and reinstate the deposed Henry VI as king, thereby beginning another phase of the Wars of the Roses.  In a gross over-simplification of years of foreign policy manoeuvrings, Shakespeare presents a cardboard French king who simply wavers from sympathy with Margaret to alliance with Edward and back again. In reality, Louis XI, known as 'the Spider' for ruthless diplomacy, had long enjoyed good relations with Warwick. Upon Edward's accession, Warwick had backed an English alliance with France and had proposed the marriage to Bona, though nothing came of the idea. Edward, on the other hand, had opted for a connection with Louis' enemy, Burgundy. When Warwick initiated his coup in 1469, Louis discreetly provided him funds. Then, when Warwick was forced to flee England, it was Louis who initiated the alliance with Margaret in June 1470, six years after Edward's marriage to Lady Elizabeth. He financed Warwick's invasion and surely regarded the money as well spent, despite Warwick's ultimate failure, because the incident disrupted English politics significantly.


Duke Somerset is —a combination of two historical figures—who betrays King Edward IV to support Warwick in his rebellion. Shakespeare confused two dukes of Somerset who participated in the Wars of the Roses, Henry (1436-1464) and his younger brother Edmund (c.1438-1471), both of them sons of the Duke of Somerset of 2 Henry VI. In 4.1 of 3 Henry VI Somerset leaves Edward's court with George to join Warwick and fight for the reinstatement of the deposed King Henry VI. This Somerset must be Henry, who deserted the Lancastrians and then rejoined them, at which point he is depicted here. Henry was finally captured and beheaded by the Yorkists. All of the subsequent appearances of Somerset in the play occur well after the date of Henry's execution and thus must portray Edmund, who succeeded to his brother's title. Edmund was always a firm Lancastrian, and it is he who is shown aiding the young Richmond in 4.6, supporting Warwick and Margaret in Act 5, and being sentenced to death after the battle of Tewkesbury, in 5.5, as Edmund in fact was.


Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter (1430-1473) is a supporter of King Henry VI and Queen Margaret.  Exeter acknowledges the claim to rule of the Duke of York in 1.1, but he remains loyal to Henry. This may represent a slip by the playwright, or it may be a subtle reminder of the difficulty of the issue for the participants.


John de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1443-1513) is a follower of Queen Margaret and King Henry VI in the former play, and of Richmond in the latter. In 3 Henry VI Oxford supports Margaret against Warwick at the French court in 3.3. When Warwick changes sides and joins Margaret, Oxford participates in the campaign to reinstate Henry. He is captured at the battle of Tewkesbury and sentenced to imprisonment. The historical Oxford was not present at Tewkesbury, having fled the country after the earlier battle of Barnet. Several years later, he attempted another invasion but was defeated and 'captured, beginning the imprisonment mentioned in the play. After 10 years, he escaped and joined the Earl of Richmond in Paris. In Richard III Oxford, though historically an important general in Richmond's campaign, speaks only two lines.


Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (1421-1461) is among the nobles who depart from Henry in anger, when the king agrees to bequeath the throne to York in 1.1. He appears with Queen Maragaret and Lord Clifford in 1.4, when the captive York is murdered; his sympathy for York, who is tormented with evidence of his young son's murder before his own, is chastised by the queen. He later dies at the battle of Towton. This Northumberland was the grandson of Henry Percy, known as Hotspur, who figures in Richard II and 1 Henry IV. His father, Hotspur's son, died at the first battle of St. Albans, as is described in the opening lines of 3 Henry VI.


Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland (c. 1404-1484) is a Lancastrian nobleman Westmoreland is one of the supporters of King Henry VI who angrily leave the monarch's presence when he agrees to bequeath the throne to York in 1 1 Following his sources, Shakespeare erred in assigning this Westmoreland a role in the Wars of the Roses He took no part in the conflict and is thought to have been an invalid. He was the grandson of the Earl of Westmoreland who appears in 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V.


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 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.


Edmund York, Earl of Rutland (1443-1460) is the murdered son of the Duke of York. Rutland, though only a child, is killed by the vengeful Lord Clifford as he attempts to flee from the battle of Wakefield in 1.3, accompanied by his Tutor. His blood, preserved on a handkerchief, is used in 1.4 to torment his father, whom Clifford kills as well. These highly dramatic encounters exemplify the barbarity of the Wars of The Roses. Shakespeare took the incident from his source, Edward Hall, but it is entirely fictitious. Rutland was not a child, but, at 17 years old, was an adult by the standards of the time. He fought in the battle of Wakefield and was slain there, but, as is normal for 15th-century warfare, no particular combatant can be positively identified as his killer.


George York, Duke of Clarence (1449-1478) is the untrustworthy younger brother of Edward IV. George returns from exile following the death of his father, the Duke of York. He supports Edward in his pursuit of the crown, becoming Duke of Clarence upon his brother's accession. However, resenting the advancement of his brother's in-laws (see Elizabeth, he joins Warwick in his rebellion, leaving Edward's court in 4.1. After helping Warwick reinstate Henry VI, George is persuaded to defect again by his younger brother Richard in 5.1, and he returns to Edward's cause. After fighting for Edward at Barnet and Tewkesbury and participating in the murder of the Prince of Wales, George is present in the final scene to pledge his rather doubtful loyalty to his elder brother. In Richard III the same figure appears as Clarence, and he is often so called, by himself and other characters, in 3 Henry VI

The historical George remained abroad in exile until Edward was crowned, at which time he was still only 12 years old. Shakespeare brings him into the action before that time, and as an adult, in order to establish him as a member of Edward's court well before he deserts it. Also, George's prominence in the play does much to emphasize the disloyalty and lack of honor that prevailed at the time of the Wars of the Roses.


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.


John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk (1415-1461) a supporter of the Yorkist cause in the War of the Roses. Norfolk's paternal grandfather was the Thomas Mowbray of Richard II. His uncle was the Lord Mowbray of 2 Henry IV.


John Neville, Lord Montague (c. 1428-1471) a supporter of the Duke of York and his sons who deserts their cause to join his brother, the Earl of Warwick, in his revolt. Montague is a Yorkist through 4.1, when he declares his loyalty to King Edward IV, although Warwick's rebellion has begun.  However, when he next appears, in 4.6, he is with Warwick. His death in the battle of Barnet is reported in 5.2.  The motives of the historical Montague, omitted by Shakespeare, are interesting for the light they cast on the politics of the Wars of the Roses. Upon his accession, Edward had confiscated the estates of the Earl of Northumberland and given them to Montague.  After Warwick's defection, seeking allies in the north, Edward gave them back to Northumberland's heir. Edward thought he had appeased Montague with new titles, but he was wrong. When Warwick landed in England with his invasion forces, Montague joined him and a large body of troops was placed under his command. This event is depicted in 5.1.


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.


William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (d. 1469) is a supporter of Edward IV. Pembroke, who does not speak, is present when the Yorkist leaders learn that Warwick has deserted their cause in 4.1. He is ordered, with Lord Stafford, to raise an army. In 1469, the historical Pembroke, who received his title from Edward for his services in the civil war, was commissioned, with Stafford, to put down a local rebellion that Warwick had sponsored; because of a personal dispute, Stafford withheld his forces from a battie, and the rebels captured and beheaded Pembroke. The historical Pembroke was the father of Sir Walter Herbert, who appears in Richard III. Through an illegitimate son, he was also the great-grandfather of Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, the sponsor of Pembroke’s Men the actor's company with which Shakespeare was probably associated when he wrote this play.


Lord William Hastings (c. 1430-1483) is a Yorkist supporter who becomes a victim of political murder. In 3 Henry VI Hastings is only a minor nobleman attached to Edward IV, but in Richard III, he is more prominent. He exemplifies the pettiness of English public life during the Wars of the Roses. He profits from Richard's rise, as his old enemies are imprisoned and sentenced to death, but he is unwilling to aid his leader's attempt to seize the crown; he is reluctant to oppose the legal heirs. Richard accordingly turns on him, but Hastings, ignoring warnings, has too little imagination to conceive that his situation has changed. In 3.4 Richard fabricates a tale of treason, accuses Hastings, and condemns him to death in one sentence, as his victim sits speechless. In 3.7 Richard justifies Hastings' immediate execution, citing the dangers of the supposed plot.  The historical Hastings played an obscure role in the events surrounding Richard's accession. Shakespeare followed his source in having Richard fabricate Hastings' treason, but it was probably real. In June 1483 he apparently joined in an attempt to unseat Richard from his position as Protector of Edward's Young heir.  The plot failed, and Richard arrested Hastings and had him executed without a trial, as in the play.


Lord Humphrey Stafford (1439-1469) is a supporter of King Edward IV. Stafford, who does not speak, is present when the Yorkist leaders learn that Warwick has deserted their cause, and he is ordered, with Lord Pembroke, to raise an army The historical Stafford, who was knighted by Edward during the battle of Towton sent with Pembroke in 1469 to subdue a local uprising that Warwick had incited. Because of a personal dispute between the two commanders, Stafford withheld his forces from a battle, the result that pembroke was captured and beheaded by the rebels. Stafford was declared a traitor and was hunted down and executed by the local authorities.


Sir John Mortimer (d. 1460) is an uncle and supporter of the Duke of York. In 1.2 Sir John arrives with his brother, Hugh Mortimer, to offer aid to York before the battle of Wakedfield. Sir John speaks one line; the deaths of the brothers in the battle is reported in 1.4.2. The historical figures appear only as names in the death list of the battle, where they are mentioned as 'bastard uncles' of York.

SIR HUGH MORTIMER Sir Hugh Mortimer (d. 1460) is an uncle and supporter of the Duke of York. In 1.2 Sir Hugh arrives with his brother, John Mortimer, to offer aid to York before the battle of Wakefield. Sir Hugh does not speak; the deaths of the brothers in the battle are reported in 1.4.2.

Henry Tudor Earl of Richmond (later King Henry VII 1457-1509) is the victor over King Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field and his successor on the throne, as Henry VII. In 3 Henry VI Richmond plays a very minor but significant role. In 4.6 he appears as a child before the newly reinstated King Henry VI, who predicts that the boy will become a ruler and the salvation of England. This entirely fictitious episode, which Shakespeare took from his sources, reveals the extreme pro-Tudor bias of Elizabethan historiography and therefore of the History Plays. 

In Richard III Richmond's appearance in Act 5 is prepared for by Richard's panic in Act 4 at messages announcing his approach. Richmond himself arrives in 5.2; in 5.3 he is addressed by the spirits that appear to Richard on the night before the battle. In 5.5 he kills Richard in hand-to hand combat, and in the final episode, he pronounces an end to the Wars of the Roses, which had beleaguered England for a generation. He is a somewhat bloodless, if energetic, leader, pious and filled with an awareness of his own high mission. In addressing his troops, he can claim as allies, 'The prayers of holy saints and wronged souls' (5.3.242). He closes the play with a speech declaring a new era of peace and prosperity for England, ending with the sentiment, '. . . peace lives again. / That she may long live here. God say Amen.' 

Richmond is plainly an instrument of heavenly providence rather than a three-dimensional human being, as indicated by his rather stiff bearing and stuffy diction. He must be taken at his symbolic, ritualistic value: he is the antithesis of the ambitious nobility, exemplified by Richard, that has plagued England throughout the reign of Henry VI. He brings redemption for the crimes and sins that have been committed in the names of York and Lancaster. In a confrontation reminiscent of a medieval Morality Play, whose traditions still lived in Shakespeare's time, Richmond represents Good, winning a classic showdown against Evil. 

The historical Richmond was descended, through his maternal grandfather, from John of Gaunt, the original head of the Lancaster family, and he attracted the support of such former followers of Henry VI as the Duke of Oxford. He was the last surviving Lancastrian male and therefore fled England in 1471, after the battle of Tewkebury, and lived in Brittany and France. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, remained in England, married Lord Stanley, and conspired against the Yorkist kings. She is mentioned in 1.3.20-29 of Richard III. She negotiated her son's marriage, announced by him in the final speech of the play, to the daughter of Elizabeth, thus uniting the York and Lancaster branches of the Plantagenet family.  Richmond's other grandfather was Owen Tudor, a minor Welsh nobleman who had married the widow of Henry V, the Princess Katharine of France who appears in Shakespeare's Henry V. Richmond inherited from his father his title and descent from the kings of France. 

After the time of Richard III, Richmond was to rule as Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty. He was a highly capable ruler, sometimes called England's greatest. He restored order following the wars and administered soundly, eventually leaving a large financial surplus to his heir, Henry VIII. Unhinted at in Shakespeare is the historical reality that Henry VII was every bit as ruthless as the Richard of the plays. While he adopted reconciliation as a general policy, he killed troublesome people when he saw fit. In fact, Shakespeare's Richard is saddled with several reprehensible deeds that Henry actually committed. For example, Richard says that he has imprisoned Edward of Warwick, the Boy of Richard III, at 4.3.36. But Henry incarcerated him because he was a potential claimant to the throne. After a number of people attempted to impersonate Warwick and seize power. Henry finally executed him in 1499. Shakespeare has Richard manipulate the life of Warwick's sister as well, marrying the Girl to a low-ranking man who cannot claim the crown. This was actually Henry's doing, too. 

Henry also sought to ensure the popularity of his usurpation by blackening the reputation of his predecessor, Richard. He encouraged the writing of vicious biographies that contributed to the legend embodied in Shakespeare's character. He also commissioned an official history of England from the Italian humanist Polydore Vergil; this work, published in 1534, helped create the understanding of the English past that was available to Shakespeare when he wrote his history plays.


Rivers, Anthony Woodville, Earl of (c. 1442-1483) is the brother of Queen Elizabeth and one of the victims of Richard III. He is the son of Richard Woodville, who appears in 1 Henry VI. Rivers plays a very minor role in 3 Henry VI; in Richard III he is a pawn in a political game, being executed for no other offence than being the queen's brother and so a presumptive defender other son, the Prince of Wales who stands in the way of Richard in a climb to power' As he is led to his death with Grey and Vaughan, Rivers functions as a sort of Chorus referring to Pomfret Castle, scene of many such events and recollecting the curses of Queen who had foretold his end in 1.3.  The historical Rivers served King EDWARD IV as a viceroy governing rebellious Wales with great success. After the king's death, Richard assumed the office of Protector, ruling for the new heir.


Sir William Stanley (c. 1436-1495) is a supporter of King Edward IV. In 4.5 Stanley helps Edward to escape from captivity. He is mentioned in Richard III, in 4.5.13, as one of the supporters of the Earl of Richmond. The historical Stanley was the son of Sir Thomas Stanley, misnamed by Shakespeare as John Stanley in 2 Henry VI, and he was the younger brother of Sir Thomas Stanley, a prominent figure in Richard III. William Stanley had been a consistent Yorkist prior to Richmond's invasion, when he joined his brother in supporting the usurper. His nephew George, Richard's hostage, betrayed him, and Richard declared him a traitor prior to the battle of Bosworth Field. Nevertheless, following a family tradition of ambivalent loyalty, he held his troops back during that fight until he saw that he could join the winning side. Then his appearance w.ith 3,000 troops turned the tide for Richmond, who amply rewarded him after acceding to the throne as Henry VII. Ten years later, however, Stanley became associated with another attempted coup and was beheaded.


Montgomery is a supporter of King Edward IV. In 4.7 Montgomery arrives at York with troops with which he proposes to aid Edward, but only if Edward will attempt to regain the throne. Edward promptly declares himself king, renouncing his oath that he would not claim the crown, sworn earlier in the scene in order to gain admission to the city. The incident provides one of the many instances of broken promises in these plays.  The historical Montgomery was a loyal Yorkist, having been knighted on the field at Towton. He subsequently served Edward as a diplomat on many occasions. He gained great notoriety in 1475 as one of the ministers who negotiated a treaty with France that aborted an English invasion attempt under terms that were widely viewed as dishonorable to England and that included an annual payment from Louis XI to each of the ministers and to King Edward.  Shakespeare seems to have confused Thomas Montgomery with his father, John (d. 1449), although the Bad Quarto edition may be the source of the error.


Sir John Somerville (d. 1492) is a supporter of Warwick in his rebellion against King Edward IV. Somerville reports to Warwick on troop movements in 5.1.


Tutor is an adult companion of the child Rutland, the son of the Duke of York. The Tutor unsuccessfully attempts to spirit the boy away from the battle of Wakefield, but Lord Clifford captures them and, in his pursuit of vengeance against York, declares he will murder Rutland.  The Tutor tries to dissuade the killer, but he is unceremoniously taken away by Clifford's soldiers and the avenger does indeed slay the child.


Mayor of Coventry is a supporter of Warwick in his attempt to reinstate Henry VI as king. The Mayor, who does not speak, appears on the walls of Coventry with Warwick in 5.1, lending local authority to the effort.


Lieutenant is a guard in the Tower of London. When Henry VI is released from the Tower upon his reinstatement as King in 4.6, the Lieutenant asks and receives the monarch's pardon for having been his jailer. Henry assures him that he appreciates the Lieutenant's civil behavior as a guard. When Richard comes to murder the re-imprisoned Henry in 5.6, he dismisses the Lieutenant from his guard post.

Nobleman Nobleman is a messenger in 3.2 the nameless Nobleman brings word to King Edward IV of the capture of Henry VI.

Either of two minor characters in 3 Henry VI, games keepers who capture the refugee King Henry VI in 3.1. Henry chastises the Keepers for their inconstant allegiance, which they once gave to him but now proclaim to be owed to King Edward. They respond with rationalizations before arresting him.  This incident is another instance of changeable loyalties in the disrupted world depicted in the play.  In the First Folio text of the play, the Keepers are designated in a stage direction as 'Sinklo' and 'Humfrey'. These are presumably the actors who played the parts in an early production, probably John Sincklo and Humphrey Jeffes.


Huntsman is a servant assigned to escort the captive Edward IV. Surprised by Edward's rescuers in 4.5, the Huntsman elects to travel with the escapee's party, saying, 'Better do so than tarry and be hang'd.' (4.5.26). This oneliner provides a hint of comic relief amid a grim series of political and military manoeuvrings.

Son that has killed his father

Son is the Minor but significant character in 3 Henry VI, a par ticipant in the battle of Towton in 2.5. The Son, a soldier, begins to loot the corpse of an enemy he has killed, only to discover that the fallen foe is his own father. He bewails his fate and prays, with an allusion to the Crucifixion, 'Pardon me, God, I knew not what I did: / And pardon, Father, for I knew not thee' (2.5.69-70). He is witnessed by King Henry VI, who has withdrawn from the battle to wish despairingly that he were a rustic shepherd, rather than a combatant. This incident, along with that of The Father That Hath Killed His Son., is juxtaposed ironically with King Henry's pastoral musings to highlight the horror of civil war.

Father that has killed his son Father That Hath Killed His Son, is a Minor but significant character in 3 Henry VI, a participant in the battle of Towton in 2.5. The Father, a soldier, prepares to loot the corpse of an enemy he has killed, when he discovers that the body is that of his own son. He mourns for himself and for the times: '0, pity, God, this miserable age! / What stratagems, how fell, how butcherly, / Erroneous, mutinous, and unnatural, / This deadly quarrel daily doth beget!' (2.5.88-91).  The Father's discovery and grief are witnessed by King Henry VI, who has withdrawn from the battle to wish despairingly that he were a rustic shepherd, rather than a combatant. This incident, along with that of the Son That Hath Killed His Father, is juxtaposed ironically with Henry's pastoral musings to highlight the horrors of civil war.

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.


Elizabeth Woodville (Woodvile), Lady Grey (later Queen, 1437-1492) is an historical figure and character in 3 Henry VI and Richard III, the wife of King Edward IV. Her brother is Lord Rrivers in the same plays, and her father is Richard Woodville in 1 Henry VI. Known as Lady Grey until Act 4 of 3 Henry VI, Elizabeth becomes Queen when Edward marries her after she refuses to become his mistress. Edward was already promised to Lady Bona of France, so the marriage becomes a stimulus for warfare. Elizabeth is a pawn in the troubled politics of the time. However, she displays dignity in an awkward position, as in her speech at 4.1.66-73, and her instinct to protect her unborn child in 4.4 is also noteworthy. She quite properly distrusts the treacherous and violent noblemen of the disturbed nation, but she is powerless. 

In Richard III Elizabeth is cursed in 1.3 by the former Queen, Margaret, and sees her enemy's wishes come true as Edward dies and Richard murders her two sons by Edward. He also has her brother, Rivers, and a son, Grey, executed, while another son, Dorset, is forced into exile. However, Richard fails to exploit her family further. Elizabeth resists him in 4.4, when he attempts to win her approval of his plan to marry her daughter. She rejects his efforts to swear an oath, stifling him until he is reduced to wishing ill on himself, fatefully (4.4.397-409). Elizabeth suspends the conversation at 4.4.428-429, leaving the resolution of the matter in doubt. (Her daughter is betrothed by the victorious invader Richmond at the play's end.) 

Historically, Warwick's alienation from Edward was provoked by disagreements over policy and not simply by the King's marriage, as Shakespeare would have it, but among the minor causes was the behavior ,of the greedy Woodvilles. Elizabeth Woodville was the first commoner to become Queen of England, and her many male relatives exploited her new position by marrying the cream of eligible heiresses. However, Elizabeth attracted supporters when, after the death of King Edward, her son inherited the crown. Edward had appointed Richard the boy's Protector, with ruling power, before he died; Elizabeth's allies attempted to circumvent this arrangement with a coup. They were defeated by Richard, as in the play, though he treated Elizabeth herself with great generosity and provided her with a distinguished place at his court. Richard repeatedly denied rumors that he planned to marry Elizabeth's daughter. In fact, since he had in part based his claim to the throne on the charge that Edward himself was illegitimate, an attempt to marry his daughter would seem self-defeating. However, Shakespeare's sources reported the rumors, and the playwright expanded them into a powerful scene. Elizabeth herself had other plans; it appears that she secretly allied herself with Richmond (later King Henry VII) before his invasion, with the agreement that, should he succeed, he would marry the daughter, which he did. Elizabeth lived out her life as an honoured dowager at the court of her son-in-law.


Lady Bona (b. after 1447, d. 1485) is the proposed French bride of Edward IV, whose rejection other sparks the defection of the Earl of Warwick. In 3.3 Bona, the sister-in-law of King Lewis, is agreeable to the marriage, having heard good things of Edward, but Edward has instead married an English commoner. Bona adds her voice to a chorus of demands for revenge for this slight, and thus approves of the alliance among Lewis, Warwick, and Margaret, aimed at deposing Edward and reinstating Henry VI. This episode is one of many in the Henry VI plays in which broken oaths result in catastrophe for England—in this case, another phase of the Wars of the Roses. It is analogous to the similar abandonment of a marriage agreement by King Henry in order to marry Margaret at the close of 1 Henry VI.  The historical Lady Bona of Savoy, Louis XI's sister-in-law, was indeed proposed as a bride for Edward, but the matter never progressed very far. She subsequently married a Duke of Milan, and, after his death, she briefly ruled that duchy as regent for her son.


Messengers are any of several minor characters in 3 Henry VI that are soldiers bringing military reports. The Messengers simply report troop movements, except for the first of two in 2.1, who brings a detailed account of the death of the Duke of York.  In the First Folio text of the play, believed to have been printed from Shakespeare's manuscript, the Messenger is referred to in the stage direction at 1.2.47 as 'Gabriel'. This apparently refers to the actor Gabriel Spencer, who presumably played the part in the original production.  


Watchmen are three minor characters in 3 Henry VI, soldiers who guard the tent of King Edward IV. On guard in 4.3, the Watchmen remark on Edward's insistence on courting danger when he could be housed in greater safety, but they claim pridefully that they will protect their king. Warwick and his soldiers appear and capture Edward, routing the guard instantly. The episode offers an instance of Edward's immaturity, as his bravado makes difficulties for his cause. It also provides a touch of rustic humor when the Watchmen comically fly just as they proclaim their own virtues as guards.

Soldier When Edward IV decides to declare his renewed claim to the crown, in 4.7, he calls on the Soldier to read his proclamation.

Either of two minor characters in 3 Henry VI express messengers. One Post carries messages between King Edward IV and the French court in 3 3 and returns with answers in 4.1. The replies are quite venomous, and the Post asks assurance that he will not be punished for the contents of his report In 4 6 another Post carries word to Warwick of Edward's escape from captivity.


Nurse is a minor character in 3 Henry VI. A non speaking character, the Nurse tends to the infant Prince of Wales in the final scene.


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