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The great nobles and churchmen of England gather in Westminster Abbey for the state funeral of King Henry V, hero of the Battle of Agincourt and conqueror of France. The eulogies of the dukes of Gloster, Bedford, and Exeter, and of the bishop of Winchester, profound and extensive, are broken off by messengers bringing reports of English defeat and failure in France, where the dauphin, taking advantage of King Henry’s illness, had raised a revolt.

The gravest defeat reported is the imprisonment of Lord Talbot, general of the English armies. Bedford swears to avenge his loss. Gloster declares that he will hasten military preparations and proclaim young Prince Henry to be king of England. The bishop of Winchester, disgruntled because the royal dukes had asked neither his advice nor his aid, plans to seize the king and ingratiate himself into royal favor.

In France, the dauphin and his generals, discussing the conduct of the war, attempt to overwhelm the depleted English forces. Although outnumbered and without leaders, the English fight valiantly and tenaciously. Hope of victory comes to the French, however, when the Bastard of Orleans brings to the dauphin’s camp a soldier-maid, Joan la Pucelle, described as a holy young girl with God-given visionary powers. The dauphin attempts to trick her by having Reignier, the duke of Anjou, pretend to be the dauphin. La Pucelle sees through the trick easily and, just as easily, defeats the dauphin in a duel.

The followers of the duke of Gloster and the bishop of Winchester fight in the streets of London, and dissension between church and state grows because of Winchester’s efforts to prevent Gloster from seeing young Henry. The mayor of London decries the unseemly conduct of the rioters.

The English and the French renew battle, and Lord Salisbury and Sir Thomas Gargrave, the English leaders, are killed by a gunner in ambush. Meanwhile, Lord Talbot, greatly feared by the French, takes command of English forces in the Siege of Orleans. Enraged by the death of Salisbury, Talbot fights heroically, on one occasion with la Pucelle. At last, the English swarm into the town and put the French to rout. Talbot orders Salisbury’s body to be carried into the public marketplace of Orleans as a token of his revenge for that lord’s murder.

The countess of Auvergne invites Lord Talbot to visit her in her castle. Fearing chicanery, Bedford and Burgundy try to keep him from going into an enemy stronghold, but Talbot, as strong-willed as he is brave, ignores their pleas. He whispers to his captain, however, certain instructions concerning his visit.

On his arrival at Auvergne Castle, the countess announces that she is making him her prisoner to save France from further scourges. Talbot thwarts the countess by calling for his soldiers, who storm the castle, eat the countess’s food and drink her wine, and then win the favor of the countess with their charming manners.

In addition to continued internal strife resulting from Gloster’s and Winchester’s personal ambitions, new dissension arises between Richard Plantagenet and the earl of Somerset. Plantagenet and his followers choose a white rose as their symbol, while Somerset and his supporters choose a red rose. In the quarrel of these two men, the disastrous Wars of the Roses begins. In the meantime, Edmund Mortimer, claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne, is released from confinement. He urges his nephew, Richard Plantagenet, to restore the Plantagenet family to its rightful position. Youthful King Henry VI, after making Plantagenet the duke of York, is taken to France by Gloster and other lords to be...

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crowned king of France. In Paris, Talbot’s chivalry and prowess are rewarded when he is made the earl of Shrewsbury.

In preparation for the battle at Rouen, la Pucelle wins Burgundy over to the cause of France by playing upon his vanity and appealing to what she terms his sense of justice. The immaturity of King Henry VI is revealed in his request that Talbot go to Burgundy and chastise him for his desertion. The duke of York and the earl of Somerset finally bring their quarrel to the king, who implores them to be friendly for England’s sake. He points out that disunity among the English lords will only weaken their stand in France. To show how petty he considers their differences, he casually puts on a red rose, the symbol of Somerset’s faction, explaining that it is merely a flower, not a symbol of solidarity with one lord or another. He appoints York a regent of France and orders both him and Somerset to provide Talbot with men and supplies for battle. Then the king and his party return to London.

The king’s last assignment to his lords in France proves to be Talbot’s death knell; Somerset, refusing to send horses with which York planned to supply Talbot, accuses York of self-aggrandizement. York, in turn, blames Somerset for negligence. As their feud continues, Talbot and his son struggle valiantly against the better-equipped and larger French army at Bordeaux. After many skirmishes, Talbot and his son are slain, and the English suffer tremendous losses. Flushed with the triumph of their great victory, the French leaders plan to march on to Paris.

In England, meanwhile, there is talk of a truce, and the king agrees, after a moment of embarrassment because of his youth, to Gloster’s proposal that Henry accept in marriage the daughter of the earl of Armagnac, a man of affluence and influence in France. This alliance, designed to effect a friendly peace between the two countries, is to be announced in France by Cardinal Beaufort, former bishop of Winchester, who, in sending money to the pope to pay for his cardinalship, states that his ecclesiastical position gives him status equal to that of the loftiest peer. He threatens mutiny if Gloster ever tries to dominate him again. The king sends a jewel to seal the contract of betrothal.

The fighting in France dwindles greatly, with the English forces converging for one last weak stand. La Pucelle casts a spell and conjures up fiends to bolster her morale and to assist her in battle, but her appeal is to no avail, and York takes her prisoner. Berated as a harlot and condemned as a witch by the English, la Pucelle pleads for her life. At first, she contends that her virgin blood would cry for vengeance at the gates of Heaven. When this appeal fails to move York and the earl of Warwick, she implores them to spare her life for the sake of her unborn child, fathered, she said variously, by the dauphin, the duke of Alençon, and the duke of Anjou. Laughing at her contradictory claims to be a virgin and to be pregnant, the English lords condemn her to be burned at the stake.

In another skirmish, the earl of Suffolk has taken as his prisoner Margaret, daughter of the duke of Anjou. Enthralled by her loveliness, he is nonetheless unable to claim her for himself because he is already married. He finally strikes upon the notion of wooing Margaret for the king. After receiving her father’s permission to present Margaret’s name to Henry as a candidate for marriage, Suffolk travels to London to petition the king. While Henry weighs the matter against the consequences of breaking his contract with the earl of Armagnac, Exeter and Gloster attempt to dissuade him from following Suffolk’s suggestions. Their pleas are in vain. Margaret’s great courage and spirit, as described by Suffolk, held promise of a great and invincible offspring.

Terms of peace having been arranged, Suffolk is ordered to conduct Margaret to England. Suffolk, because he had brought Margaret and Henry together, plans to take advantage of his opportune political position and, through Margaret, to rule youthful Henry and his kingdom.


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