Henry VI, Part 1 Summary
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 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...
(The entire section is 1,323 words.)