Henry VI, Part 3 Summary
by William Shakespeare

Henry VI, Part 3 book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Henry VI, Part 3 Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the House of Parliament, the duke of York, his sons, and the earl of Warwick rejoice over their success at Saint Albans. Riding hard, the Yorkists arrive in London ahead of the routed king, and Henry, entering with his lords, is filled with consternation when he sees York already seated on the throne, to which Warwick conducted him. Some of the king’s followers are sympathetic toward York and others are fearful of his power; the two attitudes result in defection in the royal ranks. Seeing his stand weakened, the king attempts to avert disorder by disinheriting his own son and by pledging the crown to York and his sons, on the condition that York stop the civil war and remain loyal to the king during his lifetime.

Annoyed by the reconciliation and contemptuous toward the king because of her son’s disinheritance, Queen Margaret deserts the king and raises her own army to protect her son’s rights to the throne. The queen’s army marches against York’s castle as York is sending his sons to recruit forces for another rebellion. York’s sons persuade their father that his oath to the king is not binding because his contract with the king was not made in due course of law before a magistrate.

In a battle near Wakefield, Lord Clifford and his soldiers kill Rutland, York’s young son, and soak a handkerchief in his blood. Later, as he joins Margaret’s victorious army, which outnumbers York’s soldiers ten to one, Lord Clifford gives York the handkerchief to wipe away his tears as he weeps for his son’s death. York’s sorrow is equaled by his humiliation at the hands of Margaret, who, after taking him prisoner, puts a paper crown on his head that he might reign from the molehill where she places him to be jeered by the soldiers. Clifford and Margaret stab the duke of York and behead him. His head is set on the gates of York.

Hearing of the defeat of York’s forces, Warwick, taking the king with him, sets out from London to fight Queen Margaret at Saint Albans. Warwick’s qualities as a general are totally offset by the presence of the king, who is unable to conceal his strong affection for Margaret, and Warwick is defeated. Edward and Richard, York’s sons, join Warwick in a march toward London.

King Henry, ever the righteous monarch, forswears any part in breaking his vow to York and declares that he prefers to leave his son only virtuous deeds, rather than an ill-gotten crown. At the insistence of Clifford and Margaret, however, the king knights his son as the Prince of Wales.

After a defiant parley, the forces meet again between Towton and Saxton. The king, banned from battle by Clifford and Margaret because of his antipathy to war and his demoralizing influence on the soldiers, sits on a distant part of the field lamenting the course affairs took in this bloody business of murder and deceit. He sees the ravages of war when a father bearing the body of his dead son and a son with the body of his dead father pass by. They unknowingly took the lives of their loved ones in the fighting. As the rebel forces approach, led by Warwick, Richard, and Edward, the king, passive to danger and indifferent toward his own safety, is rescued by the Prince of Wales and Margaret before the enemy can reach him. He is sent to Scotland for safety.

After a skirmish with Richard, Clifford flees to another part of the field, where, weary and worn, he faints and dies. His head, severed by Richard, replaces York’s head on the gate. The Yorkists march on to London. Edward is proclaimed King Edward IV; Richard is made duke of Gloster, and George is made duke of Clarence.

King Edward, in audience, hears Lady Grey’s case for the return of confiscated lands taken by Margaret’s army at Saint Albans, where Lord Grey is killed fighting for the York cause. The hearing, marked by Richard’s and George’s dissatisfaction with their brother’s position and Edward’s lewdness directed at Lady Grey, ends with Lady Grey’s betrothal to Edward....

(The entire section is 2,336 words.)