Henry VI, Part 3

Henry VI, Part 3

"Henry the Sixth, Part 3", is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed written in approximately 1590, and set during the lifetime of King Henry VI of England. It prepares the ground for one of his best-known and most controversial plays: the tragedy of King Richard III (Richard III of England). It continues the action from "Henry VI, Part 1" and "Henry VI, Part 2", though they may not have been written in that order.

The play is considered the best of the three Henry VI plays and evidence of Shakespeare's ability to produce scenes of moving drama. Of particular note are Act I, Scene 4, a dramatic torture followed by an indictment of the vicious Queen, Act II, Scene 5, a gloomy commentary by the title character on the ravages of war and the trials of kingship, and Act V, Scenes 5 and 6, in which two significant characters are killed in an unrealistic albeit dramatically effective manner. Act III, Scene 2, a comic courtship, also hints at the romantic comedies to come.

Like the preceding plays, "King Henry VI, Part 3" draws on partisan historical sources, such as the Chronicles of Hall and Holinshed, and further embellishes, telescopes and alters events for the sake of drama. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future King Richard III is, in particular, treated transhistorically, dramatically conceived of as a machiavellian grotesque and representative of an historical mechanism rather than as a recognisable human being or historical figure. He also aged considerably in order to enable his increased participation in the play, although this is not uncommon in Renaissance history plays.


Shakespeare's primary source for "Henry VI, Part 3", as for most of his chronicle histories, was Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles; the publication of the second edition in 1587 provides a "terminus ad quem" for the play. Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York appears also to have been consulted, and scholars have also supposed Shakespeare familiar with Samuel Daniel's poem on the civil wars.

Date and text

This was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays, being written (with the other two parts) around 1590. (See the Chronology of Shakespeare plays.) Originally published in 1595 as "The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixt" [John D Cox and Eric Rasmussen "King Henry VI Part 3" (The Arden Shakespeare, Thompson, 2001) p.149] , the relationship of that text, reprinted in 1600 and 1619, with the text of the First Folio (1623) has been a point of scholarly dispute. Nineteenth-century critics tended to see the "True Tragedy" as an anonymous play that Shakespeare used as a source; some even tried to attribute it to a known dramatist—like Thomas Lodge, or George Peele. [F. E. Halliday, "A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964," Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p. 504.] In 1929, Peter Alexander argued that the text belonged in the "bad quarto" category established by the New Bibliography. The 1619 reprint of "The True Tragedy" was part of William Jaggard's False Folio.


The play must have been on the stage by 1592, when Robert Greene parodied one of the play's lines in his pamphlet "A Groatsworth of Wit" (1592). The title page of the first published text states that the play was "sundry times acted" before its 1595 printing.


* King Henry VI
* Edward, Prince of Wales, his son
*King of France (Louis XI of France)
*Duke of Somerset (Edmund Beaufort, 4th Duke of Somerset)
*Duke of Exeter (Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter)
*Earl of Oxford (John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford)
*Earl of Northumberland (Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland)
*Earl of Westmorland (Ralph Neville, 2nd Earl of Westmorland)
*Lord Clifford (John Clifford, 9th Baron de Clifford)
*Duke of York (Richard, Duke of York)
*Edward, Earl of March, afterwards King Edward IV, son to the Duke of York
*Edmund, Earl of Rutland, son to the Duke of York (Edmund, Earl of Rutland)
*George, afterwards Duke of Clarence, son to the Duke of York
*Richard, afterwards Duke of Gloucester, son to the Duke of York (later Richard III)
*Duke of Norfolk (John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk)
*Marquess of Montagu (John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu)
*Earl of Warwick (Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick)
*Earl of Pembroke (William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke)
*Lord Hastings (William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings)
*Lord Stafford
*Sir John Mortimer, uncle to the Duke of York
*Sir Hugh Mortimer, uncle to the Duke of York
*Henry, Earl of Richmond, a youth (later Henry VII)
*Lord Rivers, brother to Lady Grey (Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers)
*Sir William Stanley
*Sir John Montgomery
*Sir John Somerville
*Tutor to Rutland
*Mayors of York and Coventry
*Lieutenant of the Tower
*Two Keepers
*Son that has killed his father
*Father that has killed his son

*Queen Margaret (Margaret of Anjou)
*Lady Grey, afterwards Queen to Edward IV (Elizabeth Woodville)
*Bona, sister to the French Queen
*Soldiers, attendants, etc.


The play begins with a confrontation between Richard, Duke of York and the reigning King Henry VI and their respective supporters. Threatened with physical violence by the Earl of Warwick (Richard Neville), the king brokers a deal to make York his heir. Disgusted at his cowardice, his supporters abandon him. The Queen, Margaret of Anjou, makes it clear that she will not agree to this, and declares war on the Yorkists, with the assistance of the young Lord Clifford and other supporters, including her son, Edward, Prince of Wales.

At the Battle of Wakefield, the Yorkists are defeated, and there follow some of the bloodiest and most heart-rending scenes in all of Shakespeare, as Clifford murders York's young son, the Earl of Rutland. (In reality, Rutland was seventeen and had taken full part in the battle.) Margaret and Clifford then taunt the Duke of York before killing him. The Earl of Warwick now takes York's eldest son, Edward (King Edward IV of England) under his wing. At the Battle of Towton, they take revenge on Margaret's army, and Clifford is killed. Following the battle, Edward is proclaimed king, and his two brothers, George and Richard are created Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester respectively. Richard is already showing signs of turning into one of Shakespeare's most famous villains, though in reality he was less than ten years old at the time of the battle.

Warwick turns against Edward when he marries Lady Grey (Elizabeth Woodville) while Warwick is in France courting the French king's sister on Edward's behalf. Queen Margaret, in France with the Prince of Wales to beg military aid from France, accepts the reconciliation; the Prince agrees to marry Warwick's daughter. The Duke of Clarence goes over to Warwick, marrying his other daughter. The invasion succeeds, and Edward IV is taken prisoner. Henry is restored to the throne and Warwick and Clarence are appointed as protectors. However, Edward is soon rescued by his brother Richard and the faithful Lord Hastings. News of this reaches Henry's court, and the young Earl of Richmond (the future King Henry VII of England), a descendant of John of Gaunt and therefore a potential Lancastrian heir, is shipped into exile in France for safekeeping. Edward defeats and kills Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. In the subsequent Battle of Tewkesbury, he kills the Prince of Wales and captures Queen Margaret. Richard of Gloucester begins his campaign to remove all obstacles in his path to the throne by murdering King Henry VI who is a captive in the Tower of London. Henry prophesies Richard's career of villainy and his future notoriety. The play ends with the Yorkists apparently established for good: The Lancastrians are dead or exiled and the king's son has just been born. Only Richard knows the trouble yet to come.



*Peter Alexander, "Shakespeare's Henry VI and Richard III," Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1929.

ee also

*Assassinations in fiction

External links

* [http://www.shakespeare-literature.com/Henry_VI,_part_3/index.html Henry VI, part 3] - searchable, indexed e-text
* [http://william-shakespeare.classic-literature.co.uk/the-third-part-of-henry-the-sixt/ The third Part of Henry the Sixt] - HTML version of this title.
* [http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/2256 Henry the Sixth part 3] - plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg

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