The First Part of King Henry VI
The First Part of King Henry VI is a play written by William Shakespeare about the early reign of King Henry VI of England. Because King Henry was crowned at nine months old, this play includes very little of him. It mostly depicts the fall of France and the exploits of Lord Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. It also includes Joan of Arc, who is portrayed as a witch. This play is the first in a tetrology.
The play opens with the funeral of the victorious King Henry V, who in his life conquered France. His relatives and brothers bemoan that the loss for England. Before his funeral is over messengers arrive saying that the Dauphin (Prince of France) has reclaimed his kingdom and has conquered most English forces. The Lord Regent, Duke of Bedford, goes to France to retake it for England. Yet, even with England's great morale, there is quarreling among the courtiers. Especially between the Duke of Gloucester, the Lord Protector, and Bishop of Winchester. There is no leading figure, because King Henry VI is only a boy at the beginning of the play. The French forces under the Dauphin and Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) defeat what English forces there are under brave soldiers such as the Earl of Salisbury and Lord Talbot. Lord Talbot is the hero of the play and is honoured for his bravery in France. He is killed due to dissension and inactivity among English courtiers. This play also begins the contention between the Duke of York, who believes he is heir to the crown, and the Duke of Somerset. They start two factions called the red rose side (Somerset's) and the white rose side (York's.) The play ends with the Duke of Suffolk going to fetch Margaret of Anjou to be Henry VI's wife. Henry VI is not very powerful or commanding and does not make any major commands, except to send for Margaret to be his wife.
King Henry VI: Son of Henry V and only a boy throughout the play. He remains ineffective.
John, Duke of Bedford: The uncle to the King and regent of France. He quickly rouses to help the English's cause in France. He is old and dies during the campaign.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: Another uncle to the King and Lord-protector of England. His desire is for the good of the Commonwealth and for his King. He is hotly countered by his uncle, the Bishop of Winchester.
Bishop of Winchester: Great-uncle to the King and highly ambitious. He is angered against Gloucester and aims to kill him.
Duke of Exeter: He is another Great-uncle to the King and sees what goes on among the English nobles. He sees the bad things that come to pass under Henry VI's rule.
Earl of Somerset: The lead rival against the Duke of York, who believes him to be treacherous. He causes delay during the wars and is most responsible for Talbot's death.
Richard, Duke of York: The son of the traitor, Richard of Cambridge, who believes his father's death was treachery. He wants the crown, but waits until Henry removed some of his support. He becomes Lord Regent in France.
Earl of Warwick: An older noble, who decides to support the Duke of York.
Earl of Salisbury: A general in France, who is killed by the French early in the play.
Earl of Suffolk: A supporter of Somerset and the one who finds Margaret of Anjou and arranges her marriage to King Henry VI.
Lord Talbot: The bravest General in France. He is the hero of the play, and dies due to the inactivity and quarreling of other nobles.
Charles, the Dauphin: Heir to the French throne, but for Henry V. He quickly retakes France for his own using Joan of Arc.
Reignier, Duke of Anjou & Maine: A poor, but highly titled noble, who supports Charles, the dauphin. He helps him in his battles. He gladly gives his daughter to England, without giving any dowry.
Duke of Burgundy: A French noble, who is allied with the English, but is enticed back to the French by Joan of Arc.
Duke of Alençon, & Bastard of Orleans: The leading French nobles, who support Charles' claim to the French throne.
Margaret: Daughter to Reignier and betrothed to Henry VI.
Joan La Pucelle: In reality Joan of Arc, but in this play she is portrayed in a darker light.
- Great Books: Shakespeare, Vol. 1, Edited by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pp.1-32.
- The Famous Life of King Henry V
- The Second Part of King Henry VI
- The Third Part of King Henry VI
- The Tragedy of King Richard III
Open Source Shakespeare - Henry VI, Part 1