Henry VI, Part 2
Period written: 1590-1591
Known first performance:
Suffolk has brought Queen Margaret to England on behalf of Henry, but the terms of the marriage involve a loss of territory in France which angers the English peers. Rivalry between Gloucester (the Lord Protector) and Cardinal Beaufort emerges, and York’s ambitions for the English crown are revealed. York explains his right to the throne to Salisbury and Warwick. Suffolk’s intimacy with Margaret leads him to work against her rivals. Antagonism grows between York and Somerset over who should be regent in France.
The political conflict in court has its parallel in a group of petitioners. One petition is by an apprentice, Peter, against his master, Horner, for saying that York is rightful heir. This is read by Suffolk, who brings the parties to court, and a day for their single combat is assigned, at which Peter manages to defeat Horner, who confesses treason before he dies. In another incident, the King encounters a St. Albans man, Simpcox, whose blindness is said to have been cured miraculously, but Gloucester shows him to be a fraud.
The Duchess of Gloucester tells her husband of dreams for their advancement and approaches a priest, John Hume, to get black magicians to tell her the future, but she is surprised by York and Buckingham and arrested. The affair is reported to Henry, who banishes her, and later is persuaded that Gloucester should resign as Protector. As Gloucester bids farewell to his wife, he is called to attend a meeting of parliament. There, the Queen, Beaufort, Suffolk, and York launch an attack on him, and despite Henry’s sympathy he is arrested. A plot to kill him is laid and he is murdered by Suffolk’s men. After learning of the murder, Warwick confronts Suffolk, whose complicity is also suspected by the common people, and Suffolk is banished, despite the Queen’s pleas. The Queen and Suffolk part in an intimate farewell. Beaufort dies. The boat taking Suffolk to France is taken by pirates, and he is killed by Whitmore.
News of an Irish rebellion arrives and York is sent to quell it. He reveals that he has instigated a rebellion by Jack Cade, who will test public opinion by claiming the throne under the name of Mortimer. Cade and his men begin their revolt, killing a clerk and the Staffords, and march to London, forcing the King to leave. They kill Lord Say and others, but the rebels are persuaded by Buckingham and Clifford to leave Cade, who flees. A starving Cade is killed by a Kentish gentleman, Iden, in his garden.
York, meanwhile, has arrived back in England with an army, wishing to remove Somerset from his position of power. As a stratagem, Henry sends Somerset to the Tower and Buckingham is sent to report this to York, who dismisses his army. However, when Somerset is liberated, York is infuriated, brings in his sons to prevent his arrest by Somerset, and calls on Henry to yield his throne. Lord Clifford and his son support Henry, and Warwick and Salisbury support York. The battle of St. Albans takes place, in which York kills Lord Clifford, and York’s son Richard kills Somerset. The King flees, and the Yorkists plan to pursue him to London.
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