King Henry VI, head of the Lancastrian party, is Margaret’s husband, Prince Edward’s father, and the desperately peace-loving monarch of a war-torn country.
Desperate to keep his throne, he agrees to adopt the Duke of York as his heir instead of his own son, and from that point is no longer an active member of the fight, being pushed out of the role of leader by his wife and simply used as a pawn by all sides. Considered a weakling by the warlike members of his court, Henry is a pious and book-loving man completely out of his depth in a role that does not suit him, who feels the wounds that civil war causes his country deeply but can do nothing to cure them. He is aware of the weakness of his claim to the throne, but still feels that as an anointed monarch he cannot give up his claim. He dreams of the simple life of the shepherd but is not comfortable as a penniless refugee in Scotland. He is frightened of his wife, who bullies him. Not quite as dense as people believe him to be, he can see all too clearly how things will go as well as how things are, and this knowledge grows into prophecy as he looks at the young Earl of Richmond. He retreats more and more from worldly matters, to the extent that when he is freed from the Tower and restored to the throne his first act is to appoint Warwick and Clarence to run the kingdom for him while he retires to a life of meditation and praying – something not unlike what he led in prison all the same. He knows very well that Richard has come to kill him, and manages to discomfort him with his certainty and his fearless prophecies of disaster to be laid at Richard’s feet. A deeply kind man, Henry is, depending on one’s viewpoint, either a wimp or a visionary pacifist. His ghost returns in Richard III.