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John Adam Houston, The Death of Warwick, 1872

Henry VI Part 3

Synopsis and plot overview of Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 3

TL;DR (may contain spoilers): Henry and Edward can't be friends; Margaret wields a lot of power; they all battle and imprison and exile one another; Edward wins.

Henry VI Part 3 Summary

After York's claims to the throne, Henry changes the succession and makes York his heir, disinheriting his own son. Henry's queen kills York, and York's son Edward seizes the throne. Henry is imprisoned several times and eventually killed by King Edward's brother, Richard.

More detail: 2 minute read

Shakespeare's first two plays on the reign of Henry VI (Henry VI Part 1 and Henry VI Part 2) told of the rebellion of France led by Joan of Arc, her defeat, and the loss of French land under English rule. Later, a civil uprising organised by York and led by Jack Cade further defined the factions of Lancaster and York, both laying claim to the throne. The Yorkist rebellion followers chose the white rose as their symbol. Henry's Lancastrian supporters wore the red rose.

Act I

Henry VI Part 3 begins after Warwick has defeated Henry in battle. As York and Henry meet in the throne room, Henry agrees for York to be his heir, thereby keeping power while disinheriting his own son, Prince Edward. Angered by the thought of her son not in power, Queen Margaret leads her army against York. She captures, taunts, and kills York. Clifford aids her, seeking revenge for his father's death.

Having nothing, nothing can he lose

— Henry VI Part 3, Act 3 Scene 3

Act II 

York's sons, Edward and Richard, renew their pledge against Henry. They welcome Warwick as their ally, despite his retreat before the Queen's forces. Meanwhile, Margaret and Clifford try to convince Henry to void his agreement with York, but he is hesitant. In the next battle between them, King Henry withdraws to contemplate the evil effects of civil war on both the fathers and the sons of his subjects. Henry flees to Scotland as Edward, now Duke of York, is victorious. Edward claims the English throne. He sends Warwick to arrange a marriage for him with the French King's sister. While Warwick is gone, Edward becomes enamoured with and proposes to Lady Grey. 


Henry returns disguised but is captured and imprisoned. Richard, now Duke of Gloucester, reveals his ambition to become king.

In the centre, Warwick lies on the ground, propped on the knee of a fully-armoured man behind him on his right. Warwick wears a surcoat and no helmet. Immediately behind him another man in armour with drawn sword and a shield looks and leans to our left.
The Death of Warwick, Houston, 1872

Queen Margaret and the Prince seek aid in France. They find Warwick's efforts to arrange a marriage are troubled by the news that Edward has actually married Lady Grey. Warwick feels insulted and joins forces with Margaret. He arranges for his daughter to marry Prince Edward and frees King Henry. 

Act IV

At the same time, George, (Edward and Richard's brother), now Duke of Clarence, is dismayed at the marriage and join Warwick's forces. Together, they take King Edward prisoner.

Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.

— Henry VI Part 3, Act 5 Scene 6

Edward escapes from prison with the help of Richard. He recaptures King Henry, imprisoning him in the Tower (Henry can't seem to catch a break).  

Act V

Still holding strong regardless of Henry's imprisonment, Warwick refuses to yield to King Edward and dies in the ensuing battle. George rejoins Edward's forces. Edward then confronts Queen Margaret. Prince Edward is killed by Edward, George, and Richard. Margaret pleads for death but is exiled to France instead. Edward and his Queen, Elizabeth (Lady Grey) prepare to enjoy their reign, not knowing that Richard has sought out and killed King Henry. He now plans for his own rise to the throne, detailed in Shakespeare's Richard III

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