King Henry VI, Part III
Richard Plantagenet — the Duke of York
Henry VI — king of England
Edward — the Earl of March, York's eldest son; soon to be Edward IV
George — Edward's younger brother; soon to be Duke of Clarence
Richard — soon to be Richard III; a younger brother of Edward and George, most noted for his physical deformities, including a humpback, lame leg, and shriveled arm
Warwick — One of York's allies, who switches his allegiance to Henry
Queen Margaret — Henry's French wife
Prince Edward — Prince of Wales; son of Margaret and Henry
Edmund, Earl of Rutland — York's youngest son, killed by Clifford
Lord Clifford — he kills York's young son Rutland, then York himself
Marquess of Montague — one of Warwick's relatives Duke of Westmoreland — one of Henry's supporters
Duke of Exeter — one of Henry's supporters
Duke of Norfolk — one of Henry's supporters
Duke of Somerset — one of Edward's supporters
Earl of Northumberland — one of Henry's supporters
Lady Bona — sister of Louis, king of France
Lady Grey — Edward propositions her, but she refuses; then she agrees to become queen
Earl of Oxford — one of Henry's supporters
Rivers — one of Edward's supporters, brother of Lady Gray
Hastings — one of Edward's supporters
Montgomery — one of Edward's supporters
Richmond — the young Henry, Earl of Richmond (soon to be Henry VII)
King Henry VI, Part III has attracted attention for its boldness in adapting a complex historical narrative to the requirements of the theater and is considered one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. It was first published in 1595 in an octavo volume under the title The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth.
Some scholars believe that the first version was an early draft of a later folio edition. Other editors believe that the octavo version was reconstructed from memory by actors, which explains its shorter length. Editors think the folio version is based on Shakespeare's own manuscript before he gave it to his players, while the octavo version may have been based on a prompt book for the actual production. Most editors use the longer folio version with occasional additions from the octavo.
Shakespeare again likely referred to fifteenth-century histories as well as Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland and Edward Hall's Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548) when researching the play.
King Henry VI, Part III is a continuation of the depiction of the Wars of the Roses, begun in King Henry VI, Parts I and II, which trace the struggles between the Lancastrians (red rose) and Yorkist (white rose) descendants of Edward III. The third part depicts some of the many significant battles fought during that civil war.
Part III picks up from the end of Part II. Following his victory at St. Albans, York is now set to take the Crown of England. Henry VI presents York an offer: Henry will rule England until his death, and then the Crown will pass to the house of York.
York agrees, but Queen Margaret is irate because her son, the Prince of Wales, should be the next king. Margaret fights a battle that kills the duke of York and his youngest son, Rutland. The Yorkists rally, however, and Margaret and Henry have to flee the country. Edward, eldest son of York, now becomes king.
Henry secretly returns to England but is captured by Edward and put in the Tower of London. Margaret petitions the king of France for help. However, Warwick tries to outmaneuver her by attempting to broker a marriage between Edward and the French king's sister-in-law, Bona. This plan falls apart when word comes that Edward has married Lady Grey.
Back in England, Warwick manages to capture Edward, temporarily restoring Henry to the throne. Richard, now duke of Gloucester, rescues Edward. Edward and the Yorkists then defeat and kill Warwick at the Battle of Tewksbury. Margaret and the Prince of Wales are captured and while the prince is killed, Edward grants Margaret mercy.
Richard pays a visit to the Tower of London to see Henry, who is a prisoner. When Henry foretells Richard's bloody future, Richard kills him. Edward now holds the throne as King Edward IV, but his brother Richard plots to usurp the Crown for himself. The story picks up in King Richard III.
Some critics have seen King Henry VI, Part III as a flawed play, perhaps showing Shakespeare's weariness with the dramatization of the Wars of the Roses, or the difficulty of getting so much historical matter on the stage. Yet contemporary productions have been successful, particularly in depicting the ruthless Margaret and the increasingly alienated and enraged Richard, who emerges as the play's antihero.
“The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on” (Act II, Scene II).
“Didst thou never hear