edited by John D. Cox and Eric Rasmussen
King Henry VI Part 3 is effectively shaped from dense historical narratives, drawing out the complexities of morality and justice in the chaos of the Wars of the Roses. Criticism has examined integrity of characters, on feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives, on the Senecan influence, on the play’s context, on magical thinking, and on the play’s use of the morality play tradition.
The play was known in the theatre by 1592. Like the two other parts of Henry VI, questions surrounding its authorship remain unsolved. The play exists in a 1595 Octavo called The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York…, and in the Folio, on which this text is based.
In parliament, the victorious Yorkists confront Henry VI and the Lancastrians. They agree that on Henry’s death his crown will pass to Richard, Duke of York, passing over Henry’s son Prince Edward. Queen Margaret is furious, and leaves with their son to join the Northern lords and fight against the agreement. Once alone, York’s sons Edward and Richard persuade him to break his oath.
At the Battle of Wakefield between York and Margaret’s forces, Clifford kills York’s youngest son, and then with Margaret torments and kills York himself. His sons, Edward and Richard, hear first of their deaths and then of the defeat of their ally Warwick at the second Battle of St Albans. At the Battle of Towton, the Lancastrians are defeated, Clifford is killed. Margaret and Prince Edward flee to France; Henry is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London; Edward (York’s son) is made King.
Both the Lancastrian Margaret and the Yorkist Warwick entreat the assistance of the French King Lewis. Warwick confirms Edward’s betrothal to Lewis’s sister, but news arrives that King Edward has married Lady Jane Grey instead, and this turns both Warwick and Lewis to the Lancastrian cause. Warwick returns to England with French reinforcements , captures King Edward, and frees King Henry. King Edward escapes to France, and then returns, capturing King Henry.
King Edward defeats Warwick’s forces at the Battle of Barnet, where Warwick is killed. Margaret returns from France for the Battle of Tewkesbury, where Prince Edward is killed by the three brothers King Edward, Clarence and Richard. Richard goes to the Tower and kills King Henry; Margaret is banished.