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Free Study Guide-Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

ACT I, SCENE 1

Summary

The scene begins with the sound of trumpets and oboes, announcing a royal entrance. King Henry, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, Salisbury, Warwick, and Cardinal Beaufort (Bishop of Winchester) enter on one side, and Queen Margaret, Suffolk, York, Somerset and Buckingham enter on the other. The opening of this play is a direct continuation from Henry VI, Part I. At the end of that play, Suffolk announced his departure for France to negotiate the marriage of Henry with Margaret of Anjou, daughter of René, titular King of Sicily, Naples and Jerusalem.

Suffolk enters and tells the king that he was commissioned as Procurator (deputy) to bring Princess Margaret to England, and he has done so. He has performed his task in the famous city, Tours, in the presence of the King of France, Charles VII, who had succeeded his father as titular monarch, and several nobles. King Henry was thus united with Margaret in a proxy marriage. Very humbly, Suffolk presents Margaret to the king and to the other lords who are assembled there. He says that this is the best gift a marquis can ever give a king and that King Henry now has a very beautiful queen.

“Marquis” is the rank of peerage between a duke and an earl. Suffolk appears as an earl in the first part of Henry VI. He has been elevated to the rank of marquis after arranging the marriage between Margaret and Henry. King Henry asks Suffolk to rise and also welcomes Queen Margaret. He passionately expresses his thankfulness to the Lord for giving him such a beautiful queen. He thinks that God has given him a world of earthly blessings in Margaret’s beautiful face. Queen Margaret greets the king by addressing him as a “Great King of England” and her “gracious lord.” She says that she has already had intimate conversations with the king in her imagination and now feels that she can greet him in a warm, informal manner.


The king expresses his content and wonder at Margaret’s ravishing beauty and at her grace in speech. He appeals to the lords to welcome her. Margaret thanks the lords for wishing her a long life. Suffolk then hands over the terms of a peace treaty between King Henry and the French king, Charles.

According to the contract, Henry shall marry Lady Margaret and crown her Queen of England, and the duchy of Anjou and the county of Maine shall be released and delivered to her father (René, Duke of Anjou). King Henry is very pleased with the contract and thanks everybody. He asks everyone to speed up the coronation proceedings. However, the Gloucester is grieved and angry that this marriage should have occurred, especially because it involves the surrender of Anjou and Maine, “the keys of Normandy,” for which the English nobles had fought so long. (Henry V spent all his youth trying to attain his true inheritance. The English claimed the French throne by virtue of the marriage of Edward III with Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France.)

Gloucester considers this marriage between Henry VI and Margaret as a shameful thing, canceling all the fame and glory which England has won from France. Warwick expresses his grief over the loss of Anjou and Maine, for which he himself had fought. York sarcastically points out that English kings usually get large sums of gold with their wives, but now King Henry is giving away his own territory to gain a queen without a dowry. Gloucester adds that it is an insult that Suffolk is demanding a tax of one-fifteenth levied on personal property for the cost of transporting Margaret to England.

Beaufort (formerly Winchester) tries to pacify Gloucester, but the latter retorts by saying that Beaufort is troubled not by his (Gloucester’s) speech, but by his presence there. Then Gloucester angrily departs. Beaufort appeals to the gentlemen present not to believe Gloucester’s words and warns them that Gloucester has his eye on the throne. Somerset and Buckingham also support Beaufort.

Salisbury, a firm supporter of Gloucester, says that Cardinal Beaufort is more like a soldier than a man of the church. He encourages Warwick, whose valiant deeds have won the great favor of the common people, to join him, and together they can suppress Suffolk, Beaufort, Somerset and Buckingham. Warwick again expresses his grief over losing Maine. York sits and reviews the events that have occurred. He does not blame Henry for exchanging two dukedoms for a duke’s “fair daughter.” He says that these lands are the property of the king, who can do with them what he wants. York himself wants to become king and decides to make a show of loyalty to Gloucester (Gloucester is the only man who stands between York and the throne.)

Notes

The scene is very important since it introduces most of the prominent characters of the play and outlines the plot. The action continues directly from where Henry VI, Part I concludes. At the end of that play Suffolk announced his departure for France to negotiate the marriage of Henry with Margaret of Anjou, daughter to René, the Duke of Anjou and titular King of Sicily, Naples and Jerusalem. He has now returned to present her to the king. Suffolk left England in November of 1444, and it is now April of 1445. The scene opens with fanfare that announces the approach of a person of distinction.

Suffolk was commissioned by King Henry as Procurator to bring Princess Margaret to England. The proxy marriage took place at Nancy, France, and Suffolk, who was an earl in Henry VI, Part I, is now elevated to the rank of marquis after arranging the marriage. King Henry is overjoyed to marry such a beauty, and he quickly arranges for her coronation. The lords of the country bless her as “England’s happiness,” and in light of what Margaret will do in the course of the play, this salutation is ironic. She in turn says, “We thank you all.” Margaret’s immediate use of the royal “we” is significant: she is ready to be queen.

Gloucester is very troubled at that this marriage between Henry and Margaret. It involves the surrender of Anjou and Maine, that part of Normandy (northern France) for which the nobles had fought to gain. Beaufort’s appeal to the gentlemen there not to believe Gloucester’s words indicates the rivalry that exists between these men. Beaufort says of Gloucester: “I fear me, lords, for all this flattering gloss,/ He will be found a dangerous Protector.” Thus a sense of intrigue as well as a serious conflict among the nobles is established in the very first scene.

King Henry VI, son of Henry V, succeeded the throne when he was nine months old. Duke Humphrey of Lancaster (Gloucester), youngest son of Henry IV and brother of Henry V, claimed the regency but had to defer to Bedford and accept the title “Protector of England,” which he held from 1427 to 1429. In this play he appears to be an enemy of his uncle, Cardinal Beaufort (the Bishop of Winchester). The Cardinal severely criticizes Gloucester. He convinces the other lords that Gloucester is against this marriage because he is does not want Henry to have an heir, as this would prevent him from ever becoming king.

Cardinal Beaufort’s devious ways are exposed here. Salisbury exclaims that the Cardinal is more like a soldier than a man of the church. The Duke of York is another character silently conspiring against the king. His own ambitions make him side with Gloucester. His plan to pry into the secrets of the state while the king enjoys his new bride reveals his treacherous nature. York compares himself to the Prince of Calydon. Meleager, Prince of Calydon, died when his mother, Althaea, burned the brand on which the Fates had decreed that his life depended. The story is told in Ovid.

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