Two men on stage, one fazed out in the image, the other wearing gold robes and crown with a worried expression

Henry VI Part I

William Shakespeare

Henry VI Part I begins Shakespeare’s trilogy centred on the Wars of the Roses. The play follows the rise and fall of Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) and the uneasy peace between England and France.

SYNOPSIS

Following the death of his father, Henry V, the young Henry VI is proclaimed king but his uncles, the Dukes of Gloucester and Exeter, are the ones who hold power.

Rivals for the throne

The Bishop of Winchester believes that Gloucester wants to usurp power from Henry, causing a fight outside the Tower of London.

Richard Plantagenet also believes himself to have a claim to the throne and falls out with the Duke of Somerset. They ask each nobleman in the court to take either a red or white rose to show whose side they are on: white for Richard of York, red for the Duke and house of Lancaster.

Military losses

In France, Charles the Dauphin has joined forces with Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) and taken land from the English. The Duke of Bedford, Henry's uncle, is killed, as is the English captain Talbot, a legendary warrior who was much feared by the French. His death happens because of the rivalry between York and Somerset, as both failed to send reinforcements to the English troops.

AN UNEASY PEACE

Fortunes turn and Joan is captured and burned. Henry and Charles reach an agreement to end the fighting, but the French already intend to break their word and expel the English from France.

A NEW QUEEN

The Earl of Suffolk captures a young French princess, Margaret of Anjou, and plans her marriage to Henry in order to gain more power in the court. Although Gloucester and other lords don’t think she is worthy of the king, he agrees to marry Margaret and make her Queen of England.