Watch our British Sign Language synopsis of Henry VI: Rebellion and Wars of the Roses.
King Henry marries the French Princess Margaret, organised by his friend the Duke of Suffolk, creating peace between the two countries. The Duke of Gloucester, Henry’s Uncle and Lord Protector, is unhappy with the match, as it means England lose more territories in France. The other English nobles plot to get rid of Gloucester. They entrap his wife Eleanor in a plot that exposes her treason towards Henry. This impacts on Gloucester, having him lose favour with Henry, giving up his position as Lord Protector over the crown and country. This event makes Henry a true King. Gloucester is arrested and murdered in prison. Henry rightfully accuses Suffolk of his murder, banishing Suffolk from England. The instability in Henry’s court creates an opportunity for the Duke of York to build allies who support his claim to the crown. He organises more disruption in England by asking a soldier called Jack Cade to rally the people of England. This causes an uprising across London. The rebels are quelled, but news soon arrives that York has roused an army to follow him.
Wars of the Roses
For the first time, the armies of Lancaster and York face each other at the battle of St Albans. After winning the battle, the Duke of York, Richard Plantagenet, sits on the throne of England. This is short lived, as Henry strikes a deal with York, naming York and his sons as heirs to the crown when Henry’s reign comes to a natural end. Margaret is furious by this news, as it disinherits their son Edward. She raises her own army to surprise York in his castle in Wakefield. The unsuspecting York is captured and killed by Margaret. York’s sons Edward, Richard and George are told of their father's murder and unite with Warwick, who proclaims Edward the new Duke of York, and rightful heir. They raise an army and defeat the Lancastrians at Towton. Henry, Margaret and their son are forced to flee north. Henry is captured and brought to London, where he is placed in the Tower by the new King, Edward. In France, Margaret and Warwick meet at the court of King Louis. News reaches them that Edward has married Lady Elizabeth Grey, in spite of his agreement to marry Louis' sister, Lady Bona. This insult turns Warwick against Edward. The forces of Edward and Warwick meet at Barnet, where Warwick is killed. Margaret arrives in England with reinforcements. Her forces encounter Edward's for the last time at Tewkesbury, where, after much bloodshed, the Yorkists are victorious. Richard meets Henry in the tower and kills him and begins to plot his own route to take the crown for himself.
NOTES FROM THE REHEARSAL ROOM
So much happens throughout the two plays, director Owen Horsley felt it was important to not simply accept the complexity of what happens in the story. He constantly asked the company to not normalize anything, just because they are history plays. The idea of not accepting anything as normal, such as Eleanor using conjurers to predict the future, in a time of persecution of witchcraft, gave the actors greater opportunities to play the jeopardy of each moment.