Henry VI Part 1 condensed

Henry V ended there in France with the French princess Katherine accepting the young English king’s marriage proposal.  Westmorland and the king’s brothers had reached an acceptable peace agreement with the French. The king’s proposal to the princess was awkward, touching and beautiful.  The war was over, the princess was beautiful, the king was a hero, and life was good.  But to our dismay, we find as this play begins that Henry V has died, with no sense of the cause offered.  He and Katherine had had a son, and the son was eight months old.  This young son was heir to the throne.  He was now king, Henry VI.   

Act 1. The play opens in 1422 with the body of the late king lying in state, mourned by nobles as they busily jostle with each other, positioning themselves for the immediate future, the new king being, as we say, eight months old.  To the nobles’ dismay, a messenger enters announcing that they have lost Orleans to the French and that John Talbot, England’s main man in France, has been captured.  But then we learn the English have retaken Orleans, that Talbot has escaped his captors and that the Dauphin, now France’s Charles VII, is very upset with this turn of events.  The Bastard of Orleans introduces the French king to Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc).  Through her commanding personality and skills, she persuades the king to install her as a major leader of his forces.  She retakes Orleans.  Through an unfortunate incident, Salisbury, Westmorland’s only son, is killed.  Talbot retakes Orleans.  He has Salisbury buried in Orleans’ public square.  The Frenchman, the duke of Burgundy, the royal who had married Margaret, Richard duke of York’s daughter (sister to two future English kings) is at Talbot’s side.  Back in London, two close relatives of the king fuss over control of the weapons stored in London’s Tower, an example of the internal squabbles the very young king has to deal with. 

Act 2. In a historic and symbolic moment, Richard Plantagenet (Edward III’s fifth son’s grandson) and the first duke of Somerset (Edward III’s fourth son’s grandson through the Beaufort line) have a throwing-down-the-glove moment in a secluded and quiet London garden, each directly challenging the other, York picking a white rose (and encouraging his supporters to do the same), with Somerset picking a red rose (likewise encouraging his supporters to do the same).  The fifteenth century’s long War of the Roses between the two Plantagenet family factions has begun.  In a poignant moment, Richard Plantagenet visits the long-imprisoned Edmund Mortimer, Edward III’s third son’s great-grandson, who offers us an inspiring history lesson.  Mortimer soon dies.  The year is 1424. 

Act 3. Humphrey, the king’s youngest uncle in the Legitimate line, and the Bishop of Winchester, a king’s uncle in the Beaufort line, have another one of their serious arguments.  Each has his set of public supporters.  The king names Richard Plantagenet the duke of York, a title that should be his, hoping it will help bring peace to the feuding Plantagenets.  Meanwhile back in France, the French forces, under the leadership of Joan of Arc, take Rouen, but quickly lose it. Henry V’s brother John, the king’s uncle, having served the Lancaster side of this family beautifully, dies and is buried at Rouen.  The year is 1435.  The English head to Paris.  Joan of Arc convinces Burgundy to switch his allegiance back to the French side.  In Paris, Henry VI bestows John Talbot with the honorary title of earl of Shrewsbury.

Act 4. Henry VI is honored in Paris by the English as the king of France.  The duke of York and the duke of Somerset continue their spat.  At Bordeaux, John Talbot challenges the French, but is advised that he is surrounded.  Blame is passed around, but York and Somerset had failed to provide supplies to Talbot as instructed by the king. At Bordeaux, Talbot instructs his son to leave his side while there is still time, saying “O young John Talbot!  Come, dally not, be gone.”  The young son responds “Is my name Talbot? And am I your son?”  They both die there at Bordeaux, but not before Shakespeare provides us with the most inspiring conversation ever between a father and a son.

Act 5.  International pressure mounts for Henry VI to come to peace with the French, the English winning most of the battles. The war has taken its public toll, as war always does.  Humphrey suggests to the king that he marry the earl of Armagnac’s daughter, noting that she would bring with her “a large and sumptuous dowry.”  However, the charming and cunning and married William de la Pole, the earl of Suffolk, has captured Reignier’s beautiful daughter Margaret, and he has fallen for her.  He persuades the king, over Humphrey’s protests, to marry her.  Suffolk has plans to stay close to her and through her help direct public policy in England.  Joan of Arc is captured in Angers and taken away.  France’s Charles VII accepts peace terms offered by the English.  Henry VI marries Margaret.