Henry VI, Part 2 was probably
first performed by Lord Strange’s Men by 1591. The title-page
of the 1600 quarto of Henry VI, Part 3 states that the
play was ‘sundry times acted by the Right Honourable the Earle
of Pembrooke his seruantes’. The Earl
Men were formed as an offshoot of Lord
Strange’s Men, thus
linking the latter to the earlier play Henry VI, Part 2.
There are no certain records of performances of Henry VI, Part
2 before the Restoration in 1660.
Publication in quarto
Henry VI, Part 2 appeared in five editions
- First quarto, 1594. Thought to have been printed from a memorial
reconstruction of the play. The title of the play was given as
The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses
of Yorke and Lancaster. (Copy from the Bodleian Library.)
- Second quarto, 1600. Printed from the first quarto. (Copy from
the Bodleian Library.)
- Third Quarto, undated but published in 1619. Apparently printed
from the first quarto, but with reference either to the foul papers
of the memorial reconstruction or to the prompt-book. The Duke
of York’s genealogy was corrected (act 2, scene 2), and
11 new lines were added to the play. In this edition Henry
VI, Part 2 was printed together with Henry VI, Part 3
under the general title The Whole Contention Betweene the
Two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke. This was the first
edition to attribute the play to Shakespeare.
- First folio, 1623. Thought to have been printed either from
Shakespeare’s manuscript or a scribal copy of it used in
the theatre. The text is a third longer than that of the first
quarto. The play was given the title The Second Part of Henry
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous
Houses of Yorke and Lancaster was entered by Thomas Millington
on the Stationers’ Register on 12 March 1594. The first quarto
was printed by Thomas Creede for Millington the same year. The second
quarto was printed by Valentine Simmes, again for Millington, in
1600. On 19 April 1602, Millington transferred his copyright in
Henry VI, part 2 and Henry VI, Part 3 to Thomas
The third quarto, with the general title The Whole Contention
Betweene the Two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke, was printed
by William Jaggard for Thomas Pavier. The volume also includes Pericles.
Henry VI, Part 2 was among the group of 10 plays printed
by Jaggard for Pavier in 1619. These were apparently intended to
form a collection of plays attributed to Shakespeare. The King’s
Men may have protested against Pavier’s intentions, for the
Lord Chamberlain subsequently wrote to the Stationers’ Company
demanding that no more plays belonging to them should be printed
except with their consent.
copies of Henry VI, Part 2 contains detailed bibliographic
descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
Shakespeare used several sources for Henry VI, Part 2.
- Raphael Holinshed, The Third Volume of Chronicles (1587).
Holinshed was a primary source for Shakespeare.
- Edward Hall, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies
of Lancastre and Yorke (1548). Shakespeare also used Hall’s
chronicle as a primary source.
Titlepage. Edward Hall,
The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies of Lancaster & Yorke,
1548. British Library, C.122.h.4. Larger
- Richard Grafton, A Chronicle at Large and Meere History
of the Affayres of Englande (1569). Shakespeare made some
use of Grafton’s chronicle.
- John Foxe, Actes and Monuments (1583). Shakespeare
drew on Foxe for the Simpcox miracle scene (act 2, scene 1).
- Robert Fabyan, Chronicle (1516). Shakespeare occasionally
used Fabyan’s chronicle.
- John Hardyng, The Chronicle of Iohn Hardyng (1543).
Shakespeare also made occasional use of Hardyng’s chronicle.
Story of the play
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where
each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos
themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play
is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is
a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
Henry VI, Part 2 is set in England in the mid 15th century,
at the beginning of the Wars of the Roses.
(Act 1) The French Princess Margaret arrives in England to marry
King Henry VI. He is still under the tutelage of his uncle the Duke
of Gloucester, and his nobles are vying with one another for influence.
Gloucester expresses his discontent with the marriage treaty, arranged
by the Duke of Suffolk, by which Anjou and Maine (part of Henry
V’s conquests) will be surrendered. Alone, the Duke of York
deplores the French losses and declares his intention to rebel against
the King. Gloucester’s wife, Eleanor, has ambitions for the
throne which he does not share. The new Queen turns to Suffolk with
complaints against her husband and the great nobles of the court.
Suffolk promises to support her. Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester
commands the witch Margery Jourdain to conjure up spirits so she
can learn the future. The ceremony is interrupted by York, who arrests
Eleanor and her confederates.
(Act 2) While the King and Queen and their court are out hawking,
Suffolk and Gloucester quarrel. News is brought of a miracle at
Saint Alban’s shrine, and the blind man Simpcox whose sight
was restored is brought before the King. Gloucester reveals the
miracle as a fraud. York justifies his claim to the throne to the
Earl of Salisbury and his son the Earl of Warwick, who give him
their support. Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester is tried and sentenced
to banishment. Gloucester resigns as Protector of England. He and
Eleanor take leave of one another as she is paraded through the
streets in penance.
(Act 3) The King and Queen attend Parliament. The Duke of Somerset
announces the loss of all the French territories. When Gloucester
arrives, Suffolk arrests him for high treason. The King weeps as
he is unable to help him, while the Queen rejoices at his fall.
York is appointed to deal with rebels in Ireland. Alone, he decides
to support a rebellion in Kent by John Cade. Suffolk arranges the
murder of Gloucester. When the King learns his uncle is dead he
faints. Queen Margaret berates him for his love of Gloucester. Warwick
tells the King that Gloucester was murdered by Suffolk. King Henry
banishes Suffolk. Alone together, Queen Margaret and Suffolk reveal
that they are lovers as they express their sorrow at parting.
(Act 4) Suffolk is murdered as he leaves the coast of England.
In Kent, John Cade assembles his army of rebels. They kill Sir Humphrey
Stafford, sent to oppose them. The Queen mourns Suffolk’s
death. News of Cade’s rebellion reaches the court. When Cade
arrives at London, his followers kill those who come out of the
city to oppose them. The Duke of Buckingham, with the Cliffords,
ends Cade’s rebellion. Cade, fleeing, is killed.
(Act 5) York arrives in England at the head of an Irish army. He
demands the removal of the Duke of Somerset from the court and the
King. When Buckingham tells him that Somerset has been sent to the
Tower, York dismisses his army. John Cade’s head is brought
to the King. The Queen enters with Somerset, who arrests York for
high treason. York calls his sons and his supporters to his aid,
declares himself the rightful King and leaves prepared to fight
for the throne. He and his followers win the Battle of St Albans,
at which he kills Somerset and the elder Clifford. The successful
York prepares to pursue King Henry to London.