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’. It is thus
likely that the play was first performed by the Earl
of Pembroke’s Men at the Rose
before June 1592, when the Privy Council forbade performances because
of the plague. There are no records of performances of Henry
VI, Part 3 before the Restoration in 1660.
Publication in quarto and folio
Henry VI, Part 3 appeared in six editions before 1642.
- First octavo, 1595. Thought to have been printed from a memorial
reconstruction of the play. It has also been suggested that it
was printed from a transcript made by an early actor for his friends.
The title of the play was given as The True Tragedie of Richard
Duke of York, and the Death of Good King Henrie the Sixt.
(Copy from the Bodleian Library.)
- Second quarto, 1600. The quarto is not an exact reprint of the
octavo, for dozens of irregularly divided verse lines were regularised.
- Third quarto, undated but published in 1619. Probably printed
from the second quarto, although it has been suggested that the
octavo was used. Many editorial changes were made, and 1 new line
added to the play. In this edition Henry VI, Part 3 was
printed together with Henry VI, Part 2 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. Usually thought to have been printed from
Shakespeare’s foul papers. The folio text is about a third
longer than the first octavo, although the stage directions are
less full. The play was given the title The Third Part of
Henry the Sixt.
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of York, and the Death of
Good King Henrie the Sixt was first printed by Peter Short
for Thomas Millington in octavo in 1594. A second quarto edition
was printed by William White for Millington in 1600. On 19 April
1602, Millington transferred his copyright in Henry VI, part
2 and Henry VI, Part 3 to Thomas Pavier.
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 3 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.
Library copies of Henry VI, Part 3 contains detailed
bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
Shakespeare made significant use of two sources for Henry VI,
- Raphael Holinshed, The Third Volume of Chronicles (1587).
Shakespeare made use of Holinshed in particular for a number of
scenes in act 1.
- Edward Hall, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies
of Lancastre and Yorke (1548). Hall may have been Shakespeare’s
principal source for the play.
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 3 is set in England during the mid 15th
century, at the height of the Wars of the Roses.
1) Richard Duke of York has just won a battle against King Henry
VI, but the King has escaped. York’s sons Edward and Richard,
and the Earl of Warwick declare their continued support for him.
King Henry enters Parliament to find York seated on the throne.
Under pressure, particularly from Warwick, he agrees to disinherit
his own son and appoint York as his heir. King Henry’s supporters,
including Clifford, abandon him. Queen Margaret turns furiously
on her husband before leaving with her son to join their army. York
is persuaded by his sons to pursue the crown. As the opposing armies
of York and Lancaster meet, Lord Clifford comes upon York’s
youngest son the Earl of Rutland and kills him. The Lancastrians
win the Battle of Wakefield. York is taken prisoner, and Queen Margaret
torments him before she and Clifford kill him.
2) Edward and Richard learn of their father’s capture
and death. Warwick arrives with news of his defeat by the Lancastrians
at the Battle of St Albans and the escape of King Henry. He promises
his support for Edward, now Duke of York, in his bid for the throne.
King Henry and Queen Margaret arrive at York, where Henry knights
his son Prince Edward. Edward of York demands the crown, but Queen
Margaret and Clifford oppose him. A battle follows, which the Yorkists
at first seem to lose. In the midst of the fighting, King Henry
finds himself alone and wishes for the quiet life of a shepherd.
Clifford is killed during the battle, which the Yorkists win. Edward,
now King, creates Richard Duke of Gloucester before they set out
in triumph for London.
3) King Henry, who had fled to Scotland, returns in secret to
England. He is captured by two gamekeepers. The widowed Lady Grey
appeals to King Edward for the repossession of her dead husband’s
lands. King Edward offers to grant her suit if she will become his
mistress. When she refuses, he offers to make her his Queen. Alone,
Richard of Gloucester reveals his ambition for the throne and the
Machiavellian means he will use to gain it. Queen Margaret goes
to France to beg help from King Lewis to restore King Henry. Warwick
arrives to ask for the hand of the King’s sister on behalf
of King Edward. During his negotiations, letters arrive to tell
him that King Edward has married Lady Grey. Furious at his humiliation,
Warwick switches his allegiance to King Henry. King Lewis promises
to help King Henry.
John Barrymore as Richard of Gloucester, 'Ay, Edward will use women
VI, Part 3, Act 3, Scene 2. British Library Sound Archive,
4) Richard of Gloucester and George, Duke of Clarence criticise
their brother King Edward’s marriage to Lady Grey. Clarence
and the Duke of Somerset join Warwick against King Edward. Warwick
captures King Edward, but he is rescued by Richard of Gloucester.
King Henry, restored to his throne, appoints Warwick and Clarence
as Protectors of the realm so that he can lead a life of prayer.
King Edward is proclaimed at York. He and his troops capture King
5) King Edward and Richard of Gloucester confront Warwick at
Coventry. Warwick is joined there by the Duke of Somerset and other
nobles, but Clarence returns to his brother King Edward. Warwick
leaves Coventry for Barnet. During the Battle of Barnet, he is wounded
and dies. The Yorkists win the battle. King Edward wins the Battle
of Tewkesbury, and takes prisoner Queen Margaret and Prince Edward.
King Edward, Richard of Gloucester, and Clarence stab and kill the
prince. Queen Margaret begs them to kill her too, but she is taken
away to prison. King Henry is imprisoned in the Tower, where Richard
of Gloucester murders him. King Edward mounts the throne again.
Queen Margaret is sent back to France in exchange for a ransom.