Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1 Act 1, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 1, Scene 1

Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.


  • It's sad when a play ends with a funeral, but it's seriously ominous when it starts with one. And that's just what happens here. News not bad enough yet? It's the funeral of Henry V, one of England's greatest military heroes and the leader it needs—he conquered France a while back and has been regarded as a major hero since. And oh, his son is a baby and won't be able to rule for years.
  • While the English nobles are mourning, a messenger arrives from France to say that the French have rebelled and many of the English lands and towns there have been lost through "want of men and money" (1.1.71) and likely through the disunity of the English noblemen. Gee, it would be a good time for a strong leader, wouldn't it?
  • Gloucester and Winchester, two members of the English nobility, have a spat as well, just the beginning of a long series of conflicts they have throughout the play. We learn that Gloucester is Lord Protector, which means dude's basically running England until Henry VI is old enough to act as king.
  • Bedford announces he will go to fight in France.
  • A second messenger from France arrives. By now it's probably clear that it's not going to be good news, the way you just know the Millenium Falcon is going to have hyperdrive troubles not long into The Empire Strikes Back. And sure enough, the crown prince of France has been declared king and has every intention of ruling France on his own, with no help from England.
  • Gloucester and Bedford plan to fight the French.
  • A third messenger arrives. You know the drill: It's bad news. The third messenger says that the English leader Talbot has been taken prisoner. He fought boldly, but didn't have enough men or supplies and was also betrayed by the cowardice of Sir John Fastolfe.
  • The nobles are demoralized, but at least they have a plan: They decide to fight against France and declare Henry VI King. Even though he's a baby, they'll totally rally around him and try to make things work.
  • Winchester complains that he hasn't been give a job. He feels left out and threatens to kidnap the young king from his current home and use him to gain power. There's no evidence that he actually does this, but it's a tipoff that he's a prime candidate for spending most of the play jockeying for power and quarrelling with Gloucester.