Study Guide

Henry VI Part 1 Act 4, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 4, Scene 1

Read the full text of Henry VI Part 1 Act 4 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.


  • Henry VI has his coronation at Paris. Confetti all around, yo.
  • Only it would be a tiny bit better if Fastolfe didn't arrive right after with the news that Burgundy has switched sides.
  • Talbot is really angry with Fastolfe. You can see why, of course—it's not so easy to be cheerful when someone's cowardice has led to your imprisonment. Especially if the guy ran away again when you were winning. And now he's back saying one of your most powerful allies has switched sides. Talbot actually tears the garter off Fastolfe's leg.
  • The garter in this case is a symbol of a particular kind of knighthood Fastolfe holds—the knights of the Garter are a particular kind of English knight.
  • Talbot reminds the lords of Fastolfe's cowardice. He apologizes for losing it in front of the king and lords, but he asks if he wasn't right to do it.
  • Gloucester agrees that Fastolfe is pretty cowardly.
  • Talbot describes all the awesome things that used to be true of the knights of the Garter—they used to be "valiant and virtuous" (4.1.35), full of courage, proven in battle, all that good stuff. Fastolfe doesn't deserve to be one of them.
  • The King agrees, strips Fastolfe of his knighthood, and sends him packing, banished on pain of death.
  • They then turn their attention to the letter from Burgundy announcing his defection to the French side. It's not very respectful, for a letter addressed to a king, and the King decides to send Talbot to talk to Burgundy and give him a hard time.
  • Talbot says he would have begged for the assignment if the King hadn't given it, then heads off to argue with Burgundy.
  • Remember Vernon and Basset? They spent the last act fighting over the quarrel between York and Somerset. Now they turn up and ask the king if they can duel each other.
  • The king sensibly says he'd like to know why they want to duel before he makes a decision.
  • They explain the quarrel, mentioning the red and white roses that proved so symbolic earlier.
  • York asks if they can't leave this malice behind. He may be sincere or he may be sarcastic, but either way, Somerset isn't convinced—he assumes York still has a grudge against him and shows little inclination to make peace.
  • The King tries to make peace, but York and Somerset push for a duel first. Somerset says he and York should duel directly, and York literally throws down the gauntlet.
  • Vernon and Basset egg their masters on.
  • Gloucester yells at them for disturbing the King. More politely, he tells York and Somerset they shouldn't duel and proposes another way.
  • Exeter also says York and Somerset should be friends.
  • The King gives a speech, telling them that they should forget the quarrel. He reminds them that they are in France, "a fickle wavering nation" (4.1.139), and says that any disunity will make the French more likely to rebel against the English. He asks them to make up for the sake of his father and his own youth, and he says "let us not forgo/That for a trifle that was bought with blood" (4.1.151), meaning the lands in France.
  • This is all pretty good. Henry is showing leadership, and his rhetoric's not half bad. It's all pretty king-y of him.
  • But then Henry does something suddenly and disastrously wrong: He takes the red rose and pins it on, claiming quite sincerely that he's equally fond of Somerset and York and no one will think he's favoring one over the other. This is kind of like putting on the campaign badge of one presidential candidate the day before the election and saying you don't really care who wins. You may be sincere, but no one's going to believe you.
  • Then Henry VI puts York in charge of this part of France. He also asks Somerset to work with him there and fight their enemies, not each other.
  • The king says he's heading back to England soon but hopes they will be victorious shortly.
  • Afterward, Warwick says the King did a pretty good job at the old oratory.
  • York agrees, but says he isn't too happy about the King wearing Somerset's badge.
  • Warwick says the King didn't mean anything by it, which is likely all too true (Henry's young, remember, and a little naïve).
  • York sounds like he would have been pretty unhappy if the King had meant to take Somerset's side over his, but he checks himself and says there are other things to do. Then everyone but Exeter leaves the stage.
  • Exeter speculates to the audience that Richard, Duke of York, may be an angry type; he also says the fighting in the court is a bad sign, and something bad is coming.
  • He says it's tough to make things work when the king is a child, but what makes things really go south is when envy causes strife.