Study Guide

Henry VI Part 2 Summary

By William Shakespeare

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Henry VI Part 2 Summary

Read the full text of Henry VI Part 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

At the palace in London, Henry's finally reached an agreement with France. What's that? Not sure why France and England are bickering like cats and dogs? Well, back in Henry VI, Part 1, some French peeps started rebelling against England. They're all, "Why should Henry VI get to rule us over here in France?" If you're not sure what happened with this fight, go back and read Henry VI, Part 1, but come right back.

Done? Now back to the show. When we catch up with the gang in this play, Henry has just decided to marry the beautiful but poor Margaret, and not everyone's ready to make a toast at the wedding, because Margaret has no lands or political advantage to offer. In fact, Henry had to give up two big pieces of land in France in order to get her. That's just unheard of for a king.

Naturally, a bunch of nobles are ticked that the French lands are now gone. Suffolk arranged the whole marriage, so he's on board. In fact, he set up the whole thing to keep his honey (Margaret) close by; yep, we're dealing with a pair of part-time lovers here. Gloucester, however, is ticked. He predicts that this will be the downfall of Henry. Cue the dramatic music.

The nobles argue and take sides. To complicate matters, Cardinal Beaufort hates Gloucester and wants him to give up his position of power. He doesn't like that Gloucester's still "Protector" or guardian of England now that Henry is old enough to rule himself. And did we mention York thinks he should be king? Yep, there's trouble brewing around every corner.

Meanwhile, Gloucester's wife Eleanor has dreams of wearing a crown, too. Her husband flips out when he hears, but she doesn't care. She hires some witches to predict the future for her. They tell her that 1) a duke will depose Henry but die a violent death; 2) Suffolk die by water; 3) Somerset should stay away from castles. Um, okay.

While Eleanor's getting the dish on the future, some guards show up and arrest her. Too bad witchcraft is against the law.

Over at the castle, the treacherous trio (Margaret, Suffolk, and Cardinal Beaufort) is planning Gloucester's takedown. They beg him to give up his power, but he doesn't budge, though he promises that he'll gladly give it up if Henry asks him to. He's bummed at the news of his wife's arrest, and things go from bad to worse when she is publically humiliated and banished. He loves her, but he knows she's broken the law. Then the treacherous trio has Gloucester arrested.

The charge? Treason... or whatever else they can think up. They know he's innocent, but they want him to beat it. Henry can't believe his trusted pal has been arrested, and it looks like he's going to get off the hook, so the trio plans Gloucester's murder.

Their plan, however, doesn't work as well as they hoped: Henry figures out that Gloucester's been murdered, and he banishes Suffolk. Beaufort is so guilt-ridden that he gets sick and dies. (Guess he did have a conscience, after all.) Suffolk is beheaded at sea, and his head is sent back to Margaret, who's devastated.

While all this is going down inside the palace, a commoner named Jack Cade is stirring up trouble outside. Here's the backstory: York hired him to cause a rebellion so that he could have a chance to swoop in and become king. Cade's supposed to put the feelers out to see if people believe York's family has a right to rule by pretending to be a member of the York family.

Cade assembles an army and fights for the common folk. Their biggest complaint is about education: they aren't taught how to read and write, but then they get thrown in prison for being illiterate. They don't want to be slaves to the nobles anymore.

The rebellion is gaining steam (and bodies) when Buckingham and Clifford stop it in its tracks with a single rousing speech. Turns out they'll follow anyone who can give a good speech. Cade is deeply hurt by this fickle crowd and runs away. A few days later, he's killed in Iden's garden after challenging him to a fight.

Henry's relieved that the rebels have put a stop to their war, but his troubles are actually just beginning. York storms into St. Albans field with his army, ready to fight Henry for the crown. Henry and Margaret call for backup. The two sides go a few rounds, and York wins. Henry runs away to London to get support from his buddies. The battle might be over, but the war's only just begun.

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