Henry's Richmond Prophecy
It seems like Henry's better at dishing out prophecies than he is at ruling. When he catches a glimpse of Henry of Richmond, for example, he launches into a speech about the little dude:
This pretty lad will prove our country's bliss.
His looks are full of peaceful majesty,
His head by nature framed to wear a crown,
His hand to wield a scepter, and himself
Likely in time to bless a regal throne. (4.6.72-76)
You're probably wondering who this kid is and what this is all about. Well, Shakespeare wrote Henry VI, Part 3 when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne. Elizabeth I's grandfather was none other than Henry of Richmond –a.k.a. King Henry VII, a.k.a. the guy who bumped Richard III off the throne and established the Tudor dynasty (which goes down in Richard III).
So Henry VI is not only right about the young Richmond; he's also giving a shout-out to Shakespeare's queen's grandpa. Coincidence? We think not. Shakespeare was sort of obligated to promote the idea that the Tudors brought about a golden age in England. Not only that, but Henry VII's reign was supposed to be divinely sanctioned, meaning that the official line was that God wanted him on the throne.
One final thing to consider, though: is it possible that Richmond eventually becomes king precisely because Henry has just planted the idea in his head? Maybe Henry's just talking nonsense and has no real ability to see the future, but now that Richmond has heard the king give this prophecy, he starts to believe it.
Now, even that could be part of some predestined plan, we suppose. We're just going to have to figure that out for ourselves.
Does your head hurt yet?
Henry's Richard Prophecy
Henry has many faults as a king, but he sure knows how to pack a punch. Right when he's about to die, he delivers yet another prophecy, this time to Richard; it's about Richard's own dark future:
And thus I prophesy: that many a thousand
Which now mistrust no parcel of my fear,
And many an old man's sigh, and many a widow's,
And many an orphan's water-standing eye,
Men for their sons, wives for their husbands,
And orphans for their parents' timeless death,
Shall rue the hour that ever thou wast born. (5.6.38-44)
Is all of this just a cool way of cursing someone right before he kills you? Maybe. But we hate to break it to you: Henry's right—about everything. Richard does end up being hated by everyone, even his own mom. We don't get to see it happen in this play, but we get all the juicy deets in Richard III.
Now, Shakespeare's audience would have known that Henry's words were true, since they knew all about Richard III's reign, so they would have known that Henry was right about everything. But what gives? How is Henry able to see all of this stuff? Has all of his attention to religion paid off? Can he now see into the future? Is fate at work here? Is there some kind of divine plan behind everything that happens in these plays?
As usual, Shakespeare's not going to give us any easy answers; what he wants us is for us to chew on the questions.
One final thing: Henry is the only one who can predict what will happen to Richard, and he's the only one who can accurately predict who will finally be the king everyone has been waiting for. Does this make him seem more king-like than before? He certainly seems to understand kingship on one level, anyway.