Study Guide

Henry VI Part 3 Act 1, Scene 1

By William Shakespeare

Act 1, Scene 1

Read the full text of Henry VI Part 3 Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • We begin in the middle of things—or, if you want to get all fancy about it, in medias res—with York, his sons Edward and Richard, and his supporters Norfolk, Montague, and Warwick. They're all are hanging out at parliament.
  • York and company have just hightailed it there after a battle with King Henry VI and his supporters. York won the battle, but the war isn't over yet. Richard heard that the king fled to parliament, and they want to beat him there, because, um, that's the manly thing to do. Want to know more? Check out Henry VI, Part 2.
  • York and company get to parliament first. (All things considered, we can't say we're surprised.) They wonder how they beat the king there, but talk quickly turns to how awesome Richard is. Richard himself says that he's pretty rad, and he holds up the Duke of Somerset's head to prove it. Here come the severed heads again.
  • The backstory? Somerset disagreed with York back in Henry VI, Part 1 over some law. Instead of sticking with York, Somerset stood for the red rose of Lancaster. So that pretty much sealed his fate with York's side, and York killed him at the end of Henry VI, Part 2.
  • York thanks Richard for his support, and a couple of jokes are made at the enemy's expense.
  • Then Warwick points out that York should take the throne. They did just defeat the king, after all, and the throne is (literally) right in front of them. Sit in it just this once, Warwick prompts.
  • York's not sure at first, but after some gentle urging, he pops a squat. Hmm… that was easy.
  • As soon as York sits down, Henry and his posse enter. Henry is totally peeved. That's my seat, York, he says, and then he reminds his followers that York is trying to steal his kingdom.
  • Northumberland and Clifford (Henry's peeps) don't take this lying down: they want to fight York, right then and there. He did kill their fathers after all, so he deserves it.
  • Henry isn't so sure. He tells Northumberland and Clifford that York has soldiers there, and it could end badly for them. He worries about what will happen.
  • Henry asks York to get out of his seat.
  • York isn't biting. After some verbal smack down, he claims he has the right to the throne.
  • Henry isn't buying it. He points out that while York's dad was just a duke, Henry's own dad was a king, so he totally wins.
  • Not so fast. Warwick and Richard point out that Henry lost the lands his dad (Henry V) won in France. He's such a loser he can't even keep lands that are already his.
  • Henry says that's unfair. He got the crown when he was a little baby, so how could he possibly rule at that time? The Lord Protector Gloucester lost those lands, not him.
  • York's supporters don't care about this distinction. The lands were England's before Henry's reign, and they are not England's now, so he's to blame. End of story.
  • Richard says they're taking the crown.
  • York tells his sons to shut it; he wants to listen to what Henry has to say.
  • Henry traces his family tree back for them. His dad was Henry V, and his granddad was Henry IV. He should be king because pops and grandpops were kings.
  • York decides to get technical. Actually, Henry VI's granddad Henry IV stole the crown from Richard II, York's relative. You can't really claim to be the rightful king by stealing the crown. Hmm… good point?
  • While Henry mulls this over, Exeter (one of his guys) sides with York. That argument does make sense to him, and he wants to serve the rightful king. Ouch.
  • Clifford hears all this and says he doesn't care who should be king; he'll defend Henry either way. He says to York: "You killed his father. Prepare to die."
  • Henry is relieved by this, but he still worries that everyone will turn against him like Exeter just did. York makes a compelling argument, and Henry's already losing his followers.
  • So, Henry comes up with a solution: how about he gets to keep the throne… for now? When he dies, York can become king. It's a win-win situation.
  • Clifford is horrified, because this will plan will rob Henry's son of the crown. Annoyed, he and the king's followers run off to tell Queen Margaret what is happening.
  • Henry knows his followers are right and feels bad for doing this to his kid. Oh, well: he quickly gets over it, because in the next line, he makes the deal with York.
  • Henry and York shake on it, and York boldly proclaims that the families of York and Lancaster (who have been fighting each other over the crown this whole time) are now friends again. He promises to be peaceful until Henry dies, after which he'll get the crown.
  • York and his supporters head out.
  • Just then, Margaret and Prince Edward (ahem, the heir to the throne) enter. Exeter notices that she looks angry, and he and the king try to run away from her. Real mature, guys.
  • Margaret tells Henry and Exeter to stop and pay attention—otherwise, she'll just follow them around. She demands to know why Henry just gave the crown away.
  • Henry claims it was all Warwick and York's fault: they forced him to do it.
  • Margaret asks how these guys could force a king to do anything. She gives Henry a real tongue-lashing, pointing out that now York and his "wolves" will attack; they'll be waiting for any opportunity for Henry to die so that York can seize the crown.
  • Margaret says that even though she's just a "silly woman," she's defended herself before. How come Henry can't do the same? He cares more about his own head than honor, she claims.
  • Margaret tells Henry she wants to stay away from him because of what he's done.
  • Henry, however, really wants Margaret to stay with him. When he gets a cold response, he tries to plead with his son. Surely he'll stay with his dear old dad?
  • Nope. Edward wants to go with his mom.
  • When Margaret and Edward leave, Henry notices that she has gone all hateful on him because she cares so much about the prince. He asks Exeter to help him get the lords on his side again. Exeter agrees, and the two of them leave.