As Henry VI is being officially crowned king, England’s Lord Protector Gloucester prods the Governor of Paris to swear allegiance to Henry VI as France’s rightful king when Sir John Falstaff interrupts the proceedings with a message from the Duke of Burgundy. Incensed, Lord Talbot strips Falstaff of his knight’s garter, citing Falstaff’s cowardice and disgrace which were in evidence when he fled his post despite the English being outnumbered by the French 10 to 1. Subsequently, the King banishes Falstaff and then attends to Burgundy’s message, which comes as a shock and an outrage to everyone; Burgundy has defected to the French. The news especially outrages Talbot who asks and is granted the commission to have Burgundy sought out and subdued. As Talbot leaves, Vernon and Basset respectively plead the King to grant him the right to engage the other in lawful combat. They make their respective cases, citing how the other insulted his badge of allegiance and thereby his lord and master. Arguing that the dispute is theirs and theirs alone, the Dukes of York and Somerset plead the King to let them settle it mono y mono. The King objects, arguing that the French rebels will be even more encouraged to defy the English when they perceive that the English are fighting amongst themselves. Putting on a red rose and arguing that his doing so doesn’t incline him to Somerset, the King assigns York to be the Regent of France, orders Somerset to deploy his forces against the French rebels, and announces his intention to return to England with Gloucester. When the King and his retinue leave, Warwick commends York, who isn’t too happy about the King pinning a red rose on his person, for keeping his temper vis-à-vis Somerset. By and by, Exeter opines that the enmity between York and Somerset runs so deep that it will have grave consequences for the English.
Lord Talbot delivers an ultimatum to General of the French forces at Bordeaux to surrender or face annihilation. The General replies that his men would rather die than surrender, and moreover that Talbot is the one who faces annihilation as forces in Bordeaux are more than a match for Talbot and the English, and that if Talbot and the English decide to withdraw they will hemmed in by Dauphin Charles and his forces. Presently, drums are heard in the distance, signifying Charles’ approach. Realizing that the Bordeaux General wasn’t bluffing, Talbot laments his predicament but not for long as he exhorts his men to go down fighting like the devil if it comes to that.
Having learned from a messenger of Lord Talbot’s dire predicament, the Duke of York curses and blames the Duke of Somerset for withholding his troops without which York does not dare go to Talbot’s aid. Citing Talbot’s son John who was seen going to his father and to certain destruction, English knight Sir William Lucy begs York to go to Talbot’s aid, but to no avail. Resigned to England’s loss, York merely curses Somerset and rides off with his troops; Lucy laments England’s fall from grace all because her nobles cannot come to terms re their petty squabbles.
Speaking to one of Talbot’s captains, the Duke of Somerset explains that Talbot has sullied his name by engaging in a rash undertaking, and moreover that York had encouraged the folly so that he might gain advantage by Talbot’s death when Sir William Lucy arrives to censure Somerset and York alike. Eventually, Somerset decides to send his men to Talbot’s aid; however, Lucy continues to censure Somerset and York, arguing that Somerset’s aid will prove too late.
Desperate not to lose his son, who was sent for so that he might be taught the art of war, Lord Talbot begs his son John to flee lest he risk certain death by staying. John refuses to go, however, arguing that he would forever live in shame if he abandoned his father now. He even argues that his father ought to flee as Talbot’s life means far more to the English than John’s could ever be. Eventually, unable to persuade his son to flee, Talbot resolves to fight and die together with his son.
Having saved his son from immediate death, again Talbot tries to persuade his son to flee, arguing that if John dies now, then Talbot’s legacy dies with him whereas if John lives Talbot lives through him. John is adamant, however, that if he flees that he could never live with himself which persuades Talbot to embrace their doomed fate, not unlike Daedalus and Icarus.
Mortally wounded, Talbot seeks for his son John who, having saved his father from instant death, had died himself while plunging himself into a throng of French soldiers. Having found John’s dead body, Talbot embraces it and dies himself. Meanwhile, the victorious French marvel at John’s exploits, and the Dauphin Charles forbids the Bastard of Orleans from mutilating the Talbots. Presently, Sir William Lucy arrives to claim the English dead bodies for proper burial. Though on a diplomatic errand, Lucy is more angry than diplomatic, impressing Joan La Pucelle. By and by, Charles grants Lucy the right to carry out his commission, and then pronounces that the French will march to Paris, signifying a total French victory which is now all but academic what with Talbot’s death.