The King is puzzled that the Duke of Gloucester, who is wont to dispatch his duty with diligence, is tardy to report to parliament. Queen Margaret takes the opportunity to discourage the King from seeking Gloucester’s counsel henceforth, insinuating that Gloucester seeks to usurp the throne. Cardinal Beaufort and the Dukes of Suffolk and York agree with the Queen’s insinuation, but King Henry, who is partial to Gloucester, doubts that that could ever be the case. Presently, the Duke of Somerset, and close at his heels the Duke of Gloucester, arrives. Somerset has bad news: All of France has been lost. As to Gloucester, he apologizes for being late only to be charged of crimes against the state and put under arrest by the collective wills of Suffolk, York, and the Cardinal. Gloucester denies the charges, which includes taking bribes from the French and withholding payment to English soldiers, and argues that his service to his country is unimpeachable and his honor untainted—to no avail. As he is led away, Gloucester warns the King that he is amongst betrayers. Grief-stricken, the King retires for the day. Subsequently, the Queen, Suffolk, York, and the Cardinal decide to have Gloucester killed right away lest the King’s and the people’s affection for Gloucester continue to make Gloucester a force to be reckoned with. Presently, a messenger arrives with news of an uprising in Ireland. As a reminder of Somerset’s failure to retain control of France, York facetiously nominates Somerset as the man to quell the Irish uprising. Somerset returns the favor, insulting York, and the two resume their inveterate bickering. Ultimately, York is chosen as the man who will put an end to the uprising. To that end, Suffolk promises to levy an army on York’s behalf. With everything settled and everyone dispersed, York divulges his mind in full. While he is deployed in Ireland, York will commission John Cade of Ashford, a rascal, to raise a commotion in England, in the name of John Mortimer whom John Cade resembles. Thereby York will have an idea of how the English people feel about the rightful king of England. If John Cade succeeds and the people display their allegiance to the House of York, York will use the army that he has been entrusted with to usurp Henry. Otherwise, there will be no harm done as John Cade’s constitution is such that he will never betray York, no matter what tortures he undergoes.
Though having successfully dispatched their duty and murdered the Duke of Gloucester as commissioned by the Duke of Suffolk, one of the murderers, recalling how penitent Gloucester was, feels remorse and the pangs of a guilty conscience. By and by, the murderers are dismissed as Suffolk is satisfied with their work and must now attend to the King who has fixed today as Gloucester’s trial day. Subsequently, at the King’s behest, Suffolk goes to fetch Gloucester only to return looking ghastly pale. He reports that Gloucester has died, making the King faint. When the King revives, Suffolk urges the King to take comfort which strikes the King as disingenuous. Indeed the King rebukes Suffolk to the extent of all but blaming him for Gloucester’s death. Consequently, Queen Margaret passionately defends Suffolk, her clandestine lover. Citing that the King blames Suffolk for Gloucester’s death because Suffolk and Gloucester were at odds, the Queen argues that the King ought to blame her as she and Gloucester were at odds as well. Presently, the Earl of Warwick arrives to inform the King of the people’s unrest the cause of which is their conviction that Gloucester’s death was engineered by the Duke of Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort. When the King informs Warwick that Gloucester has indeed died but that the cause of his death is yet unknown, Warwick asks for and is granted the opportunity to ascertain the cause. By and by, Warwick tells the King that Gloucester was indeed murdered. Suffolk objects, but Warwick cites various signs of a violent struggle such as the blood having rushed into the face, the unruly hair, and the flared nostrils that indicate Gloucester was strangled in bed as opposed to having died peacefully during sleep. Subsequently, there are words exchanged between Warwick and the Queen and Warwick and Suffolk. Vis-à-vis Suffolk the words escalate to a challenge. Thus Suffolk and Warwick go outside to settle their score only to return with their swords drawn. Suffolk pleads his case to the King, arguing how Warwick has incited the people against him, which is why he has returned. The Earl of Salisbury informs the King, however, that the people are so determined to have Suffolk’s head that they will barge in to take Suffolk in custody if the King refuses to have Suffolk executed or banished. Consequently, despite the Queen’s objection, the King pronounces Suffolk’s banishment. As the King leaves to consult with Warwick, Suffolk laments his fate. The Queen tries to lift up his spirits to no avail. A courier is seen rushing off somewhere. When questioned, the courier explains that the Cardinal has fallen ill and is on the verge of death. Presently, the Queen urges Suffolk to leave lest the King has him executed. Suffolk is reluctant to separate but he knows that he must and does.
While Cardinal Beaufort is in his death throes, he is being attended to by the King and the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick. The King pleads with the Cardinal to make his peace with God but to no avail. The Cardinal dies in a state of extreme agitation, compelling Warwick to conclude that the Cardinal must have led a life of crime and sin. The King argues that judgment ought to be withheld as we are all sinners.