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Summary Act 1

ACT I

SCENE 1

The Duke of York and his supporters occupy Parliament, and urged on by his supporters York assumes the seat which is reserved for the king when King Henry the Sixth and his supporters come upon them. King Henry’s supporters are in favor of subduing their opposition by force, but the King, who is loath to spill blood in Parliament, prevails upon his supporters to let him talk the opposition out of their rash undertaking. The King demands that York and his supporters to yield, but it becomes apparent that they will not and moreover that they are convinced that York is the rightful king of England. Indeed, when the King tries to make his case for being the rightful king of England, the King himself finds his argument lacking vis-à-vis York’s counterarguments. The King’s case is so lacking that even one of the King’s supporters the Duke of Exeter concedes that York has a legitimate claim. However Lord Clifford’s assurance that he for his part will defend King Henry’s claim to the death invigorates King Henry and his faction. Subsequently, one of York’s supporters the Earl of Warwick, who had earlier reminded King Henry’s faction of just who had triumphed at Saint Albans (York’s forces had routed the King’s), summons soldiers as a show of strength, compelling King Henry to make the following proposal: The King will let the House of York be the heirs to England’s throne provided that King Henry is allowed to be England’s king during his lifetime. York and his supporters agree to the proposal, but the King’s supporters, including Lord Clifford and the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, accuse the King of betraying their cause and promise to take up their case with Queen Margaret. The exception is the Duke of Exeter who remains loyal to the King. Presently, espying the approach of the angry Queen, Exeter makes a hasty get away. The King tries to do the same but for naught. He is waylaid and then heavily censured for caving in to York’s faction when the honorable thing to do was to stand his ground and die if necessary. Consequently, the Queen announces her intention to part ways with Henry and with the help of Lord Clifford and the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland to try to regain the throne on behalf of their son Edward, the Prince of Wales. The King tries to persuade his son to remain with him, but the Prince announces his intention to regain his rightful throne with the help of his mother. Dismayed, the King decides to send Exeter to speak with Lord Clifford and the Earls of Westmoreland and Northumberland with the hope of patching things up between them.

SCENE 2

The Duke of York comes upon his sons Edward and Richard and his brother Montague, thinking that they are in the midst of a disagreement of sorts only to be urged on by one and all to kill King Henry and claim the crown this instant. York reminds them that he had taken an oath to let Henry rule peaceably so long as he lives. Richard, however, makes the argument that an oath made in the absence of a magistrate is illegitimate, persuading York to claim the crown for his own and now. To that end, York draws up a plan to have his sons and brother dispatched to various points of the kingdom from where they will coordinate Henry’s eventual downfall when a messenger arrives with dire news: Queen Margaret’s army of twenty thousand, led by northern earls and lords, are on the march to oppose York. Presently, York’s uncles Sir John Mortimer and Sir Hugh Mortimer arrive. Like Edward and Richard, York’s uncles are eager to engage the Queen’s army even though they are outnumbered four to one. Recalling how he had triumphed despite facing such odds in France, York doesn’t see why he couldn’t succeed again.

SCENE 3

As Lord Clifford overtakes them, the tutor of Edmund, Earl of Rutland pleads Clifford to leave Rutland alone to no avail. Clifford has his soldiers drag Rutland away. Subsequently, Rutland pleads for his life, arguing that Clifford’s quarrel is with Rutland’s father York and not Rutland who was not even born when York killed Clifford’s father. Clifford isn’t persuaded however. Indeed, being true to his word that he would have all the Yorks killed regardless of their age and/or innocence, Clifford kills the boy Rutland.

SCENE 4

Consoled by how bravely his sons had acquitted themselves on the field of battle, the Duke of York, who is too hurt to either make an escape or attempt an offensive, resigns himself to his fate. Presently, he is surrounded by his enemies. York exhorts them to attack and finish him off but they have other ideas. Placing a paper crown on York’s head, and producing a handkerchief which is stained with Rutland’s blood, the Queen exhorts York to grieve and wax indignant so that she might smirk and laugh contemptuously. Eventually, York speaks on his behalf, disparaging the Queen for her less than royal background and cursing her for her cruelty which history will account barbaric when it recalls this episode. The Earl of Northumberland is so moved he begins to cry, but the Queen and Lord Clifford have no compunctions in putting an end to this affair as they take turns stabbing York. When York dies the Queen orders York’s head to be chopped off and put on a pike, the pike which indicates the city of York. 

William Shakespeare