Edward and Richard wonder about their father who was last seen fending off a host of his enemies among whom numbered Clifford and Northumberland when a messenger arrives with awful news. Their father the Duke of York has been insulted and cruelly maltreated before being slain and his head set on a pike by Queen Margaret and Lord Clifford. Devastated at the news, Edward would like nothing better than to simply die and fade away, but Richard vows to exact revenge if that’s the last thing he ever does. Presently, they are joined by the Earl of Warwick who is already aware of the Duke of York’s demise. Indeed, having heard of the Queen’s intent to undo the agreement that King Henry and the Duke of York had negotiated, Warwick had assembled an army to head off the advancing Queen’s army but to no avail. As the King seemed sympathetic to the Queen, Warwick’s men proved less than eager to engage the enemy, compelling Warwick to retreat. Richard is incredulous that the fierce Warwick would ever retreat, but Warwick assures Richard that if their combined forces, which is half the size of the Queen’s, were to engage in an offensive now, that this time Warwick will succeed in removing Henry’s crown or die in the attempt. Inspired, Edward puts his faith in Warwick, and Warwick proclaims that Edward, who is now the Duke of York, will be King or they will die in the attempt of making him one. They are thus resolved when a messenger arrives with news from Queen Margaret who craves a parley. The York faction obliges.
Queen Margaret proudly points out York’s decapitated head, but the King is sad rather than triumphant. Lord Clifford tries to persuade the King otherwise, arguing that the King has done his son the Prince of Wales a grievous wrong as he has failed to defend the crown on his son’s behalf. The King rebuts, asking Clifford if anything good ever comes of that which is ill-gotten. Indeed, the King argues that the price one pays for holding on to that which is ill-gotten invariably makes the possession of it a curse rather than a blessing. Presently, at the Queen’s behest, King Henry knights his son who is, contrary to his father, warlike and martial attitude wise, pleasing Clifford. They are thus engaged when the approach of York’s faction and their army is announced. As the King’s compromising ways would undermine their position, the Queen and Clifford urge the King to absent himself while the opposing sides talk, but the King insists on being a party to the talks. Thus conceded to, the King is urged on by the Earl of Northumberland and the King’s son the Prince to be angry and defiant vis-à-vis the York faction. Presently, York’s son Edward confronts the King and demands that he forfeit the crown. Meanwhile, York’s son Richard assures Clifford that he—Clifford—has not long to live. The King tries to get word in, but he is prevented from doing so by the Queen and Clifford who both will not brook any compromise. Seeing as how the Queen and Clifford have effectively gagged the King’s voice, Edward decides there’s nothing left to do but to settle their differences in armed conflict. Thus he orders his army to be deployed in battle formation despite the Queen’s desire to have one last word.
Wearied from heavy fighting, the Earl of Warwick rests for a moment when York’s sons Edward and George appear with an identical prognostication: The Queen’s army is winning and their victory is imminent. Edward adds that trying to make a run for it is futile. Presently, Richard appears and informs Warwick of his brother’s death, and of his brother’s last words which amounted to an invocation exhorting Warwick to avenge his death. Consequently, Warwick vows to fight to the death and to kill his horse if need be in order to ensure that running is not an option. The brothers Edward, Richard and George embrace Warwick’s cause.
Richard encounters Clifford in the field of battle. They engage mono y mono. Clifford flees when Warwick joins Richard. Arguing that Clifford is his and only his to kill, Richard urges Warwick to go find another to do battle with before giving chase to Clifford.
King Henry climbs a hill, and there he lies, contemplating the battle which is going back and forth with neither side gaining a decisive advantage. He reflects on the life of a King as it compares to the life of a poor shepherd, and he concludes that the latter is by far the more desirable and blessed. Presently, King Henry witnesses a son grieving for his father whom the son has killed in battle the tragic spectacle of which is only equaled by the sight of a father grieving for his son whom the father has killed in battle. Having witnessed these two events, the King laments for them and for his country. By and by, King Henry is urged to flee by the Prince of Wales, Queen Margaret, and the Duke of Exeter as the York faction, led by Edward and Richard, have gained the advantage. The King flees if only to be with his Queen.
Mortally wounded, Clifford senses that his death will spell doom for King Henry as well. He wishes that Henry VI had been more stern and resolute, like his forefathers, which would have kept the House of York in check. As it is, all is lost. On the verge of death, Clifford faints. Meanwhile Edward, Richard, George, and Warwick triumphantly view the field. They notice Clifford, and hoping that he hasn’t yet died, they mock him as he and Queen Margaret had the Duke of York. When they realize that he is indeed dead, they have his head decapitated and spitted on the pike in place of the late Duke of York’s head. Warwick informs the Yorks that after Edward is crowned King in Parliament, that he will go to France and propose that Lady Bona be Edward’s Queen and thereby forge a peace between England and France. Saying how he will always be beholden to Warwick, Edward agrees with Warwick’s plan and presently proclaims Richard the Duke of Gloucester and George the Duke of Clarence. Claiming that being the Duke of Gloucester is an ominous burden, Richard objects. But Warwick dismisses Richard’s claim as silly.