Henry VI

Henry VI Part I #

The three plays cover the last 20 years of the 100 years war, from 1337 - 1453. Of the 50 battles, England won 30, the French 20. However England won most of the early battles and at times claimed most of France. The French regained supremacy in the last 30 years.

As the Epilogue of Henry V reads:

Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown’d King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France and made his England bleed:

Henry VI begins with the funeral of Henry V, paying stellar tributes to him.

The three plays, Part 2, written first, then Part 1 and finally Part 3 are more morality plays then entertaining drama. They cover the period from the death of Henry V in 1422 to the emergence of Richard III in 1485. In 1453, the king had a mental breakdown and Richard, Duke of York, was made protector. The king recovered in 1455, but civil war broke out between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions.

The ensuing struggle came to be known as the Wars of the Roses.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of wars fought in 15th century England between two rival factions of the royal Plantagenet house until the ascension of the Tudor house with Henry VII in 1485.

It was during the Wars of the Roses that the bloodiest and biggest battle on English soil was fought: the Battle of Towton. Although some see the Wars of the Roses as beginning in 1455, this fails to factor in the many issues leading up to the first battle in 1455. It was these issues which set the necessary pre-conditions for Cade’s rebellion in 1450 and sowed the seeds of war within England. However, to begin explaining the significance of Cade’s rebellion as a cause for the Wars of the Roses, it is necessary to shed light on the key figures who played a major role within the conflict.

The Plantagenet royal house during the Wars of the Roses was split between two rival factions: the Lancastrians and the Yorkists.

At the beginning, the Lancastrians were headed by the ruling monarch at the time, King Henry VI, whilst the Yorkists were headed by Richard, Duke of York. Both descended from King Edward III, yet the Lancastrians descended from his third son (John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster) whereas the Yorkists were descended from his second son (Lionel, Duke of Clarence) through York’s mother as well as his fourth son Edmund, Duke of York, giving them an arguably greater claim to the throne. Cade’s rebellion can be seen as a cause of the Wars of the Roses as it is during the rebellion when the conflict between the two factions began to simmer.

Jack Cade’s rebellion began in May-June 1450. A mark on the ground at the beginning of a long bloody journey. Cade’s rebellion displayed the cracks in the foundations of Henry VI’s rule and exposed the Lancastrians to rival claimants for power.

There are a wide variety of causes of Cade’s rebellion, from economic to social to political, highlighting the many failures of the king. England’s losses in France, such as Maine, Rouen and Normandy from 1448-1450 caused disgruntled and defeated soldiers to sail back to Kent, where Cade’s rebellion began.

The theme of the peoples of England losing faith in the rule of King Henry VI is one that would remain throughout the Wars of the Roses. Corruption within the government of Henry VI and his officials was rife. Henry VI was a weak, unfit king who was more interested in scholarly and religious pursuits, having notably founded Eton College, than fighting wars and leading government.

This drastic difference from his father, Henry V, led the peoples of England to fester in discontent which eventually blew up with the rebellion of Jack Cade. As he had no interest in ruling the realm, the task was left to his closest companion William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, who maintained his dominance through keeping the king away from all except a select few chosen individuals.

However, Suffolk was soon imprisoned and sent away to quell tensions as a scapegoat of government, being murdered on his way to imprisonment near Kent. Corrupt officials such as William Ayscough, the Bishop of Salisbury and the hated sheriff of Kent, William Crowmer, were also killed during the rebellion.

Alongside these events was a significant issue during Cade’s rebellion which would eventually lead to the major conflicts of the Wars of the Roses. Jack Cade had changed his name and proclaimed himself with the surname Mortimer. Richard of York, a man who had an arguably greater claim to the throne through his mother Anne Mortimer, was seen as a grasping power-hungry man by the court. In addition, Cade had stayed in the White Hart Inn in London, which was seen as the symbol of the deposed Richard II. York being linked to Cade, regardless of his adamant claims of fealty to the King and lack of presence in England, was seen as treasonous. Cade was killed on the 12th of July 1450, yet the effects of his rebellion lingered.

Overall Cade’s rebellion is seen as a significant cause and often the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, since the king failed to resolve the many issues that created the rebellion.

Corruption and favouritism continued as seen in the dominance of the new ‘favourite’ of the king Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who was also a rival of York’s. Tensions exacerbated which ultimately led to the first military confrontation of the Wars of the Roses at Dartford in 1452 wherein York asked for the removal of corrupt persons, such as Somerset, from the King’s presence.

It also led to the first battle of St. Albans in 1455 wherein Somerset was killed by the Yorkists. A weak monarch unable to administer government, solve rising debt, nor lead battles was a recipe for disaster and would spell the end for Henry VI and the rise of the Yorkists. Henry VI himself left London during the rebellion, a move which he repeated during the Wars of the Roses and eventually, as some historians argue, turned him back into a noble instead of a monarch. York’s claim to the throne and his proclaimed passion for the ‘communitas’ and ‘commonweal’ would prove to be stronger than the monarch himself. By Maimoonah Yaasmeen

Shakespeare’s manifested the national unease in the Henry VI trilogy; a warning of grim topicality against the horrors and dangers of civil butchery.

Shakespeare, dramatizes the greatest of civil (and natural) disorders:

“Enter a Sonne that hath kill’d his Father … and a Father that hath kill’d his Sone” (Henry VI, part three, II.v).”

Revolving door of Power - Australia #

Australia was a colony formed specifically to expand the British carceral system where minority groups are targeted disproportionately by policing. We share a mainstream apathy towards abuses of power that minorities must fight against when attempting to address their concerns. Colonial Australia has a larrikin nature about it. Howard Jacobson describes them as raw, hedonistic and bloody-minded, outlandish, hoodlums in the playground with a healthy disrespect for vaunted authority.

Power argues that the modern Australian policing system sprang out of three factors: the frontier expansion and the need to take land from Native peoples while controlling them; the convict system and what followed when the convict system was dismantled; and the quelling of the working classes when they began to organise to push back against their masters.

Linda Greenhouse NYRB, claims:

Cops aren’t held to account due to decades of Court decisions that have converted qualified immunity from a commonsense rule into a powerful doctrine that deprives people injured by police misconduct of recourse.

According to a federal prosecutor,

“The justice system is the means by which the upper class pays the middle class (the Police) a good living wage to keep the lower classes in check”.

All who challenge power and injustice can be certain public excoriation is on its way. As soon as you do something good for the greater public, your destiny is assured.

Prime examples throughout Australia’s history include, (but not limited to):

Captain Bligh, Lachlan Macquarie, Jack Lang, Gough Whitlam, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Malcolm Turnbull.

Welcome to Australia, where voting is compulsory, but the results don’t matter because they can easily be manipulated.

Australian governance has been called a revolving door of leadership. It has had a long history of coups, from William Bligh’s arrest in 1808, to Lachlan Macquarie 1820, sent back to England in disgrace, Billy Hughes sacking from the Labor Party, to Jack Lang’s dismissal in 1932, John Gorton betrayed by Malcom Fraser in 1971, Gough Whitlam’s, in 1975, Bob Hawke, overthrown in 1992, Kevin Rudd, 2010, Julia Gillard, 2014, Tony Abbot, 2015… Malcolm Turnbull – 2018.

Seven PMs in 11 years makes post-war Italy look positively stable by comparison.

Henry VI was deposed twice, the last time at the battle of Towton in 1461 by Edward IV.

In the final battle, A French army, under Jean Bureau, defeats an English army under John Talbot to end the Hundred Years’ War. This was also the first battle in European history where the use of cannon was a major factor in determining the victor. John Talbot was killed in action. 4,000 English killed in this battle.

Henry VI was less than one, when his father died, leaving him to deal with the collapse of England’s control of France. Because the English nobles were busy fighting each other instead of the French, Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) inspires the French army to victory. The English hero Lord Talbot attacks Orleans, but is defeated by Joan.

In England, Gloucester, Henry VI’s Protector, and Gloucester’s rival Winchester encourage their followers to attack each other in the streets. Richard Plantagenet (later the Duke of York) and Somerset are equally antagonistic, with their followers signaling their allegiance by wearing white or red roses.

Henry VI is crowned in Paris, and orders York and Somerset to fight the French instead of each other. As they squabble, French forces kill Talbot and his son. The English army captures and executes Joan. Suffolk arranges a marriage between Henry and Margaret, daughter of the king of Naples, in order to keep her near him and give him, through her, control of England.

Joan of Arc, the “Maid of Orleans,” #

Joan helped turn the tide of that war in France’s favor. More importantly, she helped forge a separate and clear national identity for the French:

“The Maid of Orleans was a myth in her own time. She becomes much less mysterious when placed back in her medieval context, even if the bare facts of her short life of nineteen years are strange enough. An illiterate but shrewd country girl who heard the voices of various saints telling her she had been chosen to expel the English from France.

In medieval times, if you heard voices, your chances of being canonised as the founder of a new religion or a church were enhanced. In modern times, you are committed to an institution and medicated. This is considered progress.

Holinshed presents two versions; a French (forsooth was a damsell divine) and an English one (a damnable sorcerer suborned by Satan) .

Joan put on male clothing for protection and made her way in 1429 to Chinon to see Charles VII. Since the English and their Burgundian allies controlled almost all of the north, including Paris and Reims, the king, indecisive and suspicious as he was, was in dire straits. Having given him a secret message from her voices – probably that he was not a bastard, though even his own mother Isabeau had said that he was – she was questioned at length by priests and had her virginity checked.

She was then attached in April 1429 to a small force sent to attempt to relieve the besieged city of Orleans, a key stronghold on the Loire without which Charles would be unable to proceed to the traditional coronation at Reims.

“The listless English army having left a gap in their defences, her unit was easily able to enter the city with fresh supplies. The over­cautious commander Jean d’Orleans regarded her as something of a nuisance, excluded her from war councils and tried to keep her out of the action, but Joan was irrepressible. She inspired the troops, kept them from swearing, dictated defiant ultimatums to the enemy in which she described herself as ‘Joan the Maid, the envoy of the King of heaven’, and took part in several actions, in one of which she was lightly wounded.

There is no doubt that her courage and conviction as standard-bearer – she is not thought to have fought with a sword – made a decisive contribution to the lifting of the siege, which was achieved in nine days. But while her magic seemed to go on work­ing for a while, she was captured by the Burgundians the following year, sold on to the English and, under pressure from the clerics of the Sorbonne, tried in Rauen as a heretic. She performed well in a prolonged battle of wits, but was condemned and burnt at the stake – to be rehabilitated in 1456 and made a saint in 1920. …

“There were Frenchmen on both sides in this dynastic war of succession, [but] she always referred to the enemy as the English and, indeed, in her rehabilitation trial of 1456 it was assumed that she had been engaged in a war of national liberation from the English. What she symbolized was a new patriotism, a new sense of essential difference from what would from now on be the ‘hereditary enemy’, in fact the emergence of a nation from the wreckage of the old feudal order. And this new status was formalized by Charles VII, once he began to capitalize on his victory, when he forced the Vatican in 1438 to accept the Gallican principle of the financial and organizational independence of the French Church.”

A Brief History of France, Cecil Jenkins Little, Brown Group Copyright, 2017 Pages: 38-42

Henry VI Part II #

Henry VI, Part Two is Shakespeare’s first History play and there is clear evidence he is cutting his teeth in presenting historical events on a theatrical stage. He is testing how to present theological, political and moral outlooks. To us the plays lack the subtlety, ambiguity and complexity of his more mature works. There appears a more tendentious or proselyting approach in the strident assertions of political ideology of the insurgents.

Society seems to survive the death of heroes and becomes renewed just as in Julius Caesar, Rome continued to flourish. Shakespeare follows Holinshed more faithfully than in later plays.

Providence and Fortuna continue to compete. The Old Testament theology of God looking favorably on good governance and passing judgement on sinfulness which can only be atoned by blood sacrifice is tested in all histories, especially in Richard II and the Henriads. Henry IV craves to go on another Crusade to the Holy lands to absolve himself, but fails to deliver.

Henry VI, is the most Christian – “too virtuous to rule the realm of England”. Virtue, through varying degrees of culpable innocence connives in its own destruction.

SUFFOLK hands over his regency to the recently married Henry and his Queen Margaret.

Margaret of Anjou is a character in four of Shakespeare’s plays: Henry VI Parts. 1, 2, 3 and Richard III.

The historical Queen Margaret was the wife consort of King Henry VI of England. In Shakespeare’s tetralogy Henry is a weak king and a meek and mild man. Shakespeare’s Margaret is a ruthless, ambitious, intelligent woman who dominates him completely. She becomes involved in the power games that are going on around her and takes her enemies on. She thrives in a man’s world of politics and war, and even enters the battlefield in Henry VI Part 3 and stabs the Duke of York.

In Richard III she acts like a prophet, cursing the nobles for their responsibility for the downfall of the House of Lancaster. All of her prophecies about them come true: they are all betrayed in one way or another and end up being executed.

This play includes Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450, the leader of a popular uprising against the government of Henry VI, a protest brought about by corruption, high taxes and discontent at the recent loss of Normandy by aggrieved returning soldiers. Shakespeare merges issues in the Wat Tyler’s 1380 uprisings with Jade’s revolt.

Suffolk was suspected of serious corruption, taking bribes from French towns and incompetence in battles. Together with corrosive quarrels and dynastic rivalrys of nobles back home, the doubtful wars dragged on until France was lost.


Mars his true moving, even as in the heavens
So in the Earth, to this day is not known.
Late did he shine upon the English side;
Now we are victors; upon us he smiles.

In May 1450 those divisions at court led to King Henry VI having little choice but to banish William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, associated with the failings of policies in France and many considered him to be one of the corrupt councillors. However, the Duke of Suffolk never reached Europe. His body was found washed up on the shoreline of Kent. As a favourite of the King, the murdered Duke would surely be avenged. With no obvious murderer, many of the people of Kent believed that they would be made to suffer.

For more see: https://nebo-lit.com/history/revolts.html#jack-cades-rebellion-of-1450

Act IV, Scene 2. #

BEVIS and Holland, two trademen discussing their grievances:

I tell thee, Jack Cade the clothier means to dress
the commonwealth, and turn it, and set a new nap upon it.


So he had need, for ’tis threadbare. Well, I say it
was never merry world in England since gentlemen came up.


O miserable age! virtue is not regarded in handicrafts-men.

Jack CADE’s claims his father was a Mortimer and his mother a Plantagenet, so he is of an honourable house and noble origins. His first words indicate his intent:

For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with
the spirit of putting down kings and princes,

Later he promises to control inflation when he takes over:


Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows
reformation. There shall be in England seven
halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped
pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony
to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in
common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to
grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,–


The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

This did occur during the Wat Tyler revolt.


Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable
thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should
be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled
o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings:
but I say, ’tis the bee’s wax; for I did but seal
once to a thing, and I was never mine own man

Cade is expressing the opinion that pen and paper can rob a man as well as any weapon.

When the Clerk of Chatham is brought before him he is condemned because he can sign his own name.


Let me alone. Dost thou use to write thy name? or
hast thou a mark to thyself, like an honest
plain-dealing man?


Sir, I thank God, I have been so well brought up
that I can write my name.


He hath confessed: away with him! he’s a villain
and a traitor.


Away with him, I say! hang him with his pen and
ink-horn about his neck.

Enter SIR HUMPHREY and WILLIAM STAFFORD, with drum and soldiers


Rebellious hinds, the filth and scum of Kent,
Mark’d for the gallows, lay your weapons down;
Home to your cottages, forsake this groom:
The king is merciful, if you revolt.


But angry, wrathful, and inclined to blood,
If you go forward; therefore yield, or die.


As for these silken-coated slaves, I pass not:
It is to you, good people, that I speak,
Over whom, in time to come, I hope to reign;
For I am rightful heir unto the crown.

Cade claims he is related to Mortimer, elected by Richard II to rule.

WILLIAM STAFFORD acusses him of being proxy for the Duke of York.

Jack Cade, the Duke of York hath taught you this.


[Aside] He lies, for I invented it myself.
Go to, sirrah, tell the king from me, that, for his
father’s sake, Henry the Fifth, in whose time boys
went to span-counter for French crowns, I am content
he shall reign; but I’ll be protector over him.

Span counter - money exchange.


And furthermore, well have the Lord Say’s head for
selling the dukedom of Maine.

CADE angry that England has lost so much territory to France.

And good reason; for thereby is England mained, and
fain to go with a staff, but that my puissance holds
it up. Fellow kings, I tell you that that Lord Say
hath gelded the commonwealth, and made it an eunuch:
and more than that, he can speak French; and
therefore he is a traitor.


O gross and miserable ignorance!


Nay, answer, if you can: the Frenchmen are our
enemies; go to, then, I ask but this: can he that
speaks with the tongue of an enemy be a good
counsellor, or no?


No, no; and therefore we’ll have his head.


Well, seeing gentle words will not prevail,
Assail them with the army of the king.


Herald, away; and throughout every town
Proclaim them traitors that are up with Cade;
That those which fly before the battle ends
May, even in their wives’ and children’s sight,
Be hang’d up for example at their doors:
And you that be the king’s friends, follow me.

Exeunt WILLIAM STAFFORD and SIR HUMPHREY, and soldiers


And you that love the commons, follow me.
Now show yourselves men; ’tis for liberty.
We will not leave one lord, one gentleman:
Spare none but such as go in clouted shoon;
For they are thrifty honest men, and such
As would, but that they dare not, take our parts.


They are all in order and march toward us.


But then are we in order when we are most
out of order. Come, march forward.


Act IV SCENE III. Another part of Blackheath. #

Alarums to the fight, wherein SIR HUMPHREY and WILLIAM STAFFORD are slain. Enter CADE and the rest


Where’s Dick, the butcher of Ashford?


Here, sir.


They fell before thee like sheep and oxen, and thou
behavedst thyself as if thou hadst been in thine own
slaughter-house: therefore thus will I reward thee,
the Lent shall be as long again as it is; and thou
shalt have a licence to kill for a hundred lacking


I desire no more.


And, to speak truth, thou deservest no less. This
monument of the victory will I bear;

Putting on SIR HUMPHREY’S brigandine

and the bodies shall be dragged at my horse’ heels
till I do come to London, where we will have the
mayor’s sword borne before us.


If we mean to thrive and do good, break open the gaols and let out the prisoners.


Fear not that, I warrant thee. Come, let’s march
towards London.


Returning Soldiers #

Sparta’s Warrior Assembly resisted kings and elders. When the citizen soldiers loyal military might, saved the city state from invaders, they began to demand equal rights with the nobles.

Jack Cade led a popular uprising against the government of Henry VI in 1450 protesting corruption, high taxes and discontent of returning soldiers at the recent loss of Normandy. It ended with the death of Cade on 12th July 1450.

Decembrists were Russian revolutionaries who led an unsuccessful uprising in 1825, were primarily members of the upper classes who had military backgrounds; who had participated in the Russian occupation of France.

During Herbert Hoover’s rule, veterans of WWI, demanded money promised for time served. When denied, they camped out for five weeks. Hoover declared the veterans a communist front. Tanks and infantry men attacked the veterans with 54 injured and 134 arrested.

Australia recognises its early returning soldiers with open arms. The first Anzac Day service was held on April 25, 1916, before the end of the war. That year also saw the formation of the Returned Soldiers League to cater for the dignified repatriation of soldiers. Returning soldiers were eligible of early land grants.

The unpopularity of the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars has diminished the status of the memorial. Veterans from these wars have faced hostile demonstrations, such a blood sprayed on returning Vietnam vets.

Today we recognise, with Charles Bean, that:

“any blame” for atrocities must by rights be sheeted home to those “who make wars, not those who fight them”.

Act IV Scene 1 #

SCENE IV. London. The palace.

Enter KING HENRY VI with a supplication, and the QUEEN with SUFFOLK’S head, BUCKINGHAM and Lord SAY


Oft have I heard that grief softens the mind,
And makes it fearful and degenerate;
Think therefore on revenge and cease to weep.
But who can cease to weep and look on this?
Here may his head lie on my throbbing breast:
But where’s the body that I should embrace?


What answer makes your grace to the rebels’


I’ll send some holy bishop to entreat;
For God forbid so many simple souls
Should perish by the sword! And I myself,
Rather than bloody war shall cut them short,
Will parley with Jack Cade their general:
But stay, I’ll read it over once again.


Ah, barbarous villains! hath this lovely face
Ruled, like a wandering planet, over me,
And could it not enforce them to relent,
That were unworthy to behold the same?


Lord Say, Jack Cade hath sworn to have thy head.


Ay, but I hope your highness shall have his.


How now, madam!
Still lamenting and mourning for Suffolk’s death?
I fear me, love, if that I had been dead,
Thou wouldst not have mourn’d so much for me.


No, my love, I should not mourn, but die for thee.

Enter a Messenger


How now! what news? why comest thou in such haste?


The rebels are in Southwark; fly, my lord!
Jack Cade proclaims himself Lord Mortimer,
Descended from the Duke of Clarence’ house,
And calls your grace usurper openly
And vows to crown himself in Westminster.
His army is a ragged multitude
Of hinds and peasants, rude and merciless:
Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother’s death
Hath given them heart and courage to proceed:
All scholars, lawyers, courtiers, gentlemen,
They call false caterpillars, and intend their death.


O graceless men! they know not what they do.

The whole court is urged to flee.


Jack Cade hath gotten London bridge:
The citizens fly and forsake their houses:
The rascal people, thirsting after prey,
Join with the traitor, and they jointly swear
To spoil the city and your royal court.

SCENE VI. London. Cannon Street. #

Enter CADE and the rest, and strikes his staff on London-stone


Now is Mortimer lord of this city. And here, sitting
upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the
city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but
claret wine this first year of our reign. And now
henceforward it shall be treason for any that calls
me other than Lord Mortimer.

The rebels vow to take over the city and prolclaim Mortimer (Cade) the dictator.


Only that the laws of England may come out of your mouth.


[Aside] Mass, ’twill be sore law, then; for he was
thrust in the mouth with a spear, and ’tis not whole


[Aside] Nay, John, it will be stinking law for his
breath stinks with eating toasted cheese


I have thought upon it, it shall be so. Away, burn
all the records of the realm: my mouth shall be
the parliament of England.


[Aside] Then we are like to have biting statutes,
unless his teeth be pulled out.


And henceforward all things shall be in common.

The next successful insurrection was the Civil War in the 1640’s when Parliament took on King Charles I.

The modern world’s trial of a King for treason was that of Charles I, who was charged by John Cook:

That he did engage in war against the commons of England in a wicked design to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people and that he did traitorously and maliciously levy a war against Parliament. He was a tyrant and a traitor to the people”.

With the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, Absolute Monarch returned, only to be rescinded when James II, a Catholic was considered too dangerous and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 invited William and Mary to rule under as constitutional Monarchs.