Act 3, scene 1
King Henry VI enters with Exeter, Gloucester, and Winchester. Somerset and Suffolk enter with red roses, while Warwick and Richard Plantagenet enter with white roses.
Gloucester begins to post a list of accusations (possibly against the king). Winchester snatches it and tears it up. Winchester accuses Gloucester of arriving with carefully prepared (and false) accusations. He challenges Gloucester to accuse him to his face, on the spur of the moment, without time to prepare. Gloucester concedes, and proceeds to accuse Winchester of usury, undermining the peace of the realm, lust, and treachery. Gloucester also claims that Winchester plotted to murder him and that he is plotting against Henry VI.
Winchester replies by pointing out that if he were as Gloucester portrays him, then he would not be as poor as he is. Winchester says Gloucester is only attacking him because he wants no one to have power or be close to the king but himself. The nobles of both parties continue to trade insults. Richard Plantagenet remains silent.
Speaking for the first time, Henry VI rebukes the nobles for arguing. He warns them that civil dissent destroys a nation.
The noise of fighting is heard. The Mayor enters and tells the nobles that although Winchester and Gloucester’s serving men have been banned from carrying weapons in an attempt to prevent them fighting, they are throwing stones at one another. Windows have been broken and shops have had to be shut up. At that moment, the brawling serving men enter. Henry VI orders them to stop fighting. They do not, so Henry order Gloucester to make them stop. They stop for an instant before starting once more. Gloucester again orders them to stop, but in vain.
Out of compassion for the suffering king, Gloucester offers Winchester his hand as a conciliatory gesture, but Winchester spurns it. Warwick persuades Winchester to reconsider and finally he shakes Gloucester’s hand, but both men mutter to themselves that their disagreement is not really over. The serving men agree to cease brawling.
Warwick presents Henry VI with a petition from Richard Plantagenet asking for his hereditary rights and title (Earl of Cambridge) to be restored. Henry agrees to do so, and also intends to give Plantagenet the title of Duke of York in exchange fro Plantagenet’s allegiance. He hopes that this will set right the wrongs that were done to Plantagenet’s father. Plantagenet kneels before Henry, pledges allegiance, and is created Earl of Cambridge and Duke of York. For the rest of the play, he is known by his title of Richard Duke of York. All the nobles acknowledge Richard’s new title except for Somerset, who quietly curses him.
Gloucester advises Henry to go to France and be crowned King of France there. Henry agrees and leaves.
Exeter, left alone on stage, offers his analysis of the situation. He knows that the dissent between the nobles is still unresolved and that it will break out and spread among the whole nation. He predicts that the prophecy made in Henry V’s time, that Henry V would win all (meaning the territories in France), and that Henry VI would lose all, will come true. Exeter wishes that he could die before such events come to fruition.
King Henry VI’s late entrance in the play (this is his first appearance on stage) reinforces his weakness as a ruler. In the absence of a strong ruler, the ambitious nobles have engaged in infighting and jostling for power.
Henry’s approach to solving the argument between his nobles is unconvincing. He wants the arguing to stop because it upsets him, but fails to address the underlying cause of the dissent.
Henry naively settles for the outward appearance of conciliation in the form of a handshake, without acknowledging the inward reality of continued antagonism.
Indeed, it is hard to know if anyone could make these fractious nobles agree, as they appear unable clearly to state their grievances and discuss them rationally. Even when most of the nobles unite in cheering Richard Plantagenet’s reinstatement, Somerset curses him, showing that this incident has sown seeds of future discord.
Henry decides to appease Richard Plantagenet by restoring his title and giving him an additional title. As it turns out, this is a fatal mistake.