Act 3, scene 1
This scene takes place in a forest in northern England, some time after the coronation of King Edward IV. Two keepers enter, with cross-bows, ready to hunt deer.
Henry enters, disguised, carrying a prayer-book. He says he has stolen away from Scotland to be in his own land again. He speaks with regret about how his crown has been taken from him but says he must get used to adversity.
The two keepers recognize him as the former king, but do not immediately approach him. Henry continues, saying that both Warwick and Queen Margaret have gone to the French king, Margaret to seek aid for Henry, Warwick to gain a bride for Edward. Henry fears that Warwick’s cause will be more pleasing to the French king and that Margaret will go unrewarded.
The two keepers approach Henry and ask him who he is. They do not let on that they recognize the former king. Henry says that anyone can talk about a king, and he is a king in his mind, and his crown is in his heart. The men then tell him they know he is the deposed king, and as loyal subjects of King Edward, they arrest him as the king’s enemy. Henry counters that they were his sworn subjects, and now they have broken their oath. They reply that they were his subjects only for as long as he was king. Henry counters with a complaint about how fickle the common folk are, who follow whoever happens to be the strongest. But he gives himself up to the two men without any further fuss.
It is not uncommon in Shakespeare for a king or nobleman to complain about the fickleness of the common man, who will quickly change sides whenever a superior power comes along. In Henry VI, Part 2, this is shown in the Jack Cade rebellion, where the rebels swap sides according to who happens to be addressing them at the time.
This odd little scene, in which a deposed king wanders the forest at large, is loosely based on history. After the battle of Towton in 1461, Margaret and Henry had retreated to Scotland, where they stayed at the court of the Scottish king, James III. Four years later, in 1465, Henry was found wandering in Lancashire and was captured. He was promptly imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Act 3, scene 2
At the palace in London, King Edward hears the suit of a widow, Lady Grey, whose husband died fighting in the Yorkist cause, and whose land was confiscated by the Lancastrians.
Edward sees the justice of her suit, requesting the restoration of her lands, but he is not willing to grant them straightaway. He has something else in mind, as the bawdy asides between Richard, now Duke of Gloucester, and Clarence, show all too well. Edward sends them away so he may speak to the woman in private, although they remain on stage and continue to make bawdy comments. Edward engages in a cryptic back-and-forth with the woman in which he says it is easy for her to get her lands back: she just has to love the king. She says that as a subject of the king, of course she loves the king. But after more back and forth it becomes apparent that the king wants to make love to her in the physical sense. She refuses, saying she would sooner go to prison. Edward tells her that in that case, she will not get her lands back, but Lady Grey stands her ground. Edward changes tack and proposes that she become his queen. Lady Grey protests she is unworthy, but Edward insists, and she has no choice. Clarence and Gloucester are skeptical about this marriage, and Edward takes their jokes with a good humor. He announces that the lands of the widow’s husband are to be restored.
A nobleman enters and announces that Henry has been captured. Edward orders that Henry be taken to the Tower.
Everyone exits except Richard of Gloucester, who speaks about his desire to win the throne. Apart from Edward, Clarence (his older brother), Henry, and Prince Edward, as well as any future descendents of theirs, stand as possible obstacles in his path. Nothing else in the world interests him except the prospect of seizing power, certainly not love, for which his physical deformities (hunchback, one leg shorter than the other, and a shriveled arm) make him unsuitable. He thus makes it his business to dream about the crown and plot to seize it. Yet at the moment, he says, he sees no way to achieve his bold ambition. He resolves to do everything he can, in the way of murder and duplicity, to achieve his aim. He will say and do whatever it takes.
Edward IV had a reputation for lechery, and that perception feeds into Shakespeare’s portrayal of him in this scene. Historically, Edward IV married Lady Elizabeth Grey in 1464; she was the first commoner ever to marry an English king.
Most interesting in this scene is Shakespeare’s continuing development of the character of Richard as the embodiment of all things evil, the consummate Machiavellian schemer. Shakespeare is again stretching history here, because at the time of Edward’s marriage Richard was still only twelve years old. Shakespeare clearly has his later play, Richard III, in mind, and he gives his audience a taste of what to expect in it. Historically, Richard did nothing during Edward IV’s reign to undermine him, although Richard’s final act in this play is a reminder of his ambition and ruthlessness. Shakespeare had it in for Richard simply because that was the way the Tudor historians on whom he relied portrayed him—as a monster and serial murderer who was an embodiment of all the crimes the Plantagenets had inflicted since Richard II was overthrown.
Act 3, scene 3
At the French court, Queen Margaret explains her situation to King Lewes. She tells him that Henry is banished and forced to live in Scotland, while Edward usurps the crown. She says that she and Prince Edward need King Lewes’s help. He is their only hope.
Warwick enters and is welcomed by the king. Warwick says he comes to arrange an alliance between England and France, and to confirm it by asking the king to allow the marriage of Lady Bona, his sister, to the English king. He kisses the hand of Lady Bona.
Margaret speaks up, saying that Edward is a tyrant who rules unjustly in Henry’s place. By entering an alliance with Edward, she says, France will court great danger, because justice will eventually catch up with Edward, and France will get dragged into it.
Warwick responds by calling Henry, not Edward, the usurper, but Oxford intervenes by saying that in calling Henry a usurper, Warwick sullies the names of Henry IV and Henry V, the latter being the one who conquered France. Warwick counters by saying that Henry VI was responsible for losing France. Oxford responds by pointing out all the many years that Warwick showed allegiance to Henry, which according to Warwick’s present position, must therefore be treasonous. Warwick calls on Oxford to changes sides but Oxford refuses; he will always support the Lancastrians.
King Lewes then questions Warwick further. He asks whether Edward is a legitimate and just king, and whether he loves Lady Bona. Warwick gives all the right answers. Lady Bona says she will accept what the king decides, but indicates she is willing to marry Edward. The king is convinced and says that Lady Bona will become the wife of the king of England.
Margaret complains to Warwick that he has turned the king of France against her, but King Lewes says that he will still be her friend, but he cannot give her the aid she requests. Margaret denounces Warwick.
A messenger arrives bringing three letters, one for the king, one for Margaret, and one for Warwick. The letters contain the news of Edward’s marriage to Lady Grey. The king is angry at what he sees as deceit, and Margaret says, I told you so. Warwick does his best to ease the situation, saying he knew nothing of Edward’s marriage and considers it shameful. He renounces his support for Edward and switches it to Henry. He pledges to Margaret that he will restore Henry to the crown. Margaret accepts his change of heart and welcomes him as an ally. Warwick says that if he has the help of French forces, he will force Edward out. Lady Bona takes Margaret’s side too, and King Lewes unhesitatingly offers the aid he had formerly refused.
King Lewes tells Warwick and Oxford to take five thousand French soldiers back to England and challenge Edward. The queen and the prince will follow with more men. To prove his good faith, Warwick offers Prince Edward the hand of his eldest daughter in marriage. With Margaret’s encouragement, the prince gives his assent. Warwick promises, after the others exit, that he who raised the king up in the first place, will be the one who brings him down.
Shakespeare has condensed events here to show Edward IV’s very poor statecraft in the most dramatic light. Edward knows Warwick is to go to France to negotiate for a bride, but he just goes ahead and marries someone else, which is sure to infuriate the French king and make a fool of Warwick. In addition, marrying Lady Grey produces no advantage for England’s relations with France, whereas a marriage to Lady Bona would.
The actual historical facts are not far off Shakespeare’s version, although they happened over a much longer period. Warwick had been approaching the French for an alliance with England by marriage, and negotiations were set to begin in October 1464. Warwick was all set to travel to Paris. A month before he was due to leave, however, Edward astonished everyone by announcing that he had already married Lady Grey (in May) without telling anyone. Not surprisingly, Warwick was dismayed at having his diplomatic efforts undermined. From that point on his relations with Edward IV soured, but Warwick did not finally launch the rebellion referred to in this scene until 1470, six years after the disagreement over the marriage. In order to condense the historical record into a play, Shakespeare has to leave out many events. He therefore chooses to create this dramatic scene in the French court where Warwick hears about the marriage of Edward while in the presence of Margaret and the French king and immediately vows to overthrow Edward. The basic facts are correct; the circumstances and timing have been altered for best dramatic effect.
Not surprisingly, Warwick has gone down in history as the “kingmaker.” As he himself says in this scene, “I was the chief that rais’d him to the crown, / And I’ll be chief to bring him down again.” Edward will be made to pay for breaking the promise he made earlier, at the end of act 2, when he said to Warwick, “For in thy shoulder do I build my seat, / And never will I undertake the thing / Wherein thy counsel and consent is lacking.”