Act 4, scene 1
At the palace in London, King Edward, with his bride, now Queen Elizabeth, asks Clarence what he thinks of his choice of wife. Clarence alludes to how Warwick and the French king may react, but Edward replies that he is the king and can do what he likes. Gloucester indicates that he does not approve of the marriage either. Edward asks them to elaborate on their opinions, and Clarence says he thinks that it will make an enemy of King Lewes. Gloucester points out that Warwick will not be happy with it either. Montague chips in, saying it is better for England to have France as an ally, but Hastings says England is able to defend itself without any help from France.
Gloucester and Clarence then complain to Edward about how he has arranged profitable marriages for the new queen’s relatives yet has ignored his brothers’ need for wives. Edward says he will find a bride for Clarence, but Clarence is so annoyed at being slighted he says he will find one for himself. Margaret is upset by the bad feeling being displayed and Edward tries to comfort her. He says his brothers have to obey him or they will incur the consequences.
A messenger arrives and reports on how King Lewes responded to the letters Edward sent. The messenger reports the following: the king is “sending over masquers / To revel it with him and his new bride” (a sarcastic references to the French soldiers he is sending); Lady Bona hopes that Edward will soon be a widower; Queen Margaret is putting on armor; Warwick vows to unseat the king from his throne.
Edward says he will prepare for war. Clarence, on hearing that Prince Edward is to marry Warwick’s eldest daughter, says he will marry Warwick’s younger daughter. He exits, now on the side of Warwick and against his own brother. Somerset also goes over to Warwick. In an aside, Gloucester says he must stay focused on getting the crown, which means that for the time being he will stay with Edward.
Edward is confident. He gets assurances from Hastings and Montague, both of whom are related to Warwick, that they are loyal to him, and also from Gloucester. Edward says he is sure of victory.
From almost every point of view—diplomatic, military, and familial—Edward’s choice of bride is a disaster for himself and for his country. Just when it looked like the period of wars was over, he needlessly makes an enemy of his greatest supporter, Warwick, loses the support of one of his brothers, and makes an enemy of the king of France, which in turn allows his arch-enemy Queen Margaret, who was down and out, back into the fray with an army at her disposal.
Act 4, scene 2
In Warwickshire, in the English midlands, Warwick, who now has an army of French soldiers, assures Oxford that the common people are flocking to his cause. Clarence and Somerset enter and are greeted as friends. Warwick promises Clarence the hand of his daughter.
Warwick then says that King Edward is camped nearby with minimal guard and it will be easy to take him prisoner. He gives instructions that Edward must not be killed.
Act 4, scene 3
The watchmen at Edward’s camp discuss how thinly guarded the king is.
Warwick, Clarence, Oxford, Somerset, and French soldiers enter silently. They set upon the watchmen, who run away. Edward is captured in his nightclothes and is brought out, sitting on a chair. Gloucester and Hastings flee the scene.
Warwick speaks to Edward, referring to him as the Duke of York, and lists his complaints against the man he regards now as the former king. Edward, he says, is unfit to govern because he misuses his ambassadors, woos more than one woman, ill-uses his brothers, does not ensure the welfare of the kingdom, and leaves himself open to capture by his enemies.
Edward replies that even though he is overthrown, he will still bear himself like a king. Warwick removes Edward’s crown and says Henry will now wear it. He sends Edward to be guarded by Warwick’s brother, the Archbishop of York. Then Warwick and Oxford agree that they must march to London to free King Henry and put him back on the throne.
In this play, in which the fortunes of men swing back and forth according to the tides of war, Edward is now at his nadir. The reader can have little sympathy for him, since for the most part he has brought his troubles on himself. Warwick’s position looks very strong indeed.
Shakespeare has again condensed the history here. In fact, Edward was captured shortly after the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469, a battle which Shakespeare omits. At that point, Warwick had no desire to remove the crown from Edward. After Edward’s capture, Warwick ruled the kingdom with Edward as a compliant figurehead. Edward, who was nothing if not resourceful, was content to bide his time.
Act 4, scene 4
Queen Elizabeth conveys to her brother Rivers that Edward has been overthrown and is in the custody of the Archbishop of York. Rivers says that Warwick may yet lose, and the queen refuses to give up hope, saying she is pregnant with Edward’s child, true heir to the English throne. She says she will flee to a sanctuary to make sure that she and her unborn child are safe from Warwick.
Act 4, scene 5
In a park near Middleham Castle, in Yorkshire, Richard tells Hastings and Sir William Stanley that Edward is imprisoned by the bishop but with much liberty and little guard. He often comes to the spot where they are standing in to hunt, and Richard has managed to get a message to him that if he comes this way today, friends will be there to free him.
Edward duly enters with a huntsman, and Gloucester and his companions make themselves known to him, saying they will take him to a seaport and then to safety in Flanders.
Historically, Edward did not escape; he was released by Warwick, who was under pressure from powerful supporters of the Yorkist king. Shakespeare greatly simplifies the complexity of events at this point.
Act 4, scene 6
At the Tower of London, Henry is released. He thanks his jailer for treating him well and also thanks Warwick for freeing him, although he gives to God the primary credit. He says he will retain the crown but he puts Warwick in charge of the government. Warwick says that Clarence should have that honor, but Clarence declines, saying Warwick is a better choice. Warwick then says he will make Clarence Protector of the realm. Henry says they should be joint Protectors, while he himself lives a private life in devotion to God.
Warwick says the first business is to declare Edward a traitor and confiscate his lands. Clarence agrees. Clarence also gets an undertaking from Warwick that he will be named heir to the throne, after Henry VI.
Henry asks that Queen Margaret and Prince Edward be sent for from France.
Somerset then introduces Henry to a child in his care, Henry, Earl of Richmond. Henry says he looks like a future king. (This is Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII.)
A messenger brings news of Edward’s escape and flight to Burgundy. Warwick regrets that his brother, the bishop, was so lax in guarding Edward.
Somerset, worried that another war is about to break out, has the boy Henry sent to Brittany to keep him safe.
Shakespeare introduces Henry Tudor here because he wants to foreshadow what amounts to a happy ending at the end of this historical tetralogy, when at the end of Richard III, Henry Tudor triumphs over the evil Richard and unites the houses of York and Lancaster, thus bringing the Wars of the Roses to an end and ushering in a long period of stability. (Henry’s claim was based partly on his Lancastrian descent but he married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, thus uniting York and Lancaster.) But that is still some time in the future, since Henry did not accede to the throne until 1485. Shakespeare is historically accurate in showing Henry as a child here, since he was born in 1457 and would have been about thirteen years old at the time of these events. Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne in 1470.
Act 4, scene 7
Edward has been assisted by the duke of Burgundy, and Edward, Richard of Gloucester, Hastings, and their army are assembled outside the gates of York. Edward says he has come only in his capacity as Duke of York. However, the gates of the city are closed against them.
The mayor of York and his aldermen appear on the walls of the city. The mayor says his allegiance is to King Henry. Edward says he comes as Duke of York and is content with that. Hastings tells the mayor to open the gates, because they are King Henry’s friends. The mayor is persuaded, and opens the gates. Edward demands that the mayor give him the keys, promising that he will defend the town.
Edward’s ally Montgomery arrives with soldiers, but when he hears that Edward claims only his dukedom, not the crown, he is ready to depart. He says he came to serve a king, not a duke. Gloucester and Hastings try to persuade Edward to abandon the pretense that he comes only for his dukedom and be open about the fact that he wants the throne back. Edward, who had preferred to wait until his position was stronger, is soon persuaded. With that, Montgomery agrees to stay, and Hastings has a proclamation read that Edward the Fourth is the king. Edward resolves to march on Warwick’s forces the following morning.
Edward may know his history here, because when he says he claims only his dukedom, he is echoing what happened some seventy years earlier, when the Duke of Lancaster, soon to become Henry IV, returned from exile abroad. He insisted that he was claiming only his rights to the title of Duke of Lancaster—but within a short while he was crowned king. (The story is dramatized in Shakespeare’s later play, Richard II.) Edward hopes to use the same duplicity here, but his allies persuade him to abandon the pretense and admit what he is really seeking.
Act 4, scene 8
At the Bishop of London’s palace, King Henry, Warwick and their supporters confer. Warwick announces that Edward has acquired foreign troops and is marching to London. Warwick says he will raise an army in Warwickshire, and he directs Clarence, Montague, and Oxford to do the same in their parts of the country. The king, he says, should stay in London.
Everyone exits except for the king and Exeter. Henry is confident of the strength of his army, but Exeter is concerned that others will flock to Edward’s cause. Henry replies that he is not worried by that because he has always been a just king, so the people will support him.
Edward and Gloucester enter with soldiers and Henry is taken off to be imprisoned in the Tower. Edward then announces they will march to Coventry to confront Warwick.
Historically, the year is 1471. Edward arrived back in England supported by foreign troops on March 14. He took Henry prisoner as soon as he reached London. The battle that this scene is leading up to, and which is described in Act 5, scene 2, took place about a month later. The restoration of Henry VI as king had lasted only from 1470 to 1471.