Like the play that precedes it in the tetralogy, The Second Part of Henry the Sixth begins with pageantry, only this time instead of it being a funeral, now we’re dealing with a quasi-wedding: Henry is being introduced to his wife (married in proxy to Suffolk). Remember, this follows the closing scenes of The First Part of Henry the Sixth, in which we see Suffolk taking Margaret prisoner, then ambitiously deciding to pimp her off to Henry as Queen (though even more ambitiously planning to “rule both her, the king and realm” [1HenryVI: V.vii.108]).
I wonder if this is the first use of that phrase, “heart’s content” (a phrase that my dad uses ALL THE TIME)… and a quick search–leading to The Phrase Finder (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/hearts-content.html) and the Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0)–leads me to believe “yes”
Suffolk presents the bride, Henry happily accepts, the new Queen promptly (and correctly and politely) curries favor–“And nought can make poor Margaret miserable // Unless the frown of mighty England’s king” (I.i.28-29)–and Henry proclaims the “fullness of (his) heart’s content” (I.i.33).
All seems well until Suffolk hands Humphrey Duke of Gloucester the “articles of contracted peace” (I.i.38)… they are so galling to the (ex) Lord Protector that he “lets the paper fall” (I.i.50 ff s.d.): first, England must give up the areas of Anjou and Maine; second, England has to pay for the transportation “charges” (I.i.59) of Margaret; and third, she is “without dowry” (I.i.59). Henry, however, sees nothing wrong (the articles “please us well” (I.i.60), he says), and he immediately promotes Suffolk from Marquis to Duke. And it is only after Henry, Margaret, and Suffolk leave, that Gloucester vents his disapproval to the remaining nobles.
As a brother to Henry V, the last King of England to conquer France, Gloucester is upset about giving back lands.
Especially since the agreement at the end of The First Part makes it seem to be a French capitulation… of course, historically speaking, it was no such thing, and the handover of Maine and Anjou in reality was nothing to be concerned about: both were the ancestral lands of Margaret’s family, so this seems proper; Maine had been pretty much destroyed in the war, so there was nothing much to relinquish; and Anjou was never really occupied by the English, so their claim on it was in name only…. ah, Shakespearean history!
Cardinal Winchester immediately discounts Gloucester’s claims–anyone who read The First Part could have predicted this–and says that England will still keep France. Both Salisbury and Warwick (father and son) bemoan the loss of territories won in war (and here Shakespearean history falters again: these two speak as if they were the military Salisbury and Warwick of The First Part… only they are NOT: they are the sons-in-law of their respective title-holders in the first play… remember THAT Salisbury was killed in Act One of the play, and THAT Warwick (in reality) died before the end of the play… THIS Warwick was only 17 years old at the time of Henry and Margaret’s wedding (so in no possible way did he “win them both” [I.i.116] himself). Richard Duke of York, sides with the hawkish Gloucester as well. The Cardinal chides Gloucester more, but Gloucester leaves before getting pulled into their “ancient bickerings” (I.i.141).
ah, Shakespearean history again: Gloucester had not been “Lord Protector” since 1429 (when Henry turned seven) and there was no Protector at this point… but all this makes for great intrigue–in 1445 (the year this scene would seem to take place… as that’s the year of the marriage)
Of course, with Gloucester out of the room, the Cardinal goes on a relentless attack on the king’s uncle, questioning his loyalty, calling him an “enemy unto … all”, “no great friend… to the king”, and an “heir apparent” (I.i.147, 148, and 150, respectively) with much to gain; since Henry has yet to father a son, Gloucester is next in line for the throne. The Cardinal mocks Gloucester’s high esteem with the “common people” (I.i.156), and says that Gloucester will be “found (to be) a dangerous Protector” (I.i.162). Buckingham agrees with the Cardinal and asks Somerset to join with him to remove Gloucester “from his seat” (I.i.167). Before Somerset can answer, the Cardinal runs off to confer with the new Duke of Suffolk about this “weighty business” (I.i.168); in his absence, however, Somerset warns Buckingham against this “haughty cardinal,” who–if Gloucester is removed–would “be Protector” (I.i.175).
Buckingham then lays his trump card: Somerset or Buckingham himself “will be Protector” (I.i.176) instead of Gloucester or Winchester… and the two cousins exit the stage… leaving York, Salisbury and Warwick. Salisbury is stunned by this statement of self-serving ambition and he states that he is there to “labor for the realm” (I.i.180). Warwick agrees to work toward the “common profit of his country” (I.i.205). The two Yorkists fall in line with the Lancasters … and one begins to wonder why the original title of this play was The First Part of the Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster… that is, one wonders right up to the moment when York speaks: “And so says York”… then, in an aside, says, “for he hath greatest cause” (I.i.207). York will keep the country together… because he wants it all. Once Salisbury and his son exit the stage, we get to hear York in soliloquy, and he outlines his plan (sounding much like own son Richard, Duke of Gloucester two plays from now):
A day will come when York shall claim his own;
And therefore I will take the Nevilles’ parts
And make a show of love to proud Duke Humphrey,
And, when I spy advantage, claim the crown,
For that’s the golden mark I seek to hit.
Nor shall proud Lancaster usurp my right,
Nor hold the scepter in his childish fist,
Nor wear the diadem upon his head,
Whose church-like humors fit not for a crown.
Then, York, be still awhile, till time do serve:
Watch thou and wake when others be asleep,
To pry into the secrets of the state;
Till Henry, surfeiting in joys of love,
With his new bride and England’s dear-bought queen,
And Humphrey with the peers be fallen at jars:
Then will I raise aloft the milk-white rose,
With whose sweet smell the air shall be perfumed,
And in my standard bear the arms of York,
To grapple with the house of Lancaster;
And, force perforce, I’ll make him yield the crown,
Whose bookish rule hath pulled fair England down.
Contention Betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster?
Yeah… I think so… and this is not going to end well…