As we noted last month, according to most critics, the source material for most of Shakespeare’s histories (including The Second Part of Henry the Sixth) was Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Holinshed was only one of a three main authors of the work (the other two being William Harrison and Richard Stanyhurst), and their work was first printed in 1577, about fifteen years before the composition of 2HenryVI.
While there were three authors to the Chronicles, when most critics discuss Shakespeare’s source, most point to Holinshed, who worked on the sections about pre-Norman England (which includes stories that spawned King Lear [800 B.C.], Cymbeline [first century A.D.], and Macbeth [the decades before the Norman Invasion]), as well as the English line of kings from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth I (which would include source material for all the other English histories).
interestingly, it appears that Hall’s history was the basis for much of Hollinshed’s work on the War of the Roses, except for the portrayal of King Henry; in Hall and Shakespeare, Henry is a gentle soul, while in Hollinshed Henry is portrayed as unstable (as was the case in history)
Beyond Holinshed’s history, it appears that Shakespeare might have also used Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York; in fact, unlike, The First Part, it appears Hall’s history is the primary source.
The Saint Albans “miracle” doesn’t appear in either Hall or Hollinshed, but does appear in Richard Grafton’s A Chronicle at Large (1569), so it appears that Grafton was a source as well.
Critics are also disagreement as to Shakespeare’s use of William Baldwin’s A Mirror for Magistrates (1559) and Robert Fabyan’s New Chronicles of England and France (1516) as sources. The tearful goodbye scene between Queen Margret and Suffolk doesn’t appear in either Hall, Hollinshed or Grafton, but is a part of Baldwin’s work. The lumping together Cade’s Rebellion, York’s return from Ireland, and the Battle of St. Albans in the play matches their presentation in Fabyan’s work; in both Hall and Hollinshed, the events cover the four years they did in history.