When we left Act Four of The Third Part of Henry the Sixth yesterday, Warwick had turned against Edward in an attempt to reseat Henry. Edward’s brother George had also turned against the new king; and they and their army were successful in capturing Edward, though Richard and Hastings escaped capture. Warwick left Edward in the Archbishop of York’s care, while he and George left to London to free Henry. Richard and Hastings were able to free Edward, who–when we left off–was hoping to take back the throne before Margaret could return from France with an army.
In Act Four, Scene Seven, we find Warwick, Clarence and their followers freeing Henry from the Tower of London. Henry, though he agrees to wear the crown, “resigns (his) government” (IV.vii.24) to Warwick. Warwick at first refuses, saying that George should take on the role; after George agrees to the sharing of power, Warwick then names George the Lord Protector of Henry. Henry, of course, cannot leave well enough alone, and he names them both Lord Protector.
In the midst of all this, Henry notices a little boy in the care of Somerset. He asks who the boy is. The boy is Henry, Earl of Richmond. Henry sees something special in the young boy, calling him “England’s hope” (IV.vii.67), and prophesying a time when “This pretty lad will prove our country’s bliss” (IV.vii.70). It’s pretty heady stuff. And this being Shakespeare, the prophecy is real: Richmond will become Henry VII one day, the man whose ascension ends the War of the Roses… but that comes later. First, news arrives of Edward’s escape. George and Warwick leave to create a battle plan; Somerset decides to take the boy to Brittany for safety.
In Scene Eight, King Edward, Richard, Hastings and their army of “Hollanders” (IV.viii opening stage direction), arrive at the locked gates of the city of York. King Edward has been locked out of the city by the Mayor of York because the city now “owe(s) allegiance to Henry” (IV.viii.19). Edward, claiming that even if “Henry be your king, // Yet Edward at least is Duke of York” (IV.viii.20-21), is able to convince the Mayor to allow him into the city. A Yorkist supporter, Sir John Montgomery, and his soldiers arrive to serve “King Edward” (IV.viii.43). When Edward says that at the moment he has set aside his claim to the throne until “God please to send the rest” (IV.viii.47), Montgomery begins to abandon him. Again, Richard is able to convince Edward to fight for the throne, and Montgomery gives over his troops to Edward, and together they march toward London to fight Warwick and his army.
In Scene Nine, the Lancaster supporters of Henry learn of Edward’s march from York, and they decide to “levy men” (IV.ix.6): Warwick from Warwickshire; George from Suffolk, Norfolk and Kent; Montague from Buckingham, Northampton, and Leicestershire. They will bring their armies together at Coventry, while Henry “shall rest in London” (IV.ix.22).
In the tenth and final scene of Act Four, King Henry meets with Exeter in London. While Exeter fears that Edward will be able to “seduce the rest” (IV.x.5) of the country on his march to London (this is not Exeter’s first “wet blanket” moment: remember Exeter’s earlier acceptance of Edward’s right to be “lawful king” [I.i.151] prompts Henry to disinherit his son), Henry naively believes that the commoners will remember Henry’s kindness to them and they will continue to support him. Into this moment of quiet burst Kind Edward and Richard and their soldiers: they capture Henry and again send him to the Tower. The brothers, now secure in having Henry’s captivity, now head to Coventry to defeat the Lancastrians “before (their) forces join” (IV.x.30).