When we left off yesterday at the end of Act One, Scene One of The Third Part of Henry the Sixth, King Henry had just disinherited his own son Edward, in an attempt to keep the throne himself. Richard, Duke of York, and his sons are now in line to become King of England. Queen Margaret, needless to say, is none too pleased about this, and has stated her intention to gather like-minded nobles to fight the Yorkist line, while Henry naively hopes to reconcile both sides of the conflict.
As Act One, Scene Two begins, the new princes in waiting, Edward and Richard (the Crookback), arrive with the Marquis of Montague (York’s nephew and brother to the “kingmaker” Warwick), and the three argue over who will get to speak. To whom and about what becomes clear quickly as York arrives on the scene. The trio wants to convince York to take the crown now, and not wait for Henry’s death. At first, York wants nothing of the suggestion. While Edward fears that his father will die before Henry, and says that he “would break a thousand oaths to reign one year” (I.ii.17), Richard attacks the situation in a lawyerly fashion: Henry’s oath to relinquish the throne had no “true and lawful magistrate” (I.i.23) to oversee it, but Henry took that role himself, and by doing so invalidates the oath… Richard’s implication is that his father must take “to arms” (I.ii.28) to take what is rightfully his, but which may not be given up by a Henry they should not trust. And York agrees: he “will be king or die” (I.ii.35).
cue up a little 50 Cent, please…
York is about to send the trio out to supportive nobles to gather an army when word arrives that Queen Margaret has already done her due diligence with Lancaster supporters, has gathered an army of “twenty thousand men” (I.ii.51), and is heading toward York. It’s obvious now to York: “trust not simple Henry or his oaths” (I.ii.59).
York is somewhat concerned that he will only be able to muster five thousand men by the time Margaret and her army arrives, but Richard has no such concerns: “Ay, with five hundred, father for a need. // A woman’s general — what should we fear?” (I.ii.67-68). The young Crookback wasn’t around for Joan la Pucelle (two plays and thirty years ago), so he can be excused for his myopia… inexcusable, however, is York’s amnesia of Joan and the Siege of Orleans; he focuses (as all English seem to do) on memories of Agincourt:
Five men to twenty -- though the odds be great,
I doubt not ... of our victory.
Many a battle have I won in France,
When as the enemy hath been ten to one:
Why should I not now have the like success?
and yes, I remember, Shakespeare has lil ol Crookback Richard fighting at age three in the Battle of Saint Albans… Shakespeare History… oxymoron, moron
Why not? How about York isn’t Henry V? Or York wasn’t at Agincourt (as he was only five years old at the time)?
At the start of Act One, Scene Three, we find ourselves on the battlefield with “the young Earl of Rutland and his Tutor, a chaplain” (I.iii opening stage direction). And who is the Earl of Rutland? Edmund Plantagenet, Richard Duke of York’s second-born son (right behind Edward, and ahead of both George and Crookback Richard). By placing Rutland onstage with his teacher, Shakespeare stacks the deck to horrify the audience with this death of a child (whoops… SPOILER ALERT [too late]). In reality, Rutland was seventeen at the time of his death during the Battle of Wakefield, not a little boy. His first words accentuate his youth (or cowardice): “Ah, whither shall I fly to scape their hands?” (I.iii.1). He is immediately captured by Clifford and his soldiers.
Remember (then Young) Clifford from Act Five of The Second Part… upon finding his dead father, he vows to spare no one, not even the babies, of the House of York… and he is good to his word.
Clifford spares the tutor (because he is a chaplain), but will not show mercy to the “brat” (I.iii.4), even when he faints (I.iii.9 s.d.). Rutland pleads for his life. No good. He even asks Clifford to fight his father instead: “Then let my father’s blood open it again. // He is a man, and, Clifford, cope with him” (I.iii.24-25). Still no good. He even kneels to pray. And Clifford kills him, and he drags the dead body offstage.
Scene Four (the last of first act) begins on another part of the battlefield, with York wondering aloud to himself where his sons are. He has seen each in the battle, both fighting heroically (they fare better than his uncles, John and Hugh Mortimer, who are killed offstage), but his own strength is failing. And either by simple age or fear that his fatigue will render his ability to fight effective-less, he sees the end of life coming: “The sands (in the hourglass of my life) are numbered that makes up my life” (I.iv.20).
And right he is: Queen Margaret, Clifford, Northumberland, and Prince Edward, arrive and capture York. Margaret mocks York and his sons:
Where are your mess of sons to back you now?
The wanton Edward, and the lusty George?
And where’s that valiant crookback prodigy,
Dickie your boy, that with his grumbling voice
Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies?
Or, with the rest, where is your darling Rutland?
Look, York: I stain’d this napkin with the blood
That valiant Clifford with his rapier’s point
Made issue from the bosom of the boy;
And if thine eyes can water for his death,
I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.
Margaret is one cruel mama. First, she mocks the sons, giving them derogatory attributes. Then she mentions Rutland, and gives York the news that Clifford (right here, folks) killed York’s “darling” son. Then she goes so far as to offer York a handkerchief stained with Rutland’s blood so that the mourning father can wipe away his tears.
She continues by goading him into speaking. When he refuses, she states that it must be because he “cannot speak unless he wear a crown” (I.iv.94). She then puts a paper crown on him. When he still refuses to speak, Margaret commands, “Off with the crown, and with the crown his head” (I.iv.108). Finally, he speaks (and boy does he ever). He rails against Margaret, calling her a whore, disparaging her French-ness, and then questioning her femininity.
York then prophesizes that the story of his death will cause both friends and enemies alike to “shed tears” (I.iv.162). And it seems to work even on Northumberland before Clifford then Margaret stab York to death. After he expires, the Queen gives one last order to cap the act: “Off with his head and set it York gates, // So York my overlook the town of York” (I.iv.180-181).