Like its two predecessors, The Third Part of Henry the Sixth is a tale of a country in turmoil, a political and military tempest brought forth by an irresolute leader. The next play will bring forth a blood-thirsty tyrant; in this part’s Richard the crookback, we get a nice little preview of the bloodbath to come. What can bring this all to an end?
A leader to bring together both families. A leader to reconcile England.
And we get a glimpse at him in this play, when Henry VI–upon his retaking of the crown–notices a young boy in the care of Somerset. Henry sees something in the boy, prophesying that the boy will become “England’s hope… our country’s bliss” (IV.vii.68-70).
So who is this boy, this Henry Earl of Richmond?
To really get at who he is, let’s go back to Henry VI’s parents, Henry V and Catherine of Valois, the French princess, daughter of King Charles VI. After Henry V died in August 1522 (remember, it was Henry’s funeral that began this tetralogy), she was allowed to live in the young king’s (her son) household. At some point, she began a relationship with Owen Tudor of Wales. There are some tales that he was either Queen’s groundskeeper or wardrobe keeper. Regardless, the relationship bore two sons, Edmund (1431-1456) and Jasper (1431-1495).
Keep Edmund in mind, we’ll get back to him. But first, a tangent…
Remember, Suffolk, the marital negotiator from The First Part and Margaret’s paramour from The Second Part? His wife was Alice Chaucer (granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer… yeah, The Canterbury Tales‘ Chaucer… no lie). They had a son, John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (1442-1492). John married Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509) through a Papal Dispensation in 1450, when the bride was seven and the groom eight years of age; Henry VI annulled the marriage in 1453; there were no offspring (thank goodness… the thought is simply nauseating).
Anyway, both John and Margaret would live to marry others.
John married Elizabeth of York (1444-1503), daughter of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, younger sister to Edward IV, and older sister to crookback Richard (the Third).
and if that name is familiar, she was the sole legitimate offspring of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset (1403-1444), the Somerset from The First and Second Parts, and uncle to The Third Part’s Somerset–4th Duke… see yesterday’s entry
As for Margaret?
Well, Margaret Beaufort married Edmund Tudor (remember him from a couple of paragraphs back?). Edmund and Margaret had only one child as well, Henry Earl of Richmond (1457-1509). This is the kid, “England’s Hope,” that will one day become Henry VII. He will then marry Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), the daughter of Edward IV (and niece of the Elizabeth of York from a couple of paragraphs back). This joining of the houses of Lancaster (through the Beauforts in Henry) and York (through Elizabeth) will create the Tudor line and dynasty to follow.
And since Shakespeare was writing in the time of (and pretty much for) Queen Elizabeth–now head of the House of Tudor–you can bet your last shilling that the foundation for that house, young Richmond, is going to be seen as the “hope” of the future.