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SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The action continues directly from where Henry VI, Part I concluded. At the end of that play, Suffolk announces his departure for France to negotiate the marriage of Henry with Margaret of Anjou, daughter to René, titular king of Sicily, Naples and Jerusalem. Margaret’s coronation takes place on May 30, 1445. Suffolk is commissioned by the king to bring Princess Margaret back to England after orchestrating a marriage by proxy, which has taken place at Nancy. Suffolk, who had appeared as an earl in Henry VI, Part 1 is elevated to the rank of a marquis after arranging the marriage between Margaret and Henry. The play begins with Suffolk presenting the queen to the overjoyed king.
King Henry had succeeded the throne when he was nine months old. He was under the governance of his Lord Protector, the “Good” Duke Humphrey (Gloucester) who was not only his Protector, but also a father figure. Gloucester is angry about the marriage because it requires the surrender of Anjou and Maine, French lands highly valued by the English and known as “the keys of Normandy.” His uncle, Cardinal Beaufort (the Bishop of Winchester), is his enemy and leads the opposition against him. From the beginning, Beaufort tries to remove Gloucester from his position as Protector. The Duke of York has a personal reason for vengeance against the Lancastrians (Lancaster is the family name of the present king.) He reveals in a soliloquy that his interest in the public good is really for his private gain.
The Cardinal and Suffolk’s men kill the Lord Protector. The duke’s death stirs up the commoners against the court, and the Nevilles (Warwick and Salisbury) also support them. The common people demand the banishment of Suffolk, whom they blame for the death of their Lord Protector. The king accordingly banishes Suffolk, who bids a very emotional and sorrowful farewell to Queen Margaret. He is later captured by pirates and killed.
His head is brought to the court, and the audience finds the queen mourning grievously for him. Somerset announces the loss of the French territories, which enrages Warwick and Salisbury. Their loyalty to the king is now shattered. News also comes of a rebellion in Ireland, and York is dispatched with an army to suppress it. York, at the same time, seizes this opportunity as a good chance to move towards the crown. He has already stirred up the rebellion of Jack Cade, whose wild martial strength and political skills he witnessed in Ireland.
York hopes to convert the common people’s revolt against aristocratic tyranny into a full-scale popular rebellion, which would enable him to seize the throne. Cade’s rebellion is a spontaneous uprising, and the rebels do not mention the death of Duke Humphrey. Their poverty and England’s loss of empire are their concerns, as they have been heavily taxed for the French wars. They want to capture Lord Saye, who they think is responsible for all their troubles. They seek reformation and liberty, but not anarchy.
The king sends Clifford and Buckingham as his ambassadors to suppress the rebellion. Clifford introduces the fear of an attack from France in the minds of the rebels. Clifford does not point out that York has misled them, but instead appeals to their national sense of honor. This has an immediate effect, and the rebels retreat and forsake Cade. Cade flees. After the rebels have been suppressed, a man called Iden kills Cade in his garden. Meanwhile, York returns with his strong Irish army and proclaims that he is the rightful heir to the throne.