Skip to main content
Shakespeare's works /

Henry VI, Part 2

Introduction to the play

Henry VI, Part 2 presents a kind of story that was popular before Shakespeare began writing, tracing the fall of powerful individuals to their untimely deaths. The first to go is the Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector of England and the most powerful man in the kingdom, who is murdered after his wife goes into exile.

Next to meet a bad end is the Duke of Suffolk, the queen’s lover, who rules England through her. After Suffolk conspires with the cardinal of Winchester to kill Gloucester, he is banished and assassinated. The cardinal dies raving of his own guilt.

Ultimately, the king’s weakness lies behind these events. Preferring spiritual contemplation, he has left others to contend for power. Now his liberty is at risk as Jack Cade, and then the Duke of York, rise against him. The play leaves us in suspense about Henry’s fate by ending with the start of the Wars of the Roses—a conflict setting the white rose of the Duke of York against the red rose of King Henry, of the House of Lancaster.

Read full synopsis

Read the text
Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Henry VI, Part 2

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

When such strings jar, what hope of harmony?

King Henry
Act 2, scene 1, line 64

Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep

Act 3, scene 1, line 53

Henry VI, Part 2 in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Henry VI, Part 2. Find more in our digital image collection

Act 3, scene 2: Queen Margaret and Suffolk. By W. Hamilton pinx.; engraved by I. Taylor Junr.
Illustration printed by Frank Howard
One of a set of seven original drawings. By Byam Shaw.
Act 1, scene 1: The marriage of King Henry and Queen Margaret. By James Stephanoff.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Henry VI, Part 2

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Graphic: Ancestry of Richard, Duke of York

Graphic: England’s Claim to France

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Henry VI, Part 2

Early printed texts

The textual history of what we call Henry VI, Part 2 is complicated. The play was first published as a quarto in 1594 (Q1) with the title The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster and reprinted in 1600 (Q2). In 1619, the play was printed alongside 3 Henry VI (Q3) with some changes that correspond with the First Folio version (F1). In F1 (published in 1623), the play was titled The Second Part of Henry the Sixt, and its text is substantially different than the earlier editions, including in being longer. There has been much speculation about the relationship between the quarto texts and the folio, including which one came first. But the F1 version of the play serves as the basis for most modern editions of the play, including the Folger edition.