With a weak, unworldly king on the throne, the English nobility heightens its struggle for power in Henry VI, Part 2, leading to the brink of civil war.
At the start of the play, Henry meets his new bride, Margaret, to whom he has been married by proxy through Suffolk, her lover. Henry's popular and powerful uncle Gloucester, the Lord Protector, soon comes under attack by Margaret, Suffolk, Cardinal Beaufort, and others.
Gloucester's wife is shamed and exiled and Gloucester himself removed from office, then murdered on Suffolk’s orders. Suffolk is banished, captured by pirates, and killed. Meanwhile, the cardinal dies, raving in madness because of his part in Gloucester’s death.
A Kentish rebel, Jack Cade, leads a short-lived revolt, seizing London before his supporters desert him. He dies fighting in a garden. Soon another revolt emerges: Richard, Duke of York, leads an army against King Henry, who flees back to London. As the play ends, Richard's forces also move toward London.
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.
Picturing Henry VI, Part 2
As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to 2 Henry VI is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.
More images of 2 Henry VI can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)