Called Henry VI, Henry is the king of England. Crowned at a young age when his popular warrior father died, Henry had a protector, Gloucester, to take care of the kingdom until he was old enough to rule. Prophecies at the time of Henry's coronation declared that Henry VI would lose all the land in France that his father Henry V won. 1 Henry VI depicts wars in France to save those lands, but in this play France is finally lost. Henry marries Margaret, a French girl with no money, giving the French two regions in return for her hand; this horrifies Henry's nobles, who see France slipping out of their grasp. Henry's overall weakness allows his nobles and his wife to create complex plots against each other and against him, culminating in a full-fledged civil war with York. Throughout the play Henry is unable to assert his power.
Named the protector of England until Henry is old enough to rule, Gloucester has long-standing tension with Beaufort. Margaret dislikes Gloucester because she believes he holds too much power over the throne. The other nobles believe Gloucester desires to seize the crown. However, Gloucester seems to be a genuinely noble man; he sticks up for the common people, and he believes his honorable behavior should speak for itself. Yet plots against him are too large, and Gloucester is murdered in his bed through the scheming of Suffolk, Somerset, Beaufort, and Margaret.
Somerset and York first disagreed in 1 Henry VI over a point of law, causing all their followers to align themselves behind one or the other through wearing the emblem of the white or red rose. Somerset stood for the red rose. He still hates York, but he also schemes against Gloucester in this play.
Another lord of the court, Buckingham joins Somerset, Suffolk, Beaufort and Margaret to plot against Gloucester. Later, he delivers the news that the Duchess has been arrested. He serves as a messenger to York when York marches to London, and he fights on the side of the king.
Beaufort is the head of the English church. Known in 1 Henry VI as Winchester, he and Gloucester have a long-standing dislike for each other. Beaufort suspects Gloucester of wanting the throne for himself, though Beaufort himself is guilty of that crime. When it is revealed that Gloucester was murdered, Beaufort falls ill and dies miserably, signifying the fact that he had sins on his conscience.
York believes he is heir to the throne of England, and this motivates his every action. Throughout this play and 1 Henry VI, he tries to stay calm and wait until Henry is weaker and can be more easily ousted, but his patience runs thin. Already involved in disputes against Somerset, York allies with Warwick and Salisbury against the other lords of the court. He explains to these two men that he is heir to the third son of Edward III, and Henry is heir to Edward III's fourth son. Richard II was wrongfully removed from the throne by Henry IV, meaning the Lancaster line, including Henry VI, held the throne illegally. York intends to correct that, and he is delighted to be sent to Ireland to put down rebellions, for that means he is given an army. When he leaves, he hires Jack Cade to stir up trouble by pretending to be a York claimant to the throne, intending to return should Cade's campaign prove popular. When he does return, he can no longer wait, and he declares his intentions to Henry.
A lord of the court, Suffolk convinced the king to marry Margaret, a woman he captured in France and wooed for the king, since he was himself already married. Suffolk is infatuated with Margaret and hopes to influence Henry through her. Margaret and he plot together against each of the lords. Yet Suffolk is banished when the commoners demand he be punished for the wrongful death of Gloucester, and he is beheaded by pirates at sea.
A lord of the court, Salisbury joins Warwick in supporting York as the true king.
A lord of the court, Warwick joins Salisbury in supporting York as the true king.
A French woman, Margaret was captured during the French wars by Suffolk, who wooed her for Henry since he could not have her himself. In exchange for Margaret, the French keep two pivotal regions of French territory, which upsets Gloucester. Margaret had imagined that Henry would be just like chivalrous Suffolk, so she is disappointed in the weak king. She plots against Gloucester and gradually gains more power. She is devastated when Suffolk is exiled, for she had begun an affair with him.
Wife of Gloucester, the Duchess is very ambitious and wants Gloucester to desire the throne as much as she does. She hires practitioners of the occult to help her find out about the future of Henry's kingdom so she can figure out how to position herself to gain the most power. When she is caught, she is banished after being led through the streets of London. Her fall spells the end for Gloucester.
The Duchess hires Hume to bring conjurers to her house to help her talk to the spirit world. Hume has also been bribed by Beaufort to encourage the Duchess to try the occult, which was illegal at the time. Beaufort hopes she will be caught and Gloucester may topple also.
A working man, Peter brings a claim to the court, falsely reporting that his master, Horner, spoke treasonous words in saying that York is the true heir to the throne. Gloucester decides the case by commanding that the two men engage in single combat. Peter is terrified but kills Horner because Horner shows up drunk.
Accused by Peter of treason, it is Horner's word against Peter's, so Gloucester decides the case by commanding the two men to fight, believing that the innocent man shall win. As it turns out, Horner loses because he fights while drunk, and the innocent man dies.
Hired by the Duchess, the Witch helps raise a spirit to answer the Duchess' questions about the king.
A conjurer, Bolingbroke is hired by the Duchess to help raise a spirit to answer the Duchess' questions about the king.
Simpcox is a poor man who pretends he has been blind since birth and has had his sight restored by a miracle. Gloucester sees through his lies and has him publicly beaten.
A common man and fierce warrior, Cade is hired by York to raise a ruckus in England while York is away. He tells Cade to pretend he is a Yorkist claimant to the throne, to see how the public responds. York plans to return and take over if Cade is successful. In fact, Cade is very successful; he takes London, kills Stafford and his brother, and puts to death a number of literate people, including Lord Saye, who he accuses of ruining the commonwealth with grammar. Cade metes out great violence throughout the country. When his troops betray him under the influence of rhetoric of the king's nobles, Cade flees. Starving in the countryside, he steals from Alexander Iden's garden, and they come to blows. Cade dies.
Leader of the ship that captures Suffolk at sea, the Captain orders Suffolk be put to death after enumerating the bad things he has done in the English court. Suffolk can't believe he can be killed by such low men, but the Captain orders it.
One of the Captain's men, Whitmore kills Suffolk.
Common people led by Jack Cade.
The Butcher is one of Jack Cade's men. He rapes the Sergeant's wife, but when the Sergeant reports it to Cade, Cade orders the Butcher to kill the Sergeant as well, showing his bloodthirsty nature.
Another of Jack Cade's men.
Stafford and his brother are two nobles of the court who come to challenge Jack Cade, but when the commoners refuse to lay down their arms, their armies fight. Stafford and his brother die, and their bodies are dragged behind Cade's horse to London.
Jack Cade and his men search out Lord Saye and kill him. They blame him for having lost Normandy to the French but more for having set up grammar schools and printing presses throughout the kingdom.
The Butcher rapes the Sergeant's wife, but when the latter complains to Jack Cade, he is put to death. Cade explains that all women are available to anyone in his new kingdom.
A lord of the court, Clifford helps convince Jack Cade's troops to lay down their arms. Later, Clifford is called on to judge York when he makes his claim to the throne. In battle, York kills Clifford, and Clifford's son decides he is finished with pity for any Yorkist after he finds his father's body.
Iden is a landholding noble, who, unique among nobles, prefers to stay on his property rather than come to London and deal in the intrigues of the court. Seemingly kinder than the other nobles, Iden has no desire to fight with Jack Cade, who appears in his garden and insults him; but he is forced to fight and kills the starving Cade. Iden's loyalties are always clear; he takes Cade's head immediately to the king.
York's son, brought in to testify on behalf of his father after York marches his army back from Ireland. Edward will be the next king of England.
York's son, brought in to testify on behalf of his father after York marches his army back from Ireland. Richard will become Richard III, subject for Shakespeare's play of the same name, and one of the most bloodthirsty and depraved kings in English history.