Richard, the Duke of York, believes that he is the true king of England. Since King Henry's grandfather seized the throne illegally from Richard II, then the real legal heir should have been the offspring of the younger brothers of Richard II. Richard is descended from Richard II's eldest brother, whereas Henry VI is descended from Richard II's younger brother. With this claim, York has brought dissention to the court, arguing with other nobles in Henry VI, Part 1 and staking his claim in Henry VI, Part 2. He agrees to let Henry rule during his lifetime and receive the crown on Henry's death, but York's son urges him to seize the crown sooner. York dies in battle in the first act.


King of England at the beginning of the play, Henry is not a strong king; his nobles and his wife, Margaret, take advantage of him. Unable to live up to the legacy of his legendary father, Henry V, Henry loses all the English territories in France and cannot seem to control his warring nobles. In this play, he is twice thrust from the throne and twice imprisoned and once returned to place at the head of state. He flees battles and flees to Scotland but is always captured and brought back. Finally, he wishes to become a private citizen, desiring to be king in name only while other men rule. But in the end he is killed in prison by Richard.


York's eldest son, Edward inherits York's struggle for the throne, and seizes it soon after his father is killed in battle. But the new power soon blinds him to the need to listen to his advisors and brothers, and he marries Lady Gray, thus, alienating Warwick and the king of France, who had negotiated for a wedding to the French king's sister. Edward falls from the throne and is imprisoned but freed by Richard and again becomes king at the end of the play.


Edward's younger brother, George was in France at the beginning of the play, returning with reinforcements after his father's death. George joins his brothers' battles, until Edward marries Lady Gray. George breaks with his brother and joins Warwick, though he rejoins his brothers later and helps defeat Warwick. George receives the title of the Duke of Clarence from his brother, and he is often referred to as "Clarence" throughout the play and into Richard III. George is Richard's next target at the end of the play.


A younger brother of Edward and George, Richard is a fierce supporter of the Yorks' claim to the throne. Most noted for his physical deformities, including a hump back, lame leg, and shriveled arm, Richard takes his physical deformity as proof that he will not succeed with women or in the world of the court. Therefore, he decides that the only thing for him is to gain the throne. Yet there are many ahead of him in line to the crown, who he must eliminate along the way, performing the role of a good brother and subject while secretly behaving with bloodthirsty abandon. Killing Henry, Richard declares himself severed from a world of family and brotherhood; he stands alone in his quest for the crown. One of the most compelling characters in Shakespeare's oeuvre, Richard has greater command of language than most other characters, and he has the best speeches. Richard's deformities raise many questions; does he use his deformity as an excuse for his behavior, or is his body an outward manifestation of his ambition and his evil nature?


Long one of York's allies, Warwick was a pivotal force in bringing Edward to the throne. Later, he is sent to France to negotiate for marriage between Edward and Lady Bona, sister of the king of France. When Edward marries someone else, Warwick feels slighted and switches his allegiance to Henry, joining Margaret's army. Eventually, he is killed in battle with Edward's forces.


Henry's French wife, Margaret was wooed in Henry VI, Part 1 by Suffolk, who later became her lover. Alarmed that her husband is such a weak man, Margaret begins taking over for him. She scolds him for having given in to York's pressure in agreeing to pass the throne to York after his death. Then, she raises an army to fight with York; later, she stabs York to death. When Edward comes to the throne, Margaret goes to France to ask for aid and returns to lead more battles. Margaret is cursed repeatedly by her enemies for being an unnatural woman, in having taken on such a masculine role to lead Henry's armies. Yet she is the strongest inspirational force among all Henry's supporters.

Prince Edward

Son of Margaret and Henry, Prince Edward delights Henry's supporters in his show of strength and courage; they hope he is another Henry V. Yet finally he is captured in battle and killed by York's sons.


York's youngest son, killed by Clifford. Margaret dips a handkerchief in his blood to taunt York with after she captures him.


Clifford's father was killed by York at the end of Henry VI, Part 2, so Clifford begins this play with blood lust. He kills York's young son Rutland, then York himself. He and Richard become enemies, and Richard tries to kill him on the battlefield, but Clifford dies from an arrow wound before Richard can find him.


One of Warwick's relatives, Montague supports York, then Edward. At a certain moment, probably after Edward marries Lady Gray, Montague appears on Henry's side and later is killed in battle alongside Warwick.


One of Henry's supporters


One of Henry's supporters


One of Henry's supporters


One of Edward's supporters, he joins George in going over to Warwick's side after Edward marries Lady Gray.


One of Henry's supporters

Lady Bona

Sister of the king of France, Louis, Edward proposes marriage to Lady Bona through the ambassadorship of Warwick, and she agrees. But when word arrives that Edward has married Lady Gray, Lady Bona asks her brother to lend support to those who would topple Edward.

Lady Gray

Lady Gray comes to Edward to ask him to restore her lands to her, as they were taken when her husband died. He proposes that she become his lover but she refuses. Then, he asks her to marry him, and she agrees, becoming the queen.


King of France, Louis lends support to Margaret when Edward insults his sister Lady Bona by marrying Lady Gray instead.


One of Henry's supporters.


One of Edward's supporters, brother of Lady Gray.


One of Edward's supporters.


One of Edward's supporters.


The young Henry, Earl of Richmond, meets Henry when he is first freed from prison by his supporters. Henry prophecies big things for Richmond; in fact, Richmond is the future Henry VII, and he will help found the house of Tutor and end the War of the Roses when he defeats Richard in Richard III.


Henry watches from the field as various soldiers bring bodies from the field, one discovering he has accidentally killed his own son, and another his father. The soldiers suffer the unnaturalness of the War of the Roses, a war between extended family, which has enveloped the nation.