Civil dissension is a viperous worm
That gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth.
—Henry VI, III.iA history play by William Shakespeare, Henry VI Part 1 is the first of three plays describing the end of the Hundred Years War and the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. Part 1 deals with the resumed war between the French and English and sets up many of the conflicts that run through the other two plays, but is often considered one of Shakespeare's weakest works. The other two plays are Henry VI Part 2 and Henry VI Part 3.The play opens with the funeral of the great warrior king Henry V (though his play would be written later), and we see already that the English nobles are beginning to feud among themselves.Meanwhile, in France, the great leader Sir John Talbot is meeting new resistance from an unexpected source — a woman. La Pucelle (i.e., Joan of Arc) has arrived in the Dauphin's camp and revitalised his flagging army.The young king, Henry VI, arrives for his coronation in France and tries to reconcile the feuding nobles, who have by now divided themselves into two camps symbolised by red and white roses. He inadvertently makes things worse by seeming to favour the red rose party then sending the two chief rivals out at the head of two parts of his army — a recipe for disaster. The Dukes of York (leader of the White Rose faction) and Somerset (leader of the Red Rose faction) refuse to come to each other's aid in battle and as a result, Talbot is killed by the French. York manages to defeat the French and capture Joan, who he orders to be executed.One of the spoils of the English victory is a young French princess, Margaret of Anjou. The Earl of Suffolk plots to marry her to King Henry and thereby gain influence over the throne.
This play provides examples of: