Here are the characters presented in Bare Theatre’s Henry VI: The War of the Roses. There are many more characters in all three of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, but these are most of the key roles in the conflict at the center of our production.
These are short glimpses into the real-life characters in history, meant to give some context and help audiences understand the intricate relationships involved in the English civil war.
KING HENRY VI (Lachlan Watson) – Upon the death of his father, the famous King Henry V, Henry VI of House Lancaster ascended the throne at the age of 9 months. Having inherited conflict in France known as The 100 Years War, Henry married Margaret of Anjou in a failed attempt to achieve peace. He suffered mental breakdown after this, during which other leading figures would attempt to sway him or steal power outright.
Around 1460, a period of civil war in England that would later become known as “The War of the Roses” (because of Shakespeare’s plays) broke out when Richard, Duke of York made his own claim for the thrown. Henry would be captured, set free by Margaret, and imprisoned again by the House of York as the conflict spiraled out of control.
MARGARET OF ANJOU (Rebecca Blum) – Margaret would become a fierce ruler from France after she married King Henry VI and became Queen of England. During Henry’s bouts of madness, she would lead the Lancasters and do battle with the forces of Richard, Duke of York, whom she despised.
She would give Henry only one son, Edward, Prince of Wales, but due to Henry’s reported insanity there were serious doubts about the prince’s legitimacy. It was rumored that the Duke of Suffolk had an ongoing affair with Margaret, and that he was possibly the true father.
EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES (Kimmy Fiorentino) – King Henry VI and Queen Margaret had only one son, though there was some question as to whether Henry was actually the father. Rumors swirled that the Duke of Somerset had an affair with Margaret during Henry’s bouts of madness.
During the War of the Roses, the Duke of York would claim the throne for himself. Henry desperately bargained to have his power restored on the condition that he would give up his son’s claim and after Henry’s death rulership would be transferred to the House of York.
RICHARD, DUKE OF YORK (Sean A. Brosnahan) – Great-grandson of King Edward III, Richard was a powerful magnate who became Lord Protector of England during Henry VI’s difficulties. He did not get along with Henry’s Queen Margaret, and led a rebellion in which he made his own claim to the throne based on his lineage to King Edward III.
Though York would claim the throne for himself, he relented and allowed Henry to remain king on the condition that Henry would turn over rule of England to York and his sons Edward, Richard, and Clarence. Two of these sons – Edward and Richard, would eventually become king.
EDWARD IV, SON OF YORK (Benjamin Tarlton) – Edward was the second son of Richard, Duke of York, although he was the oldest of the four sons who survived to adulthood. Upon the death of his father at the hands of Margaret and the Lancastrians, Edward would lead his father’s forces and eventually take the throne, becoming the first Yorkist King of England.
Though he was a brilliant military commander and tactician, King Edward IV died early of natural causes after a relatively short reign. Within two years, his two sons were imprisoned and presumably killed, and Richard, who took the throne as Richard III would be killed by Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field.
GEORGE OF CLARENCE, SON OF YORK (Will Cannon) – Known as “Clarence” in Henry VI, this son of the Duke of York was a key figure in several battles against the Lancasters. He famously switched sides and joined the Lancasters for a period when Warwick The Kingmaker defected and allied himself with Henry VI.
After it became apparent that he would not be king after Henry VI’s son, Clarence returned to the Yorks and rejoined his brothers in battle.
RICHARD, SON OF YORK (Seth Blum) – The youngest surviving son of Richard, Duke of York was and continues to be one of the most controversial figures of the late 1400’s. Partisan writings from the era cast him as either a politically-astute, benevolent leader or a conniving, murderous villain (Shakespeare went with the latter in order to please Elizabeth I, who was directly descended from Henry Tudor – who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field). He is often depicted in writing or onstage as having some sort of physical deformity, such as a hunched back or crooked spine.
Regardless of his true nature, Richard was instrumental in aiding his brother Edward to capture the crown from Henry VI. Bare Theatre will continue his story in “Richard III” at Sonorous Road Productions this November.
DUKE OF SOMERSET (Rachel Pottern) – Shakespeare conflated two historical figures – John and Henry Beaufort – to derive Somerset. This powerful duke was a driving force in the ongoing battles with France and he was able to capture several towns and a great deal of land.
Somerset angered the Duke of York, who was also waging campaigns in France, through a series of land and power disputes. A key ally to King Henry VI, it is Somerset who chooses the red rose for the Lancasters in the opening argument against York.
DUKE OF SUFFOLK (Maxine Eloi) – William de la Pole, First Duke of Suffolk, is known in our play simply as Suffolk. He fought under Henry V in the famous siege of Harfleur during the Hundred Years’ War and was instrumental in arranging the marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou.
After the death of Gloucester, Suffolk became the strongest advisor to the weak King Henry VI. It was rumored that Suffolk had an ongoing affair with Queen Margaret and may have even fathered Edward, Prince of Wales.
BARON DE CLIFFORD (Katie Barrett) – John Clifford was the 9th baron of Clifford, and was a prominent military commander for the Lancasters. He was a strong supporter of Margaret of Anjou.
Clifford is well known for slaying Edmund, Earl of Rutland – the brother of Edward, Clarence and Richard of York. This took place after the Battle of Wakefield and was highly unusual in that noblemen were commonly ransomed back to their families in this time. Rutland was only 17 at the time, and the Yorks naturally accused Clifford of murder. It is possible that Edward IV gave Clifford the nickname of “The Butcher.”
EARL OF WARWICK (Aneisha Montague) – Richard Neville, known as the Earl of Warwick or “The Kingmaker,” was the wealthiest and most powerful lord in England during the time of the War of the Roses. A land dispute put Warwick at odds with Somerset when King Henry VI became ill because Somerset was able to lead by proxy and hold advantage over Warwick. Thus Warwick sided with the Yorks.
After the Duke of York’s death, Warwick sided with York’s eldest son, Edward, to take the crown from King Henry. Warwick negotiated a marriage with the king of France’s sister-in-law, Lady Bona, only to discover Edward was already married to the Lady Grey. In our play, Warwick becomes furious at being kept in the dark and declares allegiance to the Lancasters. In an attempt to weaken the Yorks, Warwick convinced Clarence to defect from his brother, Edward, and join the Lancasters as well.
DUKE OF GLOUCESTER/GLOSTER (Ann Chenoweth-Carr) – Humphrey of Lancaster, known as the Duke of Gloucester was “son, brother, and uncle of kings,” being a son of Henry IV, brother of Henry V, and uncle to Henry VI. A scholar as well as knowledgeable commander, Humphrey was a powerful advisor to King Henry VI.
In our play, Gloster is opposed to the marriage of King Henry and Margaret. Several of the dukes, including Buckingham and Somerset, conspire to kill Gloster, but Suffolk is blamed and banished by Henry.
BISHOP OF WINCHESTER (Kacey Reynolds Schedler) – Winchester was a member of the royal house of Lancaster and was a Roman Catholic Cardinal. When King Henry V died, leaving the crown to the infant Henry VI, Winchester and several other powerful lords formed a regency to rule on his behalf – until Winchester fell out of favor with several of them and was forced to resign.
Though not covered in our play, Winchester presided as several of the hearings in the trial of Joan of Arc, and was present at her execution.
DUKE OF EXETER (Dustin Britt) – John Holland, the 2nd Duke of Exeter, was an older cousin of King Henry VI. His father conspired against Henry’s grandfather, King Henry IV, and was executed, Exeter was allowed to remain in the court under King Henry V and distinguished himself at the Battle of Agincourt.
Exeter in our play is a close advisor to King Henry VI, and one who is extremely knowledgeable in the laws and history of the land.
BARON HASTINGS (Pimpila Violette) – William Hastings, first Baron of Hastings, was a staunch ally of the Yorks. Warwick respected him so much that he arranged for Hastings to be married to Warwick’s widowed sister.
Hastings’ loyalty became crucial during the rise and reign of Edward IV. He would prove a valuable asset on the field in several key battles and his loyalty was unwavering.
LADY GREY (Maggie Lea) – Elizabeth Woodville was a mid-level noblewoman whose first marriage was to a minor supporter of the Lancasters, Sir John Grey. After he died on the battlefield at St. Albans, Elizabeth married King Edward IV. This caused quite a stir because she had no real estate and this was only the second time since the Norman conquests that an English king had married one of his subjects.
Warwick, who had negotiated a marriage/alliance with France on Edward’s behalf, was enraged when he found out the king had married Lady Grey without his knowledge and defected to the Lancasters. Her son would briefly become King Edward V before being deposed by Richard III, but she would remain influential and helped bring about the ascension of King Henry VII.
MONTAGUE, BROTHER OF YORK (G. Todd Buker) – Montague is a conflation of several different characters and ideas. In Act I of Henry VI, Part 2, he is the Earl of Salisbury, Warwick’s father. The Montague that follows afterwards is Salisbury’s son and Warwick’s younger brother.
In our play, Montague is the brother of Richard, Duke of York, uncle to Edward, Clarence, Rutland and Richard. He recognizes King Henry’s vulnerability and urges York to war.
EARL OF SALISBURY (Dustin Walker) – Richard Neville was the fifth Earl of Salisbury. By blood he was related to Warwick and Westmoreland and by marriage to the Montagues. His close family had a private feud with the Percys of Northumberland, and this may in part explain Salisbury’s allegiance to Richard, Duke of York.
Salisbury fought with York at the First Battle of St. Albans, and was afterward named Lord Chancellor by York. In our play, Salisbury alone joins Clarence in defecting to the side of Warwick and the Lancasters.
DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM (Tara Williams) – Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, fought in both the Hundred Years’ War and the War of the Roses. Throughout much of the conflict of the latter, Buckingham would try to maintain some semblance of peace between York and the Lancasters.
When many of York’s decisions were reversed by King Henry VI, York rebelled and imprisoned Somerset in the Tower of London. Buckingham was reluctantly forced to negotiate for Somerset’s release, which pitted him against York but also against Queen Margaret, who distained his middle-of-the-road approach. Though Buckingham tried to remain neutral, he would eventually go up against Warwick’s forces at the Battle of Northampton.
EARL OF NORTHUMBERLAND (Matt Fields) – Henry Percy, third Earl of Northumberland, came from a powerful English family in the north. He was knighted along with Henry VI. His family held ongoing quarrels with the Nevilles of Salisbury and Warwick.
Northumberland’s father died at the hands of the Yorks in the very first battle of the War of the Roses, and thus he sided with Henry VI and the Lancasters. He would fight valiantly in many of the ensuing battles until he was slain in the Battle of Towton. King Edward IV labelled him a criminal posthumously for his years of service to the Lancasters, and his son was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
EARL OF WESTMORELAND (Leslie Castro) – Ralph Neville was the second Earl of Westmoreland who was knighted by King Henry VI. He was appointed a Commissioner of Array, meaning that he was specifically given the task of mustering troops and fitting them for military service.
Historically, Westmoreland was not very active in military campaigns or political matters, and may have suffered a mental disorder that prompted his brother to maintain his estate. Interestingly, after the death of Westmoreland’s brother, it is thought that Richard III took over Westmoreland’s lands and used his castle as his keep. In our play, Westmoreland switches sides from the Lancasters to the Yorks after Henry VI pleads with York and consents to transfer the crown to York upon his death.
THE MESSENGER (Katy Koop) – Politically neutral, the messenger struggles not to offend either the House of Lancaster or the House of York even when bearing bad news. Information is key to survival!
In these history plays, the messenger gets the role of comic relief. Shakespeare always included at least one clown or comical character even in his tragedies.
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