Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester
Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, is Henry VI’s great uncle. He plots with Suffolk and York to bring down Gloucester. After he succeeds in getting Gloucester imprisoned he plots Gloucester’s murder. On his deathbed, however, his conscience troubles him, and he is terrified of dying because of the role he played in Gloucester’s murder. It seems that he fears the judgment of God.
George Bevis is one of Jack Cade’s followers.
Roger Bolingbrook is a conjurer who, with Margery Jourdayne, raises up a spirit for the Duchess of Gloucester.
Duke of Buckingham
The Duke of Buckingham is one of the nobles who conspires against the Duke of Gloucester. He is also responsible for persuading the mob that follows Jack Cade to switch their allegiance to the King. He fights on the King’s side in the Battle of St. Albans and is killed (a fact that is not reported in the play but is referred to in Henry VI part 3.
Jack Cade is the leader of a rebellion that begins in Kent. Cade is encouraged to rebel by the Duke of York. Initially successful, Cade and his mob burn London Bridge and for a while take over parts of London. Cade claims to be descended from the noble Mortimer family and wants to seize the throne for himself. But soon his men desert him after being promised a pardon by the king’s forces. Cade goes on the run and is eventually killed by Alexander Iden.
Clerk of Chatham
The Clerk of Chatham is condemned to be hanged by the Cade rebels because he is part of the legal system they hate.
Lord Clifford is a supporter of the King. He plays a part in persuading the rebels to abandon Jack Cade. He is later killed by York during the Battle of St. Albans.
Young Clifford is Lord Clifford’s son. He takes part in the Battle of St. Albans and carries off the dead body of his father.
Dick the Butcher
Dick the Butcher is one of Cade’s men who plays a prominent role in the rebellion.
Edward is one of the Duke of York’s sons.
Duke Humphrey of Gloucester
The historical Gloucester was the younger brother of Henry V, who appointed him Lord Protector of England during Henry VI’s minority (the years when a king is too young to reign in his own right). Gloucester is an honorable man who always has the interests of the king and the nation at heart. He is horrified by the treacherous ambition of Eleanor, his wife, but ends up paying for it with his life.
He is arguably naÔve in his faith in due process of law to show his innocence (1. 3. 157). Like many honorable people, he thinks all he has to do is to be truthful and open and his innocence will be plain for all to see. He fails to appreciate the extent of corruption in the court, and this costs him his life, since he is outmaneuvered by the scheming nobles.
Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester
Duchess Eleanor is Duke Humphrey of Gloucester’s wife. She is one of Shakespeare’s notable ambitious and domineering women, a prototype of Lady Macbeth (in Macbeth) and Volumnia (in Coriolanus). Not content with being the second most powerful woman in the land, Eleanor wants her husband to seize power and herself to be crowned queen. She is blinded by her ambition to the fact that the meeting with the witch and conjuror that Hum arranges for her is in fact a trap set by Beaufort and Suffolk. Her traitorous ambition causes not only her own downfall but also the murder of her husband.
King Henry VI
The historical King Henry VI of England (1421-1471) succeeded his father Henry in 1422, at the age of nine months. His uncle, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, in history as well as in the play, ruled as Lord Protector of England while Henry was too young to rule in his own right.
Shakespeare portrays Henry as a weak king whose unfitness for rule leads to dissent among the lords; the loss of England’s territories in France, hard won by his father, the great military leader Henry V; and eventually to the Wars of the Roses, a civil war that divided the nation between 1455 and 1485.
It would be wrong to assume that Shakespeare has no sympathy for Henry. The king is portrayed as a blithe peacemaker, as childlike in character as he is in years, unhappy at the sight of conflict, and grateful for the services of his lords. But crucially, he is “bookish” (1. 1. 257), pious, and studious. York says Henry’s “church-like humours fits not for a crown” (1. 1. 246). He would be more suited to the life of a clergyman, monk, or academic than that of a king. Shakespeare’s extensive use of literary sources from many cultures shows that he himself had a bookish and studious side, and it is tempting to assume that he was able to empathize with Henry in this character trait, which is prominent in sympathetic characters such as Prospero in The Tempest and the Duke in Measure for Measure.
John Holland is one of Jack Cade’s followers.
Thomas Horner is an armourer. His apprentice, Peter Thump, accuses him of making treasonous remarks, that York is the rightful heir to the throne. Horner denies this to the King, and the matter is settled in personal combat. Peter mortally wounds Horner, who confesses his treason.
John Hum is a priest who is paid by Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester, to arrange a meeting with a witch who will raise a spirit from hell that will answer her questions about the future. Hum is also being paid by Beaufort and Suffolk to entrap Eleanor.
Alexander Iden is a Kentish Gentleman. He finds the rebel Cade in his garden and kills him. He brings the head to the King and is rewarded with money and a knighthood.
Margery Jourdayne is a witch who summons a spirit at the request of the Duchess of Gloucester.
The Lieutenant is the commander of a pirate ship that captures Suffolk. He gives the order to execute Suffolk.
Margaret, the historical Margaret of Anjou, is the daughter of Reignier or RenÈ, Duke of Anjou and titular King of Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem. Suffolk brings her from France as a wife for Henry VI, even though she has no dowry and politically insignificant father. Suffolk and Margaret are attracted to one another, and in that sense, her heart is not in her role as Henry’s wife. She is strong-willed and dominates her weak husband.
Richard is one of the Duke of York’s sons. He is the future Richard III. He kills Somerset at the Battle of St. Albans.
Earl of Salisbury
The Earl of Salisbury is the enemy of Beaufort, Somerset, Buckingham and Suffolk, opposing their plans to bring down Gloucester, a man Salisbury admires. Salisbury thinks more of the welfare of the nation than of gaining power for himself. He joins with the Duke of York, supporting his claim to the throne, and fights at the Battle of St. Albans.
Lord Say is the Lord Treasurer. He is seized by the Cade rebels who accuse him of many crimes against England and the people. He tries to reason with them to no avail and is sent off for execution. His severed head is displayed on a pole.
Lord Scales is the commander of the Tower of London. He is told that the mayor of the city needs his help in battling the Cade rebels.
Sander Simpcox is a charlatan who pretends that he has been blind from birth but has just recovered his sight. He also claims to be lame. Gloucester shows both claims to be false, since the man knows the names of colors; he is also able to run away when threatened with a whipping.
Simpcoxs wife claims that she and her husband committed fraud because they needed money. She and her husband are sentenced to a whipping.
Smith the Weaver
Smith the Weaver is one of the rebels who follow Jack Cade.
Duke of Somerset
The Duke of Somerset, along with Suffolk, Buckingham, and Beaufort, opposes Gloucester. He wants to take Gloucester’s place as Lord Protector. Somerset’s chief enemy after Gloucester falls is York. He tries to arrest York for treason, but York is defiant. Somerset is killed by Richard, son of the Duke of York, at the Battle of St. Albans.
Sir Humphrey Stafford
Sir Humphrey Stafford commands a royal force that tries to stop Jack Cade and his men. He is unsuccessful, and is killed.
William Stafford is Sir Humphrey Stafford’s brother. He is killed along with his brother in trying to stop the Cade rebels.
John Southwell is a priest in league with John Hum.
A Spirit is conjured in a ceremony conducted by Margery Jourdayne and Roger Bolingbrook. The Spirit prophecies the futures of Suffolk and Somerset.
Sir John Stanley
Sir John Stanley is the governor of the Isle of Man, where Eleanor, the Duchess of Gloucester, is forced to live in banishment. Sir John tries to comfort her by telling her he will treat her like a duchess.
Duke of Suffolk
The Duke of Suffolk arranges the marriage of Margaret to Henry, but later he becomes Margaret’s lover. He plays a role in the conspiracy to incriminate the Duchess of Gloucester and to imprison and murder Gloucester. He is outmaneuvered by his enemies, however, principally Warwick. He is also unpopular with the populace. Unable to withstand this powerful opposition, he is banished by the King. Suffolk is captured by pirates on his way to France and killed.
Peter Thump is Thomas Horner’s apprentice. He accuses his master of treason. Gloucester decides that the two should meet in hand-to-hand combat. Peter kills his master.
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York
The Duke of York regards himself as the rightful heir to the English throne, and from the beginning of the play he plots to become king. He is helped when the other nobles give him an army with which to crush a rebellion in Ireland. When he returns from Ireland he still has the army, and this allows him to assert himself in the power struggle. York is supported in his goal by Warwick and Salisbury, and he is victorious at the Battle of St. Albans, where he kills Clifford.
Earl of Warwick
The Earl of Warwick is Salisbury’s son. He supports York’s claim to the throne, and York in turn says he will make Warwick the second most powerful man in England.
Walter Whitmore is a sailor on the ship that captures Suffolk. He is the man who carries out the execution.