Act 5, scene 1
York enters at the head of his army, claiming the throne. Buckingham enters as a messenger from Henry, demanding to know what York is up to, why he is at the head of an army without the King’s permission.
In an aside, York says how angry he is and how he believes he is much more worthy of the crown than Henry. But he has to wait until he is stronger and the King weaker. So he tells Buckingham that his purpose is only to remove from power the Duke of Somerset. Buckingham says that Somerset is already imprisoned in the Tower, and York dismisses his army and pledges his allegiance to the King.
Henry enters, and York explains that his only purpose was to fight Somerset and Cade.
Iden enters with Cade’s head and tells Henry that he is the man who killed the rebel. Henry awards him a knighthood and a reward of a thousand marks.
The Queen and Somerset enter. York accuses Henry of breaking faith with him. He also gives vent to his true feelings, saying that Henry is not worthy of the crown and is better suited to be a monk.
Somerset arrests York for treason, but York calls for his two sons Edward and Richard to bail him out. The two sons enter, followed immediately by Clifford and his son, Young Clifford, who support the King. York’s sons say they will support their father with weapons if necessary, and Clifford rails against all three as traitors.
Warwick and Salisbury enter, with soldiers. They are supporters of York. Richard speaks threateningly to Clifford, while the King reproaches Warwick and Salisbury for their disloyalty. Salisbury replies that he considers York the rightful heir to England’s throne. The King calls for Buckingham to arm himself, but York will not retreat. Warwick and Clifford exchange challenging words, as do Young Clifford and Richard.
The simmering conflict between the King’s party and that of York and his allies comes to a head in this scene. York still tries to disguise his true intentions but is forced to come out into the open when he sees that he has been lied to regarding the imprisonment of Somerset. He had been planning to wait until Somerset was out of the picture but finds that he can no longer delay making a stand. When he denounces the King to his face there is no going back. The principal belligerents on both side assemble, and a battle is inevitable.
Act 5, scene 2
The Battle of St. Albans is in progress. Warwick enters, wanting to find Clifford and engage him in combat. York enters and then Clifford. Warwick is expecting to fight Clifford but York persuades him to leave the scene so that he, York, might take on Clifford. Clifford and York fight, and Clifford is killed.
York exits and Young Clifford enters. He says his side is being routed. Then he sees his dead father, and he vows revenge. He exits, carrying his father across his shoulders.
Richard and Somerset enter and do battle. Somerset is killed. Richard exits.
The King and Queen enter. The queen tells the reluctant Henry to flee. If they can reach London, she says, their fortunes will improve.
Young Clifford enters. He also urges the King to flee.
The battle goes decisively against the royal forces, with two of their nobles, Clifford and Somerset, killed, and the Yorkists triumphant. Historically, the battle took place in May 1455. It was a minor battle in terms of the numbers of men involved—about three thousand Yorkists and two thousand Lancastrians (the King’s men)—but it was a significant defeat for the King, who was also wounded (this is not shown in the play).
Act 5, scene 3
York, Richard, and Warwick enter. York wonders about the fate of Salisbury. If he is dead, they cannot claim a victory. Richard says he helped Salisbury three times in the battle.
Salisbury enters and congratulates everyone for fighting well, especially Richard for saving him. He then comments that they cannot claim victory because the enemy has fled but is not defeated. York says they must pursue the King to London. Warwick agrees. He hails their triumph in the battle.
The ending is inconclusive, and paves the way for the continuation of the story in Henry VI, part 3. York and his allies have won an important battle, but they have not yet won the throne. Historically, the Battle of St. Albans marked the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, between the houses of Lancaster (“red” rose) and York (“white” rose). These wars continued for several decades until 1485, when the accession of Henry VII united the two houses.