Shakespeare’s sources – Henry VI part 3

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Lady Grey

Having looked at Henry VI parts one and two in my last two blogs it is time now to consider part three. As with the previous two parts Shakespeare’s primary sources for part three were Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548) and Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1587). Holinshed based much of his Wars of the Roses information in the Chronicles on Hall’s information in Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families, even to the point of reproducing large portions of it verbatim. However, there are enough differences between Hall and Holinshed to establish that Shakespeare must have consulted both of them.

For example, Rutland’s death scene is based on Hall rather than Holinshed. Although Clifford is reported as murdering Rutland in both Hall and Holinshed, only in Hall is Rutland’s tutor present, and only in Hall do Rutland and Clifford engage in a debate about revenge prior to the murder. But what I am going to focus on this week is Shakespeare’s depiction of King Edward’s initial meeting with Lady Grey which is also based on Hall rather than Holinshed. Hall is alone in reporting that Edward seemingly offered to make her his queen merely because he wanted to have sex with her. As Hall puts it Edward “affirming farther that if she would thereunto condescend [to sleep with him], she might so fortune of his paramour and concubine to be changed to his wife and lawful bedfellow.”

In Shakespeare this scene becomes a humorous and long drawn out interchange between Edward and Lady Grey, in which King Edward is pretty blunt about his motives



To tell thee plain, I aim to lie with thee.


To tell you plain, I had rather lie in prison.


Why, then thou shalt not have thy husband’s lands.


Why, then mine honesty shall be my dower;
For by that loss I will not purchase them.


Therein thou wrong’st thy children mightily.


Herein your highness wrongs both them and me.
But, mighty lord, this merry inclination
Accords not with the sadness of my suit:
Please you dismiss me either with ‘ay’ or ‘no.’


Ay, if thou wilt say ‘ay’ to my request;
No if thou dost say ‘no’ to my demand.


Then, no, my lord. My suit is at an end.


Although Lady Grey protests:

I know I am too mean to be your queen,
And yet too good to be your concubine.

In the end Edward prevails and concludes:

Thou art a widow, and thou hast some children;
And, by God’s mother, I, being but a bachelor,
Have other some: why, ’tis a happy thing
To be the father unto many sons.
Answer no more, for thou shalt be my queen.

So here we find Shakespeare finding the possibility for a bawdy humour in Hall and turning to Hall’s historical account to liven up his own fictional and dramatic one.

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • Jo B Cutler

    I really like the research you are doing.  I am particularly interested in the phrases that Shakespeare uses.  Do you know of any sources that history or influence in the phraseology of Shakespeare’s works?

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