This page contains a list of all the characters, and a link to a page for each character that contains information about the character in the play, and the historical figure on whom the character is based. Before the list there is a summary of an article on character relationships in medieval England.
“Personalities and Politics”
by Rosemary Horrox
From The Wars of the Roses Ed. A. J. Pollard pp89-109
I am posting a summary of this essay here on the characters page because the basic ideas Horrox is talking about are at the heart of the relationships between the characters in this play. I will give a very brief overview of the essay, with some very good quotes, and use some examples from the play.
Horrox’s essay describes how politics in the Middle Ages were defined by relationships. Historians call the type of government in operation in England in the 1400’s Bastard Feudalism. The system is founded on the idea that men rendered service to political superiors in return of support and favor. (89) “Those connections might not necessarily be close, but they were never impersonal, and they meant that for contemporaries political action was almost always an expression of personal service” (89). Vassals and Lords would invite each other to banquets, offer gifts for birthdays, wedding and such. Reciprocity was important, if your vassal sent a silver chalice for your daughter’s baptism, you were obligated to send a similar gift at his son’s wedding. This personal relationship was thought to keep harmony in politics. “For medieval writers, reciprocated affection was the highest model of political life, and one which carried a considerable emotional charge… Civic rulers defined their purpose as the promotion of ‘unity, concord and amity’, and when disputes did arise it was the responsibility of those in authority to restore friendship, and hence harmony, through arbitration” (90) Disputes were not supposed to become violent. One of the King’s primary roles was as an arbiter for disputed between the barons. “The underpinning of political action by personal obligation created a certain indefiniteness, if not an actual ambiguity, at the heart of medieval political life. A personal relationship, even in a society as hierarchical as that of the middle ages [sic], can never be entirely governed by a formal set of rules. Some space always has to be left for imponderables like the degree of mutual trust or liking between the people concerned” (95). Even with this space, breakdowns in the system can occur, and if they are left unchecked, they will eventually breakdown into a war.
The disputes between Gloucester and Winchester, and Somerset and York are examples of the system breaking down. When the King attempts arbitration between Winchester and Gloucester, Winchester refuses to relent. His refusal and his personal grudge with Gloucester will eventually destroy Gloucester, leaving the monarchy weak enough for York to wage war on (Gloucester’s fall is in 2 Henry 6). Like Winchester, Somerset refuses to accept arbitration. The matter of the original dispute between York and Somerset is weather York should be restored to his lands and namesake. The king settles the dispute by restoring York. Somerset does not accept this. Later when Henry again tries to arbitrate, both Somerset and York allow their personal feelings to intervene, and the result is the death of Talbot.
If you would like to read the entire essay please contact me. The book is in the MBC library, and I will check it out for you.
King Henry VI
Mayor of London
Governer of Paris
Master-Gunner of Orleans
General of the French in Bordeaux
Countess of Auvergne