The funeral for King Henry V is attended by Bedford, Gloucester, Exeter, Warwick, Winchester, and Somerset. The lords mourn the dead king, who had ruled England so well and conquered his enemies so bravely. The new king, Henry VI, is still too young to rule in his father's stead, and Gloucester has been named Protector of the kingdom. Gloucester accuses Winchester, a bishop, of not praying enough for their dead king; perhaps if he had tried harder, he could have saved him. But Bedford urges them to stop their quarreling. As the coffin is carried out, Bedford asks the ghost of Henry V to help England prosper.
A messenger enters with bad news from France; the French have recaptured several towns that Henry V took for England during his reign. Exeter asks what treachery has led to this event, but the messenger attributes it merely to a lack of men and money. The lords now express concern that at this time when solidarity is most needed, the leaders in England are dividing into factions. The messenger calls to the nobility to wake up and to not rest on their laurels, particularly as regards their French holdings.
Bedford, the Regent of the French lands, declares he will leave for France to right the situation. A second messenger enters, announcing that the French are revolting and have crowned the Dauphin Charles king in one of the towns, where several lords have joined up with him. Bedford is again preparing to depart when a third messenger enters to tell of a terrible battle between Talbot, the English general, and the French forces. Talbot, when retreating from the siege of Orléans, was surrounded by French troops and fought a hard fight. All the French soldiers were directed to take on Talbot, but none could defeat him, until the cowardly Englishman Sir John Fastolf fled, leaving Talbot open to be captured by the French.
Bedford is shocked by this tale and makes plans to pay the ransom to free Talbot. Bedford leaves finally for France, and the other noblemen go about preparing for the imminent war: Gloucester heads to the Tower to check on the weapons stored there, and Exeter goes to attend to the young king's safety. Winchester intends to get close to the king as soon as he can, so that he can gain power.
In Orléans, the French Dauphin Charles and his nobles Alençon and Reignier express their pleasure at having captured Talbot, while the English troops lie leaderless outside the city walls. The Frenchmen agree that the English look pitifully weak; perhaps they may be able to break their siege and travel outside the city again.
The English nevertheless continue their siege on the French, killing many. Charles and his lords gather again, astonished that the English can hold out. They think the English will never abandon the siege, even as they draw their last breath. Then, the Bastard of Orléans enters with news for Charles. He reports he has found a maid who may give them victory. Charles calls for her to be brought in, but wants to test her ostensible clairvoyance: he changes places with Reignier before Joan enters; if she knows that the king is not the man sitting on the throne, her powers will be proved. She indeed recognizes immediately which man is the king and asks the other lords to leave her to speak to Charles alone for a moment.
Joan explains that she is just a shepherd's daughter, but one day when she was tending her sheep, a vision of God's mother appeared to her and told her to leave her sheep and help free her country. This figure showed itself in all its glory to Joan, the shine of the divine rays brought her her current beauty. She tells Charles to ask her whatever he wants, or even to challenge her to combat, if he dares; she is endowed with the power to succeed in any undertaking. Charles, astonished at her audacity, agrees to a trial of single combat, saying he fears no woman. Responding that she fears no man, she soundly beats him. He declares she is an Amazon and that she fights with the sword of Deborah, an Old Testament prophet; he suggests she become his lover. But Joan declares she cannot yield to love, for her sacred task requires her to remain a virgin.
The other lords return and ask if they should abandon Orléans to the English or not. Joan replies that they will fight for Orléans, and Charles agrees. Joan announces that she will raise the siege that very day. Glory, she says, is like a circle in the water, expanding infinitely until something stops it. With the death of Henry V, the English circle has ceased to spread; the situation can only improve from here. Charles and his lords urge Joan to do what she can to end the siege.
Gloucester arrives at the Tower of London with his blue-clad servants. One of his men knocks on the gates of the tower, but the warders inside refuse to let him in. Gloucester, angered that he, the Protector of the realm, would be barred entrance, orders his men to storm the gates. Woodville, inside the tower, demands to know what is going on. Sighting Gloucester, he explains that Winchester has ordered him to forbid entrance to this nobleman.
Then, Winchester and his men enter, distinguished by their tawny-colored coats. Gloucester demands to know if Woodville speaks the truth, and Winchester confirms his earlier order: he declares he refuses to submit to Gloucester in his role of Protector. The two men curse each other, then all their men draw their swords, and the blue coats fight with the tawny coats. Gloucester's men beat Winchester's men, then the Mayor of London and his officers enter the scene.
The mayor demands that they stop fighting and explain themselves. Gloucester says Winchester has shut everyone out of the tower, but Winchester accuses Gloucester of wanting to gain access to the artillery housed there in order to overthrow the young king and usurp the throne. The two groups start fighting again, and the mayor stops them again, commanding them to cease using weapons or face execution. Winchester and Gloucester agree to obey the law and to voice their disagreement in another venue. The mayor expresses amazement at the lords' appetite for conflict and violence.
In Orléans, the Master Gunner orders his boy to watch a nearby tower, which he has heard the English lords use as a lookout over Orléans to plan their assault. The Gunner has aimed a piece of artillery at the tower should the lords reappear there, and he leaves his son to watch.
Salisbury, Talbot, Gargrave, and Glasdale stand on turrets overlooking Orléans. Salisbury asks how Talbot escaped the French jail, and Talbot explains how Bedford ransomed him by exchanging him for a French nobleman prisoner. Talbot narrates his time with the French, who were so frightened of him that they had a guard of marksmen aim their arrows at him even while he slept.
The soldiers look out over the roofs of Orléans and plan their attack. Just then the tower convulses in explosions, and Salisbury and Gargrave fall. Talbot rushes to Salisbury, cursing fate. Salisbury, he exclaims in grief, won many battles, was trained by Henry V, and was always a terror in the field. Then, Talbot hears great thundering, and a messenger enters to tell of a French attack, led by Joan la Pucelle. Salisbury groans, so Talbot orders him conveyed to his tent while he deals with the French.
Talbot attacks the French and drives them back, then Joan's forces drive back Talbot's army. Talbot cannot understand how a woman could be defeating his troops. Joan enters the scene, and he challenges her to a fight, accusing her of being a witch. Joan and Talbot fight, and her strength amazes him. Joan tells Talbot that his time to die has not yet come. She says she must return to Orléans, and he should go cheer on his troops.
Talbot has difficulty comprehending the power of Joan, who drives his forces before her as easily as bees are driven by smoke. Talbot urges his men onto another skirmish but orders their retreat when it becomes obvious that they cannot win. He accuses his soldiers of consenting willingly to Salisbury's death, since none managed to effect a revenge. Talbot exits in shame.
Joan calls for French flags to be flown from Orléans' towers, for she has freed the city from the English siege as promised. Charles wants to honor Joan for her remarkable leadership. Alençon and Reignier suggest they should celebrate the successes of all the warriors, including themselves, but Charles says it was Joan, not they, who won the day. He offers to divide the crown with her, to order all the religious men in his realm to sing her praises, and to honor her ashes highly when she dies. He declares Joan la Pucelle is France's new saint and leads them off to a banquet.
A French soldier instructs several sentinels to keep watch on the walls. Talbot enters with Bedford and Burgundy and other soldiers, equipped with ladders. Talbot says that they have chosen the best time to launch a surprise attack, for the French have tired themselves out in celebrations. Bedford and Burgundy criticize Charles for thinking so little of the strength of his troops that he would turn to a witch for aid. The English lords split up and enter the city from three different directions. Talbot and his men scale the wall and the sentinels call the alarm.
Alençon and Reignier emerge, half equipped for battle, followed by Charles and Joan. Charles asks Joan if she has been treacherous and helped the British mount this surprise attack. But she tells him he is just being impatient with her, unfairly expecting her to prevail both while awake and while sleeping. She says the blame is not hers but that of Charles's bad watchmen. Charles condemns Alençon, as it was his men who were on the watch that night. Now the lords fall to accusing each other of forming the weak link in the fortifications, but Joan tells them to stop disagreeing and repair the damage.
The next morning Bedford and Talbot hear the French sounding the retreat. Talbot calls for the body of Salisbury to be brought into the city. Talbot intends to bury him in the center of Orléans so that everyone may know of his death and the sack of Orléans.
A messenger arrives and asks for Talbot: the Countess of Auvergne summons him to her castle so she may behold the man who has achieved such fame. Burgundy thinks her request trivializes war and tells Talbot to ignore it. Talbot, however, decides to visit her and sends the messenger back to the Countess to announce his acceptance.
The Countess prepares for Talbot's visit, remarking that if her plans come off, she will be famous. The messenger announces the arrival of Talbot. Seeing him, the Countess wonders aloud if Talbot can be the same man so feared throughout France; she thinks reports of him must be false, for he seems to be neither a Hercules nor a Hector (both great heroes of Greek legend), and doesn't strike an imposing image. Hearing her expressions of doubt, he turns to leave. She calls him back, however, and when he confirms his identity, she replies that he is then a prisoner; she explains that she lured Talbot to her home in order to imprison him and make him pay for the death he reaped among her countrymen. Talbot laughs at the idea that she could try to contain him. He says that he is the man known as Talbot, but what she sees of him is not all he is. Rather, what she sees is the smallest part of him, and her castle could never contain the sum of his parts. The Countess thinks he speaks in riddles, so he shows her what he means by blowing on his trumpet. Instantly, English soldiers arrive, and Talbot explains that they are the substance and arms of the greater Talbot, who still holds power over the towns of France.The Countess asks Talbot to forgive her actions, since she misunderstood his power. Talbot says he is not offended and asks that his soldiers may dine at her home.
Several lords, including Richard Plantagenet, Warwick, Somerset, Suffolk, and Vernon, enter the Temple Garden near the law courts in London. Suffolk says it is better to decide matters in the garden because the lords were too noisy inside the law court where they were just disputing. Somerset asks Warwick to decide between him and Plantagenet, but Warwick says that, while he can arbitrate many situations, he cannot decide between these two lords. Both Plantagenet and Somerset declare that the right choice seems shockingly clear to them.
Plantagenet says that those who believe he has pleaded the truth should pluck a white rose off the briar to show their allegiance to him. Somerset says those who support him in his dispute of Plantagenet's claim should pluck a red rose. Warwick says he doesn't like colors and he plucks a white rose with Plantagenet. Suffolk says he believes Somerset and picks a red rose. Vernon urges them to stop plucking until they discover which side has more people on it, and both Somerset and Plantagenet agree to yield if they have fewer supporters. And with that, Vernon picks a white rose. Then, a lawyer picks a white rose, too, saying that he believes Plantagenet's case is more correct in the law.
Plantagenet and Somerset trade insults about their flowers and scorn each other. Somerset criticizes Plantagenet's father, who was put to death as a traitor by Henry V. Plantagenet says his father was accused and put to death, but his treason was never proven. He says he will remember this slight for a long time, and Somerset should expect to see results from his insults in future dealings with Plantagenet. Somerset welcomes such a future and says his allies will wear a red rose to remind him of this disagreement. Plantagenet, too, says he will wear the white rose with his faction as a marker of his continued hatred for Somerset. Somerset departs.
Plantagenet and Warwick talk; Warwick says he believes that the next Parliament will restore Plantagenet to the title he lost when his father was put to death. Meanwhile, he will continue to wear Plantagenet's rose, though he foresees that this small brawl in the garden will send thousands of people to their deaths, all in the name of the white and the red rose. The two nobles exit.
In a cell in the Tower of London, Mortimer awaits his death, speaking of his declining strength and wondering when his nephew Plantagenet will come. Mortimer comments on the misfortune he has suffered since Henry V first came to power, and he says that Plantagenet has suffered under the same fate. Plantagenet arrives at the cell, and Mortimer asks him to relate how he came to be in his recent argument.
Plantagenet says he has had a disagreement with Somerset, who criticized his dead father. Plantagenet asks Mortimer to explain how his father came to be executed. Mortimer says the same deed that caused him to be in the tower all these years was the reason for Plantagenet's father's demise. Mortimer explains that his family was next in line to the throne after Richard II, but because Henry IV deposed Richard, Henry's line came to power instead. When he attempted to reassert himself as the rightful heir, Mortimer was thrown in jail. Later Plantagenet's father raised an army to try to install Mortimer on the throne, but he was captured and executed, and the Mortimers were suppressed.
Mortimer names Plantagenet as his heir, since he has had no children. Plantagenet says his father's death was undeserved, that he was simply the victim of the whims of bloody tyranny, but Mortimer urges him to understand that the house of Lancaster holds the throne firmly by now.
Mortimer tells Plantagenet not to mourn his passing, and he dies. Plantagenet promises to keep Mortimer's advice to himself. But he is determined to right the wrongs Somerset has done to his family, and he hurries off to the Parliament, seeking to gain power in some way, if not restore his inherited rights entirely.
Young King Henry VI enters the Parliament house, along with many lords, including Exeter, Gloucester, Winchester, Somerset, Suffolk, Warwick, and Richard Plantagenet. Gloucester tries to post a bill, but Winchester seizes it and tears it up, accusing him of coming with prewritten remarks and of being unable to speak extemporaneously. Gloucester accuses Winchester of underhanded treachery—of having plotted to kill him at London Bridge as well as at the tower. Gloucester says Winchester is greedy, but Winchester asks how he can aim so high when he is still so poor. Winchester declares that his behavior cannot be so upsetting in itself; rather, Gloucester can't stand the idea that anyone else would have influence over the king. The two men insult each other, Gloucester declaring himself as superior in his position as Protector, and Winchester declaring his own superiority as head of the Church.
The other nobles step in and stop the argument. Henry asks the two men to try to make peace. The mayor of London enters to tell of how Winchester and Gloucester's men, forbidden to use weapons in their conflict, now chase each other around the city, hurling rocks at each other. The battling servants enter the court, where the king orders them to cease fighting, yet they continue. Gloucester orders them to stop, and yet they still do not desist. Henry asks Winchester to order his men to yield, but Winchester says he will never yield until Gloucester submits. Gloucester offers Winchester his hand in conciliation, and after some urging by the king, Winchester agrees. They shake hands, yet mutter to themselves that the argument is not yet over.
Warwick then presents a request from Plantagenet in a scroll: Plantagenet wants to be restored to his hereditary rights. The king says that he will not only restore him to the earldom of Cambridge (inherited from his father), but he will also give him the dukedom of York (inherited from his uncle Mortimer). Plantagenet thanks the king, then kneels down to be installed as the Duke of York. Everyone cheers for him, except Somerset, who curses him.
Gloucester urges the king to cross the sea to France and be crowned as king there; he hopes this will establish English control over France once and for all. The king thanks Gloucester for his friendly counsel, and he departs with the other lords.
Exeter remains to comment on the scene. He says the nobles will march to France blindly: they do not see that these disagreements between the lords, now reduced to a slow burn, will someday break into open flame. He refers to a prophecy once widely circulated in the time of Henry V, that Henry V should win everything, while Henry VI would lose it all. Exeter wishes he might die before he sees such unhappy conclusions.
Charles and his lords Alençon, Reignier and the Bastard of Orléans wait outside the city. Charles wonders how they will know when to attack, when Joan appears with a torch on the city walls. The lords immediately launch their forces.
Talbot discovers the attack in progress and curses Joan, the sorceress whom he blames for his forces' weakened state.
Burgundy and Talbot are within Rouen, along with Bedford, who is ill and propped up in a chair. Meanwhile, the French lords are assembled outside the city. Joan and Charles taunt the English, and Talbot curses Joan for singling out the valiant-but-weak Bedford for mockery. Talbot asks the French if they will dare meet in the field to fight an honest battle. Joan says no, but Talbot says he wasn't talking to her, but to the "real" soldiers, meaning the other French lords. However, they refuse, as well. Talbot scorns them for refusing to fight like gentlemen. Joan and the other Frenchmen depart, saying that she came to speak to Talbot only to remind him of their presence.
Talbot is angered that they reproach his fame and scorn the honor of Bedford. He swears by King Henry and by his father, Henry V, that he will get the town back or die trying. Bedford echoes him. Talbot asks Burgundy to help him move the ill and aged Bedford to a safer place, but Bedford says he would be ashamed to be anywhere but here, near his men. Talbot is impressed by Bedford's indomitable spirit, and he lets him stay near the fight. The English lords exit, and Sir John Fastolf runs onstage. A soldier asks him where he is going, and he declares that he believes the English are about to be defeated; he is fleeing to save his life.
Meanwhile, offstage, the British troops chase away Joan and her French forces, to Bedford's great satisfaction. Now, he says, he can die, having seen the enemy overthrown.
Talbot and Burgundy enter, congratulating themselves on having both lost and recovered their positions in the same day. Talbot wonders where Joan and her forces have gone and if they have fled. They plan to restore order in Rouen and then depart for Paris to see King Henry. Before they go, they will bury and honor the deceased Bedford.
Joan tells Charles and his lords Alençon and the Bastard of Orléans not to despair after losing to Talbot, as she foresees crushing him later. Charles says that he has no doubt of her skill; one small setback will not make him distrust her. Alençon and the Bastard assure her that they'll make her famous throughout the world; they'll have her statue placed in a prominent location and treat it like a saintly relic if she continues her work. She announces her plan to lure Burgundy away from Talbot and to have him join the French forces. Charles and his lords are delighted, sure that such a plan will rid France of the English soldiers forever.
Seeing that Talbot and Burgundy are leading their troops toward them, Joan orders a messenger to request a conversation with Burgundy, who comes immediately when summoned. Charles asks Joan to speak and enchant Burgundy with her words. Joan tells Burgundy to listen to her, referring to herself as a humble handmaiden. She calls to him to look on the fields of France and to see the destruction wrought by its foe and the wounds he has caused his country by siding with its foe. She urges him to turn against those who have hurt his country. Burgundy remarks to himself that either she has a very good point or her words bewitch him.
Joan goes on to say that the French now doubt his nationality. She says he sides with a nation that wants him only for the sake of profit and will expulse him when they have won. She accuses him of fighting against his countrymen, becoming the slaughterer of his kinsmen. Burgundy admits he is vanquished; Joan's words have battered him like cannon shot. He asks the French lords to forgive him and to accept his embrace, as he intends to hand over his forces to them and break with Talbot. Charles welcomes him.
In Paris, Henry and his lords Gloucester, Winchester, Exeter, Warwick, Suffolk, Somerset, York, Vernon, and, Basset welcome the arrival of Talbot. Talbot announces that he has reclaimed 50 fortresses and 12 cities and seven walled towns, along with many prisoners. The king thanks him and rewards him with an earldom in gratitude for his long service to the crown and to England.
The lords all exit, leaving Vernon and Basset alone. Vernon wears a white rose and Basset a red one. Vernon asks Basset if he meant all the bad things he said at sea about his lord, York. Basset says he did and wonders if Vernon stands by his comments about Somerset. The two argue, and Vernon strikes Basset. Basset reminds him that they have been forbidden to fight upon pain of death. Basset concedes that the time is not right for a fight, but another time will come when he will revenge the wrongs against him. Vernon agrees, and the two depart.
In Paris, Henry enters with his lords Gloucester, Winchester, Exeter, York, Warwick, Suffolk, Somerset, Talbot, and the Governor of Paris. Winchester crowns Henry as the king. Gloucester asks the Governor of Paris to swear allegiance to him and no other. Just then Sir John Fastolf enters with a letter from Burgundy. Talbot sees Fastolf and is enraged because of his cowardice at previous battles. Fastolf wears a Garter on his leg marking him as a member of the Order of the Garter; now Talbot rips this off him: Talbot tells Henry about Fastolf's flight from battle when the British were heavily outnumbered and when he and many other soldiers were taken prisoner; he says that membership in the Order of the Garter used to be awarded to men of noble birth, who were virtuous and who didn't fear death, but Fastolf is not this sort of man, and he sullies the title of knight. Henry calls Fastolf a stain to his countrymen and banishes him.
Gloucester then reads Burgundy's letter, in which he announces his intention of joining Charles and abandoning Henry. Henry asks Talbot to march to Burgundy and talk to him, to find out what has driven Burgundy to insult his friends. Talbot departs.
Vernon and Basset enter to ask the king for the right to have an armed fight. York asks the king to hear his servant, and Somerset asks him to hear his. Henry inquires into the nature of their complaint. Basset says that, while crossing the Channel, Vernon ridiculed him for the color of his rose, and Vernon says the same of Basset. York asks Somerset to put aside his malice, but Somerset says that York's private grudge will be revealed. Henry marvels at the madness that drives these men to develop such decisive splits for frivolous causes. He asks York and Somerset to overlook their differences and be at peace. York says that the disagreement should be settled first with this fight; Somerset says the disagreement is between only them, and they alone should decide it.
Gloucester scolds the lords, saying they should be ashamed for so troubling the king with this ridiculous argument. Exeter urges them to be friends. Henry orders York and Somerset to forget their quarrel and to remember where they are. Here in France, the lords must make an effort not to reveal dissention, for if the French see disagreements among the English forces, then they will again dare rebellion. What a scandal it would be, he says, for leaders of other nations to hear that Henry's men lost France and destroyed themselves over a trifling argument! He reminds them that they must not lose the land that was won with so much bloodshed.
Henry takes a red rose from Somerset, declaring that there is no reason wearing a red rose should state he favors Somerset over York. Henry determines to persuade them to better behavior by offering them both important positions in the French campaign. He makes York leader of the troops in that part of France, and he orders Somerset to unite the horsemen and the infantry. He urges them to use up their anger against the enemy rather than against each other. Henry and most of his nobles leave.
York, Warwick, Vernon, and Exeter remain. They agree that the king spoke eloquently, but York doesn't like it that he chose the red rose of Somerset. Warwick says the king meant no harm. All exit except Exeter, who notes that York did well to keep his complaints to himself while Henry was there. Exeter says that no one yet understands that the arguments among the lords. England faces enough of a challenge, Exeter notes, when the crown sits on the head of a youthful and inexperienced king, but it faces doom when division is bred of envy and malice. What begins in confusion will end in ruin, he predicts.
Talbot arrives outside the gates of Bordeaux. The French General appears on the city gates, and Talbot demands he open the city gates and accept Henry VI as his king; otherwise Talbot will let loose a violent attack on his city. The General replies that they are well fortified and strong enough to resist his attack. Moreover, he announces, Charles's armies now prepare to attack Talbot from behind, so he will be unable to retreat. Death faces Talbot from both sides, he declares, as thousands of Frenchmen have no other destination in mind for their arrows and swords than Talbot himself. This is Talbot's last moment of glory, says the General, for he will soon fall.
Talbot hears the sound of Charles's approach and sends some of his men to reconnoiter their forces. He speaks with disappointment of his forces, hemmed in like deer within a kennel surrounded by dogs. But the English never die without a fight, he says; they'll turn on the French forces that surround them. He prays that England may prosper in the coming fight.
York asks his messenger where Charles's troops are, and the messenger announces that they have gone to Bordeaux to fight with Talbot. The Dauphin's troops outnumber Talbot's, he says. York curses Somerset, who has delayed the promised supply of horsemen that he had expected to send to join Talbot. Talbot was relying on his aid, but he can do nothing alone.
Another messenger, Sir William Lucy, enters. He says that Talbot badly needs troops, for he is encircled by French troops. Lucy urges York to send troops or Talbot will be doomed. York wishes Somerset were in Talbot's place, so a coward could die in place of a valiant warrior. York says he can't do anything, sadly aware that if Talbot dies, then France will fall to Charles. Lucy says that Talbot's son John had just traveled to be with his father at Bordeaux, which means he will die with his father. York is even more upset, cursing the cause that stops him from helping Talbot. He exits, leaving Lucy alone to ruminate on the fact that dissention among the nobles will lead to the loss of France, the greatest conquest of their recently fallen king, Henry V.
Somerset enters with his army, commenting that it is too late to send them. He says he is sure that York has, in fact, planned the impending defeat, having sent a too-daring Talbot into battle in order to bring about his death so York might figure as the preeminent hero in coming battles. Lucy arrives at Somerset's camp. Somerset asks him who sent him, and Lucy says he was sent by the betrayed Talbot, who will now die while awaiting rescue from other English forces. Lucy urges him not to let his private disagreements keep aid from reaching Talbot in time. But Somerset blames York for the whole situation. York sent Talbot to Bordeaux, and York should help him. Lucy says that York had said he was awaiting Somerset's horsemen before he could help Talbot. Somerset says that York is lying, and York could have sent the horsemen but simply didn't want to. And besides, says Somerset, he dislikes York and doesn't take well to the idea of sending him his horsemen. Lucy charges Somerset with causing the death of Talbot with his petty dispute. Somerset says he'll send his horsemen now, but Lucy says it's too late. Lucy declares that Talbot's fame lies in his deeds in the world, but his final shame and death are attributable to the warring lords.
Talbot and his son John Talbot stand on the battlefield near Bordeaux. Talbot says he had sent for his son to teach him the strategies of war so that the name of Talbot might be carried on into future wars. But John has arrived in a situation of too much danger, and Talbot tells his son to escape. John refuses, however, explaining that to flee now would be to disgrace the name of Talbot. Talbot tells John to flee so that he may avenge his father's death, but John says anyone who flees will never again be taken seriously in a fight.
Talbot says they can't both stay, as they will both die. So John tells Talbot to flee, offering to stay himself. The death of Talbot would be a great loss, but the death of his son, not yet a famous figure, would mean nothing. For Talbot to flee now would not stain the permanent honor he has already won, but it would ruin John's career to flee his first fight. Talbot asks him if he wants his mother's heart to be broken when her only son and husband both die, but John says he prefers that his mother suffer this sadness than suffer the terrible shame of knowing her son to be a coward. Talbot repeats that if John flees the Talbot legacy will live on, but John insists that that legacy will be worthless if he sullies it by fleeing. Finally, Talbot relents and sadly welcomes his son to fight-and probably die-with him.
In the ensuing battle, John becomes surrounded by French soldiers, and Talbot rescues him. Talbot sees that his son has received his first wound in battle, struck by the Bastard of Orléans. This first penetration by a sword has deflowered this young soldier, Talbot says. He asks if John is tired, urging him again to leave the battlefield. Hasn't he achieved enough glory now to escape with honor and live on to avenge his father's death? Why endanger both their lives on the same bloody field? If he himself dies, he merely cuts off the few short years he has remaining, but if John dies, then the family name dies, along with the revenge of his death, and the connection between English leadership and the Talbot name.
John understands all that his father says, yet he insists that if he flees then he will no longer deserve the name of Talbot's son. If he does possess the name Talbot, his duty is to die at his father's side. Talbot returns with his son to battle, comparing him to Icarus.
Talbot reappears, led by a servant. He mourns his son, who he says repeatedly saved him on the battlefield, fighting valiantly. Yet, like Icarus, he, too, fell because of his high-flying spirit, and he was brought down by the French. John's body is borne in and Talbot weeps over it. He says his spirit cannot survive this blow, and he dies.
Charles and his men, including Alençon, Burgundy, the Bastard of Orléans, and Joan, enter. Charles expresses gladness that York and Somerset's troops never arrived, for the French would not have won had they come as planned. The lords discuss John and how powerful a warrior he proved before he fell. Joan says that she encountered him in the field but he refused to fight with her, believing a woman to be an unworthy opponent. Burgundy says he would have made a noble knight.
Lucy enters, asking to know the names of prisoners and to view the bodies of the English dead. He recites a long eloquent list of Talbot’s titles, wondering where he is now. Joan makes fun of Lucy's style, telling him Talbot is dead. Lucy asks if Talbot is slain, and she asks to take the bodies of the dead to be buried in fitting honor. Joan, clearly bored with Lucy's elevated speech, urges Charles to give him the bodies and send Lucy on his way.
In the palace in London, Henry enters with Gloucester, Exeter, and other lords. Henry asks if Gloucester has read the letters from the pope. Gloucester says that the pope urges the negotiation of peace between England and France. Henry asks Gloucester what he thinks, and Gloucester suggests it may be the only way to stop the bloodshed. He urges another tie to the French; the Earl of Armagnac, a close relative of Charles, has offered his daughter in marriage. Henry replies that he is young and might be better suited to study than to marriage, but he will take Gloucester's advice.
Winchester enters, in the garb of a cardinal, with several messengers from the pope. Exeter wonders to himself how Winchester came to be a cardinal; certainly it means he plans to have more influence over the king. The king tells the papal messengers that he has decided that a friendly peace with France is a good idea, and he means to pursue it immediately. Gloucester tells the messengers that the king has also agreed to a marriage with the Earl of Armagnac's daughter. The court departs, except for Winchester and the main messenger from the pope. Winchester tells the messenger he owes him money for having made him a cardinal. Now he won't have to submit to anyone, he declares, especially not to Gloucester.
Charles and his nobles, including Burgundy, Alençon, the Bastard of Orléans, Reignier, and Joan, ponder news from Paris that their countrymen there are again swearing their loyalty to England. Alençon urges Charles to march to Paris and clear up the situation. Then, a messenger enters to announce that the two segments of the English army have merged and are preparing to attack the French troops. Joan urges Charles to lead the battle, and she declares he will win.
It is now the middle of the battle, and Joan, alone onstage, realizes York is winning. She calls on the feinds that give her signs of coming events; she asks them to appear and to aid her. They arrive, and she asks them to help her win the fight for France. But the fiends refuse to speak to Joan. She reminds them that she has always offered her blood to them in exchange for their help. Yet the demons show no interest in her offerings. Becoming desperate, she offers her soul to them, but they depart. Joan, forsaken by the source of her former powers, declares that France will now surely fall to the English.
The French flee, and York seizes Joan. Holding her, he tauntingly asks her if her demons can help her now. He calls her an enchantress and a witch, and he takes her away.
Suffolk enters the scene of the battle with a prisoner in tow. The prisoner is the lovely young Margaret, whose beauty enthralls her captor. She says she is the daughter of the king of Naples. Suffolk wants to free her but cannot bear to part with the sight of her.
She asks him what ransom she must pay before she can leave. Suffolk mutters to himself that she must submit to being wooed. Margaret continues to ask him if she can go, while Suffolk ruminates that he has a wife and, thus, cannot woo the girl for himself. Yet he cannot resist the delightful challenge of winning her; finally, he decides to woo her for the king. He thinks he can cleverly legitimate such a move: for after all, Margaret is technically the daughter of a "king"the king of Naples even though her father has no money.
Meanwhile, Margaret grows annoyed that Suffolk, lost in his schemes, is ignoring her questions of him. Finally Suffolk speaks to her and asks her if she would like to be a wife to a king. She says she would prefer to be a queen in bondage than a servant, so she agrees if Henry and her father also desire the match.
The French generals enter, and Suffolk calls to Reignier. Reignier is upset to learn of his daughter's imprisonment, since he has no money to ransom her. But Suffolk offers him an alternative: his daughter will be married to the king of England! Reignier asks if Suffolk speaks for the king, and Suffolk assures him he does. Reignier says that he will give his consent to the marriage in exchange for permission to keep control of his French territories. Suffolk agrees and prepares to go to England to complete the deal. Reignier and Margaret prepare to depart, but Suffolk asks Margaret for a kiss first.
When they are gone, Suffolk expresses the wish that he could woo Margaret for himself. But he determines to go to Henry and speak of Margaret's virtues and convince him to marry her.
In York's camp, York has arranged a trial for Joan, attended by Warwick and a shepherd. The shepherd is Joan's father, and he weeps to see her fallen state. Yet she refuses to acknowledge any connection to him. Warwick asks her if she denies her parentage, which York thinks is a sign of her wickedness. The shepherd begs her to admit he is her father, but Joan insists the English have merely brought him in to suggest her birth was low. Distraught, the shepherd says he wishes some wolf had eaten her when she tended his sheep. He urges the English to burn her, as hanging would be too good a death, and departs.
York orders her to be taken away, but Joan insists on telling of her origins. She announces that she is the descendant of kings, chosen by the heavens to be virtuous and holy and to bring miracles to the earth. She declares that her judges are unable to believe in her innocence because they are polluted by their own lusts and stained by the bloods of the innocents they have killed before. She declares she has always been a chaste virgin; if the English spill her blood, they will only be sending her to heaven, where she can call upon God to reap revenge. York is unconvinced and tells the guards to take her away. Warwick orders the preparation of a large bonfire in which to burn her.
Joan asks them to stop in their plan to kill her, now declaring that she is pregnant and they mustn't murder the child within her. York is startled that the allegedly holy virgin now claims to be with child; who fathered the child, they wonder? They suggest Charles, but she denies it. She says it was Alençon, then she names Reignier. The English think all these names suggest she has been promiscuous with the French lords, while all the while claiming to be a virgin. York tells her to cease her efforts, they are in vain; she will go to the bonfire no matter what she says. Joan then curses England, and she is led away.
Winchester enters, with letters from Henry. York reads of the plan to negotiate peace. He is frustrated to think that so many died and were captured for their country, only to now be dishonored by what he considers effeminate peace.He foresees the loss of the rest of the French kingdom.
Charles enters with his lords, Alençon, Reignier, and the Bastard of Orléans, to discuss the terms of the treaty. York urges Winchester to speak, since he is filled with too much anger to speak himself. Winchester says that Henry consents to cease the war and to let Charles's men become feudal lords, loyal to the crown of England. And he tells Charles that he may become a viceroy under the king. But Alençon doesn't want Charles to become a shadow of his former powerful self, and Charles himself reminds Winchester that he possesses more than half the French territories and is already reverenced as king in those regions; he would rather be king of half a kingdom than viceroy of a whole one. York asks Charles if he wants to quibble about the terms and give the hard line: either accept the title offered generously by Henry or the English will continue the war.
Reignier urges Charles to accept the offer, knowing another is not likely to come again. Alençon agrees. Charles should accept and, thus, stop the massacre of his people; he can always go back on his word when conditions are favorable. Charles agrees to the truce, on the condition that the English leave him all his fortified towns. York insists that they swear allegiance to the English throne, and they do. Then, he tells them to dismiss their armies.
Suffolk arrives at the palace to confer with Henry, Gloucester, and Exeter. Henry tells Suffolk that his account of the lovely Margaret has convinced him that she would be a good bride for him. Suffolk speaks further of her virtue and loveliness, and Henry asks Gloucester (as Protector of the Realm) to give him consent to marry Margaret. Gloucester reminds him that he is already engaged to the daughter of the Earl of Armagnac, and it would damage his honor to break that contract.
Suffolk says that a daughter of a poor earl such as Armagnac is nothing special, and she can suffer the contract to be broken without offense. Gloucester points out Margaret, too, is no more than an earl's daughter, but Suffolk insists she is the child of the king of Naples, a man who has such authority in France that to marry her would mean continued French allegiance. Gloucester says that such a plan was exactly what he had in mind with his suggestion of the Earl of Armagnac's daughter, except his plan will work better since the Earl of Armagnac is actually related to Charles. Exeter adds that Margaret's father Reignier has no dowry to offer, but Suffolk notes that the king is rich enough without one. Henry can enrich his queen; only peasants worry about dowries.
Suffolk urges the lords to understand that they can't make the decision, rather, the king should choose the woman he prefers: married life contains trials enough; one should at least like one's bride. And the daughter of the King of Naples will get along wonderfully with the king of England, Suffolk says. Henry says he can't tell if it's due to Suffolk's description or his inexperienced youth, but he's interested in Margaret, and he tells Suffolk to go to France to order her return to be crowned as queen. He asks Gloucester to forgive him, and the lords depart. Suffolk remains, saying that he has prevailed. Now he looks forward to the wedding; once married, he says, Margaret will rule Henry, and because Suffolk himself rules Margaret, he will, therefore, effectively control the king and the entire kingdom, as well.