Shakespeare's "Henry VI" and "Richard III"

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Shakespeare's "Henry VI" and "Richard III"

Two Kings, One Crown

William Shakespeare's "The Hollow Crown" series returns to PBS this month! 

In the new series, Shakespeare's history plays "Henry VI" and "Richard III" tells the stories of two medieval English kings. The plays are set during the Wars of the Roses, also known as the Cousins Wars, a dynastic conflict for the throne in 14th century Great Britain. If you'd like read more about the historical background to the events dramatized in the plays, below is a selection of books available through the library system.

Shakespeare's Kings by John J. Norwich
How does Shakespeare's history plays compare to recorded historical events in medieval Great Britain? In this book, the author examines how historical people and events are depicted in the plays and provides the historical context behind them. You'll have a better understanding of how Shakespeare adapted history for the stage and his use of dramatic license. Colored illustrated plates, maps, family trees, and a chronology are included.

Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
During the Wars of the Roses, there were several women who had critical roles as armies fought on the battlefields. Among them were Margaret of Anjou, the French born wife of Henry VI, Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner who became Queen of England, Anne Neville, who was a royal widow when she married Richard III, and Elizabeth of York, who married Henry VII and established the Tudor dynasty. (These four women appear in "Henry VI" and "Richard III") The author traces how the women rose to power and influenced British history. You'll read about other prominent noble and royal women of the time period not included in the playsA quote from Shakespeare's history plays is as an opening lead for each chapter.

Bosworth 1485 by Michael Jones
On August 22, 1485, Richard III was killed at Bosworth Field, and his opponent Henry Tudor became the new King. How much is really known about this important battle in British history? In this book, the author examines the actions of Richard III and Henry Tudor on the fateful day and provides new details about the battle. Shakespeare's dramatization of the battle in "Richard III" is also discussed. Color illustrated plates, maps, timeline, and more are included. Of interest, Jones co-authored The King's Grave with Philippa Langley about the discovery of Richard III's grave in a parking lot in 2013.

The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
In Act 4 of "Richard III," the King orders the deaths of his young nephews Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, who are prisoners in the Tower of London. Why does the King make this request? Weir traces the chain of events of how the young sons of Edward IV, Richard III's brother, came to be in the Tower, examines who may have been involved in the murder, and details Richard III's actions after the murder occurred.  The deaths of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, who became known to British history as the Princes in the Tower, would be one in a series of events leading to the end of Richard III's reign.

The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones
How the Wars of Roses get its name and what started it? In this book, Jones traces the origins of the conflict beginning with the marriage of Henry V and Katherine of Valois in 1420.  You'll learn about the rival Houses of York and Lancaster, how Henry VI's health was a concern, how the conflict affected Britain, the downfall of the Plantagenets, and the rise of the Tudors. Maps and family trees are included. Of interest, this book follows Jones's earlier book The Plantagenets published in 2012.


"Henry VI" (Parts 1 and 2) and "Richard III" will air on WETA-26 this month.  Please check listings for exact dates and times.