Henry V’s reign has ended, and his funeral is attended by many nobles who honor the great king. His young son Henry VI is crowned king of England, and word arrives of trouble in France. The Dauphin Charles has been crowned as the French king and several towns once won by Henry V are now lost. In addition, the English hero Talbot has been taken prisoner.
British noblemen rise to action while Talbot’s forces, exhausted and starving, beat the French at Orléans. Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) tells Charles that she has seen visions from God and can lead the troops. Skeptical, he challenges her to single combat and she wins. She brings military strength to the French army at Orléans and defeats Talbot who has been released in exchange for a captured French lord. She spares Talbot’s life during the fighting and he contrives a sneak attack and retakes the city.
In England, Gloucester, Henry VI’s protector, and his rival Winchester quarrel and encourage their followers to attack each other in the streets. Richard Plantagenet (later York) and Somerset (of Lancaster) are also rivals and their followers declare their allegiance by wearing white or red roses. Warwick predicts their argument will lead to the deaths of thousands.
Richard Plantagenet learns he has a claim to the English throne from his dying, imprisoned uncle Mortimer. Gloucester and Winchester’s men continue to fight, but promise to stop when pressed by the king. Upon request, Plantagenet is granted both his father’s and uncle’s titles, renaming him the Duke of York.
Henry VI is crowned in Paris, and orders York and Somerset to fight the French instead of each other. As they squabble, French forces kill Talbot and his son. The English army captures and executes Joan. Suffolk captures Margaret, daughter of the king of Naples, and falls in love with her, but because he is already married, he successfully woos her on behalf of Henry, selfishly designing a way to stay close to her. England and France make a peace agreement, and Suffolk hopes that the new Queen Margaret will come to great power by dominating the King Henry VI, thereby achieving greatness for himself.