Against the backdrop of wars in France, the English nobility quarrel. News of the English defeat at Orleans reaches the duke of Gloucester and other nobles. After the funeral of Henry V, his son, the infant Henry VI, is proclaimed king.
Seventeen years later, Henry sits on the throne whilst the rivalries at court continue - Plantagenet has learned of his own strong claim to the crown. After Rouen falls to the French, Plantagenet, Exeter and Talbot pledge to recapture the city from the Dauphin but the French, led by Joan of Arc, defeat the English. The valiant English commander Talbot and his son John are killed.
Warwick and Somerset arrive too late for the battle but join forces with the survivors and retake Rouen. Somerset captures and woos Margaret of Anjou as a potential bride for Henry VI. Plantagenet takes Joan of Arc prisoner and orders for her to be burnt at the stake.
Despite Gloucester's protests, Margaret is introduced to the court as Henry's queen. Margaret complains that Eleanor, Gloucester's wife, behaves like an empress. Eleanor is banished and warns Gloucester that he is in great danger.
Gloucester is accused of high treason and is murdered at the Tower of London on the orders of Somerset, whilst he and Margaret make love in the palace.
Henry banishes Somerset and Suffolk after Gloucester is found dead. Plantagenet is incensed when Margaret is able to bully Henry into reversing the sentence. Plantagenet makes his claim for the throne and sets the Houses of York and Lancaster in open opposition.