William Henry Ireland

June 11, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

1794irelandletter

I’ve been trying to collect a variety of instances in which people have disguised themselves in literature–through pennames, or whatever else. At any rate, a friend of mine told me about this guy: William Henry Ireland,(1777-1835), a young boy who forged Shakespeare manuscripts; where it not for the later-discovered-hoax, Ireland might have (and should have, I think) garnered much respect for his literary accomplishments….

“Forger of Shakespearian manuscripts, born in London in 1777. His father, Samuel Ireland, was an engraver and author, and dealer in rare books and curios. In 1794 young Ireland, with his father, visited Stratford, where he met John Jordan, a local poet who had published a deal of gossipy matter about William Shakespeare and had even forged the will of the poet’s father. Seeing his own father’s credulous interest, Ireland conceived the idea of doing a little forgery on his own account. He copied, in ink which had all the signs of age, Shakespeare’s style and handwriting, and produced leases, contracts with actors, notes, receipts, a profession of faith, and even a love letter to Anne Hathaway with an enclosed lock of hair, to the delight of his unsuspecting father, and the deception of many scholars who attested their belief in the genuineness of his finds. These he accounted for by inventing an ancestor “William Henrye Irelaunde”, to whom they had been bequeathed by Shakespeare in gratitude for rescue from drowning. At last the discovery of a whole new play named Vortigern was announced. Sheridan purchased it for Drury Lane Theatre, and an overflowing house assembled on the 2nd of April 1796 to sit in judgment upon it. But away from the glamor of crabbed handwriting and yellow paper, the feeble dialogue and crude conceptions of the tragedy could not stand the test, and its one representation was greeted with shouts of laughter. Its fate prevented the composition of a series of historical plays, of which Henry II had already been produced by this audacious forger.” To read the rest of this article, go here.

I also found the following timeline, as well as some additional information about the young rake here. (the timeline is fleshed out on the original page)

Accredited Publications & Dramas

written by W.H. Ireland

(& published by father and fellow-forger, who nonetheless believed in the authenticity of his son’s manuscript,

Samuel Ireland)

1796: Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments under the Hand and Seal of William Shakespeare: including the Tragedy of King Lear, and a Small Fragment of Hamlet: from the Original Mss. in the Possession of Samuel Ireland, of Norfolk Street. London: Printed by Cooper and Graham; this included the infamous play Vortigern and Rowena.

1796: In which Walley Chamberlain Oulton defends the authenticity of the Vortigern and Rowena : Vortigern under Consideration: with General Remarks on Mr. James Boaden’s Letter to George Steevens, Esq., Relative to the Manuscripts, Drawings, Seals, &c. Ascribed to Shakespeare, and in the Possession of Samuel Ireland, Esq. London: Printed for H. Lowndes



An Inquiry 1796: Edmond Malone, 1741-1812.
An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments: Published Dec. 24, MDCCXCV. and Attributed to Shakspeare, Queen Elizabeth, and Henry, Earl of Southampton: Illustrated by Fac-similes of the Genuine Hand-writing of that Nobleman, and of Her Majesty: a New Fac-simile of the Hand-writing of Shakspeare, Never Before Exhibited: and Other Authentick Documents: in a Letter Addressed to the Right Hon. James, Earl of Charlemont…. London: Printed by H. Baldwin, for T. Cadell, jun. and W. Davies (successors to Mr. Cadell).


1796: W. H. (William Henry) Ireland, 1777-1835.
An Authentic Account of the Shaksperian Manuscripts, &c. London: Printed for J. Debrett.

William Henry Ireland wrote his Authentic Account shortly after the disastrous production of Vortigern and Rowena in an attempt to restore his father’s damaged reputation. Although William Henry Ireland accepted full responsibility for producing the Shakespeare forgeries, many critics still believed he was incapable of producing such sophisticated work and that the forgeries must have been written by Samuel Ireland or his associates.


1796: Samuel Ireland replied, in print, upon his son’s confession.
Mr. Ireland’s Vindication of His Conduct Respecting the Publication of the Supposed Shakspeare Mss. Being a Preface or Introduction to a Reply to the Critical Labors of Mr. Malone, in His “Enquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Papers, &c., &c.” London: Published by Mr. Faulder and Mr. Robson.


1805: This is like the Oprah version, where the crook goes on a talk-show; except in this case he writes another book. W. H. (William Henry) Ireland, 1777-1835.
The Confessions of William Henry Ireland: Containing the Particulars of His Fabrication of the Shakspeare Manuscripts: together with Anecdotes and Opinions (Hitherto Unpublished) of Many Distinguished Persons in the Literary, Political, and Theatrical World. London: Printed by Ellerton and Byworth … for Thomas Goddard .., .


Vortigern W. H. (William Henry) Ireland, 1777-1835.
Vortigern: an Historical Play, with an Original Preface. London: Joseph Thomas, 1832.

1805: W. H. Ireland wrote and publishes: Gondez the Monk,  a gothic novel (it appears that he wrote gothic novels for the rest of his life?)

Avinzo had scarcely turned his eyes to gaze upon the hag, when her outstretched finger pointed towards the entrance of the aperture; but, as he bent his regard in that direction, what were the feelings of the youth, on beholding a gigantic figure, white as the mountain snow, whose lanky beard hung low upon his breast, while in the sockets of his eyes, two pallid flames emitted a deadly glare, freezing with horror the soul of the observer. (Ireland, 190)

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