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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Hyde 60

W. H. Ireland papers


Seven scrapbooks of Shakespeare forgeries created by William Henry Ireland, most of them extra-illustrated with original Ireland family manuscripts and artwork.


  • 1593-1824
  • Majority of material found within 1794-1813

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.


1.3 linear feet (7 volumes)

The bulk of these papers consist of Ireland's Shakespeare forgeries, including complete copies of Vortigern and King Lear. The collection also includes correspondence, literary manuscripts, and original artwork credited to members of William Henry Ireland's immediate family: his father Samuel Ireland (d. 1800); his mother Anna Maria de Burgh Coppinger, a.k.a. Mrs. Freeman (d. 1802); and his sisters Anna Maria Ireland and Jane Ireland. Of particular interest are two original paintings credited to Richard Westall, item (3), pages 6 and 20; two miniature portraits on ivory credited to Jane Ireland, item (3), pages 18 and 19; and a watercolor credited to Paul Sandby, item (4), page 156.

While cataloging is not always an exact science, it should be regarded as particularly imprecise with the Ireland papers. Attributions of artwork are generally provided as supplied by Ireland, and letters may not be authentic. The observations of Ireland scholar Jack Lynch have proven helpful.

Biographical / Historical

In 1794, at age 19, William Henry Ireland "discovered" a cache of William Shakespeare manuscripts, which he presented in a series of gifts to his father, engraver Samuel Ireland. The manuscripts included legal documents, correspondence, and two previously unknown plays, Vortigern and Henry II. By 1795, many of the manuscripts were on display at the Ireland home, and were the talk of London. In December, an edition was published under the title of Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments under the Hand and Seal of William Shakespeare. Vortigern was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre in April 1796, but by this point, the manuscripts were increasingly regarded as forgeries, and the production was hooted off the stage on opening night. William Henry Ireland, exposed as the actual author of the Shakespeare manuscripts, embarked on a long literary career. In 1805, he published The Confessions of William-Henry Ireland. He also sold several extra-illustrated manuscript copies of his own forgeries.

Physical Location

Hyde Case 9


Item (3) was formerly in the collection of Lewis Pocock. Items (5), (6), and (7) were purchased by Donald and Mary Hyde from Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach in 1952.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003JM-150, 2003JM-151, 2003JM-152, 2003JM-153, 2003JM-154, 2003JM-171, 2003JM-172. Bequest of Mary Hyde Eccles, Four Oaks Farm, Somerville, New Jersey; received: 2004.

Related Materials

Several other institutions hold William Henry Ireland manuscripts, including the University of Iowa, Indiana University, and Princeton University.

Processing Information

Processed by: Rick Stattler

Ireland, W. H. (William Henry), 1777-1835. W. H. Ireland papers, 1593-1824: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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