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HENRY IRVING CHRONOLOGY

1838 Feb 6 Born Keinton Mandeville, Somerset as John Brodribb: Parents Samuel Brodribb, travelling salesman and Mary Brodribb, née Behenna
1842 Parents move to Bristol. John sent to live with maternal aunt, Sarah Penberthy and her family in Halsetown, Cornwall
1843 Visits parents in Bristol travelling by sea
1849 Joins parents in London at 68, Old Broad Street. Attends City Commercial School, headmaster, William Pinches
Sees Samuel Phelps as Hamlet at Sadlers Wells Theatre
1851 First employment as clerk at Paterson & Longman, Cheapside
1852 With Thacker, Spink & Co, East India Merchants, Newgate Street
1855 Interview with Phelps
1856 Aug 11 Appears at Royal Soho Theatre as Romeo (amateur performance).
Changes name to Henry Irving
1856 Sep 29 Joins company at New Royal Lyceum Theatre, Sunderland. First professional appearance in ‘Richelieu’as Duke of Orleans.
1857-1859 Joins Edinburgh Company at Theatre Royal, Queen’s and Operetta House
1859 Unsuccessful London debut at Princess’s Theatre. Gives readings at Crosby Hall
1859-1860 Plays Dublin, Glasgow, Liverpool
1860-1865 At Theatre Royal, Manchester, etc. Parts include Orlando, Laertes, Hamlet, Benvolio, Mercutio, Rawdon Scudamore in ‘Hunted Down’, Jeremy Diddler, Joseph Surface
1866-1867 St James's Theatre, London
1867-1869 Queen’s Theatre, London. Acts with Ellen Terry in ‘Katherine & Petruchio’. Plays Bill Sykes
1869 Jul 15 Marries Florence O’Callaghan
1869-1870 Gaiety Theatre and Vaudeville, London. Plays Digby Grant in ‘Two Roses’
1870 Jul 5 H.B.Irving, first son, born
1871- 1878 Joins Lyceum Company under Hezekiah Bateman’s management, then Mrs Bateman’s. Has first great success as Mathias in ‘The Bells’, 1871; plays Charles the First, 1872, Eugene Aram, 1873, Hamlet, 1874, Macbeth, 1875, Othello, 1876, Richard III, 1877, Louis XI, 1878
1871 Nov 25 Complete separation from his wife
1871 Dec Laurence Irving, second son, born
1878 Dec 30 Becomes Manager of Lyceum. Opens as Hamlet with Ellen Terry as Ophelia. Stages important artistic productions. Plays Claude Melnotte in ‘The Lady of Lyons’ and Shylock, 1879, Fabien & Louis dei Franchi, the Corsican brothers, 1880, Synorix in Tennyson’s ‘The Cup’, and Iago, 1881, Romeo and Benedick, 1882
1883 First American tour
1884 Jul Plays Malvolio in ‘Twelfth Night’
1884 Second American tour
1885 Plays Dr Primrose in ‘Olivia’ and Mephistopheles in ‘Faust’
1886 Third American tour
1888 Plays Macbeth
1889 Plays Robert Landry in ‘The Dead Heart’
1890 Plays Edgar in ‘Ravenswood’
1892 Plays Henry VIII and King Lear
1893 Plays Becket in Tennyson’s play
1894-1895 Fourth American tour
1895 Plays King Arthur, Don Quixote and Corporal Brewster in ‘Waterloo’
1895 Jul 18 Knighted at Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria
1895-1896 Fifth American tour
1896 Plays Iachimo in ‘Cymbeline’
1897 Plays Napoleon in ‘Madame Sans-Gene’
1898 Plays Peter the Great in his son Laurence’s play of the same name
1899 Lyceum Ltd take over management; produces ‘Robespierre’
1899-1900 Sixth American tour
1900 Plays Coriolanus
1901 -1902 Seventh American tour
1902 Jul 19 Last performance at Lyceum as Shylock
1903 Plays in ‘Dante’ at Drury Lane
1903-1904 Eighth and final American tour without Ellen Terry
1904 -1905 Farewell tour abandoned due to illness
1905 Apr-Jun Farewell season at Drury Lane
1905 Final tour: Sheffield and Theatre Royal, Bradford
1905 Oct 13 Dies in Midland Hotel, Bradford, after performing as Becket
1905 Oct 20 After cremation at Golders Green Crematorium, funeral at Westminster Abbey

Biographical Sources for Understanding Henry Irving

By John H.B. Irving

Henry Irving's life and achievements have been set down in books by ten authors, published over 69 years. The first, 'Henry Irving's Impressions of America' was published in 1884.

The author, an American, Joseph Hatton, was the London correspondent of the New York Times. He had been at the first night of 'The Bells' and became a close friend. In 1883, prior to his first tour of America, Irving asked him to prepare the way for his arrival in New York. This Hatton achieved with success, and he followed the whole tour. The book begins with a description of Irving's Grafton Street apartment and the many conversations they had there. The rest is a vivid account of the American tour.

In 1878 the Lyceum manager, Hezekiah Bateman, commissioned Percy Fitzgerald, an artist and litterateur, to write a play based on the Flying Dutchman story, with Irving playing Vanderdecken. It was not a success, but Fitzgerald became a Lyceum crony. In 1893 he published his account of the actor's career, which was reprinted in 1906 as ‘Sir Henry Irving’ with four extra chapters.

The actor's first full biography 'Henry Irving', by Charles Hiatt, was published in 1899. Hiatt's introduction states,' I have tried to give a straightforward account of Sir Henry Irving's theatrical career... I have not hesitated to quote unfavourable as well as laudatory criticisms of his impersonations'. The illustrations form the best collection of all the biographies. For the first time there are accounts of Irving's early years in Somerset and Cornwall, his life in London completing his education, and his first contacts with theatrical life. The book ends with his performance as Robespierre.

1906. A small volume by the artist Mortimer Menpes contains 12 watercolour head portraits of Irving, together with accounts of their conversations while the paintings were made. Their likeness to Irving is questionable, but the conversations are informative.

1907. The book 'Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving' by Bram Stoker contains 75 chapters on many aspects of his life as Irving's General Manager of the Lyceum Company. His personal account of their interaction holds many details not found elsewhere. They are told openly and stem from his deep friendship and understanding of Irving's predicament and ambitions. (Cited as Stoker.)

1908. Austin Brereton was first employed by Irving in 1883 as a young journalist to go to New York ahead of the touring company to represent them to the American media. He continued to be the Lyceum press agent, persuading all to appreciate the success which Lyceum productions would achieve. After Irving's death he wrote his employer's biography ‘The Life of Henry Irving’. The book concerns itself with Lyceum productions in London and on tour. Irving's private life is not described in any detail. (Cited as Brereton.)

In 1908 there also appeared 'The Story of My Life' by Ellen Terry. Her book is deeply personal and, in her highly individual style, her relationship with Irving is expressed openly from the heights of joy to the depths of depression.

1912. The article in the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, 2nd Supplement, is by Harold Child. It is a memorable and understanding account of Irving’s life and character.

In 1930 Edward Gordon Craig published his 'Henry Irving' in which he describes and evaluates all aspects of his performance as an actor and manager.

In 1948 Laurence Irving acquired a large Lyceum metal trunk unopened since the death of his grandfather. In it were a thousand letters - incoming mail to the Lyceum over many years. The next two years saw much further research and writing of 'Henry Irving: the Actor and His World'. The book was published in 1951 and to this day remains the definitive account of Irving's life in all its aspects. (Cited as L. Irving.)

Since that time there have been many discoveries of new material. Many of these letters and documents have been acquired by museums and libraries in Britain and overseas. It has been the task of the Henry Irving Foundation to locate, and on its website to list and outline all items, and indicate access, for the benefit of future researchers.


Professor Jeffrey Richards’ “Sir Henry Irving: a Victorian actor and his world”, 2005, ISBN 1 85285 345 X, discusses Irving’s life and career in relation to developments in Victorian society.

Michael Holroyd's "A Strange Eventful History: the dramatic lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and their remarkable families", Chatto & Windus, 2008, ISBN 9780701179878, illuminates these relationships.