In Thomas Hardy's short(ish) story "The Withered Arm", one of his descriptions of the Wessex countryside features the following cryptic allusion:

It was a long walk; thick clouds made the atmosphere dark, though it was as yet only early afternoon; and the wind howled dismally over the slopes of the heath - not improbably the same heath which had witnessed the agony of the Wessex King Ina, presented to after-ages as Lear.

A quick search showed me that there really was a King Ina of Wessex (the real Wessex of the mid-first millennium, not the "Wessex" that Thomas Hardy created as a semi-fictional setting for his nineteenth-century novels). But his Wikipedia page doesn't mention Lear at all, nor anything about agony on a heath; it seems that Ina died peacefully in Rome after abdicating his kingdom.

Presumably "Lear" refers to Shakespeare's King Lear, who was indeed in agony on a heath. But it seems that Shakespeare's story was based on that of Leir of Britain, a legendary king whose Wikipedia page again makes no mention of King Ina/Ine.

Trying to search the internet for anything mentioning King Ina and King Lear in the same breath, I found a forum thread which relates again to Thomas Hardy, but this time to the 1892 preface of his Tess of the d'Urbervilles, where he mentions "Glo’ster in Lear, otherwise Ina, king of that country". This is interpreted by the forum posters as identifying Glo'ster with Ina, which would contradict Hardy's identification in "The Withered Arm" of Ina with Lear.

Where does the identification of the historical King Ina with character(s) in Shakespeare's King Lear originate? Is there, or was there in Hardy's time, any theory among Shakespeare scholars (or Geoffrey of Monmouth scholars) that the story of King Lear/Leir was based on anything involving King Ina? Did Hardy come up with this idea himself, or was he referring to some known historical literary theory?

1 Answer 1


There is little doubt that Shakespeare's play is based on the British King Leir, as the OP states. However, a similar story is also attached to King Ina. Indeed, it may have started there, been transferred to Lear with whom it has stuck in the popular imagination due to Shakespeare.

English History and Antiquarian William Camden released a book of essays entitled Remaines Concerning Britain around 1605. In the "Wise Speeches" chapter, he related the following tale:

Ina, King of West Saxons, had three daughters of whom, upon a time, he demanded whether they did love him, and so would do during their lives, above all others; the two elder sware deeply they would; the youngest but the wisest, told her Father without flattery, "That albeit she did love, honour, and reverence him, and so would whilst she lived, as much as nature and daughterly duty at the uttermost could expect, yet she did think that one day it would come to pass that she should affect another more fervently"

I would transcribe more but I'm having to do it by hand - you can read a scan of the book here here, page 255.

Interestingly the passage ends "One referreth this to the Daughters of King Leir." Indeed in The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare Vol 10, Edmond Malone claims:

Camden, in his Remains, tells a similar story to this of Leir or Lear, of Ina king of the West Saxons; which, if the thing ever happened, probably was the real origin of the fable

While I cannot prove that Hardy read William Camden, it seems likely this is the source of the quote.


  • E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
  • Wow, that's interesting, to see exactly the same three-daughters story about King Ina. But how do you conclude it's a case of mistaken identity, rather than identifying Leir with Ina? Since Leir was legendary and Ina was historical, couldn't Leir be based on Ina just like Lear was based on Leir?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 9:33
  • @Randal'Thor I meant it in the widest sense - someone, somewhere, in this chain of literary references has got their wires crossed. But it's too vague to be much help on a short answer, so have removed it. I'd like to find some reference indicating Hardy was familiar with Camden just to seal the deal but nothing's turned up yet.
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 9:46
  • 1
    Regarding "having to transcribe by hand", try the Internet Archive which has OCR available—here is the 1657 printing and here is an 1870 reprint which is cleaner and has better OCR (though it still mistakes long s for f). Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 12:43

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