Revealed: the wills of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen

The wills of some of history’s most famous names, including William Pitt the Elder and Sir Francis Bacon, have been published online for the first time.

Shakespeare - image Time Life Pictures/Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

The wills of some of history’s most famous names, including William Pitt the Elder and Sir Francis Bacon, have been published online for the first time.

The collection of more than one million probate records details how much these individuals owned, and who they left it to.

Published by Ancestry.co.uk, The England and Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) Wills 1384–1858 is the most comprehensive UK collection of its kind available to view online.

Searchable by name, probate date, residence and estimated death year, each record contains information about the final assets of the deceased. Additional notes on their occupation, property and overall standard of living may also be included.

The collection features the will of Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen. Upon her death on 18 July 1817, she possessed assets totalling around £800.

The majority of this was given to her sister Cassandra. Some £50 was given to her brother Henry and a further £50 left to a Madame Bigoen, the family nurse.

The records also show that playwright William Shakespeare left to his wife his ‘second best bed’. Dated 25 March 1616, Shakespeare’s will also details how he left a sum of £150 to both his daughters.

Meanwhile, having plundered many Spanish naval vessels and earned a fortune during his adventures in the Americas, Sir Francis Drake left a generous £40 to the “poore people” of the town and Parish of Plymouth in 1596.

The records also show that politician William Pitt the Elder (1708–78) left £3,500 to his son William; £1,750 to his son James Charles Pitt, and the same amount to his daughter, Lady Harriet Pitt.

Meanwhile, the will of philosopher and author Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) reveals he left substantial sums to his servant, Robert Halpeny, and provisions of hay, firewood and a bed for fellow worker Stephen Paise.

The original records are held at The National Archives.

Ancestry.co.uk international content director, Miriam Silverman, said: “These probate records provide fascinating insight into the final fortunes of some of our nations most famous names, right down to who should get their bed.

“They are an incredibly valuable family history resource, covering a period in history from which few official documents remain.”

To search the collection, visit Ancestry.co.uk

  • Article Type: | News |
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