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Explore our wills on Shakespeare's birthday
National Archives
Tuesday 24 Apr 2012 @ 14:20
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William Shakespeare, whose birthday is traditionally celebrated on 23 April (the same date as his death), famously bequeathed his 'second-best bed' to his wife Anne Hathaway in his will, dated just a few weeks before he died in 1616. Digitised copies of Shakespeare's will, along with a selection of other famous wills, can be searched and downloaded online.

Over one million wills online

We've also digitised over one million wills from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, dated between 1384 and 1858 - these are registered copies of the original probates written into volumes by clerks at the church courts.

The information found in wills usually includes details of where the person who died (testator) lived, the name of the person responsible for carrying out the wishes (executor), the date of the will, details of any witnesses to the will and the chief beneficiaries.

Royal Naval Seamen's wills

You can also search the wills of around 20,000 men who joined the Royal Navy between 1786 and 1882.

The records in this online collection are original wills of Warrant officers and seamen. Most of them are written on printed forms. These forms were accepted as valid by the Admiralty and they were deposited in the Navy Office, with orders to issue cheques to the executors.

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