Discover the wills of famous individuals from Britain from 1552-1849.
This collection of wills is from The National Archives (TNA) and comprises Series PROB 1 – Prerogative Court of Canterbury: Wills of Selected Famous Persons.
The series combines the original wills of notable individuals from the TNA series PROB 10. The documents included in this series often include additional material other than the last will and testament of the individual. Documents that may accompany the last will and testament include affidavits proving authenticity, personal letters, and personal diaries. Please note that some images are of copies – they are noted as such because they were either annotated as copies or because the signatures of the witnesses and testator are in the same hand as the rest of the document. For those annotated as copies, the originals were in the care of the Court before the copies were created.
Each result will provide you with a transcript and image(s) of the documents pertaining to the individual’s will. While the images will often provide additional and greater detail than the transcripts, the transcripts will offer the following information:
Will proved date
Item description – this offers details of what images of documents are included. For example, the images for Lord Horatio Nelson include his will, six codicils, a private letter, a private diary, and two affidavits.
How were these records created?
Following a will being proved by the Prerogative County of Canterbury, a copy was usually created and sent back to the executor with a pendent seal to the probate act, which would authorise the executor to administer the testator’s estate. The original will would have been filed with the Court records. An additional copy of the will could be made in the will registers if the executor paid a fee. There are some cases – particularly those pre-dating the mid-1600s – where the original will was returned to the executor and the copy of the will was kept with the Court records.
Discover more about these records There are 102 famous individuals included in this collection. The full list is as follows:
Queen Adelaide Louise Theresa Caroline Amelia – Queen consort and wife of William IV of the United Kingdom
Princess Amelia, Landgravine of Hesse – Princess of Landgraviate of Hess-Darmstadt, a state of the Holy Roman Empire, and wife of Neuburg an der Donau, Prince-elector of the Palatinate
Queen Caroline Amelia Elizabeth – Also known as Caroline of Brunswick, she was the Princess of Wales and, briefly, Queen of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George IV. The much beleaguered Caroline was supported by another famous woman found in this collection, author Jane Austen, who wrote of Caroline in a letter to Martha Lloyd, ‘Poor woman, I shall support her for as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband’.
Queen of Braganza Catherine – wife of King Charles II and Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. As a devoted Roman Catholic, Catherine faced much abuse by the public, which included outlandish accusations such as the charge that she attempted to poison the king.
Queen Charlotte – As wife of King George III, Charlotte was Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and, subsequently, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland following their unification in 1801. Queen Charlotte aided in the expansion of Kew Gardens and was the mother of 15 children with George III.
Duke of Kent Edward – Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn was the son of King George III and father of Queen Victoria. Edward is notable for being the first member of the royal family to reside in North America for a significant time and the first to visit the United States following its independence from Great Britain.
Duke of York Frederick Augustus – son of King George III and heir presumptive to his brother, King George IV, until his death, which predated George IV’s. Prince Frederick is remembered for his efforts as Commander-in-Chief during the Napoleonic Wars when he managed the reorganising of the British Army.
Prince, Palatine of the Rhine Rupert – Prince Rupert of the Rhine was the son of the German Prince Frederick V and Elizabeth, the daughter of James I of England. Rupert was himself a soldier, sportsman, artist, and scientist.
Queen of Bohemia Elizabeth Stuart – Known as The Winter Queen due to her brief reign as Queen of Bohemia, which lasted just one winter.
Joseph Addison – playwright, essayist, and poet, founded The Spectator with Richard Steele
Jane Austen – author
Sir Francis Bacon – author, philosopher, scientist, and statesman
Lord George Gordon Byron – poet
William Congreve – playwright and poet
William Cowper – poet
John Donne – poet
John Evelyn – writer, diarist, and gardener
David Garrick – playwright, actor, and producer
George Herbert – poet
Dr Samuel Johnson – writer, poet, essayist, and critic
Charles Lamb – essayist and poet
William Shakespeare – playwright and poet
Percy Bysshe Shelley – poet
Izaak or Isaac Walton – writer
Charles Wesley – poet, leader of the Methodist movement, and writer of more than 6,000 hymns
William Wordsworth – poet
Thomas Augustine Arne – composer, known for Rule Britannia, A-Hunting We Will Go, and his arrangement of God Save the King
Charles Dibdin – composer, musician, actor, and author
George Frederic Handel – baroque composer
Henry Purcell – composer
Artists, actors, and architects
Richard Burbage – actor, one of the most famous actors from The Globe Theatre
Sir Marc Isambard Brunel – engineer, responsible for the construction of the Thames Tunnel
John Crome – artist
Peter de Wint – landscape painter
Thomas Gainsborough – landscape and portrait painter
James Gibbs – architect, known for St Martin-in-the-Fields in London
Thomas Hardwick – architect, designed St Mary the Virgin in Wanstead
Lady Emma Hamilton or Hart or Lyon – actress and model, known for being Lord Nelson’s mistress and George Romney’s muse
Nell or Eleanor Gwynn or Gwyn – mistress of King Charles II of England, she bore two sons by their union. Nell gained fame through her acting and wit.
Nicholas Hawksmoor – architect
William Hogarth – painter, cartoonist, and social critic
John James – architect
Inigo Jones – architect
Angelica Kauffman – Neoclassical painter
Sir Peter Lely or van der Faes – painter
Sarah Siddons or Kemble – actress
Joseph Mallord William Turner – landscape painter
Sir Anthony Van Dyck – artist and court painter
Sir John Vanbrugh – architect and dramatist
Josiah Wedgwood – potter and entrepreneur
Sir Christopher Wren – architect
Politicians, soldiers, and civil servants
Sir William Blackstone – judge, jurist, and Tory politician
Edmund Burke – Irish statesman, author, and philosopher
Lord Burghley William Cecil – statesman and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I
Sir Winston Churchill – politician, soldier, nobleman, and ancestor of Prime Minister Winston Churchill
John Claypoole or Claypole – officer in Parliamentary army during the English Civil War
William Cobbett – Member of Parliament, pamphleteer, and farmer
Sir Edward Coke – judge, barrister, and opposition politician
Captain James Cook – captain in the Royal Navy, explorer, and cartographer.
Henry Cromwell – Oliver Cromwell’s son was the seventh chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, and a significant politician in Parliamentary regime in Ireland
Richard Cromwell – son of Oliver Cromwell, Richard inherited the role of Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland from his father.
Sir Francis Drake – sea captain, politician, navigator, and slaver
Charles James Fox – prominent British Whig statesman and rival of William Pitt the Younger
Sir John Franklin – Arctic explorer and Royal Navy officer
Sir Edmund Berry or Edmundbury Godfrey – magistrate
Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy – Royal Navy officer
Warren Hastings – statesman and first de facto Governor-General of Bengal
Sir John Hawkins or Hawkyns – naval commander, merchant, ship builder, slave trader, and privateer
Baron George Jefferies or Jeffreys – judge, known as ‘The Hanging Judge’
William Laud – academic and Archbishop of Canterbury
Sir John Moore – soldier and general in the British Army
Lord Horatio Nelson – Flag officer in the Royal Navy
Sir Francis Nicholson – military officer and administrator
William Noy or Noye – jurist
John Smart Peddie – assistant surgeon in the Royal Navy
Samuel Pepys – Member of Parliament
Earl of Chatham William Pitt – British statesman
William Pitt the Younger – the youngest Prime Minister of England
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles – British statesman and founder of Singapore
Edward Riou – Royal Navy officer
John Seymour – Member of Parliament
Sir Cloudesley Shovell – Admiral of the Fleet
Captain John Smith – soldier and explorer
Lt Col Alexander Spotswood – Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army and Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, responsible for negotiating the Treaty of Albany
William Tryon – soldier and administrator who also served as the governor of North Carolina and New York.
Duke of Wellington Arthur Wellesley – soldier and statesman
John Wilkes – Member of Parliament, journalist, and radical
James Wolfe – officer of the British Army
Dame Elizabeth Barnard or Hall or Nash – last descendant of William Shakespeare
Richard Busby – English Anglican priest, headmaster of Westminster School for more than 55 years
Oliver Cromwell – Son of Richard Cromwell and grandson of his namesake ‘Old Ironsides’ Oliver Cromwell.
Earl of Essex Robert Devereux – nobleman and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I
Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley – nobleman and close friend of Elizabeth I
Maria Anne Fitzherbert or Smythe or Weld – companion of the future king, George IV, whom she wed prior to his accession to the throne but which was invalid under the current English civil law.
Sir Martin Frobisher – seaman and privateer
Dr John Hall – physician and son-in-law of Shakespeare
William Harvey – physician
William Penn – founder of the Providence of Pennsylvania
Arthur Upcott – Yeoman of the Ewry and Pantry to Her Majesty's Queen Dowager of Somerset House, Middlesex
Dorothy Vaughan – the third wife of Sir Charles Cornwallis and the daughter of Richard Vaughan, Bishop of London.
John Wesley – cleric and theologian, leader of the Methodist movement
Gilbert White – naturalist and ornithologist
You can search by birth year, will year, and death year.
Use the keyword search field to search by any field included in the transcript such as archive reference.