Catalogue description Prerogative Court of Canterbury: Wills of Selected Famous Persons

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Details of PROB 1
Reference: PROB 1
Title: Prerogative Court of Canterbury: Wills of Selected Famous Persons

The wills in this series were removed from their positions in the files of original wills, which now form the series PROB 10, on account of the celebrity of the testators. They include the wills of Drake, Shakespeare, and Nelson. Nelson's will is accompanied by a private diary which he wrote in September and October 1805.

Some of the wills are accompanied by affidavits sworn by witnesses attesting their authenticity.

Some documents that are copies of original wills are identified as such. They have been identified either because they are annotated as copies, or because the signatures of witnesses and of the testator are in the same hands as the rest of the document. In the former cases it is clear that the originals were in the custody of the Court before the copies were made.

Digital copies of Famous wills 1552-1854 can be searched and downloaded.

Date: 1552-1854
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 105 papers and parchment membranes
Access conditions: Available in digital format unless otherwise stated
Custodial history: The wills of Shakespeare and Nelson, along with twenty-six others also selected for the celebrity of the testators, were transferred to the Public Record Office in 1964, and form PROB 1/1-28. During the sorting and listing of the files of original wills in the Principal Probate Registry in the 1960s a further sixty-four wills of celebrated persons were identified and these were accessioned by the Public Record Office in 1972 as PROB 1/29-92. The Shakespeare wooden will box in PROB 1/4A was added to the series in February 2016.
Publication note:

For the Royal Commission on Public Records in 1913 see Second report of the Royal Commission on Public Records (Sessional Papers, House of Commons, Cd 7545, 1914), II, part 2, 137). For information relating to the identification of further wills of famous persons see A Stanley P.C.C. records at the Principal Probate Registry Archives, IX, no 42 (October 1970).

Unpublished finding aids:

Printed personal name index.

Administrative / biographical background:

After a will had been proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury a copy would generally be made and returned to the executor attached by a pendent seal to the probate act authorising the executor to administer the testator's estate in accordance with the terms of the will. The original will would be filed among the records of the Court, and if the executor paid a fee a further copy would be made in the will registers. In some cases however, particularly before the mid seventeenth century, the original will might be returned to the executor, and instead a copy would be filed with the original records of the court.

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