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Shakespeare's Last Will and Testament (1616)

It appears that in or shortly before January 1616, Shakespeare set out to finalize his last will and testament with the help of his lawyer, Francis Collins of Warwick. Collins, who served as Shakespeare's attorney for at least eleven years, was likely also a close friend of his client. For some reason, however, Shakespeare found it necessary to make corrections and additions to the will and the official version was not signed by the five witnesses until March 1616. The original copy of Shakespeare's will consists of three large sheets of paper bound together by a narrow strip of parchment at the top margins, and contains three signatures of the poet, one on each page.

For convenience I have modernized the spelling (where needed) and added punctuation where necessary. Words that are struck out in the original text are presented here in red and interlineations in blue.

The Will
Vicesimo Quinto die Januarij Marti Anno Regni Domini nostri Jacobi nunc Regis Anglie &c decimo quarto & Scotie xlix Annoque domini 1616.
"On the 25th day in the year of the reign of our lord James, King of England, etc., the 14th, and of Scotland the 49th, in the year of our Lord, 1616".
T[estamentum] of William Shackspeare
In the name of God, Amen. I, William Shackspeare of Stratford-upon-Avon in the county of Warwick, gent., in perfect health and memory, God be praised, do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following. That is to say, first, I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting, and my body to the earth whereof it is made.

Judith gets her 'lawful English money'

Item, I give and bequeath unto my sonne in L daughter Judith one hundred and fifty pounds of lawful English money, to be paid unto her in the manner and form following; That is to say, one hundred pounds in discharge of her marriage portion within one year after my decease, with consideration after the rate of two shillings in the pound for so long time as the same shall be unpaid unto her after my decease, and the fifty pounds residue thereof upon her surrendering of, or giving of such sufficient security as the overseers of this my will shall like of to surrender or grant, all her estate and right that shall descend or come unto her after my decease, or that she now hath of, in, or to one copyhold tenement, with the appurtenances, lying and being in Stratford-upon-Avon aforesaid in the said county of Warwick, being parcel or holden of the manor of Rowington, unto my daughter Susanna Hall and her heirs for ever.

Sister Joan and the players

Item, I give and bequeath unto my said daughter Judith one hundred and fifty pounds more, if she or any issue of her body by living at the end of three years next ensuing the day of the date of this my will, during which time my executors are to pay her consideration from my decease according to the rate aforesaid; and if she die within the said term without issue of her body, then my will is, and I do give and bequeath one hundred pounds thereof to my niece, Elizabeth Hall, and the fifty pounds to be set forth by my executors during the life of my sister, Joan Hart, and the use and profit thereof coming shall be paid to my said sister Joan, and after her decease the said fifty pounds shall remain amongst the children of my said sister, equally to be divided amongst them. But if my said daughter Judith be living at the end of the said three years, or any issue of her body, then my will is, and so I devise and bequeath the said hundred and fifty pounds to be set out by my executors and overseers for the best benefit of her and her issue, and the stock not to be paid unto her so long as she shall be married and covert baron by my executors and overseers; but my will is that she shall have the consideration yearly paid unto her during her life, and, after her decease the said stock and consideration to be paid to her children, if she have any, and not to her executors or assigns, she living the said term after my decease. Provided that if such husband as she shall at the end of the said three years be married unto or attain after do sufficiently assure unto her and the issue of her body lands answerable to the portion by this my will given unto her and to be adjudged so by my executors and overseers, then my will is that the said 150 pounds shall be paid to such husband as shall make such assurance, to his own use.

Item, I give and bequeath unto my said sister Joan 20 pounds and all my wearing apparel, to be paid and delivered within one year after my decease; and I do will and devise unto her the house with the appurtenances in Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life, under the yearly rent of twelvepence.

Item, I give and bequeath unto her three sonns, William Hart, ---- Hart, and Michael Hart, five pounds a peace, to be paid within one year after my decease to be set out for her within one year after my descease by my executors with the advise and directions of my overseers for her best profit until her marriage and then the same with the increase thereof to be paid unto her.

Item, I give and bequeath unto the said Elizabeth Hall, all my plate, except my broad silver and gilt bowl, that I now have at the date of this my will.

Item, I give and bequeath unto the poor of Stratford aforesaid ten pounds; to Mr. Thomas Combe my sword; to Thomas Russell, Esquire, five pounds; and to Francis Collins, of the borough of Warwick in the county of Warwick, gent., thirteen pounds, six shillings, and eightpence, to be paid within one year after my decease.

Item, I give and bequeath to Mr. Richard Tyler the elder Hamlet Sadler 26 s. 8 d. to buy him a ring; to William Reynolds, gent., 26 s. 8 d. to buy him a ring; to my godson, William Walker, 20 s. in gold; to Anthony Nashe, gent., 26 s. 8 d. and to Mr John Nashe 26 s. 8 d., and to my fellows John Hemings, Richard Burbage, and Henry Condell, 26 s. 8 d. a piece to buy them rings.

Susanna and Anne

Item, I give, will, bequeath, and devise, unto my daughter Susanna Hall, for better enabling of her to perform this my will and towards the performance thereof, all that capital messuage or tenement with the appurtenances, in Stratford aforesaid, called the New Place, wherein I now dwell, and two messuages or tenements with the appurtenances situate, lying, and being in Henley Street, within the borough of Stratford aforesaid; and all my barns, stables, orchards, gardens, lands, tenements, and hereditaments, whatsoever, situate, lying, and being, or to be had, received, perceived, or taken, within the towns, hamlets, villages, fields, and grounds, of Stratford-upon-Avon, Old Stratford, Bushopton, and Welcombe, or in any of them in the said county of Warwick; and also all that messuage or tenement with the appurtenances, wherein one John Robinson dwelleth, situate, lying and being in the Blackfriars in London, near the Wardrobe; and all my other lands, tenements, and hereditaments whatsoever, to have and to hold all and singular the said premises, with their appurtenances, unto the said Susanna Hall, for and during the term of her natural life, and after her decease, to the first son of her body lawfully issuing, and to the heirs males of the body of the said first son lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue to the second son of her body, lawfully issuing, and so to the heirs males of the body of the said second son lawfully issuing; and for default of such heirs, to the third son of the body of the said Susanna lawfully issuing, and of the heirs males of the body of the said third son lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue, the same so to be and remain to the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sons of her body lawfully issuing, one after another, and to the heirs males of the bodies of the bodies of the said fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sons lawfully issuing in such manner as it is before limited, to be and remain to the first, second, and third sons of her body, and to their heirs males. And for default of such issue, the said premises to be and remain to my said niece Hall and the heirs males of her body lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue, to my daughter Judith, and the heirs males of her body lawfully issuing; and for default of such issue, to the right heirs of me the said William Shackspeare forever. Item, I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture.

Final details

Item, I give and bequeath to my said daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bowl. All the rest of my goods, chattel, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuff whatsoever, after my debts and legacies paid and my funeral expenses discharged, I give, devise, and bequeath to my son-in-law, John Hall, gent., and my daughter Susanna, his wife, whom I ordain and make executors of this my last will and testament. And I do entreat and appoint the said Thomas Russell, Esquire, and Francis Collins, gent., to be overseers hereof, and do revoke all former wills, and publish this to be my last will and testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto put my seal hand, the day and year first above written by me, William Shakespeare.

Witnesses to the publishing hereof:
Fra: Collins
Julyus Shawe
John Robinson
Hamnet Sadler
Robert Whattcott

A note about the "second best bed."

The following excerpt from one of the most famous early biographies of Shakespeare, by Charles Knight, sheds light on the controversy regarding Anne receiving such a seemingly insignificant token:

Among the very few facts of his life that have been transmitted to us, there is none more clearly proved than the unhappiness of his marriage. The dates of the births of his children, compared with that of his removal from Stratford, the total omission of his wife's name in the first draft of his will, and the bitter sarcasm of the bequest by which he remembers her afterwards, all prove beyond a doubt both his separation from the lady early in life, and his unfriendly feeling towards her at the close of it. In endeavouring to argue against the conclusion naturally to be deduced from this will, Boswell, with a strange ignorance of human nature, remarks, 'If he had taken offence at any part of his wife's conduct, I cannot believe he would have taken this petty mode of expressing it.'"

Steevens, amongst many faults of taste, has the good sense and the good feeling to deny the inferences of Malone in this matter of the "old bed." He considers this bequest "a mark of peculiar tenderness;" and he assumes that she was provided for by settlement. Steevens was a conveyancer by profession. Malone, who was also at the bar, says, "what provision was made for her by settlement does not appear." A writer in "Lardner's Cyclopaedia" doubts the legal view of the matter which Steevens charitably takes: "Had he already provided for her? If so, he would surely have alluded to the fact; and if he had left her the interest of a specific sum, or the rent of some messuage, there would, we think, have been a stipulation for the reversion of the property to his children after her decease."

Boswell, a third legal editor, thus writes upon the same subject: "If we may suppose that some provision had been made for her during his lifetime, the bequest of his second-best bed was probably considered in those days neither as uncommon or reproachful." As a somewhat parallel example Boswell cites the will of Sir Thomas Lucy, in 1600, who gives his son his second-best horse, but no land, because his father-in-law had promised to provide for him. We will present our readers with a case in which the parallel is much closer. In the will of David Cecil, Esq., grandfather to the great Lord Burleigh, we find the following bequest to his wife:
"Item I will that my wife have all the plate that was hers before I married her; and twenty kye and a bull."
Our readers will recollect the query of the Cyclopaedist, "Had he already provided for her? If so, he would surely have alluded to the fact." Poor Dame Cecil, according to this interpretation, had no resource but that of milking her twenty kye, kept upon the common, and eating sour curds out of a silver bowl.
The "forgetfulness" and the "neglect" by Shakespere of the partner of his fortunes for more than thirty years is good-naturedly imputed by Steevens to "the indisposed and sickly fit." Malone will not have it so: "The various regulations and provisions of our author's will show that at the time of making it he had the entire use of his faculties." We thoroughly agree with Malone in this particular. (534)
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare's Last Will and Testament Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2008. < >.

Knight, Charles. William Shakespeare: a Biography. London: G. Routledge, 1865.
Stephenson, Henry Thew. The Elizabethan People. New York, H. Holt and company, 1912.


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