Shakespeare’s will was very much a conventional will, expressed in the language of lawyers, properly witnessed and registered, and taken to London to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury to be legally validated on 22 June 1616. The will accounted for everything Shakespeare had owned.
A month before his death in April 1616 William Shakespeare sent for his attorney and dictated the terms of his will. The will was completed and signed on 25 March 1616. Shakespeare must have suspected or feared that he was nearing his end, although the fever that killed him didn’t take a real grip until the last week and, indeed, the night before his death he was still eating and drinking with friends.
The will itself was not written in Shakespeare’s hand but may have been drafted by his lawyer Francis Collins, or possibly by Collin’s clerk. The three page will contains three of the six surviving examples of his signature, which authenticated the will.
There is one item that commentators have reflected on through the years: the only place his wife, Anne Hathaway, is specifically mentioned is in the item in which he leaves her his second-best bed. Some commentators have seen that as a lack of affection or a kind of contempt but if you think about it, it must have been his most intimate possession. It was customary for wealthy people to keep a guestroom with the best bed in the house in it. The second best bed was where he and his wife would have slept together, made love, given birth to their children, and where Shakespeare would have died. Leaving it to her ensured that whatever else happened it belonged to her now and no-one could take it away from her. He knew that she would be looked after, and indeed, in terms of the English Common Law of the time she was entitled to one-third of his estate and the use of the matrimonial home for life. There was no point in mentioning it in the will. She continued to live in the house until her death in 1623.
Apart from his wife, Anne , his main heirs were his daughter, Susanna, and her husband Dr John Hall . After everything that was mentioned in the will all the rest of his ‘goods, chattels, leases, plate, jewels and household stuff’ went to them – after his debts and funeral expenses had been discharged.
His second daughter, Judith , who was unmarried, received £100 for her marriage portion and another £50 if she renounced any claim to the Chapel Lane cottage, which Shakespeare had previously purchased, near New Place . She was to receive a further £150 on which her future husband would have no claim unless he settled lands on her to the value of £150. If she had failed to live another three years the £150 would have gone to his granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall . He also left Judith a silver bowl, probably a bowl that she was already using as her own or that she had particularly liked.
Shakespeare left £30 to his sister, Joan Hart . She was also allowed to continue living in one of the two houses on Henley Street for a nominal rent. That was one of the houses Shakespeare had inherited from his father in 1601. Each of Joan’s three sons received £5.
He left all his silver plate to his granddaughter, Elizabeth , except the silver bowl left to Judith.
Shakespeare remembered his friends in his will. He left his sword and other small items to local friends. His lifelong friend and neighbour, Hamnet Sadler , received the money to buy a memorial ring. He left 26 shillings and 8d to each of three business partners and fellow actors, John Hemynges , Richard Burbage and Henry Cundell , so that they could buy rings.
Finally, Shakespeare left £10 to the poor of Stratford .
So how wealthy was William Shakespeare?
It is almost impossible to work out what the equivalent of each of these sums of money would be worth today, but if we were to look at how much Londoners were paid at the time of Shakespeare’s death we could get a rough idea. Skilled workers in the City, and actors in the top London theatres, for example, earned about £13 a year, whereas these days this type of work earns around £50,000.
By that reckoning, Shakespeare’s three nephews would have inherited about £12,500 each – not a bad little inheritance from an uncle. Judith’s £300 was the equivalent of about £750,000. With all his money and properties you can see how wealthy Shakespeare had become by the time of his death. When you think that an average theatre ticket cost about 2.5pence (£0.025) it’s almost unbelievable that it added up to so much wealth, considering that Shakespeare was only one of several partners in all his theatrical activities. Could Shakespeare have been bigger than Andrew Lloyd Webber?
Word for Word Replica of William Shakespeare’s Will:
Vicesimo Quinto die Januarii Martii Anno Regni Domini nostri Jacobi nucn Regis Angliae etc decimo quarto & Scotie xlixo Annoque Domini 1616
Testamentum Willemi Shackspeare
In the name of god Amen I William Shackspeare of Stratford upon Avon in the countrie of Warr’ gent in perfect health and memorie god by praysed doe make and Ordayne this my last will and testament in manner and forme followeing that ys to saye first I Comend my Soule into the hands of god my Creator hoping and assuredlie beleeving through thonelie merittes of Jesus Christe my Saviour to be made partaker of lyfe everlastinge And my bodye to the Earthe whereof yt ys made.
Item: I Gyve and bequeath unto my sonne in Law and Daughter Judyth One Hundred and fyftie pounds of lawfull English money to be paied unto her in manner and forme follewing That ys to saye One Hundred Poundes in discharge of her marriage porcion within one yeare after my deceas with consideracion after the Rate of twoe shillinges in the pound for soe long tyme as the same shalbe unpaid unto her after my deceas & the fyftie pounds Residewe therof upon her surrendering of or gyving of such sufficient securitie as the overseers of this my will shall like of to Surrender or graunte All her estate and Right that shall discend or come unto her after my deceas or that she nowe hath of in or to one Copiehold tenemente with theappertenances lyeing & being in Stratford upon Avon aforesaied in the saide countie of warr’ being parcell or holden of the mannor of Rowington unto my daughter Susanna Hall and her heires for ever.
Item I gyve and bequeath unto my saied Daughter Judyth One Hundred and ffyftie Poundes more if shee or Anie issue of her bodie Lyvinge att thend of three yeares next ensueing the daie of the date of this my will during which tyme my executors to paie her consideracion from my deceas according to the Rate afore saied. And if she dye within the saied terme without issue of her bodye then my will ys and and I doe gyve and bequeath One Hundred Poundes therof to my Neece Eliabeth Hall and ffiftie Poundes to be sett fourth by my executors during the lief of my Sister Johane Harte and the use and proffitt therof cominge shalbe payed to my saied Sister Jone and after her deceas the saied L li shall Remaine Amongst the childredn of my saied Sister Equallie to be devided Amongst them. But if my saied daughter Judith be lyving att thend of the saeid three yeares or anie issue of her bodye then my will ys and soe I devise and bequeath the saied Hundred and ffyftie poundes to be sett out by my executors and overseers for the best benefit of her and her issue and the stock not to be paied unto her soe long as she shalbe marryed and Covert Baron by my executors and overseers but my will ys that she shall have the consideracion yearelie paied unto her during her lief and after her deceas the saied stock and condieracion to bee paid to her children if she have Anie and if not to her executors or Assignes she lyving the saied terme after my deceas provided that if such husbond as she shall att thend of the saied three yeares by marryed unto or attain after doe sufficiently Assure unto her and thissue of her bodie landes answereable to the portion gyven unto her and to be adjudged soe by my executors and overseers then my will ys that the saied CL li shalbe paied to such husbond as shall make such assurance to his owne use.
Item: I gyve and bequeath unto her three sonnes William Hart-Hart and Michaell Harte ffyve pounds A peece to be payed within one yeare after my decease to be sett out for her within one yeare after my deceas by my executors with thadvise and direccons of my overseers for her best proffitt untill her marriage and then the same with the increase thereof to be paied unto her .
Item I gyve and bequath unto her the said Elizabeth Hall All my Plate (except my brodsilver and gilt bole) that I now have att the date of this my will.
Item: I gyve and bequeath unto the Poore of Stratford aforesaied tenn poundes; to Mr Thomas Combe my Sword; to Thomas Russell Esquier ffyve poundes and to ffrauncis collins of the Borough of Warr’ in the countie of Warr’ gent. thriteene poundes Sixe shillinges and Eight pence to be paied within one yeare after my deceas.
Item: I gyve and bequeath to mr richard Hamlett Sadler Tyler thelder XXVIs VIIId to buy him A Ringe; to William Raynoldes gent XXVIs VIIId to buy him a Ringe; to my godson William Walker XXVIs VIIId in gold and to my ffellowes John Hemynges, Richard Burbage and Heny Cundell XXVIs VIIId A peece to buy them Ringes.
Item: I Gyve Will Bequeth and Devise unto my Daughter Susanna Hall for better enabling of her to performe this my will and towardes the performans thereof All that Capitall Messuage or tenemente with thappertenaces in Stratford aforesaid called the newe plase wherein I now Dwell and two messuags or tenementes with thappurtenances scituat lyeing and being in Henley Streete within the borough of Stratford aforesaied. And all my barnes, stables, Orchardes, gardens, landes, tenementes and herediaments whatsoever scituat lyeing and being or to be had receyved, perceyved or taken within the townes and Hamletts, villages, ffieldes and groundes of Stratford upon Avon, Oldstratford, Bushopton and Welcombe or in anie of them in the saied countie of warr And alsoe All that Messuage or tenemente with thappurtenances wherein one John Robinson dwelleth, scituat, lyeing and being in the blackfriers in London nere the Wardrobe and all other my landes tenementes and hereditamentes whatsoever. To Have and to hold All and singular the saied premisses with their Appurtenances unto the saied Susanna Hall for and during the terme of her naturall lief and after her deceas to the first sonne of her bodie lawfullie yssueing and to the heiries Males of the bodie of the saied Second Sonne lawfullie yssyeinge and for defalt of such heires Males of the bodie of the saied third sonne lawfullie yssye ing And for defalt of such issue the same soe to be Reamine to the ffourth sonne , ffythe, sixte and seaventh sonnes of her bodie lawfullie issueing one after Another and and to the heires Males of the bodies of the saied ffourth, ffythe, Sixte and Seaventh sonnes lawfullie yssueing in such mamer as yt ys before Lymitted to be and remaine to the first, second and third Sonns of her bodie and to their heires males. And for defalt of such issue the saied premisses to be and Remaine to my sayed Neede Hall and the heires Males of her bodie Lawfully yssueing for default of…such issue to my daughter Judith and the heires of me the saied William Sahckspere for ever.
Item: I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture; Item I gyve and bequeath to my saied daughter Judith my broad silver gilt bole.
All the rest of my goodes Chattels, Leases, plate, jewles and Household stuffe whatsoever after my dettes and Legasies paied and my funerall expences discharged, I gyve devise and bequeath to my Sonne in Lawe John Hall gent and my daughter Susanna his wief whom I ordaine and make executors of this my Last will and testament. And I doe intreat and Appoint the saied Thomas Russell Esquier and ffrauncis Collins gent to be overseers herof And doe Revoke All former wills and publishe this to be my last will and testament. In witnes whereof I have hereunto put my Seale hand the Daie and Yeare first above Written.
Witness to the publishing hereof: Fra: Collyns, Juilyus Shawe, John Robinson, Hamnet Sadler, robert Whattcott.
By me William Shakespeare
Probatum coram Magistro Williamo Byrde legum doctore Commissario etc xxiido die mensis Junii Anno domini 1616 Juramento Jahannis Hall unius executorum etc. Cui etc de bene etc Jurati Reservata potestate etc Sussane Hall alteri executorum etc cum venerit etc petitur.