Famous Last Wishes Online

William Shakespeare headshot
When William Shakespeare bequeathed his "second-best bed" to his wife almost 400 years ago, a scribe scratched out his last wishes on parchment with a quill pen dipped in ink.

Now the public can see the playwright's final will and testament almost instantly on a computer screen with the click of a mouse button.

The document is among more than 1 million wills, spanning five centuries, that Britain's National Archives posted on the Internet this week for public access.
One hundred of the wills, dated from 1384 to 1858, have been collated in a special section befitting their famous authors, including Jane Austen, Captain James Cook and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Shakespeare's is free to download, the others cost $5.40 each.

"This is a fantastic resource that can bring history so much closer to us," said Tony Robinson, who presents the television archaeology program "Time Team."

"We can now all be historical researchers in the comfort of our own homes," he added.

Shakespeare's will is considered to be of particular significance because it contains three of the six surviving examples of his signature.

Dated March 25, 1616 — less than a month before he died — it begins with the Bard hoping that, after death, he will "be made partaker of lyfe everlastinge."

The playwright goes on to request that his fortune be divided among his family, with some money donated to the poor of his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Specifications include the bed to his wife, his sword to Thomas Combe and a silver bowl to his daughter Judith.

The 1824 will of French leader Napoleon Bonaparte, who asks his son to adopt his motto "everything for the French people," is accompanied by an extract from his personal diary.

Similarly, Lord Horatio Nelson's 1803 will is accompanied by his private diary, written in September and October 1805.

"Pride and Prejudice" author Jane Austen bequeaths her estate, currently valued at $124,000, to her "dearest" sister, Cassandra Elizabeth, leaving only $7,800 to her brother Henry in 1817.

Naval hero Sir Francis Drake asks to be buried at sea, with two of his favorite ships sunk nearby, in his 1596 will.

Other wills available include those of Oliver Cromwell (dated 1687), the Duke of Wellington (1818), William Pitt the Younger (1806), Captain James Cook (1776), Sir Christopher Wren (1713), Percy Shelley (1817), John Donne (1616), Samuel Pepys (1701), Sir Stamford Raffles (1826) and William Wordsworth (1847).