Shakespeare’s 400th – What Was in Will’s Will?

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – we are celebrating the life of the most famous playwright of all time by having a closer look into his will and uncovering how wills have changed since the Elizabethan era.

Shakespeare had enough of a fortune to be able to own Stratford-upon-Avon’s second largest house. Sadly Shakespeare wasn’t able to make the most of his retirement, and died of an unknown illness on his 52nd birthday in 1616. The question is, when you have amassed a substantial personal fortune and earned a reputation as an accomplished playwright, what do you include in your will? [1]

Interestingly, Shakespeare signed his will on March 25th 1616, [2] only a month before his death. Although no one knows what he died of, it seems likely that he was aware of his deteriorating health condition.

Shakespeare’s will [3] reveals interesting aspects of his character, interests and affections. Information on his attitude towards family members, colleagues, religion and moral beliefs can be interpreted from it.

Here’s who Shakespeare bequeathed money and possessions to in his will:

  • Judith (his daughter) – Shakespeare gave his daughter £100 (about £20,000 as of 2016) [4] in discharge of her marriage portion;’ another £50 if she were to relinquish the Chapel Lane cottage; and, if she or any of her children were still alive at the end of three years following the date of the will, a further £150, of which she was to receive the interest but not the principal.
  • Anne (his wife) – The will states Anne should receive ‘my second-best bed, with the furniture.’ [5] Some feel his wife was unfairly treated, whereas others assume that Shakespeare’s daughters would help support their mother.
  • Susannah (his daughter) and John Hall (her husband) – Shakespeare left Susannah the rest of his ‘goods, chattels, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuff whatsoever.’  It seems they inherited the bulk of his will.  Some people feel this showed favouritism towards Susannah over Judith, others feel it was because Shakespeare did not trust Judith’s husband, Thomas Quiney. [6]
  • Joan (his sister) – Shakespeare left £30 (£6,000 today) to his sister Joan Hart. He also allowed her to live in the Western House on Henley Street for a nominal rent. He also left each of Joan’s three sons £5 (£1000 today).
  • John Heminge, Henry Condell and Richard Burbage (his acting associates) – These men were each bequeathed 26 shillings and eightpence (£260 today) to buy mourning rings.

Shakespeare also left £10 (£2000 today) to the poor of Stratford in his will, which shows his charitable side, caring for those less fortunate than himself. [7]

How will writing has changed through time

The basics may be fairly similar from back in Elizabethan times but will writing has come a long way. Until the 12th of January 1858, all wills had to be proved by the church and the other courts. A judge would then need to approve as to whether or not the will contained the person’s wishes.

In the old days, if a person didn’t have a will, the next of kin would be given control of their assets. In Elizabethan times the eldest son would inherit everything unless provision was made for younger sons. [8]

Hundreds of thousands of people a year still pass away without having completed a will, which makes things difficult for their loved ones. For example, in England or Wales, if you live with someone but aren’t married or in a civil partnership and you don’t get your will sorted, your partner will get nothing.

Beagle Street’s free will writing service

We appreciate just how important will writing is, which is why we have partnered with a will-writing specialist to bring our customers a handy free will writing service. We also offer other Life Insurance benefits, such as informing loved ones of your policy details and a hotline dedicated to supporting you at a time of grieving. You can also select the trusted family & friends who you’d like to be responsible for distributing the pay-out to your loved ones.

If you don’t complete a will, your assets will be settled according to the rules or laws of intestacy and not according to your wishes. Inheritance tax is also something to consider, at the moment the rate of inheritance tax is 40% on any estate value over £325,000 for a single person, though this can be reduced by charity giving.

If you want to look out for your loved ones when you are not around, just as Shakespeare did, then you can write a will.

Find out more information about our free will writing service and Life Insurance with Beagle Street.

There are many benefits to writing a will with the help of Beagle Street. To celebrate Shakespeare’s life and channel his stunning prose, we have also written some of the main benefits of our free will writing service in Elizabethan English:

  • “Our will s’rvice can holp thee to protecteth the people close to thy kind heart”
    – our will service can help you to protect the people you love.
  • “Our will writing s’rvices cometh free at which fair hour thee purchaseth a new life insurance policy”
    – our will writing services comes free when you purchase a new life insurance policy.
  • ”’t can eke setteth out any wishes thee wouldst liketh hath carried out aft’r thee kicketh the bucket”
    – it can also set out any wishes you would like carried out after you die.
  • “this s’rvice can also holp thee dealeth with thy estate and how thee wouldst liketh to distrubute thy assets”
    – this service can also help you deal with your estate and how you would like to distribute your assets.


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