Find your ancestors in Britain, wills of famous persons 1552-1849

What can these records tell me?

This collection of wills is from The National Archives (TNA) and comprises Series PROB 1 – Prerogative Court of Canterbury: Wills of Selected Famous Persons.

The series combines the original wills of notable individuals from the TNA series PROB 10. The documents included in this series often include additional material other than the last will and testament of the individual. Documents that may accompany the last will and testament include affidavits proving authenticity, personal letters, and personal diaries. Please note that some images are of copies – they are noted as such because they were either annotated as copies or because the signatures of the witnesses and testator are in the same hand as the rest of the document. For those annotated as copies, the originals were in the care of the Court before the copies were created.

Each result will provide you with a transcript and image(s) of the documents pertaining to the individual’s will. While the images will often provide additional and greater detail than the transcripts, the transcripts will offer the following information:

  • First name(s)
  • Last name
  • Birth year
  • Birth date
  • Baptism year
  • Death year
  • Death date
  • Will year
  • Will date
  • Probate year
  • Will proved date
  • Archive
  • Series
  • Series description
  • Archive reference
  • Item description – this offers details of what images of documents are included. For example, the images for Lord Horatio Nelson include his will, six codicils, a private letter, a private diary, and two affidavits.

How were these records created?

Following a will being proved by the Prerogative County of Canterbury, a copy was usually created and sent back to the executor with a pendent seal to the probate act, which would authorise the executor to administer the testator’s estate. The original will would have been filed with the Court records. An additional copy of the will could be made in the will registers if the executor paid a fee. There are some cases – particularly those pre-dating the mid-1600s – where the original will was returned to the executor and the copy of the will was kept with the Court records.