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Shakespeare, Nelson and Cromwell's last wishes get online

Will's will hits the internet with one million others...
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

Will's will hits the internet with one million others...

The Public Record Office has launched a new service to give Britons an insight into their famous ancestors - such as William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Admiral Nelson – by making their wills available online.

The archive took two years to assemble and groups together over 100 of the most celebrated historical figures' last wills and testaments, including those of luminaries like Oliver Cromwell, Sir Francis Drake, Samuel Pepys and Napoleon I, some in their original handwriting and accompanied by other documents such as personal diary extracts.

While historians will be keen to get a first-hand glimpse of the wills, it's the Bard's scribblings which will no doubt attract the most clicks, as they contain three of the six known examples of his signature. Dated 25 March 1616 – less than a month before England's best known dramatist shuffled off his mortal coil - Shakepeare's will details Will's request that his wife get his "second-best bed", as well as other bequests for his neighbours, the local poor and fellow thesps.

The wills were previously only available to those willing to make the trek to the Archives' HQ or the Family Records Centre and get involved with their microfilm records.

Amateur genealogists can also browse a larger collection of wills – one million odd - of less celebrated citizens, dating from 1384 to 1858, via the website.

To browse the collection of wills, go to www.documentsonline.pro.gov.uk. Looking at the last writing of the famous comes at a price, however – downloading a document costs users £3 a time, but Will's will is available for free. You can check it out here.

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