Last minute Wills

Search the online catalogue of wills here!

In the early modern period, wills were often made when the testator was "nigh unto death". Many wills begin like Widow Benet Allum's - her will of 1642 explains she is

feeling my selfe weake of body but in perfect memorise and good remembrance the lord bee thanked

 and in his will 1681 Edward Wallis confesses himself to be

of an Infirme and Crazie body.

The will of Edward Wallis, 1618
Will of Edward Wallis (ref: P5/1681/62)
Click here to see the catalogue entry for this will

Luckily, "The liberty of making a testament doth continue even until the last gasp," according to Henry Swinburne in his A Briefe Treatise of Testaments and Last Wills (1596). If it was too late to make a written will, a testator could recite their wishes on their deathbed in the form of a spoken will, technically called nuncupative, of which there are many examples within our collection: about 2.5% of the wills are nuncupative.

Nuncupative wills often have a story: a memorable one is that of Nicholas Perry senior dated 1627. His will was remembered by his son, and proved.

Wills could even be shouted out of a window, as witnesses could be understandably wary of entering a house of sickness.

And it was not just illness that prevented a testator making a will until the last minute. The wife of Henry Hunt of Enford, grandfather of Henry `OratorĀ“ Hunt,  tried to prevent her husband making a will in 1773.

making of Henry Hunts Will, 1773
Note concerning the making of Henry Hunt's will (ref: P1/H/1231)
Click for a transcript of this note