Famous Last Wills and Testaments of English and British Figures

Some famous and bizarre last wills and testaments of English and British figures including Horatio Nelson, the Iron Duke, and Florence Nightingale.

Samuel Pepys British diarist and public official Died: 1703

Last Will: In a 12-page will, buttressed later by a 2-page codicil, Pepys noted that he had arrived at "the 69th year of age" and was making his will "with all humility and thankfulness and with a satisfaction inexpressible," a state of mind that would have surprised his contemporaries. He gave his valuable library, along with the famous diary he had written in cipher, to John Jackson, his nephew.

Horatio Nelson British admiral Died: 1805

Last Will: Writing to his countrymen while his flagship closed to do battle with the French at the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson detailed the services which his mistress, Lady Hamilton, had performed for England. He bequeathed her as ". . . a legacy to my King and country; that they will give her an ample provision to maintain her rank in life." Both the King and the admiralty ignored the gift.

James Smithson British landlord Died: 1829

Last Will: Alienated from England because of his illegitimate birth as the son of the 1st duke of Northumberland, Smithson gave $500,000 to the U.S. to found "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." It became the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D.C. The grant was valid only if his nephew died without children, legitimate or illegitimate.

Jeremy Bentham British philosopher Died: 1832

Last Will: The entire estate was given to London Hospital, provided that Bentham's preserved remains were permitted to preside over its board meetings. All terms of the will were conscientiously followed. His body was turned over to Dr. Southward Smith, who performed the complete dissection and the anatomical lecture, for public and medical student alike, that Bentham had stipulated. The bones were reassembled into a skeleton topped by a wax mask cast from the philosopher's expressionless face. The likeness was outfitted in Bentham's clothes and placed within a glass-fronted mahogany case, sitting upright in an armchair. For 92 years, the wax apparition was present, although duly noted as "not voting," at the meetings.

J. M. W. Turner British painter Died: 1851

Last Will: After making small legacies and giving his paintings to the nation, Turner left the rest ". . . for the support of 'poor and decayed' legitimate male artists born in England and of English parents." His relatives fought the will, claiming the pound 140,000 at issue, and won. The artists received nothing.

Duke of Wellington British soldier Died: 1852

Last Will: Shaken by an attempted assassination attempt, the Iron Duke, in 1818, wrote out a will in Paris. Arthur Wellesley listed assets of approximately pound 199,700, including pound 130,000 in exchequer bills he "believed" were being held by a Mr. Coutts.

Cecil Rhodes British statesman and empire builder Died: 1902

Last Will: In his 1st 5 wills Rhodes repeatedly called for a ". . . Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be the extension of British rule throughout the world," and, eventually, "the ultimate recovery of the United States of America." In his 6th and last will he created the Rhodes Scholarships, limiting the eligible applicants to Anglo-Saxons who came from Great Britain, the U.S., or Germany.

Florence Nightingale British nurse Died: 1910

Last Will: The founder of modern nursing left pound 36,128. She refused burial in Westminster Abbey and gave her body "for dissection or postmortem examination for the purpose of Medical Science." The provision was ignored. She was buried at East Wellow, among her ancestors.

Mrs. Frederick Cook British drapery manufacturer's widow Died: 1925

Last Will: The longest will ever recorded, Mrs. Cook's final testament had 95,940 words on 1,066 pages, bound into 4 volumes. She left $100,000 to be distributed, along with instructions to burn her diary.

Lord Redesdale British nobleman Died: 1958

Last Will: Left $361,000 to be shared by all of his daughters except Jessica. An avid foe of communism for his entire life, Redesdale never forgave his daughter for naming a Redesdale grandson "Lenin."

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