Strange and Curious Wills of the Georgian Era in the Canterbury Court

wills of the Georgian Era
Solon, the wise lawgiver of Athens. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A will or testament is a legal document that allows a testator (the person who has written and executed a last will and testament) to express his or her wishes as to the distribution of their property. According to the Roman citizen, Greek biographer, and essayist Plutarch, the first written will was invented long ago by the Athenian statesman, poet, and wise law giver named Solon. Eventually, many types of wills were generated, and sometimes these wills contained strange or curious requests. This was the case in the Georgian Era when certain testators in the Canterbury Court left behind these following interesting requests:

GEORGE APPLEBEE – Rector of St. Bride’s, London – 7 August 1783
“My body after being dressed in a flannel waistcoat, instead of a shirt, an old surtout coat, and breeches without linings or pockets, an old pair of stockings, shoes I shall want none, (having done walking) and a worsted wig, if one can be got, I desire may be decently interred.”

JOHN DAVIS – Woollen Manufacturer of Clapham in Surrey – 24 January 1788
“I give and bequeath to Mary Davis, daughter of Peter Delaport, the sum of five shillings (which is sufficient to enable her to get drunk with, for the last time at my expense), and I give the like sum of five shillings to Charles Peter, (the son of the said Mary) who, I am reputed to be the father of, but which I never had, or ever shall have, any reason so to believe.”

JOHN GOSS – Mariner of Bristol – 19 May 1796
“My executrix to pay, out of the first monies collected, unto my beloved wife, Hester Gross, (if living) the sum of one shilling, which I give her (as a token of my love) that she may buy hazel-nuts, as I know she is better pleased with cracking them than she is with mending the holes in her stockings.”

JOSEPH DALBY – Doctor of Physic of the Parish of St. Marylebone in Middlesex – 27 July 1784
“I give to my daughter, Ann Spencer, a guinea for a ring, or any other bauble she may like better, I give to the lout her husband one penny to buy him a lark-whistle, I also give to her said husband of redoubtable memory, my f—t-hole for a covering to his lark-whistle, to prevent the abrasion of his lips, and this legacy I give him as mark of my approbation of his prowess and nice honour, in drawing his sword on me at my own table, naked and unarmed as I was, and he well fortified with custard.”

A 1790 caricature of Philip Thicknesse, covered in defamatory inscriptions and trampling on moral and religious duties. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

PHILIP THICKNESSE – Of London and then of Boulogne, France – 24 January 1793
“I leave my right hand, to be cut off after my death, to my son, Lord Audley, and I desire it may be sent to him, in hopes that a such a sight may remind him of his duty to God, after having so long abandoned the duty he owed to a father, who affectionately loved him.”

SAMUEL WRIGHT – Of Stoke Newington, in the County of Middlesex – 5 August 1736
“And whereas some or other base, wicked, and malicious tempered people may, after my decease, (I living and dying unmarried) raise, contrive, and publish, some vile, false story or other, I do under my hand (here the testator makes public protestation of his being unlike his father, in having never given the opportunity of earning the same title) nor was ever under any contract or agreement with any woman, directly, or indirectly, upon any account whatsoever.”

STEPHEN CHURCH – Lighterman of the Parish of St. Mary at Hill, London – 6 November 1793
“I give and demise to my son, Daniel Church, only one shilling, and that is for him to hire a porter, to carry away the next badge and frame he steals.”

STEPHEN SWAINE – Of St. Olive’s Southwark – 5 February 1770
“I give and bequeath unto John Abbott, and Mary his wife, the sum of six-pence a-piece, to buy each of them halter, in case the Sheriffs should not be provided.”

THOMAS WRATTEN – Officer of Excise of the Parish of Kensington, Middlesex, – 3 September 1785
“I give to my brother, Stephen Wratten, one guinea, to be paid by him by my executor, when demanded, I give him this not for any dislike, but because he has enough, and too much already to give to his son, Stephen Wratten, that hypocritical, blasphemous Methodist. Secondly, I give one shilling, to be paid as above, to my brother John Wratten, which is enough for him, because he could not keep money when he had it. Thirdly, I give one shilling to be paid as above, to my nephew, Stephen Wratten, that hypocritical, blasphemous Methodist, because he loves religion better than money.”

WILLLIAM HALL – Sergeant at Law of the Parish of St. Andrew, Holborn, London – 9 September 1721
“I give to my cousin, Humphrey Hall, £300, and to that vile, wicked wretch Samuel Hall, his nephew, who I admitted of the Temple, many years since, but he sold his gown, and in seven years I could never get him to church but once, and twice he assaulted me, and the one time he had certainly killed me, if by God’s providence I had not by a maid servant been thrown beside a great fire, when he was just rushing me backwards into it, the sum of ten shilling the first day of every Term, during his life only, though starving is a death too moderate for that wicked, sinful life he hath lived, and I hope and humbly pray to my God to forgive him.”

WILLIAM SHACKELL, ESQ. – Governor of Plymouth – 12 October 1782
“I desire that my body may be kept as long as it may not be offensive, and that one of my toes or fingers may be cut off to secure a certainty of my being dead, I also make this further request to my dear wife, that as she has been troubled with one old fool, she will not think of marrying a second.”

WILLIAM WILLIAMS – Of the Island of Jamaica – 21 October 1705
“I give and bequeath unto that most abandoned, wicked, vile, detestable rogue and impostor, who has assumed, and now goes (or lately did go) by the name of Gorsham Williams, pretending to be a son of mine: one shilling only to buy him a halter, wherewith to hang himself, being what he hath for a long, very long while past deserved from the law, and hands of the hangman for his great and manifold villanies.”

WILLIAM WOODESON – of Harlington, Middlesex – 27 October 1786
“I commit my body to the earth, to be buried in a plain coffin, to be drawn, if not inconvenient, on my own one-horse chaise to the church, and then be carried on the shoulders of six poor men, without any pall or funeral pomp whatsoever, and I order that the said poor men be paid 2s. 6d. each for their trouble. … I desire my corpse to be dressed in my least new shirt, and muslin neckcloth, and night-cap, and my plaid night-gown, and my old rusty sword, which always lay be my bed-side, in my right hand, and my Latin Testament in my left hand, and my little pillow in the pillow-case, under my head.”

References:

The Mirror of Literature Amusement and Instruction, (London, J. Limbird 1824), p. .

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