There is a lot in the papers today about the forthcoming sale of the ‘will’ of Sir Francis Drake – written just as he set off to fight the Armada. It has been described as a will, although it reads more like a power of attorney – authorising and deputising people to take charge of his affairs ‘during the time of [my] absence’, and to do things ‘as I might do if I were personally present’. However, it would not be surprising if it were to be intended to be a will – like many people, he probably recognised that he may not return from that fight, and wanted to arrange his affairs before he went.
There are some differences between his will and a modern one – notably that it was not witnessed. It was made in 1588, long before the Wills Act of 1837 which governs modern wills and requires that there are two witnesses. Other than that though, it contains similar provisions to a modern will (albeit in slightly different language!) – it appoints his wife and brother as executors and leaves everything to them.
The will is being sold by an American dealer which specialises in the sale of rare documents, and which says that an autograph like this only comes up every 15-20 years (which gives a clue as to where the real value of the document lies!) Today all wills admitted to probate (save for a few notable examples such as Royal wills) are available on the gov.uk website, so copies are easily available to the public but the originals are lodged with the Probate Registry and not available for sale. This means that the contents of wills are available to anyone who wishes to see them, and autograph hunters have to look elsewhere.
The price tag is a hefty £1.2 million, and the seller is apparently expecting interest from historical groups and collectors. Further information can be found here.