The Inns of Court

The traditional training of English barristers was conducted in the Inns of Court, which were also the offices or “chambers” of the barristers themselves.  There have been over time a large number of separate inns of court, but only four remain active today: Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, the Middle Temple, and the Inner Temple.   They continue to provide a type of internship training for barristers who have graduated with a university degree in law, which in England is an undergraduate program.

The main purpose of this page is to provide some information on the extremely interesting history of the Middle and Inner Temples.  The source is a book published in London in 1805, and both the text and most of the engravings on this page are taken from that book.  The photographs are, of course, of more modern origin, and are taken from the web sites of the Inns themselves.

Antiquities of the Inns of Court and Chancery

W. Herbert
London, 1804, at pp. 181-1891

The Temple is well known to have taken its name from that gallant religious military order, the knights templars, who came into England in the reign of Stephen. Their first house was in Holborn, near the site of the present Southampton Street, and was called the Old Temple; but in the succeeding reign they begun the foundation of a nobler structure, opposite the end of Chancery Lane, then called New Street, which, to distinguish it from the former, was called the New Temple. This occupied all that space of ground from the monastery of the Carmelites, or White Friars, in Fleet Street, westward to Essex House, without Temple Bar, where Essex Street now stands, and some part of that too, as appears by the first grant of it to sir William Paget, by Henry VIII.

The knights templars were originally crusaders, who happening to be quartered in places adjacent to the Holy Temple at Jerusalem, in 1118, consecrated themselves to the service of religion by deeds of arms ; Hugh Paganus, or Pain, Geoffery de St. Audomare, or St. Omer’s, and seven others, begun the order, by binding themselves to live in chastity and obedience after the manner of the regular canons of St. Augustine, “and to renounce their own proper wills for ever.” Their first profession was to protect such pilgrims as should come to visit the sepulchre from all wrong and violence on the road.

At first they had no settled habitation, subsisted on alms, and had only one horse between two of them ; which latter circumstance they commemorated on their seal, till at length Baldwin king of Jerusalem granted them a residence near his palace. This gift the canons of the Holy Temple augmented, by assigning them a street to build their offices on; and the patriarch, king, and nobles, gave them certain revenues out of their lordships. Ten years afterwards they had a rule appointed them, by pope Honorius II, and wore a white habit, to which, as their numbers increased, was added by Eugenius, as a distinction, a cross of red cloth on the left shoulder ; and on account of the vicinity of their original mansion to the Temple at Jerusalem, they were called knights of the Temple.

These knights, by their devotion and the fame of their gallant actions, soon became popular in all parts of Europe; noblemen of the first rank joined the order; they built numerous monasteries or temples, and were so enriched by the favour of princes and other great men, that at the time of, their, dissolution they were found to be possessed of sixteen thousand manors, besides other property. They entertained, in the most magnificent manner, the nobility, foreign ambassadors, and frequently the prince himself; and at last became so infected with pride and luxury, as to excite a general hatred. Matthew Paris severely satirizes them on this account, as well as for their inordinate accumulation of wealth and honours; who being so poor at first, says he, that they had but one horse to serve two of them, in token of which, they gave in their seal two men riding on one horse, yet suddenly are grown so insolent as to despise other orders, and rank themselves with noblemen.

Their riches, which was their chief crime, occasioned their ruin. A persecution, founded on most unjust and fictitious accusations, was formed against them in France by Philip le Bel, which example was soon followed in other countries. In 1310, a provincial council was held against them at their house in London, upon articles of heresy and other crimes, most of which they denied; but confessing they could not purge themselves fully, as faultless, they were condemned to perpetual penance in several monasteries., and their possessions seized to the crown. In France their treatment was still more cruel: no less than fifty-four, or, according to Fabian, sixty, were burnt alive, by order of Philip. Numbers of these innocent and heroic knights suffered in the flames with the piety and constancy of martyrs: some of them at the stake summoned their chief enemies, Clement V. and Philip, to appear in a certain time at the divine tribunal; both of those .princes died about the time prescribed, which, in an age of superstition, proved their validity. But to return.

The templars seated themselves at the New Temple, before mentioned, as is evident from the dedication of their church, in the year 1185; where they continued till the suppression of their order, in 1310. Between these two periods it was again dedicated, viz. in 1240, probably on account of the greater part being re-edified. On the dissolution, the estates, together with the house in London, devolving upon the crown, Edward II in 1313, bestowed the latter on Thomas earl of Lancaster. After that nobleman’s attainder, a grant was made to Adomar, or Aimer de Valence earl of Pembroke, by the same monarch, of “the whole place and houses called the New Temple, at London, with the ground called Fiquet’s Croft, and all the tenements and rents with the appurtenances that belong to the templars in the city of London and suburbs thereof, with the land called Flete Croft, part of the possessions of the said New Temple.”

From Aimer de Valence this structure came into the possession of Hulli le Despencer the younger; and on his execution, in the first year of Edward III. the right once more reverted to the crown. Here it would probably have continued; but by a decree, which bestowed generally the lands of the templars upon the hospitals of St. John of Jerusalem, the above monarch granted this mansion to the knights of that order in England. These possessed it in the 18th year of his reign, when they were forced to repair the Temple bridge; but they soon after demised it for the rent of ten pounds per annum, to certain students of the common law, who are supposed to have removed from Thaive’s Inn, in Holborn.

Before we finish the history of the Temple, as a monastic institution, it may be necessary to remark, that such was its rank and importance, that not only parliaments and general councils frequently assembled there, but it was a sort of general depositary or treasury for the greatest persons in the nation, as well as the place where many of the crown jewels were kept. Matthew Paris informs us, that, in the year 1232, Hubert de Burgh earl of Kent, being prisoner in the Tower of London, the king (Henry III) was informed that he had considerable wealth laid up in the New Temple, under the custody of the templars, which being desirous to appropriate to his own use, he sent for the master of the Temple, and questioned him respecting it, who confessed that money had been delivered into the custody of himself and brethren, but he was unacquainted with the extent of the sum, and could by no means deliver it into the king’s hands, without the especial license of him who committed it to ecclesiastical protection. On this the king’s treasurer and justiciar of the exchequer was sent to require a resignation from Hubert, who complying with the unjust demand, the keys were presented by the knights; and Henry, after commanding an exact inventory to be taken of the treasure, seized on the whole, consisting, besides ready money, of vessels of gold and silver, and many precious stones of considerable value.

In 1245, pope Innocent’s nuncio resided in the New Temple, where was commanded to be brought him the sum of six thousand marks, to be raised from the English bishoprics, but which king Henry forbade.

In 1283, Edward I taking with him Robert Waleran and others, came to the Temple, where calling for the keeper of the treasure-house, as if he intended to see his mother’s jewels, which were there kept, he gained admittance to the house, broke open the coffers of different persons who had placed their money there for safety, and illegally took away one thousand pounds.

In the rebellion of Wat Tyler the Temple suffered much, the property of the students being plundered, and almost every book and record destroyed and burnt. This makes much of the history of the Temple, after it became appropriated to the study of the law, rest on tradition: the general truth of the foregoing statement, however, as far as it respects that period, maybe ascertained from various circumstances ; particularly from a passage in the Prologue of the old poet, Chaucer, who was himself a student in this house.

A manciple there was of the Temple,
Of which all catours might taken ensample,
For to been wise in buying of witaile;
For whether he payd or tooke by taile,
Algate he wayted so in his ashate,
That he was aye before in good estate.
Now is not that of God a full faire grace,
That such a leude man’s wil shall pace
The wisdome of an heape of learned men,
Of masters had he more than thrice ten,
That were of law expert and curious,
Of which there was a dosen in that house
Worthy to been stewards of rent and land
Of any lord that is in England,
To maken him live by his proper good,
In honour debtless; but if he were wood,
Or live as scarcely as him list desire,
And able to helpen all a shire;
In any case that might fatten or hap,
And yet the manciple sett all her capp.

Soon after the damage committed by Wat Tyler, but at what particular period is not known, the students in this seminary so far increased in number, as to occasion their division into two separate bodies, called the society of the Inner Temple, and the society of the Middle Temple, who had two halls, &c.; but continued to hold their houses as tenants to the knights hospitalers, till the general suppression, in the reign of Henry VIII. and, after this event, for some time, of the crown, by lease.

In the 6th year of the reign of James I. the whole of the buildings of the two Temples were granted by letters patent, bearing date at Westminster, .13th August, by the name of Hospicia et capitalia messuagia cognita per nomen de le Inner Temple et le Middle Temple sive Novi Temple, London, to sir Julius Caesar, knight, then chancellor and under-treasurer of the exchequer, sir Henry Montague, knight, recorder of London, William ‘Towse and Richard Daston esqrs. treasurers of the said inns of court., and sir John Boyse, knight, Andrew Grey, Thomas Farmer, Ralph Radcliff, and others, esqrs. then benchers of these houses; to have and to hold the said mansions, with the gardens, &c. and appurtenances, unto the said sir Julius Caesar, sir Henry Montague, and the rest above mentioned, their heirs and assigns, for ever, for lodgings, reception and education of the professors and students of the laws of this realm; yielding and paying to the said king, his heirs and successors, at the receipt of his exchequer, viz. for the mansion called the Inner Temple the sum of ten pounds yearly, and for the Middle Temple ten pounds yearly also, at the feast of St. Michael the archangel, and the Annunciation of our Lady, by equal portions, &c.

Buildings.] Of the ancient buildings, the only part at present remaining is the church. This was founded by the templars in the reign of Henry II. upon the model of that of the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem (the general plan of all their churches), and was consecrated in 1185, by Heraclius patriarch of Jerusalem. The latter circumstance was formerly commemorated by an inscription over the little door next the cloister, which was removed on the church being repaired some years since; but is accurately copied in Strype’s edition of Stowe’s Survey of London. It is in old Saxon capitals, engraved within a half circle, and not only denotes the year when the church was dedicated, &c. as above, but to whom., viz. the blessed Virgin, and finishes with the indulgence of sixty days pardon to such, who, according to the penance enjoined them, resorted there annually.