Introduction, Part One
The history of the Temple begins soon after
the middle of the twelfth century, when a contingent of knights of the
Military Order of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem moved from the Old
Temple in Holborn (later Southampton House) to a larger site between
Fleet Street and the banks of the River Thames. The new site originally
included much of what is now Lincoln's Inn, and the knights were
probably responsible for establishing New Street (later Chancery Lane),
which led from Holborn down to their new quarters. Following their
custom, the knights built a round church patterned on the Holy Sepulchre
in Jerusalem. An inscription on the Round recorded that it was
consecrated by the Patriarch Heraclius on 10 February 1185, in honour of
the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is thought that King Henry II was also
present on that day, inaugurating a long association between the royal
family and the Temple.
After losing the Holy Land in the 1290s, the order of the Temple fell into a decline. The knights were dubiously accused of improprieties, and in 1312 their order was dissolved. Although the pope granted their estates to the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem, King Edward II seized the New Temple as forfeit to the Crown. Nevertheless, the consecrated portion was conceded to the Hospitallers, and the remainder was sold to them later.
It is unlikely that the Hospitallers occupied the Temple personally; it was merely a source of revenue. But it is equally unlikely that the Temple was let to lawyers as early as Edward II's reign. The legal profession was still nomadic, and when in the 1330s it migrated en masse to York (with the central courts) the shopkeepers near the Temple complained of a sudden loss of income. The courts returned to Westminster for good early in 1339, and the inns of court as distinct societies probably date from the years immediately following that event. In that very year a man was killed in the Temple by a servant of the apprentices of the king's court, which suggests that they may already have formed a community there. Ancient tradition dated the legal occupation of the Temple to the 1340s, and it was probably around that time that the outlying land along Chancery Lane - not being required by the lawyer tenants - was alienated to the bishop of Chichester to enlarge the site that later became Lincoln's Inn. The exact date of formation of the inns of court and chancery will never be known. Unlike colleges at the universities, they were not incorporated or endowed by benefactors, and they did not acquire the freehold of their sites until much later. But it now seems likely that, from the beginning, there were two legal societies in the Temple: one (the 'inner inn') using the hall next the cloisters, and the other (the 'middle inn') using the unconsecrated buildings between the inner portion and the Outer Temple. A hall was necessary to an inn of court not merely for meals, but because the legal societies operated from their first formation as academic communities, with lectures and disputations. The two halls in the Temple would therefore naturally have attracted two inns. We do at least know for certain that the Inner Temple and Middle Temple were distinct communities by 1388, when they are first mentioned by those names in a manuscript year book.
Little is known of these fourteenth-century
societies in the Temple. The best-known incident in their history was
the sacking by Wat Tyler's rebels in 1381, when some of the buildings
were pulled down and lawyers' records burned. The chroniclers of that
melancholy event refer to 'apprentices of law' in the Temple, but give
no details of the legal societies or their buildings. The devastation of
1381 may have been the occasion for rebuilding the Inner Temple hall. At
any rate, the little hall which was demolished in 1868, though much
altered over time, had a timbered roof of fourteenth-century style; it
must therefore have been built by the lawyers rather than by their
predecessors. Only five members of the Inner Temple before 1400 are
known for sure, but they included the celebrated William Gascoigne,
later chief justice of the King's Bench (d. 1419), remembered by
posterity for his judicial courage in committing Prince Henry (later
King Henry V) for contempt. A less certain claim has been made for
Geoffrey Chaucer, whose name a Tudor antiquary claimed to have seen in
the Inn's archives. Whether or not Chaucer was a member, he evidently
knew the Temple well enough; his 'gentle manciple . . . of a Temple',
portrayed in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, served a society of
'masters more than thrice ten', and presumably a larger community of
Like the other inns, the Inner Temple seems in this period to have developed its own geographical catchment areas; whereas the Middle Temple was dominated by west countrymen, the Inner Temple drew more from the north, the midlands, and London. It is notable that Richard III's principal lawyers were all Inner Templars: Sir William Catesby (beheaded in 1485), chancellor of the Exchequer and speaker of the Commons, Sir Morgan Kydwelly (d. 1505), attorney-general, Thomas Lynom (d. c. 1518), solicitor-general, and Thomas Kebell (d. 1500), attorney of the Duchy. Other alumni included John Paston (d. 1466), who lived in the Inn for twenty years and mentioned it in his letters, Sir Thomas Littleton (d. 1481), renowned author of the Tenures, and Sir Richard Sutton (d. 1524), founder of Brasenose College. Two of the earliest named law reporters (John Caryll and John Port) were also Inner Templars.
The sixteenth century was an age of expansion for the common law and its practitioners, and all the inns were substantially enlarged and beautified during the Tudor period. Spenser was referring to the Temple when he wrote in Prothalamion (1596) of '. . . Those bricky towers, the which on Thames broad aged back doth ride, wherein the studious lawyers have their bowers, And whilom wont the Templar knights to bide . . .'. The characteristic brick of the late Elizabethan Temple must have represented, for the most part, recent construction. Some of the development may be traced through the Inn's records, since the minutes of parliament (the governing body of benchers) exist from 1505; but most building projects were carried out with private money, the investors retaining a freehold interest in the chambers. Very few of these Tudor buildings survived into the nineteenth century, though the name Hare Court still commemorates a rebuilding scheme financed by Nicholas Hare in 1567. In Hare's time there were 100 sets of chambers in the Inn, making it the second largest (after Gray's Inn); in 1574 it is recorded that only 15 benchers and 23 barristers lived in, well outnumbered by the 151 resident students. Celebrated alumni from this period included Sir Thomas Audley (d. 1544), the Inn's first lord chancellor, two subsequent holders of the great seal (Sir Thomas Bromley and Sir Christopher Hatton), and, above all, Sir Edward Coke (d. 1634). Coke is still remembered for his Reports and Institutes, which included a Commentary on Littleton; but perhaps the greatest achievement of his stormy judicial career was the foundation of English administrative law.
Coke's career leads us into the seventeenth century; although he left the society on becoming a serjeant in 1606, he was allowed to retain chambers in his beloved Inner Temple until his death, and must have been a dominant presence. The expansion of membership continued throughout that period: over 1,700 students were admitted to the Inn between 1600 and 1640. In 1642, however, the news of Edgehill sent bench and bar rushing home. The Inns were all but closed for four years, and the legal university suffered a mortal collapse. Readings were discontinued, and their revival after the interregnum was short-lived. The first Restoration reading (by Sir Heneage Finch in 1661) was a magnificent occasion. King Charles II attended the reader's feast in person, and the Duke of York (later King James II) became the first royal bencher. But readers in general found it was easier to pay the fine for default than to prepare lectures and pay for feasts, while the Inn doubtless concluded that monetary compensation was more useful than specific performance.
Readings therefore petered out in 1678. (The Inn has nevertheless continued to elect readers, this being the sole qualification for having one's coat of arms erected in hall; in recent times the Reader has normally held office for the calendar year prior to becoming Treasurer.)
In the Restoration period the Inn suffered three serious fires, affecting mainly the northern and eastern parts, and in consequence rebuilt Hare Court, Tanfield Court and King's Bench Walk - now the oldest range of chambers still in use in the Inn. Distinguished alumni included John Hampden (d. 1643), opponent of ship-money, John Selden (d. 1654), legal historian and defender of English liberties, Henry Rolle (d. 1656) and Sir John Vaughan (d. 1674), two very learned chief justices, Lord Nottingham (d. 1682), the 'father of modern equity', and the notorious 'Judge Jeffreys' (later Lord Chancellor Jeffreys, d. 1689) of the Bloody Assizes.