The Medieval Inns of Court and Chancery (John Fortescue, 1470)

Another in the occasional series on contemporary accounts and descriptions of the historic City of London,  this one on the Medieval Inns of Court and Chancery, written by John Fortescue in 1470 …

“In England, laws are learned in three languages, namely English, French and Latin [and] not in universities, but in a certain public academy situated near the King’s courts [in Westminster].  That academy is not situated in the city, where the tumult could disturb the student’s quiet, but in a suburb.  There are in this academy ten lesser Inns of Chancery to each of [which] at least a hundred belong.  These students are for the most part young men learning the elements of the law, who, becoming proficient as they mature, are absorbed into the greater Inns of Court, of which there are four in number, and to the least of which belong 200 students or more.

[I]n these greater inns there can no student be maintained for less expenses by the year than 20 marks.  And if he have a servant to wait upon him, as most of them have, then so much the greater will his charges be.  Now by reason of these charges the children only of noble men do study the laws … .  For the poor and common sort of the people are not able to bear so great charges … and merchant men can seldom find in their hearts to hinder their merchandise with so great yearly expenses.  And thus it falleth out that there is scant any man found within the … laws, except he be a gentleman born … .

Wherefore they more than any other kind of men have a special regard to their nobility and to the preservation of their honour and fame.  And to speak uprightly there is in these greater  inns, yea and in the lesser too, beside the study of the laws, as it were an university or school of all commendable qualities requisite for noble men.  There they learn to sing, and to exercise themselves in all kinds of harmony.  There also they practise dancing, and other noble men’s pastimes, as they do which are brought up in the king’s house”.

An individual’s right to trial by jury was enshrined  in the Magna Carta in the reign of King John in the early thirteenth century, and that to legal counsel and representation in the form of an “attorney” (solicitor) and a “pleader” before court (barrister) in the reign of Edward I in the late thirteenth; and the Inns of Court were established in the fourteenth and fifteenth (Temple in the early fourteenth, Gray’s Inn in the late fourteenth, and Lincoln’s Inn, in its present location, in the fifteenth).

Only post-Medieval and later buildings survive in the modern Inns of Court.

Middle Temple Hall exterior.JPGMiddle Temple Hall interior.jpg

These include the Elizabethan Middle Temple Hall, where plays were and are performed for the entertainment of the Templars (Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” premiered here in 1602).

Lincoln's Inn Old Hall.JPGMedieval arch (from Bishop of Chichester's House), Lincoln's Inn Old Hall.jpg

Note, though, that  Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall, which dates to the reign of the first Tudor King, Henry VII, incorporates into its construction a Gothic arch from an older, Medieval, building, very possibly  the thirteenth-century Bishop of Chichester’s House.

The Inns of Court are visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” and “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walks, and on our “Post-Medieval [Tudor and Stuart] London”, “Legal London” and “Rebellious London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

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