Category Archives: Legal London

The execution of Robert Hubert (1666)

The execution of Robert Hubert at Tyburn

On this day in 1666, one Robert Hubert was hanged at Tyburn for  allegedly having deliberately started  the Great Fire of London the previous month.  As his dead body was being taken down to be handed to the Company of Barber-Surgeons for dissection, it was torn limb from limb by an angry  mob of Londoners.

Although the fire is now almost universally regarded as having been brought about by “the hand of God”, or perhaps more accurately, the  negligence of Thomas Farriner or Farynor, who owned the bakery on Pudding Lane where it started, it was at the time, a time when the  tide of xenophobic sentiment in England  was running more than usually high, widely regarded as having been brought about by a foreign hand (*).   In its aftermath, Hubert, a watchmaker from Rouen in Normandy in France, quickly – and almost certainly “under duress” – confessed to having  set the fire while  acting as an agent of the Pope (he  was actually not a Catholic, but a Huguenot, or Protestant).  He was equally expeditiously convicted of the supposed crime – by a jury containing members of Farriner’s family – who had their own dark reasons for wanting to attach  the blame for the fire to  such a convenient scapegoat.  After his execution,  exculpatory evidence came to light that he had been aboard a Swedish ship called the Maid of Stockholm at the time of the outbreak of the fire.

(*) Indeed, until   as recently as 1830, the inscription on the Monument to the Great Fire included lines to that effect!

 

London’s Inns of Court and the Founding of the United States of America

London’s Inns of Court

The right of Englishmen to trial by jury was  established in the late twelfth century, and  codified in the  Magna Carta in  the early thirteenth; and the right to legal counsel and representation, by attorneys (solicitors) and pleaders before court (barristers), at the turn of the  thirteenth and  fourteenth.

Formal training of pleaders before court, in the so-called Inns of Court,  strategically situated between the Cities of London to the east and Westminster to the west,  began in the fourteenth century.

The Inns of Court of the Inner and Middle Temple were founded in the early fourteenth century, on a site south of Fleet Street that had been occupied by the Knights Templar up until the time of their suppression in 1307.  No  Medieval buildings remain standing on the site today, although the post-Medieval Inner Temple Gate-House and  Middle Temple Hall do.

Gray’s Inn was founded in the late fourteenth century, on a site north and immediately south of High Holborn.  No   Medieval buildings remain standing on the site today, although the associated Barnard’s Inn Hall does, as does the associated post-Medieval Staple Inn Buildings.

Lincoln’s Inn was founded in its present location in the fifteenth century, on a site south of High Holborn (it was originally founded in a remote location in the fourteenth century).    No Medieval buildings remain standing on the site today, although the post-Medieval Gate-House, Old Hall and Chapel do.

The Founding of the United States of America

Historically, London’s Inns of Court played a formative, though little-known, role in the founding of the United States of America.   William Taft (1857-1930), the sometime Chief Justice and President of the United States, noted that “many of the law officers of the Colonies … , appointed by the Crown before the Revolution, were members of … [the Inns of Court]”, and that the Inns were thus instrumental in “instilling in the communities of the Colonies the principles of Common Law”.  Others have even suggested that the principles of secession also came from the Inns.

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The famous lawyer, statesman, philosopher and “natural philosopher” (what we would now call a scientist), all-round Renaissance Man Francis Bacon (1561-1626) received his legal training in Gray’s Inn, and went on to become a “Master of the Bench”, or member of the governing body, there (among other things).  He was one of those instrumental in the creation of the first English colonies in the Americas in the early seventeenth century, and set out his egalitarian vision of how things should be there in his book “New Atlantis”.  The historian William Hepworth Dixon (1821-1879) considered Bacon one of the Founding Fathers  of the United States.   Thomas Jefferson    (1743-1826), one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States, went as far as to describe Bacon as one of “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception”.  Incidentally, both Francis and his father Nicholas Bacon, as sometime Lords Keeper of the Great Seal, once lived in York House, not far from  Whitehall.   Francis  also once  lived in Canonbury House in Islington.

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In the eighteenth century, Peyton Randolph (1723-1775) received his legal training in Middle Temple, before going  on to become the first President of the Continental Congress in 1774.  The so-called “Penman of the Revolution” John Dickinson (1732-1808) also received his legal training in Middle Temple, before going on to help draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Articles of Confederation in 1781 (he was also very possibly the person who coined the famous phrase “no taxation without representation”).  A further five Middle Templars signed the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Heyward Jr.; Thomas Lynch Jr.; Thomas McKean; Arthur Middleton; and Edward Rutledge (*).  And John Rutledge (1739-1800) received his legal training in Middle Temple, too, before going on to chair the committee that drafted  the Constitution in 1787.  Seven Middle Templars signed the Constitution: John Blair; the aforementioned John Dickinson;  Charles Jared Ingersoll; William Livingstone; Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; Charles Pinckney; and John Rutledge himself.

(*) An Inner Templar also signed the document: William Paca.

“Whipped at a cartes arse” (Charles Wriothesley, 1545)

titus-oates-being-whipt-from-algate-to-tyburn-in-1685-for-his-part-in-the-popish-plot

Charles Wriothesley (*) wrote in his “Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors …”  that on this day in 1545:

“Hugh Weaver, a fishmonger … , was whipped at a cartes arse about London, with a paper set on his head,  for misusing the mayor … and strykinge his officer … ; and allso had after that longe prisonment in the Counter for the same”.

(*) Wriothesley, who lived from 1508-1562, was a herald at the College of Arms in the City of London as well as a chronicler.  He is buried not in the church of St Giles-without-Cripplegate, alongside  other members of the Wriothesley family, but in St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

 

 

 

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.

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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.