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.
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.
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.