About the year 1118 certain noblemen, horsemen, religiously bent, bound
themselves by vow in the hands of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, ‘to serve
Christ after the manner of Regular Canons in chastity and obedience, and
to renounce their owne proper willes for ever.’
The Order was founded by a Burgundian Knight who had mightily
distinguished himself at the capture of Jerusalem. Hugh de Paganis was
his name. Only seven of his comrades joined the Brotherhood at first.
Their first profession was to safeguard pilgrims on their way to visit
the Holy Sepulchre, and to keep the highways safe from thieves. A rule
and a white habit were granted to this pilgrims’ police by Pope Honorius
II. Crosses of red cloth were afterwards added to their white upper
garments, and earned them the familiar title of the Red-Cross Knights.
And for their first banner they adopted the Beaucéant, the upper part of
which was black, signifying, it is said, death to their enemies; the
lower part white, symbolizing love for their friends.
Their services were rewarded and their efforts encouraged by Baldwin,
King of Jerusalem, who granted them quarters in his palace, within the
sacred enclosure of the Temple on Mount Moriah.
Hence they came to be known as the Knights of the Temple, or Knights
Templars. For Baldwin’s Palace was formed partly of a building erected
by the Emperor Justinian, partly of a mosque built by the Caliph Omar,
upon the site of Solomon’s Temple.
The Order increased rapidly in popularity. It spread over Europe and the
East, accumulating property and privileges. It was most highly
organized, and at its head was a Grand Master, who resided at first in
Jerusalem. A visit paid by the Founder, Paganis, to Henry I. in Normandy
led to the establishment of settlements in England. Cambridge,
Canterbury, Warwick, and Dover are mentioned amongst others by Stow.
Temples, ‘built after the form of the Temple near to the Sepulchre at
Jerusalem,’ were erected in many of the chief towns in England. And
this circular shape of church, modelled upon the Holy Sepulchre in
accordance with a prevailing love of imitating the holy places at
Jerusalem, as, for instance, the Stations of the Cross, was the design
adopted for the Templars’ London Churches. The date of their first
settlement in London is not certain, but about the middle of the twelfth
century they are said to have established themselves in Chancery Lane,
between Southampton Buildings and Holborn Bars. Their property, which
was afterwards to be known as the Old Temple, embraced part of the site
of what is now Lincoln’s Inn. The foundations of a round church were
discovered in 1595 near the site of the present Southampton Buildings.
But it was not long before they moved to a pleasanter site, to the ‘most
elegant spot in the Metropolis,’ as Charles Lamb declared. For, about
the year 1180, the Templars acquired a large meadow sloping down to the
broad River Thames, on the south side of Fleet Street, and stretching
from Whitefriars on the east to Essex Street on the west. Here they
built themselves a lordly dwelling-place and a splendid Church, again a
round Church upon the same sacred model, part of which still stands.
Across the way lay their recreation ground. For the site of the modern
Law Courts–that Gothic pile which we can never wholly see, and in which
Street just failed to design a truly complete, effective, and absolute
building, and failed entirely to produce a building practically suited
for its purpose–was known then as Fitchett’s Field. The scene of the
labours of the Lawyers, who have succeeded to their inheritance, was
once the tilting-ground of the Knights Templars.
Five years later, in 1185, in the presence of Henry II. and all his
Court, the dedication of the Round Church of the ‘New Temple’ took
place. The ceremony was performed by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The surroundings of the ‘New Temple,’ when Henry graced it upon this
occasion with his royal presence, were extraordinarily different even
from the aspect they wore a century later.
Fleet Street itself was not yet in existence. Its neighbourhood was a
mere marsh, and Fleet Ditch, at the bottom of Ludgate Hill, was spanned
by no bridge. The two highways to the City, when the Templars first
settled at this spot, were first and foremost the River, and, secondly,
by land, the old Roman Way through Newgate, up Holborn Hill to Holborn
Bars, striking southwards from St. Mary-le-Strand, past the Roman Bath,
to the River. But seventy years later a new main route to the City was
constructed, which passed by the boundary of the Templars’ plot. For the
marshes were drained, a bridge was thrown across the Fleet, and the
‘Street of Fleetbrigge’ came into existence.
The grandeur of the ceremony of dedication and the splendour of the
Templars’ Church itself indicate clearly enough the importance of the
‘New Temple’ as the headquarters of the Order in England, and also the
waxing wealth and power of the Order itself.
For these ‘fellow-soldiers of Christ,’ as they termed themselves, ‘poor
and of the Temple of Solomon,’ had bound themselves to a vow of poverty,
but they soon changed their allegiance to Mammon. The heraldic sign of
the Winged Horse, which is now the well-known badge of the Inner Temple,
and meets the eye at every turn as we pass through the narrow lanes and
devious courts of which their property is composed, recalls and typifies
the changing purposes of the ancient Templars and their successors. For
the old crest of the Templars was a horse carrying two men, which
probably was intended to suggest their profession of helping Christian
pilgrims upon their road, but in which some saw an emblem of humiliation
and of a vow to poverty so strict that they could afford but one horse
for two knights. Whatever its significance, the badge was changed with
changing circumstances. The two riders were converted into two wings,
and the horse transformed into a Pegasus–Pegasus argent on a field
azure–upon the occasion of some Christmas Revels and pageantry held at
the Inner Temple in honour of Lord Robert Dudley, 1563, when it appears
that this emblem, typical of the soaring ambitions of the new Society,
was adopted by that Inn. The Middle Temple appropriated another badge,
which the Templars had assumed in the thirteenth century. This was the
sign of the _Agnus Dei_, the Holy Lamb, with the banner and nimbus,
which figures so prominently upon the buildings of this Inn. These
heraldic signs of Winged Horse and Holy Lamb should be encouraging to
the young litigant, who, in his first experience of the Law, may be led
to expect ‘justice without guile and law without delay’ from these legal
fraternities, supposing that, in the words of the witty skit,
‘The Lamb sets forth their innocence,
The Horse their expedition.’
The Order of Templars followed the almost invariable practice of such
Institutions in accumulating treasure at the expense of the devout, and
they succeeded more strikingly than most. By the beginning of the
fourteenth century they had long abandoned all pretence to the
performance of their original duties, but had at least earned the
reputation of being exceedingly wealthy. The Treasury, indeed, of these
devotees of Poverty was a prominent feature of their House, and they
seem to have acted as Bankers, to whom the charge of money and jewels
was entrusted in those troublous times.
Here King John stored his Royal Treasury; here he often lodged, seeking
refuge from his Barons; and here he passed the night before he signed
the Great Charter at Runnymede. Henry III. followed his example in
endowing the Temple with manors and privileges, whilst from his
guardian, Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, whom he had imprisoned in the
Tower, he extracted all the Treasure that careful nobleman had committed
to the custody of the Master of the Temple.
Hither came King Edward I., and under pretence of seeing his mother’s
jewels there laid up, this royal burglar broke open the coffers of
certain persons who had likewise lodged their money here, and took away
to the value of a thousand pounds.
Of the Templars’ Treasure House nothing now remains, but the Treasurer
survives, one of the chief officials of the Inn, whose duties correspond
roughly to those of a Bursar of an Oxford College.
The laying up of treasure upon earth is always apt to provoke the
predatory instinct, even in the breast of a Chancellor of the Exchequer,
and to the motive of greed was added, in the case of the Templars, the
unanswerable charge that they had done nothing for many years to redeem
their vows to succour Jerusalem or protect pilgrims. They were also
accused, not without reason, of indulging in odious vices, and of being
a masonic society devoted to the propagation of some heresy. The rival
fraternity of military Knights, the Order of St. John, who had settled
themselves in the rural seclusion of Clerkenwell, envied them. The Pope
himself turned against them. Philip le Bel, who seems to have been the
leading spirit in a general attack, dealt cruelly with the Order in
France, causing the chief Members of it to be put to death. In England
Edward II. contented himself with confiscating their possessions. The
Order was abolished (1312), and, by decree of the Pope,
[Illustration: LAMB BUILDING FROM PUMP COURT, TEMPLE
A GLIMPSE of the Temple Church appears on the left.]
confirmed by the Council of Vienne, all their property was granted to
the Knights Hospitallers, the rival Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
Edward, however, at first ignored their claims. He granted that part of
the Templars’ domain which was not within the City boundaries, and which
is now represented by the Outer Temple, to Walter de Stapleton, Bishop
of Exeter. It was thenceforth known indifferently as Stapleton Inn,
Exeter Inn, or the Outer Temple. It passed by purchase to Robert
Devereux, Earl of Essex. Essex House was then erected, which, with its
gardens, covered the site now occupied by Essex Court, Devereux Court,
and Essex Street, and the buildings that abut upon the Strand.
The Gate at the end of Essex Street, with the staircase to the water, is
the only portion of the old building that survives. The Outer Temple was
never occupied by any College or Society of Lawyers. But the history of
the portion of the Templars’ property which lay within the liberties of
the City, indicated by Temple Bar, was destined to be very different.
This property was granted by Edward II. to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. On
his rebellion the estate reverted to the Crown, and was granted, in
1322, to Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. He died without issue, and
Edward bestowed the property upon his new favourite, Hugh le Despencer,
upon whose attainder it passed again to the Crown. At length the claim
of the Knights Hospitallers was admitted. For in 1324 Edward II.
assigned to them ‘all the lands of the Templars,’ except, of course,
some nineteen-twentieths which King and Pope ‘touched’ in transference.
The King finally made to them an absolute grant of the whole Temple,
apart from the Outer Temple, in consideration of £100 contributed for
What happened next it is impossible, owing to lack of documentary
evidence, with certainty to say. This absence of evidence is partly due,
no doubt, to the behaviour of Wat Tyler’s men in 1381, as quoted by
Stow. For they not only sacked and burned John of Gaunt’s noble palace,
the neighbouring Savoy, but also ‘destroyed and plucked down the houses
and lodgings of the Temple, and took out of the Church the books and
records that were in Hutches of the apprentices of the law, carried them
into the streets and burnt them.’ And later records must have
disappeared in other ways, notably in the fire of 1678. Be that as it
may, the fact with which everybody is familiar is that the Temple
property passed into the occupancy, and finally into the possession, of
two Societies of Lawyers, who existed, and still exist, on terms of
absolute equality, neither taking precedence of the other, and both
sharing equally the Round Church of the Knights Templars. These two
Societies or Inns are called after the property of the Knights within
the boundaries of the City, which they divided between them–the Inner
and the Middle Temple.
Now, the first discoverable mention of the Temple as an abode of lawyers
occurs in Chaucer’s ‘Prologue to the Canterbury Tales’ (_c._ 1387).
Geoffrey Chaucer himself, a fond tradition would have us believe, dwelt
for a while in these Courts, and was a student of the Inner Temple. Be
that as it may, he tells us
‘A manciple there was of a Temple …
Of Masters had he mo than thrice ten,
That were of Law expert and curious;
Of which there was a dozen in that house
Worthy to been Stewards of rent and land
Of any Lord that is in England,’ etc.
Here, then, we have a clear indication of a Society of Masters dwelling
in the Temple, whilst Walsingham’s account of Wat Tyler’s rebellion
refers to apprentices of the Law there. But there is nothing to indicate
the existence of the two Inns till about the middle of the fifteenth
century, when we find references to them in the Paston Letters (1440
_ff._), and in the Black Book of Lincoln’s Inn (1466 _ff._). This does
not, of course, prove that there was only one Inn before. Such, however,
is the traditional account. ‘In spite of the damage done by the rebels
under Wat Tyler,’ says Dugdale, ‘the number of students so increased
that at length they divided themselves in two bodies–the Society of the
Inner and the Society of the Middle Temple.’ Those who believe this
maintain that when, in course of natural development–rapid expansion
apparently following the rebels’ onslaught–the original Society had
attained an unwieldy bulk and outgrown the capacity of the Old Hall, a
split was made. Two distinct and divided Societies, upon a footing of
absolute equality, took the place of the parent body. A new Hall was
built, but equal rights in the Old Church and the contiguous property
This form of propagation by subdivision is common enough, of course, in
the vegetable and insect world, but it seems highly improbable in the
case of a learned body. It is to me an incredible dichotomy. And it is
not necessary to stretch one’s credulity so far. There are
indications–faint, it is true, but still indications–of the existence
of two Societies of Lawyers settled here on two parcels of land that
once belonged to the Knights Templars, and dating from almost the
earliest days after Edward’s confiscation.
For, according to Dugdale, who repeats a tradition which is probably
correct, the Knights Hospitallers leased the property soon after they
had acquired it to ‘divers apprentices of the Law that came from
Thavie’s Inn in Holborn’ at an annual rental of £10. This must have been
before 1348. For in that year died John Thavye, who bequeathed this Inn
to his wife, and described it in his will as one ‘in which certain
apprentices of the Law _used_ to reside’ (_solebant_). But there is also
evidence of another and earlier settlement of lawyers on this property.
Some lawyers, it is recorded, ‘made a composition with the Earl of
Lancaster for a lodging in the Temple, and so came thither and have
continued ever since.’ The Earl of Lancaster, as we have seen above,
held the Temple _c._ 1315-1322.
Here, then, we have indications of two Societies of Lawyers settling in
the Temple. The first body, holding from the Earl of Lancaster, may
reasonably be supposed to have had their grant confirmed by the owners
who succeeded him. The Society of the Middle Temple must be considered
the successors of those tenants. And this Society Mr. Pitt Lewis,
K.C., has traced to a former home in St. George’s Inn, a students’
hostel mentioned by Stow.
The second body, migrating from Thavye’s Inn, obtained a lease of the
part not occupied by the former, at an annual rental of £10, as Dugdale
states. And from them are descended the Inner Templars of to-day.
From the time when the Order of the Knights Hospitallers was dissolved,
till 1608, these two Societies held these two separate parcels of land
direct of the Crown by lease, paying two separate rents. Then they
discovered that James I. was beginning to negotiate a sale of the
The present of a ‘stately cup of pure gold, filled with gold pieces,’
presented by the two Societies, converted the Scholar-Monarch. On August
13, 1608, he granted a Charter to the Treasurers and Benchers of the
Inner and Middle Temple, conferring upon them the freehold of the
Temple, together with the Church, ‘for the hospitation and education of
the Professors and Students of the Laws of this Realm,’ subject to a
rent charge of £10, payable by each of the two Societies. In 1673 these
rents were extinguished by purchase by the two Societies.
This patent of James I. is the only existing formal document concerning
the relations between the Crown and the Inns, though it would be strange
indeed if no other grant or patent ever existed. It is preserved in the
Church in a chest kept beneath the Communion Table, which can only be
opened by the keys held by the two Treasurers. The importance of the
patent is, for the purpose of our investigation, that it is based almost
certainly upon documents that have disappeared, but which reached back
to the original conveyance, and it shows that there were two separate
parcels, exacting two separate rents. Moreover, it provided that _each_
Society should continue to pay a rental of £10. Now, if these two
Societies represented a division of the one parent body which had come
from Thavye’s Inn and held the _whole_ Inner and Middle Temple at a
rent of £10, it is hardly conceivable that when this supposed division
took place, each Society should have continued to pay the whole rent.
The first thing they would have divided, after dividing themselves,
would surely have been that rent of £10.
That the theory of a division having taken place early caused much
wonderment is shown by a report that was rife in the seventeenth
century. This ‘report’ was to the effect that the division arose from
the sides taken by the Lawyers in the Wars of the Roses. Those wars,
however, took place after the date when there is evidence of the
existence of the two Societies. The ‘report’ represents an attempt to
explain the existence of the two Societies when their origin was already
forgotten, and was perhaps suggested by the fact that it was in the
Temple Gardens that Shakespeare placed the famous incident that led to
the Wars of the Roses:
‘PLANTAGENET. Let him that is a true-born gentleman,
And stands upon the honour of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this briar pluck a white rose with me.
‘SOMERSET. Let him that is no coward, nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.
‘WARWICK. This brawl to-day,
Grown to this faction in the Temple Garden,
Shall send, between the red rose and the white,
A thousand souls to death and deadly night.’
In 1732, in order to put an end to many questions of property, an
elaborate deed of partition was agreed to by the two Inns, and forms the
final authority upon what belongs to each.