Map D. All Holdings by Chancery Clerks, 1350-1425
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Chancery Clerk Involvement in Legal Inns
Maps D and E illustrate an important episode in the formation of the Inns of Chancery, a period when the clerks of the royal Chancery played an important role as proprietors of legal inns and as educators. Viewed together,these maps show vividly the marked contrast in property investment by Chancery clerks before about 1425 and then afterward.
The year 1350 was chosen as a boundary for Map D because a major investment in property in the area by Chancery clerks began in the year. Map A shows that the Holborn area in the 1300s already had a discontinuous series of legal inns leased by Chancery clerks. In the 1370s William Mirfield amalgamated several of these earlier properties into a large legal inn or at least an assemblage of inns under one Chancery clerk. (Shown in the upper right of this map.) Mirfield was probably following the business pattern established in the 1350s of his Chancery colleague John Tamworth in making larger and more permanent investments. Mirfield soon died, but Tamworth was indeed worthy of emulation, as he had thrived as a property investor and proprietor of legal inns, initially funded at royal expense. He was Clerk of the Crown, an office charged with “the bringing up of youth” or training of young clerks for an organization decimated in the late 1340s by the plague (BL Lansdowne 621, f. 2a). To give Tamworth space to train young clerks, in 1350 he was granted a property on Chancery Lane later described as “a certain great inn called Tamworth Inne with 20 cottages contiguous to the said inn” (document quoted by Williams, 2, s. 1268). Tamworth was ambitious enough to make the best of his opportunity. He needed the opportunity: he was a layman and married. The Chancery clearly saw that he was an able person for the position, since the position of Clerk of the Crown seems to have been created for him included in the job description that he could be exempt from the token church offices that the other clerks must hold, with their requirement of celibacy. But this also meant that he could never be promoted to Master, whatever his talents, since the rank of Master was reserved during this period only for unmarried men in clerical office.
Apparently successful at both training and running an inn, Tamworth subsequently began to collect property around the Holborn area. In properties unconnected to the Chancery, he began providing training for non-Chancery law students, with teaching done by other Chancery clerks. These were paying students. Observing Tamworth’s success, a number of other second-tier clerks tried to match Tamworth’s success in legal education and property investment in the legal quarter. Whether these lower-ranking clerks did the teaching themselves or Masters were brought in for lectures is unknown. Ownership of a legal inn might have helped resolve (or advance) a tricky problem regarding clerical celibacy. A number of these other Chancery property investors were also married, but, unlike Tamworth, they had no authorization from the Chancery to be so. An increasing number of them were legally married after 1350, anyway, the beginning of a change increased dramatically in the next century. In the last half of the fourteenth century, however, marriage, nevertheless, effectively blocked clerks from advancement to Master and the kind of more lucrative benefices the Masters could receive. Contemporary Chancery regulations repeatedly prohibit marriage to the rank-and-file clerks. It is possible that Tamworth’s example showed his peers that having a wife and partner in keeping a legal inn (or managing other properties) might be more attractive than slogging through the many years and uncertainties it took to reach the top in the Chancery. And although Tamworth died in 1375, his family maintained most of his holdings for another fifty years, showing benefits accrued to the clerk’s immediate family beyond the grave.
Map D shows in detail investments by the Chancery clerks over seventy-five years. Not all these properties were legal inns but were more like commercial holdings. Some are identified in the records as shops and dwellings. Still, the sheer number of property investments by second-tier or lower Chancery clerks in this period is notable. The only Masters after Mirfield’s death who held property were Robert Farringdon and John Mapilton, and their properties had no known ties to legal education.
Chancery clerk properties which by 1500 were known as Inns of Chancery include Clifford’s Inn, Clement’s Inn, Furnival’s Inn, and Thavies Inn. It should be emphasized that there is no evidence of continuity between the properties held by the Chancery clerks and the later Inns of Chancery, except, as noted above, the clerk John Oselby is named as Principal of Furnival’s Inn in 1407 and later. In other words, the Chancery clerks saw their educational inns as investments, but got out of the business as soon as a strong Chancellor leaned on them. Note how many of the post-1350 Inns of Chancery in Map B were founded as law societies just after 1415, the year Chancery clerks were successfully barred from residing with lawyers and law students. (Chancellors had been trying to separate them since 1388.)
But that is in many ways the point – around the time the Chancery clerks were forced to cease residing with lawyers and law students, these properties, already occupied by lawyers and law students, were left fumbling for organization and management. They resolved the management problem by organizing themselves into the Inns of Chancery, legal societies now free of Chancery clerks and free to broaden the scope of legal education beyond the rather narrow knowledge base of the royal clerks.
- General Introduction
- Table of the Inns of Chancery
- Map A: All Legal Inns, 1292-1350
- Map B: Minor Legal Inns, 1350-1425
- Map C: All Legal Inns, 1292-1500
- Map D. Chancery Clerks’ Holdings 1350-1425
- Map E. Chancery Clerks’ New Inns 1425-1500
- Map F: Inns of Chancery, c. 1470
- Other Maps of the Legal Inns
- Chancery Clerks