Map F: Inns of Chancery, c. 1470
Click here to download a 1200 dpi of this map.
The final map shows the likely configuration of the Inns of Chancery as they existed when Fortescue describes them about 1470. Fortescue, who did not name the inns, said of the legal inns:
“In these greater inns, indeed, and also in the lesser, there is, besides an academy of law, a kind of public school of all the manners that the nobles learn. There they learn to sing and to exercise themselves in every kind of harmonics. They are also taught there to practise dancing and all games proper for nobles, as those brought up in the king’s household are accustomed to practise. In the vacations most of them apply themselves to the study of legal science, and on holy days to the study of holy scripture and, after the divine services, to the reading of chronicles. This is indeed a cultivation of virtues and a banishment of all vice. So for the sake of the acquisition of virtue and the discouragement of vice, knights, barons, and also other magnates, and the nobles of the realm place their sons in these inns, although they do not desire them to be trained in the science of the laws, nor to live by its practice, but only by their patrimonies. Scarcely any turbulence, quarrels, or disturbance ever occur there, but offenders are punished with no other punishment than expulsion from participation in their mutual society, which is a penalty they fear more than criminals elsewhere fear imprisonment and fetters. For a man once expelled from one of these societies is never received into the fellowship of any other of those societies. Hence there is continual peace and their conduct is like the behaviour of such as are conjoined in perfect amity” [John Fortescue, “In Praise of the Laws of England,” in Shelley Lockwood, ed. Sir John Fortescue: On the Laws and Governance of England (Cambridge, 1997, 69)].
This description is more suitable for a recruiting flyer than as history. While there was undoubted important legal learning underway, anyone familiar with the behavior of young males in a collegiate setting will be immediately skeptical. The numerous records of riots, drunken brawls, and even murder speak for themselves. Shakespeare’s Justice Shallow speaks of the wild times at Clement’s Inn in his youth where “they will talk of mad Shallow yet,” and the great Falstaff himself agrees nostalgically that “We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow” (2 Henry IV, 3.2). (If Falstaff and Shallow are about 60 years old in c. 1413, Clement’s Inn would have not existed in their youth, but no matter.) As Fortescue notes, most of the young members of the inns were there not to become lawyers but, at most, to acquire enough legal knowledge to manage their estates and properties. This was a shrewd decision. At the Inns of Chancery they made nation-wide connections that would be helpful for life. During the fifteenth century lawyers were for the first time styled “gentlemen” in official documents, a good start. Fortescue was misleading, however, when claiming that “nobles of the realm” sent their young there, for they did not in his lifetime. But plenty of gentry and rich merchants who wished their sons to learn the manners “of court” and rise socially did. Some sons even became lawyers. Some became great men indeed – Thomas More, Edward Coke, John Selden, and many others got good starts foundations for life at the Inns of Chancery.
Of the Inns of Chancery after Fortescue’s time, the Outer (or Utter) Temple left almost no traces and had disappeared before the Reformation, while Strand Inn was demolished about 1549 to make room for the original Somerset House. St. George’s/The Long Entry did not make the transition into an historical Inn of Chancery, but seems to have housed lawyers into Fortescue’s time. The other inns survived and enjoyed their greatest moments of prestige and influence in the sixteenth and the first half the seventeenth centuries.
After the Restoration the Inns of Chancery began a slow and undignified decay into gentlemen’s clubs, with the numbers of members of the legal profession slowly declining. Charles Dickens for example, lodged at Furnival’s Inn for a while. Some of their buildings were victims of the late-Victorian and earlier twentieth-century real estate boom and zest for civic improvements that destroyed most of what was left of early London. By this time the medieval buildings had been rebuilt anyway. The inn properties were demolished, although most live on feebly as titles for office buildings today, some occupied by lawyers.
The Inns of Court and the Inns of Chancery brought some of the best minds in England to London, while London’s medieval population was enriched and made more varied and lively by members of the inns. Their members, in turn, were enriched by the experience of London itself. Visits to London by provincial lawyers during law terms and the maintenance of “branch offices” in town helped bind the upper-middle classes together socially and intellectually. The maps included in this section show that it was in the fourteenth century that the legal profession moved into a permanent part of the physical landscape and social fabric of London.
- 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