In addition to our adventures in Paris and Provence, we spent several days in London. One of my favorite places is the incredible Inns of Court. The Inns are institutions where lawyers would live, eat, and learn the law. They are kind of like law schools but they are so much more than that. The Inns go back to the 14th century and have an incredible amount of quirky, brilliant history. There are four major inns: Lincoln, Gray’s, Middle Temple and Inner Temple.
The two inns with Temple in the name have the names because the land that they are built upon was previously owned by the Knights Templars 150 years prior to their founding. Both have gotten a little bit more famous with the Da Vinci Code. The movie takes place in the Temple Church, a squat round building with Knights Templars buried there.
One of the stories told about the church and the Knights Templar was about a true “black” knight who raped, pillaged, stole. Basically, he was everything a knight really was not supposed to be. When he died, there was a big dilemma in the order since he was not permitted to be buried on sacred land. So they compromised and buried him a lead coffin and hung him from a tree on banks of the Thames. Eventually, I think the church relented and allowed him to be buried on consecrated ground. However, I’m not sure if he’s in Temple Church. Also, within the church, there are incredible stone faces carved in the church; one man has a rat chewing on his ear.
We are fortunate enough to have a connection to the Middle Temple and have the opportunity to spend several days lecturing in Middle Temple Hall every year. The building began to be erected in 1562. It’s an impressive edifice and all the more impressive since it is still be used to this day. It is real treat of Elizabeth architecture with double barrel ceiling. Within the hall itself, history permeates everything. For example, the Middle Temple website reports that the “High Table consists of three 29-foot planks of a single oak, reputedly a gift from Elizabeth I to the Middle Temple, cut down in Windsor Forest and floated down the Thames to be installed in Hall before the building was completed.” There are rumors that Mary Queen of Scot’s death warrant was signed on that table. Moreover, there is a smaller table nearby that comes from a hatch from Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind. One of the first performances of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Knight was put on in the hall.
There is a beautiful wooden screen/set of doors at the entrance of the hall. It has these amazing spikes on top of the doors because allegedly in centuries past, students once broke into the hall and had a riotous party. Some things never change. When massive reconstruction was undertaken in the hall, they allegedly found a coffin with a body and 120 pairs of dice. No explanation was given. The hall was massively destroyed in WWII but thankfully it was reconstructed with help from the US and Canadian Bar Association.
That’s only a small portion of history in one building. In the Inner Temple, there was a building or set of buildings that allegedly burned down when a drunk judge mistakenly switched his candle and his chamber pot. Other such stories abound.
You can visit Middle Temple Hall and Temple Church and wander the grounds of both inns.