The Inner Temple History Society

When the Inner Temple History Society was founded, its brief was set widely but with a view to promoting a better understanding of the history of The Inner Temple in all its aspects, its role as an educational and professional institution over nearly 700 years; its guardianship of its ancient estate; its impact through its members on the law and history of those lands where the Common Law is practised; all aspects of legal and the historical interests and writings of its members. This is a rich hunting ground in which to put together the three or four lectures a year which the Inn has the time and resources to promote.

Since the completion of Project Pegasus, The History Society has had the benefit of using the Inn’s purpose-built lecture theatre and reception space. This development could not be more timely. As the Inn has opened up after the COVID-19 years, the online and international interest in the Society’s talks has blossomed. Numbers attending are at least double those who came to hear talks of equal merit before the pandemic.

In October 2022, Sir Michael Tugendhat (Master Tugendhat) spoke to well over 200 people, most of whom were online, on the subject of his recent book on Human Rights in Britain and France: From Thomas Becket to the French Revolution. It was fascinating to understand the development of this area of the law in its international context. The book, which is award-winning, was co-authored with a distinguished French writer, and as yet is available in French. This was therefore a unique opportunity to learn of the genesis our thinking on human rights.

At the start of 2023, the Society heard the first of an informal series of talks focusing on the history of various aspects of the Inn through its treasures and fabric. Richard Parsons has an unparalleled knowledge of the Inn’s silver having been its adviser of many decades. He has written extensively in previous editions of the Yearbook on some of its more interesting items and on this occasion, he chose a number of items which illustrated the evolution of the collection and the way they reflected on the life of the Inn over the centuries. Whilst being extremely learned it was also fun and made history in itself. Master John Wass managed to get a clear sound out of the pre-dining horn which had been thought to be silent for 150 years.

In June 2023, Professor Sir John Baker KC (Master Baker) spoke on Three Treasures from The Library. Master Baker is, in one sense, one of the treasures of The Inner Temple himself. He is the Downing Professor Emeritus of the Laws of England at the University of Cambridge and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of The Inner Temple has been invaluable to those carrying out almost any work on the Inn’s history.

On this occasion he chose to explore three items from the collection which are among the most important and intriguing documents in our national and legal history. The medieval Clifford’s Inn Triptych comes from the dawn of formal legal education in England. Within it lies the earliest regulations for students in any of the legal Inns. Few, if anyone, would have Master Baker’s capacity to explain and contextualise the triptych.

Inner Temple Abhimany © Bose

He went on to explain in outline the importance of the four late medieval illustrations of the interiors of the mid-15th century courts. There are no other extant such illustrations for the next three hundred years and they provide a window into the life of the English Courts and life just a couple of generations after Chaucer.

Master Baker’s final choice was King Edward VI’s manuscript document headed My devise for the succession in which he sought to change the order of succession to the throne contrary to the will of Henry VIII, excluding Mary and Elizabeth. A much fuller account of his talk by Master Baker himself appears elsewhere in this Yearbook.

On this occasion he chose to explore three items from the collection which are among the most important and intriguing documents in our national and legal history.

At the time of going to press two major talks are eagerly awaited. On 26 October 2023, Dr Geoffrey Tyack of Kellogg College, Oxford will talk on The Smirkes and the Inner Temple: The Building of the Victorian Temple. Sir Robert Smirke and his younger brother were among the most famous architects of the mid-19th century (the British Museum and its reading room) yet are hardly remembered nowadays. They were also the successive surveyors of the Inn and responsible for momentous architectural changes during their time which can still be traced today.

Adam et Eve, Chartres Cathedral

On 29 November 2023, the next in the annual Selden Society and Four Inns of Court Lectures will take place. It follows on Lord Judge’s talk, 1622 The King’s Prerogative-2022 The Prime Minister’s PrerogativeContinuing Constitutional Turbulence which attracted considerable public attention. This year it will be Gray’s Inn’s turn to host this most prestigious of public lectures on matters of legal history within a modern context. Baroness Hale will give an overview of the rights of women in respect of their children over the last 200 years. The title is, “Matrimony, Patriarchy and the welfare of children; the 200 year struggle to give parents equal right in the upbringing of their children”. This is the first time that she has delivered such a tour d’horizon in a public talk. The role of The Inner Temple History Society in promoting this series of talks has been significant.

Preparation for the programme of talks for the first half of 2024 is well advanced and will include a talk on the history of the Inn’s Library and another on the Sub-Treasurers who have kept the place running through the centuries come plague, fires and bombing.

Detail from the Court of King’s Bench c 1460 illuminated manuscript


His Honour Donald Cryan (Hon) LLD

Chair of The History Society

Master of the Bench

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