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A Delightful Visit to the Middle Temple in London

By Monty A. McIntyre

In April of 2011, I visited London and the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. The four English Inns of Court in London provide training to those who want to become Barristers, which are the trial lawyers in the English courts. The training is provided by Benchers (the senior members of the Inn) and other Barristers, and generally takes about a year to complete.

As a Master in the Honorable William B. Enright American Inn of Court in San Diego, California, I was able to request and obtain a "letter of introduction" from the American Inns of Court national office allowing me to visit and tour one of the four Inns.

I decided to visit the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. The Inn's name derives from the Knights Templar who owned the Middle Temple land for about 150 years and built the Temple Church. The Temple Church was part of the plot in Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code. Several Knights Templar are buried in the church, and Brown's book describes it as a church near the "center of London" which reputedly holds a major secret regarding Jesus and Christianity. As I learned during our tour, however, the church holds no secret, but the success of the Da Vinci Code has created a renewed interest in the church.

The Knights Templar lost the property as a result of their downfall at the hands of King Philip IV of France. The king was bankrupt while the Templars had amassed great wealth and the king became convinced that the Templars practiced idolatry, were blasphemers, and guilty of sexual immorality. In 1307, King Phillip ordered James of Molay, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar and a Frenchman, to come to Paris and bring with him the treasure of the Order of the Temple. James obeyed and was arrested, together with all of the members of the Order in France. The Order was suppressed thereafter and their land in England was taken over by the king.

The Middle Temple and the Inner Temple came to own the former Templar land under the Charter of King James I and VI in the 1600's. The king apparently needed to save money and it was costly to maintain the Temple Church. The solution-the land was granted to the Middle and Inner Temples to be used to train young lawyers, but they also had to agree to maintain Temple Church in perpetuity. They still do so today.

The highlight of the tour of the Middle Temple was enjoying lunch in Middle Temple Hall, a magnificent hall built in 1562 that is 101 feet long, 41 feet wide, and spanned by a gorgeous double hammer beam roof. You've probably seen Middle Temple Hall dressed up as Hogwarts Dining Hall in the Harry Potter movies.

At the front of the hall is the High Table, where the Benchers sit. The High Table is made from 29 foot planks from a single oak, reputedly a gift from Elizabeth I. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake visited the Middle Temple and regaled the members with stories of his successful expedition against the Spanish Indies. The hatch cover of his ship the Golden Hind was later used to make the present Middle Temple "cupboard." Since then the cupboard has been the center of the Middle Temple ceremonies: on it is laid the book that members sign when they are "called to the Bar" and officially become Barristers.

At the other end of the hall from the cupboard is a splendid, elaborately carved huge wooden screen made in 1574. The screen was extensively damaged during the German bombing in World War II, but the rest of the building survived intact. After the war the screen was so well repaired that the joins cannot be seen.

After our lunch we saw a signed copy of the Declaration of Independence. I didn't expect an English Inn to have a copy, and I was surprised and delighted to learn that five members of the Middle Temple Inn signed the Declaration of Independence. Later, nine members of the Middle Temple Inn signed the Constitution of the United States. Apparently many young men from England sailed to the colonies to seek their fortune in those days, and Barristers did so as well.

The Molyneux Globes, the earliest globes to be made in England by an Englishman, were spectacular. Made in 1592 and modified in 1603, the globes show no continent of Australia-it had not yet been discovered!

We also got to see the beautiful gardens along the Thames River. I thoroughly enjoyed our fascinating tour of the Middle Temple. I highly recommend that you request a letter of introduction through the American Inns of Court and visit one of the English Inns. Like me, you'll be glad that you did.

Monty A. McIntyre is a shareholder of Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek in San Diego, California. He is a civil trial lawyer and also serves as a private mediator. He is a member of the Hon. William A. Enright AIC.

© 2012 Monty A. MyIntyre. This article was published in the March/April 2012 issue of The Bencher, the flagship magazine of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.