Inns of Court


Elizabethan pix & quotes: Francis Bacon at Gray's Inn

Since it’s the month of Francis Bacon’s 455th birthday, we’ll start the new year with pictures of Baconish things.

francis-baconHere’s his statue at Gray’s Inn. Next time I go to London, I’m going to get there the minute the gate opens, in hopes of taking a picture with no cars in it so I don’ have to crop so fiercely.

I especially like the garter tied in a bow and the puffy bow on his shoes. A person can be serious of purpose and still wear jazzy shoes; a lesson we have needed to re-learn in our age.









That’s the Gray’s Inn griffin. Such a beautiful beast! I’m certain the emblems of the four Inns of Court formed the foundation for the different schools at Hogwarts. Naturally, you’d choose this fine gryphon if you could. Lincoln’s Inn has a purple lion on a gold field, but they don’t splash it about much. The Middle Temple has a sheep with a flag on a red cross. The flag is somewhat thrilling, but it’s still a sheep. The Inner Temple has Pegasus – a flying horse – which I’ll grant you is pretty fine.

grays-inn-hallHere’s Gray’s Inn hall. Francis ate most of the dinners and suppers of his life in this building. It was badly damaged during the Blitz and has been substantially rebuilt. Still, he would feel at home, especially because a painting of his father still hangs in it. I’m not sure how warm his reception would be.




Here’s a sketch of the probable layout of Gray’s Inn in 1590. Bacon lived in the building catty-corner from the hall, in the bottom left corner of Chapel Court. There’s an ‘a’ marking the spot; you can barely see it. The hall is marked ‘i’. Bacon would have seen green fields and trees out his chamber window.

My characters Tom and Ben lived for a while in the building opposite the hall, called the Middle Gallery. They moved to the T-shaped building at the left end of the hall, closer to Bacon’s building. The kitchens are on the ground floor of this building.

The roads are still the same, or rather, in the same place, but the city has long since overgrown those open fields. Bacon laid out his walk, which is still there today, in the space labelled ‘pannierman’s close.’ The close was an orchard and vegetable garden –produce carried to market in panniers, except of course it was probably all eaten by the gentlemen of Gray’s.





Jacques, David. 1989. “‘The Chief Ornament’ of Gray’s Inn: The Walks from Bacon to Brown.” Garden History, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), pp. 41-67.

The season of Misrule

The season of Misrule is a descendent of Saturnalia, the Roman festival of the winter solstice. Somehow coming back hourglassaround to the sunny side of our orbit suggested the inversion of social structures to the Ancient Ones. Turn the hourglass over, reach the limit and do an about-face; I suppose that’s more or less the logic, if logic has any role in this season of Unreason.

The Wikipedia article about Saturnalia is long and interesting; I recommend it. It was one of many Graeco-Roman holidays involving role reversals. (The only one we have that I can think of is a Sadie Hawkins dance, surely now nearly obsolete.)

Turtles_all_the_way_down copy

Saturnalia was hugely popular. Everybody got the day off work, slaves were waited upon by masters, gifts were exchanged. Gambling was allowed, standards of behavior were relaxed, people got loose. This made it the holiday to beat, which is why Christmas happens when it does.

Everything is founded on something else. It really is turtles all the way down.


Abbot of Unreason 

Early Christianity adopted the role reversal portion of the ancient festival, with the license for looser behavior. Wikipedia tells us that the Lord of Misrule or the Abbot of Unreason was an officer appointed by drawing lots to preside over the Feast of Fools. The intention was that someone low on the institution’s totem pole, like a peasant or a boy, would be made ruler for one day of wild partying instead of sober work and worship. Wild by monkish standards; I’m sure they sat around the table drinking wine and giggling themselves sick over obscure academic jokes. The Boy Bishop could order his superiors around, though custom constrained his powers. He could make the real bishop cut his meat for him or dance a jig; temporary, funny, harmless things.

Misrule at the Elizabethan Inns of Court








The educated sophisticates of Jacobethan times got a big kick out of medieval gags like the Lord of Misrule. There was no misrule in Elizabeth’s Court, but the universities, Inns of Court, and trade guilds had great fun with the tradition. Too much fun sometimes; a drunken riot followed the choosing of a Lord of Misrule at Pembroke Hall at Cambridge University in 1628.

The City of London chose a Lord of Misrule and held a procession of Morris dancers, followed by the Lord’s Council, followed by the Lord himself in a gown of gold brocade. A Lord of Misrule entered the City from Whitechapel with a great company and many guns and halberds, trumpets blowing. They rode through Newgate, in at Ludgate, round about St. Paul’s and into Cheapside and so home to Aldgate.mardi_gras_wikicom

This was a time when real processions displaying real lords and ladies occurred at regular intervals. But people in all times and places enjoy hitting the streets in their fancy duds. The magnificent personages shown here were part of the Mardi Gras parade in Shreveport.

Gesta Grayorum 1594

The Gesta was Gray’s record of their “law sports” — their misruly entertainments. This volume happened to be preserved because it mentions a performance — possibly the first — of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

Gray’s Inn would never be outdone by mere City men. Every year when the Michaelmas term ended (Saturday, Dec. 3 in 1586), they elected a court of Misrule, led by the Prince of Purpoole. (Purpoole was the name of a lane east of Gray’s Inn Road.)

Here’s a typical sample of the pompous nonsense they found amusing:

“After many Consultations had hereupon, by the Youths, and others that were moil forward herein, at length, about the II th [2nd] of December, with the Consent and Assistance of the Readers and Ancients, it was determined, that there should be elected a Prince of Purpoole, to govern our State for the time ; which was intended to be for the Credit of Grays Inn, and rather to be performed by witty Inventions, than chargeable Expenses.”

They elected a full Privy Council, ten Gentlemen Pensioners to attend on the prince’s person, and a guard with a Captain to defend him. Their activities seem to have consisted chiefly of sending diplomatic missions to the other Inns of Court and receiving such missions at Gray’s. We can assume an abundance of liquid refreshment at these august encounters. The prince and 80 retainers dined in state with the Lord Mayor and his retainers at Crosby Place (once owned by the Duke of Gloucester.) They had their masques, written by Graysians like Francis Bacon, and sometimes players, written and performed by professional players.

Here’s another taste, this time describing the appalling conditions under which Mr. Shakespeare’s plays were performed. One imagines he was used to it, although it sounds like Inns of Court society was far less orderly than the audience at the Globe. Remember how big the clothes worn by these “worshipful Personages” crowding onto the stage and how drunk half of them must have been!

“When the Ambassador was placed, as aforesaid, and that there was something to be performed for the Delight of the Beholders, there arose such a disordered Tumult and Crowd upon the Stage, that there was no Opportunity to effect that which was intended: There came so great a number of worshipful Personages upon the Stage, that might not be displaced; and Gentlewomen, whose Sex did privilege them from Violence, that when the Prince and his Officers had in vain, a good while, expected and endeavored a Reformation, at length there was no hope of Redress for that present. The Lord Ambassador and his Train [from the Inner Temple] thought that they were not so kindly entertained, as was before expected, and thereupon would not stay any longer at that time, but, in a sort, discontented and displeased. After their Departure the Throngs and Tumults did somewhat cease, although so much of them continued, as was able to disorder and confound any good Inventions whatsoever. In regard whereof, as also for that the Sports intended were especially for the gracing of the Templarians it was thought good not to offer any thing of Account, saving Dancing and Reveling with Gentlewomen; and after such Sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus [another play about mixed-up sets of twins]) was played by the Players. So that Night was begun, and continued to the end, in nothing but Confusion and Errors; whereupon, it was ever afterwards called, the Night of Errors.”



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