Gray's Inn, part 2: Daily routine

The gentlemen of the Inns of Court were mocked in their day by the likes of Thomas Nashe as waste-goods and idlers. Fair enough for the average run, who were only there to acquire a bit of urban polish. But those who wanted to pursue careers in the law spent a goodly portion of their time studying.

Becoming a lawyer in Elizabethan England

(Taken almost verbatim from The Pension Book of Gray’s Inn, Records of the Honourable Society 1569-1669, edited by Reginald J. Fletcher. 1901. London: The Chiswick Press.)

His admission would take place at the time of life when young men go nowadays to the Universities. If he had studied previously at Staple Inn or Barnard’s Inn, he would be admitted at a fee of 40s. to the clerks’ mess, or third table, the members of which waited on the rest of the company in Hall. Otherwise, he joined the masters’ mess and paid £3 6s 8d. Shortly afterwards he would secure a share in a chamber and begin the course of study prescribed for inner-barristers.

Much of his work was no doubt done in private, but during Readings his mornings would be spent in the Hall, listening to lectures on the selected statute and joining in the subsequent disputations. His evenings both then and in term would be devoted to the moots and bolts. So passed a period of from six to nine years.

When the allotted time was completed he had to produce, as a condition of his call to be an utter-barrister, a certificate that he had argued twice at the grand moots in the Hall, twice at moots in one of the Inns of Chancery and twice on the bench in the Library. He was then sworn “openly at the cupboard in the Hall” and allowed his degree.

After call he had to serve the next three learning vacations, attending the Readings both at Gray’s and at the Inns of Chancery, and presiding at bolts whereat students put cases.

When he had been for five years an utter-barrister he might begin to practise in the courts at Westminster, and some ten years after his call to the Bar he was admitted to the grand Company of Ancients.

 Doesn’t sound idle to me!

 An average day

(This is from Prest, Wilfrid R. 1972. The Inns of Court under Elizabeth I and the Early Stuarts. Longman.)

 5:00 – 6:00                  Ad Sacra. Begin with God by reading and prayer.

6:00 – 9:00                  Ad Jura. Read the law carefully and understandingly.

9:00 – 11:00                Ad Arma. Carry on harmless acts of manhood, fencing, dancing, etc.

11:00 – 12:00               Ad Artes. Forget not academic learning, rhetoric, logic.

12:00 – 2:00                 Ad Victium. Eat seasonably, moderately, and allow time to digest.

2:00  – 5:00                 Ad Amictias. Visit civilly your friends, and repay kindness in kind.

5:00  – 6:00                 Ad Artes. Read history, romances and poetry.

6:00  – 8:00                 Ad Victium

8:00  – 9:00                 Ad Repetitionem et Sacra. Repeat your parts and say your prayers.

9:00  – 5:00                 Ad Noctem et somnium

Hard to imagine a building full of young men between the ages of 17 and 25 going to bed at 9:00 pm. But those were different times and there were no streetlights. If you went out after dark, you brought your own lantern. I do like the idea of those harmless acts of manhood, however.

The legal calendar

The royal courts met from 8:00 – 11:00, Monday – Saturday, during terms. Barristers, both inner and outer, were expected to spend time observing the courts in session. Diligent students would dash home to write down everything they could remember in their commonplace books.


Terms: roughly 3 weeks each

  • Hilary: Jan 13 to Saturday before Septuagesima Sunday
  • Easter: 17 days after Easter Sunday to Eve of Ascension
  • Trinity: Friday afer Corpus Christi day to 19 days later (mid-May to mid-June)
  • Michaelmas: Tuesday after feast of St. Michael (29 Sept) to Nov 26~Dec 4
  • Learning Vacations: barristers were required to be in residence
  • Lent Vacation: from first Monday in Lent, for 3 weeks &3 days
  • Summer/Autumn Vacation: first Monday after Lammas (Aug 1) for 3 weeks & 3 days
  • Mesne (mean/dead) Vacations: You could go home for the rest of the year and refresh yourself.



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