Templars

Not much remains today of the original early medieval home of the Templar Knights which once existed just west of the City of London. While the area still carries the name (as seen in the Underground station, Temple), most the buildings now on the site came from later eras. But there are some original elements.

First though, a bit of history. The Templar precinct which become known as the Temple area of London was the second site in the city given to the military order, known more completely as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon (thanks to their Jerusalem HQ being located near the remains of the Temple of Solomon).

Temple-churchThe first was in Holborn, located between the northern end of Chancery Lane and Staple Inn, and was known as the ‘Old Temple’ after which, in the latter years of the 12th century, the Templars moved their headquarters to the new site – ‘New Temple’ or Novum Templum – on unoccupied land on the bank of the River Thames. 

This new precinct included consecrated and unconsecrated areas. The consecrated part was a monastery and was located around what is now Church Court with the monastic refectory built on the site of what is now Inner Temple Hall – the medieval buttery is the only part of the original building which survives.

The lay or unconsecrated part of the precinct lay east of Middle Temple Lane, where a second hall was built on the site of what is now the Middle Temple Hall (you’ll find more on that here) which was used to house the lay followers of the order.

The original buildings also included the still existing Templar Church (pictured, along with a monument depicting the Templars outside the church), which was consecrated in 1185 during the reign of King Henry II by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, on a visit to London. Like all other Templar churches, its circular design was based on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (the chancel was added later and consecrated in the presence of King Henry III in 1240 – for more on the Temple Church, you can see our earlier post here.

The New Temple become an important site in London (and the kingdom as a whole – the Masters of the Temple were the heads of the order in England) and was used by many of the nobility as a treasury to store valuables (and to lend money). It also had close connections with the monarchy and was, as we saw earlier this week, a power base for King John and from where he issued what is known as the King John Charter in 1215. He also used it for a time as a repository for the Crown jewels.

In an indication of the Temple’s prominence in state affairs, some of the great and powerful were buried here during this period including William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219, and his sons William and Gilbert (for more on those buried in the Temple, see our earlier post here). There were also apparently plans to bury King Henry III and his Queen here – this apparently spurred on the building of the chancel on the church – but they were eventually buried in Westminster Abbey instead.

Numerous relics were also apparently housed here during the Templar times including a phial believed to contain Christ’s blood and pieces of the true Cross.

The Templar era came to an end in 1312 when the order was dissolved on the authority of Pope Clement V amid some heinous allegations of blasphemy and sexual immorality which had the support of King Philip IV of France. While the pope awarded their property to the rival order, the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (also known as the Hospitallers), King Edward II had other ideas and ignored their claims with regard to the London property and instead, claimed it for the Crown (a dispute which went on for some years).

It later became associated particularly with lawyers, although lawyers would have certainly been at work in the New Temple given its role as banker to the wealthy (but more on its later associations with lawyers in later post).

For more on the history of the Templars, see Malcolm Barber’s The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple.

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Today we’re taking a look at a couple of still extant London buildings which have strong associations with playwright William Shakespeare…

George-InnThe George Inn, Southwark. Located at 75-77 Borough High Street, the George Inn is London’s last remaining galleried inn. The current building has its origins in the late 17th century after the original inn, which can be traced back to at least the mid-1500s – was destroyed in a fire in 1676. Now owned by the National Trust, it is leased out and remains open as a public house – part of the Greene King chain. While its known for its connections with 19th century writer Charles Dickens – he was a patron of this establishment and mentions it in Little Dorrit (a fact we mentioned in our series on Dickens back in 2012), the inn (or at least the previous version of it) also has Shakespearean connections with its prime Southwark location meaning it’s quite possible Shakespeare himself may have visited. Whether that’s the case or not, it is known that the premises served at time as a theatre of sorts in his day with acting troops performing in the courtyard while audience members could stand in the courtyard and watch or pay extra for a seat in the gallery. For more on the inn, see www.gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-london/the-george-inn-pub/.

Middle-Temple-HallMiddle Temple Hall. Built between 1562 and 1573 by Edmund Plowden (memorialised with monuments in both the hall and nearby Temple Church), this magnificent Tudor hall has survived both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz and continues to serve the legal profession today. It too was used as a theatre/concert hall in Elizabethan times and later as a site for Inigo Jones’ masques but in terms of the Shakespearean connection, it is known for being where the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place – on the night of Candlemas (2nd February) 1602. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed the play and it is thought that Shakespeare himself was among the players. For more on the hall, which is only rarely opened to the public, you can visit our earlier posts here and (on ‘Drake’s Cupboard) here or the official website at www.middletemple.org.uk/home/.

For more on the George Inn, check out Pete Brown’s social history Shakespeare’s Local: Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary Pub.

 

One of the foremost seafarers of the Elizabethan age, Sir Francis Drake became the second sea captain to circumnavigate the globe when he did so in his renamed vessel, The Golden Hind, between 1577 and 1580.

Drake's-CupboardWhile it is not believed he was a member of the Middle Temple – one of the Inns of Court, he certainly had some connections and a visit to Middle Temple Hall is recorded in August, 1586, when he was congratulated having just returned from a voyage to the Spanish Indies.

His ongoing connection to the inn can be found in two objects which remain at the hall today.

The first is a ‘cupboard’, known as Drake’s Cupboard (cup board being an alternative for table), it is reputedly to have been made from a hatch cover off the Golden Hind (there’s a replica of this ship in Southwark). Replacing an earlier table, the cupboard is used in various ceremonial aspects of life at the Inn such as, for example, being the table on which members sign a book when they are called to the Bar.

The second, meanwhile, is a lantern which hangs over the entrance to the hall and was reputedly taken from the poop deck of the ship (this was destroyed during the bombings of World War II and a replica now hangs in its place).

Both items can only be viewed when the hall is opened to the public on rare occasions like the annual Open House London event. For more on Middle Temple Hall, see our earlier entry here and www.middletemple.org.uk.

Last weekend saw thousands of people make their way to rarely opened properties across London as part of Open House London. Among the properties we visited was the Middle Temple Hall, one the finest example of a 15th century hall in London (if not the UK). The hall was built in the 1560s and early 1570s – by which time the Middle Temple, one of the medieval Inns of Court (more of which we’ll be talking about in an upcoming series), had already existed for about 200 years – and the hall which the Temple currently used, that of the former Templar Knights, was starting to fall apart. The new hall was constructed under the direction of law reporter Edmund Plowden, then Treasurer of the Inn, and funded by members of the Middle Temple. In use by about 1570, Queen Elizabeth I is, according to some stories, said to have dined there many times and it was in the hall that the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night took place. While it suffered some damage in World War II bombings, the hall still looks much as it did in the late 1500s. It remains at the centre of the Middle Temple’s collegiate and social life and it is here that members are called to the Bar. Among the notable objects inside are numerous paintings and stained glass memorials of people associated with the Inn (including Sir Walter Raleigh and numerous monarchs – from King Charles I to King Edward VII) as well as the High Table – a table made of three 29 foot long planks from a single oak, it is said to be a gift from Queen Elizabeth I – and the ‘cupboard’, a smaller table which was apparently made from the hatch cover of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hind. Late note: I should add that the Middle Temple Hall is not normally open to the public.