A lot of history on one gatehouse

Coats of Arms above Lincoln's Inn gatehouse, Chancery Lane

Look at the Coat of Arms in the centre of the picture above and it is, at first glance, familiar. The three lions, the crown and the ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ mark it as the Royal Arms. What is different is the quartering of the lions of England with the Fleur-di-Lis of France. King Henry IV introduced this design and it was first used from 1399 to 1422. It was used intermittently, by King Edward IV (King Henry VI had different ideas) and various other kings until the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in 1603. This was the date of the Union under King James VI of Scotland (see below), that brought Irish and Welsh emblems into the Royal Arms.

The French emblems tell the tale of the claim to the French throne of a succession of English kings, starting with Edward III in 1340. However, they also reveal the age of Lincoln’s Inn, or rather this gatehouse, which dates to 1518 and is the oldest part of the Inn. The Royal Arms of the king at that time, Henry VIII, are flanked by the unusual purple (a very expensive colour in days gone by) dragon of Henry de Lacy, third Earl of Lincoln. He died in 1311 and it was thought the Inn was built on his land. The gatehouse was restored in 1695 and 1969, which is why it looks so good, the Arms being repaired in 1815 (the date of the Battle of Waterloo, of course).

The Treasurer in 1518, the man who found the money (a third of it his own), was Sir Thomas Lovell, whose arms are on the right. He also makes an appearance in Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII. And it was during a performance of the play in 1613 at the Globe Theatre (built in 1599) that a cannon used during the opening scene set fire to the thatched roof. The wooden building quickly burnt to the ground but there is no record of casualties. Although rebuilt two years later, with a tiled roof, it was finally closed by the Puritans in 1642 and demolished two years later.

The records of Lincoln’s Inn only survive back to 1422 but it is thought to be almost a century older.  The word ‘Inn’ was also applied to large houses, usually with a hall, used by groups of important people such as churchmen and lawyers when in town on business. Since they had a large amount of little-used space, they provided useful accommodation for impoverished law students who were learning their trade by attending court. Some 20 Inns became associated with lawyers and eventually starting offering lessons, with the four present major Inns of Court becoming established: Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn. Other Inns became known as the Inns of Chancery.


DID YOU KNOW: Lincoln’s Inn Field is the largest public square in London and was once used for executions. The most notorious was Anthony Babington, a Roman Catholic found guilty of trying to assassinate the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots, her Catholic cousin.

Found guilty of treason in 1586, Babington’s death with six others by being hung, drawn and quartered was so awful that Queen Elizabeth ordered a second group of seven conspirators to be merely hung until dead. Perhaps that is the origin of the expression ‘hung by the neck until dead’? It is actually an act of mercy, as opposed to being hung, drawn and quartered, when you were taken down once unconscious, revived, then gutted etc as memorably portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

The Babington Plot led directly to Mary’s own execution for treason a few months afterwards. She was beheaded – a more merciful death reserved for royalty. Her death was one of the factors that prompted King Philip of Spain to launch the Spanish Armada – an attempted invasion of England in 1588. Ironically, on the death of the childless Elizabeth in 1603, Mary’s son, King James of Scotland, became King of England anyway – which, as mentioned above, did away with the version of the Royal Arms shown. A lot of history on one gatehouse.


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