The breadth of the subject matter of the older books in the Inn's library attests to its members' interests. When Robert Ashley bequeathed his personal book collection to the Inn in 1641, it came to possess a wide-ranging library covering, not only law, but travel and geography, divinity, history and philosophy. Many of these remain in the Library’s collection of rare books while the social, economic, political, legal, educational and architectural history of the Middle Temple can be followed in the Inn's rich Archives. The monarch's regulations on such matters as legal education, dress and behaviour are there, including some chiding about the richness of the Inn's Lenten diet.
The disputes and disaffection that led to the Civil War were reflected within the Inn, whose members were ranged on both sides. The life of the Inn came to a stop during the hostilities, and though at the Restoration an attempt was made to return to the old practices, Readings came to an end. Indeed in the 18th century little formal training was offered to those who still came as students to the Inns, although the completion of some legal exercises and the fulfilment of dining requirements were necessary for Call to the Bar.
Keeping terms in one of the four English Inns was a pre-requisite to Call at King's Inns, Dublin, until late in the 19th century. This resulted in a great number of Irish students entering the Middle Temple. In the late 17th and 18th centuries many students came from the American colonies and from the West Indian islands. The Inn's records would lead one to suppose that for a time there was hardly a young gentleman in Charleston who had not studied here. Five of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were Middle Templars, and notwithstanding its content and consequences, Americans continued to come here until the War of 1812. In some years in the mid-18th century there were jointly more Irish and American admissions to the Middle Temple than there were admissions from England. There had long been admissions from India, usually the sons of British merchants or East India Company officials, but from the 1860s the first Indian names appear in the admissions registers, rapidly increasing to form a significant proportion of the Inn’s membership. The close connection with many of the countries of the Commonwealth remains to this day.
In 1852, following a Select Committee investigation, the four Inns established the Council of Legal Education and the formal responsibility for the education of students passed to that body. More recent years have seen a number of changes in the qualifications asked of a student who would be called to the Bar, and to the institutions where those qualifications can be attained.
The two major events of the first quarter of the 20th century which affected the life of the Inn were the loss of life in the First World War the admission of women in 1919 and their subsequent Call to the Bar in 1922.
The scale of destruction of the Inn’s buildings during the bombing of the Second World War transformed the physical appearance of the Temple. The first bombs fell on the Inn on 24 September 1940. On the night of 15 October 1940 a landmine on a parachute destroyed Elm Court, blowing the masonry through the east gable end of Hall, smashing the minstrels’ gallery and reducing the Elizabethan screen to rubble. The shattered oak remains were gathered into 200 sacks and stored until they could be reassembled painstakingly after the war. Something of the scale of destruction that night is conveyed in Frank Beresford’s painting which now hangs in the minstrels’ gallery. Subsequently, the Inn’s Victorian Library was irretrievably damaged and the Temple Church and Master’s House were burnt out. By the end of the war the Inn had lost 122 of its 285 sets of chambers. The massive task of reconstruction was about to begin.
By May 1948 Edward Maufe, best known as the architect of Guildford Cathedral, was in sole charge of Middle Temple’s reconstruction. The Inn’s new Royal Bencher, Queen Elizabeth, later The Queen Mother, took a very active interest in the rebuilding, opening the temporary library in 1946 and paying private and unpublicised visits to meet the workmen involved as they laboured on the massive task of restoration and reconstruction. On 6 July 1949, she formally opened the restored Hall. A fortnight later the Queen’s treasurership of Middle Temple and the King’s treasurership of Inner Temple were celebrated by a Joint Bench Dinner of the two Inns on 20 July 1949. The splendour of the occasion, a welcome escape from the monotony of post-war austerity and rationing, is captured in Terence Cuneo’s painting, which hangs in the Queen’s Room. Close by hangs the portrait of the Queen in the gown of a Master of the Bench, which the Inn commissioned from James Gunn.