Notable Middle Templars
In its long and eventful history, the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple has counted among its members a dazzling array of figures of historical importance, renown and - occasionally - infamy. From alchemists to aviators, soldiers to Suffragettes, playwrights to Prime Ministers, Middle Templars have made their mark on the world in myriad spheres and disciplines. These short biographies, covering members from the 16th to 20th centuries, tell the stories of some of these notable sons and daughters of the Inn.
Members have been grouped by the century in which they were admitted, with separate sections for Royal and Honorary Benchers.
1691 - 1768 Admitted 1707 Called 1713 Benched 1728
Speaker of the House of Commons of Great Britain
The longest serving Speaker of the House of Commons, Onslow served for 33 years, a tenure described as ‘distinguished by talents of the highest order, the most refined dignity, and a zealous watchfulness of the liberties and privileges of Parliament’. Born in 1691 and Called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1713, he was elected MP for Guildford in 1720 and then for Surrey in 1727. Elected Speaker in 1728, he was notable for his active and energetic defence of the rights of MPs and staunch observation of procedure. In 1753 persuaded Parliament to fund the acquisition of the Sloane collection and Harleian Library, collections which formed the nucleus of the British Museum. He served until his retirement in 1761.
1707 - 1754 Admitted 1737 Called 1740
Born in 1707 and educated in England and Leiden, Fielding started writing satirical dramas for the theatre in the late 1720s, but retired following the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 which limited the possibilities of this sort of work, and gained admission to the Inn in November of that year. Turning to the law as a way of supporting his wife and children, he was Called to the Bar in 1740 and practiced as a barrister. He took to writing novels in the 1740s, the most famous of which was Tom Jones. He also found time to be London's chief magistrate, in which position he founded the Bow Street Runners, said to be London's first police force, in 1749, and published numerous pamphlets on juridicial and humanitarian matters.
1723 - 1780 Admitted 1741 Called 1746
Jurist, judge and politician, author of The Commentaries on the Laws of England
William Blackstone was born in Cheapside in 1723 and was admitted to Charterhouse on the nomination of Sir Robert Walpole. At Oxford he studied Greek and Latin literature and architecture, but on admission to the Middle Temple in 1741 he devoted himself solely to the study of the law, being Called to the Bar in 1746. After involving himself in University administration back at Oxford, Blackstone began a course of lectures in 1753, which became immensely popular. He started publishing legal texts in 1756 and after seven years as Oxford's Vinerian Professor of English Law, published his masterly The Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1765, a work which made the common law readable and accessible for the first time and was required reading for students for decades to come. He was an opponent of slavery, stating that he believed it to be ‘repugnant to reason, and the principles of natural law’. He became a Serjeant-at-Law and Justice of the Common Pleas in 1770 and died in 1780.
1729 - 1797 Admitted 1747
Statesman and man of letters
Edmund Burke, born in Dublin in 1729, is sometimes considered the father of modern British Conservatism. After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, he travelled to London to take up the study of law, gaining admission to the Middle Temple. It was not long, however, until he abandoned his legal studies and set off to travel Europe. He began to publish philosophical and historical works and founded a political journal. Elected a Member of Parliament in 1765, Burke began a long career in the Commons. Over 1774 and 1775, he gave a number of speeches in support of the American Colonies and their grievances, appealing repeatedly for peace. In 1790, he published an influential pamphlet reflecting upon and criticising the French Revolution and died in 1797 at the age of 68.
1732 - 1808 Admitted 1753 Called 1757
US Founding Father and 'Penman of the Revolution'
Born in Maryland in 1732 to a family of tobacco planters, John Dickinson studied law in Pennsylvania before travelling to London in 1753, where he was admitted to the Middle Temple, and returned in 1757 to practice at the Pennsylvania Bar. He was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses in the 1770s, but was opposed to declaring independence in 1776, refusing to sign the Declaration once it was made. Dickinson was notable for freeing his slaves in 1777 and drafting the articles of Confederation. He served as President of Delaware and then of Pennsylvania and was instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution in the 1780s and 1790s.
© The New York Public Library
1739 - 1800 Admitted 1754 Called 1760
2nd Chief Justice of the United States of America, President and Governor of South Carolina
Born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1739, Rutledge was admitted to the Inn in 1754 and Called to the Bar in 1760, returning to South Carolina to begin a successful and lucrative career in the law. Elected to the first Continental Congress in 1774, he was elected President of South Carolina in 1776 and oversaw the defence of Charleston against British attack, later becoming Governor of the state under a revised constitution. His younger brother, Edward, was also a Middle Templar and one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence.
After the Revolutionary War, he represented South Carolina at the first Constitutional Convention and was instrumental in drafting the Constitution, convincing the convention against the abolition of slavery (he himself owned sixty enslaved people at the outbreak of the Revolution). He later served in the newly constituted Supreme Court, and in 1795 Washington nominated him the second Chief Justice of the United States, but his nomination was rejected by the Senate.
© The New York Public Library
1745 - 1836 Admitted 1762 Called 1780
Judge of High Court of Admiralty and jurist
William Scott was born in Durham in 1745. His father was an ironmonger and his mother had fled Newcastle on the approach of Scottish rebels. After an education at Newcastle Grammar School and Oxford, he was Called to the Bar at the Inn in 1780. Rising quickly through the profession, he was appointed King's Advocate-General in 1787 and Judge of the Consistory Court in London in 1788. In 1798, Scott became Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, where he made his name and heard two particularly notable cases relating to the abolition of the slave trade. He also served as member of Parliament for the University of Oxford from 1801 to 1821 and was raised to the peerage in 1821. He retired from the Admiralty Court in 1828. Scott was Reader at the Inn in 1799, and its Treasurer in 1807. He was an abolitionist but upheld the letter of international law in regarding actions taken to supress the slave trade and advocated for remedies through international treaties. He was the elder brother of John Scott, 1st Earl of Eldon.
1746 - 1825 Admitted 1764 Called 1769
American statesman and revolutionary
Elder brother of Thomas Pinckney, Charles was born in Charleston, and travelled to Great Britain with his family at a young age. Following a spell at Oxford, he was admitted to the Inn in 1764, and Called to the Bar in 1769. Records survive in the Inn's Archive of his participation in exercises as a student. He returned to South Carolina a few years later and combined legal practice with involvement in colonial politics. On the outbreak of war, Pinckney joined the Revolutionary cause and took part in a number of significant engagements. These included the Siege of Savannah, the Battle of Brandywine and the defence of Charleston, the latter of which saw him taken prisoner by the British. Following the war, he returned to politics, standing (unsuccessfully) for President in 1804 and in 1808 as the Federalist candidate. A slave owner throughout his life, he opposed Rutledge’s attempts to end the importation of slaves on the basis of the reliance of the South Carolinan economy on slavery. He supported the abolition of the slave trade in 1808 but was opposed to emancipation.
1749 - 1800 Admitted 1767 Called 1772
Edward Rutledge was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He was admitted to the Inn in 1767 and was Called in 1772. Returning to Charleston, he became a successful lawyer in practice with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and represented the colony at the Continental Congress. Rutledge was the youngest delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence and saw action before being captured in 1780. After the war, he served in state politics and was became his home state's governor in 1798. He died in 1800.
1750 - 1828 Admitted 1768 Called 1774
American statesman and revolutionary
Thomas Pinckney was born in Charleston, South Carolina, but at the age of three was taken by his father to Great Britain and remained there throughout his youth. He studied at Westminster and Oxford and was admitted to the Middle Temple at the age of eighteen. Pinckney was Called to the Bar in 1774, returned to South Carolina soon afterwards, becoming heavily involved in the Revolution. After the war, he served as Governor of South Carolina from 1787 to 1789, and in 1792 was appointed by President Washington as ambassador to Great Britain. He later served in the House of Representatives and as a Major-General in the war of 1812, dying in 1828 in his hometown of Charleston.
1751 - 1838 Admitted 1773 Called 1776
Barrister, politician and Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
John Scott was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1751. His father was an ironmonger and his mother had fled Newcastle on the approach of Scottish rebels. He was educated at Newcastle Grammar School and at University College, Oxford, where his elder brother William was a Fellow. Despite early academic promise he was obliged to give up his own fellowship (and his hopes of taking holy orders) on his elopement with Bessie Surtees and was forced to turn to the law. He was admitted to the Inn in 1773, Called in 1776, and rose to prominence in the 1780s, in part thanks to the support of his elder brother William. Scott was elected as Bencher of the Inn in 1783, serving as Reader in 1792 and Treasurer in 1797. He entered Parliament in the same year he was Benched, and soon rose to prominence under Pitt, becoming his Solicitor-General in 1788 and Attorney-General five years later. As Attorney-General he prosecuted Hardy, Horne Tooke and Thelwall for high treason, and was involved with the suppression of seditious writings and other political offences in that time of continental turmoil. He was made Lord Chancellor in 1801 and, excepting a brief intermission, held the position until 1827. He opposed the abolition of the slave trade in the House of Lords, as well as the emancipation of debtors and Catholics.
1751 - 1816 Admitted 1773
Orator, statesman and dramatist
Richard Sheridan was born in Dublin in 1751 and was educated at Harrow. As a young man he fought two duels for the honour of the singer Elizabeth Linley, who he went on to marry in 1773. It was allegedly the opposition of her friends and family to an engagement to a man with no prospects that induced him to join the Inn. His first comedy, The Rivals, was produced in 1775 at Covent Garden Theatre. Sheridan followed this with a succession of hugely popular plays and comic operas, including The School for Scandal, that were performed at the Drury Lane Theatre. He took over David Garrick’s shares in the theatre on the latter’s retirement in 1776, and took over full ownership two years later with the support of his father-in-law, Thomas Linley. Later in life he became a Member of Parliament and became known for his powerful oratory. Sheridan served as Treasurer of the Navy from 1806 to 1807. He died in poverty in 1816.
1754 - 1833 Admitted 1770
Soldier and politician, prominent in the American Revolutionary War
Banastre Tarleton, born in 1754 to a successful merchant, was admitted to the Inn in 1770, though he was never Called. Having burned through a large inheritance from his father, he became a cavalry officer at the age of twenty-one and sailed to North America with Lord Cornwallis to fight in the American Revolutionary War. He fought in a number of prominent engagements, including the Battle of Brandywine, and gained a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality, in part due to the alleged massacre of surrendering Continental soldiers at the Battle of Waxhaws. In later life, he served as an MP, becoming a significant Whig and supporter of the slave trade.
Sir Banastre Tarleton, Bt by Samuel William Reynolds, after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Mezzotint, published 1820 or after (1782). NPG D4350 © National Portrait Gallery, London. This image has been cropped and is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivs 3.0 Unported Licence.
1754 - 1782 Admitted 1772
American statesman and revolutionary
John Laurens was born in 1754, the son of rice planters in South Carolina. He and his brothers were taken to London for their education and he was admitted to the Inn in 1772. He commenced his legal studies in 1774 and returned to South Carolina in 1776 to fight in the American Revolutionary War. In 1777, Laurens joined the Continental Army under George Washington, fighting at the Battle of Brandywine and being appointed an aide-de-camp to Washington alongside Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette. He fought at Charleston, Savannah and the Siege of Yorktown, before being killed at the Battle of the Combahee River in 1782. He is well known for his criticisms of slavery and promoting the idea of arming slaves and granting them freedom in return to military service, although his father’s wealth arose from his joint ownership of one of the largest slave trading houses in America.
1763 - 1798 Admitted 1787
Irish revolutionary and 'Father of Irish Republicanism'
Known as Wolfe Tone, he was born in Dublin in 1763, and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1787, the same year he was admitted to the Inn – at the time it was a requirement to keep terms at an English Inn of Court before being able to practice at the Irish Bar. He shared chambers in Hare Court with his brother while a student, though confessed that after two years studying the Law 'I knew exactly as much about it as I knew of necromancy'. In 1789, Tone returned to Dublin and was Called to the Irish Bar. Following the outbreak of the French Revolution he became prominent in politics, forming the 'Club of the United Irishmen', a society aimed at a complete reform of the legislature of Ireland. Having failed to achieve this by constitutional means, he travelled to Paris in 1796, and negotiated the invasion of Ireland by Generals Lazare Hoche and Jean Joseph Humbert. Tone was taken prisoner during the failed invasion and condemned to death. He took his own life in prison in 1798.
Theobald Wolfe Tone by T.W. Huffam, after Unknown artist. Mezzotint, mid 19th century. NPG D13755 © National Portrait Gallery, London. This image has been cropped and is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivs 3.0 Unported Licence. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/legalcode