March 2019: Friendship & Revolution - The American Connection

The Middle Temple is well-known for its American connections, which stretch back to the sixteenth century and are energetically maintained and recognised today. This month we trace the story of this rich transatlantic relationship, and highlight some points of discord and difficulty.

The period from the late sixteenth century to the early seventeenth was an age of exploration, and many of the key figures in this time of overseas discovery and expansion had intimate connections with the Middle Temple. Sir Francis Drake, who made numerous journeys to the Americas and circumnavigated the globe, is described in the Minutes of Parliament as 'one of the fellowship of the Middle Temple', and his voyage along the North American coast is traced on Molyneux's terrestrial globe, kept in the Library. Sir Walter Raleigh, another great explorer and adventurer of the age, was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1574/5, and personally oversaw and financed the early Roanoke settlement in Virginia, which was established in the 1580s but ended in disaster within a few years. One of the ships dispatched by Raleigh to Roanoke was commanded by one Philip Amadas, also a Middle Templar, who, not long after embarking on the voyage, was fined 20 shillings by the Benchers for his absence from the Inn during the Lent vacation.

North America on the terrestrial Molyneux Globe

One of the key events in the colonisation of America was the foundation of the Virginia Company, an act in which many Middle Templars were involved. The Company, properly known as the Virginia Company of London, was established by royal charter in 1606, and brought together the resources of numerous investors and merchants to explore, settle and trade along a vast swathe of North America's east coast. Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham, Treasurer of the Inn from 1580-1587, was the prime mover behind the Company's establishment, holding many of the key early meetings in Middle Temple Hall. A couple of years earlier Popham had presided over the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh (leading ultimately to his execution in 1618) - their coats of arms can, with some irony, be seen beside each other in one of the north windows of Hall today.

Armorial glass of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir John Popham

From the late seventeenth century onwards, young men from the colonies began to cross the Atlantic and enrol at the Inns of Court, where they would study the law before returning home to practise. For nearly a century, Middle Temple admitted the vast majority of American students, although the reason, if any, for the evolution of this tradition is much debated. The first member recorded as having originated in America was one Benjamin Lynde, of 'Boston in nova Anglia' - a future Chief Justice of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.