Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Inns of Chancery Definition:

Smaller boarding schools for apprenticing law students and serving as preparatory schools for the Inns of the Court up to about 1590.

Related Terms: Inns of Court, Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn

There were between eight and ten Inns of Chancery, smaller boarding schools for apprenticing law students and serving "as preparatory schools for the Inns of the Court up to the end of the sixteenth Century. There being no printed books in early time instruction was given orally."1

They included:

  • Clifford's Inn,
  • St. George's Inn,
  • Clement's Inn,
  • Lyon's Inn,
  • Strand Inn,
  • New Inn,
  • Thavie's Inn,
  • Furnival's Inn,
  • Staple Inn and
  • Barnard's Inn.

"Originally there were at least twenty inns associated with lawyers. Gradually they became places of legal education, and there emerged the four principal Inns of Court that we know today. The other Inns became known as the Inns of Chancery....  They were treated at first as preparatory schools for the main Inns of Court and then during the seventeenth century became the Inns exclusively for attorneys (ie solicitors) and clerks (they had all vanished as societies by the beginning of the twentieth century)."2

Where the Inns of the Court could issue licenses to men to practise law, by calling them to the bar, the Inns of Chancery could not do so; in modern educational language, they could be compared to what colleges are to universities.

Even before they were absorbed by the Inns of Court, the Inns sent their best students as readers to the Inns of Chancery regularly and the readers often returned to their Inn with the brightest students of the Chancery Inn.

Both Edward Coke and John Selden were former students on Clifford's Inn.

Cecil Headlam wrote:

“In the reign of Henry VI (1461-1470), the four Inns of Court contained 200 persons each and the ten Inns of Chancery 100 each.”

Eventually, starting in 1650, the Inns of Chancery were absorbed by the Inns of Court. When the individual Inns of Chancery were sold each governor split the lucrative proceeds. When Serjeant's Inn was sold in 1877, the searjeants divided the £57k among themselves. This was highly controversial but it did not stop the governors of the remaining Inns of Chancery from cashing in on their office and selling their boarding schools to the dominant Inns of the Court. This prompted a lawsuit in 1899and the title to the schools was held to not be a matter of private ownership and that the proceeds of sale had to be held in trust for legal education.


  • Daniell, Timothy, A Literary Excursion to the Inns of Court in London (London: Wildy & Sons, 1971)
  • Headlam, Cecil, The Inns of Court (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1909)
  • NOTE 2: From the Lincoln's Inn website, retrieved 31 JAN 2012 from http://www.lincolnsinn.org.uk/
  • Odgers, W. Blake, "The Legal Quarter of London", published in The Inns of Court and of Chancery (London: McMillan and Co., 1912), page 45 - NOTE 1

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