Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Lincoln's Inn Definition:

One of four Inns of the Court, self-regulating associations of barristers in England and Wales.

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

Formally, the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn.

With the legal and law school education of students for the Bar now vested in universities, the role and relative importance of Lincoln's Inn (and the other three Inns of Court), in the profession and practise of law in the United Kingdom, has changed.

The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn is described on the Lincoln's Inn website (circa 2012) as follows:

"Lincoln's Inn is one of the four Inns of Court. The Inns of Court have played a fundamental role in preparing students for call to the Bar and their progress to professional competence as barristers for many centuries. With that role at its heart, it is nonetheless a very multifarious organisation: a collegiate and educational institution, a membership organisation, a professional body, a landlord, a custodian of historic buildings, a banqueting venue and a tourist attraction."

Lincoln's Inn Grand HallThe precise date of the founding of Lincoln's Inn is uncertain but their own ancient records (called Black Books) show that it existed at least by 1422.

The name came from the previous owner of the land on which Lincoln’s Inn now occupies, Henry de lacy, the Earl of Lincoln, who bought it in 1286. As of about the date of Lincoln’s death (1311), lawyers had begun to rent land from him for their law and boarding schools.

But the origin of the name is a matter of controversy. The official, nebulous position of Lincoln's Inn itself:

"Tradition has it that the name comes from Henry de Lacy, third Earl of Lincoln (d. 1311) whose own house was near by and may have been patron of the Inn. Tradition is not to be entirely gainsaid, and indeed the Earl’s arms form part of the Inn’s arms, but it is more likely that the name came from Thomas de Lincoln, one of the serjeants at law (senior practitioners, before the days of QCs) during the fourteenth century."

In 1580, the school, the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn became owner of the land.

Lincoln Inn issued their coat of arms in 1711, now a small lion on a blue background.

The premises housed Wildy’s booksellers as of 1832. The oldest building is the Old Hall, built in 1489 and which once housed the Court of Chancery, adorned by the famous painting St. Paul Before Felix (1748).

The New Hall was opened in 1845 and suffered damage in the bombing of London during World War II. It to is adorned by artwork famous in legal history, the 1859 fresco “Justice, the Hemicycle of Law Givers”.

The library of Lincoln’s Inn is the oldest in London and dates back to 1475.1

Lincoln's Inn includes a famous open area known as Lincoln's Inn Fields. This was the place where, in 1586, the Babington Plot schemers were executed. Lord William Russell was executed at Lincoln Inn Fields on July 21, 1683. The fields, because of their relative seclusion, was a favourite staging ground for duels.

Famous alumni: Thomas Babington Macaulay, Jeremy Bentham, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Matthew Hale, Alfred Denning, William Penn, William Pitt, Robert Walpole, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Dwight Eisenhower and Margaret Thatcher.

William Prynne was a student at Lincoln's Inn as of 1621. An unrepentant Puritan, he was censured by the school on orders of the Bishop of Bath, because of a book he had written which was, allegedly, "to the scandal of the Church of England". In 1634, Prynne had been given a life sentence by the Star Chamber for publishing Histrio Mastrix, The Players Scourge and Actor's Tragedy, which attacked stage plays for reasons of immorality. His ears were cut off, he was put in the pillory and fined £5,000. He was disbarred by the benchers of Lincoln's Inn on April 24, 1634. Prynne was fully pardoned by Thomas Cromwell and reinstated as a member of the Inn in 1641.


  • 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)
  • Lincolnsinn.org.uk
  • Walker, J. Douglas, "Lincoln's Inn", published in The Inns of Court and of Chancery (London: McMillan and Co., 1912), page 165 - NOTE 1

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