Lord Robert Dudley, 'chief patron and defender' of the Inner Temple

by Clare Rider, IT Archivist 1998-2009

In the second half of the sixteenth century the Inner Temple had good reason to be grateful to Lord Robert Dudley, knight of the most noble Order of the Garter and Master of the Queen's Majesty's Horse. As a result of his personal intervention with Queen Elizabeth I the Inner Temple retained its sovereignty over Lyon's Inn, one of its three associated inns of chancery.

Lyon's Inn has long been forgotten, demolished in 1863 and buried under the modern day Aldwych, but the favour afforded to the Inner Temple by its 'chief patron and defender', Lord Robert Dudley, should not. Indeed, the sixteenth century Benchers endeavoured to perpetuate the memory of his 'great good will towards this House':

... and to the end the same may hereafter remain for a perpetual memory to our successors…as a token and knowledge of our good wills and thankful remembrances, [we] have thought good to enact... that no person or persons whatsoever now being or which at any time hereafter shall be of the fellowship or company of this our House of the Inner Temple, shall in any wise or by any manner of means, be retained of counsel or otherwise give any counsel, help or aid in any matter or cause against the said right honourable Lord Robert Duddeley or against any of his heirs...and that the arms of the said right honourable Lord Robert Duddeley shall be set up and placed in some seemly and convenient place in the hall of this our House of the Inner Temple as a continual monument of his lordship's said goodness and great good will towards this House.

The arms of Lord Robert Dudley, who was created Earl of Leicester in 1564, are set in stained glass at the west end of the current hall in continuing fulfilment of that promise and it will be argued that it was the Earl of Leceister's involvement in the Inner Temple revels in 1561 that led to the adoption of the pegasus as the Inner Temple's emblem. So what was the nature of Robert Dudley's association with the Inner Temple ?

From inns of court to royal court

Robert Dudley's family had been associated with the inns of court for two generations. His grandfather, Edmund Dudley, was a member of Gray's Inn and, according to the historian Polydore Vergil, it was his legal expertise that brought him to the attention of Henry VII. The son of a Sussex farmer, Edmund Dudley was made a privy councillor and became one of Henry VII's closest advisors. However, the success of Dudley and his colleague, Sir Richard Empson, in extracting money from the people to furnish the royal coffers made them extremely unpopular and, on the succession of the youthful Henry VIII, Empson and Dudley were attainted for treason. In the crowd watching their execution on Tower Hill on 18th August 1510 was Edmund Dudley's eldest son, John. Fatherless, and with his inheritance forfeit to the Crown, the future must have looked bleak to the young John Dudley. However, he was welcomed into the house of his father's friend, Sir Edward Guildford, whose daughter he was to marry after his father's estates had been restored to him. It may have been Sir Edward Guildford who advised him to follow his father's example by joining one of the inns of court. In any event, John Dudley was admitted to the Inner Temple on 9th February 1511, at the age of about nine.

With the Act of Attainder against his father still in force, his political prospects must have seemed slight. However, at a time when the inns of court not only offered professional training for lawyers but also acted as finishing schools for gentlemen, his membership of the Inner Temple provided a good opportunity for Dudley to cultivate advantageous connections. His return to royal favour was gradual but spectacular. In 1513, at the age of eleven, he was restored in blood by Act of Parliament and his father's attainder was repealed. He was knighted in 1523, after serving with the Duke of Suffolk in France, and in 1533 was made Master of the Tower Armoury. He was raised to the peerage, as Viscount Lisle, in 1542 and appointed Great Admiral for life. Called to the Privy Council in 1543, he was named as one of fifteen executors in Henry VIII's will. He was created Earl of Warwick in 1547 and Duke of Northumberland in 1551 and, in that year, he ousted the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector of the realm. On Somerset's execution the following year and with the boy king, Edward VI, almost exclusively under his control, Northumberland's ascendancy was complete. It was presumably at this time that his entry in the Inner Temple admissions register was annotated with the marginal note 'Dux Northumb'. However, on the death of the King in 1553, after an abortive attempt to place Lady Jane Grey and his son, Guildford Dudley, on the throne, Northumberland was defeated by Mary Tudor's army and was executed on Tower Hill. His son, Guildford, was to follow his fate in 1554, together with his young wife, Lady Jane Grey.

Robert Dudley was fortunate to escape execution. He was imprisoned in the Tower in 1553 with his four brothers, and with them was attainted and sentenced to death for high treason. However, he was released and pardoned in October 1554 and restored in blood by Act of Parliament in March 1558, after distinguishing himself in battle in France. There he won favour with Mary's husband, King Philip II of Spain. Later that year came his opportunity to return to the royal court, on the accession of Elizabeth I. He had known Princess Elizabeth as a child, when they had shared lessons together at the court of Edward VI, and they had been imprisoned at the same time in the Tower of London, although it is not certain whether they were in communication at that time. There is no doubt that Elizabeth I was much attracted to the young and handsome courtier. Appointing him her Master of the Horse in January 1559 and as a Privy Councillor, she made no secret of her infatuation with him.

In April 1559 the Spanish Ambassador, De Feria, wrote to his master, Philip II, that it was pointless trying to discuss with the Queen her proposed marriage with Archduke Charles, as King Philip had instructed, seeing that Elizabeth and Dudley were lovers. His successor as Spanish Ambassador, De Quadra, went as far as calling Dudley 'the king that is to be' in his dispatches in 1560 and, in August that year, Anne Dowe of Brentford was the first of many offenders to be imprisoned for declaring that the Queen was carrying Dudley's child. It seemed to many that Lord Robert Dudley would surpass the ambitions of his father and grandfather by becoming King. However, his marriage to Amy Robsart, the daughter of Sir John Robsart of Siderstern, Norfolk, ten years earlier, in 1550, meant that he was not a free man.

The mysterious death of Amy Robsart, at Cumnor Place on 8th September 1560, continues to be the subject of speculation. De Quadra claimed that Dudley had previously talked of divorcing or poisoning his wife in order to marry the Queen and Dudley's absence from the inquest and subsequent funeral fuelled rumours that he was responsible for her death. Whether innocent or guilty of Amy's murder, Lord Robert Dudley was not to achieve his ambition of marrying the Queen. For although she continued to be infatuated with him, flirting openly in public and remaining much under his influence, Elizabeth was shrewd enough to realise that a hasty marriage with her favourite was impolitic. In 1563, after one of their frequent quarrels, she declared to Dudley ' I have wished you well, but my favour is not so locked up for you that others shall not partake thereof …. I will have here one mistress and no master'2. So it was to be, as Elizabeth I rejected all offers of marriage and ruled alone until her death in 1603. However, unwise was the courtier who underestimated the Queen's regard for Dudley, which, despite his liaison with Douglas Sheffield and his marriage to Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex, remained strong until he died in September 1588.

Lyon's Inn

It was in the 1560s, at the height of his political influence and personal favour with the Queen, that the Inner

Temple approached Lord Robert Dudley for his assistance in retaining Lyon's Inn. The Middle Temple had been deprived of Strand Inn, one of its two inns of chancery, when it was requisitioned in 1549 by Lord Protector Somerset, in order to build Somerset House on the site. Since Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn each had two inns of chancery attached to them, Inner Temple three and Middle Temple only one, it seemed logical for Lyon's Inn, the furthest west and smallest of the Inner Temple's inns of chancery, to be transferred to the Middle Temple. A case for the transfer was made to the Lord Keeper, Sir Nicholas Bacon, by two of the Lord Chief Justices of the royal courts, and although the Middle Temple denied that the suit was its initiative, the Inner Temple pointed out that the two Lord Chief Justices in question were both formerly Middle Templars. The Benchers of the Inner Temple 'considering the earnestness of the said Chief Justices, and that they both and the most part of all the Justices of both the Benches, and of the Barons of the Exchequer now being, had been of the fellowship of the Middle Temple……thought good and thereupon did by our common assent make humble suit to the right honourable the Lord Robert Dudley, Knight of the most Noble Order of the Garter and Master of the Queen's Majesty's Horse, as to our chief refuge, to be a means to the Queen's Highness, that we, her Majesty's humble subjects...might enjoy that our just and ancient title and possession in the premises'.

As a result of Dudley's intervention, Elizabeth not only sent her ring as a token to the Lord Keeper, but also spoke to Sir Nicholas Bacon in person, ordering him 'to cease and no further proceed or meddle in the same matter, but to suffer us to continue our said ancient and just possession to the readings of the same three Houses of Chancery'. Being a member of Gray's Inn, which was 'of ancient amity, familiarity, and friendship with this our House', Bacon was apparently pleased to oblige. The Benchers of the Inner Temple were delighted and not only promised that Dudley's favour to the inn would remain as a 'perpetual memory to our successors', but also granted special admission to the inn to Lord Robert Dudley and his kinsman, John Dudley, in 1561 and to Robert's brother, Lord Ambrose Dudley, in 15624.

The Inner Temple revels 1561

A further sign of the Inner Temple's gratitude to Lord Robert Dudley was his election as Lord Governor of the Christmas revels in 1561, a rare instance of the appointment of an outsider to the principal role in the inn's Christmas and New Year festivities. Lord Robert was to act as Prince of Pallaphilos in the revels, which were described by the contemporary author Gerard Legh. As Prince, Dudley established a fictional order of knighthood and it is surely no coincidence that, as Master of the Queen's Horse, he adopted the Order of the Pegasus, with the device of the flying horse as its arms. Although others have argued that the pegasus was already in use as the emblem of the Inner Temple, there is no evidence for this, whilst D.S.Bland makes a convincing case for linking the adoption of the pegasus as the device of the inn with its use in the 1561 revels to honour the handsome and influential Master of the Queen's Horse5. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that it was during this period, the second half of the sixteenth century, that Gray's Inn appears to have adopted as its emblem another mythical beast, the griffin6. In both cases, the emblem seems to have been used occasionally at first, in connection with revels and other ceremonies linking the two inns, and then gradually to have been adopted on a more permanent basis. Only later were they to be registered with the College of Arms as official heraldic devices.

Some of the dramatic interludes in the 1561 Inner Temple revels were provided by the playwright, Arthur Broke, who was given honorary membership of the inn for his pains. On 4 February 1562, the Inner Temple Parliament ordered that 'Arthur Broke shall have special admission without payment in consideration of certain plays and shows at Christmas last set forth by him'.7 In fact Broke seems to have been admitted to the Inner Temple nearly two months earlier, on 18th December, in preparation for the Christmas festivities, and it is likely that the February entry is merely a confirmation of this admission on favourable terms in the formal setting of a meeting of the inn's Parliament. It is interesting that Broke's pledges on his admission in December were fellow dramatists, Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton, both members of the Inner Temple and joint authors of the play, Gorboduc. Gorboduc, which was also written for the 1561 Inner Temple revels, was subsequently performed before Elizabeth I 'by the gentlemen of the Temple' in January 1562. Its text has proved of considerable interest to historians studying early English drama and political propaganda.

In one of the principal scenes in the 1561 revels, Lord Robert Dudley, as Prince of Pallaphilos, entertained 'ambassadors' from the other inns of court. He then selected twenty-four knights to form the Order of the Pegasus and initiated them in a fictional version of the garter ceremony, enjoining them to serve Queen Pallas (an allegory for Queen Elizabeth) and to sacrifice to her in her Temple. Then followed examples of knightly pursuits demonstrated by the members of the Order of the Pegasus, armed with allegorial armour and shields, and each with a collar of double Ps and a pendant pegasus round his neck. Rarely did the inns of court entertain so lavishly. The Inner Temple must have felt indebted to Robert Dudley in more than one sense.

The Alienation Office

The 1561 Christmas entertainments had been exceptional and must have lived long in the memories of the participants, but the association between the Inner Temple and the Dudleys did not end there. In 1561 John Dudley had been granted admission to the Inner Temple on favourable terms for the sake of his kinsman, Lord Robert, and had been promised a chamber in the inn when a suitable one fell vacant. The Inner Templars honoured this promise, providing John with a chamber at the south end of Fuller's buildings in 1562 (on or near the site of the present 2 King's Bench Walk), which had been in the occupation of the Treasurer. Fourteen years later, in 1576, the inn granted to Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a set of rooms on the plot of land adjoining John Dudley's chamber. This building, constructed at the Earl's expense, was to be used by him and his nominees for sixty years, after which it was to revert to the House. Part of it was to be employed by him as the Alienation Office. As head of the Office of Compositions for Alienations, established in 1577 to assess and receive fines payable to the Crown for lands alienated by the Queen's tenants-in-chief, Leicester felt that it was appropriate to locate the office in the inn. Behind the building he had constructed an enclosed formal garden, known for the next 350 years as the Alienation Office garden. The original Alienation Office building was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London, but the seventeenth century building standing on the site, now known as 3 North King's Bench Walk, bears an inscription and a plaque to commemorate its predecessor. The Alienation Office garden no longer remains. After it ceased to be a formal garden, at one time employed as a Benchers' garden, it was occupied by various sheds and outhouses. In 1927 it became the site of the new Niblett Hall, used principally for the teaching and examination of students and, during the Second World War, as a substitute dining hall. This in turn was replaced by the Littleton Building, completed in 1994, which above ground offers chamber accommodation and below ground provides a home for the inn's archives and reserve library stock.


In 1576 the Parliament of the Inner Temple referred to the Earl of Leicester as 'chief governor of this House' and after his death the inn continued to honour its promises to him, allowing his heirs to nominate occupants for his chambers in the inn for sixty years and ensuring that his arms remained in the windows of the successive Inner Temple halls. However, arguably Leicester's most lasting legacy is the pegasus emblem which continues to be displayed throughout the inn. Whilst some have ascribed its origins to the Knights Templar's seal of a horse with two riders and others to the misrepresentation of a broken tile of a knight on horseback in the Temple church, the most convincing argument for its adoption is as a tribute to the Master of the Queen's Horse, the 'chief patron and defender' of the Inner Temple.

First published The Inner Temple Yearbook 2000/2001

Researchers wishing to consult the archives should apply in writing to:

Celia Pilkington


Celia Pilkington


Celia Pilkington