Knights Templar, lawyers and a bugler

The Temple Horn Blower is a character I discovered recently in one of my antiquarian guides to London. This London curiosity doesn’t seem to exist anymore unless you know better. Let me explain who and what he was.

Temple Horn Blower in action!

Temple Horn Blower in action!

First – we need to go back to the year 1118 and the foundation of the Knights Templar. They set up their headquarters in London approximately where Southampton Buildings sits today.

Then around 1180, they moved to their “New Temple”, which partly remains nearer to the river Thames. You can still see the rotund chapel with carved stone knights over their graves.

In 1312, the Order was bloodily suppressed by the papacy and Europe’s monarchs with their land in London being grabbed by the rival Knights Hospitallers. They held on to the Temple in London until they were dissolved in 1608.

The Hospitallers let part of their property to law students and the area around what is now Chancery Lane evolved in to the legal district of the capital. Inns of Court became established outside the old city of London walls in areas called “liberties” – that is beyond London’s walls but still attached to the city. By 1572, the lawyers had built the Middle Temple Hall. After the Hospitallers were wound up, they developed the whole area for their use.

The legal eagles of the 17th and 18th centuries seemed to like the Templar connection and even adopted the order’s symbols – the Holy Lamb and the horse with two riders (though this evolved into a pegasus for some reason!).

And one custom that emerged was of a chap called the Temple Horn Blower – in top hat, frock coat and gold lace – ¬†bugling the young lawyers to dinner at 5.30pm every afternoon. Apparently, this was to get them back from hare hunting round Charing Cross (not many hares there now). ¬†Once they arrived for dinner, there were strict rules in the Tudor period about not wearing Spanish cloaks or playing “shove-groat”. And no daggers to be carried into the dining hall.

I worked in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for ten years and was never aware of this custom practised nearby. To my knowledge, it expired. Anybody know different?

The Knights Templar, a feudal lord and the Nazis

What could possibly link the Knights Templar, a particularly controversial medieval aristocrat and the Nazis? Well, more than you might think!

First let’s start with the medieval aristocrat. Geoffrey de Mandeville was a serial rebel and of a violent disposition. Well suited to his times you might think as the early 12th century in England was referred to as the Great Anarchy.

This was following the death of King Henry I in 1135 after eating a “surfeit of lampreys”. His daughter Matilda expected to take the crown but medieval lords weren’t up for giving power to a woman. Her cousin Stephen knew this and declared himself king.

DISCOVER: The gory history of Temple Bar

That led to a vicious civil war between Matilda and Stephen where each gained the upper hand at different times. Geoffrey nimbly swapped sides repeatedly but managed to annoy both Matilda and Stephen in the process.

Eventually, a victorious Stephen ordered the arrest of Geoffrey, who was the first Earl of Essex, and the seizure of his castles. Geoffrey responded by becoming a bandit and holing up in the marshes of East Anglia.

Eventually, the king’s forces surrounded the troublesome earl and he was shot through with arrows. A traitor to his king and rejected by the church for raiding Ramsey Abbey – Geoffrey’s body couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground.

In fact, nobody knew what to do with his remains. Until the Knights Templar stepped in. They took his carcass to their London headquarters – the Temple church still standing – in a lead coffin and hung it from the branches of an apple tree. That way it was in their protection without being placed in the ground.

At some point, a burial was made possible and his son arranged for an effigy of his father to be placed in the Templar church. It can still be seen today. But it’s taken a bit of a bashing.

Up until the 10th March, 1941, the effigy was in almost pristine condition. But this was the Second World War and the Blitz meant Nazi bombs were raining down on the city. One exploded in the circular church bringing the roof crashing down on top of the effigy. As you can see – he took quite a pounding.

Even in death – Geoffrey had a rough time.