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The Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, commonly known as Gray's Inn, is one of the four Inns of Court (professional associations for barristers and judges) in London. To be called to the Bar and practise as a barrister in England and Wales, an individual must belong to one of these Inns. Located at the intersection of High Holborn and Gray's Inn Road in Central London, the Inn is both a professional body and a provider of office accommodation (chambers) for many barristers. It is ruled by a governing council called "Pension", made up of the Masters of the Bench (or "Benchers"), and led by the Treasurer, who is elected to serve a one-year term. The Inn is known for its gardens, or Walks, which have existed since at least 1597.

Gray's Inn does not claim a specific foundation date; there is a tradition that none of the Inns of Court claims to be any older than the others. Law clerks and their apprentices have been established on the present site since at least 1370, with records dating from 1391. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Inn grew steadily, reaching its pinnacle during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Inn was home to many important barristers and politicians, most notably Francis Bacon, and counted Elizabeth herself as a patron. Thanks to the efforts of prominent members such as William Cecil and Gilbert Gerard, Gray's Inn became the largest of the four by number, with over 200 barristers recorded as members. During this period, the Inn became noted for the masques and revels that it threw, and William Shakespeare is believed to have performed there at least once.

The Inn continued to prosper during the reign of James I (1603–1625) and the beginning of that of Charles I, when over 100 students per year were recorded as joining. The outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642 during the reign of Charles I disrupted the systems of legal education and governance at the Inns of Court, shutting down all calls to the Bar and new admissions, and Gray's Inn never fully recovered. Fortunes continued to decline after the English Restoration, which saw the end of the traditional method of legal education. Although now more prosperous, Gray's Inn is today the smallest of the Inns of Court.

Gray's Inn and the other three Inns of Court remain the only bodies legally allowed to call a barrister to the Bar, allowing him or her to practise in England and Wales. Although the Inn was previously a disciplinary and teaching body, these functions are now shared between the four Inns, with the Bar Standards Board (a division of the General Council of the Bar) acting as a disciplinary body and the Inns of Court and Bar Educational Trust providing education. The Inn remains a collegiate self-governing, unincorporated association of its members, providing within its precincts library, dining, residential and office accommodation (chambers), along with a chapel. Members of the Bar from other Inns may use these facilities to some extent.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, law was taught in the City of London, primarily by the clergy. During the 13th century, two events happened that destroyed this form of legal education; firstly, a decree by Henry III of England on 2 December 1234 that no institutes of legal education could exist in the City of London, and secondly a papal bull that prohibited the clergy from teaching the common law, rather than canon law. As a result the existing system of legal education fell apart. The common lawyers migrated to the hamlet of Holborn, the nearest place to the law courts at Westminster Hall that was outside the City

The early records of all four Inns of Court have been lost, and it is not known precisely when each was founded. The records of Gray's Inn itself are lost up until 1569, and the precise date of founding cannot therefore be verified. Lincoln's Inn has the earliest surviving records. Gray's Inn dates from at least 1370, and takes its name from Baron Grey of Wilton, as the Inn was originally Wilton's family home (or inn), the Manor of Portpoole. A lease was taken for various parts of the inn by practising lawyers as both residential and working accommodation, and their apprentices were housed with them. From this the tradition of dining in "commons", probably by using the inn's main hall, followed as the most convenient arrangement for the members. Outside records from 1437 show that Gray's Inn was occupied by socii, or members of a society at that date.

In 1456 Reginald de Gray, the owner of the Manor itself, sold the land to a group including Thomas Bryan. A few months later, the other members signed deeds of release, granting the property solely to Thomas Bryan. Bryan acted as either a feoffee or an owner representing the governing body of the Inn (there are some records suggesting he may have been a Bencher at this point) but in 1493 he transferred the ownership by charter to a group including Sir Robert Brudenell and Thomas Wodeward, reverting the ownership of the Inn partially back to the Gray family.

In 1506 the Inn was sold by the Gray family to Hugh Denys and a group of his feoffees including Roger Lupton. This was not a purchase on behalf of the society and after a five-year delay, it was transferred under the will of Denys in 1516 to the Carthusian House of Jesus of Bethlehem (Sheen Priory), which remained the Society's landlord until 1539, when the Second Act of Dissolution led to the Dissolution of the Monasteries and passed ownership of the Inn to the Crown.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Gray's Inn rose in prominence, and that period is considered the "golden age" of the Inn, with Elizabeth serving as the Patron Lady. This can be traced to the actions of Nicholas Bacon, William Cecil and Gilbert Gerard, all prominent members of the Inn and confidantes of Elizabeth. Cecil and Bacon in particular took pains to find the most promising young men and get them to join the Inn. In 1574 it was the largest of all the Inns of Court by number, with 120 barristers, and by 1619 it had a membership of more than 200 barristers.

Gray's Inn, as well as the other Inns of Court, became noted for the parties and festivals it hosted. Students performed masques and plays in court weddings, in front of Queen Elizabeth herself, and hosted regular festivals and banquets at Candlemas, All Hallows Eve and Easter. At Christmas the students ruled the Inn for the day, appointing a Lord of Misrule called the Prince of Purpoole, and organising a masque entirely on their own, with the Benchers and other senior members away for the holiday.

The Gray's Inn masque in 1588 with its centrepiece, The Misfortunes of Arthur by Thomas Hughes, is considered by A.W. Ward be the most impressive masque thrown at any of the Inns. William Shakespeare performed at the Inn at least once, as his patron, Lord Southampton, was a member. For the Christmas of 1594, his play The Comedy of Errors was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men before a riotous assembly of notables in such disorder that the affair became known as the Night of Errors and a mock trial was held to arraign the culprit.

Central to Gray's was the system shared across the Inns of Court of progress towards a call to the Bar, which lasted approximately 12 to 14 years. A student would first study at either Oxford or Cambridge University, or at one of the Inns of Chancery, which were dedicated legal training institutions. If he studied at Oxford or Cambridge he would spend three years working towards a degree, and be admitted to one of the Inns of Court after graduation. If he studied at one of the Inns of Chancery he would do so for one year before seeking admission to the Inn of Court to which his Inn of Chancery was tied—in the case of Gray's Inn, the attached Inns of Chancery were Staple Inn and Barnard's Inn.

The student was then considered an "inner barrister", and would study in private, take part in the moots and listen to the readings and other lectures. After serving from six to nine years as an "inner barrister," the student was called to the Bar, assuming he had fulfilled the requirements of having argued twice at moots in one of the Inns of Chancery, twice in the Hall of his Inn of Court and twice in the Inn Library. The new "utter barrister" was then expected to supervise bolts ("arguments" over a single point of law between students and barristers) and moots at his Inn of Court, attend lectures at the Inns of Court and Chancery and teach students. After five years as an "utter" barrister he was allowed to practice in court—after 10 years he was made an Ancient.

The period saw the establishment of a regular system of legal education. In the early days of the Inn, the quality of legal education had been poor—readings were given infrequently, and the standards for call to the Bar were weak and varied. During the Elizabethan age readings were given regularly, moots took place daily and barristers who were called to the Bar were expected to play a part in teaching students, resulting in skilled and knowledgeable graduates from the Inn.

Many noted barristers, judges and politicians were members of the Inn during this period, including Gilbert Gerard, Master of the Rolls, Edmund Pelham, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, and Francis Bacon, who served as Treasurer for eight years, supervising significant changes to the facilities of the Inn and the first proper construction of the gardens and walks for which the Inn is noted.