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The Inn’s Pension Committee originally consisted of Readers (senior barristers of the Inn who were elected to deliver a lecture or series of lectures on a particular legal topic). The position of Benchers (elected senior Members of the Inn) emerged as an expedient for individuals deemed essential but unable to fulfil onerous Reader duties due to health or external commitments. Francis Bacon, elected a Bencher in 1586 without prior Reader service, exemplifies this. Benchers had replaced Readers as the Inn’s governing body by the mid-17th century. The post of Reader, even without readership duties, was unpopular, leading Members to prefer taking fines from the Inn over carrying out their Reader duties of providing lectures. 

During the late 18th and the greater part of the 19th centuries, there were so few Benchers that those that were there often had to take two turns at the Treasurership. There are also examples of occasions when Benchers from other Inns were ‘imported’ into Gray’s. 

Honorary Benchers 

The Inn has a long-established practice of admitting various people as Members honoris causa (given an honorary degree). They were often courtiers, city merchants, well-known clerics, diplomats, and scholars. (The picture above shows the admission of the Italian jurist Alberico Gentili in 1600.). 

The first Honorary Benchers, Lord O’Hagan and Lord Fitzgerald, were elected on December 21, 1883. 

The Archive holds the names of all Honorary Benchers. 

The Inn has also appointed several Royal Benchers:  

  • HRH The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn – 4 July 1881 
  • HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught – 12 June 1907 
  • HRH Prince Henry, later Duke of Gloucester – 28 Apr 1926; Treasurer 1954 
  • HRH Prince Charles, Prince of Wales – 3 Feb 1975 
  • HRH The Duke of Gloucester – 14 Nov 2000 
  • HRH The Duchess of Cornwall – 15 Feb 2012 
  • HRH The Duchess of Gloucester – 18 Oct 2018 
  • HRH Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg was also elected an Honorary Bencher on 15 June 1988

Find out more

Past Honorary Benchers

View the names of past Honorary Benchers

Past Preachers

View the names of past Preachers


Further information regarding the Inn's archive and how to contact the Inn's archivist

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