The Court of Owls is a clandestine organization that has controlled Gotham City's economic and industrial growth since colonial times. They are a violent cabal of some of Gotham City's oldest and wealthiest families who use murder and money to wield political influence throughout the city's history.
The court's legend is personified through a nursery rhyme which also illustrates the Court's personal assassin; the Talon.
The Court eventually grew and expanded beyond Gotham, with a Court forming in each major city around the world. As a group, the various Courts are referred to as the Parliament of Owls.
When members of the Court meet, they wear white masks that conceal their faces and give them the appearance of owls.
In 1862, the current Talon (Felix Harmon) turned rampant and became known as the Gotham Butcher. Tiring of listening to the court's berating, Harmon disregarded all orders from the group. The Court of Owls had to spend a decade in hiding after Felix Harmon's indiscretions.
In 1871, a young photographer had discovered the hideout of the Court of Owls at Harbor House but discovered that their activities were actually mundane and boring. His wife though still believed they were dangerous, and warned him against speaking too loudly of it. He was preparing to take the photo he had got of the Court of Owls in action to the Philadelphia Press at the Metropolitan Station, and she begged him not to go. As he kissed her goodbye and prepared to board the train, a noose slipped around his neck from the rafters and hung him by the neck 'til he was dead. As she screamed for him, a man placed a drugged cloth over her mouth. By the next day, their deaths were headlines in the Gotham Gazette.
In 1974, R.H. Orchard showed the unnamed Mayor of Gotham City his treasury hidden in the Orchard Hotel. The Mayor of Gotham City was surprised at the opulence, not to mention the palpable disdain of the man who had invited him there. R.H. Orchard explained that the Mayor's meeting the following day with five national union heads would be unacceptable to his organization. As R.H. Orchard explained, the city survived on a balance of power that was created over centuries and cannot be allowed to be challenged by outsiders. When the Mayor of Gotham City demanded just who Orchard thought he was to tell him what to do, he was disturbed to find himself surrounded by men in masks echoing his "who?" back at him over and over. The next day, the Mayor of Gotham City threw the union leaders out of Gotham in outrage and returned grovelling to the Court of Owls. The Court of Owls then dropped the Mayor of Gotham City into their labyrinth to be "broken" and murdered by a Talon.
Around 2006, following his public revelation of funding the Batman Incorporated scheme, the Court takes notice when Bruce Wayne further announces plans to rennovate and reshape Gotham City for the future. While Mayoral candidate Lincoln March agreed with Bruce's vision of the future, Bruce is sentenced to death by the Court
The Talon (William Cobb) is awoken and sent to kill a combat trainer from Haley's Circus before being sent to kill Bruce Wayne during a meeting with March in the Old Wayne Tower. Injuring March while attempting to get to Wayne, Cobb reveals his enjoyment for killing Waynes and wrestles Wayne into a free-fall plunge from the tower's viewing platform. While Wayne escaped, Cobb plummetted to the roof of a parked car, healing himself while within a morgue ambulance and killing the doctor and driver, Cobb returned to his operations base.
Wayne suspects that, due to the owl motifs on Cobb's armour and weapons, the Court of Owls legend is associated with the assassin. Further inspection reveals Bruce's initial investigations into the legend after the deaths of his parents and the knowledge of Alan Wayne's obsession with being "hunted by owls" during his final days.
Attempting to discover Cobb's entrance into the tower, Wayne discovers a secret owl-themed base within the Wayne Tower's thirteenth floor and the same in other Wayne-funded buildings. While Wayne was within the most recent base, Cobb detonnated the floor in a second attempt at killing the hero; once again failing.
On a hunch, Wayne exumes Alan Wayne's body and discovers that his ancestor actually died from fifty stab wounds, instead of from hyperthermia after falling down an open manhole into the sewers.
While investigating the area where Alan Wayne's body had been found, Wayne was surprised and abducted by the Talon. Thrown into an underground labyrinth, the court watches as the Talon stalks Wayne for nine days within the labyrinth.
Regressing to the point of hallucination, Wayne's will is sapped and the Court reveal themselves in person, having decided to honor their enemy by displaying his skeleton in the maze.
Wayne gathers his last reserves of strength when he is inspired by the memory of his tortured ancestor and delivers a savage beating to the Talon and escapes using a makeshift explosive.
Tired of their game and angered at Batman's escape and discovery of their lair, the Court disposes of William Cobb and unleashes the other Talons onto the city to kill Batman and his allies and retake Gotham for themselves, the incident becoming known as the "Night of the Owls".
Following the night, Bruce tracks down the leadership of the Court to the Powers family. However, when he finds the Court, they are all dead by poison. The next day, confused as to whether or not the Court killed his parents, he discovers Lincoln March had been a Talon and tracks him down.
Confronting the mayoral candidate, he learns that March used Mr. Freeze's Talon serum to survive, that March was a Talon created to compete with Batman, and that March killed the grouping of the Court in Gotham for personal vengeance against Bruce. March claims to be Bruce's brother Thomas Wayne Jr. and he believes Bruce to be responsible for the deaths of their parents. The two very quickly engage in combat, but March escapes soon after.
The court provides their Talons with bases hidden within some of the city's oldest structures.
The nursery rhyme affiliated with the Court goes as follows:
"Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time, ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime. They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed, speak not a whispered word about them, or they'll send The Talon for your head."
To gain membership within the Court, an individual must be part of a family that has history in Gotham, or has money linked within Gotham.