Sir Edward Coke, one of the most
famous jurist and politicians in English history, was born on
February 1, 1552 in Mileham, Norfolk, England. He was educated at
Norwich Grammar School and Trinity College in Cambridge, and entered
the, Inner Temple or colleges in the university of law in 1572. It
did not take long before he established himself as one of the most
notorious lawyers in the English Monarch.
Some of his most
famous cases include the Cromwell libel case, implicating sedition to
Edward Denny for words expressed about Henry, Lord Cromwell, and
Shelly. It became a influential decision in the history of English
sponsorship of William Cecil and Lord Burghly, Sir Edward Coke
entered into the public service sector and quickly rose, becoming a
member of the Parliament for Aldeburgh in 1589 and solicitor general
and recorder of London in 1592.
Just one year
later, after showing great skill in carrying out Queen Elizabeth s
policy of curbing the Commons passion for discussing ecclesiastical
matters, Sir Edward Coke was elected speaker of the House of Commons.
Up until this
point in Coke s life, he had encountered little competition for posts
that he desired. In 1593, Coke s path crossed that of Francis Bacon.
Bacon and Coke were in direct competition for the attorney generals
position. Bacon, supported by the Earl of Essex, was the favorite to
win the position. Sir Edward Coke was not one though to down without
a fight. He campaigned on his own behalf and soon gained enough
support to win the appointment in 1594. To ice the cake, Coke even
prevented Bacon from becoming solicitor general. This was not the two
s last encounter.
A few years
later, instead of fighting over a political position, they were
fighting over a woman. The lucky lady was Elizabeth Hatton. Guess who
won? Yep, you guess it, Sir Edward Coke.
Now lets get
back to Coke s stint as attorney general. Coke was terrific at
pursuing the interests of the crown. He started a series of state
prosecutions for libel and conducted many important treason cases of
the day. He even prosecuted the earl of Essex, that same man who
supported Bacon, and the earl of Southampton. Other famous trials
that Coke undertook were of Sir Walter Raleigh, the great English
explorer, and his most legendary trial, The Gunpowder Plot
conspirators in 1605.
Sir Edward Coke
s next huge plateau was being made chief justice of the Court of
Common Pleas. This began the series of conflicts that eventually
broke the bank on his judicial career. Around the time of his
appointment as chief justice, Archbishop Bancroft was in the process
of trying to weaken the power of the common-law courts by stripping
them of the jurisdiction over ecclesiastical courts. This matter came
to blows between 1607-1608 when Coke, hearing a case involving James
I s right to withdraw a case from the courts, ruled that the common
law was the supreme law and that, the king in his own person cannot
adjudge any case. This began Coke s legacy of shaping the law of the
land to respect the commoner s rights.
case that Coke s leadership played a significant role was also
concerning a proclamation by King James. Coke ruled that the king
couldn t change any part of the common law nor create any offense by
proclamation that was not an offense before.
One more dispute
between the King and Coke dealt with imprisoning adulterers. The
Court of High Commisions argued that it was acceptable to imprison
for adultery. Coke disputed this claim and in 1611, King James tried
to put him on the commission, but Coke, acting on morals, principals,
and values, refused the position.
reputation was that he was the, embodiment of the common law. King
James made one more attempt at trying to win Coke s opinion in August
of 1613, when King James, on the advice of Coke s enemy, Francis
Kevin Bacon, appointed him chief justice of the Court of King s
Bench. King James had hoped that by doing this, Coke would look after
the interests of the royal family. King James even went as far as
having Coke be named the first Lord chief justice of England.
Previously, no one who held the position of chief justice was ever
also called a Lord!
None of King
James attempts to win over Sir Edward Coke worked. King James tried
bribery, intimidation, and kindness to try to persuade Coke that he
must follow the wants and needs of his king but Coke held true to his
beliefs. He said he would do want an honest and just judge ought to
In June of 1616
the Privy Council, headed by none other than Francis Bacon, prepared
three charges against Sir Edward Coke. One charge was a petty matter
that never was proved. It involved a bond that had passed through
Coke s hands. The other two were charges of interference with the
Court of Chancery and of disrespect to the king in the matter of
plural benefices. From there, Coke was banned from appearing before
the circuit, commanded to revise the errors in his Reports, and on
November 14, 1616, dismissed completely from the courts.
Sir Edward Coke
had a few low points after that but it was not the end of Coke s
memorable life. Even though he violently abducted his daughter and
married her against her will, he gradually returned back to the
public life just in time for his final hour.
In 1628, it was
Coke s bill of liberties that ultimately ended up being the Petition
of Rights and Grievances. At the ripe, young age of 76, Coke shaped
the ancient standards, including the Magna Carta, into a charter of
liberty limiting the royal privilege.
Coke retired. He died on September 3, 1634 in Stoke Poges,
Buckinghamshire, England. During his long 82 years of life, Coke made
many significant impacts that are still felt today. It is to bad
though that the world does not know as much about him as they should.
This can be attributed to the fact that almost immediately after his
death, his papers were seized and were never recovered.
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