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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 land law.
Under the 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.
Another historic 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.
Coke s 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 do.
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.
Soon thereafter, 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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