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SIR EDWARD COKE,*
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE OF ENGLAND.
THIS illustrious lawyer, son of Robert Coke Esq., was born at Mileham in the county of Norfolk, in 1550. At ten years of age, he was sent to the freeschool, Norwich; and thence removed to Trinity College, Cambridge. From Trinity College, after a residence of about four years, he migrated to Clifford's Inn, London; and, the year following, was entered a student of the Inner Temple. The first occasion of his rise, as we learn from Lloyd, was his stating the case of the Temple-cook so exactly that the whole bench took notice of him. At six years' standing he was called to the bar, a circumstance in that age deemed extraordinary. He has himself
informed us, that the first cause he moved in the King's Bench was in Trinity Term, 1578; when he was counsel for Mr. Edward Denny, Vicar of North Ingham in the county of Norfolk, in an action of
* AUTHORITIES. Hume's History of England; Rushworth's Historical Collections; and British Biography.
Scandalum Magnatum brought against him by Henry Lord Cromwell.*
About the same time, he was appointed reader of Lyon's Inn, which office he held three years; and his reputation increasing rapidly, he soon came into great practice. When he had been at the bar about seven years, he married Bridget, daughter and co-heiress of John Paston Esq., a lady of one of the best families in Norfolk, who brought him thirty thousand pounds. This connexion accelerated his advancement. The cities of Coventry and Norwich chose him their Recorder; and he was engaged in all the important causes in Westminster Hall. He was, also, in high credit with the Lord Treasurer Burghley,† and was frequently consulted about the affairs of the Queen, to whom in 1592 he was appointed Solicitor. His large estate, combined with his eminent character, recommended him to the freeholders of his county, by whom he was returned knight of the shire: in the parliament held 35 Eliz., he was chosen Speaker of the House of Commons; and, soon afterward, he was made Attorney General.
Having about this time lost his wife, by whom he had ten children, he in 1598 paid his addresses to Lady Hatton, relict of Sir William Hatton, and
Of this remarkable cause an account is given in Coke's Reports.
+ "Burghley," observes Mrs. Macaulay, "found so much solid judgement in him, that he promoted him before his own kinsman Bacon, whose law-learning he accounted somewhat superficial." It is to be lamented, that in his first official capacities, as Solicitor and Attorney General, he too often gave a legal colouring to the most tyrannical of the minister's practices.
sister to Thomas Lord Burghley, subsequently Earl of Exeter. This new marriage, advantageous as it was in other respects, made no addition to his domestic felicity, as he and his lady were frequently on ill terms with each other. The very celebration of it, from an unfortunate circumstance by which it was attended, occasioned no small disquiet. In consequence of a number of irregular marriages, Archbishop Whitgift had about this period injoined the Bishops of his province rigorously to prosecute all such persons as should offend in the solemnisation of their nuptials, in point either of form, of time, or of place. Whether Mr. Coke regarded his own and his lady's quality, and their being married with the consent of the family, as setting them above such restrictions or not, is uncertain: but they were married in a private house, without either banns or licence. These illustrious delinquents in consequence, with the Rev. Mr. Bothwell, Rector of Okeover in the county of Rutland, Thomas Lord Burghley, and several others, were prosecuted in the Archbishop's court. On their submission by their proxies, however, they were absolved from excommunication, and the penalties consequent upon it; 'because,' adds the record, they offended not out of contumacy, but through ignorance of the law in that point.'
The affair of most importance, in which as Attorney General he took a part during the reign of Elizabeth, was the prosecution of the Earl of Essex,*
After laying open the nature of the treason, and the numerous favours which Essex had received from the Queen, he is said to have closed with these words; that "by the just judgement of VOL. II. 2 N
against whom he mingled the bitterest virulence (after the manner of the times) with the grossest adulation of the Sovereign. In May, 1603, he was knighted by James I.; and in the ensuing November, he managed the trial of Sir Walter Ralegh at Winchester, to which city the term had been adjourned from London on account of the plague. Against that distinguished, but unfortunate, man he inveighed with so much acrimony and scurrility, as justly and greatly lessened him in the general opinion.*
He soon afterward, however, obtained considerable
God he of his earldom should be Robert the last, that of a kingdom thought to be Robert the first."
* In deference to the popular feeling, and in allusion to Coke's "Thou Viper, for I thou thee, thou traitor," Shakspeare (it has been generally believed) puts the following speech into the mouth of Sir Toby Belch, Twelfth Night, III. 4. ‘Go, write in a martial hand, be crusty and brief: it is no matter how witty, so it be eloquent and full of invention. Taunt him with the licence of ink: if thou thou'st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss; and as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of paper, although the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England, set 'em down. Go about it: let there be gall enough in thy ink, though thou write with a goose-pen, no matter-about it.' And in a letter, written to him by Bacon after his fall, occurs the fol lowing passage: "As your pleadings were wont to insult even misery, and inveigh bitterly against the person, so are you still careless in this point to praise and disgrace upon slight grounds, and that suddenly; so that your reproofs or commendations are for the most part neglected and contemned, when the censure of a judge, coming slow but sure, should be a brand to the guilty and a crown to the virtuous. You will jest at any man in public, without any respect to the person's dignity, or your own. This disgraces your gravity, more than it can advance the opinion of your wit; and so do all your actions, which we see you do directly with a touch of vain-glory. You make the laws too much lean to your opinion, whereby you show yourself to be a legal tyrant, &c." He had, previously, pointed out to him seve.
credit by his sagacity in unravelling the dark scenes of the Gunpowder-Plot; and by his admirable management of the evidence against Sir Everard Digby, and the rest of the conspirators tried at Westminster June 27, 1605, and against Henry Garnett at Guildhall, on the twenty eighth of March following. His speech, indeed, upon the last trial many have considered as his master-piece.*
In the same year, he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Common-Pleas. After holding this post for seven years with great reputation, he was in 1613 made Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and sworn of his Majesty's Privy Council.
ral of his errors, and advised him to be duly humbled in his
But he was, upon all occasions, grossly scurrilous. He told Mrs. Turner, the celebrated introductress of yellow starch (who was hanged in a ruff of that colour, for having been concerned in the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury) that she was guilty of the Seven Deadly Sins; she was a we, a bawd, a sorcerer, a witch, a papist, a felon, and a murtherer.' For farther proofs of his venomous acrimony, see the State-Trials, VII. 102., in the cause referred to p. 68. note (o). To all his abuse Ralegh only replied, that he spoke indiscreetly, barbarously, and uncivilly;' and that it became not a man of quality and virtue to call him so.' That he did not, however, invariably deal in scurrility, appears from his blasphemously calling the Duke of Buckingham (afterward his bitter enemy) his Saviour,' on his return from Spain.
* It seems surprising how Catholic writers, who are inclined to place tradition and even legendary history nearly on a level with Scripture, can deny the reality of this celebrated conspiracy.
The motto which he gave upon his rings, when he was called to the degree of Serjeant, in order to qualify him for this promotion, was Lex est tutissima cassis; The law is the safest helmet.'