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against his idle claims of prerogative; and at the same time suffering the honour, as well as the rights of his crown to be insulted abroad, not only by the natural enemies of England, but also by her allies: leaving unpunished the most flagrant acts of depredation and cruelty, committed by foreigners on the persons and effects of his subjects, and yet prosecuting at home with unrelenting rigour all who presumed even to question his royal pleasure, although frequently opposed to the laws of the land.*
In 1615, when the King was deliberating upon the choice of a successor to Chancellor Egerton (Lord Ellesmere) Bacon, the personal and persevering enemy of Coke, cautioned him against giving the seals to the Chief Justice, as thereby he would "put an over-ruling nature into an over-ruling place, which might breed an extreme, and blunt his industries in matter of finances, which seemed to aim at another place-beside that popular men (he added) were no sure mounters for his Majesty's saddle." The animosities between these two illustrious characters are well known. Coke was jealous of Bacon's reputation in many parts of knowledge, and was envied by him in return for the high reputation which he had acquired in one. Coke was the greatest lawyer of his time; but he could be nothing more. If Bacon was not so,
* From an unpublished Imitation of the Eighth Satire of Juvenal, which has fallen under the Editor's eye, a spirited extract on the character of this Monarch (commencing with the Libera si dentur populo suffragia of the original) might be subjoined for the reader's amusement. Buchanan of course personates Seneca, and Charles I. is the Orestes of the passage.
we can ascribe it only to his aiming at a more exalted character; not being able, or at least not willing, to confine the universality of his genius within one inferior province of learning.
In the same year, Sir Edward Coke was concerned in the judicial proceedings against the murtherers of Sir Thomas Overbury, in which he exerted himself in a manner highly laudable. His enemies however, who were numerous and had formed a design to mortify him, took occasion, from some circumstances connected with the affair, to represent him in an unfavourable light both to the King and to the people. Many things, indeed, now concurred to hasten his disgrace. More particularly in his judicial capacity, his conduct had upon several occasions been extremely unfavourable to the despotic policy of the court; and he had, likewise, highly offended the new favourite, Sir George Villiers.
The author of the notes on Wilson's Life of King James,' published in Kennet's Complete History of England,' observes, "That Sir Edward Coke lost the King's favour, and some time after his place, for letting fall some words upon one of the trials, importing his suspicions that Overbury had been poisoned to prevent the discovery of another crime of the same nature committed upon one of the highest rank, whom he termed a sweet Prince,' which was taken to be meant of Prince Henry."
But whatever were the secret causes of his fall, the manner of it was to the last degree humiliating, and shows how obnoxious he had made himself to the ministry of the day; for, in 1616, he was in an unprecedented manner obliged to kneel before the Privy
Council at Whitehall, and hear from the lips of Yelverton (then Solicitor General) vague accusations of speeches of high contempt uttered in the seat of justice, and uncomely and undutiful carriage in the presence of his Majesty, the Council, and the Judges.' It must likewise be remembered, that he had a powerful enemy in Sir Francis Bacon, who had recently been raised to the dignity of Chancellor, and now joyfully seized the opportunity of at once recriminating against his old antagonist, and showing his zeal in the cause of his royal master.
Coke, however, most ably exculpated himself from the several charges brought against him, in support of which no evidence whatever was tendered: but his removal having been resolved upon, he was brought a second time to the council-board, when Winwood (one of the Secretaries of State) announced the royal determination :
1. That he should be sequestered from the counciltable, until his Majesty's pleasure should be farther known;
2. That he should forbear to ride his summercircuit as Justice of the Assize; and
3. That during this vacation, while he had time to live privately and dispose himself at home, he should review his books of Reports; wherein, as his Majesty was informed, were many extravagant and exorbitant opinions, set down and published for positive and good law and having corrected what in his discretion he found meet in these Reports,* bring
* It does not appear, however, that he "found meet" to correct any part of them: but in respect to the other injunctions, he acknowledged them to proceed rather from his Majesty's
the same privately to himself, that he might consider thereof as in his princely judgement should be found expedient. Soon afterward, he was cited before the Chancellor (Ellesmere), who imperiously forbade him Westminster Hall, and also ordered him to answer several exceptions against his Reports. In November, of the same year, the King dismissed him from his office of Lord Chief Justice. Upon this occasion, Bacon was heavily censured; not only for having accelerated his fall, but also for having insulted him after it by reproaches unworthy the gentleman, the philosopher, and the scholar, in a remonstrance, softened by the title of An Admonitory Letter.'†
exceeding mercy than his justice;' with mean and abject servility thanking the Lords of the Privy Council, for their goodness toward him!'
Among other things, James disliked the title of those books, wherein Coke stiled himself Lord Chief Justice of England;' whercas he could challenge no more, as it was alleged, than Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench.'
The whole of this Letter, in which the pique of a rival is but too discernible, is printed in the Supplement to the Cabala.' An extract has already been given above; and a second, as illustrative of Coke's character, though from the pen of an enemy, is here subjoined: "Your too much love of the world is too much seen, when having the living of 10,000l., you relieve few or none. The hand, that hath taken so much, can it give so little? Herein you show no bowels of compassion; as if you thought all too little for yourself, or that God had given you all that you have, only to that end you should still gather more, and never be satisfied, but try how much you could gather to account for all at the great and general audit-day. We desire you to amend this, and let your poor tenants in Norfolk find some comfort, where nothing of your estate is spent toward their relief, but all brought up hither to the impoverishing of your country." He then adds, that "in the case of Overbury he used too many delays, till the delinquent's hands were loose and his own bound; and that he was too open in his proceedings,
The pretexts for Coke's removal were so frivolous, that he suffered no disgrace from it in the eyes of the people; and if he had shown upon this occasion the noble fortitude, which the public had a right to expect from his talents and his integrity, he might have ranked in the list of suffering patriots, whose virtues could not be endured in the palaces of despotic princes. But unfortunately either from a love of power, or more probably with a view of triumphing once more over the Chancellor, whom he had foiled at their outset, he was persuaded to take a mean step in order to recover the royal favour.
While he was Chief Justice, he had not only refused to give his daughter Frances in marriage to Sir John Villiers, the brother of the Duke of Buckingham, but had even treated the proposal with contempt. He now, however, submissively implored the rejected suitor to honour him with this alliance, and through Secretary Winwood, who had pronounced his sentence of disgrace, solicited the favourite (with many humiliating apologies for his former conduct) to promote the match. It took place accordingly, but not without considerable difficulty: for the mother, resenting his attempt to dispose of her daughter without her consent, carried off the young lady, and lodged her
and so taught them how to defend themselves." "But that," continues he," which we commend you for, are those excellent parts of nature and knowledge in the law, which you are endued withal. But these are only good in their good use. Wherefore, we thank you heartily for standing stoutly in the commonwealth's behalf; hoping it proceedeth not from a disposition to oppose greatness,' as your enemies say, but to do justice and deliver truth indifferently without respect of persons."