Edward Coke : biography

01 February 1552 - 03 September 1634

After leaving Norwich in 1567 he matriculated to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied for three years until the end of 1570, when he left without gaining a degree. Little is known of his time at Trinity, though he certainly studied rhetoric and dialectics under a program instituted in 1559. His biographers felt he had all the intelligence to be a good student, though a record of his academic achievements has not been found. Coke was proud of Cambridge and the time he spent there, later saying in Dr. Bonham's Case that Cambridge and Oxford were "the eyes and soul of the realm, from whence religion, the humanities, and learning were richly diffused into all parts of the realm."

After leaving Trinity College he travelled to London, where he became a member of Clifford's Inn in 1571. This was to learn the basics of the law – the Inns of Chancery, including Clifford's Inn, provided initial legal education before transfer to the Inns of Court, where one could be called to the Bar and practice as a barrister. Students were educated through arguments and debates – they would be given precedents and writs each day, discuss them at the dinner table and then argue a moot based on those precedents and their discussions. Coke also studied various writs "till they turned honey sweet on his tongue", and after completing this stage of his legal education transferred to the Inner Temple on 24 April 1572.

At the Inner Temple he began the second stage of his education, reading legal texts such as Glanville's Treatises and taking part in moots. He took little interest in the theatrical performances or other cultural events at the Inns, preferring to spend his time at the law courts in Westminster Hall, listening to the Serjeants argue. After six years at the Inner Temple he was called to the Bar on 20 April 1578, a remarkably fast rate of progress given the process of legal education at the time, which normally required eight years of study. Polson, a biographer of Coke, suggests that this was due to his knowledge of the law, which "excited the Benchers".

Family background and early life

The surname "Coke", or "Cocke", can be traced back to a William Coke in the hundred of South Greenhoe, now the Norfolk town of Swaffham, in around 1150. The family was relatively prosperous and influential – members from the 14th century onwards included an Under-Sheriff, a Knight Banneret, a barrister and a merchant. The name "Coke" was pronounced during the Elizabethan age, although it is now pronounced . The origins of the name are uncertain; theories are that it was a word for "river" among early Britons, or was descended from the word "Coc", or leader. Another hypothesis is that it was an attempt to disguise the word "cook".

Coke's father, Robert Coke, was a barrister and Bencher of Lincoln's Inn who built up a strong practice representing clients from his home area of Norfolk. Over time, he bought several manors at Congham, Westacre and Happisburgh and was granted a coat of arms, becoming a minor member of the gentry. Coke's mother, Winifred Knightley, came from a family even more intimately linked with the law than her husband. Her father and grandfather had practised law in the Norfolk area, and her sister Audrey was married to Thomas Gawdy: a lawyer and Justice of the Court of King's Bench with links to the Earl of Arundel. This connection later served Edward well. Winifred's father later married Agnes, the sister of Nicholas Hare.

Edward Coke was born on 1 February 1552 in Mileham, one of eight children. The other seven were daughters – Winifred, Dorothy, Elizabeth, Ursula, Anna, Margaret and Ethelreda – although it is not known in which order the children were born. Two years after Robert Coke died on 15 November 1561, his widow married Robert Bozoun, a property trader noted for his piety and strong business acumen (once forcing Nicholas Bacon to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a piece of property). He had a tremendous influence on the Coke children; from Bozoun, Coke learnt to "loathe concealers, prefer godly men and briskly do business with any willing client", something that shaped his future conduct as a lawyer, politician and judge.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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