Edward Coke : biography

01 February 1552 - 03 September 1634


Coke was noted as deriving great enjoyment from the law, and working hard at it, but enjoying little else. While he knew Latin classics and maintained a sizeable estate, these things were secondary, and the law was his main concern. Francis Bacon, his main competitor, was noted as a philosopher and man of learning, but Coke had no interest in such subjects. When given a copy of the Novum Organum by Bacon, Coke wrote puerile insults in it. Coke's style and attitude as a barrister is well documented. He was regarded, even during his life, as greatest lawyer of his time, both in reputation and in monetary success. He was eloquent, effective, forceful, and occasionally overbearing. His most famous arguments can be read in Complete State Trials and . Most early lawyers were not noted for their eloquence, with Thomas Elyot writing that "[they] lacked elocution and pronunciation, two of the principal parts of rhetorike", and Roger Ascham saying that "they do best when they cry loudest", describing a court case where an advocate was "roaring like a bull". Coke in court was insulting to the parties, disrespectful to the judges and "rough, blustering, overbearing"; a rival once wrote to him saying "in your pleadings you were wont to insult over misery and to inveigh bitterly at the persons, which bred you many enemies". Coke was pedantic and technical, something which saw him win many cases as a barrister, but when he became Attorney General "he showed the same qualities in a less pleasing form ... He was determined to get a conviction by every means in his power".

Francis Watt, writing in the Juridicial Review, portrays this as his strongest characteristic as a lawyer; that he was a man who "having once taken up a point or become engaged in a case, believes in it with all his heart and soul, whilst all the time conscious of its weakness, as well as ready to resort to every device to bolster it up". Writers have struggled to reconcile his achievements as a judge surrounding the rejection of executive power and the rights of man with his actions while Attorney General, with Gerald P. Bodet noting that his early career as a state prosecutor was one of "arrogance and brutality".

Personal life

[[Coke of Norfolk, a noted agricultural reformer and Coke's direct descendant through his son, Henry|alt=An image of Thomas Coke, Edward Coke's descendant. He is seated at a table with a pen in one hand and a scroll in the other. There are bookshelves in the background.]] On 13 August 1582 Coke married Bridget, the daughter of John Paston, a Counsellor from Norwich. Paston came from a long line of lawyers and judges – his great grandfather, William Paston, was a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. Having grown up nearby Coke knew the family, and asked for Bridget's hand immediately after she turned eighteen. At the time he was a thirty-one-year-old barrister with a strong practice, and her father had no qualms about accepting his offer. Six months after they married John Paston died, leaving his daughter and son-in-law his entire estate and several of his clients. Bridget maintained a diary, which reveals that she mainly ran the household. Despite this she was an independent woman, travelling without her husband and acting as a helpmate to Coke. Bridget was noted by Woolrych as an "incomparable" woman who had "inestimable value clearly manifested by the eulogies which are lavished on her character". The couple settled at the manor of Huntingfield, described by Catherine Drinker Bowen as "enchanting, with a legend for every turret ... A splendid gallery ran the length of the house, the Great Hall was built around six massive oaks which supported the roof as they grew".

The couple had ten children – seven sons and three daughters. The sons were Edward, Robert, Arthur, John, Henry, Clement and Thomas. Edward died young, Robert became a Knight Bachelor and married Theophile, daughter of Thomas Berkeley, Arthur married Elizabeth, heir of Sir George Walgrave, John married Meriel, daughter of Anthony Wheately, bringing Holkham Hall into the Coke family, Henry married Margaret, daughter of Richard Lovelace, and inherited the manor at Holkham from his brother John (who had seven daughters but no son), Clement married Sarah, heiress of Alesxander Redich, and Thomas died as an infant. The daughters were Elizabeth, Anne and Bridget. Elizabeth died young, Anne married Ralph Sadleir, son and heir of Sir Thomas Sadleir, and Bridget married William Skinner, son and heir of Sir Vincent Skinner. Coke's descendants through Henry include the Earls of Leicester, particularly Coke of Norfolk, a landowner, Member of Parliament and agricultural reformer.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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