Edward Coke : biography

01 February 1552 - 03 September 1634

King's Bench

Coke was transferred from the Common Pleas to the Court of King's Bench on 25 October 1613, on the advice of Bacon, presumably because Bacon and the king felt that if he was moved from a court dedicated to protecting the rights of the people to one dedicated to the rights of the king, "his capacity for harm would be diminished". From Bacon's point of view, the King's Bench was a far more precarious position for someone loyal to the common law rather than the monarch. Coke's first case of note there was Peacham's Case, in which he dictated that the writing of a sermon by Thomas Peacham which advocated the death of the king – a sermon which was never preached or published – could not constitute treason. The king was unwilling to accept this decision and instead had him tried by Coke's opponents on the bench, who "not surprisingly" found him guilty. Refusing to admit his guilt, Peacham was tortured on the rack, but "before torture, between torture and after torture; nothing could be drawn from him".

In 1616, two years after Peacham's Case, the case of commendams arose. The in commendam writ was a method of transferring ecclesiastical property, which James used in this case to allow Richard Neile to hold his bishopric and associated revenues without actually performing the duties. On 25 April 1616 the courts, at Coke's bidding, held that this action was illegal, writing to the king that "in case any letters come unto us contrary to law, we do nothing by such letters, but certify your Majesty thereof, and go forth to do the law notwithstanding the same". James called the judges before him and, furious, ripped up the letter, patronisingly telling them that "I well know the true and ancient common law to be the most favourable to Kings of any law in the world, to which law I do advise you my Judges to apply your studies". While all the other judges "succumbed to royal pressure and, throwing themselves on their knees, prayed for pardon", Coke defended the letter and stated that "When the case happens I shall do that which shall be fit for a judge to do".

This was the last straw; bowing to pressure and advice from Bacon, who had long been jealous of Coke, James I suspended Coke from the Privy Council, forbade him from going on circuit and, on 14 November, dismissed him from his post as Chief Justice of the King's Bench. This was greeted by deep resentment in the country, which saw the king's actions as tampering with justice. Coke himself reacted by sinking into a deep depression. James I then ordered Coke to spend his time "expunging and retracting such novelties and errors and offensive conceits as are dispersed in his Reports". Bacon, now in royal favour, became Lord Chancellor on 3 March 1617 and set up a commission to purge the Reports, also using his authority to expand the powers of the High Commission. With James unable to declare Coke incompetent, some of what Humphry William Woolrych describes as "colorable excuses" were produced to justify Coke's dismissal; he was accused of concealing £12,000, uttering "high words of contempt" as a judge, and declaring himself Chief Justice of England.

Return to politics

Now out of favour and with no chance of returning to the judiciary, Coke was re-elected to Parliament as an MP, ironically by order of the king, who expected Coke to support his efforts. Elected in 1620, Coke sat for Liskeard in the 1621 Parliament, which was called by the king to raise revenues; other topics of discussion included a proposed marriage between the Prince of Wales and Maria Anna of Spain, and possible military support for the king's son-in-law, Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Coke became a leading opposition MP, along with Robert Phelips, Thomas Wentworth and John Pym, campaigning against any military intervention and the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Maria Anna. His position at the head of the opposition was unsurprising given his extensive experience in both local and central government, as well as his ability to speak with authority on matters of economics, parliamentary procedure and the law. He subsequently sat as MP for Coventry (1624), Norfolk (1625) and Buckinghamshire (1628).

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine