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Lord Chief Justice of England, in the Peeign of James 1st.


Vol. III.]

JULY, 1889

[No. 3:


Sir Edward Coke * lived in an eventful period in the history of England. His life, which commenced under Edward VI., included the short but sanguinary reign of Queen Mary, the entire reign of Elizabeth, that of James I., and the early part of the reign of Charles I. Born to comfort, if not to affluence, he nevertheless formed and maintained habits of untiring industry, and these, with his indomitable energy and perseverance, enabled him tô achieve greatness as a lawyer and a jurist. He had great influence at count, and at the same time, maintained, especially in the latter part of his life, his independence and love of liberty.

He was born February 1, 1551, at his father's seat in the parish of Milcham, near East Dereham, in Norfolk.

His father, Robert Coke, was a beneher of Lincoln's Inn, and a barrister of very extensive practice. His mother, Winifred Knightley, was daughter and co-heiress of William Knightley, of Morgrave Knightley, in Norfolk, and a very estimable woman. Coke, in after life, always spoke of her with much gratitude and reverence.

His father died in 1561, leaving his only son, then in his eleventh year, and seven daughters. Edward had been scarcely two years at Cambridge when he lost his mother. He erected a monument to her memory in the church at Titleshall.

* This sketch is condensed from the Life of Sir Edward Cohe, in two vol. umes, by Cuthbert William Johnson, of Gray's Inn, Barrister-at-Law, London, Henry Colburn, Publisher, 1845.

In 1560, being then nine years of age, he was sent to the grammar school at Norwich, where it is said by the editors of the Biographia Britannica, he displayed great diligence and application.

After remaining at this school seven years, he was removed to Trinity College, Cambridge. This was in 1567. He was, matriculated as a pensioner of the college, but it does not appear from the University books, that he ever took a degree.

He remained at the Uviversity four years. There is no account of his studies to be found at Cambridge; there exist no traditions concerning his sayings and doings. Being intended for the profession of the law, it is supposed he paid more attention to the study of Norman French and to the year books, than to mathematics or classic lore.

Young Coke now began to read such books as would serve him in his future professional pursuits. Among the books at Holkham Hall, there are many law authorities containing his autographs and notes, dated at a very early period of his life. He must have possessed in his early youth, the power of intense application, in a remarkable degree. Tie books which he studied so steadily and so perseveringly, were of a nature which almost defy the mental digestion of a modern student.

There were then no law books written with the elegance of Blackstone's Commentaries, or Fearne's, Contingent Remainders. Every law authority was composed in the barbarous law French of the age, and Coke had to struggle to obtain. knowledge from such authors as Fleta, Britton, Ilengham and Littleton; from the year books, and the reports of Plowden and Dyer.

In his twenty-first year, Coke was removed from Cambridge to Clifford's Inn, in London, and in the following year, 1572, entered himself a student of the Inner Temple. · As a student he was speedily noticed for a very close application to his studies; and more publicly by a very clear statement to the benchers, of the Cook's case, which had caused among these lawyers no little embarrassment. They very much admired the way in which Coke bad unraveled the story.

He was admitted to the bar in his twenty-seventh year, when

he had been a member of the Middle Temple only six years, which at his age was thought to be a very extraordinary circumstance; the students then being accustomed to remain eight or nine years.

The rules prevailing among the benchers were rather strict. Long beards were prohibited. The treasurers of all the inns of court conferred together in full parliament, on this important matter, and deereed, in 1st and 2d Philip and Mary, “That no fellow of this house should wear his beard above three weeks growth.” 'Gambling was prohibited. “None of the society shall within this house exercise the play of shoffe-grotte, or slyp-grotte, upon pain of six shillings and eight pence.” The use of wine and tobacco was also prohibited.

The inns of court were frequented by a great multitude; many gentlemen's sons attending who had no intention of practicing the law as a profession.

In Trinity term, 1578, Coke, who was then in his twentyeighth year, pleaded his first cause. His practice speedily became considerable, and soon after, he received the appointment of reader of Lyon's Inn.

The estates 'left him by his father had increased in his hands, and his practice having become lucrative, he added to them by various purchases. These became so numerous that they finally attracted the attention of the government. There is a tradition in the Coke family, that when he was in treaty for the family estate of Castle Acre Priory, in Norfolk, James I. told him that he had already as much land as it was proper a subject should possess. To this Sir Edward replied, “Then, please your Majesty, I'will add only one'acre more to the estate.”

Thirty years Coke spent at the bar; first as a barrister, then solicitor-general to Queen Elizabeth, and lastly as attorneygeneral. These were the happiest years of his life. The court had not then entangled him; parliamentary affairs and family broils had not yet rendered him notoriously uncomfortable and ridiculous.

Coke had for his contemporaries at the bar, some of the ablest lawyers whom England has produced; men alike distinguished for their learning and their probity. Among the foremost of

these were Plowden, Bacon, Egerton, Croke and Yelverton. There were, besides these, Hobart and Tanfield, Heath and Dodderidge.

In 1582, Sir Edward Coke married his first wife, Bridget Paston, daughter and co-heiress of John Paston, Esq., óf Huntingfield Hall, in Suffolk, with whom he received then and at her father's death, a fortune very large for those days, amounting to thirty thousand pounds. Coke thus became connected with several of the first families of the kingdom. By this wife he had ten children.

At this period he was rapidly rising in his profession. Incessantly and happily employed, he returned from his chambers in the Temple to an elegant and well regulated house. Thus engaged, his name is not connected with the state prosecutions of those days; for he had not yet become a political character.

From 1585 to 1610, he held various offices; recorder of Coventry, and afterward of Norwich-bencher of the Inner Templerecorder of London-solicitor-general. - Also reader or law lecturer to the Inner Temple. · In this capacity he bad delivered five lectures on the statute of uses to a large and learned audience, when the plague broke out in the Temple, He then left London for his house at Huntingfield, in Suffolk, on which occasion, to do him honor, nine benchers of the Temple and forty other templers accompanied him on his journey as far as Romford.

In 1592, Coke entered political life, being that year elected as the representative of Norfolk in the House of Commous.

In his political career he was devotedly loyal to the Queenwas what was called a high prerogative lawyer. But during the reign of King James, he appeared as a patriot and a reformer, which has occasioned charges of political inconsistency. This apparent inconsistency is by his friends accounted for by the difference in the characters of the reigning sovereigns, and by the advance of the commons in their demands in behalf of liberty.

The first parliainent in which Coke appeared, was speedily prorogued, and it did not meet again for four years. Its duration was then short, and it met again in 1601.

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