COKE, Sir Edward (1552-1634), of Godwick, Norf.; Stoke Poges, Bucks.; Broad Street and the Inner Temple, London; formerly of Huntingfield, Norf.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Feb. 1552, 1st s. of Robert Coke of Mileham, Norf. and Winifred, da, of William Knightley, att., of Norwich, Norf. educ. Norwich g.s. 1560; Trin. Coll. Camb. 1567, MA 1597; Clifford’s Inn 21 Jan. 1572; I. Temple 24 Apr. 1572, called 1578. m. (1) 13 Aug. 1582, ? with £30,000, Bridget (d. 27 June 1598), da. and h. of John Paston of Cookley, Suff., 7s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 6 Nov. 1598, Elizabeth (d. 3 Jan. 1646), da. of Thomas Cecil†, 1st earl of Exeter, and wid of Sir William Hatton† (d.1597) of Holdenby, Northants. and Hatton House, Holborn, London, 1da. suc. fa. 1561; kntd. 22 May 1603.1 d. 3 Sept. 1634. sig. Edw[ard] Coke.
Reader, Lyon’s Inn 1579-82; recorder, Norwich 1586-92,2 London Jan.-June 1592, Orford, Suff. 1593-1621,3 Harwich, Essex by 1603-d.,4 Coventry, Warws. 1614-d.;5 fee’d counsel, Camb. Univ. 1586,6 Great Yarmouth, Norf. by 1603;7 Drapers’ Co. 1603-6,8 Anne of Denmark 1603;9 steward, reader’s dinner, I. Temple 1590, bencher 1590-1606, auditor 1590, reader 1592, treas. 1595-7, attendant to reader 1604-6;10 sol.-gen. 1592-5, att.-gen. 1594-1606; sjt.-at-law 1606;11 j. of assize, Norf. circ. 1604, 1606-11, Midlands circ. 1612;12 c.j.c.p. 1606-13; c.j.k.b. 1613-16;13 j. in eyre, forests and parks belonging to Anne of Denmark c.1618.14
Freeman, Norwich 1586;15 j.p. Norf. 1586-at least 1622,16 Suff. by 1601-at least 1622, Mdx. by 1601-at least 1622, Northants. by 1601-at least 1614, Harwich by 1603-at least 1618,17 Bucks. 1604-at least 1622,18 I. of Ely, Cambs. 1607,19 liberties of Southwell and Scroby, Notts. 1613-17,20 Cawood, Wistow and Otley, Yorks. 1614-17,21 Ripon, Yorks. 1614-17,22 Westminster 1618-at least 1620,23 Cambs. by 1622;24 commr. gaol delivery, Newgate, London by 1601-1616, 1619,25 Ipswich, Suff. 1601-d.,26 Orford, Suff. 1611,27 swans, Thames 1601-at least 1609,28 oyer and terminer, London 1601-1616, 1618, Mdx. 1601-16, 1618-at least 1620, Norf. circ. 1602-1617, Midlands circ. 1602, the Verge 1604, enclosure rioters, Northants. 1607,29 sewers, Norf. and Cambs. 1601, Surr. and Kent 1603, R. Lea 1604-at least 1609, rivers Ouse and Welland 1605-at least 1608,30 London 1607,31 R. Gleane 1609-at least 1618, Herts., Mdx. and Bucks. 1609, Westminster 1611, Norwich 1611, Herts. 1615-at least 1618, Mdx. 1619, Suff. 1619,32 piracy, Norf. 1602, Essex, Kent, etc. 1603-at least 1615, Suff. 1604-at least 1612, London 1606, Devon 1614-at least 1615,33 inquiry, limits and boundaries, Cambs. 1602,34 charitable uses, Mdx. 1605, Norf. 1611,35 survey limits and boundaries, Isle of Ely, Northants., Suff., Hunts. and Lincs. 1605,36 subsidy, Bucks. 1608, 1621-2, 1624, London and Mdx. 1608, 1621-2, 1624;37 commr. exacted fees in eccles. cts. 1610,38 annoyances, Surr. 1611, Mdx. 1613;39 gov. Charterhouse hosp., London 1611-d.;40 commr. Admtly. causes, Suff. 1612;41 steward, Camb. Univ. 1614;42 commr. new buildings, London 1615, 1618;43 high steward, Gloucester, Glos. 1615-27,44 ? Chipping Wycombe, Bucks. by 1624;45 sheriff, Bucks. 1625-6;46 asst. to commrs. for disafforesting the forest of Neroche, Som. 1628.47
Speaker, House of Commons 1593.
Member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1601-at least 1620;48 commr. for the office of chan. of duchy of Lancaster 1601;49 gent. of privy chamber 1603; commr. to find seminary priests 1606, to arbitrate in dispute between the Battery Works Co. and the 4th earl of Worcester 1607;50 PC 1613-16, 1619-21;51 commr. cloth exports 1614,52 to appoint justices of assize, Midlands circ. 1616;53 cllr. to Anne of Denmark by 1617-?19, commr. for Anne’s revenue 1618;54 commr. to investigate fraud in the Exch. 1618, to run the Treasury 1618-19, investigate Sir Walter Ralegh† 1618, banish Jesuits and seminary priests 1618, inventory the king’s jewels 1619, sell Anne of Denmark’s jewels 1619, resolve differences with the Dutch 1619, sell gold and silver plate 1620, improve Crown rents 1620, prevent illegal export of ordnance 1620,55 poor relief 1620,56 survey Ire. 1623-4.57
Hailed by Sir Robert Phelips* as ‘that great monarcha juris’, and by Richard Cresheld* as ‘that honourable gentleman to whom the professors of the law, both in this and all succeeding ages are and will be much bound’, Sir Edward Coke was the finest lawyer of his generation.58 Sir Roger Wilbraham* thought his legal talents were ‘above all of memory’, while Sir Julius Caesar* ranked him as ‘one of the greatest learned men amongst the common lawyers of England’. Even James I, who grew to detest him, acknowledged Coke as ‘the father of the laws’.59 Much of Coke’s legal skill relied upon a sharp intellect and a prodigious capacity for work - he managed on just six hours sleep a night and rose at three every morning60 - but it was also the product of immense learning. Coke collected a huge library of books and manuscripts, and by his death he owned around 1,200 volumes, considerably more than most college libraries of the period. Naturally many were law books, but the largest part of the collection was concerned with historical matters.61 Although not a member of the Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries, Coke regarded it as essential to study the past in order to comprehend England’s laws and constitution. He applauded Edward I as ‘our Justinian, the wisest prince that ever ... [was] till our king’, and was almost as much in awe of Edward III, whose reign he regarded as the golden age of Common-Law pleading.62 Through historical study, Coke concluded that ultimate sovereignty lay with the Common Law. Not merely was this superior to Civil or Canon Law, but both Parliament and the king were subject to its authority. In an era when the Crown increasingly operated outside the strict parameters of the Common Law, this was a dangerous view to hold.
Brilliant though he was, Coke was cursed by an arrogance that rendered him obnoxious to many of his contemporaries. Few men were more self-important or more convinced of Coke’s great abilities than Coke himself. On being refused permission to lay before Star Chamber a series of depositions in May 1605, Coke closed his books and refused to speak for the rest of the day.63 Offered the services of eight of the best lawyers in the kingdom in January 1622, Coke, then in prison, reportedly replied that he needed no help, having ‘as much skill in the law as any man in England’.64 This disdain for the opinion of others was understandably resented: in 1616 Coke was berated in a widely circulated but anonymous manuscript for preferring to commune with his books than with his fellows, ‘who are the best books’, and for regarding conversation as an opportunity to instruct rather than to learn.65 It was also counter-productive, for by failing to build up a network of supporters who might rally to his side during a crisis, Coke left himself dangerously isolated, as he would discover to his cost.
Coke was afraid of no man, whether king, prince or nobleman. This was an admirable trait in a judge, of course, but where others would have inclined to circumspection, Coke invariably spoke his mind. In June 1604, for instance, he needlessly antagonized the Lords Dudley, Sheffield and Effingham, who accompanied Sir Robert Dudley to Star Chamber, by wondering aloud why they had chosen to ‘countenance and embrace any cause contrary to the law’. The Venetian ambassador was probably not far from the truth when he remarked in 1616 that all the nobility hated Coke.66 Yet, though loathed by his social superiors, Coke was widely admired among the lower orders for administering the law without fear or favour. This popularity survived his loss of judicial office in 1616. When Coke was acquitted by the Court of Wards in July 1622 of having cheated the Crown ‘the people’, recorded Sir Simonds D’Ewes, ‘gave a great shout’.67
Not unnaturally Coke’s appeal to ordinary folk greatly alarmed the king and his ministers, who were instinctively wary of the vulgar populace. In April 1616 James I declared that he would ‘no more endure that popular and unlawful liberty’ which characterized the behaviour of Coke and his judicial colleagues. Seven months later lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) condemned Coke for his ‘ambitious popularity’. In July 1617 Ellesmere’s successor, lord keeper Sir Francis Bacon*, described Coke as being ‘by nature insociable and by habit popular’.68 The dangers associated with Coke’s popular appeal were demonstrated shortly after Coke was thrown into the Tower in 1621, when, amid rumours of an imminent rebellion, a horsekeeper was discovered to have used ‘very seditious words ... in favour of Sir Edward Coke’.69
Some contemporaries believed that Coke was unhinged. In 1624 the earl of Kellie reported that Coke had been so soundly upbraided by Prince Charles that he was likely to be driven mad, ‘which is not difficult matter to be done, he being already half mad’.70 In 1609 Ellesmere, writing to Salisbury, described Coke as an ‘idle, broken-brained fellow’.71 Still others believed Coke to have been motivated by malice. ‘In your pleadings’, Coke was chided by one complainant, ‘you were wont to exult over misery, and to inveigh bitterly at the persons, which bred you enemies’. Aubrey, writing in the 1660s, thought that Coke would ‘play with his case as a cat would with a mouse’.72 One hapless victim, Sir John Holles*, referred to Coke as ‘the viper’.73 However, the cruelty which disfigured many of Coke’s most famous prosecutions, most notably the trials of Ralegh (1603) and Somerset (1616), was not uncommon among early modern judges and may even have been expected. Coke himself always denied that he ‘gave his heart to cruelty’. Nevertheless, there was more than a grain of truth in the observation of Sir Edward Conway II*, that ‘if once in seven years he [Coke] were not to help ruin a great man, he should die’. Coke clearly revelled in the destruction of lord treasurer Suffolk (1618), attorney-general Sir Henry Yelverton* (1620) and lord treasurer Middlesex (Sir Lionel Cranfield*; 1624). His claim that it was essential for Members of the Commons to have ‘no gall’ should be taken with a very large pinch of salt.74
Coke’s failings were not limited to arrogance, unsociability and malice. A wife-beater, given to uncontrollable fits of rage,75 he was also highly dishonest when it suited him, and was perfectly prepared to lie to a jury, as the events of February 1616 would show. Almost certainly he was guilty of forgery.76 Moreover, he was vain, delighting in fine clothes and refusing to wear spectacles, despite being short-sighted.77 Yet, for all his failings, Coke was one of the finest legal minds ever to grace an English courtroom, and his published works proved to be essential reading long after his death, as Cresheld predicted. Moreover, Coke’s passionate belief in the sovereignty of the law has stood the test of time, both in Britain and America, where his name remains a byword for liberty and freedom.
I. The Early Years of James I, 1603-6
Coke rose to prominence during the reign of Elizabeth. After marrying the heiress of the Paston family’s large East Anglian estate, he clawed his way up the legal profession, and in 1593 served as Speaker of the Commons. In the following year, despite being only in his early forties, he was appointed attorney-general. Shortly after the death of his first wife in 1598, Coke improved his fortunes still further by marrying Elizabeth, Lady Hatton, the niece of secretary of state Sir Robert Cecil†. Lady Hatton was a particularly fine catch, for apart from being a Cecil her first husband, Sir William Hatton†, had acquired a lease of the lands formerly owned by his uncle, the late lord chancellor Sir Christopher Hatton†, who had died owing enormous sums to the Crown. On his own death in 1597, Sir William passed this lease to his wife rather than to his second cousin Christopher Hatton* of Clayhall, Essex who, in theory at least, was the heir to the Hatton estate. This lease, which cost £1,500 each year and still had 18 years to run, gave Lady Hatton and her new husband control of lands worth around £4,000 a year. Among the properties which Coke acquired by this marriage was Hatton House, on the Strand, where Lady Hatton gave birth to a daughter in August 1599. Another new estate brought to him by his wife was the Buckinghamshire manor of Stoke Poges, which lay only a short ride from Windsor Castle. There in September 1601 Coke lavishly entertained the queen, who had consented to be the godmother to his new daughter.78
Following the accession of James I, Coke was reappointed attorney-general. Like many old Elizabethans, he resented the late queen’s parsimony in bestowing honours, and in May 1603 he petitioned his wife’s uncle, Sir Robert Cecil, for a knighthood, claiming that as a former Commons’ Speaker this honour was his due. Shortly thereafter he was not only granted his wish but was also appointed a gentleman of the Privy Chamber and counsel to the new queen, Anne of Denmark. Six months later he served as prosecuting counsel in the treason trial of Sir Walter Ralegh at Winchester, at which he poured scorn and abuse on his hapless victim. Shortly thereafter he assisted in the trial of several of Ralegh’s co-conspirators. Two other prominent lawyers were also assigned to argue the Crown’s case, but Coke dominated proceedings so thoroughly that one observer remarked that there were, ‘in effect, none but the attorney’ present.79
When Parliament was summoned in January 1604, Coke used his wife’s electoral influence to secure the return of Sir John Hobart I for Corfe Castle, and his own influence at Thetford and Dunwich to ensure the election of Sir Bassingbourne and Philip Gawdy respectively. He also helped the two universities obtain the franchise, a favour which may help to explain why Cambridge University subsequently returned as its senior Member his Buckinghamshire neighbour Nicholas Steward.80
Shortly before the Parliament began Coke delivered to the sheriff of Buckinghamshire two writs of outlawry against Sir Francis Goodwin*. In so doing he helped to precipitate the Buckinghamshire election dispute, which marred the first few weeks of the new assembly.81 Coke himself did not sit in the Commons, but served as a legal assistant in the Lords, where he criticized the Commons’ free trade bill on 2 July for its poor draftsmanship.82 In addition, on the instructions of Cecil, he penned a bill to naturalize the Scottish courtier Sir James Erskine and his family, and hastily drafted a measure to set aside certain Crown lands so that they could not be granted away except on short leases.83 His main legislative concern, however, was with a bill to overthrow the extent upon the Hatton estates, which was presented to the Commons in June. This measure aroused Coke’s fury, for were the extent to be lifted the Hatton estates would immediately revert to the lawful heir, Christopher Hatton, now knighted. Coke was further outraged that the bill’s promoters included his own wife, Lady Hatton, who bitterly resented her husband’s appropriation of her income for his own uses, and Sir John Hobart I, who owed his seat at Corfe Castle to Coke. After brow-beating his wife, Coke succeeded in stifling the bill, which was reported on 5 July as ‘fit to sleep’.84 Shortly thereafter Sir Christopher Hatton, who hoped to come to some friendly arrangement with Coke, entered into a bond for £12,000 in which he promised not to try again to overthrow the extent upon his estates.85 In the short term these measures averted financial disaster for Coke, but at the cost of good relations between him and his wife. In December 1604 Lady Hatton refused to admit her husband to her bedchamber, accusing him of reneging on the agreements made between them at their marriage and blaming him for her failure to secure a part in the queen’s Christmas masque.86
Following the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Coke and the lord chief justice of King’s Bench, Sir John Popham†, examined the surviving plotters and helped draw up the indictment against Sir Everard Digby.87 When Parliament reassembled Coke continued to serve as a legal assistant in the Lords, in which capacity he carried messages to the Commons. He also drafted a revised version of the bill to create an entail for the Crown, which had been rejected by the Commons in 1604.88 During the joint conference of 11 Apr., when John Hare’s radical bill concerning purveyance was debated, Coke argued for the king that the measure was unworkable. The provision giving men the right to resist purveyors who broke the law, for example, was ‘a way to raise tumults’ and ‘would make the king stay many times for his dinner’. Coke also reminded his listeners that purveyance was not illegal, as previous statutes had merely sought to punish errant purveyors. In so doing, he may have been trying to impress upon the Commons that the true purpose of Hare’s bill, which was to abolish purveyance rather than to reform it, was unacceptable.89 Towards the end of the month, Coke came down from the Lords to inform the Commons of the proceedings in the bill to attaint the Gunpowder plotters. He was ‘used with great respect at his entrance’ and spoke for more than an hour.90 A few days later he participated in another conference with the Commons, this time on the subject of grievances against the Church. During the course of ‘a long, learned discourse’, he argued that Church courts ‘are, and ever were, the king’s courts and never belonged to the pope’. To support this claim, he pointed to a book that he had recently written entitled De Jure Regis Ecclesiastico, now lost, in which he showed that the king’s authority over the Church predated the Reformation.91
As the second session drew to a close, Coke prepared the general pardon for the king’s signature. Under normal circumstances this task would have been uncontroversial, but Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, favoured inserting an additional clause that referred to the ‘middle shires of Great Britain’. Coke was horrified, for there was as yet no such legal entity as Great Britain, nor was it possible for English and Scottish juries to be merged as the clause implied. Consequently he advised Salisbury to drop the proviso entirely.92
Although he never said so explicitly, Coke was opposed to the king’s plan to unite England and Scotland. In his view the moment that the two kingdoms were united the Common Law, being peculiar to England, would be utterly extinguished. In February 1607, during the Parliament’s third session, Coke declared that he had been the first to reach this conclusion, which soon found widespread support among his fellow lawyers. This suggests that it may have been Coke who was responsible for persuading the judges in April 1604 to tell the king that the Union would necessarily dissolve the Common Law; certainly he was present when they reached this conclusion. In Coke’s opinion, the Union was an impossibility because it was not within the power of the king to abolish the Common Law, which owed its existence not to the Crown or to Parliament but to custom. Like the fifteenth-century jurist Sir John Fortescue, Coke believed that the Common Law dated from the time of the ancient Britons. Its fundamental nature was proved because, despite successive waves of foreign invasion and various changes of dynasty, it had survived intact. Few of Coke’s fellow lawyers agreed that the Common Law was as old as Coke claimed, but many of them nevertheless shared his belief that, being customary rather than enacted, the Common Law was incapable of alteration. Consequently, they were just as appalled as Coke at James’s desire for a formal Union. Another reason that Coke opposed the Union was that he believed that the union of two kingdoms was ‘without precedent’, an observation which one historian has fairly characterized as ‘nothing more than a confession of ignorance’.93
II. Coke Triumphant, 1606-10
On 30 June 1606 Coke was appointed lord chief justice of Common Pleas, having been earmarked for the job since the beginning of February.94 This position was the most profitable of all the Common Law judgeships and was second only to the lord chief justiceship of King’s Bench in seniority. Coke revelled in his newly acquired importance, and in his first charge to the Northampton grand jury subjected his listeners to a lecture lasting more than two-and-a-half hours.95 One of the chief problems Coke inherited on taking office was the growing number of challenges to the supremacy of the Common Law courts. In 1605 Archbishop Bancroft had complained to the Privy Council about the increasing use of writs of prohibition issued by the Common Law judges. These writs were designed to transfer cases from inferior courts to those of Common Pleas or King’s Bench, and were, in theory, a useful device to ensure that the lesser courts did not exceed their jurisdiction. However, Bancroft complained that they were being used to transfer matters of legitimate concern to the Church’s courts - such as disputes over tithes - to Common Pleas and King’s Bench, whose judges claimed that cases concerned with property rights were for the Common Law alone to decide. During Easter term 1606, shortly before his formal promotion to the chief justiceship of Common Pleas, Coke and his fellow judges refuted each one of Bancroft’s grievances, which Coke collectively described as the Articuli Cleri.96 However, Bancroft was not alone in resenting the intrusion of the Common Law courts. In February 1607 Coke was summoned by the king after the lord president of the Council in the North, Edmund, Lord Sheffield, complained that his court had recently been flooded with prohibitions. James was initially displeased with Coke, whom he considered primarily responsible, but his anger quickly evaporated after Coke explained that the Council in the North had been acting illegally. On one occasion, Coke complained, the Council had even issued a writ of replevin, which was ‘utterly against law’.97
For the time being James was mollified, but it was not long before a case erupted which led him to side with the Common Law judges’ critics. In July 1607 the puritan lawyer Nicholas Fuller* was imprisoned in the Fleet for describing the proceedings of High Commission as illegal and popish. The king heartily approved of this punishment, for unless High Commission’s authority was upheld, he observed, kings ‘shall not long after prosper in their government and the monarchy shall fall to ruin’.98 Fuller, however, had no intention of languishing in prison, and in September he appealed to King’s Bench, which issued a prohibition forbidding High Commission from dealing any further in the case. James was appalled, and after visiting Archbishop Bancroft to stiffen his resolve he threatened to rebuke the judges of King’s Bench in person unless they retracted their prohibition.99 Although not directly involved in the case, Coke was thoroughly alarmed, and perhaps on his advice King’s Bench issued a ‘consultation’, which conceded the right of High Commission to determine this particular case. Not to be outmanoeuvred, however, Fuller, through his counsel, responded by moving for a writ of habeas corpus,100 thus passing responsibility back to King’s Bench. James was now livid, and resolved to imprison the judges of King’s Bench if they freed Fuller. Behind the scenes Coke reached an accommodation with Bancroft, and on 24 Nov. Fuller was returned to prison, from where he now had little choice but to throw himself on the king’s mercy. A relieved James praised his legal team, but singled out for especial thanks lord chief justice Coke, who was to continue conferring with Bancroft ‘for the settling of those differences between the King’s Bench and High Commission’.101
Although the Fuller case had now been settled to the king’s satisfaction, and Coke and Bancroft had temporarily declared a truce, the underlying problem of the prohibitions issued by the Common Law courts remained. A principal flashpoint was the power enjoyed by the Council in the Marches, and in particular its authority over the four English border counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Shropshire. For several years the leading gentry of the border counties had waged a bitter if unsuccessful campaign to restrict the Council’s authority to Wales, and now they were joined by the judges of the Common Law, whose authority was threatened by the judicial powers exercised by the Council. To the fury of lord president Eure, Coke and his colleagues issued a flurry of prohibitions referring cases before the Council to the Westminster courts. James was aghast, as he eventually intended to create his eldest son prince of Wales, whose authority would be diminished if the Council’s wings were clipped.102 Consequently, in early November 1608 he summoned before him the judges and subjected them to a lengthy harangue, in which he claimed that the right to settle the jurisdictional dispute lay with him as king ‘by the fundamental laws of the realm’ rather than with the judges, whom he described as merely his deputies. At this Coke knelt and replied that the responsibility for deciding on the boundaries of jurisdiction lay with the courts rather than the king. James responded by flying into a rage: ‘did not I tell you before’, he expostulated, ‘that you have nothing but trust of the power I give you?’103 However, the meeting ended without Coke conceding an inch.
The disagreement over the authority of the Council in the Marches coincided with a resumption of the earlier quarrel with Bancroft. Shortly after their audience with James, the judges were re-summoned to Whitehall and again subjected to a tirade. If the common lawyers had their way, protested James, ‘no cause of tithes will be held in the ecclesiastical courts’. Coke and his colleagues were acting like papists, who insisted on a monopoly in the interpretation of Scripture. Encouraged by Bancroft, James not only reaffirmed that the judges were merely the ‘delegates of the king’, but added that he could, if he wished, preside over his own courts. Coke was horrified, and denied that James was entitled to judge any case. Although the king was permitted to sit in Star Chamber, this was merely to enable him to consult the judges rather than to act ‘in judicio’. It was now James’s turn to express outrage. Of course he was entitled to sit in judgment, he insisted. Was he not well equipped to do so, being capable of arguing from reason, upon which the law itself was grounded? Coke, however, would not be browbeaten into surrendering something as vitally important as the independence of the judiciary. Speaking with as much tact as he could muster, he replied that, while it was true ‘that God had endowed His Majesty with excellent science and great endowments of Nature’, James was ‘not learned in the laws of his realm of England; and causes which concern the life or inheritance in goods or fortunes of his subjects are not to be decided by natural reason, but by the artificial reason and judgment of law’. Taken aback, James remonstrated that if this were correct it would mean that ‘he should be under the law, which was treason to affirm’.104 As the exchanges between the two men became increasingly heated, James’s patience finally snapped. He clenched his fist and threatened to strike Coke, who thereupon flung himself on the floor and begged forgiveness. Salisbury, who was present, also urged James to be lenient.105 After tempers had cooled it was agreed to meet again shortly before Christmas.
In the event there were no further meetings until June 1609, when Coke and the lord chief justice of King’s Bench, Sir Thomas Fleming†, were summoned before the Privy Council to answer a series of complaints presented by the heads of the Councils in the Marches and the North. After protesting at being hauled before the board yet again, which ‘gives much emboldening to the vulgar’, the two judges patiently explained that the rise in the number of prohibitions reflected the increased business of the two conciliar courts and the fact that the latter continued to exceed their authority, issuing injunctions to the Common Law courts, for instance, ‘which is utterly against law’. To prevent this from happening in future, they recommended that the two conciliar courts should be subordinated to the Westminster courts and staffed by trained lawyers. They also advised that the instructions governing the proceedings of the conciliar courts should be enrolled in Chancery, where they could be publicly inspected. These proposals, which avoided any mention of the controversial subject of the Council in the Marches’ continued authority over the four English border shires, were hard to fault, and under the leadership of Salisbury, now lord treasurer, the Privy Council adopted them wholesale.106
Coke and Fleming had now scored a notable victory in their battle to defend their right to issue prohibitions, but the seemingly intractable problem posed by High Commission still remained. During July 1609 the king held a three-day long conference at Whitehall at which the judges were pitted against both leading churchmen and lawyers acting for the Crown, all of whom subjected Coke and his colleagues to a withering assault. The churchmen were incensed that, since the heated exchanges between James and Coke eight months earlier, the Common Law courts had issued more prohibitions than in all previous years combined. James, too, was outraged, and on the first day alone he interrupted Coke three times. Sir Henry Hobart* accused Coke of hypocrisy for claiming that the letters patent from which High Commission derived its immediate authority were invalid when Coke, while attorney-general, had drawn up three of these documents himself. At the end of the proceedings James reasserted his right to sit as a judge, accused Coke of seeking to be the interpreter of God and Man, and instructed Coke to explain in writing the ‘unfit and unjust prohibitions’ issued to High Commission. In the meantime he ordered that no more should be granted.107 Coke and the Common Law now teetered on the brink of disaster, for if James prevailed the supremacy of the Common Law would be ended. Moreover, Coke’s recent achievement in bringing to heel the Councils in the Marches and the North would inevitably be undone. However, shortly thereafter Coke presented the king with five treatises which, taken together, contained his answer to the charges laid against him and his fellow judges. Described by one historian as ‘the greatest of all his legal writings’, these plucked victory from the jaws of defeat. ‘Acts of Parliament’, declared Coke, referring to the Elizabethan statute upon which High Commission was ultimately based, ‘are part of the laws of England, and are to be interpreted by the judges of the laws of England, and not by any canonist or ecclesiastical judge’. Coke’s triumph was so complete that in September 1609 a nervous Bancroft expressed uncertainty about how far Coke’s ‘new points of law’ would allow High Commission’s authority to extend.108
Until now Coke had defended the supremacy of the Common Law courts against rival jurisdictions, but at the beginning of 1610 he went even further, affirming the supremacy of the Common Law over individual Acts of Parliament. In a landmark judgment known as Bonham’s Case, Coke and two other judges ruled that ‘the Common Law doth control Acts of Parliament, and sometimes adjudge[s] them to be void; for when an Act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the Common Law will control it, and adjudge such [an] Act to be void’. This dictum forms the basis of the modern doctrine of judicial review, and was formulated after the Royal College of Physicians pleaded statutory authority in order to defend the fact that it had acted as judge in its own cause.109 Despite this ruling, Coke attached considerable importance to statute law, and to the sole right of Parliament to create it. When the Commons protested in 1610 that the king had been issuing Proclamations instead of seeking legislation, Coke proved sympathetic, for just as the king ‘cannot change any part of the Common Law’, neither could he ‘create any offence by his Proclamation which was not an offence before without Parliament’. If he could, then he might ‘alter the laws of the land’ at will.110
III. Coke Vanquished, 1611-16
For more than a year after triumphing over Bancroft, Coke remained free of complaints against prohibitions. However, in February 1611 lord admiral Nottingham (Charles Howard*) protested to the king about the number that had been issued to the High Court of Admiralty since 1604. Coke subsequently penned a lengthy rebuttal, but the Admiralty’s judges remained unpersuaded by his arguments, and complained that only wrongdoers, desirous to escape punishment, benefited from prohibitions.111
At around the same time that Nottingham filed his complaint, Common Pleas granted a prohibition to Sir William Chancey, an adulterer who had deserted his wife. The king was disgusted, and in February resolved to dismiss Coke unless he received a satisfactory explanation. An anxious Coke hurried to Newmarket to reassure James that he was blameless, but privately to others he admitted his responsibility.112 Coke’s public disavowal of the proceedings of his own court put fresh heart into High Commission, which was now headed by Archbishop George Abbot. In March the commissioners decided to call Coke’s bluff by committing Chancey to prison in defiance of the prohibition, whereupon Chancey obtained a writ of habeas corpus. In the ensuing stand-off, Chancey was released on bail while the representatives of both sides agreed to meet.113 During the course of a two-day conference in May, held before the Privy Council, Coke and Abbot entered into a ‘great disputation’. Abbot accused Coke of inflicting considerable damage on High Commission, while Coke claimed that, far from forbidding the judges to issue any more prohibitions, James had merely given them ‘some objections to those businesses which we have perused’. Predictably, these proceedings proved no more conclusive than the earlier encounters between Coke and Bancroft had. In the following month a weary James resolved to settle the matter once and for all. After personally issuing a warrant authorizing Chancey to be re-arrested,114 he announced that he would reduce the jurisdiction of High Commission to spiritual causes only. Towards the end of the year a new commission was issued, to which Coke and the other judges were named. Both Salisbury and Abbot now urged Coke and his colleagues to take their seats, as this would signify publicly the end of the quarrel between the common lawyers and the Church. However, despite verbal assurances that the commission’s letters of appointment had been reformed, Coke and his colleagues refused until they had first inspected the document for themselves.115
Following the death of Salisbury in May 1612 there were persistent but groundless rumours that Coke would soon be appointed lord treasurer.116 The next year witnessed the death of lord chief justice Fleming, whose successor, it was widely assumed at first, would be the attorney-general, Sir Henry Hobart. However, one of Coke’s principal enemies, the solicitor general, Sir Francis Bacon*, mischievously suggested that the vacancy should be filled by Coke instead, leaving Hobart to take over Common Pleas. From the king’s vantage point there were several obvious merits to this scheme. First, it would render Coke less able to oppose his wishes, for whereas Common Pleas, which dealt mainly with disputes between the subject and the king, offered considerable opportunities to inquire into the limits of the royal prerogative, King’s Bench was primarily concerned with offences against the Crown. Secondly, the removal of Coke to a less profitable office ‘will be thought abroad a kind of discipline to him for opposing himself in the king’s causes’. This, of course, could be denied to Coke’s face, to whom the change of office would be presented as a promotion. Thirdly, it was even possible that Coke might ‘turn obsequious’ if he was led to believe that admission to the Privy Council might swiftly follow.117
Coke was initially horrified that he might be required to quit Common Pleas, and wrote ‘very earnestly’ to the king to prevent it. Despite their earlier bitter disagreements, James had no wish to force Coke to accept the exchange against his will but, taking Bacon’s advice, hinted that if he proved amenable either a peerage or a position on the Privy Council beckoned.118 Reluctantly, and after shedding many tears, Coke agreed, and within a few days of being sworn as head of King’s Bench he was admitted to the Privy Council, so reviving the rumour that he would soon become lord treasurer.119 One of Coke’s first tasks as a councillor was to report from a committee to which he had been appointed in an advisory capacity some months earlier on the merits of the Cockayne Project. He warmly welcomed this scheme to revive the fortunes of the English cloth trade, and condemned as a monopoly the Company of Merchant Adventurers, the validity of whose charter he questioned. ‘Other countries’, he declared, ‘know not this course of companies or monopolies’.120
Following the summons of a fresh Parliament in February 1614, Coke again helped Philip Gawdy to a seat at Dunwich.121 When Parliament assembled, Coke resumed his earlier role as a legal assistant in the Upper House. The legality of impositions soon began to dominate the session, and on 23 May the Lords asked the judges for a legal opinion. Coke was reluctant to be drawn on such an explosive subject, especially as neither he nor his colleagues had yet had sight of the relevant records. Speaking on behalf of both himself and his colleagues, and with ‘great gravity and eloquence’, he reminded the peers that the judges were required by their writs of assistance to advise the king and the Lords rather than ‘to dispute’. In a side-swipe at his old enemy Bacon, who had run into trouble in the Commons for disregarding the rule which barred the attorney-general from sitting in the Lower House, he added that the absence from the Upper House of both the attorney-general and the solicitor general (who also sat in the Commons) hindered the judges’ ability to provide legal advice.122 Behind the scenes, Coke drafted an 11-line clause to the bill for the Charterhouse hospital, of which he had become a governor in 1611.123
Shortly after the dissolution, Coke was appointed steward of the University of Cambridge in succession to the 1st earl of Suffolk. The following year he tried to suppress a new play staged by members of the university entitled Ignoramus, which lampooned lawyers in general and Coke in particular - the lead actor not only dressed up to look like him but imitated his voice. However, when Coke tried to take action he was prevented by the king, who enjoyed the first performance so much that he went to see it again.124
Unlike most of his judicial colleagues, Coke contributed swiftly to the Benevolence demanded by the king immediately after the dissolution, giving £200.125 Although no enemy of parliaments, he defended James’s right to demand this levy because, as he announced in Council in November, ‘kings of England have been always supplied by Benevolence from his subjects’.126 This was, of course, music to James’s ears, but any suggestion that Coke had now been rendered ‘obsequious’, to use Bacon’s phrase, was rudely dispelled a few months later, when the king sought the advice of the judges regarding the papers of a puritan minister from Somerset named Edmund Peacham. Among the documents was a sermon warning that divine retribution was imminent, and that it would take the form of the sudden death of the king and the rebellion of his people. Although James and most members of the Privy Council regarded Peacham as clearly guilty of treason, they needed legal confirmation of their opinion. Rather than approach the judges collectively, however, the king insisted that they be asked separately for their views. Ostensibly this was to prevent news of the contents of Peacham’s sermon from leaking out,127 but it may be that James had ulterior motives, for in recent years, whenever the judges had been approached collectively, they had allowed themselves to be swayed by Coke, who had invariably opposed the king’s wishes. James was certainly not above such tactics, for in January 1612 he had avoided consulting Coke in the case of two Anabaptists whom he wished to execute for fear that Coke, ‘by his singularity in opinion ... should give stay to the business’.128 Coke, however, was incensed, and at a meeting of the Privy Council on 27 Jan. 1615 declared that his colleagues on the bench would never agree to James’s demand that they be spoken with separately as such a procedure ‘was not according to the custom of this realm’. In fact, the other judges were only too happy to be consulted individually, as there was nothing in their oath which prescribed the manner in which they were required to give their advice. Coke remained unrepentant, however, and in a private meeting with Bacon he condemned ‘this auricular taking of opinions, single and apart’ as ‘new and dangerous’.129 At stake lay not merely Coke’s continued personal influence over his colleagues but the independence of the judiciary, for it would be easier for the Crown to influence the judges when they were approached separately than when they were permitted to confer among themselves. Whichever of these considerations lay in the forefront of his mind, Coke was now in no mood to co-operate with the king. When Bacon argued that Peacham was clearly in breach of the 1352 Statute of Treasons for compassing and imagining the death of the king, Coke, disregarding the opinions of the rest of his colleagues, famously replied ‘that no words of scandal or defamation, importing that the king was utterly unworthy to govern, were treason, unless they disabled his title’. However, the rest of the judges sided with Bacon, and therefore despite Coke’s opposition the Crown initiated legal proceedings against Peacham.130
To the king and his chief ministers, the Peacham case demonstrated that Coke remained as unco-operative as ever. Further evidence of Coke’s unhelpfulness was provided in the autumn of 1614, when he ordered the release of a fraudulent London jeweller named Glanvill who, despite having previously been cleared at the Common Law, had been imprisoned for refusing to obey a Chancery decree. This action greatly irritated lord chancellor Ellesmere, who had sided with Archbishop Abbot in the latter’s earlier quarrel with Coke and had himself questioned the right of Common Pleas to issue prohibitions.131 In May 1615 he ordered Glanvill to be re-arrested, but once again Coke had the jeweller released.132 Ellesmere was furious, but the two men temporarily set aside their differences after it was discovered that the royal favourite, the earl of Somerset, was implicated in the murder of his former friend Sir Thomas Overbury.133 In mid-October Coke went to Royston to inform James of the astonishing news, hotly pursued by Somerset, who arrived a few hours later.134 Over the following weeks and months Coke and Ellesmere spearheaded the investigation into Somerset and his co-conspirators,135 among them Anne Turner, over whose trial Coke presided in November. Although not formally part of the prosecuting team, Coke intervened during the proceedings to impute to the defendant all seven of the deadly sins.136
Early in February 1616 Ellesmere fell gravely ill, and it was widely supposed that the king would soon need to appoint a new lord chancellor. Bacon, who had an eye on this office himself, was so worried that James’s choice would light upon Coke that he wrote to the king warning him that if Coke were to succeed Ellesmere, ‘Your Majesty shall put an over-ruling nature into an over-ruling place, which may breed an extreme’. Besides, he added, Coke’s recent efforts to re-order the royal finances suggested that he aimed ‘at another place’.137 Whether Coke really aspired to succeed Ellesmere, or whether he instead hoped to be made lord treasurer, is unknown, but in the short term he saw Ellesmere’s illness as a golden opportunity to achieve a decisive victory over Chancery. On 12 Feb. Glanvill, and another man named Allen, preferred a bill of praemunire against the officials in Chancery for disturbing judgments at Common Law. The fourteenth century law of praemunire had originally been intended to prevent appeals from English courts to Rome, but Coke now reinterpreted the statute to mean that it forbade appeals to any other court except that of Parliament.138 The jury, however, failed to find this argument convincing, despite being sent back twice to consider its verdict by an exasperated Coke, who reassured its members that there was no need to worry about indicting the Chancery officials because Ellesmere was now dead. A thwarted Coke now declared that anyone signing a Chancery bill after judgment given at Common Law would be barred from King’s Bench, for otherwise ‘the Common Law of England will be overthrown’.139
It soon became apparent that Coke had disastrously miscalculated. Ellesmere miraculously recovered and the king, appalled at Coke’s underhand tactics, promised Ellesmere on 23 Feb. that he would ‘settle good government in like cases hereafter’ and rely ‘wholly upon your information and advice’.140 Rather than back down, however, Coke empanelled another jury in the hope of indicting the Chancery officials when the new law term commenced.141 In reply James omitted him from a fresh commission appointed to investigate Somerset’s role in the Overbury murder.142 Over the next few months Coke made matters worse by becoming embroiled in a case which concerned the royal prerogative. The king was accustomed to issuing letters of commendam permitting members of the clergy to hold additional livings as a means of augmenting their livings, but this practice had recently been challenged in the Exchequer. Before going off hunting, James left instructions with Bacon that this important case was not to be decided until the judges had spoken with him. On receiving this order the judges were incredulous, as they were expressly forbidden by their oath of office to delay justice at another’s suit. Led by Coke, they condemned Bacon’s letter as ‘contrary to the law’. On learning of this, James was incandescent with rage. ‘Although we never studied the Common Law of England’, he exploded, ‘yet we are not ignorant of any points which belong to a king to know’. Those who had framed the oath of a judge had not intended ‘that the king should receive harm before he be forewarned’. Since his accession the royal prerogative had been ‘more boldly dealt withal in Westminster Hall ... than ever it was before’, and he would no longer ‘endure that popular and unlawful liberty’.143
James’s patience had now been tested almost beyond endurance. After allowing Coke to prosecute Somerset at the latter’s trial on 24 May - a task which the lord chief justice accomplished with his customary display of ‘large language’ - James appointed a commission to investigate King’s Bench on 4 June. Headed by Coke’s old enemy Archbishop Abbot, and condemned by the embattled lord chief justice as ‘against law’, its purpose was to examine Coke ‘upon articles and points touching the praemunire’.144 Two days later the judges were brought before the Council and asked whether they would obey any further instructions issued by the king in the case of commendams. All promised obedience except Coke, who replied that ‘he would do that [which] should be fit for a judge to do’.145 James was furious, and his anger mounted when he at last learned that Coke had been cheating him of a valuable debt. Coke, it will be recalled, had forced Sir Christopher Hatton to promise not to overthrow the extent upon the Hatton estates, a promise which included repaying the monies owed to the Crown by the late lord chancellor Hatton. In the spring of 1616 Sir Robert Rich*, having married the daughter of Sir William Hatton and come to an agreement with Sir Christopher, offered to pay the king £7,500 in settlement of the debt, but Coke was unwilling to surrender the Hatton estates, which he leased from the Crown, and tried to conceal Rich’s offer from James and the Privy Council. When James learned of all this he was so aghast that on 26 June charges were laid against Coke. These not only covered the Hatton debt, but also Coke’s recent conduct in respect of Chancery and his obstinacy in the matter of commendams. Four days later Coke was suspended from the Council, forbidden to ride the assizes and ordered to spend the vacation redrafting his published reports, which were alleged to contain many ‘exorbitant and extravagant opinions set down for positive law’.146
Coke’s troubles were only just beginning. Early in October, shortly before the start of the new law term, he was ordered to refrain from sitting in Westminster Hall until further notice and to perform his judicial duties from his chambers in the Inner Temple instead.147 A few weeks later he was summoned before Ellesmere and the king’s lawyers to answer the objections to his reports that had been compiled by the solicitor-general, Sir Henry Yelverton*, who accused him of misrepresentation, of having ‘purposely laboured to derogate much from the rights of the Church’ and of having traduced or abridged the jurisdiction of all other courts. Many of these objections proved so flimsy that they were easily brushed aside, but as five were not answered satisfactorily they were referred to the king.148 James, however, proved reluctant to press his advantage, as he initially intended to persuade Coke to surrender his office voluntarily in return for a barony rather than order his dismissal.149 Coke, of course, had no intention of going quietly, but he was almost devoid of friends at Court, having never considered it necessary to cultivate political alliances.150 In desperation he therefore enlisted the help of Prince Charles and the queen, whom he served as a legal and financial adviser,151 and appealed to the rising young favourite at Court, George, Viscount Villiers, hatching a plan to marry off his stepdaughter, Frances, to one of Villiers’ brothers.152 However, Villiers’ sympathies lay with Ellesmere,153 and following a further hearing on 9 Nov., James dismissed Coke, whom he now praised so warmly that it sounded as though ‘he meant to hang him with a silken halter’. Coke received the news ‘with dejection and tears’. Lady Hatton was no less disappointed and, to the acute embarrassment of her father and friends, promptly deserted her husband, stripping his houses of plate, jewellery and furnishings.154
IV. Recovery, 1617-20
At the age of 64 Coke found himself not only deprived of office but shunned by the king and deserted by his wife. A lesser man might have decided to spend the remainder of his life in quiet retirement. Coke, however, possessed a remarkable capacity for survival. Indeed, in later years he would be compared to a cat: ‘throw him down never so often, he’ll still light upon his legs’.155 Following his dismissal, Coke rushed to see the king, who declared that he was satisfied that Coke had been punished enough and had already dropped plans to prosecute him in Star Chamber.156 Thereafter, aided by the queen and prince, Coke began to worm his way back into favour, and by February 1617 he was acting as a private financial adviser to James, whose debts continued to mount at an alarming rate. A rumour that he would soon be granted a barony quickly spread, and during the final few months of Ellesmere’s life it was even predicted that he would become the next lord chancellor.157 However, Coke’s rehabilitation ultimately depended on winning over the royal favourite, Villiers, now marquess of Buckingham. Accordingly, Coke revived his plans for a marriage between his stepdaughter Frances and one of Buckingham’s brothers, Sir John Villiers. From Buckingham’s point of view such a match was immensely tempting, as Coke was enormously rich. In February Coke offered terms which included ‘my restitution’.158 However, the financial settlement he was prepared to make for the young couple was dismissed as insufficient, and consequently on 7 Mar. 1617 it was Bacon, not Coke, who was created lord keeper.159 To make matters worse, Coke also dragged his heels over a deal brokered by the Privy Council between him and the heirs of the Hatton estate. Coke was determined to cling on to as much land as he could, and when his wife offered to sign the agreement herself he threatened to compensate himself out of her jointure estate. An outraged Lady Hatton appealed to the Council, whereupon Coke accused her of theft and of traducing him in public. Their quarrel proved so bitter that James appointed two independent arbitrators to settle their differences. By early June Coke was grudgingly persuaded to make concessions which cost him nearly £4,000.160
Coke’s stoutest allies throughout these difficulties were the queen and his Buckinghamshire neighbour Sir Ralph Winwood*, who had been his sole supporter on the Privy Council during the dark days of June 1616. Through Winwood, Coke revived his earlier proposal for a marriage alliance with Buckingham, but this time he offered a dowry of £12,000 where previously he had offered only 10,000 marks.161 However, his plans were thrown into jeopardy by a vengeful Lady Hatton, who had suffered years of misery at his hands.162 She spirited away her daughter, first to the home of Sir Edmund Withipool and then to a house near Hampton Court. Coke was incensed and, accompanied by his eldest son and a handful of armed servants, broke down the doors of the house and seized Frances by force, prompting his wife to complain to the Privy Council.163 Most members of the board shared Lady Hatton’s sense of outrage, and after placing Frances in the custody of Lord Knyvett (Sir Thomas Knyvett*) ordered that Coke be prosecuted in Star Chamber for riot. Coke, however, was one step ahead of his enemies, having already appealed to the king, who was then in Scotland. Coke pleaded that the real offenders in the case were his wife and her supporters, as they had abducted his stepdaughter in order to thwart his marriage plans.164 Having no wish to upset the planned marriage arrangements, James not only ordered an astonished Council to return Frances to her stepfather but upbraided Bacon for refusing to sign a warrant requiring her to be released. Shortly thereafter the Council lifted its threat to prosecute Coke, who now paraded about as a member of the queen’s entourage and began negotiating to buy the chancellorship of the Exchequer from Sir Fulke Greville*.165
Although Lady Hatton had been outmanoeuvred, she had no intention of allowing her daughter to marry Sir John Villiers, and claimed that Frances was, in fact, already betrothed to the young earl of Oxford, who was then abroad. However, when she produced a copy of the supposed contract Coke declared it to be a forgery.166 For once James and Coke were in agreement, and in mid-September Coke was readmitted to the Privy Council. Lady Hatton, meanwhile, faced the prospect of being prosecuted for conspiracy and was confined to the house of a London alderman until she consented to the marriage, which took place in her absence at Hampton Court on 29 September.167 Coke’s triumph proved short-lived, however, as all eyes now turned to Lady Hatton, who controlled the purse strings. Released from her imprisonment on 1 Nov., and escorted by Buckingham and a great convoy of coaches to her father’s house in the Strand, Coke’s estranged wife suddenly became the focus of the entire Court. Over the course of just ten days Buckingham beat a path to her door eight times, hoping to persuade her to make a generous provision for her daughter and son-in-law. She in turn threw a lavish feast for the king and prince at Hatton House, to which everyone of note was invited except Coke, who ‘abideth at his Temple chambers very private’.168 Coke’s attempts to buy out Greville had come to nothing, and he proved equally unsuccessful when he attempted to secure the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster following the death of Sir John Dackombe* in January 1618. Two months later, being ‘much troubled and dejected’, not having found ‘that support he expected’, he perhaps suffered a mild stroke.169
It was not until the fall of lord treasurer Suffolk that Coke eventually emerged from the wilderness. For some years Coke had taken an interest in the state of the royal finances, and as Suffolk’s position at Court began to crumble he was appointed to help investigate the corruption in the Exchequer. Following Suffolk’s dismissal in July 1618, he and his fellow commissioners took over the running of the Treasury. Shortly thereafter, Coke was also appointed to a special commission to investigate a riot outside the Spanish ambassador’s house, and instructed by the king to take an active part in its proceedings.170 Coke discharged these new duties with great diligence, particularly in the Exchequer, where he devised new methods of raising revenue, some of which so impressed the king that he was soon being tipped as a likely successor to Suffolk.171 At the end of the year Buckingham visited Coke twice within four days, presumably to discuss terms.172 Coke’s supporters probably included the queen, who demonstrated her faith in his financial abilities by appointing him one of her revenue commissioners in November.173 However, in January 1619 Coke’s successor as lord chief justice of King’s Bench, Sir Henry Montagu*, offered to buy the treasurership himself for £10,000. This intervention seems to have put paid to Coke’s ambitions at a stroke, as there was no further talk of him taking over the Exchequer. Nevertheless, Montagu had to wait until December before being given the treasurer’s staff, which ultimately cost him £20,000.174
Over the next few years Coke remained a privy councillor without portfolio, while his wife continued to refuse to make a generous settlement for her daughter and her husband.175 Following the death of Anne of Denmark, Coke, who attended the funeral, handed over to the king the late queen’s jewels.176 At the trial in Star Chamber of the earl and countess of Suffolk in November 1619, he was the first to pronounce judgment, ‘thundering out an hundred thousand pounds’, and ‘imprisonment in the Tower during the king’s pleasure’. Most of Coke’s fellow judges thought these punishments too harsh, however, and reduced the fine to just £30,000.177 In Easter term 1620 a bill was laid against Coke himself in Star Chamber, but the charges (of an unknown nature) were found to be false, ‘and thereupon the bill was taken from the file’.178 The bill’s author was none other than attorney-general Yelverton, who had been so critical of Coke’s published legal reports four years earlier. Shortly after this episode, Yelverton was suspended from office for exceeding his instructions. Coke now had the malicious pleasure not only of examining Yelverton but of sitting in judgment upon him in Star Chamber. Naturally he opposed referring the former attorney-general to the king’s mercy, saying that this would set an unfortunate precedent.179
V. The First Sitting of the 1621 Parliament
In October 1620 the king began to consider summoning another Parliament. The task of laying the necessary groundwork was entrusted to Bacon, now lord chancellor, who was instructed to consult the two chief justices and the former Speakers Sir Ranulphe Crewe and Coke. Bacon initially ignored the order to include Coke, whom he detested but, presumably under pressure, later consulted him about the draft of a royal Proclamation which James intended to issue ahead of the Parliament and included him in the discussion about laying before the Commons ‘some commonwealth laws’. Following the issue of writs of election, Coke and the other members of the parliamentary planning group vainly warned Buckingham that three particular patents of monopolies were likely to give rise to complaints in the Commons and advised him to revoke them before Parliament met.180
As Coke was no longer one of the Crown’s law officers or a member of the judiciary he would not again be summoned to serve as a legal assistant in the House of Lords. However, it was far from certain that he would seek re-election to the Commons instead, as there was an unwritten convention, observed since 1559, which barred former Speakers from sitting as ordinary Members.181 Coke, however, brushed aside this inconvenient custom and cast around for a seat. As his wife now exercised exclusive control over the patronage at Corfe Castle, and he himself had earmarked a burgess-ship at Dunwich for his son Sir Clement Coke and another at Chipping Wycombe for his son-in-law Richard Lovelace, a place was found for him by the Council of the duchy of Cornwall. At first the Council nominated him at Bossiney, but in the event he was returned for Liskeard, a borough in which he had never set foot.182
Although the opening of the new Parliament coincided with his 69th birthday, Coke was in his prime, and on the very first day of business (5 Feb.) he delivered a powerful speech which both stunned and impressed many of his listeners.183 He began by demanding that the laws against recusants be enforced. God had preserved the kingdom in 1588 and 1605 ‘for religion’s sake’, he observed, and if it deserted the cause of religion now its inhabitants would be ‘undone’. Coke undoubtedly spoke from conviction, for as a former chief justice of King’s Bench he had earned a fearsome reputation as a zealous persecutor of Catholics.184 Nevertheless, it was an astonishing demand, because it meant that Coke was publicly accusing the government of which he himself was a member of laxity. It also implied dissatisfaction with the king’s foreign policy, because the recusancy laws had been relaxed in order to pave the way for a Spanish marriage for Prince Charles. Coke then proceeded to remind his listeners of the fourteenth century statute which required Parliament to meet once a year.185 This, too, was a barely coded criticism of the government, for since the disaster of the 1614 Parliament the king had assiduously avoided summoning another assembly, fuelling widespread fears that England’s Parliament faced imminent extinction. As if these criticisms were not enough, Coke, who perhaps still resented having been beaten to the lord treasurer’s staff by Montagu, proceeded to undermine the king’s case for a generous grant of supply by announcing that the state of the royal finances was ‘not so desperate’ as was sometimes said. Although there was a significant difference between receipts and expenditure, this gap could easily be bridged, he alleged, ‘if all the water came home to the mill that should’. Interestingly, Coke had offered this same advice to the king nearly three years earlier, when he had suggested clawing back all the money that had been embezzled by former lord treasurers. At that time, however, James preferred to turn a blind eye to the corruption of lord treasurer Suffolk, and scoffed ‘at the absurdity of the suggestion’, saying that if Coke had his way ‘he should have Cecil’s house at Hatfield for his country retreat, and Dorset House for his house here in the City’.186
Coke’s opening speech was not solely devoted to criticism of royal policy, for buried among his complaints was some sound advice to his colleagues. Many Members wished to petition the king because they were alarmed that the Proclamation which preceded the meeting of Parliament appeared to limit the Commons’ right to free speech. Coke, however, thought this was unnecessary, as it would imply that this privilege was derived from the king, whereas in fact the Commons exercised this freedom by right. He may also have feared that if James was approached his own role in drafting the Proclamation would inevitably be discovered. Coke also advised the Commons to prepare its grievances before considering supply, although the two should ultimately proceed together, ‘for they are like Hippocrates’ twins’. It would then be possible to reflect James’s willingness to redress these grievances in the size of grant the Commons was prepared to make.
Towards the end of his speech, Coke proposed that a standing committee for grievances be appointed. This was agreed, and that afternoon the committee held its first meeting, at which Coke himself was called to the chair. After ‘some seeming unwillingess’, Coke stepped up, whereupon Sir Carew Ralegh objected that it was unprecedented for a privy councillor to serve as chairman of a Commons’ committee. This was perfectly correct, but most Members were now so impressed with Coke that Ralegh was overruled, on the grounds that since all Members were equal it would be improper to discriminate against privy councillors. Coke’s first act as chairman was to propose that the issue of free speech should be resolved before any other matter was considered, following which he repeated his earlier assertion that the recusancy laws were no longer being implemented.187 This subject was raised again two days later in the sub-committee for religion, at which time Coke demanded that a Proclamation be issued ordering the recusancy laws be enforced. He also complained at the number of Catholics who habitually resorted to the house of the Spanish ambassador in order to celebrate mass. Were the reverse to happen in Spain, he observed, those involved would be ‘quickly had into the Inquisition’. This comment aroused the anger of Coke’s fellow councillor, secretary of state Sir George Calvert, who retorted that the ambassador’s house was ‘not to be meddled withal’ and upbraided Coke for implying that there was collusion between James and Gondomar. News of their disagreement soon reached the ears of the Venetian ambassador, who remarked that Coke, despite his membership of the Council, ‘shows himself very opposite to His Majesty’.188 Coke’s behaviour was indeed astonishing but to those who knew him it was entirely predictable, for in July 1617 Bacon had prophesied that Coke’s membership of the Privy Council would make it impossible for the Council to function in a united fashion when Parliament next met.189 The king, however, turned a blind eye to Coke’s provocative statements, and as late as the middle of March he admiringly described his former lord chief justice as ‘the father of the laws’.190
Over the next few days Coke emerged as an indispensable figure in the Commons, which was badly in need of leadership as many of former leaders, among them Nicholas Fuller, Sir Henry Neville I and Sir Roger Owen, were now dead. The ingenuity with which he reinterpreted medieval election law so that it accorded with the preference of most Members was particularly impressive. The occasion for this feat of legal gymnastics was the debate over the Leicestershire election (8-9 Feb.), which resolved around the decision of the sheriff of Leicestershire to exclude Sir George Hastings on the grounds of non-residence. Coke correctly regarded the issue of non-residence as being ‘of the greatest consequence’, as many Members, himself included, represented constituencies in which they were not domiciled. However, ever since 1601, when the question had last been raised, there had been a conspiracy of silence, as many Members feared expulsion if the law were upheld. Coke himself admitted that it was better that constituencies should elect residents, who ‘best know the griefs of the country’, but he challenged the widely held assumption that the law prohibited the return of non-residents and derided the medieval statutes concerned as being ‘not worth 3d.’. The law merely offered guidance as to best practice and clearly implied that non-residence was permissible as any Member who was not resident was required to forfeit his parliamentary wages rather than lose his seat.191 This novel line of argument was music to the ears of most Members, who promptly upheld Hastings’ election.
By 10 Feb. Coke had ‘won a general applause’ in the Commons where, according to Chamberlain, he was regarded as ‘the prime man of all’.192 Not only had he sharply criticized the very government of which he was a member, but at a stroke he had solved the residence issue to the satisfaction of most of his colleagues. Only in one area did his arguments fail to carry the day. Most Members remained determined to petition the king over their right to free speech, even though Coke warned on 12 Feb. that if James did not grant their request ‘we shall lose the greatest benefit of the subject’.193 Despite this minor hiccup, Coke’s popularity continued to rise, as it quickly emerged that he was also an entertaining speaker, who combined an encyclopaedic knowledge of the law with a ready wit. Indeed, few other Members possessed his ability to hold the attention of an audience for long periods. Conscious that he may have talked for too long at a joint conference with the Lords, Coke announced that he had just one more thing to add if his listeners were not tired of the sound of his voice, whereupon Prince Charles replied: ‘I am never weary of hearing you, [as] you do so well mix pleasant things with these sad and serious matters’.194 Although Charles would later come to regard Coke as a troublemaker, Coke seems never to have lost his lightness of touch as a speaker. As late as April 1628, for instance, he ‘served to make the Lords House merry’ with one of his reports, causing such amusement that the bishop of Lincoln subsequently imitated his gestures in the Upper House, to the delight of the bishop’s colleagues.195 Few examples of Coke’s humour have survived, but the story with which he regaled his colleagues on 13 Feb. 1621, when the Commons debated whether to allow a woman to enter the House, is probably typical. St. Bernard, kneeling in prayer while in church, was welcomed by a small voice coming from a statue of the Virgin Mary. ‘Peace Madam’, replied St. Bernard, ‘for it is not lawful for a woman to speak in a congregation’.196
One of the main reasons for Coke’s rapid emergence as one of the Commons’ leaders was that many of his concerns coincided with those of the House in general. This was particularly true of Chancery reform, a subject which had been pursued without success in the Addled Parliament by Nicholas Fuller, who was now dead. As lord chief justice of King’s Bench, Coke had previously lost a battle over jurisdiction with Chancery, whose procedures were notoriously slow and whose rules owed more to equity than the Common Law. Many Members of the Commons shared Coke’s horror of Chancery, chief among them Edward Alford who, like Coke, rapidly emerged as one of the leaders of the Commons. Alford was outraged that for the past 24 years he had been the defendant in a Chancery case which had still not been resolved, and therefore on 13 Feb. he seconded Coke, who proposed that a bill be drafted to impose a time limit on all suits, a reform which would bring Chancery into line with the Common Law courts. Four days later Coke submitted to the Commons just such a measure which, though criticized by Sir Henry Poole on 25 May as ‘vain and unjust’, subsequently passed through all its Commons stages without serious difficulty.197
The slow pace at which Chancery operated was only one of its defects, however, as there were many who complained about the exorbitant fees charged by its officials and its tendency to encroach upon the business of other courts. On 17 Feb. Sir Edward Sackville delivered the findings of the grand committee appointed to investigate the law courts but Coke, like Alford, considered Sackville’s report to be premature as the Commons had only just begun its investigation. Nevertheless, he stressed the importance of keeping Chancery in check, for ‘the overflowing of jurisdictions overthroweth jurisdictions, as a fair stream overflowing marreth the rivers and waters, be they never so fair’. He also called for legislation to prohibit the issue of injunctions by the Court of Wards, and asked to be added to the sub-committee which had been appointed to draft bills to remedy the complaints identified by the grand committee.198 Coke’s request was granted, and over the coming weeks and months he played a pivotal role in the campaign to reform Chancery. On 14 Mar. he condemned as unjust Chancery’s use of so-called bills of conformity, which not only required creditors to accept less than they were owed but ordered them to refrain from suing their debtors, and on 23 Mar. he offered to remedy the problem. On 16 Mar. he promised to lay before the Commons a bill ‘for repressing the overflowing of the Chancery’.199 Ten days later, when Alford presented to the House a radical 17-point programme to reform Chancery, Coke argued that the explosion of Chancery business since the middle of the fourteenth century demonstrated how far Chancery had encroached upon the Common Law courts. Under Edward III Chancery had issued only 400 subpoenas each year, he observed, but now it sent out nearly 35,000. In order to cope with the vast increase in business, the lord chancellor had appointed deputies in the form of the masters in Chancery. This was wholly illegal, he argued, as no judge had the power to make a deputy.200 During subsequent debates, Coke claimed that the masters in Chancery, whose excessive fees were the subject of widespread complaint, were unqualified to consider matters pertaining to a man’s estate as, being civil lawyers, they were only ‘speculatively acquainted with the Common Law’ (23 Apr. and 31 May). He also accused them of having obtained their places by ‘sordid bribery’, as each of them had paid the lord chancellor an entry fee of £150 (27 April).201 Coke attached considerable importance to Chancery reform, for when, in late May, there was a danger that Parliament would rise without passing any legislation, Coke called for the matter to be dealt with immediately.202
On the surface, Coke’s criticisms of Chancery owed much to his longstanding antagonism towards Bacon, whose conduct as lord chancellor came under fierce attack during the session. However, Coke was anxious that his enthusiasm for Chancery reform should not be interpreted as evidence of a personal vendetta. On 26 Mar., for instance, he declared that ‘I speak not because he [Bacon] is in a cloud but according to the liberty of a true subject’, and in the aftermath of Bacon’s fall he announced that he would rather have attacked Chancery when Bacon was at the height of his power ‘than now when he is suppressed’.203 This unwillingness to be accused of conducting a personal feud meant that Coke remained largely aloof from the parliamentary attacks on Bacon. Nevertheless, on learning of the charges against the lord chancellor, Coke reportedly exclaimed ‘that a corrupt judge was the grievance of grievances’. Moreover, during the debate on whether to accept the testimony of those who took bribes on Bacon’s behalf (17 Mar.), Coke’s intervention proved decisive. He argued that where innocent witnesses were lacking those who were themselves guilty should be allowed to give evidence, for otherwise ‘you will make bribery to be unpunished’. Coke also pulled the rug out from under the feet of one of Bacon’s key allies in the Commons, John Finch II, who claimed on 20 Mar. that the lord chancellor had recently ordered the fees demanded by Chancery’s officials to be reduced. Recalling that he had himself recently been party to a case in Chancery, Coke retorted that he had been obliged to pay handsomely merely to arrange a day for the hearing. As for the order to which Finch referred, this had only been issued after it became known that Parliament would meet.204
Coke derived much of his authority in the House from his chairmanship of the committee for grievances. One of the main tasks of this body, which met twice weekly, was to investigate the many patents of monopoly issued by the Crown in recent years. Although these grants had become an important source of funds for the king, Coke showed little hesitation in spearheading the attack against them. Indeed, on 19 Feb. he described monopolies as being like ‘Hydra’s head’ and assured his listeners that medieval precedents showed that Parliament was entitled to suppress them. A stunned Edward Alford, still not quite able to comprehend that Coke preferred to put the public interest before those of the Crown, replied that this was ‘the first Parliament wherein he ever saw the councillors of state so ready to do the commonwealth service’.205
Although eager to hunt down monopolies, Coke was careful to avoid blaming the king for having issued them. When Coke’s committee learned that James had consulted his senior officers before bestowing the grant to licence inns on (Sir) Giles Mompesson*, Coke declared that James was ‘free from all blame in it’, and that ‘no king in Christendom but would have granted it’.206 Guilt lay instead with those men termed ‘referees’, who had advised the king of the merits of each grant. One of the principal referees was lord treasurer Mandeville (Sir Henry Montagu). Coke detested Mandeville,207 who had not only succeeded him as lord chief justice of Common Pleas in 1616 but had recently snatched from under his nose the lord treasurer’s staff. However, if Coke was behind the Commons’ attack on Mandeville he concealed the fact extremely well, as criticism of the lord treasurer in the Commons was led by Sir Francis Seymour. It is nevertheless striking that Seymour had no known personal grudge against Mandeville.208
If Coke was unwilling to criticize the king directly, he was equally circumspect when it came to dealing with the interests of the royal favourite, the marquess of Buckingham. At his suggestion the Commons informed Buckingham of its intention to suppress the patents which gave certain individuals the right to build lighthouses, a courtesy which drew thanks from the king. It was also Coke who proposed that a bill be drafted giving Buckingham, as lord admiral, the right to delegate the authority to erect new lighthouses to others.209 Coke’s desire to avoid upsetting Buckingham was further demonstrated on 2 May, after William Mallory mischievously suggested that any Member who was a patentee should be expelled. This was a thinly veiled attack on Buckingham’s elder half-brother, Sir Edward Villiers, who had been elected to Parliament. While Coke agreed that the House would ‘do well’ to prosecute any of its Members who were guilty of misconduct, he brushed aside Mallory’s suggestion, advising his colleagues to proceed instead with business ‘of more moment’.210
Coke’s unwillingness to investigate Villiers contrasts with his eagerness to pursue another, less influential Member, Sir Robert Floyd, who exercised a patent giving him the sole right to engross wills. If Floyd’s patent was lawful, Coke announced (21 Mar.), then one might as well require that the services of only one particular scrivener or one particular butcher should be used, ‘which were a miserable servitude’. Those, like Floyd, who thought up new projects with which to line their own pockets and oppress the subject were worthy of being put to death, ‘and yet this man’, he declared, pointing at his hapless victim, was not only alive but sitting among them in Parliament.211 Coke had lost none of his old enthusiasm for savaging in public those whom he considered guilty of misconduct, but his eagerness to interrogate a patentee sometimes left him looking rather foolish. During a sitting of the committee for grievances, Coke pressed John Lepton to declare who had drawn up the patent which gave him the sole right to make all bills for the Council in the North, adding that whoever was responsible deserved to be hanged. Lepton was initially reluctant to answer, except to say that ‘I had very good counsel, the best in England’, but as Coke persisted he replied ‘Mr. Attorney [that] then was’. Coke was infuriated at this evasiveness, and after pointing out that his victim ‘starts aside like a broken bone’, ordered Lepton to ‘deal clearly!’ At this Lepton replied that the attorney-general concerned had been Coke himself, ‘upon which there was a great laughter’.212 An embarrassed Coke was subsequently forced to admit that Lepton was telling the truth, but he exacted his revenge for this humiliation by persuading his colleagues to suppress the grant on the grounds that it contravened Magna Carta and was exercised by an unqualified person.213
One patent more than any other exercised Coke during the first few months of the Parliament. This was the grant to license inns that had been issued to Sir Giles Mompesson. Before the Parliament met Mompesson’s patent had headed the list of those monopolies which Coke and his fellow members of the parliamentary planning group had warned Buckingham were most likely to be attacked. Buckingham, however, had preferred to ignore this advice, presumably because he assumed that Mompesson would be safe as he was his kinsman by marriage. This left Coke with little option but to lead the attack on Mompesson and his grant. His criticism, which avoided fixing any blame on Buckingham, was typically withering. On 27 Feb. he declared that ‘here in this you have such oppression as never was the like’, the patentees having obtained ‘such a multitude of process’ that hundreds of men had been outlawed ‘before they knew of it’. On 7 Mar. he expressed amazement that it should be thought unlawful to keep an inn without a licence. Were licences needed it would be a matter of record, ‘and so be seen, for records never die’.214 At Coke’s suggestion, the Commons, which was uncertain how best to proceed against Mompesson, decided to refer the matter of his punishment to the Lords. In so doing the Commons began the process which led to the revival of impeachment.215
As well as spearheading the investigation into individual patents, Coke took upon himself the task of tackling the problem of monopolies in general. On 12 Mar. Sir Nathaniel Rich recommended that a bill ‘to cut off monopolies at the root’ be drafted, and advised that the task be assigned to the lawyers Thomas Crewe and William Noye, ‘who have already taken some pains in it’, and Sir John Walter. However, the following morning, before the three lawyers were able to perfect their bill, Coke produced a draft of his own, thereby pre-empting his colleagues. Described by Hakewill as being ‘of the greatest consequence for the good of the subject of any in the House’, the bill declared that anyone exercising monopoly rights would incur the penalties prescribed by Richard II’s statute of praemunire. However, the measure was exceptionally short, for apart from the preamble it consisted of just four clauses, and, as Hakewill observed, failed to cover such matters as imports and exports. Coke replied that the bill owed its brevity to the fact that it had been drafted ‘suddenly, by the commandment of the House’, and urged that it should not be ‘over much clogged’ with additions. This appeal fell on deaf ears, however, for over the next few days various other omissions were identified. It was noticed, for example, that if left unaltered the bill would suppress many municipal charters and overthrow all the London trading Companies. Not surprisingly, therefore, the measure was referred to a sub-committee, which eventually added no less than eight provisos. Coke was rather displeased with these supposed improvements and, after modestly declaring the bill to be ‘excellent’, he announced that he ‘wisheth some of the eight provisos had been out’. However, his colleagues disagreed, and following a final reading on 12 May the bill was sent up to the Lords ‘with a special recommendation’.216 Seven months later the Lords decided to drop the measure, and suggested that the Commons should draft a new one in its place. Although Coke had never been happy with the additions made to the bill he was thoroughly disgusted at the Lords’ behaviour. They had not even done the Lower House the courtesy of requesting a conference to discuss the matter, he remarked bitterly. It was all very well for the peers to reject the bill as they received no prejudice from monopolies. They had given little thought, however, to ‘the poor cedars and shrubs’ who suffered most from them.217
The monopolies bill was not the only measure laid before the Commons by Coke during the first few months of the Parliament. On 1 Mar. he presented the House with a bill to prohibit the searching out of lands in private hands which supposedly belonged to the Crown. In order to secure their title, the de facto owners of such properties were forced to compound with so-called ‘concealers’, whose activities were widely resented but licensed by the king. Most Members broadly welcomed this measure, which Coke proceeded to pilot through the House. Attempts to widen the scope of the bill and to alter its content were successfully resisted.218
During the first half of March Coke continued to attract the praise of his colleagues. On 9 Mar., as other leading Members of the House were criticized for failing to notify the Lords of the names of those men who had advised the king to pass Mompesson’s patent to license inns, Coke was feted as a hero. ‘Had it not been for Sir Dudley Digges and Sir Edward Coke’, declared Mallory, ‘the business concerning Sir Giles Mompesson at the conference with the Lords had fallen to the ground’, to which Christopher Neville added that Coke’s efforts ‘had not reaped that harvest of praise that he hath deserved’. Six days later Coke was again warmly thanked, this time by the whole Commons, for the consummate manner in which he spoke on behalf of the Commons before Prince Charles and other members of the Upper House. However, by the time Parliament rose for Easter on 27 Mar., Coke had become careless and over confident, producing precedents that were inappropriate or ‘perverted to a wrong sense’. Many of his fellow Members put this down to his great age ‘and want of memory’, which had allegedly failed him so much recently that they were ‘fain to help him in his reports from committees, or in messages to or from the Higher House’. There was also the widespread suspicion that Coke had overloaded himself with too much business.219 These criticisms were embarrassing, especially as Coke himself would later claim that one of the essential requirements of a ‘Parliament-man’ was that he possess ‘a most ripe and perfect memory’,220 but they may not have been entirely justified. The charge that Coke had distorted precedents, for example, appears to have arisen because several peers suspected him of inventing the claim that under King Alfred there was a legal requirement that parliaments should meet at least twice a year. This was a serious accusation if it was true, but on 13 Mar. Coke produced a book of ancient statutes to substantiate his claim.221 As for the charge that Coke’s memory was failing, this too, was probably not without foundation, given his age. However, Coke was aware of this problem, and therefore carried about with him a pocket-sized notebook containing hundreds of precedents which he referred to as his ‘vade mecum’. He admittedly sometimes forgot to bring it with him to the Commons, but at other times he certainly consulted it while addressing the House. During a debate in March 1628, for instance, he extracted precedents from this volume to prove the illegality of the Forced Loan.222 The criticisms against Coke may therefore have been exaggerated, and motivated as much by envy as by genuine concern. Thomas Crewe at least continued to regard his expertise as indispensable, for shortly before the House rose for Easter he suggested that Coke be asked to assist the committee appointed to review obsolete statutes, which had been ordered to meet over the recess, ‘one afternoon, before he go down’. Coke willingly agreed to do so, and promised to bring along his ‘book of obsolete laws’, as there were many old laws still in force that were ‘but snares’.223
When the Commons reassembled after Easter, Coke made strenuous efforts to ensure that he continued to be regarded as one of its leaders. On the very first day back (17 Apr.) he laid before the House a bill to revive the use of writs of ad quod damnum. Under Edward I, he announced, no new patents were ever drawn up until these writs had first been issued, as they allowed the king to discover whether any harm would be inflicted by the intended grant. Assuring his listeners that ‘it will be as great an honour to this House to restore things to their former course as to create new laws’, he added that any recipient of a grant who failed to issue such a writ in future should not only forfeit his patent but pay a fine of £500. However, although Coke’s bill was accorded the courtesy of an immediate first reading, it excited little interest. One of its main targets, as Coke himself admitted, was monopoly grants, and as these were already the subject of a separate bill this new legislation must have seemed rather superfluous. Consequently the bill did not receive a second reading until November, and the bill committee was so poorly attended that the House was subsequently obliged to widen its membership and assign a new day for it to meet.224
Despite the lack of interest in the ad quod damnum bill, Coke was soon in the driving seat again. On 18 Apr. the Commons turned its attention to the ecclesiastical judge, Sir John Bennet*, who stood accused of bribery. Coke declared that corrupt judges were ‘the greatest grievance’, and over the course of the new few days he encouraged his colleagues to pursue Bennet, whom he disavowed. On 23 Apr. he was instructed to help draft the warrant ordering Bennet to be placed under house arrest, and the next day, at the suggestion of Sir Edward Sackville, he presented at a joint conference with the Lords various precedents that he had unearthed which showed that the Commons had traditionally punished corrupt judges.225 As well as encouraging and justifying the Commons’ pursuit of Bennet, Coke also threw his weight behind those in the House who were pressing for the right to free trade. He had long disapproved of the monopolies enjoyed by the London trading Companies, as his hostility towards the Merchant Adventurers six years earlier demonstrated, and before Easter he had attacked the Merchants of the Staple, whose exclusive right to buy up wool made the company ‘a plain engrosser’.226 Now, following criticism by Sir Richard Newport of the bill to allow all comers the right to buy and sell Welsh cloth (24 Apr.), Coke mounted a spirited defence of free trade. ‘Freedom of trade’, he declared, ‘is the life of trade’, and trade is ‘the life of this island’. The Low Countries owed their prosperity to free trade, and were unfettered by monopolies and other restrictions, such as impositions, which served merely to ‘overthrow trade’. Unlike Newport, who claimed that the Welsh cloth bill contradicted previous statutes, Coke averred that freedom of trade ‘was the ancient wisdom of the law’ and of Parliament. After Coke had finished speaking, Sir Jerome Horsey remarked that he had ‘never heard a better speech in his life’.227 Any lingering suspicion that Coke had lost his touch now seems to have vanished completely, as it was plain that Coke was at the top of his form. On the following day an ebullient Coke treated his former protégé, attorney-general Coventry (Sir Thomas Coventry*) with disdain, despite having recently described him as ‘a constant, honest man’. ‘Ha, Mr. Attorney’, he announced, as Coventry apparently turned to consult the judges during a joint conference with the Lords over the informers bill, ‘do you talk with them aforehand? So do not we. We come to talk with the Lords. As for you, Mr. Attorney, you may be as well against them [informers] as we’.228
On 26 Apr. the Commons was alerted by Sir John Jephson to widespread corruption in Ireland. Coke was alarmed at this news, as Ireland was ‘the back door’ through which a foreign power might invade. Provided that Ireland was secure, the Navy well rigged and the Low Countries in alliance with England, ‘I care not for Pope, Turk or devils’. Coke reassured his colleagues that it was ‘fit and lawful for us to complain of Ireland’, adding that were corruption in Ireland to be stamped out it would save the English Exchequer £20,000 every year. During the course of this speech Coke requested deferral of further debate over the state of Ireland as he intended to be absent for three or four days,229 but in the event he remained at Westminster. Indeed, the only days on which he failed to speak in the Commons before 4 June, when Parliament rose for the summer, were 24 Mar., 18 May and 30 May. This decision to put parliamentary business before his own private affairs, coupled with an exceptional attendance record, indicates an enormous investment of time and effort in Parliament by Coke. One explanation for this enthusiasm is that Coke saw the Commons as a means of recovering some of the power and influence he had lost. His judicial career was clearly over, and his chances of ever attaining high office were now remote. However, parliaments met only infrequently and were rarely effective in rectifying abuses and restraining the royal prerogative. Unless these defects were remedied they would not provide him with the degree of attention and authority that he craved. This, perhaps, explains his advocacy of annual parliaments, and why he frequently reminded his colleagues of the powers wielded by their medieval predecessors. It also helps to explain why he was so anxious to defend Parliament’s existing authority, and in particular its sole right to legislate against the growing threat of government by royal Proclamation. Coke regarded the use of Proclamations as the most important of all the House’s grievances,230 and not only drew attention to it in his opening speech to the Commons but also on 17 Apr., when he condemned the Proclamation against the planting of tobacco as being ‘against the law and liberty of the subject’.231
Coke’s determination to defend and revive the authority of the Commons explains why he was keen to assert the House’s right to exercise judicial powers in the case of the Catholic barrister Edward Floyd, who had disparaged the king’s daughter Elizabeth, and her husband the Elector Palatine. However, this right was challenged by the king, who ordered the Commons on 2 May to stay its proceedings against Floyd. James applauded the enthusiasm with which the Commons defended the honour of his daughter and son-in-law, but he questioned whether it was entitled to pass judgment on Floyd, for lacking the power to administer an oath to witnesses in the case it was incapable of acting as a court. Judicial authority in Parliament lay not with the Commons but with the Lords. Coke was incensed at this royal interference, and retorted that ‘he that thinks we have no judicature speaks ignorantly’. The House exercised judicial power whenever it expelled one of its own Members, and the recent punishment inflicted on the monopolist Francis Michell demonstrated that it might also sit in judgment on outsiders. It was true that under Henry IV the Commons had requested that it should not be called upon to exercise a judicial function, but its wish had been granted in the form of an ordinance rather than a statute, ‘and no liberty can be taken away from either House but by Act of Parliament’. The claim that the Commons was incapable of administering an oath was equally false, as it implied that the House was not a court of record, in which case ‘all power and liberty of this House’ would be overthrown. In fact, argued Coke, the House’s status as a court of record was clear because the Speaker was entitled to issue writs to Chancery requiring the holding of by-elections.232 However, the robustness of Coke’s defence belied the weakness of his case, and over the next few days Coke was forced to beat a partial retreat. On 5 May he told the Lords that while he still thought the Commons was a court of record, there was the possibility that he might have ‘erred a little’. This grudging admission was scarcely satisfactory, and prompted the 3rd earl of Pembroke to ask Coke how he would have reacted had the Upper House assumed to itself the right to vote the king a grant of subsidies.233 Coke subsequently reassured the Lords that it had never been intended to invade their privileges, and he pleaded with them to consider the reputation of the Commons, which would lie in tatters if it was forced to climb down. Eventually, with Coke’s assistance, it was agreed that the proceedings against Floyd would stand but would not be made a precedent.234
During the attempt to patch up the quarrel with the Lords over Floyd, Coke fell out with the master of the Wards, Sir Lionel Cranfield, who complained that he had exceeded his brief by conceding too much ground to the Lords. Although Cranfield’s claim was confirmed by Sir Henry Poole, the House was unwilling to censure Coke. Indeed, Sir Edwin Sandys, who had himself clashed with Cranfield a few days earlier, described Coke’s failure as ‘a mere mistaking’. However, Cranfield was also outraged that, at a meeting with the peers, Coke had pointed towards him and announced that ‘there was the spirit of contradiction amongst our committee’ and that ‘he who should seek to sow sedition in the House was not worthy of his head’. In reply Coke protested, somewhat feebly, that he had spoken only generally and had ‘meant not the master of the Wards’. As the Commons was unwilling to pursue the matter further, Cranfield declared himself satisfied with Coke’s explanation. However, it would soon become apparent that Coke, like Sandys, had now made a powerful enemy.235
On 28 May the king announced that Parliament would be adjourned for the summer in one week’s time. Like most of his colleagues, Coke was alarmed that, apart from voting two subsidies, the Commons had so far accomplished little to show for all its labours. As it was impossible to complete all the outstanding legislation within the time remaining, he suggested, the Commons should present its grievances to the king in the form of a petition, ‘that we may have somewhat to refresh the country withall’.236 That afternoon, however, the Commons resolved to seek additional time to complete some of the more important bills. Coke was initially hopeful that James would accede to this request,237 but the following day the king repeated his intention to end the session on 4 June. This was bitterly disappointing for Coke, who claimed that James had promised to allow Parliament to continue sitting until Midsummer. No previous Parliament had ever made ‘better preparation for laws tending to the king’s honour and profit, the safety of the kingdom and good of the Commons’, he added, and if the common people were to see Parliament ended suddenly they ‘will be out of heart, as if it were dissolved’. Allowing Parliament to sit longer now would encourage it to vote additional subsidies when it reconvened, while he himself would be willing to pay ‘a double, treble or quadruple subsidy than break off now’. The threat of an imminent adjournment was not, however, Coke’s only concern, as it was now clear that the king and his ministers were assuming that as soon as the subsidy bill received the Royal Assent all other legislation would be lost. This was an intolerable prospect, as it would mean restarting every bill from scratch when Parliament reconvened. Coke, however, argued that this could be avoided, as there were precedents which showed that a session might continue even after a bill received the Royal Assent.238 As a result the king conferred with the judges, who agreed that Coke was perfectly correct.239 Coke’s moment of triumph was soured, however, as James demanded that Parliament should choose between an additional ten days or a fortnight now or a continuation of the session in the autumn. In view of the mountain of business that remained unfinished, Coke and most of his colleagues had no doubt that the latter was preferable to the former, and on 2 June the Commons opted to rise in two days’ time as the king had originally intended.240
Although Coke played a significant role in the adjournment debate, the latter was actually dominated by a series of furious exchanges between Cranfield and Sir Edwin Sandys. Cranfield was convinced that Sandys and his allies were trying to sabotage the Parliament, while Sandys and Sir Edward Cecil were equally convinced that Cranfield was guilty of misrepresenting the Commons’ proceedings to the king. Coke seems to have tried to avoid becoming drawn into this dispute, but his earlier quarrel with Cranfield had not been forgotten and he had somewhat rashly accused James of breaking faith by not allowing Parliament to sit until Midsummer. On 31 May Cecil complained that ‘those things that may be cavilled at in Lord Coke’s speeches are told the king with aggravation’ whereas ‘the good service he doth him is concealed’.241 Coke was so alarmed that shortly thereafter he asked the House to pardon him for any offence he might have committed.242
Coke had good reason to be concerned, for shortly after the adjournment he was again removed from the Privy Council. To make matters worse there was also talk of placing him under house arrest,243 but in the event - and unlike Sandys - he remained at liberty.244 That autumn, as it became clear that Parliament would soon be reassembled, news circulated that Coke would shortly be sent to Ireland to investigate the charges against lord deputy Falkland (Sir Henry Carey I*), along with Sandys and his ally the earl of Southampton.245 Had it been implemented, this ingenious plan would have served to exclude from the Commons its two most prominent leaders, who between them had expressed concern the previous April at the parlous condition of Ireland.
VI. The Winter Sitting of the 1621 Parliament
When Parliament reconvened in November, Coke quickly moved to reassert his authority. On the first day of business (20 Nov.) he urged the Commons to begin where it had left off. In order to make rapid progress and avoid repeating the mistakes of the previous sitting, he suggested that those bills which had already been engrossed should be given priority, to be followed by those that remained at the committee stage. He also advised setting aside just one day per week for private bills, leaving the rest of the week for public business. However, only the second of these sensible proposals was adopted.246 During the rest of the day’s proceedings Coke intervened several times, proposing a bill on subjects’ debts, for instance, and urging that the New England fishing patent be examined.247 He also declared that a bill to shorten Michaelmas term was ‘of great importance’, but advised the House to be cautious before adopting its provisions, for courts, like clocks, were delicate instruments, and ‘if we take two wheels out of a clock, if we be not circumspect, all the rest will slip’.248 The same day the Commons ordered Coke to serve as its spokesman at a forthcoming conference with the Lords.249 Sir Jerome Horsey, fearing a repetition of the events of the previous May, when Coke had exceeded his brief, subsequently suggested that Coke should be given some help, but the House agreed with Sir Edward Giles, who said that this would imply distrust. In the event Horsey need not have worried, for on 22 Nov. Coke reported accurately and at great length the conference speeches of lord keeper Williams, Lord Digby (Sir John Digby*) and Cranfield, now lord treasurer, for which he was commended by Phelips.250
On 23 Nov. Coke supported a bill to allow ministers to take leases and defended another directed at scandalous clergy. Sir Dudley Digges claimed that this latter measure was needless, but Coke rejoined that it was impossible to remove a minister who later proved to be a drunkard. If anything, the bill needed to be extended so that it punished patrons who presented ministers known to be scandalous.251 The following morning Coke arrived late in the chamber, and immediately turned his attention to the Lords’ amendments to the informers’ bill. The House had waited for him before proceeding as he had ‘taken the greatest pains’ in this bill.252 Coke’s tardiness was almost certainly intentional, as the Commons had learned of the existence of a sinister plot to ruin Coke, who presumably decided to give the House time to consider the matter without him. The chief plotters were two former patentees, John Lepton and a Gray’s Inn lawyer named Henry Goldsmith, both of whom blamed Coke, as chairman of the committee for grievances, for suppressing their grants. Goldsmith had planned to prosecute Coke in Star Chamber, and to that end had formulated 11 charges against him, many of which referred to events 20 years earlier, when Coke had still been a judge. These included such offences as misdirecting a jury, wrongful acquittal, embezzlement and the affecting of ‘popularity to beat down the gentry for the common people’. After enlisting the support of Lepton, Goldsmith had approached Lady Hatton, who remained implacably opposed towards her husband. Given Lady’s Hatton’s connections it was not long before the plan became known to Coke’s enemies at Court, who agreed that Lepton and Goldsmith should proceed if their own scheme to pack Coke off to Ireland before Parliament met failed.253
Many of the plot’s details initially remained unknown to the Commons, although it was clear from the outset that Lepton and Goldsmith were primarily motivated by revenge. Phelips was appalled that Coke, whose ‘ability and willingness to do this House and his country service’ was ‘inferior to none’, had been targeted in this way. Unless the conspirators were punished, he observed, few Members would be prepared to pursue monopolists in future. At his behest an investigative committee was established and orders were given to arrest Lepton and Goldsmith, whose studies were also to be searched.254
While the investigating committee carried out its work, attention switched to foreign policy. The lands of the king’s son-in-law, the Elector Palatine, had largely been overrun by the armies of Spain and Bavaria, and a recent attempt to persuade the emperor to negotiate a peaceful settlement had failed. The king, anxious to save what remained of the Lower Palatinate, had summoned Parliament in order to seek its advice and obtain additional supply, which would be needed to pay for a war with Spain. On 27 Nov. Coke and his fellow Members turned their attention to these important questions. In a speech which has been described as the most savagely anti-Spanish of his career,255 Coke poured scorn on Spain, which he blamed for giving England sheep rot and venereal disease. Spain ‘aimeth to be monarch of all the Christian world’, and to that end had not only plotted ceaselessly against England but sent the Armada in 1588. The Spanish menace lay not only overseas, however, for as Coke had pointed out nine months earlier, there were many who continued to resort to the Spanish ambassador’s residence to celebrate mass. These men and women, he now declared, had ‘Spanish hearts’ and were like the Greek soldiers hidden in the belly of the Trojan horse, waiting to pounce. Yet while Coke was willing in principle to provide for England’s security, he was concerned that an immediate vote of supply would mean that Parliament would end before the Commons could complete its legislative programme. As this had happened once already it was better that the two issues - supply and bills - should proceed in tandem. Besides, the Commons would be unwilling to loosen its purse strings until it had been given more details.256
The following day Coke took the chair of the grand committee for religion after Digges and Sir Samuel Sandys declined to do so. After proposing that Catholics should pay double subsidy, he also suggested that anyone who failed to attend communion should be accounted a recusant for the purposes of taxation.257 On the 29th Coke announced that there were still so many grievances remaining that it would be impossible to make laws against all of them. Consequently he suggested that the Commons should petition the king to issue a Proclamation to suppress them. On the face of it Coke had apparently forgotten his earlier objections to government by Proclamation, but this was in fact far from the case. The king’s answer to the petition, he added, should be enrolled by Parliament, in accordance with medieval practice, so making it clear that Parliament, not the king, had initiated the suppression of the objectionable grants and other grievances.258
By the beginning of December attention had once more switched to Spain. Like many of his colleagues, Coke was astonished that the king was threatening war with Spain while simultaneously negotiating a Spanish marriage for Prince Charles.259 If a war was intended it made sense that Charles should marry a Protestant instead. Coke therefore threw his weight behind those who called for the king to be petitioned accordingly. The Commons was now treading on dangerous ground, and on 3 Dec. Sir Edward Sackville reminded the House that ‘it was the privilege of princes to marry where they list’. At this Coke retorted that the Commons was both entitled and duty-bound to petition ‘for anything concerning the king, the state and religion’. He denied that Members were seeking to encroach upon the royal prerogative, as Edward III had consulted the Commons concerning his marriage. Moreover, had not the king specifically summoned Parliament to give him advice concerning the defence of the kingdom and the state of religion? James had no reason be offended, especially as the petition required no answer, it being a petition of grace.260 However, even before the petition could be presented, James sent an outraged letter to the Speaker, in which he complained that ‘some fiery and popular spirits’ were guilty of debating publicly ‘matters far above their reach and capacity, tending to our high dishonour and breach of prerogative royal’. The Commons was therefore ordered to desist from any further discussion of matters of state. Following the reading of this letter, an astonished Coke denied that the Commons had encroached upon the royal prerogative, since it had been invited to discuss foreign policy and had been preparing to give its advice merely by way of ‘representation’. Unless the House protested there was no knowing how far James’s infringement of its rights ‘may be stretched’. Consequently he advised the Commons to compile a written justification of its actions, modelled after the Form of Apology and Satisfaction of 1604.
Discussion of the Spanish Match was not the only subject debated by the Commons which had aroused the king’s anger. Doubtless with the encouragement of Lepton, who had escaped arrest, James protested that the investigation into Goldsmith was an intolerable interference in a judicial matter. Twice in early December he ordered the Commons to cease its proceedings unless it could be shown that Goldsmith had wronged the House. Coke was outraged and, claiming that James had been misinformed, urged the Commons to suspend all business ‘until the king should be pleased to take the cloud from us’ (7 December). This was not yet necessary, however, as Members were agreed that Goldsmith’s lawsuit was only of interest insofar as it undermined the House’s proceedings against monopolists. Far from causing the Commons to cease its investigation, James’s interference served merely to persuade the House to redouble its efforts. Consequently, by mid-December Members had learned that the conspiracy against Coke had been countenanced by several leading courtiers, among them Bacon.
By now the session was approaching its climax. Following the king’s attempt to prevent any further debate of matters of state, the Commons protested that ‘Your Majesty doth seem to abridge us of the ancient liberty of Parliament for freedom of speech ... being our ancient and undoubted right and an inheritance received from our ancestors’. James was furious, for in his eyes all privileges enjoyed by Parliament flowed directly from the king. On 16 Dec. he retorted that ‘we cannot, with patience, endure our subjects to use such anti-monarchical words to us concerning their liberties’, which had been ‘granted unto them by the grace and favour of our predecessors’.261 For Coke, who believed that parliaments predated monarchs rather than the other way round, this was intolerable. On 17 Dec. he riposted that ‘we have our liberties ... by law, by custom ... and Parliament, which His Majesty is not acquainted with’. Once again he urged the House to draw up a protestation along the lines of the 1604 Apology.262 This advice was now heeded. The following morning the House resolved itself into a grand committee and appointed a sub-committee to draft the Protestation in accordance with six headings presented by Coke. The sub-committee, whose members almost certainly included Coke, set to work immediately and that afternoon a draft was laid before the Commons. This declared that ‘the liberties, franchises, privileges and jurisdictions of Parliament are the ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England’. It also claimed that all matters of state were ‘proper subjects’ for Parliament to debate, ‘and that in the handling and proceeding of those businesses every Member of the House hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech to propound, treat, reason and bring to conclusion the same’. The Protestation was so well crafted, however, that, without further ado, it was ordered to be entered in the Commons Journal, ‘and there to remain, as of record’. 263 Later that day the Parliament was adjourned, never to reconvene.
VII. Arrest and Imprisonment, 1622
Even before the Protestation was drafted James resolved to punish Coke for his audacity. Indeed, the attorney-general was ordered to explore the possibility of taking over the intended Star Chamber prosecution of Coke by Lepton and Goldsmith.264 Now, however, James was livid. Shortly after the Parliament ended he tore the Protestation from the Commons Journal and gave orders to imprison Coke, whom he clearly regarded as its principal author. On 27 Dec. Coke, termed ‘the darling of the Parliament’ by the Venetian ambassador, was escorted to the Tower where, over the next few weeks, he was repeatedly examined by his former colleagues on the Council.265
James was initially determined to charge Coke with treason for having sown discord between himself and his people. Coke was reminded of having once remarked that ‘he that should go about to withdraw the subjects’ hearts from their king was a traitor’. Coke did not deny having uttered these words, nor did he now claim that he had been wrong, but instead he pointed out to his interrogators that it was equally true that ‘he that went about to withdraw the king’s heart from his subjects’ was ‘an arch-traitor’.266 Although James continued to contemplate a treason trial as late as 25 Jan. 1622,267 it soon became clear that there was insufficient evidence on which to proceed, as Coke had neither plotted against the king nor raised rebellion. It must also have become quickly apparent that the chances of a conviction on the basis of the evidence collected by Goldsmith were also slight, for early in the New Year all talk of a Star Chamber prosecution quietly disappeared.268 In desperation, the Council attempted to uncover other evidence of serious wrongdoing, even examining Coke concerning his conduct as a former assize judge.269 In the end it was decided merely to charge Coke with having cheated the Crown of around £50,000 in respect of the Hatton estate. This allegation, had it been proven, might have ruined Coke and provided the Exchequer with a much needed injection of cash, but on 2 July, ‘contrary to all men’s expectations’ as D’Ewes observed, Coke was unanimously cleared in the Court of Wards.270
Although now acquitted, Coke was not freed until 8 Aug. 1622.271 He was initially confined to within a six mile radius of his house at Stoke Poges, but by mid- November this restriction had been lifted, allowing him to return to his chambers in the Inner Temple.272 Nevertheless, as late as April 1623 he still felt obliged to seek permission before coming up to London.273 Seven months after his release it was reported that Coke was battling with debts amounting to £36,000, of which all but £10,000 had been incurred by his children.274 His creditors included Buckingham, whom he owed £2,000.275
Coke’s release ostensibly formed part of the celebrations to mark the anniversary of the Gowrie conspiracy, as did the freeing of Phelips and Mallory, who had also been incarcerated after the 1621 Parliament.276 In fact Coke and his colleagues owed their freedom to events in the Lower Palatinate. Over the summer the last English garrisons there were overrun, forcing the king to contemplate summoning another Parliament. James realized that it would be futile to call another Parliament if Coke and the other parliamentary leaders remained behind bars.277 In the event the king did not resolve to summon Parliament again until December 1623, and then only on condition that Coke and Sir Edwin Sandys were first dispatched to Ireland. This idea horrified both Prince Charles and the Privy Council, but on 29 Dec. Coke and Sandys were appointed commissioners to survey Ireland and instructed to leave in February. Coke, too, was aghast as he was now almost 72 years old and feared that he would not survive the journey to Ireland. Publicly at least he put on a brave face,278 but at the same he evidently sought election to Parliament, for on 27 Jan. he was returned for Coventry, where he held office as recorder. Were he now to proceed to Ireland the opening of the new Parliament would inevitably be marred by an acrimonious dispute between the king and the Commons over his absence. As this was the very last thing that James wanted it was not surprisingly agreed that Coke could postpone his departure until May.279
VIII. The 1624 Parliament
Coke apparently attended the opening of the new Parliament on 19 Feb. 1624, as he reportedly corrected his fellow Members on a matter of procedure.280 The chief business that day was the election of a new Speaker and, as tradition demanded, the Commons chose the Crown’s nominee, Sir Thomas Crewe. Not everyone was happy at this decision, however, for as the House rose voices from the gallery called out Coke’s name.281 When the Commons reassembled four days later it was decided to revive many of the bills that had been lost at the dissolution of the last Parliament. Coke warmly approved of this idea, and proposed that three of the most important measures - relating to monopolies, informers and concealed lands - be given priority. This was agreed, and over the next few days all three received two readings. For the moment, however, Coke was required to consider a bill concerning ‘probate of suggestions in cases of prohibition’, which received two readings in quick succession. After retiring to the committee chamber with seven other Members, he reported the bill later that morning.282 The Commons was now eager to heap responsibilities upon Coke’s shoulders, and on 27 Feb. it reappointed him chairman of the committee for grievances.283 Coke, too, was anxious to make himself useful, and on 25 Feb. he offered to compare the bill to explain the 1606 Recusancy Act, which had passed the Commons in 1621, with another that had been ‘prepared against the papists’.284 However, ‘for reasons best known to himself’, Coke declined on 23 Feb. to serve as a reporter of a conference with the Lords.285
Coke approached the new Parliament with a sense of trepidation. Following the dissolution of the 1621 Parliament the king had declared that he would never summon another Parliament,286 and although James had been forced to eat his words it was clear that the future of England’s representative assembly hung in the balance. On 27 Feb. Coke undoubtedly spoke for many when he expressed the fervent wish that ‘we may never see the last Parliament’. In order to ensure that this Parliament at least was not brought to a premature end Coke suggested that the king be asked not to dissolve it automatically after he assented to the passage of some legislation without first showing cause.287 On the face of it this was a purely procedural point, which followed on logically from Coke’s earlier claim that a session was not automatically terminated by the Royal Assent. In fact this suggestion was extremely radical, for in effect Coke was seeking to curtail the king’s power to dissolve parliaments at will. Not surprisingly the Commons was unwilling to adopt a proposal which struck at the royal prerogative.
If Coke’s advice on dissolving parliaments was not entirely welcome, his views in respect of petitions were certainly unpopular. During a meeting of the grand committee on the courts of justice on 25 Feb., it was suggested that a sub-committee should be appointed to whittle down the number of petitions handled by the full committee ‘to avoid expense of time’. Coke, however, pointed out that although medieval parliaments had certainly employed a similar system of receivers and triers of petitions, this practice had led to accusations of partisan behaviour.288 This was not what many Members wanted to hear, and on 17 Mar. Phelips reported that the grand committee had resolved to appoint a sub-committee of 20 to sift petitions regardless. Once again Coke protested, warning that it would lead to fierce criticism of individual members of the sub-committee, who might be exposed to danger. Given that Coke himself had been target of a plot for having performed his duties as chairman of the grievances committee in 1621, it was difficult to ignore this advice, and consequently the House resolved that the entire grand committee would select which petitions to concentrate on during the first hour of its meeting.289
As chairman of the committee for grievances Coke was perhaps almost as busy in investigating objectionable patents of monopoly as he had been in 1621, and over the course of the Parliament he reported from the committee to the House on at least 20 occasions. More than once he expressed incredulity at the monopolies that had been granted. On 13 Mar., for instance, he declared in respect of the patent for surveying seacoal that he ‘never before knew an imposition on fire or water’, and on 3 May he condemned the Newfoundland fishing patent as ‘a monopoly upon the sea which [was] wont to be free’.290 However, the principal grievance before Coke’s committee was not that of patents of monopoly but the alleged misconduct of lord treasurer Cranfield, now earl of Middlesex. Coke hated Middlesex, with whom he had clashed in the Commons in May 1621. It was almost certainly due to Middlesex that Coke had subsequently lost his seat on the Privy Council. Moreover, despite a warrant from the king the lord treasurer had spitefully prevented Coke from attending the opening of the suit in the Court of Wards in May 1622.291 Not surprisingly, therefore, Coke savoured his moment of revenge, aggravating as far as possible the charges against the lord treasurer, whom he had long suspected of dishonesty.292 On 5 Apr. he declared that if it was true that Middlesex had accepted bribes it was ‘a grievance of grievances’ as these payments had directly led to a reduction in the king’s income. This was a matter of deep concern to all taxpayers, he explained, for if the king’s revenue had been administered efficiently ‘it would ease us of subsidies’.293 However, it soon became clear that accepting bribes was not the only offence of which Middlesex was guilty, as the lord treasurer had also persuaded a consortium to take over the wine farm by deceiving them into believing that he would not impose an additional impost on wine. The farmers, who had paid Middlesex £50,000 for their contract, were now faced with financial ruin as a consequence.294 Coke was delighted at these fresh revelations, and on 15 Apr. he announced at a joint conference with the Lords that the Commons had found Middlesex guilty of accepting ‘gross and sordid bribes’, of ‘procuring good orders to be altered’ and of oppressing the subject and deceiving the king.295 One contemporary reported that Coke ‘took much pleasure to aggravate’ the charges against Middlesex,296 who was subsequently stripped of office. Coke was undoubtedly triumphant, but there remained the question of whether the lands of the disgraced former minister should be held liable for his debts. A bill for that purpose received its third reading on 28 May, and was opposed by Phelips, who protested that none of Middlesex’s creditors had requested Parliament’s assistance. Coke, however, brushed aside these objections and persuaded his colleagues to pass the bill anyway.297
One of Coke’s main aims in 1624 was to ensure that the three key pieces of legislation which had failed to reach the statute book in 1621 - the monopolies, concealments and informers bills - were finally enacted. Perhaps the most important of these measures was the monopolies bill, which Coke himself had drafted. Although it was John Glanville who reported the bill on 13 Mar., it was Coke who took the lead in defending it before the Lords.298 The final result was not entirely to Coke’s liking, however, as the Lords refused to prohibit monopoly grants for new inventions or outlaw the privileges of chartered Companies and corporations. However, Coke persuaded his colleagues to ‘take what they may’ rather than risk losing the measure again,299 and consequently the bill was enacted at the end of May, as were the concealments and informers bills. Coke was a keen advocate of these latter two measures - in 1621 he had described the informers bill, for instance, as ‘excellent’300 - and as they had both been considered in great detail three years earlier he was keen to dispense with the committee stage altogether and proceed straight to engrossing. In the event the concealments bill was committed after it was alleged that it abridged the king’s rights in cases of attainder and forfeiture.301 Despite this setback Coke took charge of the committee and reported its proceedings.302
Although Coke spearheaded the campaign to enact the monopolies, concealments and informers bill, this was by no means the extent of his legislative activity. In March he reported a bill to aid the king’s tenants and was entrusted with the depopulations and alienations bills, reporting the latter on the 13th.303 That same month he reported two other bills, each concerned with lands belonging to Prince Charles, who had provided him with a seat in the Commons in 1621.304 Two of the measures which most interested Coke sought to prevent the unnecessary transfer of lawsuits to the Westminster courts. The first attempted to limit the use of writs of supersedeas and certiorari, which were often employed to remove cases from local quarter sessions to the central courts, while the second aimed to allow the courts belonging to cities, liberties and corporations to continue to hear suits, provided that the sums involved did not exceed £5 or the lands concerned were not freehold. Coke approved of both measures, and indeed, in the case of the supersedeas bill he had given it his warm support when it had first appeared before the Commons in 1621. On 9 Mar. he expressed alarm at Edward Whitby’s proposal to extend the provisions of the supersedeas bill to the county palatine of Chester, saying that he feared that this would ‘clog it’. He continued to argue this case in the bill committee, which he chaired, but it took almost a month before he was able to report the bill without any alterations (3 April).305 Two months later the measure was enacted, as was the inferior courts bill, though not before Coke took over the chairmanship of the committee from Ralph Whitfield. Coke later claimed that the Inferior Courts Act helped prevent ‘the multiplication of suits’.306
During the course of the Parliament Coke’s old antagonism towards Chancery resurfaced. On 26 Apr., following a report by Carvile of the bill to reverse erroneous judgments made by the courts of equity, he reminded his colleagues that Chancery was merely the ‘younger brother’ of King’s Bench. Five days later he declared that it was a maxim of the Common Law that no statute was capable of being overruled by a decree in Chancery. Consequently, if Members failed to pass the Magdalene College bill, which sought to overturn a Chancery ruling that contravened statute law, ‘it will encourage other judges to make the like decree’.307 However, few Members were as exercised by the subject of Chancery reform as they had been in 1621, nor were they much interested in Coke’s suggestion that they should define the boundaries between one court and another, a task which Coke described on 28 Apr. as ‘the noblest work that could be of a Parliament’.308
One of the main aims of the 1624 Parliament was to persuade the king to break off the Spanish marriage negotiations and declare war on Spain. Coke had previously exhibited considerable hostility towards Spain but had been reluctant to vote war funds until the Commons had first received satisfaction for its grievances. However, these reservations had now vanished entirely. On 11 Mar. he declared that ‘England never prospered so well as when [there was] war with Spain’ and argued that military action was now the only course left open to them as there was ‘no process of law to recover the Palatinate’.309 He added that he felt ‘seven years younger since this proposition of war’.310 Following the debate Coke’s name headed the list of the committee appointed to draft the Commons’ declaration which advised the king to break off the marriage negotiations. Despite his enthusiasm for a war, Coke was shocked when the king subsequently announced that he would need a grant of around £900,000 to pay for it. ‘All England hath not so much’, he protested on 19 March. Rather than attempt to levy such an enormous sum, he proposed that the Commons should vote just £300,000. This would mean that immediate needs could be met and also ‘make a great sound’ at home and abroad. If additional money was later needed it would then be voted.311 The following day, after repeating these suggestions, he announced that he hoped he would live to ‘see the king of Spain lose his Indies’ and advised that the best way to recover the Palatinate was to use the Low Countries as a springboard.312 Subsequently appointed to help draft the preamble to the subsidy bill,313 Coke seems to have favoured the idea, which was adopted, of paying in the subsidies to the chamber of London rather than the Exchequer.314
As in 1621, Coke was keen that recusants should pay double the amount of subsidy since they were not barred from holding local office and were therefore exempt from the costs this incurred.315 He also remained concerned that the penal laws were not being executed and, apparently unaware that he was contradicting himself, expressed dismay that some recusants held positions of authority (1 April). The Commons shared this concern and decided to discover for itself how many recusants were involved, and on 3 Apr. Coke reported the proceedings of a grand committee which met to consider the subject. On 27 Apr. he also declared that there were no recusant officeholders in his Coventry constituency.316 Like many of his colleagues, Coke was anxious to petition the king to crack down not merely on convicted recusants but on those Catholics who had escaped prosecution due to connivance. A petition to that effect was accordingly drafted and sent to the Lords, but on its return it was discovered that it had been reworded to refer only to convicted recusants. It was vital to reinstate the missing words, argued Coke on 6 Apr., as ‘the swarm’ of recusants who had not been convicted was ‘so great’.317
During the latter stages of the Parliament Coke was upbraided by Prince Charles for pressing a matter in the Commons that would have reduced the king’s annual income by £3,000.318 He remained in the Commons until the final day of the session (29 May), when he advised his colleagues to return the originals of the patents that they had condemned to the king’s lawyers with a request to have them formally revoked.319 Following the adjournment Coke, who had managed to avoid upsetting the king, found that his posting to Ireland had been quietly forgotten. He subsequently faded into obscurity, and was not noticed again until February 1625, when Lady Hatton swallowed her pride and asked him for help after her daughter, Lady Purbeck, was caught administering powders and potions to her husband and brother-in-law Buckingham, who was now a duke.320
IX. The 1625 Parliament
Following the accession of Charles I a fresh Parliament was summoned. In mid-April Coke, who still owned an extensive estate in East Anglia, was chosen senior knight of the shire for Norfolk after a contested election. However, Coke appears to have been concerned that one of the three defeated candidates would challenge the validity of his election, especially as only one of them subsequently managed to find a seat, for on 25 Apr. he sent a speculative letter to the corporation of Scarborough requesting a burgess-ship.321 In the event he succeeded in getting himself re-elected at Coventry. On arrival at Westminster those Members who had been returned for more than one constituency were required to decide which constituency they would represent. Most did so immediately, but Coke was granted more time and did not finally plump for Norfolk until 4 July.322 Why Coke did not choose the Norfolk seat sooner is something of a mystery, as it was more prestigious to represent a county than a borough. Perhaps it was not until 4 July that the threat of a challenge to Coke’s Norfolk election passed. Alternatively Coke may have delayed in order to upset the plans of the comptroller of the Household, (Sir) John Suckling* who, until a vacancy arose at Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight in late June, was eager to snap up the Coventry seat for himself.323
Coke may have arrived late for the opening of the 1625 Parliament, which met in the midst of a severe plague epidemic, as he played no recorded part on the first day of business (21 June).324 However, he had taken his seat by the following morning when, somewhat surprisingly, he opposed the idea of creating standing committees for grievances and the courts of justice. In the previous two assemblies Coke had chaired the grievances committee and there was every likelihood that he would have been invited to do so again. However, Coke pointed out that standing grand committees, which were investigative in nature, would increase the risk of infection to Members ‘by drawing the meaner sort of people about us’. He also argued that, since a new reign had begun, there could be no grievances as yet to consider. Rather than examine fresh complaints, he recommended seeking a reply to the still unanswered petition of grievances presented to James at the end of the previous Parliament. This advice was accepted, although not without some dissension, 325 and on 4 July the Commons finally received Charles’s answer to the 1624 petition. Coke was shocked by the inadequacy of the response to the complaint that the law had been broken, as the Crown offered merely to limit such behaviour in future. However, the Commons did not adopt his suggestion to petition for ‘a better answer’.326
One of the chief purposes of the new Parliament, so far as the king was concerned, was to provide substantial additional funds for the war with Spain. However, few Members, Coke included, were willing to dig deeply into their pockets as they had already voted around £300,000 in 1624. One way to satisfy the king’s demand for more money without overburdening the taxpayer was to improve the royal finances. On 22 June, after Phelips complained that the Crown’s revenues were ‘so wasted’ that they were ‘unable to support public charges’, Coke suggested that Parliament draw up a new book of rates, a proposal which may have been designed to increase rather than diminish the king’s revenue.327 Eight days later, in a speech which echoed Phelips’s, he pointedly observed that Edward III had managed to pay for a war for 14 years out of his own pocket ‘because he had good officers’.328 How far Coke and Phelips were acting in concert is unknown,329 but Phelips admired Coke and had headed the Commons’ investigation into Lepton and Goldsmith in 1621.
The state of the royal finances was not the only issue which occupied Coke during the 1625 Parliament. Another major concern was religion. On 23 June he laid before the House two bills, one ‘to quiet the estates of ecclesiastical persons’ and the other ‘to mitigate the sentence of excommunication’. Both measures rapidly received two readings and were committed.330 That same day he complained of the number of priests and Jesuits in the kingdom, whom he likened to locusts, and pressed for the establishment of a committee to investigate the cause. The following day, during a debate on the reasons for the increase in recusancy, Coke complained that ‘a great part of the realm’ was ‘without teaching’.331 In early July Coke liaised with the Lords over the wording of the Commons’ petition on religion, which he had helped to draft.332 On 11 July he was also appointed to consider a bill to allow clergymen to take leases,333 a measure which he had supported in November 1621.
As well as the alarming increase in home-grown Catholicism, Coke was troubled by evidence of growing anti-Calvinism in the Anglican church. In 1624 he had headed the Commons’ investigation into the complaints against Samuel Harsnett, the Arminian bishop of Norwich,334 and he now took an interest in the case of the Essex rector Richard Montagu, who had written two books which denied that the Church of England was essentially Calvinist and who had abused two of his critics after they had complained to the Commons about one of these works. Coke described this vilification by Montagu of his opponents as a contempt of Parliament, and on 7 July he was instructed to help draw up articles against Montagu, who was imprisoned on the orders of the House.335 However, before Coke and his colleagues were able to take further action they were forced to release Montagu, since he had now been appointed a royal chaplain.
When Parliament reassembled at Oxford at the beginning of August, debate quickly turned once more to Montagu. Like many Members, Coke was furious that Montagu was now being shielded by the king, and on 1 Aug. declared that one of Montagu’s books was one of the most dangerous he had ever seen. The next day he insisted that the Commons had the right to punish Montagu for the contempt shown towards the Commons. He also argued that, as Members were ‘the general inquisitors’ of the kingdom, they were entitled to investigate Montagu’s doctrinal opinions. Though the Commons was not qualified to pass judgment on theological matters itself, he nevertheless claimed that the Lords were able to do so, as its members included the bishops. No-one in the kingdom was beyond the reach of Parliament, he added, for in 1376 even the king’s son, John of Gaunt, had been questioned.336
By referring to John of Gaunt, Coke may have been hinting that the House could take action against Buckingham as well as Montagu, since the duke’s role as the king’s chief minister was closely analagous to that of Gaunt’s. It was well known that Buckingham favoured Montagu, and that both the duke and members of his family were gradually coming under the influence of the Arminians.337 Many of Coke’s colleagues hardly needed to be encouraged to pursue Buckingham, however, as there was growing frustration at the duke’s failure, as lord high admiral, to protect English merchant shipping from the depredations of the Dunkirkers or to set out a major fleet to attack Spain. On 5 Aug. this frustration finally spilled over as Sir Francis Seymour launched into a thinly veiled attack on Buckingham. He was followed, perhaps by prior arrangement, by Coke. Like Seymour, Coke was careful to avoid naming Buckingham in person, but the target of his criticism must have been perfectly obvious to all his listeners. Referring to the fleet which had been gathering at Plymouth since the spring but which had yet to put to sea, he declared that ‘it was never heard that Queen Elizabeth’s navy did dance a pavan; so many men to be pressed, and lie so long without doing anything’. The fault, he suggested, lay in the duke’s youth and inexperience, and in the fact that he held so many offices that he was unable to devote enough time and energy to any of them. Twisting the knife, he added that any office was void if it was granted to a man unqualified to hold it.338
It was not only Buckingham that Coke now had in his sights. Back in June Coke, like Phelips, had opposed supply on the grounds that if the royal finances had been well managed the king would not need to burden the subject. In the event, the Commons had agreed to grant two subsidies over and above those voted in 1624. In Coke’s eyes this was more than generous, but on 8 July, and again on 4 Aug., the Crown demanded yet more money. Coke was astonished. ‘Cannot the king as well live off his revenue as his ancestors?’ he demanded. The answer, he declared, was that he could, but only if the royal finances were reformed. This could be achieved by eliminating fraud, excessive annuities and unnecessary branches of royal administration, such as the Councils in the Marches and the North, and also by raising rents, bringing waste land into use and reforming the royal Household, which in recent years had been staffed by former ‘shopkeepers’ like Cranfield and Sir Simon Harvey. Moreover, Ireland, which under Edward III had yielded £30,000 to the English Crown, should be made profitable rather than continue to act as a drain on the Exchequer. It was dishonest to claim that more subsidies were urgently needed, he added, for ‘we have no invasions, no eighty-eights’. If the people were overburdened with taxes, he warned, they might rebel, as they had done in 1381 and 1489.339
Coke’s speech has fairly been described as ‘one of the most powerful and sweeping condemnations of Court policy’ made that Parliament.340 However, it soon became apparent that its author was far from finished. Five days later, on 10 Aug., Coke entered into ‘a long discourse’ in which he inveighed against both ‘the leak in the king’s estate’ and the domination of the king by a single counsellor. He again opposed granting further subsidies, but this time, to avoid any suspicion of disloyalty, declared that he would nevertheless be willing to give the king £1,000 ‘as a private man’.341 The following day, after Glanville complained that ‘the king’s ships do nothing’ to protect merchant shipping, he icily remarked that ‘the sea will not be scoured by eating the king’s beef’.342 He also reported the proceedings of a conference with the Lords concerning a pardon granted to a Jesuit at the request of the French ambassador. Coke was appalled that this priest was now safe from prosecution and, while conceding that the king was perfectly within his rights, condemned the Crown’s power to dispense with statute law in such cases as ‘wicked’.343
The 1625 Parliament was abruptly dissolved on 12 Aug. without having voted any additional supply. Initially Coke may have hoped that his opposition to supply and his criticism of Buckingham would be forgiven in the light of his publicly expressed offer to donate £1,000 to the war effort. This offer may have been sincere, for on 6 Sept. Coke’s brother-in-law, Sir Edward Cecil, pressed Buckingham to accept it, and to use the payment as the basis for raising money more widely by privy seal.344 Cecil’s advice evidently fell on receptive ears, for shortly thereafter letters of privy seal were dispatched to members of the gentry demanding payment of loans to the Crown. However, many of the recipients, already burdened with the subsidies voted in July 1625, resented this additional levy, and blamed Coke for its introduction.345 This unpopularity might have been a price worth paying had Coke escaped punishment for his outspokenness in the Commons, but Charles would not forgive him. Instead, he decided to prevent him from sitting in the fresh Parliament which he now resolved to summon by appointing him sheriff of Buckinghamshire. Coke was horrified, and initially refused to take the sheriff’s oath of office, complaining that it was peppered with anachronistic clauses, one of which pledged him to suppress Lollards, who had not been seen in England since the early sixteenth century. However, his objections were easily overcome, as the Privy Council simply struck out the offending clause.346 Coke’s only hope, now, lay with the Commons, and after getting himself re-elected for Norfolk in January 1626 he waited for its Members to come to his rescue. The Commons, however, was unable to oblige, for although it did not wish to be deprived of Coke’s services it was clear that only those sheriffs who had been pricked after their election to Parliament were entitled to sit. Under the circumstances, the most that could be done was to ignore the king’s demand that a by-election be held and to assure Coke in private that if the Parliament remained in being after his shrievalty ended he would be permitted to take his seat.347 In the event, the Parliament lasted only until mid-June, by which time Coke still had more than four months of his shrievalty to run.
X. The 1628 Session
Coke did not get another opportunity to stand for Parliament until February 1628, when he was returned for both Buckinghamshire and Suffolk. This was an extraordinary feat, and one of which Coke himself was rather proud, for although it was not unusual for men to be chosen by more than one constituency it was extremely rare to be elected for more than one county.348 Shortly thereafter, however, Coke apparently fell ill, as it was rumoured that he had died. Although he swiftly recovered he announced, on taking his seat, that he had feared he would not live to see another Parliament.349
Soon after the Parliament opened Coke was reappointed as chairman of the committee for grievances.350 He also plumped for Buckinghamshire rather than Suffolk. This was not surprising, for Buckinghamshire had returned him for the senior seat, whereas Suffolk had chosen him for the junior place.351 Another consideration may have been that Coke was not domiciled in Suffolk, although he certainly owned property there. However, it seems unlikely that the question of non-residence would have troubled Coke, for in 1621 he had declared that, contrary to popular belief, residence was not an essential qualification for a Member. At the time Coke’s arguments had satisfied the Commons, but in March 1628 the same question arose again, this time with respect to the recent election in Coventry, where Coke held office as recorder. On the face of it the disputed Coventry election was more difficult to resolve than the earlier Leicestershire case because of the statutory requirement that boroughs choose only freemen. However, after brushing aside the residency requirement, using the arguments he had deployed in 1621, Coke disposed of this additional problem with an inventiveness that bordered on the perverse. Although the law certainly required boroughs to choose only freemen, he admitted, the very fact of his election made a man a freeman. Even were this not so, he added, any man, or corporation for that matter, ‘may break a law that is made in his benefit’.352 The Commons was delighted, as many of its borough Members were neither residents nor freemen, and thereafter the questions addressed by Coke were regarded as settled.
Although Coke attached little importance to medieval election law, he was not indifferent to the composition of the Commons. On learning that some of Cornwall’s deputy lieutenants had attempted to prevent William Coryton from standing, he declared (24 Mar.) that it was essential ‘to have men of gravity’ in the Commons, and accused the deputy lieutenants concerned of striking at the House in general as well as Coryton in particular.353 He was no less alarmed to discover that the Member for Wells, John Baber, had carried out orders regarding billeting which, as a lawyer, he knew to be illegal. After accusing Baber of having ‘forsaken his own profession’, Coke declared that a man whose actions were motivated by fear of punishment was unfit to sit in the Commons (9 April). Nevertheless, he urged that Baber be suspended rather than expelled.354
Throughout the session Coke remained as anxious about the state of religion as he had been in earlier parliaments. His principal concern was the continued growth of Catholicism in England. In former assemblies he had worried that the laws against recusants were not being implemented, but now he considered matters to be even more serious. The source of his anxiety was the commission which authorized Sir John Savile* to compound with recusants in order to raise badly needed additional funds for the war effort. On 24 Mar. Coke condemned this commission as unlawful and declared it to be ‘a toleration’. Ten weeks later, on 6 June, he ‘confidently’ repeated the charge that Savile’s commission was ‘for toleration of religion’ and observed that ‘Queen Elizabeth would never have consented to the like’. As in 1621, he impressed upon his listeners the dangers of a fifth column, saying that he feared ‘no invasion if there be not a party within’.355 Almost as dangerous as the Catholics were the Arminians. On 24 Mar. Coke demanded to know who had sanctioned the publication of works by Roger Manwaring and Dr. Jackson, and on 31 May he accused Manwaring, one of the king’s chaplains, of sedition for laying an aspersion on the Commons during a recent sermon.356 The presence of Arminians in the church was a source of weakness rather than strength, as was the number of drunken or incapable ministers who held cures. On 16 May Coke warmly supported a bill to address the consequences of this problem by allowing men to attend sermons in parishes other than their own. However, as in 1621, he urged that clauses be added to compel lay patrons to exercise their powers responsibly, for as matters stood the greatest parishes, controlled by powerful men, ‘have the worst clerks’.357
Although the parlous state of the church and the rising threat of Catholicism greatly concerned Coke, these were not his main priorities in 1628. One of the main purposes of the session, from the point of view of the Crown, was to vote money to pay for the wars with France and Spain. In 1625 Coke had obstructed the Crown’s request for additional supply, but now he could scarcely have been more helpful. When the Commons was presented with a list of the government’s proposed military expenditure on 26 Mar. Coke, far from raising difficulties, merely asked to know the size of the arrears owed by the king.358 One week later Coke announced that he desired ‘a bountiful supply’, because in 1624 Charles had been ‘an excellent means to procure all those excellent laws we then had, whereby is prevented all these worms, these locusts, the caterpillar, the informer, monopolizer and concealer’.359 He subsequently supported calls to grant five subsidies, drew attention to the recent decline in the value of each subsidy (4 Apr.) , and insisted that all places formerly exempted from payment should now be forced to contribute (10 June).360 So keen was Coke to vote subsidies that on 11 Apr. he urged a time to be fixed for their collection. Condemned as ‘untimely’, his motion was considered so suspicious that he was obliged to declare that it ‘came merely from myself’ and ‘not from [the] Court’.361 Later, on 10 June, he supported the request of the solicitor general, Sir Richard Shilton, to report the proceedings of the subsidy bill committee, despite the opposition of Sir William Coryton, who called for the matter to be deferred.362
Coke’s enthusiasm for subsidies was remarkable, but it did not signify that he had suddenly become a spokesman for the Crown, as he emerged from the 1628 session as one of the Caroline regime’s fiercest critics. Instead, it suggests that he appreciated that the best way to keep the Parliament in being was to offer the king a substantial grant of money. It also suggests that Coke was desperate to avoid a repetition of the events of the last 18 months, during which time the king, denied a grant of subsidies by the 1626 Parliament, had raised a Forced Loan. Coke was bitterly opposed to the Loan which, despite its name, was a compulsory levy, and had refused to contribute to its collection. The Loan made a mockery of the principle that taxes should only be given in Parliament, for as he put it on 22 Mar., ‘who will give subsidies if the king may impose what he will, and if after a Parliament the king may enhance what he pleaseth?’ The principle that taxes were only to be granted in Parliament was not simply an accepted convention but was enshrined in law, for by an Act of 1352, which Coke described as ‘worthy to be writ in letters of gold’, the king was expressly forbidden to raise loans against the wishes of his subjects, as this would infringe their liberties and turn them into slaves. These liberties were protected by Magna Carta, and by an Act of 1370, which declared that all laws contrary to Magna Carta were void. It was useless, Coke added, for the Crown to plead that it had resorted to the Loan out of urgent necessity, for if Parliament met every year, as it was legally required to do, there would never be a time when the king could not turn to his subjects for aid. Nevertheless, Coke recognized that, no matter how much he protested, he could not turn back the clock. Either the king had to be granted parliamentary authority for the Loan retrospectively, or a dangerous precedent would be set. Consequently, he suggested that the Loan be accorded statutory authority in the preamble to the subsidy bill. However, to prevent the Crown from demanding any more loans in future, he also produced a bill which he himself had drafted and which he modestly described as ‘admirable’.363 This bill, entitled ‘An Act concerning Liberties of Parliament’, was granted a first reading that same day and a second reading on 28 Apr., when it was committed.364 However, it failed to progress, as it was overtaken by the events which led to the formulation of the Petition of Right.
One of the most objectionable features of the Forced Loan was the imprisonment without charge of many of those who refused to pay it, and the inability of those arrested to persuade the judges to order their release. In November 1627 five Loan refusers attempted to establish the reason for their arrest by suing out writs of habeas corpus, but the judges in the case had subsequently refused to pass judgment and remanded the prisoners to custody after they were informed by the Privy Council that the arrests had been ordered by special command of the king. Coke was appalled at this development, though not altogether surprised, as he himself had been held without cause shown in 1622. If suing out a writ of habeas corpus no longer automatically guaranteed a proper trial a man might languish in prison indefinitely. After declaring that ‘nothing is more precious to a man in this life than liberty’, he therefore presented the Commons on 21 Mar. with a bill which required that no man be detained for more than two months without either being tried or bailed. Drafted by Coke himself, this measure, which was immediately given a first reading, further stated that in the event that any man was held for three months without trial he should be released and cleared of all charges.365 Four days later Coke’s old ally Sir Robert Phelips tried to widen the scope of the debate by asserting that a man sent abroad on royal service against his will was to all intents and purposes a prisoner. Coke had some sympathy for this view, and admitted that ‘every man that knows the law must confess the least restraint is imprisonment’. He also reminded his listeners that he himself had come perilously close to being dispatched to Ireland at the beginning of 1624. However, since he thought it would be dangerous to question the king’s prerogative rights, the matter was not pursued.366
Coke had not always condemned arbitrary imprisonment. As chief justice of King’s Bench, and as a privy councillor, he had earlier maintained that the Crown was entitled to imprison without disclosing the cause on the grounds that it was necessary to preserve secrecy in matters of state. As late as 5 May 1621, when the Commons had last debated this issue, he had announced that ‘one committed by the body of the Council [is] not bailable by law’.367 The Crown’s law officers were aware of Coke’s former view, and on 29 Mar. the solicitor general, Sir Richard Shilton, called to mind a ruling made in 1616 in the case of Sir Samuel Salstonstall. According to Shilton, Coke and his fellow judges had declared that the Council was under no obligation to reveal the cause of Salstonstall’s imprisonment. If this was true it was deeply embarrassing for Coke, who blustered that the case was too recent to be cited as a precedent.368 Later investigation revealed that Shilton had relied solely upon a report of the case made by a young law student.369 Nevertheless, it was clear that Shilton had scored a direct hit, as Coke was forced to concede that he had indeed revised his former opinion. On 31 Mar., after Phelips moved to free him ‘from the imputation that was put on him’, Coke explained that he had discovered that his earlier views were erroneous following the arrest of Southampton and Sandys in June 1621. Fearing that he too might be imprisoned at any moment, he had consulted his law books only to learn that he had been misled by the writings of the early sixteenth century lord chief justice of Common Pleas, Sir William Stanford. Following this explanation, Sir John Eliot rushed to thank Coke, ‘whom posterity will hereafter commend’.370
Although the Commons was now happy to set aside Coke’s earlier pronouncements on arbitrary imprisonment, the attorney-general, Sir Robert Heath*, clung to the hope that he might still be able to exploit these remarks. At a conference between the Lords and Commons on 17 Apr., he drew attention to another case from 1616 in which Coke and his fellow judges had ruled that a prisoner committed by the king or Council could not be bailed. He also brandished Coke’s statement of 5 May 1621, which had been recorded in the Commons Journal. Heath was supported by (Sir) Francis Ashley*, who declared that if the king were deprived of the right to imprison without showing cause the state would tend to anarchy rather than monarchy. After the Crown’s spokesmen had finished, Coke rose to speak for the Commons. Arbitary imprisonment, he declared to the assembled peers, ‘was the greatest cause ... that ever came in the Hall of Westminster, or indeed, in any Parliament’, for it struck at both Magna Carta, which had been drafted by the Lords’ own ancestors, and six other statutes concerned with the liberty of the subject. He went on: ‘Put, therefore, my noble lords, in the one balance seven Acts of Parliament, records, precedents, reasons - all that we speak ... and in God’s name put into the other balance what Mr. Attorney said, his wit, learning and great endowments of nature’.371 Towards the end of the conference a desperate Heath suggested that, rather than join the Commons, the Lords should petition the king to exercise only sparingly his power to imprison without showing cause. At this Coke retorted that there could be no such ‘accommodation’, for ‘the true mother will not divide the child’.372
Over the next few weeks Coke kept up the pressure. On 25 Apr. he defended a Londoner who had been imprisoned for refusing to pay £50 towards the £60,000 raised by the City to buy various royal lands. ‘To compel a man to lend money to purchase land’, he declared, ‘is altogether unlawful’. Four days later he announced that if the king’s right to imprison without showing cause was allowed to stand the subject would be ‘made worse than a villein’. Moreover, as his own experience in 1622 demonstrated, imprisonment without cause shown could result in interrogation designed to discover some hitherto unsuspected offence.373
At the same time that he complained of arbitrary imprisonment, Coke also protested at the widespread billeting of troops. Declaring that it was ‘against the law to place anyone in an inn to stay’, he suggested (8 Apr.) that the king be petitioned to remove the troops ‘to Denmark or elsewhere’ and hinted that the subsidy bill might be delayed until satisfaction was received.374 He was no less exercised by the recent issue of commissions of martial law to govern the billeted soldiers, which threatened the jurisdiction of the Common Law courts. While not questioning the king’s right to impose martial law, Coke pointed out on 11 Apr. that this power could only be wielded if the Common Law courts were suspended. As these continued to function, England remained, in theory in at least, at peace and therefore martial law could not be executed. Four days later Coke insisted that the right to regulate martial law lay with Parliament rather than the king.375 These claims not unnaturally irritated the most senior of the civil lawyers in the House, Sir Henry Marten. Coke, however, advised Marten to confine himself to his own jurisdiction, and reminded him on 18 Apr. that the Common Law was ‘the great and principal law’ which took precedence over ‘your martial law’.376 The following day Marten abandoned the attempt to argue the legality of the commissions and instead defended them on grounds of necessity. Coke remained unmoved, however, and at his bidding the Commons proceeded to examine both the commissions and the instructions that accompanied them. On 7 May he not only repeated his condemnation of the commissions but declared the instructions to be unlawful because they had not been issued under the Great Seal.377
The debates over martial law, billeting, arbitrary imprisonment and the Forced Loan occupied most of the first five weeks of the session. On 25 Apr. the king, desperate to press on with the subsidy bill, promised to uphold Magna Carta and the six statutes, and to confirm all the rights and liberties of his subjects in as full a manner as ‘the best of his noble progenitors’. He also swore to govern in accordance with the Common Law ‘in all cases within the cognizance of the Common Law’, and offered to declare that, according to Magna Carta and the six statutes, ‘every free subject has a fundamental propriety in his goods and a fundamental liberty in his person’. Where reason of state made it necessary to imprison a man, he added, he would reveal the cause of the commitment ‘within a convenient time’ and allow the case to go to trial.378 On the surface Charles’s announcement amounted to a substantial victory for the Commons. Coke, however, was far from satisfied. One of his chief criticisms was that Charles had couched his offers in the language of grace, whereas the Commons demanded that its grievances be redressed as a matter of right. ‘Will you’, Coke asked his colleagues on 26 Apr., ‘have Magna Carta as a grace?’ A further serious objection was the imprecision of the king’s language. What, for instance, was meant by the terms ‘fundamental liberty’ and ‘propriety’, and who among his ancestors were the king’s best progenitors? Were they the richest, the wisest or the most religious? Coke himself did not know, for ‘no law book tells me which was the best king of England’. Equally unsatisfactory was the saving clause attached to the king’s promise to observe the Common Law, which Coke suspected was designed to allow the continued use of martial law. If this interpretation was correct, he warned, then Charles’s concession was more apparent than real. No less misleading was Charles’s promise to reveal the cause of imprisonment ‘within a convenient time’. ‘Who’, demanded Coke, ‘shall be judge of "convenient time"?’ Moreover, were the king to be allowed ‘convenient time’, would not the Commons thereby be admitting that the Crown was entitled to imprison without showing cause after all? ‘We cannot’, Coke declared, ‘yield to this.’ The Commons’ aim was to defend and explain Magna Carta, not to hobble it.379
Far from ending the debate on the liberties of the subject, Charles’s intervention served to focus the Commons’ attention on the need for a single solution to its many difficulties. On 28 Apr. a sub-committee of the Whole House, consisting mainly of lawyers, was appointed to draft a bill summarizing the contents of Magna Carta and the six statutes and also the recent resolutions of the House. Coke probably chaired this sub-committee himself, as he reported its proceedings the following day, when he explained that he and his colleagues had been careful in drafting the bill to avoid apportioning blame for the abuses they were seeking to rectify.380 The Commons’ decision to embark upon legislation rather than complete the passage of the subsidy bill enraged the king. On 1 May he demanded to know whether the Commons would drop its bill and rely instead on his royal word to safeguard the liberties of the subject. Coke was stunned at this message, and declared it to be ‘the greatest thing’ that had occurred that Parliament. At his suggestion the House resolved to transact no business that afternoon in order to allow each Member time for private prayer and reflection.381 The following morning the Commons reassembled, whereupon Coke declared that he was ‘never is so great a strait in all his life’, for although he was perfectly prepared to trust the king ‘as a private man’, there was no alternative except to proceed by bill as the king ‘cannot speak but by record’. As most Members of the Commons agreed with Coke the king sent another message to the Commons that afternoon. Charles now dropped his demand that the House rely upon his word alone and instead agreed to a bill, but only one which confirmed existing law. In order to ensure that the Commons did not prepare more detailed legislation, and also because ‘the weight of the affairs of Christendom do press him more and more’, he also announced that he would be adjourning the Parliament on 13 May. Once again Coke was thunderstruck. ‘We cannot’, he added, ‘rest upon a bare confirmation of Magna Carta and the statutes’ but must instead ‘have the substance of our resolutions enacted’. Nothing less than ‘a clear exposition of these statutes’ would suffice to resolve the question that he himself had posed rhetorically on 26 Apr.: ‘what is lex terrae?’382 The following morning he joined the chorus of those who complained that the king had been misled into believing that the Commons was seeking to acquire for the subject fresh liberties. ‘Misconceptions’, he declared, are ‘the mother of misdoing[s]’, and would cause delays. The king should disregard anything said in the Commons until it had been formally reported to him. Far from seeking to acquire new liberties, the House would ‘not strain or enlarge anything’.383
The Commons was now on the horns of a dilemma, as it would not accept a bill that failed to explain the law while Charles would not accept a bill that did. It was not until 6 May that a solution to this apparent impasse was suggested. Rather than proceed by bill, declared Edward Alford, the Commons should draft a Petition of Right in which it would set out the meaning of existing law. This ingenious suggestion was worthy of Coke himself, for Coke was certainly familiar with the medieval practice of presenting such petitions, and had employed the phrase ‘petition of right’ in debate as recently as 26 April. It may be, of course, that Coke had quietly suggested the idea of proceeding by Petition to his former ally Alford, but it seems unlikely that the two men were then in close communication, as a significant difference between them surfaced during the debate. Alford wanted the king’s answer to the Petition to be inserted in the preamble to the subsidy bill. This would confer statutory authority on the king’s answer without the need for separate legislation, to which Charles would not agree. Coke, however, dissented, saying ‘did you ever know the king’s messages come into a bill of subsidies?’384 The dismissive tone of this comment perhaps suggests that Coke was resentful that Alford had suddenly stolen the initiative.
The idea of proceeding by Petition of Right rapidly seized the imagination of the Commons, which set to work immediately. On 8 May Coke presented a draft text to the Lords at a conference between both Houses. Several changes were suggested by the peers, but Coke was unhappy with most of them, and on 19 May he led a further delegation to confer with the Lords. One of the key sticking points was the phrase ‘unlawful oath’, which the Lords wished to change to ‘new and unusual oath’ on the grounds that ‘unlawful’ was ‘too smart a word’. ‘My lords’, Coke patiently explained, ‘the reason why the House of Commons called that oath unlawful was principally because the subject of it was unlawful’. Besides, the Lords’ own alternative wording was absurd, as many unusual oaths were perfectly lawful. Coke also took issue with the Lords over their rewording of the passage in the Petition which concerned commissions of martial law. The Commons had said that any such commissions issued during peacetime - meaning whenever the ordinary courts of law were still sitting - were unlawful, whereas the Lords had added a caveat that they could still be used if their scope was limited to soldiers and sailors. The Commons could not possibly agree to this proviso, protested Coke, as it would ‘overthrow the whole scope and intention of our Petition in the point complained of’. This failed to convince lord keeper Coventry, however, who pointed out that if the Crown was required to observe the processes of the Common Law in the case of mutiny it might mean that an army disintegrated before the mutineers could be indicted and a jury empanelled. Moreover, what would happen in cases of rebellion? ‘If you stay for an attainder’, warned Coventry, ‘all is lost’. Coke, however, was unmoved by any of these objections, and answered that in the case of rebellion, anyone not slain in the field should be tried by the Common Law.385 By the end of the conference only one significant difference over wording remained. This concerned the use of the word ‘unlawful’, which the Lords now suggested should be changed to ‘not warranted’. On the following day Coke advised the Commons to accept this alteration, for in his opinion an oath ‘not warranted’ in law was no different from an oath that was illegal.386
One final hurdle remained to be overcome before the Lords would accept the wording of the Petition. On 17 May the peers, under pressure from the king to preserve his right to bypass the law under certain circumstances, proposed that a clause be added in which the petitioners pledged to ‘leave entire that sovereign power wherewith Your Majesty is trusted for the protection, safety and happiness of your people’. Coke was incensed at the proposed addition, for as he announced on 20 May, its inclusion ‘will overthrow our whole Petition’. Neither Acts of Parliament in general nor Magna Carta in particular were subject to any higher sovereign power. Were they to concede that such a power existed it would ‘weaken the foundations of law’ itself. At the very least, it would mean that any laws on arbitrary taxation, arbitrary imprisonment, martial law and billeting of troops that Parliament cared to pass could easily be set aside.387 Most of Coke’s colleagues in the Commons agreed, and, faced with this opposition, the Lords made one last attempt to save something for the king. On 23 May the peers suggested that a select committee consisting of Members of both Houses be appointed to reach agreement on the remaining differences between them. Coke was initially attracted to this idea, but seeing that it was condemned by his colleagues, who feared that a deal would be reached behind their backs, he changed tack, and on 24 May declared that either the Lords must accept or reject the Petition as it stood.388 Two days later the peers caved in, and announced that they would accept the Petition without further alteration.
After such a long and gruelling battle, Coke was not surprisingly ecstatic. ‘I am almost dead for joy’, he announced.389 He may also have been both physically and emotionally exhausted, for he left it to others to criticize the inadequacy of the king’s initial answer to the Petition, which was received on 2 June. If so, he had recovered his poise by 5 June, when the king, seeing that many in the House blamed Buckingham for the inadequacy of his initial reply to the Petition, instructed the Commons not to lay aspersions on any of his ministers. Coke was furious, for not only did it appear that the House’s labours had all been in vain, but the man responsible was not to escape scot free. ‘God has punished us because we have not spoken plainly’, he declared, alluding to the fact that up till now Buckingham had been attacked only indirectly. Until Members spoke their minds freely, ‘God will not bless us, nor go out with our armies’. Then, taking his courage in both hands, Coke announced, ‘I think the duke of Buckingham is the cause of all our miseries’. At this the chamber erupted with cries of ‘it is he! It is he!’ Buckingham, went on Coke, was ‘the grievance of grievances’, and until the king was informed of this fact ‘we shall never go out with honour, nor sit with honour here’. The Commons, he suggested, should ‘set down the cause of all our disasters’ for ‘all will reflect upon him’.390 Coke’s colleagues needed no second bidding, and soon the House was busily preparing a Remonstrance against the duke.
As well as threatening to proceed against Buckingham, the Commons also turned to the Lords. On the morning of 7 June Coke led a delegation to the Upper House with the aim of persuading the peers to ask the king to give a clear and satisfactory answer to the Petition of Right. This overture bore fruit, for that afternoon Charles gave the expected reply. Instantly the mood in the Commons altered from anger to jubilation. ‘We could never have had a better answer’, announced Coke, for there was now ‘no doubtfulness nor shadow of any ambiguity’. He was so relieved that, after attempting without success to pronounce the royal words of assent in their original form, he broke off to poke fun at himself and his fellow lawyers in the House: ‘Laugh not at my French, gentlemen, for I have gotten as much by it as some of you’.391
Although the Commons had now persuaded the king to accept the Petition of Right, it had no intention of abandoning its attack on Buckingham. On 11 June Coke, declaring that he spoke ‘not out of malice but out of duty’, and complaining that the duke had monopolized many great offices and was a poor adviser to the king, claimed that ‘necessity forces us to name him’. This was a rather pointed reference to the fact that during the earlier debates over the Forced Loan and arbitrary imprisonment the Crown’s spokesmen had frequently pleaded necessity themselves. Shortly after Coke had finished the Commons resolved that the excessive power wielded by Buckingham was chiefly responsible for the evils and dangers that had befallen the kingdom. Coke was extremely satisfied with this declaration, and announced that ‘I am confident the kingdom will never be well governed till men of more ability have his places’. A few days later he advised that no further material be added to the Remonstrance as ‘there is enough already’.392
The arguments that culminated in the Petition of Right dominated the 1628 session so thoroughly that, aside from attacking Buckingham, there was little time left in which to debate other urgent matters. Few issues were more pressing to Coke than the state of the royal finances. In 1625 he had proposed that superfluous expenditure be cut, but his advice had been disregarded. Now, on 21 June, he repeated this demand, calling for the Wardrobe and Stables to be ‘reduced to the ancient orders’ and for the abolition of both the duchy of Lancaster and the Council in the North, which ‘does infinite wrong’, in order to save administrative costs. Pensions, too, should be suspended until the king was out of debt, and all new offices should be revoked.393 As well as cutting expenditure, Coke also pressed for the introduction by Parliament of a new book of rates, just as he had done in 1625. This would form the centrepiece of a Tunnage and Poundage bill, which, although customarily enacted at the beginning of each reign, had not yet reached the statute book. On 11 Apr. Coke pressed his colleagues to send for the customs officers with their papers so as to enable the House to drew up an accurate table of rates. However, in the ensuing furore over the Petition of Right the Tunnage and Poundage bill was forgotten, and it was not until 24 June that Coke returned to the subject. By then, as Coke himself admitted, there was no time left in which to draw up a new book of rates. Rather than feeling shamefaced about this, Coke was incensed that the king had quietly been levying Tunnage and Poundage on his own authority ever since the beginning of his reign. In his eyes this was outrageous, for any duties levied without parliamentary authority were impositions, and ‘imposition comes only of pretended power’. 394 Coke’s concern that the Crown was willing to raise customs revenues without regard for Parliament was heightened when he learned of a plan to lay a special temporary duty on beer and wine. On 13 June he declared that the proposed excise was ‘against the law’, as excises were merely impositions by another name.395
The fate of the Tunnage and Poundage bill indicates that, broadly speaking, Coke had little time to devote to legislation in 1628. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, there were some measures in which he took a special interest, most notably the subsidy bill and several bills concerned with the church. Among the other items of legislation which caught his eye were the Medway navigation bill, which he described on 12 May as ‘dangerous’ as it gave power to the local sewer commissioner to ‘tax any man in England’. He also took an interest in the bill to remove the four English border counties from the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. After calling for the bill to be read, he repeated his longstanding call for the abolition of the Council itself.396 On 21 Mar. Coke preferred a bill on the new draperies which chiefly concerned the city of Norwich. His name subsequently headed the list of Members appointed on 1 Apr. to consider the measure, but he evidently failed to persuade his colleagues of the merits of the bill as it never emerged from committee.397 As a governor of the Charterhouse hospital, Coke made strenuous efforts to secure the passage of a measure, which had twice failed to reach the statute book, to put the hospital on a statutory foundation. Indeed, it was at his bidding that the bill received both its second and third readings (on 8 Apr. and 9 May respectively). He also chaired the committee, and later recorded that he had been ‘a great mean’ in securing the measure’s enactment. It seems likely that Coke exploited his standing in the House, and in particular the widespread gratitude felt towards him for helping to formulate the Petition of Right, to persuade the Commons to pass this bill, as the measure received its final reading immediately after he reported that he had presented the Petition to the Lords.398 One of Coke’s final acts of the session was to report from committee concerning a petition submitted by the Goldsmiths’ Company on the office of exchanger (23 June), a matter on which the Goldsmiths had earlier lobbied him in private.399
XI. Final Years, 1629-34
Towards the end of the 1628 session Coke, knowing that his outspoken attack on Buckingham must have angered the king, feared that he would again be arrested.400 In the event, however, he remained at liberty, and in July the king even appointed him an assistant to the commissioners appointed to disafforest the forest of Neroche, Somerset, in which county he owned some property.401 When Parliament reassembled in January 1629, Coke was conspicuous by his absence. Indeed, he never attended, despite being summoned by the Speaker on 11 February.402 It may be that advancing old age was the reason, but it seems equally likely that he had decided to devote his remaining years to writing, as he had recently embarked on an ambitious project to explain the nature of English law, entitled the Institutes of the Laws of England. The first part of this monumental work was published in 1628 and was entitled the Commentarie on Littleton. Described by one historian as Coke’s ‘masterwork’, it ostensibly provided a lengthy gloss on the fifteenth-century jurist Sir Thomas Littleton’s famous treatise on landholding, Tenures, although it was in fact much more than this.403 According to the preface of the Commentarie, the second and third parts of the Institutes were already drafted, while the fourth and final section was in preparation.404 However, Coke never lived to see the remaining three parts of the Institutes in print. The king, on learning that Coke intended to examine Magna Carta in detail in the Second Institute, grew fearful that the work might contain matters prejudicial to the royal prerogative, and in April 1632 secretary of state Sir John Coke was dispatched to Stoke Poges in the early hours of the morning. Following this dawn raid, Coke’s writings on Magna Carta and the jurisdiction belonging to each court (later to form the Fourth Institute) were seized and his manuscripts were sealed up.405 For Coke, who had already suffered the loss of three of his most precious manuscripts after his London house and law chambers were searched in December 1621, this was devastating.406 However, worse was to come, for in March 1633 the Privy Council ordered that Coke’s published law reports and his Commentaries upon Littleton be purged of ‘erroneous opinions’ which were ‘vouched by some lawyers in their pleadings’.407
In May 1632 Coke fell from his horse while riding near Stoke Poges, but despite the fact that he was now 80 years old he escaped uninjured.408 However, by mid-1634 his health had begun to fail, and on 9 June he drew up a short article of faith, in which he declared that, having taken communion in both kinds all his life, he was convinced of Christ’s ‘grace and favour to me’.409 Six weeks later Coke’s manuscript collection at Stoke was confiscated.410 By now Coke had not long to live, and shortly before midnight on 3 Sept. 1634 he died in his bed at Stoke Poges, ‘quietly, like a lamb, without any groans or outward signs of sickness’. His last words are reported to have been ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’.411 He was buried, a month later, in the church of St. Mary’s, Tittleshall, Norfolk, alongside his first wife. His will, drafted in November 1623, was proved early in 1635, when an inquisition post mortem revealed that Coke had died seised of more than 60 manors.412 A funeral monument, costing £400 and fashioned by Nicholas Stone, was erected in Tittleshall church by Coke’s eldest son, Sir Robert, in 1639. It incorporated an effigy of Coke in his judicial robes sculpted from white marble by John Hargrave.413
Following his death, Coke’s chambers in the Inner Temple were searched and his remaining books and papers seized. Items of a personal or private nature were subsequently returned to Sir Robert Coke, but anything considered useful to the state was withheld.414 However, in December 1640 the House of Commons determined to recover Coke’s papers, supposing that they contained matters pertinent to the liberties of the subject, and in 1644 the last three parts of the Institutes were finally published, by order of the Long Parliament.415 Publication of the last two instalments of Coke’s law reports was not accorded the same priority, and consequently they did not appear in print until 1656 and 1659 respectively.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. Harl. 6687.I, f. 10v; Boyer, 5, 207, 209-10 n.64, 296; Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 111, 117-18; T. Fuller, Worthies of Eng. ed. J. Freeman, 415; Oxford DNB sub Elizabeth Hatton.
- 2. An Index to Norwich City Officers ed. T. Hawes (Norf. Rec. Soc. lii), xxxvii.
- 3. HMC Var. iv. 266, 268.
- 4. C181/1, f. 50; Charters Granted to Bor. of Harwich (no author), 19.
- 5. Coventry Archives, BA/H/C/Q/1; CD 1628, ii. 375, n. 4.
- 6. Hist. Reg. of Univ. of Camb. ed. J.R. Tanner, 56.
- 7. Norf. RO, Y/C21/1, f. 260v.
- 8. Drapers’ Hall, London, wardens’ accts. WA6/1, f. 21; WA6/2, f. 20; WA6/3, p. 43.
- 9. Illustrations of Brit. Hist. ed. E. Lodge, iii. 66.
- 10. CITR, i. 362, 366, 370, 380, 408, 415, 419; ii. 6, 9, 12, 14, 16.
- 11. Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 114, 116; Order of Sjts.-at-Law ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. v), 178.
- 12. Norf. RO (King’s Lynn), Hall bk. f. 313; J.S. Cockburn, Hist. English Assizes, 268-9.
- 13. Sainty, Judges, 10, 49.
- 14. HMC 9th Rep. ii. 373.
- 15. P. Millican, Norwich Freemen, 101.
- 16. Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 112; C193/13/1.
- 17. C181/1, f. 50; 181/2, f. 319v.
- 18. C66/1620; C193/13/1.
- 19. C181/2, f. 36v.
- 20. Ibid. ff. 188, 221, 273.
- 21. Ibid. ff. 205, 273.
- 22. Ibid. ff. 205v, 274.
- 23. Ibid. f. 331v; 181/3, f. 15.
- 24. C193/13/1.
- 25. C181/1, f. 12; 181/2, ff. 252v, 351.
- 26. C181/1, f. 14; 181/4, f. 159v.
- 27. C181/2, f. 144.
- 28. C181/1, f. 5v; 181/2, f. 89.
- 29. C181/1, ff. 11, 13v, 16, 18v, 93v; 181/2, ff. 34v, 262r-v, 265v, 319, 352.
- 30. C181/1, ff. 14, 46, 89v, 119v; 181/2, ff. 62, 97v.
- 31. Lansd. 168, f. 151.
- 32. C181/2 ff. 83, 89, 140v, 148v, 229v, 317, 320v, 347, 349v.
- 33. C181/1, ff. 21, 66v, 83v; 181/2, ff. 12, 200v, 220v, 242v.
- 34. C181/1, f. 32.
- 35. C93/2/15; HMC 11th Rep. VII, 96.
- 36. C181/1, f. 122.
- 37. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20-1, 23.
- 38. HMC Sackville, i. 221.
- 39. C181/2, ff. 140v, 199.
- 40. G.S. Davies, Charterhouse in London, 352; LMA, Acc/1876/G/02/01, p. 310.
- 41. HCA 1/32, pt. 1, f. 49.
- 42. Reg. Univ. of Camb. 29.
- 43. C66/2056, dorse; 66/2165, dorse.
- 44. Glos. RO, GBR C6/1.
- 45. HMC 9th Rep. ii. 374; CHIPPING WYCOMBE.
- 46. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 9.
- 47. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 223.
- 48. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 348.
- 49. R. Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster, i. 396-7.
- 50. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 330, 378.
- 51. Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton ed. L. Pearsall Smith, ii. 33-4; HMC Downshire, vi. 291; PRO 31/3/55.
- 52. HMC Downshire, iv. 388.
- 53. C181/2, f. 236v.
- 54. E315/243, ff. 189v-90, 195.
- 55. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, pp. 65, 68, 112, 115, 118, 131, 150, 185; HMC Downshire, vi. 487.
- 56. Add. 12504, f. 67v.
- 57. Rymer, vii. pt. 4, p. 89; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 151.
- 58. CD 1628, ii. 149, 212.
- 59. ‘Jnl. of Sir Roger Wilbraham’ ed. H.S. Scott Cam. Misc. x. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3 iv), 117; Add. 12506, f. 4v; BL, transcript of Trumbull ms VIII, 13. The epithet was also bestowed upon Coke by many of his fellow Members of the Commons: Lansd. 213, f. 149v.
- 60. Boyer, 190.
- 61. Ibid. 140, 200.
- 62. Ibid. 147, 201; CJ, i. 578a; CD 1621, v. 264 ; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 261; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 31v; Procs. 1625, pp. 276, 279; CD 1628, ii. 205, 469. Coke also admired Henry VII: CD 1621, ii. 357.
- 63. Les Reportes del Cases in Camera Stellata ed. W.P. Baildon, 203-4. For another nice example of Coke’s self-importance, see M.A.R. Graves and C.R. Kyle, ‘"The Kinge’s most excellent majestie oute of his gracious disposicion": the Evolution of Grace Bills in English Parliaments, 1547-1642’, PER, xviii. 43-4.
- 64. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, ii. 287.
- 65. Boyer, 201-2.
- 66. Les Reportes, 170: CSP Ven. 1615-17, p. 245.
- 67. D’Ewes Diary, 1622-4 ed. E. Bourcier, 84.
- 68. HMC 9th Rep. ii. 374; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 38; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 233-4.
- 69. Birch, Jas. I, ii. 282-3.
- 70. HMC Mar and Kellie Suppl. 203-4.
- 71. Lansd. 91, f. 98. Ellesmere referred to the target of this abuse only as ‘C’, but the letter is endorsed by Salisbury ‘Coo. a broken brayne fellow’. Boyer, who misquotes and misdates this letter, assumes, probably correctly, that Coke was intended: Boyer, 204.
- 72. Boyer, 190, 203.
- 73. Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxi), 148.
- 74. Coke, The Fourth Part of Institutes of Laws of Eng. (1671), p. 3.
- 75. L. Norsworthy, The Lady of Bleeding Heart Yard, 277.
- 76. Boyer, 143.
- 77. Ibid. 190; Fuller, 415.
- 78. Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 118; E351/543, f. 47; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 98.
- 79. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 38.
- 80. Bodl. Willis 48, f. 230; Gawdy Letters ed. I.H. Jeayes, 140; M.B. Rex, Univ. Representation in Eng. 1604-90, pp. 29, 31, 351-2.
- 81. CJ, i. 161b.
- 82. A. Friis, Alderman Cockayne’s Project, 156.
- 83. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 146, 244; E.N. Lindquist, ‘The Great Contract: Parl. and Royal Finance in the Reign of Jas. I’ (Harvard Ph.D. thesis, 1984), p. 186.
- 84. Add. 29571, f. 5; CJ, i. 252b.
- 85. Tanner 283, f. 149; Northants. RO, FH843.
- 86. Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, ii. 39-40.
- 87. CJ, i. 510a; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 15, 24.
- 88. Bowyer Diary, 104, 107, 116; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 54; Lindquist, 186.
- 89. Bowyer Diary, 120; Carleton to Chamberlain, 76; ‘Jnl. of Sir Roger Wilbraham’, 80. Wilbraham incorrectly dates the conference to 11 Mar.
- 90. Bowyer Diary, 139.
- 91. Ibid. 146; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 210. For Coke’s response to criticism of this book, see HMC Hatfield, xviii. 189.
- 92. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 186.
- 93. Coke, Fourth Part of the Institutes, 347; J. Somerville, Royalists and Patriots: Pols. and Ideology in Eng. 1603-40 (2nd edn.), 83, 85-6; C. Russell, ‘1603: The End of English National Sovereignty’, in The Accession of James I ed. G. Burgess, R. Wymer and J. Lawrence, 7.
- 94. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 42. His predecessor, Sir Francis Gawdy†, had died in December 1605.
- 95. Sloane 1664, f. 47v.
- 96. State Trials ed. J. Howell, ii. 134-58.
- 97. Coke, 13th Rep. 30-2.
- 98. HMC Hatfield, xix. 286.
- 99. Ibid. 275; Carleton to Chamberlain, 99-100.
- 100. Coke, 12th Rep. 44.
- 101. HMC Hatfield, xix. 343, 348.
- 102. Add. 27278, f. 10v.
- 103. HEHL, EL1763.
- 104. Coke, 12th Rep. 63-5.
- 105. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 23.
- 106. Coke, 12th Rep. 50-6; CD 1621, v. 152-3.
- 107. R.G. Usher, Reconstruction of the English Church, ii. 231-6; R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 194, 198.
- 108. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 131.
- 109. Coke, 8th Rep. 118. For a more detailed discussion of this case, see SIR WILLIAM PADDY. For contemporary attitudes towards this controversial doctrine, see Sommerville, 92.
- 110. Coke, 12th Rep. 74, 76; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 219-20.
- 111. Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes, 34-42; Hale and Fleetwood on Admlty. Jurisdiction ed. M. Prichard and D.E.C. Yale (Selden Soc. cviii), 276-310; Cat. of the Pepys Lib. at Magdalene Coll. Camb. V: Mss, pt. 2: Modern comp. C.S. Knighton, 116.
- 112. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 11, 13.
- 113. Coke, 12th Rep. 82; Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 211-12.
- 114. HMC Downshire, iii. 84.
- 115. Coke, 12th Rep. 88. In this account, Coke mistakenly refers to Abbot as ‘Bancroft’.
- 116. HMC Downshire, iii. 306, 412; Chamberlain Letters, i. 394.
- 117. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 379, 381-2.
- 118. Chamberlain Letters, i. 479.
- 119. Ibid. 481, 493; Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, ii. 33-4.
- 120. S.D. White, Sir Edward Coke and the "Grievances of the Commonwealth" 1621-8, pp. 288-9; Friis, 246-7.
- 121. HMC Var. vii. 93.
- 122. Cat. of Mss in I. Temple Lib. ed. J. Conway Davies, ii. 685; HMC Hastings, iv. 256; LJ, ii. 706b. Coke failed to mention that, as Speaker in 1593, he had held office as sol. gen.
- 123. LMA, Acc/1876/G/01/16/4.
- 124. CUL, Dd. ii. 73; Chamberlain Letters, i. 597-8; J. Aubrey, Brief Lives, i. 180.
- 125. Chamberlain Letters, i. 542.
- 126. Lansd. 160, f. 118.
- 127. L. Jardine and A. Stewart, Hostage to Fortune, 356.
- 128. Egerton Pprs. ed. J.P. Collier (Cam. Soc. xii), 447.
- 129. Jardine and Stewart, 356; R. Lockyer, Early Stuarts (2nd edn.), 20.
- 130. Jardine and Stewart, 357; Chamberlain Letters, i. 581.
- 131. Coke, 12th Rep. 85, 109.
- 132. L.A. Knafla, Law and Pols. 171.
- 133. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 236.
- 134. A. Somerset, Unnatural Murder, 305; M.F.S. Hervey, Life, Corresp. and Collections of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, 96.
- 135. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 313, 320; (no author), Complete Hist. of Eng. (1706), ii. 644.
- 136. Egerton Pprs. 472-3; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 22-3.
- 137. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 239, 242.
- 138. Jardine and Stewart, 364.
- 139. Knafla, 171.
- 140. W. Sanderson, A Compleat Hist. of Lives and Reigns of Mary, Queen of Scotland, of her Son and Successor (1656), p. 432.
- 141. Letters of John Holles (xxxi), 116.
- 142. Chamberlain Letters, i. 617, 623.
- 143. APC, 1615-16, pp. 598-602; HMC 9th Rep. ii. 374.
- 144. Letters of John Holles (xxxi), 129; Soc. Antiq. SAL/MS/79, ff. 40v-2; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 7.
- 145. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 371.
- 146. APC, 1615-16, pp. 649-50,
- 147. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 26.
- 148. Ibid. 28-9; Add. 14030, f. 91.
- 149. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 392; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 22, 28-9.
- 150. HMC Downshire, vi. 17.
- 151. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 32. For evidence that Coke was helping to manage Anne’s financial affairs by this time, see CSP Dom. 1611-8, p. 349.
- 152. Ct. of Jas. I ed. G. Goodman, ii. 161-4; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 402.
- 153. HMC Downshire, vi. 63.
- 154. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 403; Soc. Antiq., SAL/MS/79, f. 40v; HMC Downshire, vi. 51; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 38.
- 155. Staffs. RO, D661/11/1/7, [p. 9].
- 156. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 41.
- 157. Ibid. 45; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 413, 432; HMC Downshire, vi. 63, 128-9.
- 158. HMC Buccleuch, i. 181.
- 159. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 64.
- 160. Letters of John Holles (xxxi), 158, 161; Northants. RO, FH2068; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 77, 79-80; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 469-71; APC, 1616-17, pp. 274-6.
- 161. C.D. Bowen, The Lion and the Throne, 348. The figure is that given by Lady Hatton’s close ally, Sir John Holles, Lord Haughton: Letters of John Holles (xxxv), 177. The newsletter-writer Edward Sherburn, however, thought the dowry offer was £10,000, with the addition of £1,000 a year: CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 477-8.
- 162. Norsworthy, 275-8.
- 163. Chamberlain Letters, ii, 88-9; ‘Letter of the Council to Sir Thomas Lake’, ed. S.R. Gardiner in Cam. Misc. V (Cam. Soc. lxxvii), 3.
- 164. ‘Letter of the Council’, 5-6; Bowen, 349.
- 165. HMC Buccleuch, i. 205; ‘Letter of the Council’, 6; Letters of John Holles (xxxv), 181, 188, 190; Jardine and Stewart, 409.
- 166. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 482-3; Jardine and Stewart, 411. For the text of the forged contract, see Bowen, 345.
- 167. HMC Downshire, vi. 229; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 100; Bowen, 353. Lady Hatton eventually sent her consent in writing: Harl. 1581, f. 155v.
- 168. CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 497; Harl. 4612, f. 167r-v.
- 169. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 133 151; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 531.
- 170. Add. 12507, f. 79.
- 171. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 168, 170; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 581; HMC Downshire, vi. 614. See also Add. 64876, f. 106.
- 172. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 197.
- 173. E315/243, f. 195.
- 174. Bodl. Tanner 74, f. 178; SIR HENRY MONTAGU.
- 175. Chamberlain Letters, ii. ii. 239, 243.
- 176. J. Nichols, Progs. of Jas. I, iii. 543; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 237.
- 177. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 94; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 274.
- 178. HMC 9th Rep. ii. 373.
- 179. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 304; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 132.
- 180. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 114-15, 123, 145-9.
- 181. The only Speaker to return to the Commons was Sir John Puckering, who served a second term as Speaker in 1586.
- 182. DCO, ‘Letters and Patents, 1620-1’, f. 39v; P. Hunneyball, ‘Prince Charles’s Council as Electoral Agent , 1620-4’, HR, xxiii. 321; CJ, i. 516a.
- 183. CD 1621, ii. 15, 23-3; iv. 16; CJ, i. 510a.
- 184. Newsletters from the Archpresbyterate of George Birkhead ed. M.C. Questier (Cam. Soc. ser. 5. xii), 261, 263.
- 185. Coke repeated his demand for annual parliaments on 8 Mar.: CD 1621, ii. 197- 8.
- 186. HMC Downshire, vi. 128-9.
- 187. CD 1621, ii. 24-6.
- 188. Ibid. 39; iv. 28; CSP Ven. 1619-21, p. 577.
- 189. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 233-4.
- 190. BL, HMC Trumbull transcript, ms VIII, 13.
- 191. Nicholas, i. 23; CD 1621, ii. 51; iv. 36; CJ, i. 516a. For the 1601 evidence, see Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I ed. T.E. Hartley, iii. 315.
- 192. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 342.
- 193. CD 1621, ii. 58; CJ, i. 518a.
- 194. CD 1621, ii. 230-1.
- 195. Procs. 1628, vi. 183, 190.
- 196. CD 1621, v. 8, 254. For another instance of Coke’s humour, see ibid. vi. 380.
- 197. Ibid. ii. 64-5, 105; iv. 76; CJ, i. 626b-7a; Nicholas, i. 35; ii. 100-2.
- 198. CD 1621, ii. 100; Nicholas, i. 56-7; CJ, i. 525b.
- 199. CD 1621, ii. 222; v. 39, 305.
- 200. Ibid. ii. 265-6; iii. 97; v. 67-8, 321; vi. 433; Nicholas, i. 225-6.
- 201. CD 1621, ii. 327; iii. 63, 366; Nicholas, i. 395.
- 202. CD 1621, iii. 329. For a different view, see White, 60.
- 203. CD 1621, iii. 98; vi. 433; Nicholas, i. 334.
- 204. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 356; CD 1621, ii. 241-2; iv. 168; v. 57.
- 205. CD 1621, vi. 249-51.
- 206. Ibid. ii. 108.
- 207. Francis Michell claimed that one reason why Coke hated him was that he was a dependent of Mandeville’s: ibid. vi. 264, n6.
- 208. For a more detailed discussion of this point, see SIR FRANCIS SEYMOUR.
- 209. CJ, i. 581a; CD 1621, iii. 111; v. 123, 760.
- 210. CD 1621, iii. 130-1. This bears out Russell’s claim that Coke showed ‘no evidence of a desire to attack Buckingham directly’: C. Russell, PEP, 123.
- 211. CD 1621, ii. 251; v. 58.
- 212. Staffs. RO, D661/11/1/7, p. 5. See also CD 1621, v. 128.
- 213. CD 1621, ii. 244, 363-4; vi. 154; CJ, i. 620a.
- 214. CD 1621, ii. 145, 174.
- 215. For a more detailed discussion of Coke’s role in this process see White, 148- 51.
- 216. CJ, i. 549b, 553b, 554a, 619a-b; CD 1621, ii. 210; White, 129-32.
- 217. Nicholas, ii. 301-3; CD 1621, ii. 500; vi. 230.
- 218. CD 1621, iii. 235-6; v. 16-17, 19, 316; CJ, i. 533a, 567a-b.
- 219. Nicholas, i. 135; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 358; CD 1621, ii. 301.
- 220. Coke, Fourth Part of the Institutes (1671), p. 3.
- 221. CD 1621, v. 36; vi. 381.
- 222. CD 1628, ii. 107, 132. Coke’s Vade Mecum still survives: Harl. 6687A. As well as legal precedents it contains valuable autobiographical material, for which see Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 108-22.
- 223. CJ, i. 569a-b; Nicholas, i. 213-14.
- 224. CJ, i. 578a, 579b, 641b, 652a; CD 1621, iv. 231; Nicholas, i. 261, 265.
- 225. CD 1621, ii. 302, 313; iii. 16, 42, 54, 75-7, 423; v. 79, 82-3, 91, 339; vi. 89- 90, 336, 392; CJ, i. 588a; Nicholas, i. 274, 299.
- 226. CD 1621, v. 504.
- 227. Ibid. ii. 318; iii. 66-7; v. 94, 346; Nicholas, i. 308.
- 228. CD 1621, iii. 38, 85-6.
- 229. Ibid. ii. 323-4; iii. 91; iv. 259; v. 100-1, 350; Nicholas, i. 328.
- 230. CD 1621, ii. 413.
- 231. Ibid. v. 74.
- 232. Ibid. ii. 338-9; iii. 138-9; v. 133; vi. 127; Nicholas, ii. 7.
- 233. CD 1621, iii. 183.
- 234. Ibid. ii. 361; iii. 229, 237, 248, 271-2; v. 374.
- 235. CD 1621, iii. 238-40; iv. 335; Nicholas, ii. 63-4.
- 236. CD 1621, iii. 329.
- 237. Ibid. iv. 384.
- 238. Ibid. ii. 413; iii. 367; iv. 386-7; CJ, i. 630b; Nicholas, ii. 135, 137.
- 239. Nicholas, ii. 130; CJ, i. 636b.
- 240. Nicholas, ii. 136.
- 241. CD 1621, v. 189. See also ibid. iii. 369; Nicholas, ii. 137.
- 242. CD 1621, iii. 398-9.
- 243. PRO 31/3/55; Diary of Walter Yonge ed. G. Roberts (Cam. Soc. xli), 41.
- 244. CD 1628, ii. 213; Birch, Jas. I, ii. 261. Coke attended a meeting of the governors of the Charterhouse hospital on 25 June: LMA, Acc/1876/G/02/01, p. 141.
- 245. V. Treadwell, Buckingham and Ire. 173; Diary of Walter Yonge, 45.
- 246. CD 1621, iii. 407; vi. 191, 311; CJ, i. 640a, 641a; Nicholas, ii. 175.
- 247. CD 1621, iii. 408; v. 311.
- 248. Ibid. v. 205; Nicholas, ii. 179.
- 249. CD 1621, v. 398; CJ, i. 640b.
- 250. CD 1621, ii. 432-9; iii. 430; v. 401; CJ, i. 642b.
- 251. CD 1621, ii. 439-40; iii. 432-3; Nicholas, ii. 195-7.
- 252. Nicholas, ii. 202-3. Coke subsequently reported the amendments: CD 1621, ii. 443; iii. 442.
- 253. CD 1621, ii. 471-2, 477; vi. 211; Nicholas, ii. 201-2; CJ, i. 652b.
- 254. CD 1621, iii. 438; v. 402.
- 255. Bowen, 387.
- 256. CD 1621, ii. 457; iii. 467-8; v. 218-19; vi. 202; CJ, i. 648b-9a; Nicholas, ii. 223. Russell characterized Coke’s speech as ‘a rambling collection of memoirs’, but it was clearly more than this: Russell, PEP, 131.
- 257. CD 1621, ii. 466-8; iv. 447; Nicholas, ii. 243.
- 258. CD 1621, ii. 470; vi. 210; Nicholas, ii. 248.
- 259. Russell, PEP, 135.
- 260. CD 1621, v. 231; vi. 222-3; CJ, i. 656b-7a; Nicholas, ii. 273-4.
- 261. Nicholas, ii. 340.
- 262. Ibid. 341, 346-7; CD 1621, ii. 530, 534, 537; v. 241; vi. 336.
- 263. Nicholas, ii. 358-60.
- 264. Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 172; Harl. 1580, ff. 170-1; APC, 1621-3, p. 102.
- 265. APC, 1621-3, p. 106; Eg. 2595, f. 9; HMC 9th Rep. ii. 373; CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 199; Cobbett, Parl. Hist. i. 1362-3. Coke was lodged in a former kitchen, over the doorway of which was written ‘this room needs a cook’: Birch, Jas. I, ii. 281.
- 266. D’Ewes Diary, 1622-4, p. 55; Birch, Jas. I, ii. 284, 287.
- 267. Birch, Jas. I, ii. 288.
- 268. The last known mention by the Council of a possible Star Chamber prosecution was on 2 Jan. 1622: APC, 1621-3, p. 110.
- 269. CD 1628, iii. 162.
- 270. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 444-5; Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OL46; CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 372; D’Ewes Diary, 1622-4, p. 84.
- 271. Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 120; HMC 9th Rep. ii. 373. However, the warrant for his release was dated 6 Aug.: APC, 1621-3, p. 307.
- 272. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 463.
- 273. Cent. Kent. Stud. U269/1/OE169.
- 274. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 484.
- 275. Harl. 1581, f. 124.
- 276. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 391.
- 277. Archivio di Stato de Firenze, Salvetti mss, file 4194, 16/26 Aug. 1622, Salvetti dispatch. We are grateful to Roger Lockyer for a transcript of this letter.
- 278. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 540.
- 279. Ibid. 543; CSP Ven. 1623-5, p. 211.
- 280. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 546.
- 281. ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 143.
- 282. CJ, i. 716b; Holles 1624, p. 1; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 9.
- 283. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 31; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 158.
- 284. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 21v; ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 1v.
- 285. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 5.
- 286. CSP Ven. 1621-23, p. 207.
- 287. Rich 1624, p. 17; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 29.
- 288. ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 7.
- 289. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 85; CJ, i. 739a.
- 290. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 79; CJ, i. 697a.
- 291. D’Ewes Diary 1622-4, p. 77.
- 292. Early in the 1621 Parliament, during the impeachment of Bacon, the diarist Richard Dyott overheard Coke talking to Sir Thomas Wentworth on the Parliament Stairs about Cranfield. ‘Faith Tom’, Coke declared, ‘this fellow, as fair shows as he makes, hath a hollow tooth too My mind gives me, I shall live to be at the drawing of it’. Staffs. RO, D661/11/1/7, p. 51.
- 293. CJ, i. 755b; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 174.
- 294. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 144v; ‘Jervoise 1624’, f. 126.
- 295. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 142v.
- 296. SP14/163/2.
- 297. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 238v; CJ, i. 714a.
- 298. White, 133-5.
- 299. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 238.
- 300. CJ, i. 513b. For the significance of the bill, and Coke’s role in promoting it, see White, 67-9.
- 301. ‘Spring 1624’, pp. 18-19, 32; ‘Pym 1624’, i. ff. 5v, 8v; CJ, i. 674b, 719b.
- 302. CJ, i. 739b, 752a, 793a-b.
- 303. Ibid. 681b, 748b; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 196; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 53v; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 81r-v.
- 304. CJ, i. 680a, 682a, 748b; ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 229.
- 305. CJ, i. 680b, 747a, 754b; Kyle thesis, 222-4.
- 306. CJ, i. 746b, 767b; White, 65-6.
- 307. CJ, i. 775a; ‘Pym 1624’, i. f. 86. For this bill, see BARNABY GOOCH.
- 308. CJ, i. 692b.
- 309. ‘Earle 1624’, f. 74v; CJ, i. 733a. See also ‘Spring 1624’, p. 105; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 69v.
- 310. Holles 1624, p. 31.
- 311. CJ, i. 743b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 94v; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 97v.
- 312. ‘Spring 1624’, p. 145; ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 67.
- 313. CJ, i. 762a.
- 314. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 174r-v. However, Earle heard him say ‘not the chamber of London, for they are a body politic’: ‘Earle 1624’, f. 162.
- 315. CJ, i. 743b.
- 316. Ibid. 776b.
- 317. Ibid. 756b; Holles 1624, p. 62; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 179; ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 86v.
- 318. HMC Mar and Kellie Suppl. 203-4.
- 319. ‘Hawarde 1624’, p. 305; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 246.
- 320. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 601.
- 321. Procs. 1625, p. 701. On the three unsuccessful candidates - Sir John Corbet, who was later returned for Great Yarmouth, Sir Charles Le Gros and Sir Robert Gawdy - see NORFOLK.
- 322. Procs. 1625, pp. 216, 297, 300.
- 323. Coventry Archives, BA/H/C/17/1, f. 276v.
- 324. White, 195, expresses surprise at Coke’s silence but fails to consider the possibility that he was absent.
- 325. Procs. 1625, pp. 215-16, 220. White argues unconvincingly that Coke opposed the motion to establish standing committees because he had decided to pursue grievances in the supply debate instead: White, 195.
- 326. Ibid. 298, 305, 310.
- 327. Procs. 1625, pp. 216, 220. For discussion of this point, see Russell, PEP, 228.
- 328. Procs. 1625, pp. 276, 279.
- 329. White argues that the evidence points to collaboration between the two men: White, 198.
- 330. Procs. 1625, pp. 228, 238, 241, 253. Coke seems to have chaired the cttee. for the quiet of ecclesiastical persons: ibid. 378.
- 331. Ibid. 232, 240.
- 332. Ibid. 314, 322. For his membership of the drafting cttee., see ibid. 240.
- 333. Ibid. 368.
- 334. CJ, i. 705b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 197r-v.
- 335. Procs. 1625, pp. 334-5.
- 336. Ibid. 378-9, 382-3. For this episode, see W.M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III, 43.
- 337. White, 204-5; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 258-9.
- 338. Procs. 1625, pp. 399, 403-4.
- 339. Ibid. 392, 399-401, 403-5, 544.
- 340. White, 211.
- 341. Procs. 1625, pp. 446, 452.
- 342. Ibid. 468.
- 343. Ibid. 558, 461. For Coke’s involvement in earlier proceedings concerning this priest, see ibid. 171-2, 429.
- 344. C. Dalton, Life and Times of Sir Edward Cecil, ii. 130.
- 345. Procs. 1626, iv. 225-6.
- 346. APC, 1625-6, pp. 255-6; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 67.
- 347. Procs. 1626, ii. 12, 33; iv. 134-5, 294, 313, 317.
- 348. Coll. Top. et Gen. vi. 120.
- 349. CD 1628, ii. 35; Procs. 1628, vi. 123. There was also a rumour that Coke had been chosen to serve as a legal assistant in the Lords. Although the writs of assistance for this Parliament have not survived, it seems unlikely that there was any basis to this story.
- 350. For his chairmanship of the cttee.’s meetings, see CD 1628, ii. 46, 49-50, 139, 387.
- 351. Ibid. 174.
- 352. Ibid. 374, 377, 390.
- 353. Ibid. 34.
- 354. Ibid. 379, 385.
- 355. Ibid. ii. 85, 92; iv. 144, 156, 163, 167.
- 356. Ibid. ii. 93; iv. 46.
- 357. Ibid. iii. 433, 439.
- 358. Ibid. ii. 122, 129.
- 359. Ibid. 250, 257-8, 262, 266, 270.
- 360. Ibid. 308, 316; iv. 231.
- 361. Ibid. ii. 413, 417, 419; Procs. 1628, vi. 191.
- 362. CD 1628, iv. 284.
- 363. Ibid. ii. 64-5, 70, 74; iv. 243.
- 364. Ibid. ii. 53; iii. 122.
- 365. Ibid. ii. 42, 45, 47, 49.
- 366. CD 1628, ii. 102, 108, 110.
- 367. CJ, i. 610a. See also CD 1621, iii. 172; iv. 308; Nicholas, ii. 109.
- 368. CD 1628, ii. 192-3, 197.
- 369. Ibid. 235, 526.
- 370. Ibid. 212-13, 224; Procs. 1628, vi. 190.
- 371. CD 1628, ii. 524-5, 534; iii. 5-6.
- 372. Ibid. ii. 529, 538.
- 373. Ibid. iii. 78, 150, 154, 159.
- 374. Ibid. ii. 363, 367, 369; Procs. 1628, vi. 65.
- 375. CD 1628, ii. 412, 416, 420, 423, 466, 469.
- 376. Ibid. 545, 550.
- 377. Ibid. ii. 568-9; iii. 307, 315.
- 378. Ibid. iii. 74-5.
- 379. Ibid. 95, 100, 104, 117.
- 380. Ibid. 123, 130-1, 149, 155. White suggests that Coke may have been one of the Petition’s main draftsmen: White, 257.
- 381. CD 1628, iii. 196, 201-2, 205.
- 382. Ibid. 212-13, 216, 221, 228; Procs. 1628, vi. 84.
- 383. CD 1628, iii. 234-5, 242, 247.
- 384. Ibid. 268, 272, 277, 279, 283, 286, 291. Two diarists incorrectly recorded that Coke agreed with Alford’s suggestion to place the king’s answer to the Petition in the subsidy bill: ibid. 293, 296.
- 385. Ibid. 391, 395, 467, 483-7.
- 386. Ibid. 493-6, 499-501, 508.
- 387. Ibid. 451, 495, 503.
- 388. Ibid. 586, 597-8.
- 389. Ibid. 614.
- 390. Ibid. iv. 115, 119; R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 439.
- 391. CD 1628, iv. 177, 182, 185; Russell, PEP, 382-4.
- 392. CD 1628, iv. 248, 255, 260, 265-6, 269, 323.
- 393. Ibid. 405, 413-14; Procs. 1628, vi. 102.
- 394. CD 1628, ii. 415; iv. 447-8, 455.
- 395. Ibid. iv. 190, 192, 294, 296-7, 300.
- 396. Ibid. iii. 375, 452, 466.
- 397. Ibid. ii. 42, 227.
- 398. Ibid. 364, 344; HMC 9th Rep. ii. 374. For further discussion of this bill, see LONDON.
- 399. CD 1628, iv. 429; Goldsmiths’ Hall, London, min. bk. 1624-9, p. 162.
- 400. CD 1628, iv. 130.
- 401. Carthew, iii. 117; LMA, E/HOD/163.
- 402. CD 1629, p. 138.
- 403. Oxford DNB sub Sir Edward Coke.
- 404. T.F.T. Plucknett, Studs. in Eng. Legal Hist. 202.
- 405. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 490; C115/106/8400; Barrington Letters ed. A. Searle (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xxviii), 237.
- 406. Coke told the Commons in April 1628 that he would give £300 to have the manuscripts seized in 1621 restored: CD 1628, iii. 166. For the 1621 warrant to search his house and chambers, see APC, 1621-3, p. 107.