COKE, Thomas William (1754-1842), of Holkham, Norf.
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Family and Education
b. 6 May 1754, 1st s. of Wenman Coke, and bro. of Edward Coke. educ. Eton 1765-71; Grand Tour 1771-4. m. (1) 5 Oct. 1775, Jane (d. 2 June 1800), da. of James Lennox Dutton of Loughcrew, Meath, sis. of James Dutton 3da.; (2) 26 Feb. 1822, Lady Anne Amelia Keppel, da. of William Charles, 4th Earl of Albemarle, 5s. 1da. suc. fa. 11 Apr. 1776; cr. Earl of Leicester 12 Aug. 1837.
In 1776 Coke inherited extensive Norfolk and Derbyshire estates from his father and was returned in his place for Norfolk. His real interests were in country pursuits, particularly in the improvement of his estates where his achievements were to bring him considerable fame; and of his first entry into Parliament he himself said many years later that he had stood1
with great reluctance, for I had no wish to come into Parliament. I was no orator, no politician ... But I was much solicited by Sir Harbord Harbord, Sir E. Astley, and Mr. Fellowes of Shottisham, who said ... I owed it to my father’s memory ... and that if I did not, a Tory would come in. At the mention of a Tory ... my blood chilled all over me from head to foot, and I came forward.
In Parliament Coke regularly voted against North’s Administration till its fall:
When I first went into Parliament, I attached myself to Fox, and I clung to him through life [he stated at his nomination meeting in 1830]. I lived in the closest bond of friendship with him. He was a friend of the people, the practiser of every kindness and generosity, the advocate of civil and religious liberty.2
Coke’s strong dislike of the American war was voiced in his speech on 4 Dec. 17783 when he condemned the peace commissioners’ declaration of 3 Oct. because it ‘threatened the Americans with the horrors of a new system of hostilities, which every law, as well human as divine, equally reprobated’; and ‘to express this detestation more fully, as well to vindicate this country in the eyes of the world from the character of barbarity it might gain by following the threatened system’, he moved that the House condemn the manifesto.
Coke was one of the few great Norfolk landowners who supported the petitioning movement, and on 23 Feb. 1780 he presented the Norfolk petition to the House.4 But on 2 Apr. 1781, during a debate on further county petitions, he said that though he was a ‘firm friend of those constitutional petitions which had come in the last session from the counties’, and that he ‘highly approved their principle and object ... things had sprung out of those petitions of which he did not approve, because he conceived them to be at once dangerous and unconstitutional—those were the associations and the congress of delegates ... he could admit of no such characters in a legal and constitutional point of view’.5
On the fall of North, Coke naturally supported the Rockingham Administration, and in June 1782 it was reported that he would be included in the next creation of peers.6 He voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and when after Shelburne’s resignation no Administration had been formed by 21 Mar. he told the House that he would move for an Address to the King if a ministerial arrangement was not come to very soon; and on 24 Mar. declared that ‘matters were so situated that it became the duty of Parliament to interfere, and to apply to the sovereign for redress’. Coke supported the Coalition; on its dismissal went into opposition, and on 2 Feb. 1784 moved ‘that the continuance of the present ministers in power, after the resolution of this House, is an obstacle to a firm, efficient, extended, and united Administration, which alone could save this country’; and the following day, regretting that his motion had not yet produced any effect, called upon Members ‘to take care that resolutions of the House should not remain a dead letter’.7
At the general election of 1784 Coke again stood for Norfolk, but his support of the Coalition had for the time being weakened his position in the county, and he was obliged to withdraw to avoid an expensive and probably unavailing contest. After 1790 he represented the county for the next forty years.
Coke died 30 June 1842.