Coke, Sir Edward

Coke, Sir Edward

biographical name

(born Feb. 1, 1552, Mileham, Norfolk, Eng.—died Sept. 3, 1634, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire) British jurist and politician. He became a lawyer in 1578 and was made solicitor general in 1592. His advance to the position of attorney general (1594) frustrated his great rival, Francis Bacon. As attorney general, he conducted several famous treason trials, prosecuting Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, and Henry Wriothesley, 3rd earl of Southampton (1600–01); Sir Walter Raleigh (1603); and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators (1605). Named chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1606, Coke earned the ire of James I by declaring that the king's proclamation could not change the law (1610). He upset church leaders by limiting the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts. Appointed chief justice of the King's Bench by James I (1613), he remained unswayed; he hinted at scandal in high places and defied a royal injunction in a case involving ecclesiastical privileges. He was dismissed in 1616, partly through Bacon's efforts. In 1620 he reentered Parliament (he had served in 1589), where he denounced interference with Parliament's liberties (1621) until he was imprisoned. In 1628 he helped frame the Petition of Right, a charter of liberties; this defense of the supremacy of the common law over royal prerogative had a profound influence on the English law and constitution. On his death his papers were seized by Charles I. His Reports (1600–15), taken together, are a monumental compendium of English common law, and his Institutes of the Lawes of England (4 vol., 1628–44) is an important treatise.

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