Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 11.djvu/236

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Coke
Coke
230

justice of the king's bench, 1613; and high steward of the university of Cambridge, 1614. His readings at the Inner Temple were cut short by the plague of 1592. He had delivered five of his lectures on the Statute of Uses when he was forced to leave London for his house at Huntingfield in Suffolk, nine benchers, forty barristers, and other members of the inn bearing him company as far as Romford. He sat in the parliament of 1589 as one of the burgesses of Aldborough in Suffolk. In 1592 he was returned as one of the knights of the county of Norfolk ; 'et ista electio,' as he mentions in his notes, 'fuit libera et spontanea, nullo contradicente et sine ambitu, seu aliqua requisitione ex parte mea.' In the following year he was fchosen speaker, an office invariably filled in Elizabeth's reign by a lawyer. The struggle between the queen and the parliament as to the right of the latter to meddle with eccleliastical affairs was then at its height, and, standing between them, Coke occupied a very delicate position, in which he showed 'much subtlety in avoiding a conflict. On the occasion of a bill relating to abuses practised by the court of high commission, whose powers were being used not against papists but against puritans, he dexterously succeeded in putting off discussion till he received the queen s message prohibiting the house from entering on such matters a message which he conveyed to them in courtly and submissive language, and against which no protest was raised (Parl. Hist. i. 878, 888; Spedding, Bacon, i. 229). His appointment as attorney-general in 1593 led to the first collision between him and Bacon, whose claims to the office were strongly pressed by Essex. Bacon failed even in becoming solicitor-general, owing, as he believed, to Coke's interference (see Bacon's Letter to Coke, Spedding, iii. 4) ; and in fact no solicitor-general was appointed till 1595, Coke performing the duties of both offices. His wife died on 27 June 1598, and on 6 Nov. of the same year he married Lady Elizabeth Hatton, granddaughter of Burghley. 'The seventh of this moneth,' writes Chamberlain, 'the quenes atturney married the Lady Hatton, to the great admiration of all men, that after so many large and likely offers she shold decline to a man of his qualitie, and the will not beleve it was without a misterie' (Letters, Camden Soc. p. 29, and see p. 63). The fact that Bacon, again warmly supported by Essex, was also a suitor for the lady's hand, may explain Coke's unseemly haste. The marriage ceremony, moreover, was itself irregular, being celebrated in a private house, without banns or license ; Coke and his bride and other persons present were prosecuted in the archbishop's court, for 'they had all of them fallen under the greater excommunication and the consequent penalties' (Collier, Eccl. Hist. ii. 662) ; but on making submission they were absolved. (Most of Coke's biographers say that the irregularity was due to the fact that Whitgift had just before issued a circular forbidding private marriages ; but this was no new provision of church law. The circular, in fact, is dated 19 Nov. : Whitgift's Life in Stype, Works, xvii. 400 ; while the marriage was either on the 6th, Coke's own date, or on the 7th, Chamberlain's date. The irregularity of Coke's marriage may very well have called forth the circular.) The marriage thus ominously celebrated proved one of the plagues of Coke's life, Lady Hatton's fortune and her own character proving fruitful causes of quarrel in his later years. Meanwhile his great learning and his energy were gaining for him a brilliant position. 'There is a common tradition ... in Westminster Hall,' says Barrington, 'that Sir Edward Coke's gains at the latter end of this century equalled those of a modern attorney-general' (Observations, 4th ed. 508). Coke had become so great a man that in 1601 he entertained Elizabeth in his house at Stoke Pogis the ' ancient pile ' in Gray's ' Long Story ' and is said to have presented her ' with jewels and other gifts to the value of a thousand or twelve hundred pound ' (Chamberlain, Camden Soc. p. 118). From the time of his call to the bar he had taken careful notes of cases which he heard argued, and in 1600 he began their publication with the first volume of his 'Reports,' afterwards bringing out the other ten volumes (vols. xii. and xiii. were not published in his lifetime) at various dates up to 1615. In the same year there began a series of great state prosecutions, in which Coke, first as attorney-general, and then as judge, was a chief actor. At the bar he conducted the prosecution in the trials of the Earls of Essex and Southampton in 1600 (1 St. Tr. 1333), of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603 (2 ib. 1), and of the gunpowder plotters in 1605 (2 ib. 159 et seq.) In all of these he exhibited a spirit of rancour, descending even to brutality, for which no one has attempted a defence, his biographers one and all agreeing that his conduct towards Raleigh was simply infamous. 'Thy Machiavelian and devilish policy,' 'thou hast a Spanish heart, and thyself art a spider of hell,' 'I will now make it appear to the world that there never lived a viler viper upon the face of the earth than thou'—these