Coke, Sir Edward

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Coke, Sir Edward

Sir Edward Coke (kŏŏk), 1552–1634, English jurist, one of the most eminent in the history of English law. He entered Parliament in 1589 and rose rapidly, becoming solicitor general and speaker of the House of Commons. In 1593 he was made attorney general. His rival for that office was Sir Francis Bacon, thereafter one of Coke's bitterest enemies. He earned a reputation as a severe prosecutor, notably at the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, and held a favorable position at the court of King James I. In 1606 he became chief justice of the common pleas. In this position, and (after 1613) as chief justice of the king's bench, Coke became the champion of common law against the encroachments of the royal prerogative and declared null and void royal proclamations that were contrary to law. Although his historical arguments were frequently based on false interpretations of early documents, as in the case of the Magna Carta, his reasoning was brilliant and his conclusions impressive. His constant collisions with the king and the numerous enmities he developed—especially that with Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere, the chancellor—brought about his fall. Bacon was one of the foremost figures in engineering his dismissal in 1616. By personal and political influence, Coke got himself back on the privy council and was elected (1620) to Parliament, where he became a leader of the popular faction in opposition to James I and Charles I. He was prominent in the drafting of the Petition of Right (1628). His most important writings are the Reports, a series of detailed commentaries on cases in common law, and the Institutes, which includes his commentary on Littleton's Tenures.

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