Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Coke, Sir Edward
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(kʊk), 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.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Coke [Cook], Sir Edward (1552 - 1634)
The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

Born in Norfolk, he completed his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, and became a barrister of the Inner Temple. His...

Full text Article Coke, Sir Edward (1552 - 1634)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

Initially a staunch supporter of the Crown, Coke became speaker of the House of Commons in 1593 and attorney general in...

Full text Article Coke, Sir, Edward (1552 - 1634)
Bloomsbury Biographical Dictionary of Quotations

The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress. Semayne's Case ?1622 Magna Charta is such a fellow,...

See more from Credo