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Sir Edward Coke

Born : 1 February 1552 - Mileham, Norfolk
Died : 3 September 1634 - Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Sir Edward Coke is remembered as perhaps the most eminent jurist in English history. His father Robert was a barrister with a practice in both Norfolk and London, and his mother was the daughter of a Norwich attorney, descended from the Knightley's of Northamptonshire. Coke entered Trinity College in 1567 but did not complete his Master of Arts.

In the years between entering the Middle Temple in 1571 and his call to the bar in 1578 little is known of him, but upon admission, he spent many years roaming the countryside serving on councils, acting as Recorder, and acquiring estates. He married his first wife Bridget Paston, who came with a large dowry of thirty thousand pounds, and formed a strong friendship with Sir Thomas Bromley, who was Lord Chancellor, and father of Sir Henry Bromley.

Coke's career developed strongly, and he progressed quickly. In 1586 he was Recorder of Coventry and Norfolk, and Justice of the Peace for Norfolk, he entered Parliament in 1589 for Aldeburgh. In 1590 he was Bencher of the Inner Temple, in 1591 Recorder of London, and finally in 1592 he achieved his first major appointment as Solicitor General, succeeding Sir John Popham who had been elevated to Lord Chief Justice. In those years he had sired seven children, however only one, Elizabeth, survived infancy.

In 1593 Coke stood against Francis Bacon for the position of Attorney General. He was older than Bacon, had vast amounts of experience with the law, and was the Queen's preferred choice. Bacon on the other hand was the first choice of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. When Coke was appointed, Essex took it as a personal rebuff.

The following years saw the change in fortune of many of those around Coke. He eventually prosecuted Essex and his followers for the abortive Essex Rebellion, Sir Walter Ralegh for his part in the Bye and Main Plot, and the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. In 1606 as just reward, James I appointed him Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. In this position, his favour gradually waned. He 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, declaring that not even the King was above the law. Although he became a member of the Privy Council in 1613, he continued to champion the cause of those who opposed the King, and in 1616 was dismissed from the Council through the efforts of Bacon. The following year he was re-appointed to the Privy Council, but he continued challenging royal prerogative, eventually impeaching Bacon in 1621. Coke helped to write the Petition of Right, the most explicit statement of the principles of liberty to appear in England up to that time. It became an integral part of the English constitution and forever cemented his position in English Jurisprudence history.

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