COKE, Sir EDWARD (1552-1634, Lord Chief Justice, jurist and politician)
Lot 424
COKE, Sir EDWARD (1552-1634, Lord Chief Justice, jurist and politician)
£4,000 - 5,000
US$ 6,500 - 8,200

Lot Details
COKE, Sir EDWARD (1552-1634, Lord Chief Justice, jurist and politician)

Footnotes

  • Despite his long political, parliamentary and legal career, any autograph material by Coke is rarely offered for sale - only two documents, a treatise about the Court of High Commission (1974) and two letters signed are recorded in at least the last thirty years. The present letter, a superb example, is the only autograph letter signed to have appeared in that time. C.D. Bowen, in her biography of Coke, stated that he 'left almost no personal letters'; other historians have commented on the paucity of evidence for his personal, household and dynastic arrangements.

    Coke was the greatest lawyer of his day - one historian has called him 'English law personified'. His career in the courtroom spanned forty years. He was Speaker of the House of Commons and Attorney-General under Queen Elizabeth and Lord Chief Justice under James I. His most famous prosecutions were the Earl of Essex, Walter Ralegh and the Gunpowder plotters (John Pepys also appeared at the Gunpowder trial). He was the prime author of the Petition of Right. His legal writings, notably the Reports and the Institutes, profoundly influenced English and American law for at least two centuries after his death. When James released him from the Tower it was because Coke 'had become an oracle amongst the people.'

    Thomas Fuller summarised the accumulation of Coke's estate; the present letter demonstrates how much care he took to try to secure it on his descendants: 'Beginning on a good bottome left him by his father, marrying a wife of extraordinary wealth, having at the first great and gainful practice, afterwards many and profitable offices, being provident to chuse good pennyworths in purchases, leading a thrifty life, living to a great age, during flourishing and peaceable times (born as much after the persecution under Queen Mary, as dying before our civil wars), no wonder if he advanced a fair estate, so that all his sons might seem elder bretheren by the large possessions left unto them.'

    In this letter Coke calls Pepys to a meeting with Lord Berkeley (his son Robert's father-in-law) and his mother ('...my lo[rd] is an obedient sonne and much will depend uppon the will of his mother...') the following Thursday at Nanford, to which he asks Pepys to call his son's servants as well, when he anticipates that an earlier agreement that the manor of Portbury would be assured to him will be reversed and when they will demand £2,000 for it. Coke gives four reasons why this should be resisted including the claim that 'I have p[er]formed the effect of the articles (untill this inundation of debbte brake out)...'

    Coke was right to take special care with his testamentary affairs, both because of the complicated nature of such things and because of his stormy matrimonial battles, but also because in his last years he was watched like a hawk by the Crown. Even before his death on 3 September 1634, Sir Francis Windebank, armed with a royal warrant, seized and long sequestered many of Coke's manuscripts and papers in case anything prejudicing the royal prerogative should be published. Among them was his will on which he had been working for several years, making provisions down to his grandchildren. On the subject of those heirs and Coke's own sanguine attitude towards both, Aubrey reported in Brief Lives that Coke died worth £11,000 a year and when once 'he had heard one say to him, reflecting on his great scraping of wealth that his sonnes would spend his estate faster than he gott it; he replyed, They cannot take more delight in the spending of it than I did in the getting of it.'

    This cataloguer cannot recall another example of a letter dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries addressed to a recipient by only his surname.
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