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a few years, he thought himself in a condition to pretend to a lady of one of the best families, and at the same time of the best fortune in Norfolk, Bridget, daughter and coheiress of John Preston, esq. whom he soon married, and with whom he had in all about 30,000l.
After this marriage, by which he became allied to some of the noblest houses in the kingdom, preferments flowed in upon him apace. The cities of Coventry and Norwich chose him their recorder; the county of Norfolk, one of their knights in parliament; and the house of commons, their speaker, in the thirty-fifth year of queen Elizabeth. The queen likewise appointed him solicitor-general, in 1592, and attorney-general the year following. Some time after, he lost his wife, by whom he had ten children; and in 1598 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas lord Burleigh, afterwards earl of Exeter, and relict of sir William Hatton. As this marriage was the source of many troubles to both parties, so the very celebration of it occa
sioned no small noise and disquiet, by an unfortunate cir_cumstance that attended it. There had been the same year so much notice taken of irregular marriages, that archbishop Whitgift had signified to the bishops of his provinceto prosecute strictly all that should either offend in point of time, place, or form. Whether Coke looked upon his own or the lady's quality, and their being married with the consent of the family, as placing them above such restrictions, or whether he did not advert to them, it is certain that they were married in a private house, without either banns or license; upon which he and his new married lady, the minister who officiated, Thomas lord Burleigh, and several other persons, were prosecuted in the archbishop's court; but upon their submission by their proxies, were absolved from excommunication, and the penalties consequent upon it, because, says the record, they had offended, not out of contumacy, but through ignorance of the law in that point. The affair of greatest moment, in which, as attorney-general, he had a share in this reign, was the prosecution of the earls of Essex and Southampton, who were brought to the bar in Westminster-hall, before the lords commissioned for their trial, Feb. 19, 1600. After he had laid open the nature of the treason, and the many obligations the earl of Essex was under to the queen, he is said to have closed with these words, that, by the just judgment of God, be of his earldom should be Robert the last, that of a kingdom thought to be Robert the first."
In May 1603, he was knighted by king James; and the same year managed the trial of sir W. Raleigh, at Winchester, whither the term was adjourned, on account of the plague being at London; but he lessened himself greatly in the opinion of the world, by his treatment of that unfortunate gentleman; as he employed a coarse and scurrilous language against him hardly to be paralleled. The resentment of the public was so great upon this occasion, that as has been generally believed, Shakspeare, in bis comedy of the “ Twelfth Night,” hints at this strange behaviour of sir Edward Coke at Raleigh's trial. He was likewise reproached with this indecent behaviour in a letter which sir Francis Bacon wrote to him after his own fall
; wherein we have the following passage : “ As your pleadings were wont to insult our misery, and inveigh literally against the person, so are you still careless in this point to praise and disgrace upon slight grounds, and that suddenly; so that your reproofs or commendations are for the most part neglected and contemned, when the censure of a judge, coming slow, but sure, should be a brand to the guilty, and a crown to the virtuous. You will jest at any man in public, without any respect to the person's dignity, or your own. This disgraces your gravity more than it can advance the opinion of your wit; and so do all your actions, which we see you do directly with a touch of vainglory. You make the laws too much lean to your opinion; whereby you shew yourself to be a legal tyrant, &c.” January 27, 1606, at the trial of the gun-powder conspirators, and March 28 following, at the trial of the jesuit Garnet, he made two very elaborate speeches, which were soon after published in a book entitled “A true and perfect relation of the whole Proceedings against the late most barbarous traitors, Garnet, a Jesuit, and his confederates, &c." 1606, 4to. Cecil earl of Salisbury, observed in his speech upon the latter trial, “ that the evidence had been so well distributed and opened by the attorney-general, that he had never heard such a mass of matter better contracted, nor made more intelligible to the jury.” This appears to have been really true; so true, that many to this day esteem this last speech, especially, his mastera piece.
It was probably in reward for this service, that he was appointed lord chief justice of the common-pleas the same year. The motto he gave upon his rings, when he was called to the degree of serjeant, in order to qualify him for this promotion, was, “ Lex est tutissima cassis ; " that is, * The law is the safest helmet.” Oct. 25, 1613, he was made lord chief justice of the king's-bench; and in Nov. was sworn of bis majesty's privy-council. In 1615 the king deliberating upon the choice of a lord-chancellor, when that post should become vacant, by the death or resignation of Egerton lord Ellesmere, sir Francis Bacon wrote to his majesty a letter upon that subject, wherein he has the following passage, relating to the lord chiefjustice: “ If you take my lord Coke, this will follow: First, your majesty shall put an over-ruling nature into an overruling place, which may breed an extreme. Next, you shall blunt his industries in matter of finances, which seemeth to aim at another place. And lastly, popular men are no sure mounters for your majesty's saddle.” The disputes and animosities between these two great men are well known. They seem to have been personal; and they lasted to the end of their lives. Coke was jealous of Bacon's reputation in many parts of knowledge; by whom, again, he was envied for the high reputation he had acquired in one; each aiming to be admired particularly in that in which the other excelled. Coke was the greatest lawyer of his time, but could be nothing more.
If Bacon was not 80, we can ascribe it only to his aiming at a more exalted character; not being able, or at least not willing, to confine the universality of his genius within one inferior province of learning.
Sir Thomas Overbury's murder in the Tower now broke out, at the distance of two years after; for Overbury died Sept. 16, 1613, and the judicial proceedings against his murderers did not commence till Sept. 1615. In this affair sir Edward acted with great vigour, and, as some think, in a manner highly to be commended; yet his enemies, who were numerous, and had formed a design to humble his pride and insolence, took occasion, from certain circumstances, to misrepresent him both to the king and people. Many circumstances concurred at this time to hasten his fall. He was led to oppose the king in a dispute relating to his power of granting commendams, and James did not choose to have his prerogative disputed, even in cases where it might well be questioned. He had a contest with the lord chancellor Egerton, in which it is universally allowed that he was much to be blamed. Sir Edward, as a certain historian informs us, had heard and determined a case at common law; after which it was reported that there had been juggling. The defendant, it seems, had prevailed with the plaintiff's principal witness not to attend, or to give any evidence in the cause, provided he could be excused. One of the defendant's agents undertakes to excuse him; and carrying the man to a tavern, called for a gallon of sack in a vessel, and bid him drink. As soon as he had laid his lips to the flaggon, the defendant's agent quitted the room.
When this witness was called, the court was informed that he was unable to come; to prove which, this agent was produced, who deposed, “ that he left him in such a condition, that if he continued in it but a quarter of an hour, he was a dead man.” For want of this person's testimony the cause was lost, and a verdict given for the defendant. The plaintiffs, finding themselves injured, carried the business into chancery
for relief; but the defendants, having had judgment at common law, refused to obey the orders of that court. Upon this, the lord chancellor commits them to prison for contempt of the court: they petition against him in the star-chamber; the lord chief justice Coke.joins with them, foments the difference, and threatens the lord chancellor with a præmunire. The chancellor makes the king acquainted with the business, who, after consulting sir Francis Bacon, then his attorney, and soine other lawyers upon the affair, justified the lord chancellor, and gave a proper rebuke to Coke.
Roger Coke gives us a different account of the occasion of the chief justice's being in disgrace; and informs us, that he was one of the first who felt the effects of the power of the rising favourite, Villiers, afterwards duke of Buckingham. The author of the notes on Wilson's “ Life of James," published in the second volume of Kennet's “ Complete History of England,” tells us that sir Edward lost the king's favour, and some time after his place, for letting fall some words upon one of the trials, importing bis suspicion that Overbury had been poisoned to prevent the discovery of -another crime of the same nature, committed upon one of the highest rank, whoin he termed a sweet prince; which was taken to be meant of prince Henry." Whatever were the causes of his disgrace, which it is probable were many, he was brought upon his knees before the council at Whitehall, June 1616; and offences were charged upon him by Yelverton, the solicitor-general, implying, amongst other things, speeches of high contempt uttered in the seat of justice, and uncomely and undutiful carriage in the presence of his majesty, “the privy council, and judges.” Soon after, he presented himself again at the council-table upon his knees, when secretary Winwood informed him, that report had been made to his majesty of what had passed there before, together with the answer that he had given, and that too in the most favourable manner; that his majesty was no ways satisfied with respect to any of the heads; but that notwithstanding, as well out of his own clemency, as in regard to the former services of his lordship, the king was pleased not to deal heavily with him: and therefore had decreed, 1. That he be sequestered from the council-table, until his majesty's pleasure be further known. 2. That he forbear to ride his summer circuit as justice of assize. 3. That during this vacation, while he had time to live privately and dispose himself at home, he take into his consideration and review his books of Reports; wherein, as his majesty is informed, be many extravagant and exorbitant opinions set down and published for positive and good law : and if, in reviewing and reading thereof, he find any thing fit to be altered or amended, the correction is left to his discretion. Among other things, the king was not well pleased with the title of those books, wherein he styled himself “ lord chief justice of England,” whereas he could challenge no more but lord ehief justiee of the King's-bench. And having corrected what in his discretion he found meet in these Reports, his majesty's pleasure was, he should bring the same privately to himself, that he might consider thereof, as in his princely judgment should be found expedient*. Hereunto Mr. secretary advised him to conform himself in all duty and obedience, as he ought; whereby he might hope that his majesty in time would receive him again to his gracious and princely favour. To this the lord chief justice made
* It does not, however, appear that courts), made some exceptions to the Jord Coke thought it necessary to make Reports now extant in print, and to any alteration in his Reports; but it is which lord Coke made some replies, all observable that lord chancellor Elles- of which are to be found in the Sloanian mere (with whom lord Coke had had collection of MSS. in the British Musome difference of opinion with respect seum, - Bridgman's Legal Bibliograto the jurisdiction of their respective pby.