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1578.* About the same period he was appointed reader of Lyon's Inn, where the excellence of his lectures attracted much attention. A few years after he was called to the bar he married Bridget, daughter and coheiress of John Paston, Esq. of Norfolk; an alliance which not only brought him a very considerable fortune, but connected him with several of the noblest families in the kingdom. His practice now began to increase rapidly; he was chosen recorder of Coventry and of Norwich; in 1592 he was appointed solicitor-general, and was soon afterwards advanced to the post of attorney-general. Having been returned to parliament as the representative of his native county, he was chosen speaker in the thirty-fifth of Queen Elizabeth.
One of the most celebrated cases in which Coke appeared, while he held the office of attorney-general, was that of the Earls of Essex and Southampton; who, on the 19th of February 1600, were tried before the Lords for high treason. In the conduct of the charge against the accused, the attorney-general displayed some of that acerbity of temper and coarseness of feeling which have stained a character, in other respects deserving of the highest esteem. “Now, in God's most just judgment,” said he, “ he of his earldom shall be Robert the last, that of the kingdom thought to be Robert the first.” +--Essex indignantly answered him, “ Will your lordships give us our turns to speak? for he playeth the orator, and abuseth our ears and us with slanders ; but they are but fashions of orators in corrupt states.” But it was during the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh, which took place three years subsequently to that of Essex, that the full violence of Coke's temper displayed itself. It is difficult to assign any adequate cause for the indecent eagerness with which he pressed the case against the prisoner, and for the harsh and cruel language with which he assailed him. In the course of the attorney-general's ad. dress, Raleigh interrupted him. “ To whom speak you this ? you tell me news I never heard of."--To which • 4 Rep. 126.
+ State Trials, vol. I, p. 1339,
Coke replied: “Oh, sir, do I? I will prove you the notoriest traitor that ever came to the bar. After you have taken away the king, you would alter religion, as you, Sir Walter Raleigh, have followed them of the bye in imitation, for I will charge you with the words.”—“ Your words cannot condemn me,” said Raleigh: “ my innocency is my defence. Prove one of those things wherewith you have charged me, and I will confess the whole indictment, and that I am the horriblest traitor that ever lived, and worthy to be crucified with a thousand cruel torments.”—“ Nay,” answered Coke, “I will prove all.
Thou art a monster; thou hast an English face, but a Spanish heart.— Now you must have money. Aremberg was no sooner in England (I charge thee, Raleigh,) but thou incitest Cobham to go unto him, and to deal with him for money, to bestow on discontented persons to raise rebellion in the kingdom.” -“ Let me answer for myself,” said Raleigh. " Thou shalt not,” was the fierce and brutal reply of Coke. Again, on Raleigh observing that the guilt of Lord Cobham was no evidence against himself, Coke replied, “ All that he did was by thy instigation, thou viper! for I thou thee, thou traitor.”_-" It becometh not a man of quality and virtue to call me so," was Raleigh's dignified rebuke ; “ but I take comfort in it, it is all you can do."-" Have I angered you ? " said Coke. — “ I am in no case to be angry,” was Raleigh's answer. In other instances, during the trial, similar language was held by Coke towards the prisoner, till at length Cecil observed, “ Be not so impatient, Mr. Attorney-General: give him leave to speak.” On this rebuke Coke sat down in anger, and was with difficulty persuaded to proceed. When, at length, he resumed, he burst forth into a fresh torrent of invective, accusing Raleigh, not only of the darkest treasons, but applying to him the epithet of “ Damnable atheist.” Nor was it merely by the intemperance of his language that Coke on this occasion disgraced himself. He adduced evidence against the prisoner, which, even in the then lax practice in the case of trials for treason, was obviously
illegal. The declarations of living witnesses were brought forward ; and it was very principally upon this proof that the prisoner was convicted. Many years after this conviction, and notwithstanding the implied pardon upon which Raleigh insisted, arising out of his subsequent employment under the crown, he was brought before the court of king's bench to have execution awarded against him; and upon this occasion Sir Edward Coke, who presided as chief justice, retracted the slander which he had cast on the religious opinions of the prisoner. “I know,” said he, addressing Raleigh, “ you have been valiant and wise, and I doubt not but you retain both these virtues ; for now you shall have occasion to use them. Your faith hath heretofore been questioned; but I am resolved you are a good Christian; for your book, which is an admirable work, doth testify as much.”*
In the year 1606, Sir Edward Coke, as attorneygeneral, conducted the prosecution against the parties implicated in the gunpowder conspiracy. His speech on this occasion exhibited a considerable portion of the same acrimony which had distinguished him on the trials of Essex and Raleigh. The violence which had before been directed against individuals, was now extended to the whole body of the jesuits, against whom he declaimed with the utmost vehemence. Nor was he satisfied with denouncing the pains of the law against the accused. When Sir Everard Digby, interrupting him, said, “ that he did not justify the fact, but confessed, that he deserved the vilest death, and the most severe punishment that might be, but that he was an humble petitioner for mercy and some moderation of justice," Coke replied, with a cold-blooded cruelty, which must for ever stain his memory-" that he must not look to the king to be honoured in the manner of his death, having so far abandoned all religion and humanity in his action ; but that he was rather to admire the great moderation and mercy of the king, in that, for so exorbitant a crime, no new torture answerable thereto was devised to be
* State Trials, vol. ii. p. 95.
inflicted on him. And for his wife and children: whereas he said that for the catholic cause he was cons tent to neglect the ruin of himself, his wife, his estate, and all, he should have his desire, as it is in the Psalms: Let his wife be a widow, and his children vagabonds; let his posterity be destroyed, and in the next generation let his name be quite put out.” The peculiar quaintness of Coke's style was frequently displayed in the course of this speech. “ S. P. Q. R.," says the orator, « was sometimes taken for these words, Senatus populusque Romanus, the senate and people of Rome; but now they may truly be expressed thus, Stultus populus quærit Romam, a foolish people that runneth to Rome.“ “ And here,” continues the reporter, “ was very aptly and delightfully inserted and narrated the apologue or tale of the cat and the mice. The cat having a long time preyed upon the mice, the poor creatures at last for their safety contained themselves within their holes; but the cat, finding his prey to cease, as being known to the mice that he was indeed their enemy and a cat, deviseth this course following, viz. changeth his hue, getting on a religious habit, shaveth his crown, walks gravely by their holes, and yet perceiving that the mice kept their holes, and looking out suspected the worst, he formally and father-like said unto them, Quod fueram non sum, frater, caput aspice tonsum! Oh brother! I am not as you take me for, no more a cat ; see my habit and shaven crown! Hereupon some of the more credulous and bold among them were again, by this deceit, snatched up; and therefore, when afterwards he came as before to entice them forth, they would come out no more, but answered, Cor tibi restat idem, vix tibi præsto fidem. Talk what you can, we will never believe you; you have still a cat's heart within you. You do not watch and pray, but you watch to prey. And so have the jesuits, yea, and priests too ; for they are all joined in the tails like Samson's foxes. Ephraim against Manasses, and Manasses against Ephraim; and both
against Judah." * Upon the trial of Garnet, for his participation in the same conspiracy, Coke thus described the prisoner:-“He hath many gifts and en-, dowments of nature ; by art learned, a good linguist, and by profession a jesuit, and a superior, as indeed he is superior to all his predecessors in devilish treason; a doctor of jesuits, that is, a doctor of five D.D.'s, as dissimulation, deposing of princes, disposing of kingdoms, daunting and deterring of subjects, and destruction.” + Such was the whimsical style sanctioned by the taste of the day.
It is gratifying to turn from scenes like these, where contumely and insult were added to the severe and inhuman penalties which the law itself inflicted. On the 20th of June 1606, shortly after the trials for the gunpowder plot, Sir Edward Coke was promoted from the office of attorney-general to the chief justiceship of the common pleas. From the period of his ascending the bench, the violence of temper which he had so frequently exhibited at the bar appears to have been much softened. He was succeeded in the office of attorney-general by Sir Henry Hobart, while Sir Francis Bacon was made solicitor-general, an office to which he had long aspired, and which, as he imagined, he had been debarred from filling by the efforts of Sir Edward Coke. From some cause, which it is now difficult to trace, probably from dissimilarity of character and pursuits, these celebrated men had contracted a mutual dislike for each other. Bacon envied the reputation and advancement of Coke, and Coke despised and slighted the professional acquirements of his younger rival. At length, shortly before the promotion of Coke to the bench, as it is said, Bacon gave way to his passionate feelings, and addressed to the attorney-general the following extraordinary letter :
« Mr. Attorney, “ I thought it best, once for all, to let you know in plainness what I find of you, and what you shall find of * State Trials, vol. ii. p. 181.
+ Id. p. 234