Sir Edward Coke SL PC
(1 February 1552 – 3 September 1634) was an English barrister
, judge and politician considered to be the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan
eras. Born into a middle class family, Coke was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge
before leaving to study at the Inner Temple
, where he was called to the Bar
on 20 April 1578. As a barrister he took part in several notable cases, including Slade's Case
, before earning enough political favour to be returned to Parliament, where he served first as Solicitor General
and then as Speaker of the House of Commons
. Following a promotion to Attorney General
he led the prosecution in several notable cases, including Robert Devereux
, Sir Walter Raleigh
and the Gunpowder Plot
conspirators. As a reward for his services he was first knighted, and then made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas
As Chief Justice, Coke restricted the use of the ex officio oath and, in the Case of Proclamations and Dr. Bonham's Case, declared the King to be subject to the law, and the laws of Parliament to be void if in violation of "common right and reason". These actions eventually led to his transfer to the Chief Justiceship of the King's Bench, where it was felt he could do less damage. Coke then successively restricted the definition of treason and declared a royal letter illegal, leading to his dismissal from the bench on 14 November 1616. With no chance of regaining his judicial posts, he instead returned to Parliament, where he swiftly became a leading member of the opposition. During his time as an MP he wrote and campaigned for the Statute of Monopolies, which substantially restricted the ability of the monarch to grant patents, and authored and was instrumental in the passage of the Petition of Right, a document considered one of the three crucial constitutional documents of England, along with the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689. With the passage of the Petition of Right in 1628, Coke retired to his estates, where he revised and finished his Reports and the Institutes of the Lawes of England before dying on 3 September 1634.
Coke is best known in modern times for his Institutes, described by John Rutledge as "almost the foundations of our law", and his Reports, which have been called "perhaps the single most influential series of named reports". Historically, he was a highly influential judge; within England and Wales, his statements and works were used to justify the right to silence, while the Statute of Monopolies is considered to be one of the first actions in the conflict between Parliament and monarch that led to the English Civil War. In America, Coke's decision in Dr. Bonham's Case was used to justify the voiding of the Stamp Act 1765 and writs of assistance, which led to the American War of Independence, and after the establishment of the United States his decisions and writings profoundly influenced the Third and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution while necessitating the Sixteenth.