Edward Coke

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Sir Edward Coke (pronounced "Cook") (1 February 1552 – 3 September 1634) was a seventeenth-century English jurist and Member of Parliament whose writings on the common law were the definitive legal texts for nearly 150 years. Born into a family of minor Norfolk gentry, Coke travelled to London as a young man to make his living as a barrister. There he rapidly gained prominence as one of the leading attorneys of his time, eventually being appointed Solicitor General and then Attorney General by Queen Elizabeth. As Attorney General, Coke famously prosecuted Sir Walter Raleigh and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators for treason. In 1606, Coke was made Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, later being elevated, in 1613, to Lord Chief Justice of England. As a judge, Coke delivered numerous important decisions, and he gained a reputation as the greatest jurist of his age.[1] Nonetheless, his unwillingness to compromise in the face of challenges to the supremacy of the common law made him increasingly unpopular with James I, and he was eventually removed as Lord Chief Justice in 1616.

Despite his dismissal from the bench and his already advanced age, Coke remained an influential political figure, leading parliamentary opposition to the Crown in the 1620s. His career in parliament culminated in 1628 when he acted as one of the primary authors of the Petition of Right. This document reaffirmed the rights of Englishmen and prevented the Crown from infringing them.

Coke's enduring fame and importance rests principally on his immensely influential legal writings and on his staunch defence of the rule of law in the face of royal absolutism. His legal texts formed the basis for the modern common law, with lawyers in both England and America learning their law from his Institutes and Reports until the end of the eighteenth century. As a judge and Member of Parliament, Coke supported individual liberty against arbitrary government and sought to ensure that the king's authority was circumscribed by law. In later times, both English reformers and American Patriots, such as John Lilburne, James Otis, and John Adams, used Coke's writings to support their conceptions of inviolable civil liberties.

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