SIR EDWARD COKE SL PC (/ˈkʊk/ ("cook"), formerly /ˈkuːk/ ; 1
February 1552 – 3 September 1634) was an English barrister , judge
and, later, opposition politician, who is considered to be the
greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Born into a
middle-class family, Coke was educated at
Trinity College, Cambridge
As Chief Justice, Coke restricted the use of the _ex officio _ (Star
Chamber ) 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 a Member of Parliament 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 _
Coke is best known in modern times for his _Institutes_, described by
* 1 Family background and early life * 2 Education and call to the Bar * 3 Practice as a barrister
* 4 Politics
* 4.1 Elizabeth I
* 4.1.1 Solicitor General and Speaker * 4.1.2 Attorney General
* 4.2 James I
* 5 Judicial work
* 5.1 Common Pleas
* 5.1.1 Court of High Commission * 5.1.2 _Dr. Bonham\'s Case_
* 5.2 King\'s Bench
* 6 Return to politics
* 6.1 Monopolies * 6.2 Liberty and the _Resolutions_ * 6.3 Petition of Right
* 7 Retirement * 8 Personal life
* 9 Writings
* 9.1 _Reports_ * 9.2 _Institutes_ * 9.3 Jurisprudence
* 10 Legacy * 11 Character * 12 References * 13 Bibliography * 14 External links
FAMILY BACKGROUND AND EARLY LIFE
The surname "Coke", or "Cocke", can be traced back to a William Coke
in the hundred of South Greenhoe, now the
Coke's father, Robert Coke, was a barrister and Bencher of Lincoln\'s Inn who built up a strong practice representing clients from his home area of Norfolk. Over time, he bought several manors at Congham , Westacre and Happisburgh and was granted a coat of arms, becoming a minor member of the gentry. Coke's mother, Winifred Knightley, came from a family even more intimately linked with the law than her husband. Her father and grandfather had practised law in the Norfolk area, and her sister Audrey was married to Thomas Gawdy , a lawyer and Justice of the Court of King\'s Bench with links to the Earl of Arundel . This connection later served Edward well. Winifred's father later married Agnes, the sister of Nicholas Hare .
EDUCATION AND CALL TO THE BAR
Trinity College, Cambridge
At the age of eight in 1560, Coke began studying at the Norwich Free
Grammar School . The education there was based on erudition , the
eventual goal being that by the age of 18 the students would have
learned "to vary one sentence diversely, to make a verse exactly, to
endight an epistle eloquently and learnedly, to declaim of a theme
simple, and last of all to attain some competent knowledge of the
Greek tongue". The students were taught rhetoric based on the
Rhetorica ad Herennium _, and Greek centred on the works of
After leaving Norwich in 1567 he matriculated to Trinity College, Cambridge , where he studied for three years until the end of 1570, when he left without gaining a degree. Little is known of his time at Trinity, though he certainly studied rhetoric and dialectics under a program instituted in 1559. His biographers felt he had all the intelligence to be a good student, though a record of his academic achievements has not been found. Coke was proud of Cambridge and the time he spent there, later saying in _Dr. Bonham's Case_ that Cambridge and Oxford were "the eyes and soul of the realm, from whence religion, the humanities, and learning were richly diffused into all parts of the realm."
After leaving Trinity College he travelled to London, where he became a member of Clifford\'s Inn in 1571. This was to learn the basics of the law – the Inns of Chancery , including Clifford's Inn, provided initial legal education before transfer to the Inns of Court , where one could be called to the Bar and practise as a barrister. Students were educated through arguments and debates – they would be given precedents and writs each day, discuss them at the dinner table and then argue a moot court based on those precedents and their discussions. Coke also studied various writs "till they turned honey sweet on his tongue", and after completing this stage of his legal education transferred to the Inner Temple on 24 April 1572.
At the Inner Temple he began the second stage of his education, reading legal texts such as Glanville 's _Treatises_ and taking part in moots. He took little interest in the theatrical performances or other cultural events at the Inns, preferring to spend his time at the law courts in Westminster Hall , listening to the Serjeants argue. After six years at the Inner Temple he was called to the Bar on 20 April 1578, a remarkably fast rate of progress given the process of legal education at the time, which normally required eight years of study. Polson, a biographer of Coke, suggests that this was due to his knowledge of the law, which "excited the Benchers ".
PRACTICE AS A BARRISTER
The Court of King\'s Bench , where Coke brought his first case
After being called to the Bar on 20 April 1578 Coke immediately began
practising as a barrister. His first case was in the Court of King\'s
Bench in 1581, and was known as _Lord Cromwell's Case_ after the
claimant, Lord Henry Cromwell, a landlord in Coke's home county of
Norfolk. The case was a charge of slander against a Mr Denny, the
Vicar of Northlinham and Coke's client. In a dispute with Denny,
Cromwell had hired two unlicensed preachers to harass him, denounce
Book of Common Prayer
The case was actually two actions, with the first judgement being given in Denny's favour after Coke's research found a flaw in the pleadings that invalidated Cromwell's case. His counsel had worked from an inaccurate English copy of the Latin statute of _scandalum magnatum_ which had mistranslated several passages, forcing them to start the case anew. After the case was restarted, Coke argued that Denny had commented on Cromwell's support of people attacking the Book of Common Prayer, and was not implying any deeper disloyalty. The judge ruled that Denny's statement had indeed meant this, and from this position of strength Coke forced a settlement. Coke was very proud of his actions in this case and later described it in his _Reports_ as "an excellent point of learning in actions of slander". The next year he was elected Reader of Lyon\'s Inn for three years, something surprising considering his young age and likely related to his conduct in _Lord Cromwell's Case_. As Reader he was tasked with reading to the students at the Inn, a group that numbered about thirty at any one time, and the quality of his readings increased his reputation even further. His lectures were on the Statute of Uses , and his reputation was such that when he retired to his house after an outbreak of the plague, "nine Benchers, forty barristers, and others of the Inn accompanied him a considerable distance on his journey" in order to talk to him.
During the 1580s, Coke became intimately linked with the Howard
family, the Dukes of
Coke became involved in the now classic _Shelley\'s Case _ in 1581, which created a rule in real property that is still used in some common law jurisdictions today; the case also established Coke's reputation as an attorney and case reporter. His next famous case was _Chudleigh\'s Case _, a dispute over the interpretation of the Statute of Uses, followed by _Slade\'s Case _, a dispute between the Common Pleas and King's Bench over _assumpsit _ now regarded as a classic example of the friction between the two courts and the forward movement of contract law; Coke's argument in _Slade's Case_ formed the first definition of consideration .
Thanks to his work in their behalf, Coke had earned the favour of the Dukes of Norfolk. When he secured the Lordship of Aldeburgh for them in 1588 he also obtained the Aldeburgh Parliamentary Constituency , which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs). With their support, Coke was returned for Aldeburgh as an MP in February 1589.
Solicitor General And Speaker
Robert Cecil , Coke's political ally who acted as a staunch defender of Elizabeth I
The political "old guard" began to change around the time Coke became
a Member of Parliament. The
Earl of Leicester
Coke held the position only briefly; by the time he returned from a
The idea of a calm, swift Parliament foundered on the rocks of
religious conflict. On 27 February
James Morice , a Puritan Member of
Parliament, proposed two new bills: one against the bishops of the
Robert Devereux , Cecil and Coke's main political rival
On 10 April 1594, Coke was made Attorney General for
Coke primarily dealt with matters of treason, such as the cases of
Sir John Smythe and
Edward Squire . He also handled religious
incidents such as the disputes between the
Devereux immediately began plotting rebellion. Orders were sent out
for "bedding" and "draperies" – codenames for weapons – and
rebellious gentlemen gathered at Essex House to hear him talk of
Elizabeth's "crooked mind and crooked carcass". In response, Coke and
Cecil began a counter-plot. In 1599 Sir John Hayward had written and
published _The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IV_,
dedicating it to Devereux. Elizabeth, furious, had banned the book,
suggesting that it was a "seditious prelude" intended to show her as a
corrupt and poor monarch. Against the backdrop of Devereux's plot,
Coke and Cecil started a new investigation into the book, hoping to
prove some involvement of Devereux in the publishing. Coke interviewed
Hayward's licensing cleric, Samuel Harsnett, who complained that the
dedication had been "foisted" on him by Devereux. In reaction, Coke
decided to bring charges of treason against Devereux, saying that he
had "plotted and practised with the Pope and king of Spain for the
deposing and selling of himself as well as the crown of
The charges were never brought because of an incident that soon transpired. On 8 February 1601 Devereux ordered his followers to meet at Essex House. A day later a group of emissaries led by Thomas Egerton and John Popham were sent to Devereux, and immediately taken hostage. After a failed attempt to garner support from the population of London, Devereux found himself surrounded in Essex House; after burning his personal papers, he surrendered. On 19 February he was tried for treason, along with the Earl of Southampton . Coke led the case for the government, and Devereux was found guilty and executed; the Earl of Southampton was reprieved.
Sir Walter Raleigh , whom Coke prosecuted for treason
On 24 March 1603, Elizabeth I died. James VI of Scotland set out to
claim the English throne, taking the title James I , and the Cokes
immediately began ingratiating themselves with the new monarch and his
Elizabeth Hatton , Coke's wife, travelled to Scotland to meet
Anne of Denmark
Raleigh was brought to trial on 17 November 1603, on charges of "conspiring to deprive the King of his Government; to alter religion; to bring in the Roman superstition; and to procure foreign enemies to invade the kingdom". The government alleged that on 11 June 1603, Raleigh had met with Lord Cobham, and they had agreed to bring Lady Arbella Stuart (a great great granddaughter of Henry VII ) to the English throne, and to accept 600,000 marks from the Spanish government. As such, Raleigh was charged with supporting Stuart's claim to the throne and claiming Spanish money. He pleaded not guilty, with Coke's only evidence being a confession from Cobham, who was described as "a weak and unprincipled creature ... who said one thing at one time, and another thing in another, and could be relied upon in nothing". This case was "no case at all ... It supports the general charges in the indictment only by the vaguest possible reference to 'these practices,' and 'plots and invasions' of which no more is said".
Coke's behaviour during the trial has been repeatedly criticised; on
this weak evidence, he called Raleigh a "notorious traitor", "vile
viper" and "damnable atheist", perverting the law and using every slip
of the tongue as a way of further showing Raleigh's guilt. Raleigh
was found guilty and imprisoned in the
Tower of London
The next significant government prosecution was the trial of the eight main Gunpowder Plot conspirators in Westminster Hall. The men were indicted on 27 January 1605 and tried by the Lords Commissioners . Coke conducted the prosecution for the government – an easy one, since the conspirators had no legal representation – and through his speeches, "blacken them in the eyes of the world". The conspirators were all sentenced to death and died through various means. Due to his judicial appointment, this was the last important prosecution Coke participated in.
Coke's first judicial postings came under Elizabeth; in 1585, he was made Recorder of Coventry, in 1587 Norwich, and in 1592 Recorder of London, a position he resigned upon his appointment as Solicitor General.
On 20 June 1606, Coke was made a
Serjeant-at-Law , a requirement for
his elevation to
Chief Justice of the Common Pleas , which occurred
on 30 June. His conduct was noted by Johnson as "from the first,
excellent; ever perfectly upright and fearlessly independent",
although the convention of the day was that the judges held their
positions only at the pleasure of the monarch. A biographer of
Court Of High Commission
Coke's changed position from Attorney General to Chief Justice allowed him to openly attack organisations he had previously supported. His first target was the Court of High Commission, an ecclesiastical court established by the monarch with near unlimited power; it administered a mandatory _ex officio_ oath that deliberately trapped people. The High Commission was vastly unpopular among both common lawyers and Members of Parliament, as the idea of "prerogative law" challenged both authorities. The appointment of Richard Bancroft as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604 caused the issue to grow in importance; according to P.B. Waite , a Canadian historian, Bancroft's zeal and strictness "could hardly fail to produce an atmosphere in which principles and issues would crystallize, in which logic would supplant reasonableness". The judges, particularly Coke, began to unite with Parliament in challenging the High Commission. In 1607 Parliament openly asked for Coke's opinion on the High Commission's practices; he replied that "No man ecclesiastical or temporal shall be examined upon secret thoughts of his heart or of his secret opinion".
During this period a "notorious suit" ran through the courts, known as _Fuller\'s Case _ after the defendant, Nicholas Fuller . A barrister, Fuller had several clients fined by the High Commission for non-conformity , and stated that the High Commission's procedure was "popish, under jurisdiction not of Christ but of anti-Christ". For this, Fuller was held in custody for contempt of court. The Court of King's Bench argued that this was a lay matter, while the High Commission claimed it fell under their jurisdiction. Coke had no official role, other than acting as a mediator between the two, but in the end Fuller was convicted by the High Commission. This was a defeat for the common law, and in response Coke spent the summer issuing writs of prohibition to again challenge Bancroft and the High Commission. On 6 November 1608, the common law judges and members of the High Commission were summoned before the king and told that they would argue and allow him to decide. Finding themselves unable to even argue coherently, instead " sullen, merely denying each others' statements", the group was dismissed and reconvened a week later. Coke, speaking for the judges, argued that the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts was limited to cases where no temporal matters were involved and the rest left to the common law.
At this point the King's own position in relation to the law, and his authority to decide this matter, was brought up, in what became known as the _ Case of Prohibitions _. James stated that "In cases where there is not express authority in law, the King may himself decide in his royal person; the Judges are but delegates of the King". Coke challenged this, saying "the King in his own person cannot adjudge any case, either criminal – as treason, felony etc, or betwixt party and party; but this ought to be determined and adjudged in some court of justice, according to the Law and Custom of England". Coke further stated that "The common law protecteth the King", to which James replied "The King protecteth the law, and not the law the King! The King maketh judges and bishops. If the judges interpret the laws themselves and suffer none else to interpret, they may easily make, of the laws, shipmen's hose!". Coke rejected this, stating that while the monarch was not subject to any individual, he was subject to the law. Until he had gained sufficient knowledge of the law, he had no right to interpret it; he pointed out that such knowledge "demanded mastery of an artificial reason ... which requires long study and experience, before that a man can attain to the cognizance of it". Coke was only saved from imprisonment by Cecil, who pleaded with the King to show leniency, which he granted. After the conclusion of this dispute, Coke freely left, and continued to issue writs of prohibition against the High Commission.
_Dr. Bonham\'s Case_
Main article: Dr. Bonham\'s Case _ The meaning of Coke's ruling in Thomas Bonham v College of Physicians_ has been disputed over the years.
_Thomas Bonham v College of Physicians_, commonly known as _Dr. Bonham's Case_ was a decision of the Court of Common Pleas under Coke in which he ruled that "in many cases, the common law will controul Acts of Parliament, and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void: for when an Act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will controul it, and adjudge such Act to be void". Coke's meaning has been disputed over the years; some interpret his judgment as referring to judicial review of statutes to correct misunderstandings which would render them unfair, while others argue he meant that the common law courts have the power to completely strike down those statutes they deem to be repugnant.
Whatever Coke's meaning, after an initial period of application,
_Bonham's Case_ was thrown aside in favour of the growing doctrine of
Parliamentary sovereignty . Initially written down by William
Blackstone , this theory makes Parliament the sovereign law-maker,
preventing the common law courts from not only throwing aside but also
reviewing statutes in the fashion Coke suggested. Parliamentary
sovereignty is now the universally-accepted judicial doctrine in
In the United States, Coke's decision met with a better reaction.
During the legal and public campaigns against the writs of assistance
Stamp Act 1765 , _Bonham's Case_ was given as a justification for
nullifying the legislation. _
Marbury v. Madison
Coke was transferred from the Common Pleas, where he was succeeded by Hobart , to the Court of King\'s Bench on 25 October 1613, on the advice of Bacon, presumably because Bacon and the King felt that if he was moved from a court dedicated to protecting the rights of the people to one dedicated to the rights of the King, "his capacity for harm would be diminished". From Bacon's point of view, the King's Bench was a far more precarious position for someone loyal to the common law rather than the monarch. Coke's first case of note there was _Peacham's Case_, in which he dictated that the writing of a sermon by Thomas Peacham which advocated the death of the king – a sermon which was never preached or published – could not constitute treason. The King was unwilling to accept this decision and instead had him tried by Coke's opponents on the bench, who "not surprisingly" found him guilty. Refusing to admit his guilt, Peacham was tortured on the rack, but "before torture, between torture and after torture; nothing could be drawn from him".
In 1616, two years after _Peacham's Case_, the case of _commendams_ arose. The _in commendam _ writ was a method of transferring ecclesiastical property, which James used in this case to allow Richard Neile to hold his bishopric and associated revenues without actually performing the duties. On 25 April 1616 the courts, at Coke's bidding, held that this action was illegal, writing to the king that "in case any letters come unto us contrary to law, we do nothing by such letters, but certify your Majesty thereof, and go forth to do the law notwithstanding the same". James called the judges before him and, furious, ripped up the letter, patronisingly telling them that "I well know the true and ancient common law to be the most favourable to Kings of any law in the world, to which law I do advise you my Judges to apply your studies". While all the other judges "succumbed to royal pressure and, throwing themselves on their knees, prayed for pardon", Coke defended the letter and stated that "When the case happens I shall do that which shall be fit for a judge to do".
This was the last straw; on advice from Bacon , who had long been jealous of Coke, James I suspended Coke from the Privy Council , forbade him from going on circuit and, on 14 November, dismissed him from his post as Chief Justice of the King's Bench. This was greeted by deep resentment in the country, which saw the King's actions as tampering with justice. Coke himself reacted by sinking into a deep depression. James I then ordered Coke to spend his time "expunging and retracting such novelties and errors and offensive conceits as are dispersed in his _Reports_". Bacon, now in royal favour, became Lord Chancellor on 3 March 1617 and set up a commission to purge the _Reports_, also using his authority to expand the powers of the High Commission. With James unable to declare Coke incompetent, some of what Humphry William Woolrych describes as "colorable excuses" were produced to justify Coke's dismissal; he was accused of concealing £12,000, uttering "high words of contempt" as a judge, and declaring himself Chief Justice of England.
RETURN TO POLITICS
Now out of favour and with no chance of returning to the judiciary,
Coke was re-elected to Parliament as an MP, ironically by order of the
King, who expected Coke to support his efforts. Elected in 1620, Coke
sat for Liskeard in the 1621 Parliament, which was called by the King
to raise revenues; other topics of discussion included a proposed
marriage between the Prince of Wales and
Maria Anna of Spain
In June 1614, the University of Cambridge by unanimous vote elected Coke High Steward , an honorary office immediately below Chancellor of the University. Through Cecil, (previously High Steward and then Chancellor of Cambridge), Coke had procured for the university the right to send its own two representatives to Parliament, a matter of much practical benefit. A fervent Cantabrigian , Coke had a habit of naming Cambridge first, including in Parliament. When reminded that precedence belonged to Oxford "by vote of the House," Coke persisted in giving Cambridge primacy. A Privy Councilor , Sir Thomas Edmondes , interrupted with a rebuke. It was reported that Coke suggested Edmondes not bother worrying about the primacy of Oxford or Cambridge, given that he had not attended either university.
See also: Statute of Monopolies
Coke used his role in Parliament as a leading opposition MP to attack
patents, a system he had already criticised as a judge. Historically,
English patent law was based on custom and the common law , not on
statute. It began as the Crown granted patents as a form of economic
protection to ensure high industrial production. As gifts from the
Crown, there was no judicial review, oversight or consideration, and
no actual law concerning patents. To boost England's economy, Edward
II began encouraging foreign workmen and inventors to settle in
England, offering letters of protection that protected them from guild
policy on the condition that they train English apprentices and pass
on their knowledge. The letters did not grant a full monopoly; rather
they acted as a passport, allowing foreign workers to travel to
Over time, this system became more and more problematic; instead of
temporary monopolies on specific, imported industries, long-term
monopolies came about over more common commodities, including salt and
starch. These monopolies led to a showdown between the Crown and
Parliament, in which it was agreed in 1601 to turn the power to
administer patents over to the common law courts; at the same time,
Elizabeth revoked a number of the more restrictive and damaging
monopolies. Even given a string of judicial decisions criticising and
overruling such monopolies, James I, when he took the throne,
continued using patents to create monopolies. Coke used his position
in Parliament to attack these patents, which were, according to him,
"now grown like hydras' heads; they grow up as fast as they are cut
off". Coke succeeded in establishing the Committee of Grievances , a
body chaired by him that abolished a large number of monopolies. This
was followed by a wave of protest at the patent system. On 27 March
1621, James suggested the House of Commons draw up a list of the three
most objectionable patents, and he would remove them, but by this time
a statute was already being prepared by Coke. After passing on 12 May
it was thrown out by the
House of Lords
In response to both this and Coke's establishment of a sub-committee
to establish freedom of speech and discuss the rights of the Commons,
James announced that "you usurp upon our prerogative royal and meddle
with things far above your reach". He first adjourned Parliament and
then forbade the Commons from discussing "matters of state at home or
abroad". Ignoring this ban, Parliament issued a "Remonstrance to the
King" on 11 December 1621, authored by Coke, in which they restated
their liberties and right to discuss matters of state, claiming that
such rights were the "ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance
of the subjects of England". After a debate, it was sent to James, who
rejected it; the Commons instead resolved to enter it into the
_Journal of the Commons_, which required no royal authorisation. In
the presence of Parliament, the king reacted by tearing the offending
page from the _Journal_, declaring that it should be "razed out of all
memories and utterly annihilated", then dissolved Parliament. Coke
was then imprisoned in the
Tower of London
LIBERTY AND THE _RESOLUTIONS_
James died on 27 March 1625 and was succeeded by his son, who became
Charles I of
Martial law was then declared, with continued imprisonment for a
failure to pay the forced loans and soldiers billeted in the homes of
private citizens to intimidate the population – something which led
to Coke's famous declaration that "the house of an Englishman is to
him as his castle". The Commons responded to these measures by
insisting that the _
no freeman is to be committed or detained in prison, or otherwise restrained by command of the King or the Privy Council or any other, unless some lawful cause be shown ... the writ of _habeas corpus_ cannot be denied, but should be granted to every man who is committed or detained in prison or otherwise restrained by the command of the King, the Privy Council or any other ... Any freeman so committed or detained in prison without cause being stated should be entitled to bail or be freed.
In addition, no tax or loan could be levied without Parliament's
permission, and no private citizen could be forced into accepting
soldiers into his home. Coke,
PETITION OF RIGHT
Coke at the time of the Petition of Right's passage Main article: Petition of Right
Coke undertook the central role in framing and writing the Petition of Right. The ongoing struggles over martial law and civil liberties, along with the rejection of the _Resolutions_ seriously concerned the Commons. Accordingly, Coke convinced the Lords to meet with the Commons in April 1628 in order to discuss a petition to the King confirming the rights and liberties of royal subjects. The Commons immediately accepted this, and after a struggle, the Lords agreed to allow a committee chaired by Coke to draft the eventual document. Hearing of this, the King sent a message to Parliament forbidding the Commons from discussing matters of state. The resulting debate led to some MPs being unable to speak due to their fear that the King was threatening them with the destruction of Parliament. Coke, despite the fear in Parliament, stood and spoke, citing historical precedents supporting the principle that members of the Commons could, within Parliament, say whatever they wished – something now codified as Parliamentary privilege .
Petition of Right was affirmed by the Commons and sent to the
Lords, who approved it on 17 May 1628; the document's publication was
met with bonfires and the ringing of church bells throughout England.
As well as laying out a long list of statutes which had been broken,
it proclaimed various "rights and liberties" of free Englishmen,
including a freedom from taxation without Parliamentary approval, the
right of _habeas corpus_, a prohibition on soldiers being billeted in
houses without the owner's will, and a prohibition on imposing martial
law on civilians. It was later passed into formal law by the Long
Parliament in 1641 and became one of the three constitutional
documents of English civil liberties, along with the _Magna Carta_ and
Bill of Rights 1689
When Parliament was dissolved in 1629, Charles decided to govern
without one, and Coke retired to his estate at
Coke died on 3 September 1634, aged 82, and lay in state for a month at his home in Godwick to allow for friends and relatives to view the body. He was buried in St Mary's Church, Tittleshall . His grave is covered by a marble monument with his effigy lying on it in full judicial robes, surrounded by eight shields holding his coat of arms. A Latin inscription on the monument identifies him as "Father of twelve children and thirteen books". A second inscription, in English, gives a brief chronicle of his life and ends by stating that "His laste wordes thy kingdome come, thye will be done. Learne, reader to live so, that thou may'st so die". Coke's estates, including Holkham Hall , passed to his son Henry .
Bridget Paston, Coke's first wife.
On 13 August 1582 Coke married Bridget, the daughter of John Paston, a Counsellor from Norwich. Paston came from a long line of lawyers and judges – his great grandfather, William Paston , was a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas . Having grown up nearby Coke knew the family, and asked for Bridget's hand immediately after she turned eighteen. At the time he was a thirty-one-year-old barrister with a strong practice, and her father had no qualms about accepting his offer. Six months after they married John Paston died, leaving his daughter and son-in-law his entire estate and several of his clients. Bridget maintained a diary, which reveals that she mainly ran the household. Despite this she was an independent woman, travelling without her husband and acting as a helpmate to Coke. Bridget was noted by Woolrych as an "incomparable" woman who had "inestimable value clearly manifested by the eulogies which are lavished on her character". The couple settled at the manor of Huntingfield , described by Catherine Drinker Bowen as "enchanting, with a legend for every turret ... A splendid gallery ran the length of the house, the Great Hall was built around six massive oaks which supported the roof as they grew".
The couple had ten children – seven sons and three daughters. The
sons were Edward, Robert, Arthur, John, Henry, Clement and Thomas.
Edward died young, Robert became a
Knight Bachelor and married
Theophile, daughter of Thomas Berkeley, Arthur married Elizabeth,
heir of Sir George Walgrave, John married Meriel, daughter of Anthony
Holkham Hall into the Coke family, Henry married
Margaret, daughter of Richard Lovelace, and inherited the manor at
Holkham from his brother John (who had seven daughters but no son),
Clement married Sarah, heiress of Alexander Redich, and Thomas died as
an infant. The daughters were Elizabeth, Anne and Bridget. Elizabeth
died young, Anne married Ralph Sadleir, son and heir of Sir Thomas
Sadleir, and Bridget married William Skinner, son and heir of Sir
Vincent Skinner. Coke's descendants through Henry include the Earls
of Leicester , particularly Coke of
Following his first wife's death in 1598, Coke married Elizabeth Hatton , a desirable marriage due to her wealth; when he found out that Bacon was also pursuing her hand, Coke acted with all speed to complete the ceremony. It was held at a private house at the wrong time, rather than at a church between 8 and 12 in the morning; all involved parties were prosecuted for breaching ecclesiastical law, and Coke had to beg for a pardon. It is said that Coke first suggested marrying Hatton to Sir Robert Cecil , Hatton's uncle, at the funeral of Lord Burghley , Coke's patron; he needed to ensure that he would continue his rise under Burghley's son, Cecil, and did this by marrying into the family. Hatton was 26 years younger than Coke, hot-tempered and articulate; Boyer wrote that "if she and Coke were not compatible, at least they were well-matched". Their marriage having broken down in 1604, Hatton went on to become a formidable protagonist and thorn in his side.
Coke was buried beside his first wife, who was called his "first and best wife" by his daughter Anne; his second wife died in 1646. Coke had two children with his second wife, both daughters: Elizabeth and Frances. Elizabeth married Sir Maurice Berkeley, son of Richard Berkeley of Stoke Gifford. Frances married John Villiers, 1st Viscount Purbeck .
Coke is best known for his written work – thirteen volumes of law
reports , and the four-volume _Institutes of the Lawes of
Coke, like every man, was necessarily a product of the age in which he lived. His faults were the faults of his time, his excellencies those of all time. He was diffuse; he loved metaphor, literary quibbles and verbal conceits; so did Bacon, and so did Shakespeare. So did all the writers of his day. They were creative, not critical. But Coke as a law writer was as far superior in importance and merit to his predecessors, at least if we except Bracton, as the Elizabethan writers in general were superior to those whom they succeeded, and, as the great Elizabethans fixed the standard of our English tongue, so Coke established the common law on its firm foundation. A modern lawyer who heaps his abuse on Coke and his writings seems as ungrateful as a man who climbs a high wall by the aid of the sturdy shoulders of another and then gives his friend a parting kick in the face as he makes the final leap.
_ The frontispiece to the first volume of Coke's Reports_ (1600)
His _Law Reports_, known as _Coke's Reports_, were an archive of judgements from cases he had participated in, watched or heard of. They started with notes he made as a law student in the winter of 1572, with full reporting of cases from October 1579. The _Reports_ were initially written down in seven notebooks, four of which are lost; the first notebook contains not only law reports, but also a draft version of Coke's first _Institutes of the Lawes of England_. Coke began reporting cases in the traditional manner, by copying out and repeating cases found in earlier law reports, such as those of Edmund Plowden . After being called to the Bar in 1578 he began attending court cases at Westminster Hall, and soon drew the attention of court officials – many early reports have notes that he was told "by old Plowden" or "by Wray CJ ". The original reports were kept in a generally chronological order, interspersed with personal memos, obituaries and notes on court practices. They are not entirely chronological; during his career, Coke took note of earlier cases he had heard of or which had drawn his attention. These were written down with the plea roll reference and the year in which Coke recorded them, but later editions failed to include the plea roll reference and led to inaccuracies.
The _Reports_ have gained significant academic acclaim; writing in
the _Cornell Law Quarterly,_ Theodore Plucknett describes them as
works of "incomparable richness" with a "profound influence upon the
literature, and indeed the substance, of English law". John Baker has
described them as "perhaps the single most influential series of named
reports", and even
Although loaned to friends and family, and therefore in slight public circulation, Coke's _Reports_ were never formally used during his lifetime. Select cases were published in 1600, containing the most famous of his decisions and pleadings, while a second volume in 1602 was more chronological in nature. The third part, published in the same year, was also chronological, while the fourth, published in 1604, was arranged by subject. The fifth part, published in 1605, is arranged similarly, as is the sixth, published in 1607. Five more volumes were published until 1615, but Coke died before he could publish a single bound copy. No trace has been found of the draft manuscript.
Some academics have questioned the accuracy of the _Reports_. Coke's famous _Case of Proclamations_, and his speech there, was first brought into the public consciousness through its inclusion in Volume 12 of his _Reports_, and Roland G. Usher, writing in the _English Historical Review _, notes that "Certain manuscripts at Hatfield House and elsewhere seem to throw some doubt upon this famous account of a famous interview". One of the reasons given for possible inaccuracies in the later volumes of the _Reports_ is that they were published posthumously. In July 1634, officials acting on order of the King had seized Coke's papers, but a 1641 motion in the House of Commons restored the extant papers to Coke's eldest son. The twelfth and thirteenth volumes of the reports were based on fragments of notes several decades old, not on Coke's original manuscript.
Main article: Institutes of the Lawes of
Coke's other main work was the _Institutes of the Lawes of England_, a four-volume treatise described as his "masterwork". The first volume, the _Commentary upon Littleton_, known as _Coke on Littleton_, was published in 1628. It is ostensibly a commentary on Sir Thomas Littleton 's _Treatise on Tenures _, but actually covered many areas of the law of his time. The other three volumes were all published after his death, and covered 39 constitutional statutes of importance (starting with the _Magna Carta_), the law relating to criminal law, and constitutional and administrative law respectively. While the _Reports_ were intended to give an explanation of the law chronologically, Coke's intentions with the _Institutes_ were to provide an English language tutorial for students studying law at the Inns of Court . This served as an alternative to the Roman law lectures at university, which were based on Latin; according to Bowen it was "a double vision; the _Institutes_ as authority, the _Reports_ as illustration by actual practise".
Part one, the _Commentary upon Littleton_, was undoubtedly the most
famous; copies were exported to the United States early in the
colonial era. The work was first printed in an American edition in
1812, by which point the English version was in its sixteenth edition,
and had been commented on itself by various later legal authorities.
As with the _Reports_, Coke's _Institutes_ became a standard textbook
in the United States, and was recorded in the law libraries of Harvard
College in 1723 and
The work had its detractors, with some writers criticising it for "repulsive pedantry" and "overbearing assertions", as well as incorrect citations to works that were later discredited. There are also factual inaccuracies; Kenyon Homfray in the _Ecclesiastical Law Journal_ notes that despite being considered the supreme legal authority on the subject of consecration, which Coke covered in the third volume of the _Institutes_, he offered no legal support for his opinion and ignored those pieces of case law which rejected his interpretation.
Coke's jurisprudence centres on the hierarchy of the judges, the monarch, and Parliament in making law. Coke argued that the judges of the common law were those most suited to making law, followed by Parliament, and that the monarch was bound to follow any legal rules. This principle was justified by the idea that a judge, through his professional training, internalised what political historian and theorist Alan Cromartie referred to as "an infinity of wisdom", something that mere politicians or laypersons could not understand due to the complexity of the law. Coke's _Commentary on Littleton_ has been interpreted as deliberately obtuse, with his aim being to write what Cromartie called "a sort of anti-textbook, a work whose very form denied that legal knowledge could be organised. The original edition could not be used for reference purposes, as Coke had published it without an index ... It is a book to be 'read in' and lived with, rather than consulted, a monument to the uselessness of merely written knowledge unless it is internalised in a trained professional mind". This theory – that judges were the natural arbiters of the law – is known as the "appeal to reason", with "reason" referring not to rationality but the method and logic used by judges in upholding and striking down laws. Coke's position meant that certainty of the law and intellectual beauty was the way to see if a law was just and correct, and that the system of law could eventually become sophisticated enough to be predictable.
Coke's challenge to the ecclesiastical courts and their _ex officio_ oath is seen as the origin of the right to silence . With his decision that common law courts could issue writs of prohibition against such oaths and his arguments that such oaths were contrary to the common law (as found in his _Reports_ and _Institutes_), Coke "dealt the crucial blow to the oath _ex officio_ and to the High Commission". The case of John Lilburne later confirmed that not only was such an oath invalid, but that there was a right to silence, drawing from Coke's decisions in reaching that conclusion. In the trial of Sir Roger Casement for treason in 1916, Coke's assertion that treason is defined as "giving aide and comfort to the King's enemies within the realme or without" was the deciding factor in finding him guilty. His work in _Slade's Case_ led to the rise of modern contract law, and his actions in the _Case of Proclamations_ and the other pleadings which led to his eventual dismissal went some way towards securing judicial independence. The Statute of Monopolies is considered one of the first steps towards the eventual English Civil War , and also "one of the landmarks in the transition of economy from the feudal to the capitalist".
Coke was particularly influential in the United States both before and after the American War of Independence . During the legal and public campaigns against the writs of assistance and Stamp Act 1765 , _Bonham's Case_ was given as a justification for nullifying the legislation, and in the income tax case of 1895, Joseph Hodges Choate used Coke's argument that a tax upon the income of property is a tax on the property itself to have the Supreme Court of the United States declare the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act unconstitutional. This decision ultimately lead to the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment . The castle doctrine originates from Coke's statement in the _Third Institutes_ that "A man's home is his castle – for where shall he be safe if it not be in his house?", which also profoundly influenced the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution ; the Third Amendment , on the other hand, was influenced by the Petition of Right. Coke was also a strong influence on and mentor of Roger Williams , an English theologian who founded the Rhode Island colony in North America and was an early proponent of the doctrine of separation of church and state .
Coke was noted as deriving great enjoyment from and working hard at the law, but enjoying little else. He was versed in the Latin classics and maintained a sizeable estate, but the law was his primary concern. Francis Bacon, his main competitor, was known as a philosopher and man of learning, but Coke had no interest in such subjects. Notably, when given a copy of the _ Novum Organum _ by Bacon, Coke wrote puerile insults in it.
Coke's style and attitude as a barrister are well documented. He was regarded, even during his life, as the greatest lawyer of his time in both reputation and monetary success. He was eloquent, effective, forceful, and occasionally overbearing. His most famous arguments can be read in Complete State Trials Volume I and II. Most early lawyers were not noted for their eloquence, with Thomas Elyot writing that " lacked elocution and pronunciation, two of the principal parts of rhetorike", and Roger Ascham saying that "they do best when they cry loudest", describing a court case where an advocate was "roaring like a bull". In court, Coke was insulting to the parties, disrespectful to the judges and "rough, blustering, overbearing"; a rival once wrote to him saying "in your pleadings you were wont to insult over misery and to inveigh bitterly at the persons, which bred you many enemies". Coke was pedantic and technical, something which saw him win many cases as a barrister, but when he became Attorney General "he showed the same qualities in a less pleasing form ... He was determined to get a conviction by every means in his power".
Francis Watt, writing in the _Juridical Review_, portrays this as Coke's strongest characteristic as a lawyer: that he was a man who "having once taken up a point or become engaged in a case, believes in it with all his heart and soul, whilst all the time conscious of its weakness, as well as ready to resort to every device to bolster it up". Writers have struggled to reconcile his achievements as a judge surrounding the rejection of executive power and the rights of man with his tenure as Attorney General, with Gerald P. Bodet noting that his early career as a state prosecutor was one of "arrogance and brutality".
Coke made a fortune from purchasing estates with clouded titles at a discount, whereupon, through his knowledge of the intricacies of property law, he would clear the titles on the acquired properties to his favor. About the year 1615, his amassed property acquisitions attracted the attention of the government. James I claimed that Coke "had already as much land as it was proper a subject should possess." Coke requested the King's permission to just "add one acre more" to his holdings and upon approval proceeded to purchase the fine estate of Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk, one of the most expensive "acres" in the land.
* ^ Baker 2002 , p. 167 * ^ _A_ _B_ Williams 2006 , p. 111 * ^ _A_ _B_ Bodet 1970 , p. 471 * ^ _A_ _B_ Baker 2002 , p. 183 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 7 * ^ _A_ _B_ Woolrych 1826 , p. 10 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 1 * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Boyer 2003 , p. 2 * ^ Randall 1955 , p. 430 * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Thrush, Andrew. "History of Parliament". Institute of Historical Research, University of London. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
* ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 3 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 4 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 9 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 11 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 10 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 13 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 13 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 14 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 16 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 19 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 17 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 21 * ^ Holdsworth 1935 , p. 332 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 21 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 28 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 29 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 33 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 27 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 39 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 34 * ^ Holdsworth 1935 , p. 333 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 22 * ^ Polson 1840 , p. 167 * ^ Pound 2006 , p. 31 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 51 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 23 * ^ _A_ _B_ Boyer 2003 , p. 36 * ^ _A_ _B_ Block 1929 , p. 52 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 24 * ^ _A_ _B_ Block 1929 , p. 53 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 58 * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Boyer 2003 , p. 37 * ^ _A_ _B_ Boyer 2003 , p. 38 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 115 * ^ Boyer 2003 , pp. 125–33 * ^ Sacks 2001 , p. 30 * ^ _A_ _B_ Boyer 2003 , p. 39 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 215 * ^ _A_ _B_ Boyer 2003 , p. 216 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 218 * ^ _A_ _B_ Block 1929 , p. 61 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 62 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 221 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 219 * ^ Block 1929 , p. 64 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 223 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 224 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 225 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 242 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 244 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 254 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 260 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 267 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 276 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 53 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 277 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 278 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 279 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 41 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 282 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 138 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 285 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 294 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 296 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 155 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 157 * ^ Stephen 1919 , p. 172 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 173 * ^ Magruder 1879 , p. 845 * ^ Stephen 1919 , p. 175 * ^ Magruder 1879 , p. 848 * ^ Magruder 1879 , p. 849 * ^ Stephen 1919 , p. 178 * ^ Magruder 1879 , p. 844 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 212 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 70 * ^ Jardine 1847 , p. 115 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 181 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 210 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 71 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 215 * ^ Sainty 1993 , p. 49 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 222 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 251 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 74 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 252 * ^ Waite 1959 , p. 146 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 257 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 260 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 261 * ^ _A_ _B_ Loveland 2009 , p. 87 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 263 * ^ Gray 1972 , p. 36 * ^ Berger 1969 , p. 527 * ^ Orth 1999 , p. 33 * ^ Plucknett 1942 , p. 176 * ^ Elliott 2004 , p. 546 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 170 * ^ Orth 1999 , p. 37 * ^ Allott 1990 , p. 379 * ^ _A_ _B_ Morris 1940 , p. 429 * ^ Feldman 2004 , p. 29 * ^ Corwin 1929 , p. 371 * ^ McDowell 1993 , pp. 395–97 * ^ Holdsworth 1935 , p. 335 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 88 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 84 * ^ Caldecote 1941 , p. 318 * ^ Corwin 1930 , p. 5 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 90 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 91 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 93 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 95 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 117 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 119 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 103 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 104 * ^ White 1979 , p. 45 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 345 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 440 * ^ Pila 2001 , p. 210 * ^ Klitzke 1959 , p. 624 * ^ Pila 2001 , p. 212 * ^ Ramsey 1936 , p. 7 * ^ Pila 2001 , p. 213 * ^ Ramsey 1936 , p. 8 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 106 * ^ Kyle 1998 , p. 206 * ^ Klitzke 1959 , p. 649 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 111 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 112 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 114 * ^ White 1979 , p. 213 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 125 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 126 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 127 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 128 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 129 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 130 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 132 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 135 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 137 * ^ Johnson 1865 , p. 237 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 139 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 138 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 143 * ^ White 1979 , p. 275 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 145 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 461 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 146 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 462 * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 148 * ^ _A_ _B_ Block 1929 , p. 56 * ^ _A_ _B_ Block 1929 , p. 57 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 210 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 211 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 26 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 64 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 298 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 528 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 12 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 11 * ^ Stirling 2008 , p. 501 * ^ Watt 1915 , p. 261 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 213 * ^ Boyer 2003 , p. 214 * ^ Visitation of Gloucestershire 1684, p. 5 https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=I0NbAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&hl=en see also http://familytrees.genopro.com/Azrael/Skaggs/Berkeley-Maurice-I95299.htm; see also Maurice Berkeley (died 1581) . * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 17 * ^ Gest 1909 , p. 505 * ^ Campbell 2005 , p. 239 * ^ Campbell 2005 , p. 289 * ^ Gest 1909 , p. 506 * ^ Baker 1972 , p. 59 * ^ Baker 1972 , p. 61 * ^ Baker 1972 , p. 67 * ^ Baker 1972 , p. 68 * ^ Plucknett 1942 , p. 190 * ^ Coquillette 1992 , p. 108 * ^ Baker 1972 , p. 72 * ^ Baker 1972 , p. 73 * ^ Baker 1972 , p. 75 * ^ Usher 1903 , p. 664 * ^ Usher 1903 , p. 665 * ^ Woolrych 1826 , p. 175 * ^ Boyer 2004 , p. xiii * ^ Hostettler 1997 , p. 159 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 438 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 439 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 443 * ^ Ryan 2005 , p. 9 * ^ Bowen 1957 , p. 444 * ^ Homfray 2009 , p. 6 * ^ Cromartie 1995 , p. 14 * ^ Cromartie 1995 , p. 15 * ^ Cromartie 1995 , p. 17 * ^ Cromartie 1995 , p. 19 * ^ Cromartie 1995 , p. 32 * ^ Cromartie 1995 , p. 99 * ^ Randall 1955 , p. 444 * ^ Randall 1955 , p. 453 * ^ Glenn 1931 , p. 451 * ^ Boyer 2004 , p. 226 * ^ Boyer 2004 , p. 227 * ^ Kyle 1998 , p. 203 * ^ Bloxam 1957 , p. 157 * ^ Glenn 1931 , p. 449 * ^ Campbell 2005 , p. 81 * ^ Franklin 1991 , p. 29 * ^ Kemp 2010 , p. 26 * ^ Barry 2012 , pp. 23–25 * ^ Watt 1915 , p. 252 * ^ Polson 1840 , p. 164 * ^ Polson 1840 , p. 163 * ^ Polson 1840 , p. 168 * ^ Watt 1915 , p. 254 * ^ Watt 1915 , p. 257 * ^ Bodet 1970 , p. 470 * ^ Johnson 1845 , p. 25
* Allott, Philip (1990). "Parliamentary Sovereignty. From Austin to
Cambridge Law Journal _.
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