Edward Coke

English lawyer and judge

Sir Edward Coke (1 February 15523 September 1634) was an English Judge and jurist and later a politician whose writings on the English common law were definitive legal texts for some 300 years.

Sir Edward Coke in 1593

Quotes edit

  • A word must become a friend or you will not understand it. Perhaps you do well to be cool and detached when you are seeking information, but I remind you of the wife who complained, 'When I ask John if he loves me, he thinks I am asking for information'.
    • Case of Swans, 7 Rep. 15, 17 (1592).
  • Fraud and deceit abound in these days more than in former times.
    • Twyne's Case (1602).
  • Every libel, which is called famosus libellus, is made either against a private man, or against a public person. If it be against a private man, it deserves a severe punishment.
    • 77 Eng. Rep. 250 (1605).
  • Law is the safest helmet.
    • Inscription in rings given by Coke to several of his friends on June 20, 1606, in anticipation of his judicial investiture; reported in Humphry William Woolrych, The Life of the Right Honourable Sir Edward Coke (1826) p. 75. Derived from a latin maxim, Lex est tutissima cassis; sub clypeo legis nemo decipitur: Law is the safest helmet; under the shield of the law no one is deceived.
  • The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose.
    • Semayne's Case, 77 Eng. Rep. 194, 195; 5 Co. Rep. 91, 195 (K.B. 1604).
  • They (corporations) cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed nor excommunicate, for they have no souls.
    • Case of Sutton's Hospital, 10 Rep. 32.; 77 Eng Rep 960, 973 (K.B. 1612).
  • When poor England stood alone, and had not the access of another kingdom, and yet had more and as potent enemies as now it hath, and yet the King of England prevailed.
    • Speech to the committee of the House of Commons (2 April 1628)
  • Magna Charta is such a fellow, that he will have no sovereign.
    • Speech to the committee of the House of Commons (20 May 1628)
  • Six hours in sleep, in law's grave study six,
    Four spend in prayer, the rest on Nature fix.
    • Translation of lines quoted by Coke. Compare: "Seven hours to law, to soothing slumber seven; Ten to the world allot, and all to heaven" - Sir William Jones.

Institutes of the Laws of England (1628) edit

  • The gladsome light of jurisprudence.
    • The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or, A Commentary on Littleton, (London, 1628, ed. F. Hargrave and C. Butler, 19th ed., London, 1832), First Institute.
  • He is not cheated who knows he is being cheated.
    • The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or, A Commentary on Littleton, (London, 1628, ed. F. Hargrave and C. Butler, 19th ed., London, 1832), First Institute.
  • Only this incident inseparable every custom must have, viz., that it be consonant to reason; for how long soever it hath continued, if it be against reason, it is of no force in law.
    • The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or, A Commentary on Littleton, part 62a (London, 1628, ed. F. Hargrave and C. Butler, 19th ed., London, 1832).
  • Reason is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason... The law, which is perfection of reason.
    • The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or, A Commentary on Littleton (London, 1628, ed. F. Hargrave and C. Butler, 19th ed., London, 1832), Third Institute. Compare: "Let us consider the reason of the case. For nothing is law that is not reason", Sir John Powell, Coggs vs. Bernard, 2 Ld. Raym. Rep. p. 911.
  • A man's house is his castle — et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium.
    • The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or, A Commentary on Littleton (London, 1628, ed. F. Hargrave and C. Butler, 19th ed., London, 1832), Third Institute, p. 162. The exact translation of the Latin portion is: "and where shall a man be safe if it be not in his own house?", quoted from Pandects, lib. ii. tit. iv. De in Jus vocando.
  • The Common lawes of the Realme should by no means be delayed for the law is the surest sanctuary, that a man should take, and the strongest fortresse to protect the weakest of all, lex et tutissima cassis.
    • Institutes of the Laws of England, Second Part, vol. 1 (1642), Notes to Ch. XXIX of the Charter [Magna Carta], paragraph 1391 [1]
  • Thought the bribe be small, yet the fault is great.
    • Institutes of the Laws of England, vol. 3.
  • The King himself should be under no man, but under God and the Law.
    • Prohibitions del Roy, 12 Co. Rep. 63, quoting Henry de Bracton's treatise on the laws and customs of England. [2]

Attributed edit

  • A witch is a person who hath conference with the Devil to consult with him or to do some act.
    • Reported in Margaret Alice Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology (2007) p. 18.

Quotes about Edward Coke edit

  • [T]o give every man his due, had it not been for Sir Edward Coke's Reports, which though they may have errors, and some peremptory and extrajudicial resolutions more than are warranted; yet they contain infinite good decisions, and rulings over cases: the law, by this time, had been almost like a ship without ballast.
    • Francis Bacon, A Proposition to His Majesty by Sir Francis Bacon, Knight, His Majesty's Attorney General, and One of His Privy Council; Touching the Compiling and Amendment of the Laws of England, quoted in The Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and Lord High Chancellor of England, Volume IV (1803), p. 367
  • The name of Sir Edward Coke, who lived from 1551 to 1634, is important in the development of English historical study, the evolution of the common law, and the parliamentary conflict with the early Stuarts. Coke used the historical methods of the time in order to magnify the claims of the common law; in order to codify our legal traditions in opposition to royal authority; and, particularly in the 1620's, in order to provide the House of Commons with material for a conflict with the crown on questions of historical interpretation. He helped to secure that the traditional system of English law should win the victory in the 17th century not only over the king but also over rival systems of law which could claim to be perhaps more efficient, perhaps even more up-to-date
  • We must remind ourselves that the weaknesses Coke might have had as a general historian did not prevent his being one of the greatest of English lawyers. If he gave a new turn to the law by what purported to be an appeal to the past, this was itself the mark of a creative mind that was able to achieve practical results by virtue of an added technical ability. He more than anybody else translated medieval limitations upon the monarchy into 17th-century terms; and if he transposed feudal safeguards into common-law restrictions, still his anachronistic sins became a service to the cause of liberty. All that he did helped to confirm the view that in England the king is under the law, and conspired to bring that view of English government to a more complete and vivid realization.
  • You will recollect that, before the revolution, Coke Littleton was the universal elementary book of Law Students; and a sounder whig never wrote, nor of profounder learning in the orthodox doctrines of the British constitution, or in what were called English liberties.
  • Even in the days of Elizabeth and James I Sir Edward Coke, the incarnate common law, shovels out his enormous learning in vast disorderly heaps.
    • Frederic William Maitland, 'Outlines of English Legal History, 560–1600', in H. A. L. Fisher (ed.), The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland: Volume II (1911), p. 484
  • Coke's Institutes have had a greater influence on the law of England than any work written between the days of Bracton and those of Blackstone.

The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904) edit

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 30-31.
  • The greatest lawyer, Sir Edward Coke.
    • Mallet, J., Harrison's Case (1660), 5 How. St. Tr. 1030.
  • The learning and industry of that great man Sir Edward Coke, whose name ought never to be mentioned in a Court of law without the highest respect.
    • Eyre, C.J., Jefferson v. Bishop of Durham (1797), 2 Bos. & Pull. 123.
  • Jeo concede que est le opinion Seigniour Coke, mes salva reverentia al ey grand sage et pere del ley. (I grant that it is the opinion of Lord Coke, but salva reverentia to so great a sage and father of the law).
    • John Vaughan, J., Tustian v. Roper (1670), Jones's (Sir Thos.) Rep. 35.
  • That great lawyer was much heated in the controversy between the Courts at Westminster and the Ecclesiastical Courts. In every part of his conduct his passions influenced his judgment. Vir acer et vehemens. His law was continually warped by the different situations in which he found himself.
    • Heath, J., Jefferson v. Bishop of Durham (1797), 2 Bos. & Pull. 131.
  • Don't quote the distinction, for the honour of my lord Coke.
    • Lord Mansfield, Campbell v. Hall (1774), Lofft. 16. Exclamation in reference to Calvin's Case (7 Co. 17), wherein appears a distinction between counties vesting by conquest and descent. It was argued that "the doctrine imputed to the Judges by my Lord Coke was not entirely extra judicial," and this brought forth the above remark.
  • Yet we are obliged, to regard a man with so little about him that is ornamental or entertaining, or attractive, as a very considerable personage in the history of his country. Belonging to an age of gigantic intellect and gigantic attainments, he was admired by his contemporaries, and time has in no degree impaired his fame. He is most familiar to us as an author. Smart legal practitioners, who are only desirous of making money by their profession, neglect his works, and sneer at them as pedantic and antiquated; but they continue to be studied by all who wish to know the history and to acquire a scientific and liberal knowledge of our judicial and political institutions. His Opus Magnum is this Commentary upon Littleton, which in itself may be said to contain the whole common law of England as it then existed. Notwithstanding its want of method and its quaintness, the author writes from such a full mind, with such mastery over his subject, and with such unbroken spirit, that every law student who has made, or is ever likely to make, any proficiency, must peruse him with delight.
    • Lord Campbell, Lives of the Chief Justices, Vol. 1, 338.

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