Tittleshall – Sir Edward Coke
Sir Edward Coke was a Norwich Grammar school boy who went to Cambridge, and was called to the bar. He was involved in Henry Cromwell’s libel case, and in a defining precedent in land law. He built Godwick Hall and took his bride there.
William Cecil, first minister to Queen Elizabeth, took him under his wing. Coke became MP for Aldeborough in 1589, and four years later was elected Speaker, skilfully preventing the Commons from interfering in church affairs, as Elizabeth desired. He became Attorney General, prosecuting the earls of Essex and Southampton, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the perpetrators of the Gunpowder plot in treason trials. In 1606 he was made Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. He defied King James, stating that the common law was supreme even where the king claimed power to withdraw a case from the courts or wanted to act as judge or change the law. James was furious, but Coke ‘s position was strong; he was respected and beyond corruption.
Francis Bacon, despite having clashed with Coke earlier, persuaded James to appoint him to the Privy Council and as Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, partly to look after royal interests. But Coke maintained the overall supremacy of common law against all except parliament. Only the Court of Chancery was too strong; he lost a battle with the Lord Chancellor when the court interfered with a common law decision; and his hints of scandal in the Overbury murder trial offended. He disobeyed the king’s orders in another case. Bacon had him charged, and he was dismissed, but gradually returned to influence. His outspokenness led to nine months in prison, but nothing was proved against him. At 76, he developed ancient liberties into the Bill of Rights. “He was one of the most eminent lawyers that ever presided as a judge in any court of justice” said Judge William Best in 1824.
On the north wall of the chancel, the Coke Monument has an effigy and nine coloured shields. “Sir Edward Coke, Kt., a late reverend Judge, borne at Mileham in this county of Norfolk. He had two wives. By Bridget, his first wife, one of the daughters and co-heiresses of John Paston, Esq., he had issue seaven sonnes and three daughters. And by the Lady Elizabeth, his second wife, one of the daughters of the Rt. Honble. Thomas, late earl of Exeter, he had issue two daughters. He crowned his Pious life with a Pious and Christian departure at Stoke Poges in the County of Buckingham, on Wednesday, the third day of September, in ye yeare of our Lord MDCXXXIIII and of his age LXXXIII” (3 September 1634, aged 83).
Quarterly of eight: COKE, CRISPIN, FOLKARD, SPARHAM, NERFORD, YARMOUTH, KNIGHTLEY and PAWE. The crest is broken, but Farrer says it was: On a chapeau Azure, turned up Ermine, an ostrich Argent, holding in its mouth a horseshoe Or, – Coke. The motto reads PRUDENS QUI PATIENS – He who is patient is prudent.
Across the monument below the white marble figure of the bearded Sir Edward COKE dressed in his Judges robes, richly decorated and with a chain around his neck. His long-fingered hands are at prayer, his hair confined by a skull cap; and he rests on a tasseled pillow. The effigy was carved by John Hargrave, the rest of the memorial was made by Nicholas Stone. The figures on the arched pediment represent the cardinal virtues – Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude.
Below the effigy are three shields, all showing deterioration; from the left:
COKE:Per pale Gules and Azure three Eagles displayed Argent impaling PASTON: Argent six Fleurs-de-lis Azure a chief indented Or;
COKE impaling CECIL – Barry of ten Argent and Azure six Escutcheons three two and one Sable each charged with a Lion rampant of the first.