Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)
2015 marked a series of events celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), whose descendants have lived at Holkham since 1612, was the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. His interpretation of Magna Carta, one of the most famous documents in the world, was detailed in a unique display at Holkham Hall.
Visitors to the hall were able to see the texts from the ‘great charter’ that Coke consulted, defining Magna Carta for the modern age and directly challenging the royal power of James I and then Charles I. The display at Holkham Hall included manuscripts and books from Holkham’s library and archives, demonstrating how Coke highlighted the crucial rights laid out in Magna Carta and how this ultimately helped shape our modern legal system.
Coke spearheaded the fight for Parliament’s rights and for an individual to be entitled to a fair trial. Both King James I and his son, Charles I, believed that they ruled by divine right and so could govern without the advice and consent of parliament. The imposed arbitrary taxes and imprisoned men without trial if they did not pay. Magna Carta was Coke’s main weapon in proclaiming that the Stuart kings were acting unlawfully and this interpretation helped to limit their absolute power.
Coke’s influence also spread further afield. The constitutions of the United States and many Commonwealth countries also bear the hallmarks of his writings on Magna Carta. The famous cry at the Boston Tea Party of “no taxation without representation” in 1773 reflected one of the major grievances of American colonists and provided a direct link back to Sir Edward Coke’s interpretation of Clause 12 in Magna Carta from the original 1215 manuscript.
Holkham’s display was part of the countrywide event, LiberTeas, which invited the nation to sit down to tea to celebrate the role of Magna Carta. For the launch of our display we brought in a supply of black China tea, blended to reproduce the flavour of the tea found in tea chests thrown overboard during the Boston Tea Party, which was on offer in Holkham’s café in the park as a free sample to visitors on 14th June.