COKE, Clement (1594-1630), of the Inner Temple, London and Longford, Derbys.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. 19 Sept. 1594, 6th s. of Sir Edward Coke* and Bridget, da. and h. of John Paston† of Cookley, Suff.; bro. of Henry* and Sir Robert*. educ. Westminster sch.; Trin. Camb. 1608; I. Temple 1610. m. pre-nuptial settlement by 14 Dec. 1613, Sarah (d. 30 Jan. 1624), da. and coh. of Alexander Reddish of Reddish, Lancs., 2s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). d. 23 Mar. 1630.1
The youngest son of the most renowned jurist and parliamentarian of his age, Coke was returned to the Commons in 1614 while still under-age, presumably on the nomination of his father, Sir Edward, who was then chief justice of King’s Bench and a privy councillor. He was returned for two boroughs - Hedon in Yorkshire and Clitheroe in Lancashire - the first of which he probably owed to the Constable family, whose estates Sir Edward had saved from wardship. Coke was presumably a duchy of Lancaster nominee at Clitheroe, for although he was by then almost certainly married to Sarah Reddish, her estates were situated some distance from the borough, near Stockport. On 14 May Coke signed a renunciation of the Yorkshire borough in the Journal. He left no other trace on the records of the Addled Parliament.2
Coke’s wife was also heiress to an estate in Derbyshire, which may explain how he came to quarrel with the local magnate Sir Philip Stanhope (later 1st earl of Chesterfield). On 10 Feb. 1615 the Privy Council ordered Coke and Stanhope to refer their differences to the judges of assize.3 Later that year Coke’s father purchased Longford manor, in the same county. According to Sir Edward’s inveterate enemy, Sir John Holles*, Longford was bought cheaply from a terrified recusant widow for just £5,000, and was acquired specifically for Clement, although it was not settled on him until 1622.4
In 1616 Coke travelled to Dordrecht in the Netherlands, where he quarrelled with an English soldier named Lygon, with whom he fought a duel. Lygon, a Catholic exile in the Spanish Netherlands, subsequently died of his injuries, but secretary of state Sir Ralph Winwood*, a close friend and ally of Coke’s father, asked (Sir) Dudley Carleton*, the English ambassador, to try to shield Clement from the consequences. Carleton reported back that Lygon had ‘died rather by the fault of his surgeons than the danger of his hurt’, while one of his correspondents suggested that Lygon’s kinsman could be persuaded not to pursue the matter in return for a promise of Sir Edward’s favour. However, Coke quarrelled with two other Englishmen, possibly friends of Lygon, who were soon ‘at strife whose turn should be first served with Coke’. One of them sent an emissary to Coke with a letter of challenge, only for Coke to assail the messenger in the street with his sword. Coke was severely injured, but apparently made a full recovery. Nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that Carleton packed him off home under the escort of a senior officer.5
Coke’s father was dismissed from office a few months later, but by the time of the next parliamentary elections in 1620 he had been restored, in part, to favour. It was undoubtedly due to Sir Edward that the Suffolk borough of Dunwich, over which Sir Edward had been exercising electoral patronage since the 1590s, elected Coke. Indeed Coke may have been one of the sons of Sir Edward whom the borough had entertained two years previously.6
Coke was appointed to no committees during the third Jacobean Parliament, and his only appearances in the surviving records relate to an assault he perpetrated against Sir Charles Morrison, who sat for Hertfordshire, on 30 April. The dispute arose during discussion of the glass monopoly in the committee for grievances that day. According to his statement to the Commons on 8 May, Coke was then trying to contribute to the proceedings of the committee, and may have moved for the patentees to be brought in. However, he was distracted by Morrison, who was sitting near him trying to recall some lines of doggerel in which the word ‘glasses’ was rhymed with ‘asses’. During the course of the ensuing conversation Coke demanded to know whether Morrison was on the side of ‘the asses’, whereupon Morrison replied facetiously, ‘yes, if they had long ears’. He also asked Coke if he had ‘never heard of judges riding of asses’, which Coke took to be an insulting reference to his father, who was then chairing the committee.7 After the committee broke up, as the two men were going down the stairs, Coke struck Morrison on the neck with his hand and then either pushed him or slapped him with a glove. Morrison, whose fall was cushioned by Sir Edward Montagu, thereupon retrieved his sword from a servant with the intention of merely striking Coke over the head with the scabbard, or so he later claimed. However, as Coke managed to seize someone else’s sword, Morrison was deterred from pushing the matter further.8
The brawl was raised in the Commons the following day by Henry, Lord Clifford, whereupon Edward Alford stated that it was hoped that the two protagonists would ‘end this controversy this afternoon’.9 However, on 7 May Alford moved for the House to intervene as the ‘many endeavours’ to compose the quarrel had failed. By this time, though, the Privy Council had already examined the case, and Morrison had been placed in the custody of his father-in-law, Sir Baptist Hicks, by the king’s command. It was probably this royal intervention that prompted the Commons to act, as Sir Samuel Sandys warned that for the affair to be settled by the Council would be ‘a kind of infringement of our liberties’. The House decided to debate the matter the following day and meanwhile placed Morrison in Hicks’ custody on its own authority. As Sir Edward Coke refused to take responsibility for his son, Coke was entrusted to his friend Edward Whitby.10
The following day Alford tried to throw all the blame on Coke, arguing that Morrison was ‘no delinquent’, to which Whitby retorted that it was inequitable to prejudge the matter. Later that morning Coke and Morrison were called before the House, where they were charged by the Speaker and allowed to give their account of events, after which proceedings were deferred until the next day.11 It rapidly became apparent the following day that Coke had little sympathy in the Commons. Only one Member, apparently, had overheard the words that had passed between the two men, and he stated that he ‘did not conceive that Sir Charles Morrison did speak any thing to give offence to Mr. Coke’. Whitby claimed that his friend had been provoked, but Sir Samuel Sandys declared that the verses in question were not offensive because ‘judges, in his memory, rode upon mules’, while Sir Dudley Digges thought that, even on Coke’s account of events, there was no ‘occasion ... for so much anger’. Sir Edward Sackville argued that Coke ‘ought not to have stricken upon any occasion’. The House was unmoved by Whitby’s claim that Coke was ‘heartily sorry for his offence to the House’ and by Coke’s offer to apologize to Morrison if the latter would ‘confess he meant no disgrace in the words he used’, and sent Coke to the Tower. The proposal of Sir Edward Rodney, that Coke should present Morrison with a truncheon ‘to beat him, if he will, ... in this House’ was ignored.12
By 11 May Sir Edward Coke had repented of his previous desire to have nothing to do with his son, but though he began to speak he was unable to continue ‘for weeping’. He nevertheless presented a petition in which Coke acknowledged the justice of the sentence passed against him. The House then agreed ‘out of respect’ to Sir Edward to release Coke into his hands. At the same time a committee was appointed to devise a form of words for Coke to use to satisfy Morrison.13 Three days later Sir Edward Sackville reported the form of words. Coke was to acknowledge that he had struck Morrison while ‘transported with misapprehension and passion’ and that he was ‘truly sorry’. He was also to ask Sir Charles’ pardon. The House agreed that Coke should make satisfaction the following day on his knees before the bar. However, at Morrison’s request, Coke was subsequently excused from kneeling and making an apology. After reading out the rest of the satisfaction he was allowed to resume his seat.14
After his scandalous behaviour in the 1621 Parliament it is hardly surprising that Coke was not to benefit again from his father’s electoral patronage until 1626, when he was returned for Aylesbury. It is possible that Sir Edward relented because he was one of the prominent parliamentarians deliberately pricked as sheriff to render him ineligible to sit in the Commons. He had nevertheless been elected for Norfolk and may have thought that his passionate son, for all his faults would make an effective champion. Coke’s brother Henry was also elected in 1626, but he was a less forceful personality and in poor health; it was reported on 5 Apr. that he was sick in the country.15
On 14 Feb. Coke declared that he ‘will not speak’ about the appointment of his father and other ‘good Members’ as sheriffs, because ‘his passion transported him’, but ‘the liberties and privileges of the House [were] engaged in the question’. He referred to ‘two protestations entered in the clerk’s book within the space of 13 years for preservation of our liberties’ and successfully moved for the clerk of the Crown to be ordered to attend the privileges committee.16 Three days later a correspondent of Sir John Scudamore* wrote that Coke had moved the Commons to send for his father to argue his own case, but that the motion had been deferred.17
Coke was an early supporter of (Sir) John Eliot in the latter’s attacks on the alleged misgovernment of Charles and his favourite, the duke of Buckingham. He seconded Eliot’s speech of 10 Feb., which had called for a wide-ranging Commons investigation. Contradicting Christopher Wandesford’s assertion that the motion was premature, he argued that it was ‘not too soon to regard the honour of the nation’.18 On 23 Feb. he supported Eliot’s proposed investigation into the detaining of the St. Peter of Le Havre. Consequently, he was almost certainly the ‘Mr. Coke’ added on the same day to the committee instructed to investigate the case.19
On 10 Mar., during the debate on the king’s message requesting supply, Coke argued that the ‘occasions of the subject’ at home were ‘as pressing as the foreign occasions’. He called for a committee to prepare a petition to the king for leave to proceed with redress of grievances hand in hand with supply. However, this relatively innocuous proposal was overshadowed by his declamation that ‘it is better to suffer by a foreign hand than at home’. There is no evidence that this speech made much impression on the House when he made it, but it was subsequently interpreted as an attack on Buckingham, as it implied that the duke was a greater threat than England’s foreign enemies.20 Consequently, the following day, Sir Walter Earle declared that he feared that Coke’s words could be ‘subject to construction’. Coke argued, somewhat obscurely, that his ‘words were not so whimsical as they were said’, but the House had no wish to pursue the matter and when Coke tried to speak a second time he was cried down.21
When the king’s message was again debated two days later it was probably Coke, rather than his brother, who called for a ‘Remonstrance ... to the king that we are ready to give, and [a] petition that we may go on in a parliamentary way’. This was perhaps an attempt to revive his earlier motion to seek permission to consider grievances alongside supply.22 The next day the king protested at the words uttered by Coke on 11 Mar., describing them as an ‘insolency’. Interestingly, Charles thought that Coke had used the word ‘die’ rather than the far less offensive term ‘suffer’. Charles had expected that the Commons would have punished Coke without the need for prompting; its failure to do so had emboldened Samuel Turner to produce his articles against Buckingham. Unless the Commons acted, he warned, he would be constrained ‘to use his regal authority to right himself’.23
In response Coke claimed that it was ‘the greatest affliction that ever befell him to be thought seditious’. The king, he declared, had been misinformed about the words he had spoken. He claimed that he had ‘desired only that a care might be taken [the] same at home as abroad’. On Eliot’s motion further discussion was deferred until the following morning.24 The next day Thomas Wentworth I observed that ‘if seditious words be spoken here and none of us take notice of it, we are all guilty’, especially ‘those that are nearest to the king’. Not surprisingly, therefore, even the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Richard Weston, who had delivered the king’s message, denied that Coke’s words had been seditious. A convenient consensus emerged to the effect that the House had objected to Coke’s words when he had uttered them, so forcing him to explain himself, although Coke protested that, on the contrary, his colleagues had applauded his speech. The House then resolved that, although not seditious, Coke’s words ‘did displease the House’.25
On 17 Mar. Joseph Mead wrote that ‘it was thought today he [Coke] should ask forgiveness upon his knees at the bar’.26 However, further discussion of the case was repeatedly deferred until 29 Mar., when the House was summoned before the king and lord keeper Coventry (Sir Thomas Coventry*). The latter protested at the ‘protraction and delay’ which had characterized the House’s proceedings, but Charles turned Coke’s words to his advantage, saying that ‘indeed I do think it is more honour to be destroyed by a foreign enemy than to be despised at home and abroad’. He thereupon threatened to dissolve the Parliament unless it granted him supply on his terms.27
On 1 Apr. the Commons agreed to include a defence of its proceedings concerning Coke in its Remonstrance. Three days later Coke protested against the latter part of the clause concerning his case, presumably the reiteration by the House that it had been ‘displeased’ by his speech. However, he was given ‘a general check’, and required to explain himself.28 Coke is not recorded as having spoken again until 3 May, when he, or possibly his brother, called for an early date for the collection of the fourth subsidy which the Commons had recently voted, arguing perhaps in an attempt to repair his position, that a ‘a month will much forward the king’s affairs’.29 Coke was nevertheless appointed to two committees, concerning the London Apothecaries’ Company (4 Mar.) and a private bill (10 June), and both brothers appear to have been named to consider the Charterhouse hospital bill on 11 Feb., an institution with which their father was closely connected. One or other received two further appointments, concerning the bill for arms on 25 Mar. and a private measure on 24 May.30
Coke was re-elected for Aylesbury in 1628, when he received 48 committee appointments. Named to the privileges committee on 20 Mar., one diarist wrote that ‘none spake so much’ as Coke concerning disputed elections at the first meeting that afternoon. Coke complained ‘that any elections should lie in the right of any one man’ and cited as an example his own borough where ‘67 years the burgesses were ever chosen by Sir John Pakington’. It seemed to the diarist that Coke was inferring that ‘some good man’ - presumably Coke’s own father - had lately restored Aylesbury ‘from thraldom into liberty’.31 In addition, on 29 Apr. Coke argued that the sheriff of York should pay the expenses of the witnesses in the York election dispute.32
Coke supported Sir John Eliot in his dispute with the Mohun family in Cornwall. On 16 Apr. he was named to the committee to consider Hannibal Vyvyan’s* petition against John Mohun* and he was also appointed, five days later, to consider Eliot’s complaint against Sir Reginald Mohun* and the other Cornish deputy lieutenants. The following day he moved for instructions to be given to the serjeant’s messengers, who were to be sent to fetch Sir Reginald and his colleagues, and he was reappointed to the committee on 9 May.33
Coke was named to attend the conference with the Lords of 23 Apr. on the liberty of the subject. On 14 May he opposed Sir John Eliot over the message to be sent to the Lords for a conference on the upper House’s proposed alterations to the Petition of Right. He did not want the king’s letter of 12 May to the Lords to be mentioned in the message, and acted as a teller against the motion when the matter came to a division. On 21 May he was added to the committee appointed to search for the records adduced by John Selden*.34
Coke grew impatient with the protracted debate on 31 May over whether Cambridge or Oxford should be named first in the subsidy. He himself presumably supported Cambridge, where he had studied, but complained after Sir Nathaniel Rich and many of the other Cambridge men had left the chamber, asking ‘can you ask more than to relinquish? It is yielded, what would you do with the question?’35 He made his last recorded speech on 25 June at the third reading of the bill to secure the copyhold tenures of the tenants of the royal manors of Bromfield and Yale, complaining that although the ‘rents are reserved ... the services and fines are lost’; the measure was, however, passed.36
In the 1629 session Coke was added on 3 Feb. to the committee to consider the merchants’ complaints against the unparliamentary collection of Tunnage and Poundage, and six days later he preferred a petition which was referred to the same committee, although its content is unknown.37 On 11 Feb. he was ordered to write to his father, ‘to require his attendance upon the service of the House, or some reason to excuse’.38 He made his first known intervention on a religious matter on 17 Feb., when he called for the Inns of Chancery, whose members consisted of the lower branch of the legal profession, to certify whether there were any Catholics among their members.39 There is no evidence that he was party to Eliot’s plot to hold down the Speaker on 2 Mar., the notorious final day of the Parliament, but he rebutted Jerome Weston’s defence of his father, the lord treasurer, stating that the accusations against Lord Weston (Sir Richard Weston*) were ‘not suspicions only but real acts’ and that:
For he that shall seek to align or prejudice religion is an enemy to the state, he that seeks to weaken the forces and strength of the kingdom is an enemy to the state and he that shall pay Tunnage and Poundage or anything else that is not according to law, is an enemy to the law and liberties of the subject and kingdom.
Shortly afterwards, however, he qualified his remarks by stating that ‘he intended not that any thing should be voted, till it were proved’.40
Only a little more than a year later, on 23 Mar. 1630, Coke, according to his funeral monument, ‘Christianly and comfortably in his flourishing age yielded up his soul to the Almighty’. He was buried the same day in the Temple church. He died intestate, leaving debts of £1,656, which were discharged by his father. His grandson was elected for Derbyshire as a Tory in 1685.41
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: John. P. Ferris / Ben Coates
- 1. C.W. James, Chief Justice Coke, 121-4; Al. Cant.; I. Temple admiss. database; F. Taylor, ‘Hand-list of the Crutchley Mss in the John Rylands Lib.’ BJRL, xxxiii. 148; VCH Lancs. iv. 327.
- 2. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 242.
- 3. APC, 1615-16, p. 45.
- 4. Hundred of Launditch and Deanery of Brisley ed. G.A. Carthew, iii. 116; Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxiv), 105; J. Stow, Survey of London ed. J. Strype, iii. 273.
- 5. Letters to and from Sir Dudley Carleton ed. P. Yorke, 26-7; SP84/72/242; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 202.
- 6. HMC Var. vii. 95.
- 7. CD 1621, iii. 203-4, 215; vi. 144-5; CJ, i. 615b-16a; Oxford DNB sub Bowes, Sir Jerome.
- 8. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 42-3; CD 1621, ii. 355; iii. 204; vi. 144-5; CJ, i. 613a.
- 9. CJ, i. 606b.
- 10. Ibid. 611b-12a; Nicholas, ii. 34; CD 1621, iii. 187-8; iv. 315-16; CHES 38/48, unfol. Sir Edward Coke to Whitby, 3 May 1620.
- 11. CD 1621, iii. 199-202; CJ, i. 613a-b.
- 12. Nicholas, ii. 49; CD 1621, iii. 215-16; v. 159; vi. 470; CJ, i. 615b-16a.
- 13. Nicholas, ii. 58; CD 1621, iii. 230; vi. 470; CJ, i. 619a.
- 14. CJ, i. 621a ; Nicholas, ii. 68, 74; CD 1621, iii. 248-9, 259-60.
- 15. Procs. 1626, ii. 431.
- 16. Ibid. 34, 39.
- 17. C115/108/8576.
- 18. Procs. 1626, ii. 18.
- 19. Ibid. 104, 110.
- 20. Ibid. 250; iv. 341.
- 21. Ibid. ii. 258, 262.
- 22. Ibid. 273.
- 23. Ibid. 285.
- 24. Ibid. 282, 284-5.
- 25. Ibid. 290-3.
- 26. Ibid. iv. 273.
- 27. Ibid. ii. 367, 392, 395.
- 28. Ibid. 429-30, 427, 432.
- 29. Ibid. iii. 147.
- 30. Ibid. ii. 20, 194, 367, 317, 414; James, 42.
- 31. CD 1628, ii. 37.
- 32. Ibid. iii. 160.
- 33. Ibid. ii. 479; iii. 3, 25, 336.
- 34. Ibid. iii. 44, 404, 511.
- 35. Ibid. iv. 178.
- 36. Ibid. 474.
- 37. CJ, i. 926a, 927b.
- 38. Ibid. 929a.
- 39. CD 1629, p. 220.
- 40. Ibid. pp. 170, 263.
- 41. Stow, iii. 273; James, 80.