The lion and the throne

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the lion and the throne

The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke, 1552-1634 by Catherine Drinker Bowen

Though overlong and at times a bit tedious, there is no better book out there for giving one a sense of the political and legal battles of the late Tudor and early Stuart era in Britain.

Bowen uses the life of the famed lawyer and judge Edward Coke (pronounced cook) to illuminate how one man, and his ideas, could help secure the peoples liberties and freedoms. Coke was a light-hearted scholar of law from a young age, rarely happier than when he could dive into the Year Books of King Edward the First or the Rolls of Old England. During the later years of Queen Elizabeths reign, however, he used this knowledge to become a ruthless Attorney General, one who attacked any hint of Catholicism or opposition to the Queen and was troubled by few scruples in doing so. His winning cases against the Earl of Essex, for his attempted rebellion, and Walter Raleigh, for supposedly taking bribes from Spain, were marred by his ad honimem attacks and inability to give any credence to his opponents. When the new King James I appointed Coke Chief Justice of the Court of the Common Pleas, and later simply as Chief Justice of England, there was little to indicate that he would be anything but what he was as a prosecutor, namely, an attack dog of the monarchy.

Yet something changed in the man. Where once he had carried water for the executive, now he saw himself as a fearless defender of the Parliaments and the peoples rights. He blocked the Anglican High Commission from sentencing people without jury trials, freed people jailed under the Kings prerogative proclamations, and brought an unbiased and unbowed attitude to all the cases great and small that came before him. When his uncompromising stances lead James to remove him from his bench, he joined the Parliament as again a staunch defender of peoples rights against royal ukase. Through his hard work he managed to push through many grievances and bills, most importantly the Petition of Right in 1629 which defined the rights of individuals to know the charges against them and to not be jailed without trial. Finally, his Brobdingnagian Reports and Institutes, finished in the last years of his life, came to define Anglo-American legal study for centuries, and his peculiar liberty-tilted tinge perhaps gave the common man more protections than the common law of the time warranted.

Bowen comes at the story with a novelists fine eye, and Cokes story has many great moments that warrant such treatment. Cokes long-running feud with Francis Bacon, over everything from both men battling for what became Cokes second wife (Coke would come to regret that victory) to the treatment of the Kings prerogative, makes for fine storytelling. Cokes maneuvering in the tight quarters of Westminster to protect his position as judge and MP are also engaging. Often, though, Bowen spends too much time on general descriptions of scenes, and the long transcripts of Cokes early cases as Attorney General dont have the same moral and historical weight as his later efforts. Still, the book allows one to enter the intricate world of 16th and 17th century politics in a way few books can, and deserves a read from anyone curious about the era, or the roots of our own civil liberties.
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Published 26.01.2019

Lion - King Of The Throne ft Greg Lawrence (Official Music Video)

The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)

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As small lion figurines are placed inside the niches of the throne, it is called the Thihathana Throne or Royal Lion Throne. It is made out of yamane wood Gmelina arborea.
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The Lion throne is a very common symbol of authority. It occurs from the very west point of Europe to Indo-China and perhaps also in Indonesia. From China, no lion thrones are known for the time being. The lion throne probably comes from the Egyptian cultural area because the oldest example is known from Egypt. Generally, examples of lion thrones are rather modern, and some very clear examples from the European Middle Ages are known.

4 thoughts on “The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke, 1552-1634 by Catherine Drinker Bowen

  1. The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke: Paperback – April 1, Sir Edward Coke and the Elizabethan Age (Jurists: Profiles in Legal Theory) Bowen tells his story in a fluid, readable style and evokes the strangeness (to our minds) of Coke's.

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