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Full text of "Coke of Norfolk and his friends : the life of Thomas William Coke, first earl of Leicester of Holkham, containing an account of his ancestry, surroundings, public services & private friendships & including many unpublished letters from noted men of his day, English & American"

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after the HoLf^utmbicture by (Jains boroiMfh.^) 

od William (9 eke, (barl cfLJ^eic&rfyr: 

'Born if 54 - tyud 1842. 



BY A. M. W. STIRLING fig fig ffl ffl 

" / have never received a farthing of the public money 
my hands are clean " T. W. COKE 




50 b 









" ^T^HE life, the almost patriarchal life, of a man 
J[ like Lord Leicester" says a writer of an obituary 
notice in 1842, ' * extending as it did over a vast 
portion of the most interesting and important periods of 
our history, is so interwoven with national events in 
which his active mind could not fail to take a conspicuous 
part) that) whether regarded as the Senator ; the friend 
and companion of those illustrious men who long since 
preceded him into the world of spirits, the consistent 
advocate of all that he deemed right and virtuous in high 
places , or the prince of landlords and farmers, rich and 
abundant matter is reserved for the pen of his biographer ; 
and these materials I do earnestly hope to see, by suitable 
hands employed, worthily to honour the name and hallow 
the memory of Coke of Holkham." 1 

With regard to the non-appearance of that expected 
biography, I feel that a brief explanation is necessary. 

It is still a matter of comment, and in a former 
generation it was one of constant surprise that no life 
had been published of a man of such world-wide 
reputation as " Coke of Norfolk." 

Immediately after the death of Lord Leicester, or, 

1 Norfolk Chronicle, July Qth, 1842. 


as he was better known to his generation, " Coke of 
Norfolk," many biographies were set in progress. 
Francis Blakie, his former steward, in a letter written 
in 1843, mentions that, to his knowledge, no less than 
six were then being written, principal among which 
were a Social and Political Life by Mr. R. N. Bacon, 
and an Agricultural Life by Mr. Samuel Taylor ; 
while doubtless many others of which Blakie had not 
heard were at that time contemplated and attempted. 

These, however, were one and all abandoned upon 
the authoritative Life being undertaken by Lady 
Leicester's brother, Mr. Thomas Keppel, who alone 
was granted access to the necessary muniments ; and 
who, so the old letters explain, persuaded both Mr. 
Bacon and Mr. Taylor to give up to him the material 
which they had collected for their own MSS. 

By a curious chain of events, however, the MS. of 
that authoritative Life, which occupied Mr. Keppel 
many years, was lost before publication. And to this, 
primarily, may be attributed the fact that the name of 
Coke of Norfolk, once a household word both in Eng- 
land and America, has sunk into an oblivion which 
then it would have been thought impossible could ever 
befall it. 

For Coke occupied a unique position in his genera- 
tion : as a landowner he was accredited with having 
transformed the agriculture of both hemispheres ; as 
a politician, although his cordial dislike to politics pre- 
vented him ever filling any great public office, yet he 
remained for over half a century a prominent Member 
of the House of Commons, during which time his 
contemporaries stated that the force of his example 


exercised a peculiar influence upon the political world 
of his day, and during which, in recognition of his 
services, he was offered a peerage seven times, under 
six different Prime Ministers, while a fact hitherto 
unrecognised he was the prime mover in several 
important political crises. 

Unfortunately, with Mr. Keppel's lost biography, 
is lost, apparently irrevocably, much valuable corre- 
spondence of which Coke was known to have been 
possessed, and thus much also of vital interest respect- 
ing Coke himself and the period in which he lived. 
My task, in consequence, has been rendered far more 
difficult. The letters from Coke, which are still extant, 
are business or political letters only, which reveal little 
more of the intimate feelings and actions of the man 
than do the bare newspaper reports of his views upon 
public affairs. He kept no journals ; and the corre- 
spondence which was preserved by him consists, per- 
force, of letters addressed to him, which express the 
opinions of his friends rather than his own. Still 
more, his sons' remembrance of their father is but dim, 
and all others are now dead who could have aided me 
by personal recollections. 

On the other hand, my knowledge of his life is 
probably greater than that of any one else now living. 
As the grandchild of Coke's favourite daughter, who 
was the inseparable companion of his prime, I have 
heard all that has survived orally respecting him from 
an unimpeachable source. For other information and 
anecdotes I am indebted to notes preserved by 
Mr. Keppel, and for the account of Coke's early 
years I am indebted to a fragment of the MS. of 

A 2 


Mr. Bacon, preserved by his granddaughter both 
these biographers having received their information 
verbatim from Coke himself, so that the accuracy of 
their facts can scarcely be called in question. Finally, 
with regard to the correspondence of Coke's friends 
preserved in the Holkham muniments, I can only 
quote Southey's dictum that "A man's character 
can more surely be judged by those letters which his 
friends addressed to him, than by those he himself 
penned" ; for the former reveal, often with unconscious 
faithfulness, the light in which a man was regarded by 
those who had personal knowledge of his character ; 
and to-day, by their means, Coke of Norfolk can still 
be re-created for us out of the hearts of those who 
knew him best. 

In view of this, however, it will probably be objected 
that, from the correspondence and the biographies 
consulted, I have selected those letters and passages 
only which are panegyrical ; but I wish to emphasise 
the fact that, so far from this being the case, I 
found the uniformly eulogistic nature of the material 
with which I had to deal to constitute in itself a great 
difficulty, and I have been forced in many instances to 
suppress material I should otherwise have made use 
of, for fear of wearying those who read the Life of 
Coke of Norfolk by the reiteration of a theme which 
never appears to have wearied those who witnessed 
that life. 

With regard to the correspondence inserted in the 
present volume, save in a very few instances, where, 
for the sake of the narrative, it has been necessary 
to quote letters previously made public, all corres- 


pondence introduced consists of private holograph 
letters never before published. With regard to the 
anecdotes related, I have given those only for which 
I had direct authority ; where another account is in 
existence and any discrepancy exists between the two 
versions, I have given the reference to that second 
authority, while adhering to the version which I, person- 
ally, had received. With regard to the political events 
during the period dealt with, I have touched on these 
in so far only as the correspondence, speeches, or anec- 
dotes quoted necessitated a brief explanation ; and such 
explanation I have given usually from the standpoint 
of those whose outlook I wished to depict, rather than 
from that of a less biassed posterity. 

In short, my aim has been, before it was too late, to 
gather together whatever record remains of a career of 
exceptional usefulness and of surroundings of great 
interest ; and in so far as this was practicable, to tell 
the character and the life of Coke of Norfolk by the 
lips of his contemporaries. 

The type of Englishman of his day is no longer to 
be found among us the large-hearted, open-handed 
Whig prince of another generation, who was a feudal 
lord upon his own estate, who rode with the foremost, 
drank with impunity what would kill his descendants, 
spoke with a vehemence which would shock latter-day 
susceptibilities, believed in God with the same sincerity 
with which he accepted a political opponent as the 
prototype of all evil, and fought for the liberty of the 
subject or the elevation of the masses with a convic- 
tion that the welfare of England was directly menaced 
by the machinations of the " Vile Tories and their Viler 


head, Mr. Pitt." He has given place to a genera- 
tion grown more puny alike in its convictions, its 
virtues, and its vices ; while with him has vanished 
the simplicity of aim and conduct which constituted 
the charm of that old world, and which found its best 
expression in the devotion which could subsist between 
class and class, the veneration of the lower, the genuine 
affection of the higher. 

I can, however, only present Coke of Norfolk to the 
present generation as he was once presented to the 
men of his day. On one of the many occasions when 
his great friend, Lord Albemarle, 1 was called upon at 
a public meeting to propose Mr. Coke's health, Lord 
Albemarle rose, and inquired facetiously from those 
present " Have I credit enough with the company to 
induce them to fill a bumper to the toast I am about to 
give?" Being very heartily reassured on this point, 
he added with mock solemnity "I am then about to 
propose to you Mr. Coke, our Member for the County. 
Of him, gentlemen, / have not one word to say in 
recommendation " ; and when he saw the surprised 
looks upon the faces of the audience, he added em- 
phatically : 

" If a public life devoted to the support of the sound- 
est constitutional principles, if a private life passed in 
unremitting assiduity to promote the welfare of society 
and the exercise of every social virtue, be not sufficient 
to entitle him to your favour, his case is hopeless, for I 
can command no words in which to speak of him with- 
out any recommendation from me ; therefore, Gentle- 
men, I give him up to you, let him speak for himself." 

1 William Charles, fourth Earl of Albemarle. 


In conclusion, I wish most cordially to thank all who 
have aided me by any information, or by the loan of 
correspondence or pictures which were in their posses- 
sion ; especially the present Lord Leicester, Mr. Henry 
Coke, Col. Wenman Coke, the Duke of Bedford, Lord 
Townshend, Lord Sherborne, Sir William ffolkes, 
Mr. George Keppel, Mr. Vade-Walpole, Mr. James 
Hooper, Mr. Walter Rye, Mrs. Steele, the owner of 
Mr. R. N. Bacon's MS., Mr. Albert Hartshorne, and 
Mr. F. P. Barnard. 

A. M. W. S. 





HAM, 1697-1755 . . 19 


HAM, 1719-1759 . . 47 


COKE, 1754-1767 . . 67 

V. THE GRAND TOUR, 1771-1774. JETAT. 17-20. 91 


^ETAT. 19-20 . . . . 115 

VII. EARLY MANHOOD, 1774-1776. <<ETAT. 20-22 . 130 


22-24 '55 

IX. DICK MERRYFELLOW, 1776-1780. J&TAT. 22-26 191 


^ETAT. 26-30 . . . 201 








29-35 . . 320 

XVI. DR. SAMUEL PARR . ... 354 

XVII. POLITICAL EVENTS, 1788-1792. &TAT. 34-38 369 


38-41 394 


40-46 . . ... 418 



After the Holkham picture by Gainsborough 

To face page 


From an oil painting by Janson 

OF JAMES I . . . ... 12 


From a picture by Kneller 


CICERO . . . . ... 26 


AND CHAPEL WING . . . ... 40 


From an engraving by J. McArdell, after A. Ramsay 


Bust by Chantrey after a model by Roubillac 



COKE, EARL OF LEICESTER. ^ETAT. 16, 1715 . . . 74 


To face page 


From a painting at Holkham 

LOKE, BART. . . . . ... 92 

From a pastel in the possession of Sir Walter Spencer-Stanhope, K.C.B. 


From a picture by Gainsborough in the possession of Francis Pierrepont Barnard 



From an oil picture by Battoni 


From a painting by Zoffany in the possession of Lord Sherborne 


In the possession of Mr. George Cubitt, Norwich 

BENEDICT ARNOLD . . . ... 210 


From a pastel in the possession of Sir Walter Spencer-Stanhope, K.C.B. 

THE HALL AT HOLKHAM . . ... 238 



REV. SAMUEL PARR, LL.D. . . ... 354 

From an engraving by W. Skelton, after J. J. Halls, 1813 

ROGER WILBRAHAM, M.P. . . ... 388 

HOLKHAM . . . . ... 408 

In the possession of the Earl of Leicester 


From a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the possession of the Honble. Stephen 
Powys, of St. Ann's Hill, Chertsey 

MRS. COKE (JANE BUTTON) . . ... 446 

From a picture by Barber 





IN reviewing the life of Thomas William Coke, 
better known to his generation as " Coke of 
Norfolk," it is well to glance briefly at the story 
of his heritage, which is of unusual interest, 
and at the circumstances which served to mould a 
character of exceptionally strong individuality. 

The family of Coe, or Coke, is said to be of very 
ancient origin ; but genealogists are content with 
carrying back the family records to the year 1206, 
when Camden assigns its foundation to William Coke 
of Dodington (Diddlington), who held the lordship of 
South Burgh, and who is mentioned in a deed of that 
year. He was the ancestor, by his wife Felice, of one 
Robert Coke of Sparham, whose son Robert, a barrister 
of great practice and a Bencher of Lincoln's Inn, in 
the year 1554, became possessed of the Manor of 
Burghwood, in Mileham and Tittleshall, by purchase 
from the Townshend family, 
i. B 


The date of the conveyance by Sir Roger Townshend 
to Robert Coke was 6 April, anno 5 Edward VI ; but 
there is no doubt that Robert was resident at Mile- 
ham four years earlier, either as a tenant or upon land 
acquired in some other manner ; for there in February, 
1550, his illustrious son, Edward, destined to be the 
great lawgiver of England and America, was born. 

In a wood near to Tittleshall are to be seen the foun- 
dations of a building surrounded by a square moat 
which was probably the site of the ancient Manor 
House ; yet whether this was a ruin or was still habit- 
able at the time of Robert Coke's purchase is not 
known. A modern farm-house near the road is errone- 
ously pointed out as the birthplace of the great Judge, 
but it has certainly no claim to such a distinction ; 
though it is not unlikely that, after his purchase of the 
land, Robert Coke erected his residence upon or near 
the site now occupied by this farm. An ancient gate- 
way is mentioned by Blomefield as existing there in 
his time, but of this no vestige now remains ; only in 
one of the windows of the present house are to be seen 
inserted a portion of the Coke coat of arms, which 
must have been taken from the original dwelling in- 
habited by Robert Coke. 

The great man who was born in this quiet, unfre- 
quented spot came into the world with undue haste by 
the fireside of his mother's parlour at Mileham. In 
old age he was always fond of relating this, his first 
exploit, and used to tell how, from the extraordinary 
energy which he displayed on that occasion, great 
expectations were formed of his future career. That 
these expectations were amply fulfilled is well known 


to posterity ; but in an old account of Sir Edward's 
career his principal achievements and sayings are thus 
quaintly summarised. 1 

After showing how he was descended from Sir 
Thomas Coke of Huntley (who was himself of ancient 
lineage, and who in the year 1362, the 36th of Edward 
III, was "Lord of Dudlington, Foulden, etc."), it states 
how Edward Coke attended the Grammar School at 
Norwich at the age of ten, and how afterwards he 

" Bred in Trinity College, Cambridge, and Cliffords 
Inn and the Inner Temple, London ; and after six 
years was called to the Bar. In his younger years he 
was Recorder of the Cities of Norwich and London ; 
then Solicitor-General to Queen Elizabeth ; and in 
1593, the 35th of her Reign, was Speaker to the 
House of Commons. 

" He was afterwards Attorney-General to that 
Queen, as also to her successor, James I, and by 
him was made Lord Chief Justice of both Benches 
successively, in which he was a just and exemplary 

" He was likewise one of the Privy Council to that 
King and Ann his Queen ; and Chief Justice in Eyre 
of all her Forests, Chaces, Parks, etc : and was also 
Recorder of the City of Coventry, and High Steward 
of the University of Cambridge : and by King James 
was Knighted. 

" He was a person of admirable Parts, excellent in 
all learning, and especially in the Knowledge and 
Practice of the Municipal Laws of this Kingdom : 
having a deep Judgment, faithful Memory, and active 
Fancy : and the Jewel of his Mind was put in a fair 
Case, a beautiful Body, with a comely Countenance : 
a Case which he did wipe and keep clean : he delighted 
in good Clothes, being well worn; being wont to say 

1 Quoted in the British Compendium for the year 1746. 


that the outward neatness of our Bodies might be an 
incentive to the purity of our Souls. 

"He was a famous Pleader and a sound Councillor; 
for none ever applied himself closer to the Common 
Law, nor ever understood it better ; of which he con- 
vinced England by his excellent Administration for 
many years together whilst Attorney-General, and 
by executing the office of Lord Chief Justice with 
great wisdom and prudence. Nor did he give less 
proofs of his Abilities in his excellent Reports and 
Commentaries on our Law ; whereby he hath greatly 
obliged both his own Age and Posterity. 

"For three Things he would give God solemn 
Thanks : that he never gave his Body to Physic, his 
Heart to Cruelty, nor his Hand to Corruption. 

" In three Things he much applauded his own 
Success : in his fair fortune of ^"30,000 by his Wife, 
in his happy study of the Laws, and in his free 
coming by all his Offices, Nee prece nee pretio. 
Neither begging nor bribing for Preferment. 

"He always declined Circumlocutions, and com- 
mended Moderation ; saying, If a River swelleth 
beyond its Banks, it loseth its own Channel. 

"If an adverse Party crossed him, he would 
patiently reply If another punish me, I will not 
punish myself. 

"He would never privately retract what he had 
publicly adjudged ; professing that he was a Judge 
in a Court, not in a Chamber. 

"He was wont to say That no wise Man should 
do that in Prosperity, whereof he would repent in 

"He gave for his Motto Prudens quipatiens, and 
his Practice was accordingly. 

"In his private life he triumphed in his Innocence, 
that he had done nothing illegally, calling to mind 
the Motto which he gave in his Rings when made 
Serjeant, Lex est tutissima Cassis, The Law is the 
safest Helmet. 

"And now he had leisure to peruse thirty books, 
written with his own Hand, pleasing himself most 


with a Manual, which he called his Vade Mecum, 
containing the Remarkables of his Life. His most 
learned and laborious works in the Laws will last, to 
be admired by his judicious Posterity, to the end of 

" He constantly had Prayers in his own House, 
and relieved the Poor with his constant Alms. 

" The Foundation of the Charter House had been 
ruined before it was raised and crushed by some 
Courtiers in the Beginning had not his great Care 
preserved it. 1 The Free School at Thetford was sup- 
ported by his Assistance and he founded a School at 
his own Cost at Godwich, in Norfolk. Dr. Whitgift 
(afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury) was his Tutor, 
who sent him, when he was the Queen's Attorney, a 
New Testament with this Message : He had studied 
Common Law enough ; let him hereafter study the 
Law of God. He died on 3rd September, 1633, at 
Stoke Pogis, in the County of Berks, in the 83rd 
year of his Age, devoutly resigning his last Breath 
with these Words, Thy Kingdom Come ! Thy Will 
be done ! " 

We learn besides that Sir Edward was averse from 
ostentation, was temperate, simple and methodical in 
his habits, as he was neat in his dress and fastidious 
respecting the cleanliness of his person. It was his 
custom to " Measure out his time at regular hours ; to 
retire to rest at nine o'clock, and to rise at three in the 
morning." 2 His physique was vigorous; his air and 
manner were grave and full of dignity. 

The one great stain upon his memory during the 
earlier days of his career, his method of brow-beating 

1 Coke was one of the Governors of the Charter House named by 
Mr. Sutton, and he sustained the letters patent of the Crown against 
Lord Bacon and the other counsel who endeavoured to overthrow them 
on behalf of the heir-at-law of Mr. Sutton. 

2 Roger Coke's Detection, ed. 1696, p. 49. 


and insulting the prisoners brought up before him 
for trial a method certainly not in accordance with 
modern ideas either of the dignity of a judge or the 
impartiality of the law appears to have been due to 
an ungovernable excitability and acerbity of temper, 
which, combined with a coarse bluntness of speech, led 
him to give violent expression to the belief of the 
moment. Yet, although he won well-deserved oppro- 
brium when Attorney-General from his manner of 
conducting the trials of Essex, Raleigh and Southamp- 
ton, it is said that this excitability left him in later 
years, and we find that, although a harsh foe, he 
could also be a generous one ; for instance, having on 
one occasion uttered a slander against Raleigh's 
religion, and having subsequently become convinced 
of his own error in this matter, he heartily and in open 
Court retracted his previous assertion with every ap- 
pearance of honest satisfaction. 1 

1 State Trials, Vol. II, p. 38. 

With regard to Raleigh, it appears possible that Sir Edward may 
have had greater reason to suspect the honesty of the prisoner than was 
apparent to the general public. 

When the Earl of Essex was executed on Tower Hill, 25th February, 
1 60 1, for a mad plot which was declared treasonable, a number of his 
adherents, including Sir Ed. Baynham, were tried the same day and 
condemned to death. The report was that Sir W. Raleigh subsequently 
set himself to obtain the pardon of some of the condemned, in considera- 
tion of receiving from them large sums of money. On July 2gth, 
Baynham was still in the King's Bench Prison, condemned to death ; a 
few days later he was discharged by a warrant from the Privy Council ; 
he went abroad and lived many years afterwards. 

That Raleigh was implicated in his release appears to be proved by 
the following curious letter from him to Sir E. Coke, which is preserved 
at Holkham : 


(Attorney-General from loth April, 1594, till y^th June, 1606). 
"Mr. Aturney it would greatly expedite my business for baynam if 
you would be pleas to write me a few lines to this effect, y*. wheras 

Lord Chief Justice in the Reign of James I 


But whatever the errors of mood and bearing of 
which the Lord Chief Justice was guilty, it was not 
only as the greatest lawyer that England ever produced 
that he " greatly obliged his own Age and Posterity." 
It was in his fearless denunciation of abuses, in his 
unflinching honesty and integrity of purpose that he 
compels the reverence of all ages. He was no time- 
server and no respecter of persons. Where he believed 
in the justice of his opinion, he defied King and Court 
to his own disadvantage. He is accredited with having 
been the first Judge who had the insight to see and the 
moral courage to denounce all torturing of prisoners 
as illegal and senseless, which alone might endear his 
name to posterity. But to appreciate his character at 
its true worth, it is necessary to realise the age in which 
he lived. The Judges held their offices merely at 
the King's pleasure ; they were considered practically 
bound to justify the acts of the Crown. The royal 
favour meant wealth and promotion, its forfeiture ruin 
and imprisonment, if not actual loss of life. Under 
such conditions, political morality was well-nigh im- 

I entreated you to know whether her majesyte might reape any pfitt by 
Baynam's deathe, or wher [whether] baynam weare farther in ay 
[any] of thes treasons then the comon sort of y e . L. of Essex servants 
and followers, you will answer y 4 . you have looked into his estate and 
have delivered your knowledge. For the land in Essex you shall order 
it as it shall pleas you. 

Your ost assured 

loving friend 

Dered House this mday oring [Monday morning]. 


To the right worshipfull 

Mr. Aturney generall." 

Raleigh elsewhere calls Durham House Derum House. Queen 
Elizabeth had commanded the use thereof to Sir Walter Raleigh. 


practicable, its pursuit met with the condemnation 
meted out to the disgrace which it inevitably involved. 
Yet in those days of servile submission to the kingly 
prerogative, Coke maintained with a sturdy defiance 
that no Royal Proclamation can make that an offence 
which was not an offence before. With unflinching 
courage he defended the judicial authority against 
James I. When a test case was propounded by the 
King, and when all the Judges acquiesced abjectly in 
the royal will, Coke, resolved to lose the seals rather 
than compromise his integrity, held his ground, alone 
and undaunted, in defence of what he considered 
right, refusing to give other answer than that "when 
the case occurred he would do his duty." Dismissed, but 
not disgraced, he upheld the privileges of the House of 
Commons until he was committed to the Tower for six 
years. Early in the reign of Charles I he was one of 
the most conspicuous of Parliamentary leaders. At 
the age of seventy-five, "an age when the wealthy of 
his time of life are unusually turned opponents of 
change, he was leading on the Reformers of his day 
with all the gallant buoyancy of youth. His love of 
liberty and even-handed justice shone as bright as it 
did twenty years previously, when he first ascended the 
Seat of Judgment. He was still labouring for his 
country with an energy that never flagged and an 
enthusiasm not yet exhausted," 1 and his last act was 
proposing and framing the famous Petition of Right, 
though he died at the age of eighty-three, before the 
great struggle had come to a head. 

In brief, Coke not only triumphed in the worldly 

1 Johnson's Life of Sir Edward Coke, Vol. II, p. 42. 


advantage which he sought, through sheer determina- 
tion and stability of character, but in the most crucial 
situations he acted with a keenness of insight far in 
advance of the age in which he lived, and with a stub- 
bornness of virtue which created an epoch in legal and 
Parliamentary history. 

And, making all due allowance for the difference of 
time and circumstance, we shall see later how in the 
independence of his outlook, in his hatred of ostenta- 
tion, in his sturdy pertinacity of character, in his very 
axioms of conduct, above all, in his opposition to the 
exercise of the Royal Prerogative, together with the un- 
flinching integrity and sincerity of purpose for which 
he commands admiration, we recognise the ruling 
characteristics of his descendant, Thomas William 
Coke, who was born into the world just over two 
centuries later than himself. 

Yet the strange trickery of this law of re-creation 
baffles while it compels attention. For the erratic 
impulse which will thus obliterate similitude in a near 
generation to produce it in a remote descendant ; which, 
in succeeding generations, from clay will evolve gold, 
and again from gold will evolve clay ; or which will 
revive both with a fine disregard of the proportions in 
which they were existent in the type reverted to all 
this we shall see, too, in the varying phases through 
which the marked individuality of Sir Edward stamped 
itself upon his posterity. 

In his private life, Sir Edward was fated to experi- 
ence somewhat variable conditions. His first wife was 
Bridget Paston, a descendant of Judge Paston, who sat 
on the Bench of Common Pleas with Judge Littleton, 

whose renowned commentator Coke became. The 
daughter and co-heir of John Paston of Huntingfield 
Hall, Suffolk, and later of Barningham Hall, Norfolk, 
she brought her husband not only honours and pro- 
motion, but a fortune of 30,000, and bore him a 
family of ten children, seven sons and three daughters, 
some of whom died in infancy. 1 At Holkham there is 
a life-sized picture of her, probably painted soon after 
her marriage, a companion picture to one of her 
husband in his crimson robes. Her pale blonde hair, 
strung with pearls, is turned back from her handsome 
young face ; her tightly-laced dress of blue and silver 
is surmounted by an Elizabethan ruff which leaves 
revealed a neck of snowy whiteness ; while her soft 
eyes, bright colouring and singularly gentle expres- 
sion, corroborate the report of her beauty and her 
amiability which has descended to posterity. Her 
marriage with Sir Edward was one of mutual affection, 
and the rough, stern law-giver appears to have been 
deeply attached to his gentle wife. She, for her 
part, appears to have been a strict economist and 
excellent housekeeper. Her house-book for the years 
1 596-7, kept in her own hand, is still preserved 
at Holkham, and shows that her husband's table 
was substantially, but by no means luxuriously, pro- 

With Sir Edward's second marriage we need not 
deal, but it is said to have been a strange contrast to 

1 The British Encyclopedia asserts that she died six months after her 
marriage ! The Paston family is now extinct ; the last female descen- 
dant was Lady Bedingfield, wife of Sir Henry Bedingfield, of Oxburgh, 


the happiness of his first. 1 His harsh treatment of 
Frances, one of his two daughters by this marriage, is 
also a matter of history how he, with his armed sons, 
dragged her forcibly from her mother's care, and 
kept her under lock and key in his house at Stoke 
Pogis until he had insisted on her ill-fated marriage to 
Sir John Villiers, brother to the favourite Buckingham. 2 
Later, however, the unhappy Frances is said to have 
been the comfort of her father's declining years, until 
the great Chief Justice died in 1633, with, we are told, 
" his love of equity and religion attending him to the 

His body was then brought back to his birthplace 
in Norfolk, to be buried in the quiet little church of 
Tittleshall, where his mother had been interred in the 
year 1569. There, too, reposed the remains of the 

1 He married secondly Lady Elizabeth Hatton, relict of Sir Chris- 
topher Hatton, daughter of Thomas, second Earl of Burleigh, and 
granddaughter of the great Cecil, a Court beauty. The fact that 
Bacon was also a rival for her hand made Coke more keen in his 

2 In acting thus, Coke was accused of having gone counter to his 
own judgment in a case in which he had emulated the wisdom of Solo- 
mon. In those days swans were looked upon as a valuable property, 
and a swan-owner had brought an action against another swan-owner 
to assert his right to halve the cygnets of a brood. He proved by the 
swan marks that though one parent belonged to the rival claimant, the 
other belonged to himself, and suggested a compromise. The case was 
taken before the Lord Chief Justice. Sir Edward, after deliberation, 
based his decision on the high moral and domestic character of swans, 
evidence of which was adduced to his complete satisfaction. " The 
swan," he pronounced, "is the husband of one wife, and remains so 
till death. Consequently the children are of undeniable parentage"; 
and as the two parents in the case under consideration, being the 
property of different owners, lived apart, he decided that the offspring 
sprung from the marriage should be divided between their respective 
homes, the odd cygnet, if there was one, belonging to the residence of the 
hen swan. 

gentle and beloved Bridget, whose effigy, unlike the 
radiant beauty pictured at Holkham, shows a soberly 
clad matron, her head shrouded in a coif, and her eight 
surviving children kneeling at her feet. Near by her 
tomb there soon arose a monument of her husband, 
which may be seen to-day as fresh and unblemished 
as if the hand of the chiseller had only just left it. 
The name of Coke as a defender of the people's 
liberties ensured immunity from the depredations 
of the Roundheads ; and thus his tomb remains to the 
present one of the few which no mutilation has de- 
faced, and which Time itself seems to have spared. 

Beneath a canopy of alabaster, sculptured in marble 
and supported by a long-tasselled cushion, Coke's 
effigy lies in judge's robes with his chain of office 
about his neck. His shapely hands are raised, palm 
to palm ; on his head is a tight-fitting cap, round his 
neck the stiff Elizabethan ruff, on his upturned feet 
are square-toed shoes with large rosettes. That "fair 
case, a beautiful body with a comely countenance," has 
been worthily perpetuated for posterity ; his marble 
face with its Grecian nose and fine regularity of outline 
still testifies to the classical perfection of his features. 
Over his head two tablets record his high honours and 
his great virtues. At the base of the tomb another 
tablet sets forth the fact that " He crowned a pious life 
with a pious departure, "concluding with those last words 
which he breathed on earth at the close of his stirring, 
chequered career : "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be 
done ! " to which the sculptor has added 

" Learne, Reader, to live so, that thou may'st so 




Throughout his life Sir Edward's great aim had 
been the acquisition of landed property. Partly through 
his great professional success, partly through the large 
fortunes brought him by both his wives, he was enabled 
to purchase estates all over England, and had large 
properties in Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Berkshire, and 
the present neighbourhood of Manchester, while in 
Norfolk alone he acquired sixty manors. It is said 
that once James I, who had watched Coke's growing 
power with great dissatisfaction, became seriously 
alarmed at the monopoly which he was creating, and 
informed him angrily that he "had already as much land 
as a subject ought to possess ! " Coke thereupon had pro- 
fessed his willingness to be content if he might add but 
" one more acre " to his estates. This modest request the 
Crown could not refuse, and Coke immediately pur- 
chased the great estate of Castleacre, 1 which was said 
to be as large as all the rest of his Norfolk lands put 

At the death of the Lord Chief Justice, therefore, 
each of his sons inherited vast estates, and each, in 
turn, appears to have followed his father's example, 
and wedded a wife of noble birth, fair looks and 
princely fortune. It was in this fashion that John, 
the fourth son of Sir Edward partly through pur- 
chase, partly through marriage with the heiress of the 
property became possessed of the estate of Holkham. 
There are many theories respecting the origin of the 
name Holkham, but the most picturesque relates how 

1 Already a ruin in 1647. The Duke of Norfolk disposed of it to 
Thomas Gresham, who had purchased the lordship of Castleacre town 
from the Earl of Arundel. 

this wild, bleak sea-coast was formerly one of the 
estates of Annas, under-king of the East-Angles, de- 
scribed by Bede as a " truly religious man," and slain 
by the pagan king, Penda, A.D. 654. Annas was the 
father of four daughters, who all inherited the piety 
of their parent, Sexburga, Ethelburga, Etheldreda, 
and Withburga. This last and youngest child was 
sent to be nursed in the village of Holkham, which 
village, even during her childhood, bore its present 
name, and is reported to have acquired it from her 
saintly presence, Hoeligham Holy Home. It is, how- 
ever, certain that out of compliment to her it was for 
some years called Withburgstowe, or the place of 
Withburga ; though it afterwards recovered that 
earlier name, which it still retains. 

All the young days of Withburga's life were spent 
at Holkham, and subsequently so many curious 
legends were connected with her, that the scene where 
her childhood had been passed was held peculiarly 
sacred. As a maiden she founded a Benedictine 
Nunnery at Dereham, said to have been so poor at its 
institution that, through the holy prioress's prayers, 
the nuns were miraculously supported by two milch 
does which came daily to a certain bridge to be milked, 
till the bailiff of the town, instigated by the devil, took 
bow and arrows and slew them. He was promptly 
smitten with jaundice and died miserably ; while, in 
proof of this miracle, not only does the town bear the 
name of Deer-ham to this day, but, still to be seen in 
the churchyard, is the sacred well which, some genera- 
tions later, sprang from Saint Withburga's grave after 
her incorruptible body had been stolen from its shrine 




by the monks of Ely. Recognising that for three 
hundred years Dereham had found the royal corpse 
a substantial source of profit owing to the pilgrims 
who came from all parts of the world to visit it, the 
rapacious monks appropriated the precious relic, and 
interred it near Withburga's three royal sisters in Ely 
Cathedral, A.D. 947. 

The church in the park at Holkham, built in memory 
of the famous Princess, is still dedicated to Saint 
Withburga ; and, a celebrated sea-mark, it stands east 
of the village, upon a hill which seems to have served 
as a watch-tower. Another hill at a little distance was 
probably a large tumulus, since human bones and 
pieces of armour have been found in digging there. 

In the reign of Henry III, a family called the de 
Holkhams appears to have had an interest in the parish, 
though little trace of them remains beyond the bare 
record of their name. In the reign of Edward II, 
however, Holkham must have been a port of some 
consequence, for in 1311 the King sent his writ to this 
town, among other recognised seaports, to furnish one 
ship to assist in transporting his army from Dublin to 
Scotland. Later, Holkham came into the possession 
of the Boleyns of Blickling. Sir W. Boleyn, second 
son of Sir Geoffry Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London, 
died the owner of it in 1505 ; but subsequently his 
family sold it, and, with Burgh Hall, it passed into 
the possession of u the Lady Gresham," widow of Sir 
Thomas Gresham, member of a noted Norfolk family, 
since extinct. 

This widow, Lady Anne Gresham, is the first men- 
tioned as holding the Manor of Holkham and Burgh 


Hall ; and is further reported to have possessed two 
flocks of sheep, one called the Holkham Burgh flock, 
containing 457 sheep, and the other, the Southouse 
flock, containing 460 sheep. During the reign of 
James I, William Wheatley, of Hill Hall, Norfolk, 
purchased from her family Holkham Manor and its 
surrounding property, of which his granddaughter, 
Merial, eventually became heiress, and which, upon 
her marriage to John Coke, thus passed into the 
possession of the latter. There were, however, other 
lands in the parish of which Merial Wheatley was not 
the owner, and John Coke, who seems to have in- 
herited his father's passion for acquiring property, set 
himself to gain possession of these. By slow degrees 
he succeeded. " Messuages, land tenements, and 
marshes" were purchased by him, till, in the year 
1659, the final transference of property took place, 
and he became sole lord and owner of the entire parish 
of Holkham. 

Although John Coke did not acquire the Manor of 
Holkham till 1659, he was living in the parish in 1638, 
and it is very interesting to note that a year after he 
got possession of Holkham Manor, in 1660, he re- 
claimed 360 acres of salt marshes from the sea, thus 
establishing a precedent which his descendants fol- 
lowed. Beyond this solitary fact, little record of him 
remains. He seems to have been contented with the 
renown which was his by inheritance. A few of his 
papers relating to petty business transactions alone 
have survived, with a curious old document, 1 exquisitely 

1 In the possession of the present writer. 


transcribed in his own handwriting, which states how 
he covenants to lend to King James the sum of 30 ; 
and which, judging by the care bestowed on its preser- 
vation, seems to indicate that the loan was never 
refunded. Of Merial the only record remaining is her 
effigy on her tomb in the church at Holkham, where 
she kneels facing her husband, while carved in stone 
beneath are the numerous sons and daughters who 
survived her out of a family of fourteen children. 

Upon his father's death, the youngest son of John 
and Merial, also named John, succeeded to the posses- 
sion of Holkham ; but he dying childless, the estates 
then reverted to Robert, the grandson of Edward's fifth 
son, Henry of Thorington, who succeeded not only to 
Holkham, but to the greater part of Sir Edward's 

Robert married the Lady Ann Osborne, daughter of 
Thomas, Duke of Leeds, Lord Treasurer of England ; 
but dying at the early age of twenty-nine, he left an 
only son, Edward, who married Carey, or Gary, 
daughter of Sir John Newton, of Barr's Court, in 

Of Carey several portraits exist at Holkham which 
show her to have been tall, stately and slender, with 
dark eyes and fair hair ; while her high forehead and 
thoughtful expression are full of intellect and of a 
strong individuality. 

Motteux, 1 who dedicated the second edition of his 
translation of Don Quixote to Edward Coke, speaks of 
the " charming and virtuous partner of Mr. Coke"; 

1 Peter Anthony Motteux (1660-1718), play writer and translator of 
Rabelais and Don Quixote. 

I. C 


while she has been described as a "fair and accom- 
plished woman," with "a true and delicate taste in 
literature and art." 1 That she collected and appre- 
ciated books is shown by the dainty volumes which she 
added to the Holkham library, pasting in them a little 
label inscribed 

Gary Coke, wife of Edward Coke of Norfolk, Esquire. 

The portrait of her husband, Edward Coke, presents 
a striking contrast to her own. In his long periwig 
and quaint attire, he is fat and somewhat bucolic in 
appearance, also if portraits can be so far trusted 
more addicted to good-living than to youthful 

But a sinister fate seems to have overtaken the young 
couple. On April i3th, 1707, Edward Coke died with- 
out having completed his thirtieth year, and within four 
months his fair young wife, at the early age of twenty- 
seven, had followed him to the grave. 2 Not only to 
the heritage of the Cokes, but to that gentle, ill-fated 
young mother, must be attributed the legacy of brains 
which descended to one, at least, of their children in 
such a remarkable degree. Three sons and two daughters 
survived them, and of these, Thomas, the eldest, achieved 
celebrity for his fine taste in art and literature, to which 
a fitting monument exists in the house which he built 
and the treasures which he accumulated. 

1 Sandringham, by Mrs. Herbert Jones, p. 131. 

2 Carey, born in Pall Mall, June, 1680, died August ist, 1707. Her 
grandmother was Lady Mary Carey, daughter of the Earl of Dover and 
wife of William Heveningham, one of the judges of Charles I. Lady 
Mary made her granddaughter, Carey Newton (Mrs. Coke), heiress to 
the estates of the Earl of Dover, to the exclusion of her son, Sir William 

Kncllcr Pinxt 





THOMAS COKE, son of Edward and Carey, 
was destined, all unwittingly, to play an 
important part in relation to the fortunes of 
his great-nephew, the subject of this memoir; 
and in observing how this came to pass, one cannot but 
feel it is to be regretted that no adequate record has 
been preserved of a man whose own life was certainly 

The few facts which are known of Thomas Coke go 
to prove that he was of a very unusual, if not of an 
altogether pleasant personality. Indeed, in many of 
his actions we are forced to recognise that, with much 
of the genius and the powerful brain of his great 
ancestor, he inherited in no small measure the less 
pleasing qualities of the Lord Chief Justice, notably 
Sir Edward's imperious spirit, acerbity and harshness 
of temper. 

There is one portrait of Thomas Coke as a youth 
which shows a thin, unprepossessing face of no par- 
ticular ability, with a mouth which suggests meanness, 
and an expression which seems to indicate weakness 
both of body and will. Probably this maligns him, 


for in later life he was certainly possessed of an im- 
posing presence and good looks. His portrait at 
Longford, in the robes of a Knight of the Bath, is that 
of a man with fine features and a stately carriage ; 
while the weakness of the youth has vanished, and, 
instead, one sees the signs of a strong intellect and an 
iron will. But still the face is not altogether attractive. 
There is a harshness about the mouth, and the eyes are 
stern and cold. 

Born June i7th, 1697, Thomas Coke succeeded to 
Holkham in the year 1707, and then a boy of ten, 
with his younger brothers and sisters, all wards in 
Chancery, he was sent to Barr's Court, in Gloucester- 
shire, to be brought up by his guardian and grandfather, 
Sir John Newton. 

Five years later, when fifteen years of age, he was sent 
abroad in order to complete his education at the Uni- 
versity at Turin and also by travel. With a coach and 
six, numerous other horses and carriages, and a very 
large retinue, the principal members of which appear 
to have been a chaplain, a Gentleman of the Horse, a 
" Mr. Steward, and a Valet de Chambre," he embarked 
for the Continent ; and during the next six years 
journeyed through France, Germany, Holland, Flan- 
ders, Malta, Sicily and Italy. Whether his great 
friend, Lord Burlington, 1 was with him the whole of the 
time there is nothing to show, but during a lengthy 
sojourn in Italy the two young men were together and, 
being possessed of congenial tastes, enjoyed the same 
society and shared the same interests. In those days 

1 Richard, third Earl of Burlington, celebrated as an amateur archi- 
tect. He built Burlington House. 


travellers were scarce, and two youths of wealth and 
position touring luxuriously from town to town could 
not fail to attract attention. Thomas Coke became 
known as a man of great liberality, who was the owner 
of large possessions in his own country ; and, before 
long, he was recognised familiarly throughout the 
length and breadth of Italy by the name of the 
"Cavaliero Coke." At the Court of Cosmo III, then 
Grand Duke of Tuscany, he and his friend were well 
received. They prolonged their stay in Rome, Vicenza, 
Venice, and still longer in Florence ; while they soon 
became on terms of great intimacy with all the most 
eminent scholars and artists of the day. 

Then it was that the unusual ability of Thomas 
Coke revealed itself. Still a mere lad in years, and 
belonging to a date when it was no disgrace for men of 
wealth and position to be illiterate and ill-educated, he 
showed all the keenness for acquiring knowledge and 
the eager appreciation of literature which, in those days, 
were too often relegated to the needy of a lower class. 

He devoted himself earnestly to the study of the 
ancient Greek and Roman authors ; and, his friend- 
ship with the scholars and bibliographers of the country 
affording him special opportunities for procuring rare 
treasures in literature, he soon began to form a collec- 
tion of valuable MSS. which comprised almost every 
department of literature, both sacred and profane. His 
favourite authors appear to have been the Roman 
historians, and amongst these he gave Livy the prefer- 
ence. He therefore commissioned a celebrated scholar, 
Antonio Maria Biscioni, Chief Librarian of the Lauren- 
tina, to collect any valuable material available connected 


with that historian ; and Biscioni devoted three years 
to the task, which, begun in 1717, was not finished till 
1720, after Mr. Coke's return to England. The result 
is that at Holkham there is a collection of the works 
of Livy probably unrivalled in any other library ; 
treasures in manuscript and in print too numerous to 
mention ; fourteen copies in manuscript of different 
portions of his works, duplicates of all the manuscripts 
preserved in the Laurentian Library in Florence and 
the libraries of Corsini and St. Mark's, together with 
a splendid manuscript in vellum of which we shall 
hear later. In 1721 Biscioni sent his collection over in 
a large folio volume, accompanied by a Latin letter 
which is sufficient evidence not only of the earnestness 
with which Thomas Coke prosecuted his studies, but 
of the liberality with which he rewarded those who 
worked for him. 

That many of the books now at Holkham were col- 
lected at an earlier date and during his own residence 
in Italy, is shown by the fact that the name of Thomas 
Coke, as a Commoner, is written upon the title-page ; 
and it was during his tour that an event occurred 
which subsequently led to a further and valuable addi- 
tion to his library in the form of a legacy, the story 
of which and of the testator's connection with Thomas 
Coke, afterwards Earl of Leicester, is told in the 
following curious announcement, which appeared in the 
Obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine for May, 1744 : 

"At the Earl of Leicester's House, Great Russel 
Street, Bloomsbury Square, Signore Dominico 
Ferrari, Dr. of Laws and F.R.S. as well as a 
member of several learned Foreign Academies. He 


was a Neapolitan by Birth, and of an antient Family 
in that City and practised as an Advocate in his 
Profession with no less success than applause, till 
by an Accident he became acquainted with a learned 
Man of Sir Thomas Coke's now Earl of Leicester- 
retinue ; by whose means, after serious consideration 
and conviction, he renounced his Practise and the 
Errors of the Church of Rome, and became a 
member of that of England ; and on his arrival here 
was appointed Librarian to the Noble Family where 
he died. We hear that his body being opened, a large 
Stone the size of a Turkey } s Egg was extracted and 
that he left a valuable Library to the EarL He was a 
gentleman of uncommon Learning, inoffensive to all, 
and of a most improving and agreeable Conversa- 

Thus, owing to his kindness when but a youth, to 
a distressed gentleman, did Thomas Coke, later in life, 
become possessed of a large number of very rare 
Italian books ; and another curious event which hap- 
pened during his tour in Italy was that he discovered 
a rare Italian manuscript which through his liberality 
proved a valuable acquisition to the literature of Italy. 
This was a history, in seven books, of the specimens 
of early art discovered in that country, called De 
Etruria Regali^ and dedicated to Cosmo II, written 
by Thomas Dempster, of Muriesk, 1 a Scotchman by 
birth, who had been driven from his native land a 
century earlier owing to his being a Roman Catholic. 
After various vicissitudes, Dempster became Professor 
at Bologna where he taught for seven years, and where 
he died in 1625 with his great work still unpublished. 
It would have lapsed into oblivion, and been lost for 
ever to Italy, but for the strange chance that an English 

1 Born 1579 ob. 1625. 


youth, touring through this foreign city, should happen 

to see, and be qualified to appreciate, the value of the 

almost illegible MSS. Thomas Coke, recognising its 

merits, bought the autograph copy of the great work 

from Antonio Maria Salvini, and determined not only 

to give it to the public at his own expense, but to spare 

no money in producing it in a worthy manner. The 

scholars of Italy were overjoyed at the promise of such 

a munificent gift to the country, and awaited the advent 

of the book with impatience ; but it was not till after 

his return to England and the attainment of his 

majority, that Thomas Coke was able to fulfil his 

intention. He then sent the original manuscript back 

to Italy that a copy might be made of it, and employed 

Biscioni for the purpose. It was no easy task to 

perform, owing to the writing of the manuscript being 

so difficult to decipher ; but Biscioni accomplished it in 

a year, and both the original manuscript and the copy 

are now in the library at Holkham. The work was 

finally printed at Florence, with about one hundred 

fine engravings of ancient art. To it was prefixed a 

Latin dedication to Cosmo III, written by Thomas 

Coke, in which he points out the strange coincidence 

that a book, by a native of Great Britain upon Italian 

antiquities, should remain to be published, a century 

afterwards, by another native of the same country, 

equally devoted to the same pursuits. This dedication 

is dated "at London I. Kal. Septem. 1725." 1 

But it was not only in matters of literature that 
Thomas Coke, during his minority, showed a fine 

1 Published 1723-4. Two vols., folio i. 


taste and a cultivated understanding. He was gifted 
with a consummate appreciation of beauty in colour 
and outline, and his devotion to classical art was even 
more remarkably developed than his devotion to classi- 
cal literature. Very early in his tour he appears to 
have begun a collection of valuable pictures a collec- 
tion which, later in life, left him in possession of 
genuine works of Raphael, of Titian, of the Caracci, 
of Guido, of Domenichino and other old masters ; of 
a splendid Van Dyck of the Due d'Arenberg on horse- 
back ; of landscapes of Claude Lorraine so numerous 
that they cover the walls of an entire room at Hoik- 
ham ; of several of the finest drawings of the same 
artist executed upon a larger scale and which, by 
their skill, almost equal in effect the most celebrated of 
his pictures, and of other drawings, amongst which 
were undoubted works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Fra 
Bartolommeo and Titian. 

To these he added specimens of statuary, the 
acquisition of which not only required knowledge and 
perspicuity, but was fraught with considerable danger, 
owing to the watchfulness of the Government, who 
tried to prevent any treasures which were of national 
value being taken out of the country. Thus it was 
that, in connection with one of his purchases, he 
got into a serious difficulty. He had secretly bought 
a beautiful headless figure of Diana for 1500, which 
on almost indisputable authority is believed to have 
belonged to Cicero. It is considered to be one of the 
finest specimens of classical drapery and perhaps the 
most beautiful representation of the goddess in exist- 
ence. After its purchase, Cavalier Camillo Rusconi, 


an eminent Italian sculptor, added the head and some 
of the fingers, which are the only parts that are 
modern. Having secured this statue secretly, Thomas 
Coke sent it out of Rome by night into safe keeping at 
Florence ; but the Government got wind of this action, 
the Pope caused him to be arrested and imprisoned, and 
he was released only at the special solicitation of his 
friend the Grand Duke Cosmo. 

Four very fine antique statues, however, of which he 
became possessed, were lost, as the vessel in which 
they were shipped was wrecked on its voyage to 
England. These statues, it is said, had been intended 
to decorate the niches in the south tribune of the 
statue gallery, in a house which he had already deter- 
mined to build upon his return to England. 

It is not known definitely at what date Thomas Coke 
first conceived the idea of erecting for himself a 
home of classical design, but there can be little doubt 
that the idea came to him as the result of his studying 
the beautiful specimens of Italian architecture, and 
that it was fostered by the influence of the man 
with whom he travelled. Lord Burlington was noted 
for his classical taste in, and practical knowledge 
of, architecture, and evidently imbued his friend with 
his own enthusiasm. During part of their tour the 
young men were accompanied by Mr. Kent, the archi- 
tect, 1 who, it is specially recorded, was encouraged by 
their joint patronage to prosecute his studies in Rome. 
Under such auspices, and while Thomas Coke was 

1 William Kent (1684-1748), painter, landscape gardener and Palla- 
dian architect, was a native of Yorkshire, and died at Burlington 



collecting treasures with which to embellish his future 
home, slowly and with unrivalled patience, he evolved 
the design of it. 

One can picture the eagerness with which the two 
young men, both, beyond a doubt, singularly gifted, both 
exceptionally appreciative of the beauty of their sur- 
roundings, must have pursued and developed the first 
idea of that wonderful building which was to embody 
all their impressions, all their artistic aspirations. The 
thought of such a practical outcome of their emotions 
must have added a zest to all their researches, to their 
daily enjoyment of the classical beauty in which they 
both delighted. Lord Burlington, indeed, with his 
creative faculty, appears to have been not one whit less 
interested in the construction of that projected house 
than was its future owner ; while the great idea of the 
latter was to combine convenience with beauty. With 
this object in view, Thomas Coke studied the most 
perfect examples, both of later and of ancient archi- 
tecture ; he inspected the most commodious and luxu- 
rious of the modern palaces and villas of the Italian 
nobility ; he visited and revisited all the celebrated 
classical temples and public buildings ; he dwelt upon 
the architecture of Palladio and the designs of Inigo 
Jones. 1 Inherently artistic, he steeped his soul in the 
beauty of his surroundings, and culled thence conclu- 
sions, suggestions, and practical knowledge. 

But with his designs immature, the time arrived 
when, in view of his approaching majority, it became 

1 His prote'ge', Mr. Kent, published in 1727 a book on the Designs of 
Inigo Jones, on which he was a great authority. The plates in this book 
were from drawings by John Webb (in the possession of Lord Burlington), 
which were copies of the original designs by Inigo Jones. 


necessary for him to return to England. Accompanied 
by his friend Lord Burlington and by Mr. Kent, he 
journeyed home once more. From the moment that 
he set foot on English ground an account of his ex- 
penditure was written with punctilious care in "A 
JOURNAL kept by Edward Smith, of all ye pay- 
ments made by him for his Honourable Mastor Thomas 
Coke Esqre from Tuesday May ijth iji8 being ye day 
that Mr. Coke Landed at Dover after near six years 
travails in France, Italy, Sicely, Germany, Malta, 
Holland and Flanders " ; and from the said Edward 
Smith (to whom was allotted for the purpose pens, 
ink and papers to the value of 2. 125. lod.) we forth- 
with learn his master's movements with unerring 

After the expenses for Mr. Coke and his suite at the 
custom-house, there follow the expenses of a journey 
to London with a coach and six, with two Berlins, and 
men "Guarding ye Baggage." Dinners at "ye 
Tavern" in London are next entered, dinners "with 
a chicken " and dinners without, and a final total oi"paid 
ye Tavern Bill for eating in full " Then follow miscella- 
neous entries of expenses in town, and soon an entry 
of more significance: " My Master's journey to my 
Lord Thane? s x 06 . . 06 . . oo. Ditto to my Lord 
Thanefs ye second time 06 . . 14 . . oo," with an addi- 
tional "Item of Meat for Four Doggs at Thanet House 
00 . . 10 . . oo," apparently indicating that if the 
" Mastor" was received as a visitor his dogs were not. 
Nor are we left long in doubt as to the meaning of these 
visits. On June lyth we are told by E. Smith that his 

1 Thomas, sixth Earl of Thanet. 


" Mas tor attained to ye age of twenty -one years, and 
upon Thursday ye jrd of July following was marry ed to 
ye Right Honourable ye Lady Margaret Tufton, a Lady 
of great Beauty ', singular Virtue and Goodness , being 
18 years of age ye i6th of June, i?i8." These accounts 
contain also " Ye Charges of Mr Coke's Equipping 
himself for ye said Wedding, and for Liveries, Coaches, 
Horses, Furniture, Presents to ye said Lady, and Gratui- 
ties etc to my Lord Thanefs servants etc" 

The accounts of " Mr Coke's Wedding Cloaths " 
which then follow, are described under separate head- 
ings down the pages, in large printed letters: " STOCK- 

GLOVES, PERRIWIGS, TRUNKS, etc." Thus we learn 
that a certain Mr. Lockman received the sum of 
" 29 . . 08 . . oo for two Wiggs " ; that Mr. Henry 
Hick's Bill "for Gold and Silver lace and Fringe for 
Mr Coke's Sutes" was 57. 153. od., that a Mrs. Mary 
Gameron was paid a sum of 87 for embroidering two 
suits ; while for "Hatts and feathers" the comparatively 
small sum of 3. 5. was paid, and gloves were pur- 
chased for the modest price of nine shillings the half- 
dozen. Next is entered "Item Cloaths and other things 
for Mr. Robert Coke" the younger brother of Thomas, 
whose periwig (no doubt inferior in beauty to that 
worn by the bridegroom) cost only 8 and his sword 
18. But a certain Mr. Fury was paid the sum of 
" 01 . . 08 . . oo " for resetting Robert's diamond ring, 
from another man was purchased for him a " triangu- 
lar seal," twice "for his pocket" he was given seven 
guineas ; while for "cleaning and making up his night- 
gown " the sum of " 00 . . 07 . . 06 " was expended ; so 

that we may conclude most of his wants were amply 
provided for ! 

Next follow entries of " Cloaths for Mr. Steward, the 
Gentleman of the Horse, and the Valet de Chambre " ; 
" Velvet caps for ye Grooms ; Livery, Hatts, Hangers, 
Boots, Shoes, Gloves, Stockings, and Breeches " for 
the servants to the sum of "218. . n . .00"; "A Sett 
of Harness compleate for six Horses" 30; " Bitts 
and Saddles " and " Equipment for ye Postillions " ; to 
"Mr. Budders for a Charret compleate'" 128, and 
what would lead one to infer that the " Charret" 
was not as " compleate" as represented a bill for 
" ii l - yards of fine skarlat cloath to line ye said Charret 
12 . . /j. . oo." Also, in view of the higher value 
of money at that date, it is curious to learn that "A 
Rich Red Velvet embroidered Saddle for my Mastor" 
cost " 66.. oo.. oo," and for a "Blue Velvet Saddle 
132 . . 03 . . 04 " was paid, of which the gold lace and 
fringe cost over 20, the making over 16, and the 
ornaments over 13, to which had to be added "two 
cases of fine Pistols for ye Saddles " at 22. 

Further, Mr. Coke appears to have furnished him- 
self with jewellery as well as clothes for the occasion. 
For a gold watch he paid 27 ; for an " Agget Snuff 
Box 17 . . i? . . oo." For a " Trimming Basson " i.e. 
a " Silver Barber's Basson with ye rest of furniture all 
compleate in a Shagreen case 49 . . 08. . oo." For 
a diamond ring 350, for diamond shoe-buckles 
120, and for pearl tassels 35. While the "Jewells 
and other Presents made by Mr. Coke to my Lady 
Margaret " amounted to between 3000 and 4000, and 
included a green velvet side-saddle costing 69, a 

s/,/ '/<v< y. 


watch costing 68, a " Gold Tweser case " costing 50, 
and " Old Gold for an Endowing Purse " 108. 

And so these two were married, the youth of twenty- 
one and the girl of eighteen ; and we learn that for the 
wedding favours Mr. Coke paid over 85 ; for the 
" Gratuities to My Lord Thanet's servants " over 134 ; 
to " Musicians and others " over 56 ; while the poor 
of the parish were treated with equal liberality. As to 
my Lady Margaret, her girlish beauty was perpetuated 
in a picture of rare loveliness, and also in one of later 
date, where she sits a smiling, dainty dame, with small 
features, dark hair and bright eyes ; while, richly be- 
decked with huge pearls, her robe of crimson velvet 
and silver-grey falls gracefully about her slender 
figure, and the silver shoe purposely protruded from 
beneath her velvet skirt still testifies, it is said, to her 
youthful pride in her shapely foot. 1 

After the wedding the bride and groom journeyed to 
Tunbridge, and the expenses thereof were still carefully 
entered by the conscientious Mr. Smith ; minor items 
being " Paid seven guineas for Golden Toys y*. my 
Mastor bought at Tunbridge" "Paid 5 Guineas y*. 
my Mastor lost at B as sot " and the recurring expense of 
" 6lbs. of powder for My Master's Wiggs" From Tun- 
bridge, after paying various visits, they travelled to 
London, and Mr. Smith " Gave to ye Mustek at my 
Master's arrival to town 5 guineas" the "Musick" 
consisting of " Drumors, 6 Trumpeters, Hoitbois, 
Ringors and ye Parish Mustek " ; and a further mys- 

1 One picture of her was painted in 1719, judging 1 by the following 
entry : " Paid to Segnr I gnat us for My Lady Margaret's picture ', over and 
above what he had before the which picture 'was 04 . . 04. . oo." 


terious donation presented "To A Drumor 2J6, and to ye 
Ringors when my Mastor wash'd himself ?\6" While 
in London, Thomas Coke appears good-naturedly 
to have sent for his young brother and cousin from 
Gloucestershire, for Mr. Smith records how he paid 
"for a coach and six horses to fetch Mr. Newton and 
Mr. Bobby to London " ; and how he afterwards had 
to pay ' ' Mr. Dont for ye blade and scabbard of his 
sword broken by Mr. Bobby " Constant entries, too, 
record the charities practised by Thomas Coke, some 

quaint items of which run as follows : 

s. d. 

For a Gentleman of decay'd Fortune . 01 01 oo 

For a poor Man to keep him out of Gaol 05 05 oo 

Prisoners . . . . oo 02 06 

A Man y 1 . bro*. home ye Lyon Dogg . oo 01 oo 

To Mary Harrison running . . oo 02 06 

To Andrew - - ditto . . . oo 02 06 

To ye Portor who lent your Honour A 

shilling . . . . oo 02 06 

To Portor Prince to make him and ye 

Cockors drink . . . oo 05 oo 

Later, Thomas Coke and his bride journeyed down to 
Longford in Derbyshire, a slow and expensive journey, 
judging by the board-wages and tavern expenses for 
their large following of servants, and by entries which 
include many horses bought on the road and fighting- 
cocks purchased at the various stopping-places, together 
with "fooding ye cocks" and providing numerous 
drinks for "ye Cockers." After the arrival at Long- 
ford, however, the accounts assume a more settled 
character. The expenses of the household, garden, 
and stables are recorded regularly, the latter including 
" My Lady's Footmen for Lighting her Ladyship with 
Flamboys," and " My Master's Footmen for Lighting 


His Honour with Flamboys.." The regular expenses 
of "Apparill" (or " Apparoll ") for his Honour are 
entered, including annually, a " Tye Long Wigg, and 
two Short Ridley Bagg Wiggs" ; the payment of 
" My Lady Margaret's Finn Money" of 400 per 
annum; and "Given to Mr. Batcheller for reading 
prayers for near half a year 10 . . 10" and to "Mr. 
Springgold for reading prayers at Holkham (Church} 
10. . /o." In curious contrast to the stipend of the 
two chaplains are the heavy expenses of Mr. Coke's 
hunting and cock-fighting, to which latter sport 
he was passionately attached. On it he expended 
heavy sums annually, apart from a separate account 
which explains itself seriously as "Such expenses of 
Cocks as properly belong to your Honour, and therefore 
are not inserted in ye generall account of Cocks" 
while it seems doubtful whether such entries included 
the money spent in betting upon the result of the fights. 
Nor did he tire of his pastime with advancing years, 
for in 1732 we read in the daily papers how "at the 
* Crown,' Swaffham, a cock-fighting match was fought 
between Lord Lovel of Holkham (formerly Thomas 
Coke), and John Thurston of Hoxne, Suffolk. There 
were 46 cocks a side, and the stakes were five guineas a 
battle, and fifty guineas to the odd battle." 

Indeed, the accounts of Edward Smith seem to give 
a fairly accurate index to his "Master's" character. 
Close to the entries of the money expended on rare 
treasures of art and literature 1 are the expenses of the 

1 " Item : March 4th, 1719. The statue Diana came over in Ye 
Supurb Man of War. Fetching her up from Woolwich, etc. 

" May, 1719. There arrived from abroad Books, Pictures, Statues, 
etc., etc." 

I. D 


brutalising sport which he loved ; next to evidences of 
ostentatious luxury, of sums lavished on rare jewels 
and articles of virtu on all the " Golden Toys" of the 
collector we read of boyish purchases such as nine 
guineas for a cockatoo, eleven guineas for a makaw 
and two small birds ending with the tragic entry, 
* 'Crying ye Mackaw when lost J/-." Thomas Coke was 
at once a master-mind and a trifler ; an aesthetic and 
coarse-fibred ; equally appreciative of all that was 
exquisite and of all that was brutal in the world 
around him, passionate, cruel, rough, yet also highly 
educated, full of that genius which he loved to en- 
courage in others, of polished and courteous manners 
when he so elected to be, and of a generosity which 
was profuse. 

As a landlord we find that he was liked by his tenants 
to whom he was lenient and liberal, while socially he 
was hated by his equals to whom he was arrogant and 
insolent. In the political world he exhibited capacity ; 
about the date of his marriage he attached himself to 
Robert Walpole, then rapidly waxing in power, and, 
as Walpole rose, so also rose Thomas Coke. For 
some years the latter was Member for Hexham. In 
1725 he was created Knight of the Bath; in May, 
1728, he was raised to the Peerage as Baron Lovel, of 
Minster Lovel, in the County of Oxford. In 1733 he 
was made Postmaster-General in conjunction with the 
Hon. Edward Carteret, when he established a post 
office at Holkham, 1 and the coaches called there twice 
a day. Apart from his political career, he became a 
member of the Society of Dilettante in 1740, and it is 

1 Holkham is still a post office. 


evident that he did much to advance literary and 
artistic taste in England at that period. His return 
from abroad had been hailed with delight by the 
English scholars who had heard of his rare collection 
of books and MSS., and when any of the noted 
literary men of the day proceeded to beg the loan of 
these, he lent his most precious volumes with a 
generosity which seems to show the disinterested lover 
of literature rather than the mere virtuoso. In conse- 
quence, more than one of the works brought out at 
that date were dedicated to him as the great patron 
of art and literature. In 1721 Michael Maittaire pub- 
lished an edition of the Iliad from an exceptionally fine 
copy borrowed from Holkham, and inscribed his work 
with a fulsome dedication to the man who had aided 
him ; while some years later Arnold Drackenborch, 1 
the celebrated German commentator, followed his 
example. Perhaps no better summing up of the 
character of Thomas Coke can be found than in this 

1 The learned German had been for several years preparing- and 
printing 1 a new edition of the works of Livy. Having heard of the 
wonderful collection of the manuscripts of that author belonging- to 
Lord Lovel, he begg-ed for the loan of these. In reply, he received seven- 
teen copies of the works of Livy, thirteen of which were in manuscript ; 
these volumes he kept three years, and gave a special description of 
them at the close of his work. This he, too, inscribed to Lord Lovel in 
a long and highly panegyrical dedication, containing an interesting 
account of all the principal events of the latter's life, and of his exertions 
in promoting the progress of literature ; and he specially mentions that 
Lord Lovel had formerly intended to edit the works of Livy himself. 
But, in responding so generously to Drackenborch's request, Lord Lovel 
had carefully abstained from mentioning the other valuable MSS. of 
Livy which he possessed, the collection of Florentine manuscripts made 
by Biscioni, and there is little doubt that, in thus suppressing the best 
of his collection, he, all unknown to Drackenborch, had not yet aban- 
doned his original intention, which, owing to the stress of all his other 
labours, was never carried into execution. 

fact that he was hailed at once as the great patron 
of the fine arts, and the great patron of cock-fighting in 
England of his day. 

As to my Lady Margaret, she appears to have suited 
her temper to her fate, and to have realised that, at all 
events during the lifetime of her imperious lord, she 
must curb the strong individuality of which, un- 
suspected by him, she was possessed. Passively she 
went her way ; she inspected her dairy and her kitchen 
in the grey hours of dawn while her servants still lay 
slumbering ; she ruled her household with a rod of 
iron ; she fed the poor with an extravagant hand ; she 
admitted her neighbours to her presence on sufferance 
only, so haughty was she. And all the while the 
autocrat whom she had married, unaware either of the 
warmth of heart which made her beloved, or of 
the strength of will which made her feared, used to 
make boast of her meek and quiet spirit ; and later, 
when, by a strange freak of fate, he had to confront 
a daughter-in-law who defied his will, he would point 
exultingly to his submissive wife, and ask whether 
a daughter of the House of Thanet, inheriting in her 
own right one of the oldest of our English baronies,i 
would not have been more entitled to rebel and give 
herself airs than the Infanta with whom he now had to 

Meanwhile, whatever his occupations and his pas- 

1 August i5th, 1734, His Majesty was pleased to confirm to Lady 
Lovel (being one of the co-heirs of Thomas, the Earl of Thanet) and to 
her heirs, the ancient barony of Clifford, which barony descended to her 
father, the late Earl of Thanet, as lineal heir to the Lady Anne, his 
grandmother, daughter and heir of George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland. 
(See Burke, 1867.) 


times, Thomas Coke had never abandoned his original 
purpose of building a palace for himself and his 
posterity. He went steadily forward with preparations 
for his great work. But his plans were not adopted 
in haste, and although himself a connoisseur and an 
expert, he determined not to rely solely on his own 
judgment. For sixteen years after his return from 
Italy he still studied and developed his designs, con- 
sulting all who had obtained a reputation in architec- 
ture and art, submitting them to his friend Lord 
Burlington, and finally placing them in the hands of 
Messrs. Kent and Brettingham to carry into execution. 
To the construction of Holkham may be said to have 
been brought the accumulated experience of the 
master-minds of all ages, collected and concentrated 
by the untiring energy of one man. 

In one matter, however, Thomas Coke showed a 
curious taste. It is not known where stood the house 
in which he lived at this date, when in Norfolk, but 
there is no doubt that it was in the neighbourhood of 
Holkham, and it appears equally certain that he deter- 
mined to erect his new home upon the original site of 
Hill Hall, the old Manor House of the Wheateleys. 
Be this as it may, the land about Holkham at this 
period was a barren, dreary estate, partly open heath 
with a soil of drifting and, sand partly salt marshes, 
unattractive to the eye as it was unprofitable to the 
landowner. Situated on the coast of the North Sea, 
with no land intervening between it and the North 
Pole, the bleak winds swept over its flat, timberless 
surface with nothing to check their violence, so that 
during the cold months of the year it must have been 

well-nigh uninhabitable. Yet something stronger than 
the ordinary love of birthright must have knit the 
heart of Thomas Coke to this barren possession of his 
forefathers. When he conceived the idea of building 
a palace for himself and his posterity, he could not, 
on any of his vast estates, have chosen for his purpose 
a site less beautiful ; but, a man of strong purpose and 
originality, he seems to have desired that all should be 
of his own creation, the future beauty of the land, as 
well as the future beauty of the Italian palace which he 
meditated erecting upon it ; and, of marvellous energy 
and perseverance, he was undeterred by the magnitude 
or the apparent impracticability of his attempt to trans- 
form the aspect of the bleak, desolate coast. 

Perhaps mindful of the example of John Coke, about 
the year 1722 he reclaimed and embanked four hundred 
acres of marsh land which had been partially covered 
by the sea. In 1725-6 he began to enclose and plant ; 
Holkham Heath was surrounded by a paling, and he 
planned his future park of about 840 acres. He de- 
signed lawns, gardens, water, many plantations of 
wood, and buildings useful and ornamental. The first 
work actually erected was the Obelisk, eighty feet high 
and fashioned on an antique pattern, which was raised 
in 1729-30 on an eminence facing the site of the future 
building and upon a spot which was then the centre 
of the park he had planned. In 1733 preparations for 
building were going rapidly forward, and heavy ex- 
penses are entered by Edward Smith for the " Brick- 
Killn." Thomas Coke decided to build the house of 
brick because Vitruvius had stated that buildings of 
brick were considered by the ancient Romans to be 


more firm and durable than those of marble. At first 
he intended to use Bath stone on account of its fine 
yellow tint, but, soon after, he made the discovery that 
bricks fashioned from a brick earth in the neighbour- 
ing parish of Burnham Norton and subjected to 
proper seasoning, acquired much the same colour, 
while they were more ponderous and far firmer in 
texture. Just at this crisis a curious event occurred. 
A packing-case arrived from Rome containing an 
antique statue which he had purchased, and in it, by 
accident, a brick was also enclosed. On comparing 
the Burnham Norton bricks with this yellow brick of 
the Romans, it was found that both exactly corres- 
ponded in colour and in hardness. 

Forthwith, the greatest care was taken in their manu- 
facture. Any cutting when they were once seasoned 
would have caused discoloration of the surface and have 
increased materially the number of joins in the building; 
therefore they were moulded in the first instance to all 
the different sizes and shapes ultimately required. For 
the execution of a single " rustic," no less than thirty 
moulds of different forms and magnitude were needed, 
and these again varied throughout other parts of the 
building. The labour thus entailed was great, and the 
same scrupulous care was to be bestowed in the pre- 
paration of the mortar with which they were to be 
cemented. Having been mixed with lime and sand, 
this was next, in order to render it of sufficient firm- 
ness for fine brickwork, to be ground between a pair 
of large mills fitted to an engine for that purpose ; 
the inner joints of the walls were then to be carefully 
filled with it, and it was to be poured in a liquid state 


upon every course, or every two courses, of the brick- 

At length, on May 4th, 1734, Edward Smith records 
the triumphant entry : 

" To Labour 1 " diging Earth out of 

ye Foundation ;c>3..ii..oo." 

And so the great work was begun. 1 

Such was the strength of the foundation of the house, 
that it is on record there are as many bricks below 
the surface as there are above it ; while no part of the 
principal walls was allowed to rest upon timber, lest, in 
decaying, it should damage the fabric. 

The actual plan of the house was taken with certain 
modifications from a design by Palladio. It consists of 
five quadrangles, a large central building and four 
wings, so that it presents four similar fronts. The 
state rooms are on the first floor, and are connected by 
corridors 344 feet in length. Only in the turrets are there 
any rooms above the first storey. Below, with curious 
square windows, there is a rustic basement, specially 
designed in order that the servants' quarters should be 
immediately under those whom they have to serve. 
Beneath the basement are the bakehouse, dairy, and 
other offices, together with the arches and foundations 
on which the building rests. At intervals, in each 
frontage, are arched doorways, which are very small, in 
accordance with the Roman conception that an insignifi- 
cant entrance enhances the apparent space of an interior. 

1 It is curious that Roscoe, who wrote an account of the building, 
etc. , in the preface to his Catalogue of the Holkham Library, gives the 
dates inaccurately. The entries in the account books are incontrovert- 






On the south front is a portico with tall Corinthian 
columns ; which columns are repeated on a lesser scale 
on either side of some of the principal windows. The 
casements and the window-sashes were originally of 
burnished gold, which greatly added to the unique 
appearance of the house, and, on account of this being 
specially perishable in the salt sea air, a burnisher was 
engaged to live on the premises to keep the gilding in a 
proper state of repair. 

Over the doorway of the house, within, the following 
inscription was placed : 






One characteristic must surely strike even the most 
casual observer of the exterior of Holkham. There is 
no pandering to the picturesque, no conforming to 
conventional standards of beauty or of fitness. All is 
solid, plain, impressive, unusual. Holkham stands 
alone, a law unto itself. There is something defiant 
in its uncompromising simplicity. Looking at it, one 
seems to trace there the personality of the man who 
created it, the spirit of that race of whose genius it is 
the expression. And although for this very reason it 
may not appeal to universal taste, yet in its originality, 
in its handsome, spacious solidity, it is curiously in 
harmony with the open, barren estate on which it was 
first erected with the land where to-day, despite rich 
fields and magnificent timber, Nature itself is stern 


and uncompromising rather than endowed with any 
conventional prettiness. 

But if, externally, all conveys that same impression of 
rigid simplicity, the contrast of the interior of the 
house is all the more striking. One steps from the 
view of that wide sweep of country, and that plain, 
massive building, into all the delicate beauty and luxury 
of an Italian palace. The small unpretentious entrance 
enhances as it is intended to do the effect of the 
hall beyond. This measures thirty-eight feet by thirty- 
one, and rises to a height of fifty feet in an exquisite 
dome, decorated after the manner of Inigo Jones. 
The architecture is of purely classical design, and is 
taken from the plan of an ancient Basilica or Tribunal 
of Justice. On either side fluted Ionic columns from 
those in the so-called Ionic Temple of Fortuna Virilis 
at Rome, rest on a base of variegated alabaster. A 
gallery connects the columns, protected by a finely 
wrought railing and supported by a basement bor- 
dered with black marble and inlaid with white ala- 
baster. Bas-reliefs and alto-reliefs by Westmacott, 
Chantrey and Nollekens adorn the walls; in the niches 
beyond are classical statues. The actual site of the 
tribunal, the semicircular space at the upper end of 
the hall, contains the wide flight of steps leading to 
the Saloon ; on either side of which now stand marble 
busts of the two great Cokes of modern days the man 
who created the beauty of the house, and the man who 
created the beauty of the land. 

But a bare statement of the general plan of the hall 
can convey no possible conception of its peculiar 
beauty. Wherever the eye rests, it is struck by the 


same perfection of design and delicacy of execution. 
Each detail is a masterpiece ; the whole conveys an 
impression of lightness, of richness and of grace to 
which it is difficult to do justice. Its classical beauty 
of proportion ; the exquisite dome with its wonderful 
decorations ; the grace of the columns ; the general 
wealth of colour, of light and of harmony is unparalleled. 
In its marvellous conception and its masterly workman- 
ship it is one of the most triumphant revivals of 
classical art. 

It is impossible here to give any adequate description 
of the rest of the house of the state rooms, the charm 
of which lies in their loftiness and beauty of proportion, 
and in the exquisite decoration of the walls and ceiling ; 
of the curious attics upstairs, connected by long, 
straight corridors ; of the labyrinth of passages down- 
stairs, intercepted by the quaint arched doorways, and 
by staircases leading to the state floor. The fascina- 
tion of the whole lies in its peculiarity ; and the fame 
of such a curious building created no small stir in 
England at the date of its erection, so that many noted 
persons visited it while it was still in process of execu- 
tion. For although beautiful old country houses 
abound throughout the land, and although each county 
can boast its special pride in this respect, and the 
special treasures for which such dwellings are renowned, 
Holkham presented then, and still retains, one 
characteristic which sets it apart from all others 
within, as without, Holkham is unique ; there is no 
other house in England like it. 

As soon as part of the building became habitable, 
its owner came to live there ; at first, for a week at a 

time only, in order to superintend operations ; later, as 
a permanency. And there he brought the old library 
of the Lord Chief Justice, and his own rare collection 
of books, which were carried up to one of the turret 
rooms then destined for a library, and left for 
future arrangement, many of them in the packing-cases 
in which they had arrived from Italy. There, too, he 
brought the treasures which he had accumulated ; 
beautiful tapestries with which to cover the walls of the 
state rooms ; rich Genoa velvet for upholstering ; his 
pictures by Titian, Van Dyck, Paul Veronese, Holbein 
and others ; his statues, which were placed in the 
niches in the hall and in the statue gallery ; curios, 
bronzes and costly furniture. 

Nearly a century later, in 1828, one Thomas Creevey, 
writing from Holkham, observed : 

"I came to see the place. I dote upon it. ... I was 
not sufficiently struck when I have been here before 
with the furniture of the walls and the three common 
living rooms, the saloon, drawing and dining-rooms, 
which is Genoa velvet, and what is more, it has been 
up ever since the house was built, which is eighty 
years ago ; and yet it is as fresh as a four-year-old, and 
as handsome as ever it can be. To be sure the said 
Earl of Leicester was no bad hand at finishing his 
work; never was such a house so built outside and in. 
The gilded roofs of all the rooms and the doors would 
of themselves nowadays take a fortune to make ; and 
his pictures are perfect." 1 

But all the treasures which Lord Leicester had 
collected were found insufficient for the adornment of 

1 A Selection from the Correspondence and Diaries of the late Thomas 
Creevey, M.P., ed. by the Right Hon. Sir Herbert Maxwell, Vol. II, 

p. 112. 


the hall and the galleries ; and the younger Bretting- 
ham, who had already bought busts for Lord Orford at 
Houghton, was commissioned to journey out to Italy 
and secure the statuary further required for Holkham. 
This he did, and arriving when Cardinal Albani was 
making a fresh collection to adorn his villa, Brettingham 
purchased from him certain treasures which the Cardinal 
parted with through an obvious error of judgment. 
One of these was a beautiful Fawn crowned with 
vine leaves, which had been dug up in the Campagna 
with the marks of the chisel still visible upon it, and 
which Brettingham bought, still encrusted with earth 
as it had been found. A splendid bust of Thucydides 
was also secured by him; the Silenus, " one of the 
most remarkable statues which are found in any private 
collection in England " ; J Poseidon and the Venus 
Genetrix, two colossal female heads, and a huge head 
of Aphrodite, "A work of truly sublime beauty which 
would be an ornament to the richest museum." 2 In 
all, he purchased eleven statues, eight busts, a relief, 
and some mosaic slabs, thus executing his commission 
to the satisfaction of his employer and the credit of 

This, however, was not until the year 1755. In all 
else, Thomas Coke, Lord Leicester, personally super- 
intended the building and the adornment of his home. 
It is said that no portion of the house was given over 
into the hands of the workmen till he had critically in- 
spected and approved each detail ; and, still to be seen 

1 Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, by Adolf Michaelis, pp. 71-2, 
paragraph 42. 

2 Op.cit.,?. 72. 


at Holkham, is a mass of papers in which he caused to 
be recorded, with punctilious care, every item respecting 
the construction of each room. Day by day, week by 
week, month by month he so planned, co-operated in 
and directed the great work ; for thirty years he 
watched, while by slow stages there evolved the 
materialisation of his youthful dream ; and, brick by 
brick, the building grew into the house which was to 
perpetuate his name to his posterity. 





year after the marriage of Thomas Coke 
there occurs an entry of deep interest in the 
accounts of Edward Smith. Preparations 
appear for the advent of a " Little Mastor" ; 
lace and linen to the value of 130 were purchased ; 
" Quilts and Cradles " to the value of 48 ; a wardrobe 
is furnished to a certain Nurse Pharoa ; and a further 
sum is allotted " To my lady by order, to buy things for 
little Mastor." Soon came entries for "Lodging little 
Mastor" and his three nurses ; for the purchase of trifles 
such as An anodine necklace, 1 and a correll; and finally 
on July 3rd, "To Mr. Batcheller for cristening little 
Mastor 02 . . 02 . . oo," which must have been a valu- 
able addition to the chaplain's salary. 

And so Edward Coke, destined to be the only son of 
his parents who should attain to manhood, the child of 
promise, the heir to a splendid heritage, was ushered 
into the world with joy, and set out on life's journey 

1 The anodyne necklace was for many years a popular remedy for 
children when teething 1 , and was sold for 553. a necklace, at 78 Long Acre, 
by Basil Burchell, " Sole Proprietor of the Anodyne Necklace for children 
cutting teeth, and of the Famous Sugar Plumbs for Worms." Mr. 
Burchell used the necklace as a sign above his shop. 



with as fair a prospect as ever fell to the lot of any 

There is a picture of him at Holkham as a slender, 
delicate child, clasping his mother's hand. Few later 
portraits of him exist. The imprint left by Time on 
that innocent childish face was not such as his parents 
can have wished to perpetuate. 

That he was possessed of good abilities we have 
ample evidence ; he was, moreover, we are told, 
" gifted with abundance of wit and humour," some of 
his friends were " geniuses" 1 a remarkable trait at the 
date when he lived and had he been born in circum- 
stances which enforced that he should toil and strive 
for his place in the world of men, no doubt he would 
have left a different record behind him. But genius 
flags in a bed of roses. The world was too easy for 
Edward Coke, and his advantage was his undoing. 
Only once does his name appear in any public capacity ; 
in 1746 he was one of those who presided at the im- 
peachment of the Rebel Lords ; all else is a record of 
shame, of increasing debauchery, extravagance and 
excess ; until death threatened to set a limit to his folly, 
and the habits of drinking, in which he had become con- 
firmed, seemed likely to bring him to an early grave. 

Of all the tragedy which his parents endured mean- 
while, there is constant proof. One by one they were 
fated to lay their other children in an infant's tomb, but 
the child who survived cost more tears than those who 
breathed but to die. Few of Lord Leicester's letters 
exist which do not contain some reference to his son's 

1 See Lady Louisa Stuart: Selections from her Manuscripts, ed. by 
the Hon. James Home, 1899. 


health and habits. More than once, upon a promise of 
amendment, he paid his son's gambling debts, which 
were enormous. Occasionally, other methods were 
resorted to, and medical aid was summoned to stem that 
headlong wreckage of mind and body. Yet one hope 
of salvation was ever present to his parents. " I like 
mightily what you have done," Lord Leicester wrote to 
his agent with regard to arrangements at Holkham, in 
a letter dated January 3rd, 174!, "and if we could get 
Lord Coke married to our wish all would go well." In 
their son's marriage lay his one chance of regeneration. 
The wife who was to be, would surely transform the sot 
into a sage ; or, if that were indeed impracticable, from 
the wreckage of Edward Coke's life, phcenix-like, 
should spring another a life which should excel in all 
wherein his own had failed. 

So they sought about for a paragon who was to 
fulfil this mission, and after devoting profound de- 
liberation to the matter, they fixed upon a lady, perhaps 
the most unsuitable they could have selected. 

The Duke of Argyle 1 had a family of daughters, 2 
who, being of the useless sex, had been left to grow up 
wayward, wild, and ignorant. Lady Mary, 3 the young- 
est, was the most remarkable ; her appearance was as 
unusual as her temperament. Reputed to be possessed 
of a beauty which was dazzling, it was a beauty of so 
peculiar a nature that she was nicknamed "The White 
Cat." Her face was of a deadly pallor, her hair of all 
but albino fairness, while her dark eyes had the alter- 

1 John, second Duke of Argyle, 1678-1743. 

2 By his second wife, Jane Warburton, maid -of- honour to Queen 

3 Born February 6th, 1726. 

I. E 


nate sullen glow and fiery blaze of the animal after 
whom she was named. And her nature was not more 
normal. Clever, yet silly, quick-tempered, capricious, 
egoistic, hopelessly wrong-headed and hysterically full 
of whims and fantasies, throughout her life she lived in 
a romance of which she was the persecuted heroine, and 
in which she seemed wholly incapable of separating 
truth from falsehood, or fact from imagination. 

Horace Walpole, who professed to be in love with 
her, said of her in later years : 

"It is a very good heart, with a head singularly 
awry ; in short an extraordinary character in this soil 
of phenomena . . . her virtue is unimpeachable, her 
friendship violent, her anger deaf to remonstrance. 
She has cried for 40 people and quarrelled with 400. 
She might be happy and respected, but will always 
be miserable from the vanity of her views and her 
passion for the extraordinary." 

And to this heroine of romance, aged 19, Lord Coke 
was ordered to pay his addresses. The marriage was 
conducted on old-fashioned lines and arranged between 
the parents. After considerable haggling the bargain 
was struck for 2,500 per annum jointure, and 5,000 
pin money; while Lady Mary, on her part, had 20,000, 
a fairly large fortune for those days. The Duchess, in- 
deed, demurred slightly "on account of Lord Leicester's 
notoriously bad, dissolute, and violent character"; but 
of the son, strangely enough, she formed a favourable 
opinion, and in one letter confirms this by the verdict of 
Lady Mary's uncle, Lord Islay : l 

"He approves the thing very much and has a good 
opinion of ye young man. He knows him a good 

1 Archibald, Earl of Islay, who succeeded the Duchess's husband as 
third duke. 


^yn& ^tady 


deal, and thinks of him as I doe ; and approves very 
much of my conduct with the Father, who he thinks 
of as I doe, and that I must be very much on my 
guard with." . . . 

And again she writes : 

" Lady Leacester has set her Heart and Sole upon 
the marryage for her son, and is frightened out of 
her witts least anything should happen to put a stop 
to itt." 

But that the negotiations were not always harmonious, 
Lady Strafford, Lady Mary's sister, reveals, for she 
writes : 

"I hear Mama and Lord Leicester have frequent 
disputes, and I'm afraid his 111 Breeding may make 
them run high ! " 

Lady Mary, when the marriage was proposed to her, 
agreed to it with apparent readiness ; having done so, 
her role as a heroine of romance necessitated that she 
should be miserable and persecuted. So she wept 
upstairs and dowstairs, languished and wasted away, 
till her sister, to whom such vagaries were incompre- 
hensible, demanded " why on earth she did not break it 
off?" generously offering to do so on her behalf. Lady 
Mary's only rejoinder was, "It will be time enough 
at the altar ! " And still, with the airs of a tragedy 
queen submitting to a hated mesalliance, she flouted 
Lord Coke, who, accustomed to be considered one of 
the best matches of his day, bitterly resented the lady's 
attitude, but quietly bided his time. So he called 
assiduously upon the Duchess, stroked her pug-dog, 
drank innumerable cups of tea, and talked sweetly to 
his sullen bride, until his future mother-in-law wrote 


enthusiastically of him that "ye young man has a 
very good understanding, a great deal of knowledge, 
and I think a very sweet disposition. That of his 
play, to be sure, was intirely owing to his Father which 
he desighn'd to lay quite aside." 

Alas! for the misguided Duchess. Lady Mary went 
to the altar playing the part of a weeping reluctant 
bride, but apparently forgot to pronounce her refusal 
to marry the man she professed to loathe, and so passed 
from imaginary into actual persecution. Still with the 
airs of a tragedy queen, she prepared to submit to 
the hated caresses of her husband ; but Lord Coke 
promptly informed her that she had little to fear from 
his affection, and leaving her upon her wedding day, 
openly rejoined his boon companions, whom he regaled 
with a graphic description of the incident, making ex- 
ceedingly merry over the airs of the deserted lady. 

Married life begun under such conditions was not 
likely to be harmonious. Three months after the 
wedding the young couple were to accompany the 
parents to Holkham for the summer. When the 
Leicester coach-and-six stopped at Lady Mary's door 
in the morning, she appeared ready clad for the 
journey, but lo ! Lord Coke had not yet returned from 
the tavern. Inquiries on Lord Leicester's part elicited 
a disclosure of his son's habits, and his wrath against 
the latter knew no bounds. In point of fact, he cared 
not at all who was, or was not in the right ; but know- 
ing the precarious state of his son's health, his whole 
heart was set upon securing heirs to his estate ; " He 
would," says Lady Louisa Stuart, "have protected 
a devil with this object in view ! " and to have his plans 


frustrated in the moment of apparent fulfilment was 
gall and wormwood to his imperious spirit. So he 
espoused Lady Mary's cause hotly, and treated her 
with the greatest kindness, whilst his indignation 
against his son was equally unmeasured. In a long 
and affectionate letter written by him to his daughter- 
in-law for the New Year, 1747, nine months after her 
marriage, he deplores the " brutish behaviour" of Lord 
Coke, and the " usage" received by her from "this 
thoughtless Beast," of whom he speaks in terms of 
unmitigated reprobation, while his comments on Lady 
Mary's own conduct are equally laudatory : 

" If your husband should not come to his senses," 
he explains, " but still continue brute enough not to 
prize as he ought the great Jewel he has in you . . . 
this verily must be a satisfaction which every Body 
who have 111 Husbands do not find, that your 
Behaviour is allowed good, that not a word against 
that can be said to justify his neglect. ... I am 
sure he knows your worth and has often spoke of 
It in the highest Light to us. In what Light the 
rest of the family look on you, and how you have 
endeared yourself to them will be a convincing proof 
that nothing can be laid to your charge that may 
occasion this Behaviour, nor indeed do I believe him 
vile enough to Justify himself that way, which too 
many Sotts and Brutish Husbands do, trying to 
excuse themselves by being forced from home by 
the Behaviour of their Wives. Therefore I think it 
right, not knowing to what excess of folly and rude- 
ness those vices, if continued in, should bring him 
to, that you should have something in your hand to 
show that even his own Father who have [sic] watched 
him with an attentive Eye and all his own Family 
and Friends blame him and love you." 

And, after further expressing at great length his 
affection for and admiration of her, and assuring her 


that, had he not believed Lord Coke's promise of 
amendment before marriage, he would have broken off 
the match, he concludes, "I promise you, was it not 
for you, after such Behaviour, I would never see my 
son more." 

Meanwhile, matters went from bad to worse. 

" Lord Coke," wrote Horace Walpole, "has de- 
molished himself very fast. You know he was 
married last spring. He has lost immense sums at 
play and seldom goes home to his wife till eight in 
the morning. The world is vehement on her side, 
and not only her family but his own give him up. 
At present matters are patched up by the mediation 
of my brother, but I think can never go on. She 
married him extremely against her will." 

For a time, we are told, Lady Mary consoled herself 
with enacting the part of an heroic sufferer ; but this 
poor satisfaction could not long endure, since Lord 
Coke, cowed by his father, saw fit to assume the airs of a 
penitent and adoring husband a transformation which 
Lady Mary found more insupportable than his neglect. 
Whatever his treatment of her in private and he 
appears to have been an arch-hypocrite in public he 
called her " My Love ! My Life ! My Angel ! " But 
when, as the reward of his assurances of devotion and 
amendment, he expected to be restored to Lady Mary's 
good graces, he found that, estimating such protestations 
attheir true worth, she refused firmly to receive himagain 
as her husband. Nor did Lord Leicester, when making 
the same suggestion on behalf of his son, meet with 
any better success. Forthwith, to Lady Mary's extreme 
surprise, her father-in-law transferred his championship 
to her husband, and became as violent in his enmity 


against her as he had before been in his friendship. 
All his natural brutality asserted itself. One day when 
she was entertaining some friends, into their midst 
arrived Lord Leicester, raved at her stubbornness, 
called her insulting names, told her that Lord Coke had 
done her the greatest honour in marrying her, and 
behaved like a madman. Lady Mary sent for her mother 
to defend her, and, as may be imagined, there was a 
prodigious family row. 

Henceforward it was war to the knife. Lord Leicester 
and his son concerted together how best to break Lady 
Mary's spirit. Shortly afterwards, when she was 
staying at Bath for the waters, Lord Coke pleasantly 
informed her that, well or ill, she should journey down 
to Holkham, where he " would make her as miserable 
as he could." Such was his treatment of her that one 
of his own friends challenged him in consequence, and 
Lady Betty Campbell records how there had been "a 
duel between Lord Coke and Mr. Ballendin in Mary-le- 
Bon Fields, and that they both mist and the seconds 
parted them." " Lord Coke," she writes later to her 
sister, Lady Dalkeith, " has behaved in such a manner 
to Lady Mary that has both surprised and shocked us 
all. He has told her that he shall leave nothing un- 
invented to make her as miserable as he can ; and that 
she shall never see either friend or relation again. 
She has born it all with great temper. . . . The 
Duchess desires I wou'd tell you from her that she is 
now convinced by what she has seen that if Lord 
Coke had married a woman with the temper of an 
Angle, she must have been miserable with him." 

Lady Mary, however, far from being the " Angle" 

of the Duchess's imagination, was both tactless and 
violent. To Holkham, whether she so willed or no, she 
was forced to journey ; and there, having alienated her 
mother-law, who might have alleviated her lot, she was 
left at the mercy of her father-in-law and her husband. 
They first treated her with marked rudeness and en- 
couraged the servants to follow their example, so that 
the latter profanely nicknamed her " Our Virgin Mary." 
To escape from constant humiliation Lady Mary 
feigned sickness, and arraying herself in "a night- 
cap and sick-dress" retired to her turret bedchamber 
and refused to issue thence, finding what little recrea- 
tion she could in the rare visits of her friends. Before 
long her seclusion actually affected her health, but 
Lord Leicester, furious at her ruse, determined to turn 
her voluntary into actual imprisonment. One last 
attempt he appears to have made to bring about a recon- 
ciliation between the estranged couple. Sir Harry 
and Lady Bedingfield, when upon a visit to Holkham, 
undertook to endeavour to persuade Lady Mary to 
look more kindly upon her husband ; and in a deposi- 
tion, which was afterwards produced in court, they 
described how Lord Coke, with tears in his eyes, swore 
that he would beg his wife's pardon upon his knees, 
and how he desired a reconciliation more earnestly than 
aught else in the world, but how Lady Mary, upon 
being urged to receive him again, exclaimed : " There 
may be some things perhaps which one ought to do, 
but this I cannot do ! " after which she immediately 
fell into tears and left the room. 

Lord Leicester's scant patience was at an end, and 
we are told that he informed her that " she was a piece 


of useless Lumber, fit only to be locked up in the garrat 
out of the way." He actually ascertained how far he 
could legally " ill-treat a wife who was acting contrary 
to the laws of God and Man," and in March, 1749, upon 
receiving Power of Attorney from Lord Coke, who was 
leaving Holkham, he seized Lady Mary's keys, papers 
and letters, dismissed her maid and finally removed 
her from "the New House to the Old One," where he 
placed her under lock and key, and forbade the servants 
to allow any one to visit her. 

One is forcibly reminded of the treatment which the 
Lord Chief Justice meted out to his unfortunate daugh- 
ter ; but Lady Mary was made of stronger stuff than 
the luckless Frances. Though seriously ill, she refused 
to allow the new maid to approach her, and for six 
months endured solitary confinement, until she suc- 
ceeded (it is supposed through the agency of the 
chaplain or the apothecary) in letting her family know 
of her plight. The disillusioned Duchess forthwith 
determined to release her. Accompanied by a solicitor, 
she drove down to Holkham, and demanded to see 
her daughter. In this one particular Lady Mary's 
persecutors overstepped the law ; the Duchess, in 
the presence of witnesses, was refused admission 
to her daughter. She returned to town, made 
an affidavit of the fact, and procuring a writ of 
Habeas Corpus, Lord Coke was enjoined to pro- 
duce his wife in court on the first day of the 
November session, when Lady Mary determined to 
sue for a divorce. 

All London was agog with excitement at the ap- 
proaching trial ; but while there was no doubt that 

Lady Mary's persecution had been extremely harsh, it 
is equally evident that, to a person of her temperament, 
there was a subtle satisfaction in finding herself the 
public heroine of such romantic misfortune. Brought 
up to Lord Leicester's house in town, she lived in a 
garret and clothed herself in rags ; though the 
Leicesters pathetically represented that this was en- 
tirely her own will, since she now had her freedom, 
and her pin money was paid with regularity. When 
questioned for evidence to be produced in court, she 
adduced trivialities, and mixed up fancies with fact in 
a manner truly disconcerting to those who wished 
to serve her cause. Her nerves, however, had been 
shattered, and the condition of her health was such 
that her friends applied to have the trial postponed 
for three months. This was peremptorily refused by 
Lord Coke, whose document states that he is im- 
patient to be reconciled to the wife whom he so 
dearly loves, and that never will he agree to a 
separation ! 

Since the great object of himself and his family was 
to secure an heir to the Holkham property, it is difficult 
to see why he did not accept the solution presented 
by a divorce, which would have rid him of a wife 
who had proved herself so unpleasantly contumacious. 
There must have been a strong vein of obstinacy in 
both himself and his father which induced them to 
combat the matter ; though, possibly, in the face of 
the immense public interest which the affair had 
roused, to have refused to do so might have involved 
social ostracism. Of the trial itself Lady Louisa Stuart 
has left a graphic description. The court was crowded 


with a fashionable audience ; all the most powerful 
and reputable friends of the Duchess attended at her 
request; all the lively, wild, young friends of Lord Coke 
were present to support their comrade. The Duchess 
was weeping bitterly, Lady Strafford (Lady Mary's 
sister) perpetually fainting, and Lord Coke's " young 
rakes and geniuses" making great sport of the pro- 
ceedings, while without, an immense mob had as- 
sembled to wait the arrival of the persecuted heroine. 
At length, into their midst she was borne, and as 
the crowd, frantic to get a glimpse of her, pressed 
round her in a manner which was alarming, they broke 
the glass of her sedan chair, whereupon there occurred 
a dramatic incident. As she stepped forth, feeble, 
emaciated, and clothed in rags, Lord Coke rushed 
forward to protect her from the mob, exclaiming ten- 
derly, " My dearest love, take care and do not hurt 
yourself ! " 

At the trial which followed, much evidence was 
adduced on either side ; the depositions of Sir Harry 
and Lady Bedingfield were read, the loving letters of 
Lord Leicester to his daughter-in-law, etc., and excite- 
ment ran high. Finally, however, the case for a 
divorce collapsed, greatly owing to the inefficiency 
of Lady Mary's own evidence ; and it was agreed that 
she should reside unmolested at Sudbrook, near 
Richmond, with her mother, upon condition that she 
withdrew her suit, lived upon her pin money and 
never set foot in town. 

So after two years of wretched married life, nearly 
twelve months of which had been spent in imprison- 
ment, Lady Mary attained to a peaceful, if dull, 

freedom: "Her perseverance and courage are insur- 
mountable," pronounced Horace Walpole, "as she has 
shown in her conduct with her husband and his father, 
in which contest she got the better." Lady Mary was 
the victor, and the treasured dream of Lord Leicester's 
life was at an end. No little grandchild, flesh of his 
flesh, would ever run about the gilded corridors and 
splendid rooms which he was creating, or prove the 
ancestor of a posterity which should look with pride on 
the home he had designed for them. Lord Coke re- 
turned to his downward course ; and, more harsh and 
imperious than of old, Lord Leicester retired with his lady 
to Holkham, where they continued to live in dreary 
state in a portion of the rambling, unfinished house. 
"Our time which is spared from Vertu is spent on 
Whist," he wrote ; and outside, the labourers dug, the 
great mills worked, the bricks were hoisted one upon 
another, and the huge building grew apace ; while 
within, rich decorations beautified it week by week, 
and month by month. And still Lord Leicester directed 
and watched the gradual fulfilment of his scheme, all 
the while pursued by the haunting dread lest even a 
son of his might never inherit this splendid creation 
of his brain. And still, with a stubborn courage which 
refused to be thwarted, he rejected the obvious ; the 
hopes of Lady Mary and her mother, whom he pictured 
eagerly awaiting his son's death, were to be frustrated : 
Lord Coke was to be induced to come to Holkham, 
induced, yet again, "to reform"; doctors, yet again, 
were to attempt the cure which was beyond all 
mortal capacity. In June, 1750, ten months after the 


scene in court, we find him writing confidently to a 
friend : 

" As you are so good as to interest yourself in our 
family wellfare, I have the pleasure to assure you 
Ld. Coke is better y n he has been for many years, 
and by the advice of Doctor Hepburn l has used the 
Cold Bath with great success ; his spirits are more 
equal, and he is able to read and taste what he reads, 
and seems to be quite easy in his mind as to other 
affairs, so that Kennell of Bitches who expect his 
death, will be disappointed, if he "will but be prudent 
enough, and not relapse into his idle courses of 

But again, alas ! even the unparalleled " success of 
the Cold Bath" was not sufficient to counteract the 
result of long years of debauchery and excess. Three 
years later, on August 5th, Mrs. Montagu 2 wrote to her 
husband from Tunbridge : 

" There is a report that Lord Coke is dying; his 
wife Lady Mary is here ; she is extremely pretty, her 
air and figure the most pleasing I ever saw. She is 
not properly a beauty, but she has more agremens 
than one shall often see. With so many advantages 
of birth, person and fortune, I do not wonder at her 
resentment being lively, and that she could ill brook 
the neglects of her husband." 3 

That same month, while staying at Greenwich, on 
August 30th, 1753, Lord Coke ended his unsatisfactory 
career at the age of thirty-four. " Poor Lord Coke's 
death," commented his aunt, Lady Jane Coke, 4 " though 
it did not concern me, yet made me moralise, when I 

1 George Hepburn, a doctor in Lynn, who died in 1760, aged ninety. 
He is described by a contemporary as " a vicious and expensive man." 

2 Mrs. Montagu, " Queen of the Blue Stockings." 

3 Elizabeth Montagu, by E. Climenson (1906). Vol. II, p. 38. 

4 Wife of Robert Coke of Longford, brother of Lord Leicester. 

reflected how different was his character at his first 
coming into the world to what it was at his leaving it. 
Lady Mary has now two thousand pounds a year rent 
charge, and absolute mistress of herself, which at her 
age is no unpleasant situation." 1 

Thenceforward, although Lord Leicester pursued his 
work with undiminished energy although ambition for 
his posterity gone, the love of the artist for his art 
remained there is a new note of dissatisfaction in all 
his utterances. There is a fretfulness in his complaint 
to the younger Brettingham that " Your father has built 
a house more to look at than to live in, for all the 
chimneys smoke and cannot be cured " ; and there is 
an unutterable sadness in his final verdict as he sur- 
veyed the result of his long years of labour and achieve- 
ment : " It is a melancholy thing to stand alone in one's 
own country. I look around, not a house to be seen 
but my own. I am Giant, of Giant Castle, and have 
ate up all my neighbours my nearest neighbour is the 
King of Denmark." 

And the final tragedy of his existence is pathetic in its 
seeming inadequacy to represent the end of such a 
man. Aloof in the splendid isolation of which he 
complained, Lord Leicester yet found himself dragged 
into a petty quarrel with a sullen neighbour. Colonel 
Townshend, 2 a distinguished soldier, but by all ac- 
counts an ill-conditioned, unpopular man, had had an 
old-standing quarrel with him on the supposition of his 

Letters from Lady Jane Coke to her friend Mrs. Eyre at Derby, 
edited by Mrs. Ambrose Rathborne, p. 130. 

2 George Townshend, son and heir of Charles, third Viscount Towns- 
hend, born 1724 and made a Marquis 1786. He commanded at Quebec 
after the death of Wolfe. 


gamekeeper having killed some foxes. That Colonel 
Townshend was of a quarrelsome disposition and much 
disliked is evident. Horace Walpole speaks of him as 
having a " proud, sullen and contemptuous character, 
and of seeing everything in an ill-natured and ridicu- 
lous light," while, in the former dispute with him, 
Lord Leicester admits having been worsted over "my 
Booby growling about your Partridges " But, although 
foxes may have been at the root of the enmity, the excuse 
for the second quarrel was the fact that Lord Leicester 
had spoken disparagingly of the Militia, of which Colonel 
Townshend was first Colonel. In a fit of drunken 
anger on January 24th the latter sent a challenge to 
Lord Leicester, which, as a specimen of the calligraphy 
and manners of that date, is perhaps without parallel. 
In it he remarks that " It is naturell to expect ye efforts 
of a malignant, pensioned, renegade peer to obstruct 
ye Publick Service, and to blacken ye characters of a 
sett of Gents who devote their lives from principle 
solely to ye defence of ye country," and he proceeds to 
make some very trenchant remarks respecting the traits 
which distinguish " the Gent from the Tyrent," and 
how, apart from the ostensible cause of quarrel, "yor 
private transactions about foxes and such other things 
have been covered by a kind of very small politeness 
of which you are so much ye master and which when 
counteracted by Reall 111 Will is a mere Treachery " ; 
finally subscribing himself, " I am ye friend and fol- 
lower of reall merit only, with ye utmost contempt for 
the Right Honourable ye Postmaster Generall," etc. 

Now George Townshend was thirty years Lord 
Leicester's junior, and a professional man-slayer ; to 

propose a duel, therefore, with a pacific and somewhat 
infirm civilian of sixty-two was an extravagant sugges- 
tion, and in his elaborate answer to the challenge, 
Lord Leicester shows himself in an unusually favour- 
able light. Although he declines to fight, with some 
firmness, his letter is full of dignity, well expressed, 
and exhibits a self-control which presents a remarkable 
contrast to the illiterate abuse of his adversary, while, 
in a kind and fatherly manner, he throws gentle ridicule 
upon the warmth of the younger man : 

"It would be ridiculous and rash," he concludes, 
"for an old fellow retired from the world, who cannot 
even without great fatigue visit his neighbours, to 
begin duelling with an officer of your rank in his 
prime . . . you would get no Honour by vanquish- 
ing a man older than your Father, and grown quite 
unwieldy and unfit for such encounters by a long, 
lazy, and inactive life and entire disuse of sword and 
file, 1 not having this twenty years wore a sword that 
could be of any use and for a pistol I never could hit 
a barn-door with a gun, so it would be very difficult 
for me to chuse weapons, and I think to turn duellist 
in my grand climacterisk [sic] would be a great proof 
of indiscreet rashness rather than true courage." 

In his reply, George Townshend shows himself 
somewhat mollified, and with his second ungracious 
letter all trace of the correspondence closes. Yet, six 
weeks later a sequel which appears to hint more than 
mere coincidence the death of Lord Leicester was 
announced, and he was buried at Tittleshall, where his 
son already reposed. 

Now in neither the Townshend nor the Leicester 
families does any record exist of the duel having taken 

1 Foil was thus spelt in Bailey's Dictionary, 1737. 


place, and while it would obviously be to the advantage 
of the family of the aggressor to hush up such an 
occurrence, no such motive can have existed on the 
part of the family of the aggrieved. Yet a letter has 
lately come to light, written by one Norfolk clergyman 
to another, on May loth following the date of the 
challenge, which not only indicates that Lord Leicester's 
death was the result of the duel with George Townshend, 
but which, in its very omission of all detail respecting 
such an event, seems to infer that the facts connected 
with it were well known in Norfolk at that date. 1 
Meanwhile, the contemporary letters of Lady Mary 
Coke which would have thrown light upon the matter, 
have, unfortunately, not been preserved. A hint of 

1 May loth, 1759. Letter (from Edmund Pyle to Samuel Kerrich). 
"Lord L. is dead since you wrote. I wish with 1000 more that his 
antagonist were in the shades too (provided his family were no sufferers) ; 
for I hold him and his brother [Charles] to be two most dangerous men ; 
as having- parts that enable them to do great mischief, and no principles 
that lead them to do any good. The challenger was (by confession of 
his friends) drunk when he wrote to Lord L., of whom, notwithstanding 
what I have here said, I was never an admirer. But in the case now 
under consideration how can one help being of his side ? He spoke con- 
temptuously of the Militia, very true, and so do thousands. It has been 
burlesqued in Publick papers, over and over again and treated with the 
highest scorn and satire. Yet because Lord L. was a little severe upon 
it at his table he is to be challenged, truly, and by whom, why by G. T. 
a man whose licentious tongue spares not the most sacred characters 
King, priest, prophet, minister, general all have felt the lash of his wit 
(as he takes it to be) in scurrilous language, in burlesque prints, and in 
every way that would render them the joke of the very scum of the 
people. This is the man who denounces death to any one that shall dare 
to scout a silly project that he thinks fit to espouse and insists upon 
being received seriously by the English nation. In troth, my good friend, 
things, at this rate, are come to a rare pass. Noble or ignoble, old or 
young, are all to look with awe and reverence on whatever this spark 
shall think fit to declare for, at the peril of their lives" (Memoirs of a 
Royal Chaplain, edited by Albert Hartshorne, p. 319). 
I. F 

secrecy may lie in the fact that, of all her voluminous 
correspondence still in existence, one letter only, 
written in the spring of 1759, appears to have sur- 
vived ; and that letter, written to her sister, Lady 
Dalkeith, and which, whatever the manner of her 
father-in-law's death, must surely have contained some 
reference to it shows half the sheet cautiously de- 
stroyed, presumably by the recipient. 

So the matter remains shrouded in mystery. All 
that is known is that on April 2Oth, 1759, Lord Leicester 
lay dead dead with his work unfinished, his dream un- 
realised, with the great dread of his latter days fulfilled, 
in that he left no son to inherit his life-work dead, 
unloved, unregretted by the world at large, dead, it 
was reported, in a petty squabble with a drunken man. 

Bust by Chantrey after a model by Ronbillac 







, by a strange freak of fate, had Lord 
Leicester, throughout his life, diligently ac- 
cumulated treasures for one whom he had 
never desired to be his heir, while Lord 
Coke, by his riotous living, and Lady Mary, by her 
contumacious conduct, had completed the destiny 
against which the autocrat of Holkham had striven 
in vain. 

But for the present in the great unfinished building, 
Lady Leicester was left to face life alone. "I am not 
surprised," wrote Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, " at 
Lord Leicester leaving his large estate to his lady, 
notwithstanding the contempt with which he always 
treated her, and her real inability of managing it ! " l 
Ten years earlier Lady Louisa Stuart had spoken of 
her as "a peaceable, inoffensive woman, long indured 
to obedience ; who, as the father was yet more ill- 
tempered than the son and addicted to the same vices, 
had borne submissively for thirty years the trials that ex- 
hausted Lady Mary's scantier stock of patience in three 

1 The Letters and Works of Lady M. Wortley Montagu, ed. by Lord 
Wharncliffe (1893), Vol. II, p. 367. 


months." 1 Now, within six years of each other, and 
under peculiarly painful circumstances, she had been 
bereft of both the husband and son who had exercised 
such a chastening influence upon her life, and was left, 
a solitary, elderly woman, with small interest save her 
foibles and her wealth to render existence palatable. 

In his will, dated May 25th, 1756, Lord Leicester had 
left provision for the completion of the house should 
his death occur before this was accomplished. Two 
thousand pounds were to be set aside annually out 
of his estate until the building was finished ; and as at 
the time of his demise the chapel wing was not com- 
pleted, the work was proceeded with for six years until 
the structure was erected in accordance with his direc- 
tions. Subsequently, however, the gilding and decora- 
tion of the interior was carried out on a less elaborate 
and more economical scale than was the case through- 
out the rest of the building ; so that, in this particular 
alone, the chapel wing did not correspond with the 
wings finished during his lifetime. 

The furnishing of the house was completed by Lady 
Leicester out of her own income. She stated that she 
considered this a duty which she owed to her husband's 
memory ; but something, no doubt, she also con- 
sidered due to her own dignity ; for in her solitude one 
consolation was vouchsafed to her she had an over- 
weening and all-satisfying sense of her own import- 
ance. Perhaps it is not too much to say that this 
forthwith constituted the great and abiding interest 
of her life ; all her ideas, her fashion of living, almost 
her code of right and wrong centred round this to 

1 Lady Louisa Stuart: Selections from her Manuscripts, ed. by the 
Hon. J. Home (1899), p. 69. 

her sacred theory of the deference which was due 
to her. Kind-hearted, generous, full of sound good 
sense and right feeling, she was as imperious at heart 
as her too tyrannical lord, and her individuality, which 
had been repressed during his lifetime, after his death 
had full play. Frail and dainty in appearance, stately 
and extremely ceremonious in manner, her resolute 
determination of speech, habit and action was apt to 
alarm those who were less strong-minded. Her solitude 
deepened as the years went by, for so few were con- 
sidered by her fit to admit to her presence ; and, as her 
horizon contracted, she became more eccentric in her 
ways, more overwhelmingly punctilious with regard to 
detail, a greater stickler for etiquette. Austere in her 
attitude towards her tenants, she raised their rents in 
defiance of Lord Leicester's past liberality towards 
them ; but in charity her expenditure was lavish, she 
devoted large sums alike to the deserving or the 
undeserving poor, and supported needy vagabonds 
throughout the county. In 1755 she built and endowed 
six picturesque almshouses which stood on either side 
of the principal entrance to the park, and in 1768, at a 
total cost of 2300, she further endowed these for the 
maintenance of three men and three women (to be 
elected by the possessors of Holkham House, out of 
some parish upon the estate), who were each to have 
sixpence per day, a chaldron of coal annually, and new 
clothes once in two years. In 1767 she completely re- 
stored and refurnished the church at a cost of 1000. 

And while she lived her solitary, ceremonious life, 
her thoughts must have turned, not without a pang 
of bitter jealousy, to a child whom she had never seen 

the child who was growing up to inherit all of which 
her own son should have been possessed. 

Far away in Derbyshire was the house where, as 
a pretty bride of eighteen, in all the bravery of her 
wedding finery and the dignity of her new estate, my 
Lady Margaret had first set up housekeeping. A twin 
property with Holkham, Longford had descended side 
by side with its fellow estate through successive gener- 
ations of Cokes since the days of the Lord Chief 
Justice. Before John Coke settled at Holkham, Clement, 
the sixth son of the Chief Justice, had established him- 
self at Longford. 

The house dates back to Norman times, though the 
church, which is dedicated to St. Chad, is said, like 
the church at Holkham, to owe its origin to Saxon 
history or legend, in which a doe again plays an im- 
portant part. The story is that St. Ceadda came to 
live in a solitary place, where he existed only upon the 
milk of a doe. This doe was hunted by the son of 
the King of Mercia, and flying back to the cell of the 
saint for safety, brought there in pursuit the young 
Prince. This resulted in the conversion of both the 
Prince and his brother to the Christian faith, which 
being observed by one of their father's evil counsellors, 
he accused them to the King of being converts to 
Christianity, and the King in his wrath slew them 
both. Saint Ceadda fled for safety to his cell near 
Lichfield ; but the King, struck with remorse, repaired 
thither by the advice of his Queen, and, being converted, 
banished idolatrous worship out of his kingdom, and 
built a church upon the site where his sons had first 
embraced Christianity. 



The church was rebuilt in the fourteenth century, and 
the registers in it date back to the time of Henry VII. 
The house stands close to the church, picturesquely 
situated at the foot of a gently sloping park. It is only 
a short distance from the village, but is otherwise in a 
lonely situation, and in old days, before the advent of 
railways, it must have been very isolated. It was 
originally gabled, with buttresses, surmounted by 
chimney-stacks between the gables. At a later period 
the gables were destroyed, the upper storey raised and 
a balustrade was placed along the top. An old castel- 
lated tower then formed the centre of the house, con- 
taining a banqueting-hall surrounded by a gallery, 
which had fine old carved panelling and stained-glass 
windows representing the arms of the de Longfords. 
The house was likewise encircled by a moat, of which 
traces were found latterly, and also signs of a former 
garden. But the original walls and buttresses remain 
to this day walls which have seen generations rise and 
pass away from the Conquest downwards, which have 
echoed to the voices of those who for centuries now 
have been mingling with the dust. Over Longford 
prevails the charm which the house of Holkham lacks 
the profound charm of an immense antiquity. 

Margaret Markham, the widow and fourth wife of 
Nicholas de Longford, sold the estate of Longford to 
Lord Chief Justice Coke, in the tenth year of James I, 
for the sum of 5000. Later, Clement Coke, to whom 
his father bequeathed it, married Sara Reddish, heiress 
of the Reddish estates and sole living representative 
of the de Longfords. The heirs of Clement thus suc- 
ceeded to both the heritage and the lineage of the 

de Longfords, which date back to the Conquest, and 
which was written out by Sir Edward Coke in an 
elaborate pedigree, still preserved at Longford. The 
authenticity of this as his handiwork is established by the 
fact that it is endorsed on the reverse side in his hand- 
writing : " The Cases of Sara Reddiche my son Clement's 
wife " ; and in this pedigree, with the carelessness of 
his period, in alternate lines he spells his own and his 
son's name as Coke and Cooke. 

A monument to Clement Coke in the Temple Church 
states how "he in the Inner Temple, being a Fellow of 
the House, Christianly and comfortably in his flourish- 
ing age yielded up his soul to the Almighty the three 
and twentieth of May A.D. 1619." 

He was succeeded first by his eldest son Edward, 
created a baronet in 1641, whose younger son, the third 
baronet, died in 1727, when the estates passed with- 
out the baronetcy to Edward, the second brother of 
Thomas Coke, of Holkham. The latter also dying 
childless, Longford then went to the youngest of 
the three brothers, the "Master Bobby" of Edward 
Smith's Journal of Expenses. But it is difficult to 
connect that youthful " Bobby," who we cannot doubt 
got into sore trouble through damaging the sword and 
scabbard of the redoubtable " Mr. Dont," with the 
dignified Robert Coke of Longford, Vice-Chamberlain 
to Queen Caroline, the husband of Lady Jane, sister 
and co-heir of Philip, the Jacobite Duke of Wharton. 1 
Of him and of his wife little trace remains save the 

1 Philip, Duke of Wharton (1698-1731). Espoused the cause of the Old 
Pretender, and having- been convicted of high treason, died wretchedly 
at a Bernardine convent near Tarragona. Pope's lines upon him are 
well known. 

portrait of Lady Jane, which for many years hung in 
the long corridor at Longford, curiously painted with 
six fingers on one hand. 

Robert, like his brother Edward, died without an 
heir ; Carey, his elder sister, who had married Sir 
Marmaduke Wyvill, was also childless ; and therefore 
upon the son of his younger sister, Anne, the estate of 
Longford next devolved. 

Now, Anne Coke, as a pretty girl of sixteen, and 
a ward in Chancery, had married, in December, 1715, 
Colonel Philip Roberts, who, in the June of the follow- 
ing year, received his commission as a Major in the 
2nd Troop of Horse Guards. He was the " eldest son 
and heir-apparent of Gabriel Roberts of Soho Square, 
Westminster," and Ampthill, Beds; M.P. for Marl- 
borough in 1713-15-22, and for Chippenham in 1727-34. 
His father, Governor Gabriel Roberts, had rented the 
same house in Soho Square since 1712; and as the 
town house of Sir John Newton, Anne's grandfather 
and guardian, was also in that square, the two young 
people must have been neighbours from their earliest 
childhood. Still more, Philip's mother was Mary, 
daughter of Sir Francis Wenman, Bt., M.P. for Oxford- 
shire, whose family must have been acquainted with 
Anne's brother, Thomas Coke, the owner of Minster 
Lovel and of other property in that county to which 
Philip's grandmother also belonged. Philip himself 
is said to have been of exceptionally handsome appear- 
ance, and two very beautiful portraits of him and of 
his sister, as children, are at Longford, which prove 
that, even as a boy, he was possessed of the good looks 
with which he was afterwards accredited. 

Anne alone of all her family had several children six 
sons and one daughter. Her eldest son, Wenman, 
came into possession of Longford on the death of his 
uncle, Robert Coke, in 1750; whereupon, under the 
will of Sir Edward Coke, Bt., he assumed the surname 
and arms of Coke. 1 

Wenman Coke's first wife died six months after the 
death of her only child, and he married, secondly, 
Elizabeth, daughter of George Chamberlyne (afterwards 
Denton), Esq., of Hillesden, Bucks, by whom he had 
four children, two sons and two daughters. Three 
years after succeeding to Longford, the death of Lord 
Coke made it probable that he would succeed also to 
Holkham. ' f Your neighbour at Longford, " wrote Lady 
Jane Coke to her friend Mrs. Eyre, of Derby, "is now 
very likely to succeed to the whole family estate, and 
if money is happiness, he will have enough, and yet 
whether his spirits were not so good when he danced 
with you years ago, I much question." 2 

The matter of the succession, however, was still 
uncertain, and it was essential that Mr. Wenman Coke 
should keep well with the imperious owner of Holk- 
ham. One of the conditions of doing so appears to 
have been that he should quarrel with all the rest of 
Lord Leicester's relations. For this reason, perforce, 
Lady Mary remained a comparative stranger to him, 

1 Burke and other peerages erroneously state that the estates of his 
uncle Lord Leicester devolved to Wenman Roberts on the death of the 
latter (1759), and that he then assumed the name of Coke. Holkham, on 
the contrary, was left to Lady Leicester for her lifetime, and in 1750 
Wenman Roberts assumed the name of Coke, although this was not 
confirmed by Act of Parliament till 1755 (28 George II). 

2 Letters from Lady Jane Coke to her friend Mrs. Eyre at Derby ^ 
edited by Mrs. Ambrose Rathborne, 1889, p. 66. 

and even Lady Jane was never asked to visit her old 
home, Longford, an omission which, while resenting, 
she condoned. " I am sure if Mr. Coke was left to act 
for himself, he would always behave right to me, and 
as he is not, I do not take it ill," she wrote generously 
in 1751 ; though, later in the same year, she added : 
" Mr. Coke and his whole family have taken their 
leave of me, and I now neither hear nor see anything 
of them ; this behaviour is by Lord Leicester's order, 
who will not have anybody that expects favours from 
him live in friendship with me. This is the reason 
given . . . and I wish Mr. Coke may find his new 
friends as sincere to him as his old ones were. He, at 
least, thinks it worth a trial." 

Too much, obviously, was at stake for Wenman Coke 
to risk affronting the autocrat whose heir he hoped to 
become ; but, save for this enforced unfriendliness 
towards his relations, he appears to have been an 
amiable man of quiet tastes and studious disposition. 
He lived much out of the world and disliked society. 
His habits were those of an ordinary country gentle- 
man ; he was interested in agriculture and fond of field 
sports ; but he was a man of cultivated mind and of 
intellectual pursuits ; he loved reading, and spent most 
of the morning and many hours of each night buried 
in his books, so that he suffered in health from his 
sedentary habits. 

He seems to have been much respected and beloved 
by his neighbours and dependents, who found him 
kind, sincere, and attractive in his manners ; while his 
principles were those of the old Whig school, and 
were above suspicion. He is specially described as 

being " independent-minded, benevolent, and a stout 
advocate for the Constitution." 1 

It was just four years after he came into possession 
of Longford, and one year after the death of Lord 
Coke had left him the probable heir to Holkham, that 
his eldest son, the subject of this memoir, was born in 
London, May 6th, 1754. Sixteen days later the child 
was baptised at the beautiful old church of St. James's, 
Piccadilly, and received the name of Thomas William. 

This son was thus born the heir to Longford, but for 
the first five years of his life it was not known whether 
he would succeed to the estate of Holkham. In 1759 
the death of Lord Leicester left the momentous ques- 
tion beyond dispute ; the Holkham and other estates, 
after the decease of Margaret, Lady Leicester, were 
entailed upon Wenman Coke and his heirs for ever. 

It is said that the year when little Tom Coke became 
acknowledged as the future heir to Holkham he was 
painted by Reynolds as the " Young Hannibal" ; 2 a 
handsome round-faced boy of five years old, who looks 
out of the canvas with large solemn eyes, and clasps a 
sword in his baby fingers. The picture was probably 
painted during one of his first visits to town, for his 
early days were spent between Longford and London ; 
as, in due course, were those of his brother Edward 

1 Norwich Mercury, Saturday, April 27th, 1776. 

2 This picture is in the possession of Lieut. -Colonel the Hon. Wenman 
Coke. It has also been described as the portrait of Master Coxe, but 
the date upon it (1759) that momentous year when young- Coke became 
of recognised importance as the future heir to a large estate. coupled 
with the age and the appearance of the child represented, are strong- 
evidence in favour of its authenticity as the first of the thirty-two por- 
traits which are said to have been painted of T. W. Coke in the course 
of his life. 




and his sisters Margaret and Elizabeth. Wenman 
Coke represented Derby for many years in Parliament, 
and came to town every year during the session, when 
he occupied a house which he rented from a Lady 
Carpenter, and which stood at the corner of Hanover 
Square, at what is now the turning into Great George 
Street. At this period there were no buildings on 
that side of Oxford Street, while on the present site 
of Cavendish Square, only a solitary house was stand- 
ing ; so that all the country surrounding Lady Car- 
penter's house was completely open. One of the 
earliest recollections of little Tom Coke was being 
hurried to the window of the house in Hanover Square 
to see a fox killed by a pack of hounds kept by his god- 
father, Mr. Archer, in Essex. The whole chase swept 
into view from the present direction of Oxford Street, 
and the fox was killed immediately in front of Mr. 
Wenman Coke's house. 1 

Another event of his early life made a deep im- 
pression on him. When he was quite a small child, 
his grandfather, Philip Roberts, took him upon his 
knee and said : 

" Now remember, Tom, as long as you live, never 
trust a Tory ! " In repeating this story he used to add 
" I never have, and, by God, I never will ! " 

Later, his father, Wenman Coke, echoed this advice. 
He told his son that, if he lived, he would see mischief, 

1 In 1833 Coke sat to Hay don (see post, p. 81) for his portrait and re- 
lated this circumstance, which Haydon records in his Journal "Mr. 
Coke said he remembered a fox killed in Cavendish Square" (Auto- 
biography and Journals of R. B. Haydon, ed. by T. Taylor, Vol. II, 
p. 376). It was not, however, Cavendish, but Hanover Square where 
he was thus " in at the death." 


as Lord Bute l had had the education of the King that 
all good men would be excluded from his service. 
" Let me give you this advice," he said ; " don't trust 
a Tory ; if you live you will see great mischief from 
their principles being acted upon. The Tories will 
always be with you when you don't want them, and 
against you when you do : don't believe or trust a 

Nearly seventy years afterwards, at Lynn, in 1830, 
Tom repeated to a crowd of his constituents the exact 
words which his father had spoken to him as a boy. 
Throughout a long life they had remained fixed upon 
his memory, and had, no doubt, determined the trend 
of his whole career. 

Another maxim which his father instilled into his 
mind and to which he was also faithful through life, was 
to "Stick to his friends, and to disregard his enemies." 
This was the way, Wenman Coke assured his son, to 
attach the former and be rid of the latter. This advice 
was never absent from young Coke's remembrance ; 
and it may be said to have formed the commanding 
rule of his life. 

The first rudiments of his education were received at 
the village school at Longford, where he sat side by 
side with the little village lads who were to become 
sturdy yeomen on his estate. He was next sent to a 

1 John Stuart, third Earl of Bute, Prime Minister for eleven months. 
In the household of the Prince of Wales, who in 1760 ascended the 
throne as George III, Lord Bute acquired great influence over the 
minds both of the Prince and his mother. He was said to have 
inoculated the young Prince with the theory that the royal will was 
to be supreme, and that Ministers were simply to give expression to 
and carry out the Sovereign's pleasure. 

school at Wandsworth, in Surrey, which was at that 
date kept by a French refugee of the name of Pam- 
pellonne, and was considered a school of great celebrity. 
Only a very limited number of pupils were admitted, 
and these were all the sons of men of good position. 
Charles James Fox was there, as a delicate little boy, 
previous to being sent to Westminster and Eton, but 
he must have left before young Coke arrived, and the 
contemporaries of the latter appear to have been the 
future Lord Egremont and Lord Ilchester, the Duke 
of Leinster and Lord Fortescue, Lord Braybrooke, 
Sir T. Faulkland, Lord Townshend, Lord Aylesford 
and others, many of whom were his friends in later 

Long years afterwards when passing Wandsworth as 
quite an old man, Coke was delighted to find it so little 
altered that he was able to trace all his early haunts and 
associations, of which he spoke with an almost boyish 
enthusiasm. From this school, he said, he was recalled 
and brought to the house in Hanover Square, expressly 
to catch the measles from his sisters. 

At the age of ten he was sent to Eton. Here again 
he followed closely upon the steps of Charles James 
Fox, who, a lad of fifteen, left Eton at the beginning of 
the summer holidays that same year. Fox left behind 
him the reputation of having been the most good- 
natured, most careless, and most slovenly boy in the 
whole school ; and so addicted was he to gambling, 
that certain places were pointed out to young Coke 
where Fox used at every opportunity to be engaged at 
pitch -and -toss, or other games of chance. William 
Windham, a lad of fourteen, who did not leave Eton 


till two years later, was famous for his cricket and his 
fighting ; which latter accomplishment afterwards stood 
him in good stead, more than once, at county elections. 
But the difference in age between him and young Coke 
must have precluded any friendship at this date ; and 
the only boy whom record indicates as a playmate of 
Coke's from his earliest years was a Harrow boy, 
Francis Rawdon, afterwards the famous Lord Hastings, 1 
who, Coke's junior by five months only, became one of 
his greatest, as he was one of his lifelong friends. 

One of the events of Coke's boyhood which he 
always remembered, was going abroad with Lord 
Moira, Francis Rawdon's father, who took him to a 
grand review at Prague ; and, insisting on his 
wearing regimentals, equipped him in a scarlet coat 
with a yellow collar and plain buttons. The pretty 
boy, thus picturesquely dressed, attracted attention, 
and several people observing his buttons, coolly 
asked him what regiment he belonged to. Being 
puzzled for an answer and fearing that people looked 
upon him as a picturesque servant, he asked Lord 
Moira anxiously what he should say if any more ques- 
tioned him. "Oh, say," replied Lord Moira casually, 
"that you belong to the Militia !" Shortly afterwards, 
several other people came to him and questioned him 
what regiment he belonged to. On his saying, " To the 
Militia ! " he found, to his dismay, that he was treated 
with greater contempt than ever. 

The ruling passion of young Coke's boyhood was a 

1 Francis Rawdon, son of first Earl of Moira, created Baron Rawdon, 
1783 ; succeeded his father as second Earl of Moira, 1793 ; created 
Marquis of Hastings, 1816. (b. 1754, ob. 1826.) 


love of sport. Even when in town he used to get away 
from the streets in those days no difficult matter and 
pursue his favourite pastime with untiring energy. 
Haydon 1 mentions how Mr. Coke told him that where 
Berkeley Square now stands was an excellent place for 
snipe. 2 But at Longford he always rose before day- 
light with the same object. He first made his way to 
the dairy, where he coaxed the dairywoman to skim the 
cream for him till he had filled his basin. He then ad- 
journed to the bakehouse, and as soon as the oven was 
drawn he broke off the cprner crusts from the loaves, 
which, steeped in cream, formed his breakfast. Thus 
fortified, he went off for the day, and was usually at 
his destination, four or five miles from home, before 
dawn broke. Directly it was daylight he began his 
sport, which he continued till darkness fell, contriving, 
if possible, to leave off near his home. No weather ever 
deterred him from being out all day. His naturally 
strong constitution was thus confirmed by the life he 
led, by his habits of early rising, simple food, long 
days in the fresh air, and hard exercise. So, too, he 
developed the passionate love of country life and 
country amusements which never left him throughout 
the whole of his career. 

Naturally, such an existence was utterly at variance 
with any love of books or study ; and he must have 
been a curious contrast to his studious, intellectual 
father. But there is little doubt that it developed in 

1 Benjamin Robert Haydon, historical painter, 1786-1846. 

2 Haydon 's Journals and Correspondence, Vol. II, p. 367. Clive com- 
mitted suicide in his house in Berkeley Square in 1774, so the Square 
was standing- at that date. 

I. G 

young Coke other characteristics which stood him 
in good stead in after life ; for, besides perfecting the 
splendid physique for which he was always remarkable, 
it made him practical, observant and self-reliant, with 
a mind as clean and healthy, and a brain as actively 
alert as his body was strong. 

At Eton all his leisure was spent in the same manner. 
His popularity was great, since his gun provided sup- 
pers for his schoolmates. The more studious among 
the boys would offer to do his tasks for him in return 
for the game with which he provided them. On one 
occasion he was found with no less than seventy snipe 
in his room, all killed by himself. On another, he 
narrowly escaped punishment for killing a pheasant 
in Windsor Park. The keeper pursued him and his 
associate ; they escaped by a boat across the river, but 
were recognised, and his companion was flogged by 
Dr. Foster for the offence. It is obvious that at this 
early age he was a most remarkable shot ; and thus 
it is not surprising that, in later years, in the game- 
book at Holkham, it is recorded how, in fulfilment 
of a bet, he killed eighty-two partridges out of eighty- 
four shots one day in November. 

During those years of his boyhood he saw little or 
nothing of the relations whose name he bore. In 1761 
Lady Jane Coke died, and is said to have been buried 
on January i5th of that year at Sunbury, Windsor, 
where she had resided during the years of her widow- 
hood. Subsequently a legend sprang up round her 
memory at Longford, and it was rumoured that the 
house from which she had been excluded during the 
latter years of her life was haunted by her restless 

From a, painting at Holkham. 

spirit. After dusk the vision of a pale lady in flutter- 
ing white garments was seen to flit along the corridor, 
where, in those days, her portrait hung ; and, so firmly 
was this legend believed, that, for half a century after 
her decease, the corridor, when daylight faded, was 
a place of terror. Often during the days of his boy- 
hood, young Coke heard the story of the strange figure 
seen there ; but one thing appears certain unless he 
saw the White Lady when she haunted Longford, he 
had no other acquaintance with his great-aunt, Lady 

Still more, though often during those years he must 
have heard of the wonderful house at Holkham which 
would one day be his, and of the awe-inspiring old 
lady who lived there in lonely state, as time passed by, 
he saw neither the one nor the other. Communication 
between Lady Leicester and the family who were to 
succeed her at Holkham was little to her taste. She 
viewed with scarcely disguised animosity her nephew, 
Mr. Wenman Coke, who, although only eleven years 
younger than herself, might one day step into the 
possession of all which had not been intended for him, 
and it was only owing to an unexpected event that a 
meeting between the aunt and nephew at last took 

In 1767 Mr. Coke, without Lady Leicester being 
apprised of the matter, was asked to stand for the 
County of Norfolk. Sir Edward Astley 1 and Sir 
Harbord Harbord 2 posted to Longford on purpose to 

1 Born 1729, died 1802, represented Norfolk for twenty-four years in 

' 2 M.P. for Norwich. Created Baron Suffield of Suffield, August, 1786. 

urge him to offer himself for nomination. Such a 
proposal, though extremely flattering, was received by 
him with very distinct dismay. He liked his quiet seat 
for Derby, and had no desire to put himself forward 
for a contested election in a county with which, at 
present, he had little connection. It was, however, 
difficult to refuse, and at length, after much persuasion, 
he consented to go to Norfolk in order to judge 
personally of the state of popular feeling there, agree- 
ing to decide accordingly. He therefore posted back 
with his two friends, and stayed in Norfolk for some 
weeks, until at length one evening, when a large 
party was assembled, such pressure was brought to 
bear upon him, that he reluctantly gave his consent 
to their wishes. 

His first step upon coming to a decision was to wait 
upon his aunt at Holkham in order to acquaint her with 
the fact. 

The austere lady received Mr. Coke with unbending 
dignity. As upright and as stately as of yore, with 
a manner more rigidly severe, she accorded him a 
frigid attention while he explained the cause of his 
visit. Obviously she refused to give him any credit 
for his conduct in the matter. Having listened to 
all that he had to say, she finally expressed her con- 
clusion : " Sir, I understand you have come to nose me 
in the county ! " 

Mr. Coke, in short, retired discomfited. He was 
nominated in conjunction with Sir Edward Astley 
on the 8th October, 1767. Their opponents were Sir 
A. Wodehouse and Mr. de Grey. The election took 
place on the 24th March, 1768. It was finished in one 


day, but the poll did not close till nine at night. The 
declaration of the numbers was postponed till the next 
day, and the examination of the books occupied from 
nine in the morning till six in the evening. The 
numbers were as follows : 

Sir Edward Astley . 2977 
Thos. De Grey, Esq. . 2754 

Sir A.Wodehouse . 2680 
Wenman Coke, Esq. 2609 

Thus, to Mr. Wenman Coke's genuine delight, he 
found that he had lost his election, and he returned to 
Longford fully recognising that he had been over- 
persuaded to stand for Norfolk as much against his 
own judgment as it was certainly against his own 

Yet another relation of young Coke's remained for 
many years unknown to him, save only as strange 
rumours respecting her must have penetrated to his 
family. This was the young widow, Lady Mary Coke, 
towards whom, likewise, her austere mother-in-law 
doubtless cherished no small measure of resentment. 

From the moment when, in 1753, at the age of twenty- 
six, Lady Mary had been released from her dull retire- 
ment and uncertain security at Sudbrook, her life had been 
transformed. No longer in a state of constant humilia- 
tion and fear, she found herself a young and wealthy 
widow, supported by the good opinion of the world 
who had taken her part in the tragedy of her marriage. 
Without pretending a sorrow which she could not feel 
at the death of Lord Coke, she showed all the decorum 
which good taste inspired ; and, the period of her 
mourning elapsed, her beauty, her wealth, her romantic 
history, and her extraordinary disposition, soon ren- 


dered her a figure in society which it was impossible 
to ignore. Her warmth of heart enchained her friends, 
her excitable temper bred imaginary enemies ; her 
extravagances amused both. Her world was a world 
of fantasy ; while she took herself with a seriousness 
at which that world smiled. 

After her mother's death she had a house in Notting 
Hill, or, as it was called in those days, Nutting 
Hill, which had a large garden adjoining Lord 
Holland's park. The view was beautiful, though the 
position was somewhat solitary, being then two and a 
half miles from London. There she led a more or less 
rural life, diversified by visits to town and Court, of 
which she has left a most curious account in her lengthy 
journals, written for the benefit of her sister Lady 
Strafford, to whom they were sent at intervals. And 
these journals, though full of current gossip, are never 
malicious. They prove that Lady Mary was kindly of 
heart, thoughtful to her dependents, liberal to the poor, 
and that her conduct was above reproach. She appre- 
ciated a quiet life, and spent her time between garden- 
ing, to which she was passionately attached, and read- 
ing many serious books, on which she comments. 
She was a great advocate for fresh air, and sat out of 
doors daily, even in the winter. She kept gold-fish, 
and, when dull, fished for them and had them fried for 
dinner. She kept cows and poultry, and relates every- 
thing connected with them once, how " Miss Pelham," 
her solitary cow, went off "on a frisk" by herself, and 
got nearly to London before she was discovered in a 
large field with some other cows whom she had joined 
for company. On Sunday Lady Mary drove to the 


country church of Kensington, and listened critically 
to the discourse of the " Clergy Man," who usually 
failed to please her. Occasionally, when the roads 
were bad, she was forced to drive round by the 
" Brumton Lanes," and once she relates how, in the 
Hammersmith Road, the water was so deep that it came 
into her carriage. Sometimes she took a house in 
town and indulged in a brief spell of frivolity. At all 
times she loved her game of Loo, and played constantly 
with her great friend, Princess Amelia, daughter of 
George II. 

As might be expected, with her temperament and her 
beauty Lady Mary did not escape romantic episodes in 
her widowhood. Horace Walpole was her avowed 
admirer ; he wrote verses to her, he loved her, he 
laughed at her. The Duke of York, brother of 
George III, her junior by fourteen years, indited com- 
promising letters to her, and, it was hinted, fled from 
the result. She had, it is said, a mania for royal per- 
sonages, and for being loved and persecuted by them. 
"Tho' a great lady," wrote Horace Walpole of her, 
" she has a rage for great personages and for being one 
of them herself." And in view of this idiosyncrasy on 
her part, it is difficult to arrive at a just estimate of the 
Duke's attitude towards her ; many believed that a 
marriage between her and the Duke had taken place ; x 
others derided the suggestion. The Royal Marriage Act, 
however, had not then been passed, and if, as Lady 
Mary and many of her friends stated, the marriage cere- 

1 Lady Mary "as there is every reason to believe, was married 

to the Duke of York" (George Sehvyn and his Contemporaries, J. H. 
Jesse, Vol. I, p. 326). 


mony had been performed, she was the Duke's legal 
wife. Yet the King used to smile when her name was 
mentioned, and the Princesses inquire facetiously after 
"our sister Mary" ; while the element of comedy was 
increased by the fact that the Duke of York, on ac- 
count of his fairness, was known as "the White Prince," 
in curious similarity to Lady Mary's nickname of " the 
White Cat." One thing only is certain with regard to 
this affair, that whatever the humorous aspect which 
the situation might assume in the eyes of the world, to 
Lady Mary herself it presented no laughing matter ; 
her affections were involved, and she was genuinely, 
pathetically unhappy. 

Thus it was that in 1767, the year when Mr. Wenman 
Coke visited Norfolk, Lady Mary was fretting out 
her life in her solitary house in Notting Hill. That 
year arrived news of the death of the Duke of York, 
at the age of twenty-eight, from fever at Monaco, and 
Lady Mary, despite the maturity of her forty-one years, 
gave herself up to grief. Visions of her vanished 
greatness no doubt mingled with her blighted love ; 
morbid and imaginative she dwelt upon her loss, and 
bitterly resented the attitude of those who, very natu- 
rally, did not view it from her own standpoint. There 
is something intensely dreary in her self-confession 
of long, lonely days spent sitting out in her garden, 
even till night fell, upon a bitter evening, haunted 
perpetually by an imaginary tolling of bells and boom- 
ing of the cannon which would ultimately greet the 
arrival of the Duke's body in England. When at last 
the funeral had taken place she descended into the 
vault, and for long knelt weeping beside the coffin of 

the man who, perhaps, had used her but ill a cere- 
mony which she repeated whenever a royal funeral gave 
her opportunity. Obliged to reappear at Court per- 
force in colours and bereft of all hope of that position 
to which she had aspired she experienced acute 
anguish ; but in society where she could indulge her 
inclinations, she wore a near approach to widow's 

Thus she lived her life at Netting Hill, diversified 
occasionally by a journey abroad and a visit to her great 
friend, the Empress Maria Theresa. Many were the 
stories of her eccentricities, her fantasies, her adven- 
tures which entertained both London and Vienna ; she 
remained, as Horace Walpole said, " Famous for scold- 
ing the Living and crying over the Dead. " But Walpole, 
while he mocked, confessed himself susceptible to her 
charm. "My Heart," he said, " is faithful to Lady 
Mary." On one occasion, when she was in Paris, he 
professed himself afraid of going there. " The air of 
Paris works such miracles, that it is not safe to trust 
oneself there " ; but near Amiens he encountered her. 
" Half a mile thence I met a coach-and-four with an 
equipage of French and two suivants, and a lady in 
pea-green and silver, and a smart hat with feathers. . . . 
My Heart whispered it was Lady Mary Coke." Every- 
where she was laughed at, loved, borne with ; the 
victim according to her own imagination of persecu- 
tion, foul plots, sorrows and adventures which befell 
no other mortal. 

But possibly worse, in her own estimation, than all 
the evils which had yet been her portion, was in store 
for Lady Mary. The Dukes of Gloucester and Cumber- 

land, her actual, or at one time her prospective brothers- 
in-law, married women less well-born than herself, 
both of whom were publicly acknowledged as their 
legal wives. 1 That she personally should have been 
publicly deserted by the Duke of York, while women, 
who were no more royal than herself and far lower 
in rank, should become the recognised wives of the two 
Princes, was intolerable to her. Unable to bear the 
torment of these mesalliances and the regrets thereby 
made poignant, Lady Mary betook herself on a pro- 
longed tour abroad ; and thus it was that, by an 
unforeseen chain of events, she first encountered her 
young cousin, Tom Coke. 

1 The Duke of Gloucester (brother of George III) married, in 1766, 
the Dowager Countess of Waldegrave, the illegitimate daughter of Sir 
Edward Walpole (brother of Horace Walpole) by Mary Clement, a 
milliner's apprentice. The marriage was not made public till June, 

The King's youngest brother, the Duke of Cumberland, married, 
1771, Anne, daughter of Lord Irnham (afterwards Earl of Carhampton) 
and widow of a Derbyshire squire, Andrew Horton, of Catton. 

"There appears, indeed, to have been among the Kings, and in the 
Royal Family of England, an extraordinary predilection for widows. 
The three uncles of the Prince of Wales (George IV) acted the same 
part. I know that Lady Mary considered herself united to Edward, 
Duke of York, who died in 1767 at Monaco, by as legitimate a union as 
the Duchesses of Gloucester or of Cumberland were united to their 
respective husbands. She was, indeed, much better born than Miss 
Walpole or Miss Lutterell, being daughter of John, the celebrated Duke 
of Argyle, and she possessed extraordinary personal beauty (Wraxall : 
Memoirs of My Own Time (1836), Vol. II, p. 126). 





dLtat 17-20 

years after the death of the Duke of 
York had blighted Lady Mary's life, there 
took place the first wedding in Mr. Wenman 
Coke's family. In 1769 his elder daughter, 
Margaret, married Sir H. Hunloke, Bt. After this, no 
event of any importance appears to have occurred until 
young Coke left Eton about the year 1771. 

He had returned to Longford, and his father was 
meditating sending him to one of the Universities, 
when, to the great surprise of the entire family, one 
day there arrived a letter from Lady Leicester. This 
letter has not been preserved, but Mr. Coke always 
said that he could never forget its exact wording : 

"Sir, I understand you have left Eton, & prob- 
ably intend to go to one of those Schools of Vice, 
the Universities. If, however, you chuse to travel 
I will give you 500 per annum." 

Was it the thought of her own son's ill-starred life 
and early death which prompted this sudden interest 
in another youth who stood on the threshold of exist- 
ence, and, perhaps, in danger from those very Schools 


of Vice which had proved that son's undoing? Or 
was it mere vanity which dictated her wish that the 
man whom she was forced to recognise as her heir 
should be worthy of the position into which Fate had 
thrust him? Who shall say? On one point, however, 
Lady Leicester was still resolute ; she would never 
admit Mr. Wenman Coke to be her heir, for she was 
determined to outlive him, and this determination alone 
may have influenced her to acknowledge as her suc- 
cessor a representative of the younger generation. 

Mr. Wenman Coke left it entirely to his son's option 
whether he accepted or refused this offer. Possibly 
he sympathised more fully than he chose to admit with 
Lady Leicester's horror of a University career. For 
in those days a vicious system prevailed at the Uni- 
versities. Students of noble family were exempt from 
any examination for their degrees ; they were not 
allowed to enter into the competition for honours, 
neither was their attendance at college lectures en- 
forced. So long, in fact, as they abstained from flagrant 
misdemeanours, they were free from academical con- 
trol ; and this last stage of their education was too 
often the first stage of their initiation into vice. For 
this system created a clique composed of youths of 
wealth as well as of youths of rank, who despised learn- 
ing, idled their time, frequented Newmarket, and con- 
tracted debts of such magnitude that, in some instances, 
they were hampered by these throughout their entire 
after-life. In view, therefore, of the ill-fated career 
of the last heir to Holkham, Mr. Wenman Coke may 
well have trembled at the prospect of exposing his son 
to a similar fate ; but without giving expression to any 

/Z<vrt&?ft^ ^ 

i77i] THE GRAND TOUR 93 

such sentiments, or attempting to influence a conclu- 
sion which he wished to be unbiassed, he told his son 
that if, instead of going to the University, he preferred 
to go the grand tour then considered an essential 
part of a gentleman's education he would add another 
200 to the 500 allowance offered by Lady Leicester, 
the whole representing a far larger sum in those days 
than it does at the present time. And young Coke 
with, it may have been, all his future hanging upon 
his decision did not hesitate. He pronounced at 
once in favour of travelling, and made his acknow- 
ledgments by letter to Lady Leicester, acquainting 
her with his acquiescence in her wishes. Shortly 
afterwards he received another dispatch from her, 
evidently satisfied with his decision, and inviting him 
to pass a month at Holkham before he set out on 
his travels. With feelings of the greatest excitement 
he accepted. 

A few weeks later, therefore, he bade farewell to his 
family, and left Longford on what he knew must be 
an absence of two or three years. 

The first stage of his journey promised to be by no 
means the least interesting. It was late on a beautiful 
evening in July when he realised that he was approach- 
ing Holkham, and was about, for the first time, to 
see his future home. The outlook, however, was un- 
prepossessing. The country through which he passed 
was a barren sheep-walk, bleak and ugly. 1 Long 
spaces of shingle and marsh land stretched down to 
the flat, treeless coast. The cottages were few, and 

1 Arthur Young, writing four years earlier, 1767-8, says that "all 
the country from Holkham to Houghton was one wild sheep-walk." 

were, as he afterwards learnt, inhabited mostly by 
smugglers and men of evil reputation. Pasture there 
was none ; the only places in which cultivation of the 
land had been attempted showed fields of thin, miser- 
able rye. 

By and by he turned in at the park gates, and for 
two miles drove through the plantations in which the 
young trees planted by Lord Leicester were beginning 
to make the landscape less bare. But, even here, art 
had obviously come to the assistance of defective 
nature ; the plantations were formal, and the immature 
trees served to emphasise the artificiality of their sur- 
roundings. As the road swept up the hill, the Obelisk 
came into view outlined sharply against a clear even- 
ing sky ; while, below, a long shining arm of the sea 
cut the broad space of grass land, and stretched away 
again to the distant salt marshes which were clearly 
visible. Then, in the light of a beautiful sunset, he 
saw the house which was one day to be his. It stood 
in the midst of a wide sweep of turf, the tarnished 
gilding on the window-sashes and columns gleaming 
faintly in the ruddy light ; the grounds about it 
appeared to be still in process of formation ; there 
were as yet no flower-beds, no gardens to soften the 
severity of the massive pile of buildings ; bare and 
somewhat forbidding, it stood out in grand isolation, 
the lonely centre of all that bleak, lonely land. 

As his coach drove up to the front door, the silence 
which seemed to hold the place in a spell was suddenly 
broken. The doors were opened, and his reception 
was most impressive ; the servants in their state liveries 
were all marshalled in the hall to receive him, and he 

i77i] THE GRAND TOUR 95 

was conducted ceremoniously to the great ante-room, 
afterwards named the Landscape Room. 

There, in some perturbation, he awaited the arrival 
of his formidable aunt. Before long, the doors were 
flung open by two attendants, and there entered a lady, 
below the medium height, slight in figure and ex- 
quisitely dressed. Her small but pretty features 
betrayed little of the haughty nature and resolute 
determination of speech, manners and purpose which 
he had been led to expect ; in fact, her whole appear- 
ance, combined with the studied richness of her dress, 
seemed to him to reveal feminine vanity rather than 
strength of mind. He was soon to be undeceived. 
She seated herself beside him upon the sofa in silence, 
and examined his features with great earnestness. No 
doubt in that moment she was thinking of the dead 
son to whose birthright the youth before her was to 
succeed. Next, she addressed him firmly: " Young 
man, you are now for the first time at Holkham, and 
it is probable that you will one day be master of this 
house; but understand, I will live as long as I can/" 
and, so saying, she raised her clenched hands and 
shook them in his face in token of her determination, 
with such vehemence that the sofa under them trembled 
with her agitation. 

At nine o'clock a sumptuous supper was prepared, 
to which young Coke sat down alone, but attended in 
full state by a large retinue of servants. 

Early the next morning, as may be imagined, he 
hurried out to explore the domain which held for him 
such a peculiar interest. The keen breath of salt wind 
which greeted his exit from the house must have come 

in sharp contrast to the mild Derbyshire air from which 
he had journeyed. The house as he saw it upon that 
July morning was as it stands to-day, save only that 
to-day the building is encircled by a terrace with gates 
of finely wrought iron and gilding, 1 while on one side 
of the main entrance a bronze lion keeps guard, on 
the other a lioness ; 2 all else is as the brain of Thomas 
Coke conceived it, and as it was completed by the 
lonely woman who for sixteen years survived him. 
The park land then stretching away from the very foot 
of the walls nine miles in circumference and three 
miles across, conveys an impression of space and of 
solitude impossible to describe. From the building, 
a wide green vista rises to the Obelisk, and thence cuts 
through the centre of the park for a distance further 
than the eye can scan. Seven different approaches 
lead to the house, the two principal of which, now 
called respectively Lady Anne's drive and the Golden 
Gates, stretch away again the one to the sea and the 
other inland an unbroken line of white, even road, 
bordered on either side by a broad sweep of turf, 
which, at a space wider than the roadway, is edged 
by magnificent trees. Along the Fakenham approach 
from the Golden Gates is a triumphal arch planned 
by Lord Burlington, whence the road, rising with 
the hill, approaches the Obelisk, and thence passing 
the Obelisk wood, branches off to the left, where it 
skirts the wide expanse of lawn on the south front of 
the house. On its right stretches the lake when young 
Coke gazed upon it a glittering arm of the sea and 
then, as now, frequented by wild-fowl from far northern 

1 Put up by the present Earl. 2 By J. Boehm, the sculptor. 

1771} THE GRAND TOUR 97 

latitudes, who migrate there in thousands. Further, 
where the lake winds to its close and the park presents 
the impression of a lonely forest, the presence of these 
birds and their eerie cries seem strangely in harmony 
with what appears to be the vast solitude of their 

No vision can have crossed young Coke's boyish 
imagination of a future when the space on which he 
then gazed would be a richly timbered land with eleven 
hundred acres of fine woodland, and would be, more- 
over, situated in one of the most fertile counties in 
England. Very possibly depressed, rather than elated, 
at the unattractive bareness of his future possession, he 
returned indoors, and there made further discoveries 
which were not reassuring. He soon found that every- 
thing in the household was regulated with the most 
scrupulous exactitude ; the hours for meals were kept 
with the most rigid punctuality ; the days presented an 
unbroken round of ceremonious routine, and in the 
language of Sir Walter Scott, his great-aunt lived 

A life most dull and dignified. 

The restraint of such an existence, the terrible 
punctiliousness with regard to details, and above all, 
the oppressive ceremony with which he was treated and 
which Lady Leicester considered his due as heir to the 
property, soon became very irksome to a boy fresh 
from school, and above all, to a high-spirited lad of 
simple tastes, who was devoted to a free outdoor life. 

Nor was he allowed to enliven this monotony. On 
the third evening of his visit, while taking a walk, he 
met the resident chaplain, whose name was Cole, and 

I. H 


invited him to come in to supper. The next morning, 
meeting his friend again in front of the house, he was 
proceeding to enter into conversation, when the old 
divine earnestly requested that Mr. Coke would not 
speak to him but would walk off in the opposite direc- 
tion, as the Countess had taken him severely to task for 
accepting the invitation on the preceding night. More- 
over, when Coke came to the breakfast-table, Lady 
Leicester desired to know from him what had induced 
him to take the liberty of asking the chaplain to 
supper. The young man answered that he had passed 
three days almost in solitude, and, feeling that a clergy- 
man was a gentleman by education and by profession, 
he had requested his company with a view to enjoying 
his conversation. "Sir," said the dame coldly, "if I 
had considered him fit company for you, I should have 
invited him myself." 

Another chaplain Lady Leicester appears to have had, 
a Mr. Kinderly, who probably read prayers at the 
church in the park. Of good Norfolk family, his for- 
tunes had become impoverished, and he had entered 
the Church, whereupon he had been presented by the 
Corporation of Norwich with the perpetual curacy of 
St. Helen's, near North Walsham. Lady Leicester, on 
hearing of this, further presented him with a chaplaincy 
at Holkham; and it was forthwith a common sight to see 
the learned ecclesiastic hastening from Norwich to 
Holkham, the whole of which journey, a matter of 
forty miles, he invariably performed on foot, arriving at 
Holkham before breakfast! In order to accomplish this, 
he was forced to leave his home at one or two o'clock in 
the morning, and his daughter on one occasion received 


From a picture by Gainsborough in the possession of Francis Pierrepont Barnard 

i?7i] THE GRAND TOUR 99 

the severest reproof he ever gave her for altering the 
clock to retard his hour of setting off. 1 

Young Coke, however, attempted to make no more 
friends ; but his first delinquency was soon succeeded 
by another, for a few mornings later he did not reach 
the breakfast-room till some minutes after the appointed 
hour. At Holkham no sound of a gong, however 
powerful, could penetrate to the distant sleeping-apart- 
ments, but the Countess recognised no palliation of 
the infringement of her rigid punctuality, and demanded 
in her authoritative manner " Why was he so late?" 
" Madam," he replied, "to say the truth, I lost my 
way and wandered about the passages and rooms, till I 
found a servant who conducted me here." The severity 
of the old lady's countenance relaxed, the apology 
proved an appeal to her pride, and she replied more 
soothingly, "Indeed, it is not easy to find the way 
about this house ! " 

She was equally particular with regard to any of her 
relatives who came to visit her. While young Coke 
was with her, Lord and Lady De Grey came to pass 
part of their honeymoon at Holkham, and they were 
not allowed to escape a severe scolding for a similar 
breach of etiquette. 

About the middle of his visit, Coke received a letter 
from his father advising him to go to Norwich during 
the Assizes, in order to make the acquaintance of some 
of the country gentlemen who were friends of the 
family. He, accordingly, stated his father's wishes to 
Lady Leicester, and asked her permission to do this. 

1 Memoir and Correspondence of Sir James Edward Smith , by his wife, 
Lady Smith, Vol. I, p. 6. 


She received the request in silence ; but the following 
morning she informed him that she had no objection 
to his going to the Assizes, provided he went in proper 
state and in her own carriage. 

He expressed his sense of the obligation he was 
under to her, and orders were forthwith given by 
her for his proper attendance on the journey. The 
state equipage was got ready, and in this, drawn by 
six horses with postillions and outriders, and followed 
by a large retinue of other servants, young Coke set 
out to make an almost royal entry into the city. At 
Bawdeswell, a village half way, the coachman repre- 
sented to him that it would be necessary to rest the 
horses for some hours, and on entering the inn there 
Coke found that the most costly dinner the place 
could provide had been prepared for him by the 
Countess's orders, conveyed by a messenger sent on 
the day before. At this meal, which was a lengthy 
one, he was attended in full state by the servants who 
accompanied him. 

In about three hours the coachman announced that 
the horses were able to complete the journey which poor 
Mr. Kinderly accomplished with far less consideration. 

Coke met with a kind reception from his father's 
friends in Norwich, and made several acquaintances 
which ripened into lifelong friendships, although he 
outlived all those who were then his contemporaries. 

After the Assizes, he returned to Holkham in the 
same state in which he had set forth, and the old lady 
was most particular and minute in her inquiries re- 
specting all that had passed. She was especially 
anxious to discover with whom he had danced at the 

1770 THE GRAND TOUR 101 

ball at the Assembly. Coke told her with Miss Pratt. 
"Miss Pratt! Miss Pratt !" echoed the Countess, her 
ideas of dignity much upset by the name of a com- 
moner, "Who is she? and what could make you 
condescend to dance with her ? " He explained that she 
was the prettiest girl in the room. " Pretty ! Pretty ! " 
contemptuously reiterated the dame. " Sir, you should 
have led out no one of lower rank than Miss Walpole ! " 

At length the time arrived when young Coke, with 
little regret, bade farewell to the monotonous life at 
Holkham and set forth on his travels, with less cere- 
mony, but no less eager intelligence than had his great- 
uncle sixty-two years before, 1 

Some months were first spent by him studying at the 
University at Turin, as his great-uncle had done 
before him. There he found another Englishman, 
who, moreover, came from Norfolk, Martin ffolkes 
Rishton by name, and who was destined to be after- 
wards closely connected with many of Coke's political 
campaigns in that county. 

Mr. Rishton's history was somewhat peculiar. His 
grandfather was Martin ffolkes, Esq., of Hillington 
Hall, near Lynn, who had been named Vice-President 
of the Royal Society by Newton, and who contested, 
but failed to win, the Presidentship on the death of the 
latter. Mr. ffolkes had inherited Hillington from his 
mother, 2 but having no son, the estate on his death was 

1 Different dates are given with regard to his departure and to 
the length of his tour abroad. It is, however, certain that he was 
abroad during the years 1771-1774, and, since he told Mr. Bacon that he 
first saw Holkham in the month of July, this points to his having started 
on his tour in the month of August, 1771. 

2 One of the three co-heiresses of Sir William Hovell. 

destined to pass to his brother. He had, however, two 
daughters, co-heiresses to the rest of his property, 
Dorothy and Lucretia. Now Dorothy, we are told, 
foolishly ran away with "an indigent person" of the 
name of Rishton, who " used her ill." Lucretia, on the 
other hand, married Richard Bettenson, who, by 1773, 
had succeeded to a baronetcy and a large income. At 
her father's death, therefore, although he left his 
daughters 12,000 apiece, the younger, the sensible 
Lucretia, was made his executrix and heiress to most of 
his valuables. But Lucretia had no children, so after 
her death her husband adopted as his heir his nephew 
and ward, the son of the unhappy Dorothy. Thus it 
was that, at the beginning of the year 1771, Martin 
ffolkes Rishton, son of Dorothy and "the indigent 
person," was sent to travel on the Continent for two 
years by his uncle and guardian, the rich Mr. Betten- 
son ; and no doubt young Coke in his exile hailed 
with delight a fellow-countryman and a man from the 
neighbourhood of his future home, so that the friendship 
thus started by chance was cemented by circumstance. 

From this meeting with Mr. Rishton followed another 
encounter, of greater interest than Coke can then have 
recognised. Touring abroad in 1771 were the Burneys, 
who, on meeting Martin Rishton, must have hailed him 
as an old acquaintance. For nine years, from 1751 to 
1760, Dr. Burney had been organist at St. Margaret's 
Church, Lynn ; and in that town his daughter Fanny 
had been born. There, too, apart from receiving what 
was at that date the excellent salary of 100 a year, his 
duties had permitted him considerable leisure, and he 
had thus become music-master at most of the great 

1772] THE GRAND TOUR 103 

houses in the neighbourhood, visiting in this capacity 
the Cokes, Walpoles,Townshends, and Wodehouses, so 
that it is probable that Martin Rishton's present com- 
panion abroad, the future heir to Holkham, came in for 
no inconsiderable a share of his interest. It is not 
unlikely that young Coke and the agreeable pedagogue 
compared their experiences of Holkham and of its 
austere inmate ; or that Dr. Burney retailed with pride 
to his new acquaintance how, jogging along to his 
pupils through the quiet Norfolk lanes, his old mare, 
Peggy, had moved with such a leisurely gait that he 
had found it possible to study an Italian book by the 
aid of a dictionary and now, in this foreign tour, 
undertaken in order to collect material for his famous 
History of Music, he hoped to feel the benefit of such a 
course of study. Be that as it may, this chance en- 
counter with the family of the afterwards celebrated 
writer, Fanny, had an unexpected result upon the future 
of one of the young men, and set an untimely limit to 
Martin Rishton's brief attempt to do the grand tour. 

Since the days of his residence at Lynn, Dr. Burney 
had married again, 1 and now travelling abroad with 
him was his pretty stepdaughter, Maria Allen. The 
young people, Martin Rishton and Maria Allen, fell in 
love, and were secretly married at Ypres on May i6th, 
1772. The deed had to be confessed of which con- 
fession Fanny Burney gives a lively description in her 
journal and Martin Rishton, as rash, but more fortu- 
nate than his mother had been before him, returned from 
his curtailed tour abroad the husband of a charming wife. 

1 His second wife was the daughter of Alderman Allen, of Lynn, the 
grandson of John Allen, Esq. , of Lyng House, Norfolk. 


Another Englishman who, curiously, was also a 
Norfolk man, appears to have visited Turin during 
Coke's residence there, Thomas Kerrich, who was 
travelling with a friend, Mr. Daniel Pettiward, the 
owner of a very picturesque country house at Putney, 
called Fairfax House. 1 Coke made the acquaintance 
of these two fellow-countrymen, and, as we shall hear, 
often subsequently encountered Mr. Kerrich at various 
places during his tour, in which he was fortunate, as 
he could not have had a better guide to the antiquities 
which he wished to see. Still in existence is a play- 
ing-card, 2 presumably belonging to this date, on which 
is crudely painted the seven of hearts, while the reverse 

Travellers, however, were not very plentiful in those 
days, and, for the greater part of his stay in Turin, 
Coke was the only Englishman in the place, and was 
wholly dependent upon foreign society. 

Now already at this date he was exceptionally hand- 
some, and as a youth of great personal attraction, 
besides being the heir to a considerable property, he 

1 It afterwards stood in the main street of Putney, and was pulled 
down about fifteen years ago. 

2 At that date informal invitations were often conveyed thus on a 

1772] THE GRAND TOUR 105 

like his great-uncle before him excited unusual in- 
terest upon the Continent, where he was soon known 
as " Le bel Anglais." The King of Sardinia showed 
him great attention and welcomed him at Court. Upon 
the occasion of a Court ball, given previous to the 
departure of the King's daughter, the Princess of 
Savoy, who was about to be married to the Comte 
d'Artois, his Majesty beckoned to young Coke and 
assigned to him the honour of dancing with her Royal 
Highness. Still unaccustomed to foreign life, Coke 
felt himself under the disagreeable necessity of pleading 
his ignorance of the cotillion, which was at that time 
the dance of the Court. The King, however, would 
not admit his excuses, but good-naturedly assured 
him that "the ladies would soon instruct him." And 
instruct him they did, by twitching him energetically 
into his place till he found the dance as merry as any 
in his own country. When the Princess set forth from 
her father's capital, Coke gallantly made one of her 
escort as far as Cam bray. 

He seemed destined to cross the path of royal 
brides, for soon another adventure befell him, through 
which runs the vein of an incipient but a very curious 
romance. In the spring of 1772, all Europe was excited 
by the news that a marriage had taken place between 
the young Pretender, Charles Edward, grandson of 
James II, and the Princess Louise of Stolberg, daughter 
of the late Gustavus Adolphus of Stolberg-Gedern, 
who had fallen in 1757 fighting for the House of 
Austria. The marriage by proxy took place in Paris, 
in the month of March, the greatest secrecy being 
observed for fear of interference on the part of Austria, 

since the Princess was a special protegee of the Empress 
Maria Theresa, whose consent to the alliance had not 
been asked. As soon as possible afterwards, the actual 
nuptials were celebrated at Marcarta, near Arcona. 

Coke cannot have been present at the secret marriage 
in Paris, but since he used to relate that he had escorted 
the Princess to Rome subsequently to her wedding, he 
must have been present at the actual ceremony which 
took place soon after noon on Good Friday, April i7th, 
1772, in the private chapel of the Marafoschi Palace. 

Although neither the day nor the hour of the ceremony 
had been made public, many English who were abroad 
at that time flocked to witness it, and a large number 
of the Italian nobility were also present. Charles 
Edward signed the register as Charles III, King of 
Great Britain and Ireland ; and an inscription was put 
up in the chapel to record his marriage under that title. 

On the two days following the marriage, receptions 
were given at the palace to all, both English and 
Italians, who were within available distance. At five 
o'clock on Easter Sunday, April igth, the royal pair 
set out for Rome, accompanied by several of their late 
guests. They performed the journey with royal pomp, 
and were greeted by an immense concourse of people 
on their arrival. 

Many festivities were forthwith given in their honour. 
By their own Court they were treated as King and 
Queen, but by the Pope and Roman society they were 
formally accorded the rank of Prince and Princess of 
Wales. The Princess at this time was twenty years 
of age, 1 and exceedingly pretty. Bonstetten states that 

1 She was born in 1753. 

1772] THE GRAND TOUR 107 

she had the complexion of an English girl, a dazzlingly 
fair skin, dark blue eyes, a slightly retrousse nose, and 
a piquant, fascinating manner. Great as were her 
personal attractions, however, her mental capacity was 
greater, and had been carefully fostered in the convent 
where she had been placed as canoness since the age 
of six. It is not surprising that Charles Edward, fifty- 
two years of age, and already degraded in mind and 
person by a life of excess, did not appeal to the imagi- 
nation of the high-spirited, gifted girl so strongly as 
did the handsome young Englishman whose mental 
and physical charms were in harmony with her own. 

At a grand fancy-dress ball at Rome young Coke 
danced with the Pretender's Queen, and although a 
staunch Whig in principles, he was too gallant to refuse 
the white cockade with which she presented him. In 
token of the impression which his appearance had made 
upon her, she afterwards gave him a life-sized portrait of 
himself which was painted by Battoni at her command. 

This picture, which is a very striking and beautiful 
one, is now at Longford. Coke is represented as tall, 
and of magnificent proportions. The pose of the figure 
is natural and singularly graceful. His face, which 
perhaps conveys the impression of a man rather older 
than he was at this date, is a long oval, and bears a 
marked resemblance to that of his father, Mr. Wenman 
Coke ; his hair is fair and turned back from a forehead 
which is high and intellectual ; the eyes are remark- 
ably fine and full of expression ; the nose is straight 
and well formed ; the mouth possibly less firm and 
determined than it is depicted in later life, and with 
lips which are full and mobile. He is wearing the 


masquerading dress in which he danced with the 
Queen, a coat and breeches of pearl-grey satin em- 
broidered in rose colour ; over the left shoulder hangs 
a cloak of rose colour lined with ermine ; in his right 
hand is a Cavalier hat with rose and grey plumes. 
In the background is a vista of Italian scenery and 
some classical colonnades, while immediately behind 
him, and extending across the picture, is a statue of a 
love-lorn Ariadne. 

This statue, at one time supposed to represent 
Cleopatra, is an antique in the Vatican at Rome. 
"The reclining Ariadne, then called the Cleopatra," 
wrote George Eliot with regard to it, "lies in the 
marble voluptuousness of her beauty, the draping fold- 
ing her around with a petal-like ease and tenderness." 1 
It was well known that the Princess considered this 
statue to bear a striking resemblance to herself, and 
certainly a fanciful likeness may be traced between the 
face of the Ariadne, as portrayed in the picture, and 
the face of Louise of Stolberg at the time of her 
marriage, as represented in a print still extant at the 
British Museum. Thus it is not improbable that the 
Princess may have impersonated the subject of the 
statue at the ball where she danced with young Coke ; 
but the fact of so suggestive a figure being introduced 
into the picture with marked prominence, by her 
express command, gave rise to much comment, and, 
we may imagine, to no little amusement among those 
who read a subtle meaning into its presence there. 
Horace Walpole, later, speaking of the "young Mr. 
Coke," remarked how "the Pretender's Queen has 

1 Middlemarch, Vol I, p. 340. 

1773] THE GRAND TOUR 109 

permitted him to have her picture," 1 and there is no 
doubt that this figure in Battoni's picture was the 
origin of Walpole's gossip, since the belief was 
universally accepted that the statue, as represented in 
the picture, was an actual likeness of the Princess. 

There is no evidence that Louise, although she 
visited England in 1791, ever again met the object of 
her early romance, but many years afterwards, when 
Coke's eldest daughter, Lady Andover, was staying in 
Florence, the Princess, better known as the Countess 
d'Albani, paid a visit to her, and recurred with much 
feeling to the recollection she still retained of the young 
and handsome Mr. Coke. 2 

Young Coke lingered in Rome, entering into all the 
gaieties and amusements of continental society, and no 
doubt appreciating the distinction conferred upon him 
by the avowed admiration of the Pretender's Queen. 
One of the most interesting events of his visit, how- 
ever, was his presentation to the Pope, Clement XIV 
(Ganganelli) 3 , a venerable prelate whose striking face, 
upright figure and strong personality were familiar to 
all the dwellers in Rome at that date, where he ruled 
as the most absolute and the most autocratic potentate 
in Christendom, and whence he stirred Italy to its 
depths, in 1773, by " extirpating and abolishing" the 

1 In a letter, August i8th, 1774, to H. S. Conway. 

2 Lord Ronald Gower used to relate that when staying 1 at Aix-les- 
Bains, he pointed out to Her Majesty, the late Queen Victoria, that a 
man was actually living 1 whose father had had tender passages with the 
Pretender's Queen. Her Majesty, he says, would not credit it, until he 
had explained the circumstances fully. 

3 Clement XIV, born 1705, elected Pope in succession to Clement XIII 
in 1769, died September 22nd, 1774. 

Jesuits, the greatest " concession ever made by a Pope 
to the spirit of his age." 1 Kerrich, Coke's acquaintance 
from Turin, who shared the honour of a presentation, 
records how 

"Ye Pope seems to be an exceedingly good sort 
of man & particularly civil to ye English ; he asked 
us if we had got good lodgings, & hoped we should 
meet with no affronts in his territories ; if we should, 
he beg'd we should immediately make our complaint 
to him, & sometimes adds, (by way of compliment, I 
suppose) that he does not expect we shall have 
much occasion for his assistance, as the English are 
no Geese & can usually speak for themselves ! " 

Often afterwards, Coke's thoughts must have reverted 
to that interview with the wonderful old prelate, whose 
simple courtesy charmed him, and whose tragic fate he 
then so little anticipated. The history of that murder 
for such there is little doubt it was may be told here, 
although it belongs to a later date, and only reached 
the knowledge of Coke after his return to England. 
Possibly the most brief, but one of the most interesting 
acquaintances which Coke made in the course of a long 
life, Clement XIV has descended to posterity as one "of 
the best and most calumniated of all the Popes," 2 a man 
of ability, of gentleness, and of strength ; but of his 
exceptional power of work, and of certain more inti- 
mate details of his life and character, all that is known 
is preserved in the letter in which Kerrich wrote to an- 
nounce his death. 

"October 1774 

"You know, I suppose, by ye papers that we have 
lost poor Clement I4th, I say 'we' for I believe ye 

1 Encyclopedia Britannica. 2 Op. cit. 

1774] THE GRAND TOUR in 

English are ye people ye most sorry for his death. I 
believe I told you in a former letter how much atten- 
tion and civility he shew'd to all ye people of our 
country, & indeed it was so much at some times as to 
make his own subjects grumble. One of ye last 
actions of his reign was ye making an Englishman 
master of his Galleys, a place which I am told will 
bring him in near 2 thousand a year ; it is ye nephew 
of an English picture merchant he had a great regard 

" No body seems to doubt but he was poisoned, & it 
is certain he himself had for many months suspected 
it would be attempted, & every day took Antidotes, 
which, too, he had from England, and often 2 or 3 
times ye Quantity prescribed him ; & would suffer 
no body to dress his meat but an old Franciscan 
brother who used to wait upon him when he was a 
poor man & liv'd in his Convent. 

" The Pope lived in his Convent till rather an old 
man, his name Lorenzo Ganganelli, son of an 
Apothecary in ye Country. They tell us that one 
day when he was standing by to see a Procession of 
ye then Pope Clement 13, he was rather roughly 
handled by one of ye Swiss Guard, who rudely pushed 
him aside with his Halbard, and some body said to ye 
Man, you don't know now, but ye poor Friar you use 
thus may one day be Pope, which they say struck 
him so much that it always ran in his head that it 
was a kind of Prophecy. 

" However, he remain'd unknown in his Convent 
many years after, till it happened that ye Pope and 
Cardinals, who I believe are rather an indolent sett of 
men, got into some puzzle about their accompts & 
found it would be rather a troublesome piece of work 
to set them right, so one of them said, * I know an 
old Franciscan Father, Ganganelli, a clear-headed, 
hard-working old fellow, let's set him about them/ 
He was accordingly sent for, applied to ye matter in 
good earnest, and settled their affairs so much to their 
satisfaction, that ye Pope kept him always afterwards 
near his Palace, & found him of great service to him 


as he grew old, and less & less fit for business his 
self ; & at length made him a Cardinal, but he was 
still so poor & had so little preferment that he had 
to live retired, & was not able even to keep a coach, 
but was forced always to beg a place with one of ye 
other Cardinals in his, at all Public Ceremonies. 

" At ye death of ye Pope they were a long time in 
agreeing which of them should succeed him, they 
were divided very much, & one Party would not 
give up their Friend, nor another their's, 1 they were 
tired of ye Contest, & at last cast their eyes on 
Cardinal Ganganelli, who was nobody's friend, they 
look'd on him too as a mere Accomptant, & as his life 
had been spent in a Convent, thought it not likely he 
could know much of ye world, so they could rule him 
& manage affairs as they pleased if he were Pope, 
& let it be how it would, he could not, they thought, 
plague them long, as he was old, & appeared infirm, 
& I believe, walked with a stick. 

"So they agreed that he should be Pope; 2 and 
behold, he began to walk more upright, and quickly 
convinced them by his management he was by no 
means unacquainted with ye world, & so far were 
they from ruling him, that not a Cardinal of them, 
they say, during his whole reign, knew any more of 
what was going forwards in affairs of State than you 
or I did 3 he look'd into everything his self, grew 
very active, & was one of ye most hearty grey- 
headed old men I ever saw. He used to go every 
evening to a house he had a mile from Rome to play 
at Bil d eards, which he was very fond of, & I used to 
see him frequently in ye Summer walking home 
again as briskly as a much younger man, before his 
coach, his guard following him on horseback, his 
Gentlemen attending with their Hats off, etc. ; for he 
was very exact in keeping up to ye dignity of his 

1 The Conclave lasted three months and three days, and became 

2 He was proclaimed Pontiff on May iQth, 1769. 

3 When his Cardinals murmured at his want of confidence, his reply 
was "I sleep sound when my secret is my own." 

1774] THE GRAND TOUR 113 

character when he appear'd in publick. In his living 
he was frugal, ordered his dinner every day at about 
J a crown, which he said he knew would buy as much 
as he could eat, & he did not like to see more upon 
ye table. 1 All his expences seems to have been in 
Pictures and Statues & in taking care of those already 
in his Palaces so he grew very rich, though he was 
every day diminishing his revenue by taking off 
taxes laid by his Predecessors on ye People ; but has 
not employed his money as is generally ye case in 
raising & enriching his family ; he has left them 
enough to live comfortably, but ye whole Bulk of his 
Fortune goes to ye Publick, without having reserved 
even enough to raise him a monument. 

" He seems not to have cared whether he were 
remembered or not. When he was dying, or, at 
least, past recovery, they begg'd him to consider ye 13 
or 14 Gentlemen he intended to make Cardinals who 
might not perhaps have that honour conferr'd upon 
them by a succeeding Pope, & besides as he had 
made but few, he should do so to perpetuate his 
memory. He answer'd he had enough to do now to 
run over in his Mind ye actions of his past Reign, & 
consider how he was to answer for them, without 
increasing them by making Cardinals. . . . 

" We have had a good deal of Ceremony at his 
funeral, but not all that is usual, for his body putri- 
fied almost immediately, and they could not keep it 
long enough. 2 

" The Cardinals go into Conclave to-day, where 
they must stay till they can agree on a New Pope ; 
there are between 50 & 60 of them, each has 3 little 

1 When the head cook of the Vatican came to beg that he might 
continue in the office of chef, Clement XIV replied "You shall not 
lose your appointment, but I will not lose my health to keep your 
hand in" (Interesting Letters of Pope Clement XIV, Vol. I (1777)). 

2 About April, 1774, in the fullness of his health and vigour, Clement 
XIV was smitten with a mysterious and lingering disease which could 
only be attributed to a subtle poison ; and the fact that his body 
turned black immediately after death confirmed the belief that he had 
thus fallen a victim to the resentment of the Jesuits. 

I. I 


rooms, built on purpose in ye Great apartments of 
ye Vatican, & they are built this time in Rooms 
where are pictures, which I am sorry for, as I fear ye 
dust and dirt of building will do them no good, for 
poor Ganganelli had fill'd ye useless empty rooms 
of ye Palace where they used to be made, with 
corn, which was to be sold to ye People at ye 
usual price in case of any scarcity. 

" I am afraid you will be tired of this letter, which 
I perceive I have fill'd with histories of Clement ye 
i4th ; but he talked familiarly with us, laid his hands 
upon our heads and bless'd us, & in short was my 
Pope, & I can't help being sorry for him & full of ye 
Story of his Death." 1 

1 Original correspondence of the families of Rogerson, Postlethwayte, 
Gooch and Kerrich, 1633-1828, in the possession of Albert Hartshorne. 





ALtat. 19-20 

IN Rome Coke met several of his friends from 
England ; and when finally he journeyed on to 
Naples they appear to have accompanied him, 
amongst others being his old playmate, Francis 
Rawdon. They were fortunate while in Naples in 
being the eye-witnesses of a famous eruption of Mount 
Vesuvius, said at the time to be one of the greatest 
eruptions which had ever taken place. 1 The following 
morning Coke ascended the mountain with his two 
friends, and a picture of this feat was painted for him 
by a man of the name of Heygate, and was hung in 
the chapel wing at Holkham. Coke is represented 
near the summit of the cone in company with Lord 
Rawdon ; Lord Mountmorres, with a group of spec- 
tators, is placed near the base in the foreground. The 
mountain is still in a state of eruption. 

1 One account states that it was Mount Etna, not Vesuvius. I have 
been unable to trace that any remarkable eruption is recorded as having 
taken place about this date from either mountain, save that Fanny 
Burney, writing- in 1772, mentions how " Sir William Hamilton, a very 
curious man . . . spoke with great pleasure of the fine eruptions he had 
seen, and told us that Mount Etna was now playing the devil" (The 
Early Diary of Frances Burney, Vol. I, p. 172). 



A peculiar interest is attached to this picture by the 
presence of Francis Rawdon. He had already de- 
voted himself to the service of his country, and the 
year following was appointed to a lieutenancy in the 
5th Foot, and embarked for America. Three years 
later he was one of the heroes of Bunker's Hill, where 
he had two bullet wounds through his cap while fight- 
ing in the trenches. He told Coke afterwards how in 
that, the first battle he was in, he experienced at the 
commencement a feeling of great terror. Suddenly a 
soldier by his side was shot dead. He looked at the man 
lying quiet and senseless at his feet, and exclaimed, 
" Is death nothing but this?" From that moment he 
never knew what fear meant. 

From Naples Coke went to Herculaneum, where the 
first excavations and discoveries were then being made. 
The love of art must have been inherent in him, for 
his previous education and pursuits had certainly not 
been calculated to develop it ; yet he profited by his 
surroundings to secure some unique treasures, which, 
but for his ancestry, it would have been very remark- 
able that a youth of his age should have had the 
discrimination to appreciate. Unlike Thomas Coke, 
however, he had not a large fortune at his disposal ; his 
life in Rome and the recent purchase of his expensive 
fancy dress had been a great drain on his limited 
finances, therefore it says much for his prudence and 
economy that he was able to spare enough from his 
travelling allowance to buy such invaluable treasures. 

One was the bas-relief by Michelangelo, which now 
adorns the Egyptian Hall at Holkham, and which the 
best judges have pronounced to be among the finest 


works of the master ; another, an antique mosaic, now 
placed in the library there, which is considered to be 
one of the most perfect specimens in the world. 

A further purchase was a magnificent antique of 
Minerva. It was very large and set transparent, there 
being four layers of sardonyx. Chantrey and West- 
macott afterwards agreed that it was the finest antique 
they had ever seen. It was subsequently protected by 
a gold back and glass, and was often worn by his 
youngest daughter 1 as a jewel. 

Yet another treasure which he acquired was possibly 
still more curious. He was present when the tomb of 
Nonius the Senator was opened, and in it was found 
the famous red opal ring of which Pliny makes special 
mention. It is said that Antony wanted this ring for 
Cleopatra, and that Nonius was banished because he 
refused to give it up. An old account says: " He 
hugged himself in his banishment and refused to part 
with his ring." Coke secured it immediately it was 
taken out of the tomb and before any one else had seen 
it. He always refused to say what he had given for 
it, but it was then valued at a sum equivalent to 
20,000 of our present money. 2 

Unfortunately, it was afterwards given, with other 
of her mother's jewellery, to his youngest daughter, 
when she was too young to realise its value as an 
antique. She ordered it to be reset with diamonds, in 
order to wear it as a pendant, and the original setting 
was lost by the jeweller, who thought it worthless. 

1 Eliza Coke, afterwards Lady Elizabeth Spencer Stanhope. 

2 It is now an heirloom in the family of Sir Walter Spencer Stanhope, 
K.C.B., of Cannon Hall, Yorkshire. 

Thus far the date of young Coke's return to England 
remained undecided, and was to be dependent upon 
events in the political world. At that period there 
seems to have been a universal desire on the part of 
statesmen to get their sons into Parliament at an early 
age. Charles James Fox was elected before the age 
which the law allows, 1 and Mr. Wenman Coke was 
anxious that at the next General Election his son 
should stand for the representation of Norfolk. That 
this had already been determined upon is shown by a 
letter from Mr. Kerrich, who, writing on October 3Oth, 
*773> to his sister at Burnham, Norfolk, remarks : 

"I hope ye rioting people about ye corn in your 
part of the world, did you no mischief. I heard of 
them accidentally by means of young Mr. Coke who 
I fancy knew it by a letter from Holkham, and told 
it me as a Norfolk man ; by ye bye I should think 
if Sir Hugh 2 has no other connections which prevent 
it, he might as well vote for him at ye next election, 
but perhaps he intends it, I forget which way he 
voted last time. I have promised him mine, and 
really think Sir Hugh cannot employ his better." 

While still, therefore, awaiting a summons home, in 
the autumn of 1773, Coke went to Florence. There 
also, in November, arrived his eccentric relation Lady 
Mary, better known now amongst her acquaintances 
as " Queen Mary." Driven from home by the mesalli- 
ances of the Royal Dukes, she had first betaken 
herself to Vienna, where she had many friends, and 
where she had hoped, in the light of royal favour and 
foreign society, to have found balm for her outraged 

1 He sat for Midhurst when only nineteen (1768). 

2 " Sir Hugh" was the nom de plume of Mr. Kerrich's brother-in-law 


feelings. But still her ill-fortune or so she deemed 
it pursued her. A short time previously Maria 
Theresa had treated the wife of the Duke of Cumber- 
land with a distinction which was peculiarly offensive 
to Lady Mary. Lady Mary had expressed her opinion 
freely thereupon in her letters from England to her 
friends in Vienna, and on arriving there once more 
she fancied the Empress estranged and that Viennese 
society looked coldly upon her. She drew her own 
conclusion. " No doubt but her Majesty saw all the 
letters I wrote to Vienna from England, and, as I did 
not write them for her, I presumed to express my 
surprise at some of the things she had done." Forth- 
with the belief took possession of Lady Mary that 
every contretemps which befell her, in every part of the 
world, was the direct result of the enmity of the 
Empress, or of Marie Antoinette at the instigation of 
her mother. It was no use, Horace Walpole com- 
plained, attempting " to convince her that the Empress 
did not know and the Queen did not care." It suited 
Lady Mary to believe that she was the object of plots 
and of persecution planned by the crowned heads of 
Europe. Imagining herself flouted at Vienna, she 
betook herself to Florence. Horace Walpole there- 
upon wrote to Sir Horace Mann, the British Minister 
in Florence, to enlist his services for Lady Mary. 

" Bating every English person's madness," he ex- 
plained "for every English person must have their 
madness Lady Mary has a thousand virtues and 
good qualities. She is noble, generous, high-spirited, 
undauntable, and most friendly, sincere, affectionate, 
and above every mean action. She loves attention 
and I wish you to pay it even for my sake for I 


would do anything to serve her. I have often tried 
to laugh her out of her weakness, but as she is very 
serious, she is so in that, and if all the Sovereigns 
in Europe were to slight her, she would put her trust 
in the next generation of Princes. Her heart is ex- 
cellent, and deserves and would become a Crown 
and that is the best of all excuses for desiring one." 

But Lady Mary was not at all gracious to Sir Horace 
Mann, and Walpole had to write again to console the 
dejected Minister and to urge him to persevere in 
civility to the lady, in spite of disheartening rebuffs. 
Meanwhile, Lady Mary had discovered that her young 
cousin, Mr. Coke, was in Florence, and desired to see him. 
Unfortunately, no record of that interview has survived; 
possibly Lady Mary received him in her costume of 
pea-green and silver, and surprised him by blood- 
curdling tales of the assassinations and dangers she 
had so narrowly escaped. One thing we may con- 
clude, she was extremely curious to see the youth who 
was to succeed to all of which her husband had once 
been heir ; and there is no trace of jealousy in the 
entry in which she mentions how he made a favourable 
impression on her. In her Journal of November 3Oth, 
1773, in Florence, she writes : 

"I am much better pleased with the town and 
country about it then [sic] I am with any other part 
of Italy I have seen. There are a great many 
English gentlemen here, among others, Mr. Coke. 
It seems Lady Leicester desired he might be sent 
abroad and gives him ^"500 a year. He is a very 
pretty man and a good deal more fashioned than his 
sister Lady Hunluck ; as he is to have a very great 
estate, I am glad he is so worthy of it." 1 

1 Lady Mary Coke's Journal, privately printed. Ed. by the Hon. 
James Home. 

Shortly after this, Lady Mary had an open rupture 
with Horace Walpole. She had made up her mind 
to return to England, when Lady Barrymore enticed 
away her favourite valet and factotum, an incident in 
which Lady Mary at once recognised the work of the 
Empress Maria Theresa, who, by leaving her un- 
protected, hoped to murder her upon her journey home. 
She flew, therefore, at five o'clock in the morning, to 
Horace Walpole, whom she looked upon as her cava- 
liere servants, and implored his protection, when Horace 
Walpole committed the egregious crime of laughing 
at her fancied danger. This Lady Mary never for- 
gave. Although long afterwards she condescended to 
play cards with him and admitted him to a more 
distant friendship, she hated him from that day for- 
ward and pronounced him " as false as ever he could 
be," while she remarks in her Journal with supreme 
seriousness : 

" I have not the same pleasure in meatting him as 
I used to have, since I knew him to be so False to 
me. Thank God /cou'd not be so to anybody ! " 

But despite the misfortunes of the persecuted Lady 
Mary, young Coke found the life in Florence almost as 
attractive as the life in Rome. Many English were 
staying there at that time, the society was extremely 
pleasant, and a great number of balls and masquerades 
took place, especially during the Carnival festivities in 
the spring of 1 774. Although his own account of his life 
there is lost, we gather an outline of it from the letters 
of his travelling friend, Mr. Kerrich, who still journeyed 
in his track. 


" Florence," pronounced Mr. Kerrich, writing on 
January 3ist, 1774, " is one of the most agreeable 
places I ever was in, though, to be sure it is not 
always so gay as at present, in the height of ye 
Carnival, indeed it is so much, it would begin to 
grow tiresome if it continued much longer, there are 
so many diversions & amusements, people all wish 
to split themselves & scarce know which to go to 

" There are always a great many English here, who 
live very sociably and agreeably together, without 
being much plagued with formality & ceremony, one 
reason there are so many of them may probably be our 
having so worthy a man for Minister here as Sir 
Horace Mann, who seems to be one of ye most bene- 
volent, friendly men I have ever met with. But I 
perceive I have not told you what ye amusements con- 
sist of, though I have said a great deal of ye number 
of them. First, ye morning is generally taken up 
with ye Gallery, which is open gratis, & one may 
stay there 5 or 6 hours together if one likes it. In ye 
evening there are I don't know how many Theatres 
open, & at one of them there is a Ball in a Room 
behind, into ye bargain, ye whole for the great price 
of what they call a Paul, which is not quite sixpence. 
And there are 3 or 4 others during ye week; ye reason 
there is so much dancing, I suppose, is because ye 
people of ye Court are fond of it ; ye Great Duke 
his self often makes one, but in a mask, which as it 
must be mix'd Company (Everybody being admitted 
who is mask'd or even that has a Mask or a wax nose 
stuck in his hat) I suppose is thought necessary. 

" There is besides a more polite assembly, to which 
none but ye Nobility of ye place & foreigners intro- 
duced by their Minister are admitted, the people there 
unmask, as does ye Great Duke, when he comes. 
He is a young man, rather slender & seems very 
lively. ..." 

And to that " polite assembly," to meet the " Great 
Duke," went the irate " Queen Mary," her cynical 


lover Horace Walpole, the depressed Sir Horace 
Mann, and young Coke, eager for every amusement 
which the place afforded. But after the Carnival fes- 
tivities many of the English left Florence, and Coke 
himself appears to have taken his departure with the 
intention of embarking for home. However, as Kerrich 
relates: " Finding ye weather stormy and himself not 
very well, he changed his plan, and determined to take 
ye way by land through France, and came by Genoa in 
his return to Turin, and call'd upon us, so we ran 
about to see Milan together, though as his disorder 
turned out an ague he could not accompany us in all 
our expeditions." 

And Kerrich proceeds to relate one of these, 

"was so very agreeable & had something so new 
in it that I think it worth giving some account of. 
It was to the Borromean Islands they are two 
very small ones in what they call ye greater Lake, 
which is about 30 Miles from Milan, & runs up a 
good way among ye Alps, ye voyage to ye Islands 
is a short one of 16 or 18 miles, ye country grows 
higher & more rockey on both sides as you get 
nearer them ; they are very near each other, & 
belong to two noblemen of ye same family, from 
which they take their name of Borromean ; they 
seem to have spared no expense to make them 
elegant, one of them has quite a small theatre 
where he can amuse himself & his friends during 
two or three of ye Hottest months of ye summer, 
which is ye time these gentlemen usually retire to 
their seats, with plays ; the Houses seem calculated 
to be as cool as possible so that what with ye water 
& ye cool breezes from ye mountains that surround 
them, which have always some snow on them, they 
must at that time of the year be delightful. We 


were lucky in having a very fine day, & returned 
by moonlight to a little town at ye beginning of ye 
lake where we had taken up our quarters ye Night 
before, & had stocked our boat with Provisions for 
the little voyage." 1 

Again Coke appears to have changed his plans, 
for in the spring we find him once more in Rome, 
and, on April i6th, going another expedition with 
Thomas Kerrich and eight others to Tivoli, under 
the direction of an English antiquary. Kerrich, when 
writing to his aunt, gives an account of this expedition 
also : 

" I am now answering the letter sent thither to me 
from Florence which made it come later to my hand 
than it ought to have done, & my being just setting 
out with a party to see Tivoli, Frascati (where 
Cicero's country house was), and some other places 
about 20 miles from Rome, prevented my answering 
it immediately ; I know an account of this expedition, 
as it proved an agreeable one, will not be tedious. I 
will begin, therefore, & tell you ; there were about 
ten of us, who had at least spent many agreeable 
hours together at Turin last year, & ye English 
Antiquarian who went to instruct us. The first place 
we went to, Tivoli, was formerly very flourishing, & 
famous for ye country seats of Maecenas, ye patron 
of Horace and Adrian [sic], one of ye most learned 
& most accomplished of ye Roman Emperors. 
After having visited most parts of his very extensive 
Empire and collected various curiosities in his travels, 
he chose this spot, which is one of ye most delight- 
ful I have yet beheld, to spend the remainder of his 
life in. His Palace was very extensive, on ye whole, 
they say, taking altogether, near nine miles in 
circuit ; it had apartments fitted up in ye various 

1 Thomas Kerrich to his maternal aunt Elizabeth Postlethwayt at 
Burnham, Norfolk. From the MS. collection of Albert Hartshorne, 


tastes of many of ye countreys he had passed 
through. Very little of all this magnificence now 
remains, except part of a temple in ye Egyptian 
taste, & two theatres, one of which they say is ye 
most perfect now remaining. I wished my sister had 
been with us to hear ye long account they gave of ye 
different parts of it, I believe some of our party had 
quite enough of it ; however we went to our lodgings 
& eat very heartily of ye cold provisions we brought 
with us ; ye place itself (at least in Lent) would 
afford nothing but Eggs and Pigeons, so we gave 
commission to a Swiss Servant to provide for us, who 
took care we should have enough ; 6 fowls, 2 Hams, 
4 Tongues, a Turkey Pie, & I forget how much 
wine, were sent off before us on a Mule observe it 
was a scheme of 3 days, so we did not find so much 
too much as you might imagine." 1 

In the Saloon at Holkham are two fine antique 
mosaic tables which came from Hadrian's villa at 
Tivoli, and which must often have served to remind 
Coke of his visit there. Shortly after that expedition, 
he appears to have left Italy on his return by land to 
England. Kerrich, who in a letter the following July 
remarks that he, personally, does not expect to return 
" soon enough for ye election," adds " Mr. Coke told 
me ye last time I saw him, his letters from England 
seem'd to say there was not any prospect of an Oppo- 
sition." Since, therefore, little necessity was antici- 
pated for previous canvassing, and since so long as 
there was no immediate prospect of a dissolution it 
was not necessary for Coke to hasten homewards, he 
decided to visit Vienna en route, and there appears to 
have made a long stay. 

1 Letter from Thomas Kerrich to his aunt Elizabeth Postlethwayt at 
Burnham ; dated Rome, April i6th, 1774. 

Immediately upon his arrival he was presented to 
the famous Prime Minister, Prince Reitberg Kaunitz, 1 
who was reputed to be the wisest statesman in Europe, 
and who was the leader of all Viennese society, being 
by many considered a more important person than the 
Emperor himself. The Prince, having already been 
acquainted for many years with Lady Mary Coke, was 
exceedingly gracious to her young cousin, and made 
a point of introducing him to the principal officers of 
State and to all the elite of Viennese society. The 
morning after this general introduction, a very gorgeous 
footman waited upon young Coke with the mystic 
greeting u Les gens de Prince Kaunitz souhaitent 
Monsieur un heureux arrive' a Vienne ! " Coke was in- 
formed that this amiable welcome was delivered in 
expectation of a handsome remuneration of ducats, 
and, upon receiving this, the resplendent footman 
departed in a state of satisfaction, to be followed in 
rapid succession by the footmen of all the Ministers 
and all the nobles to whom Coke had been introduced, 
and who, in return for a repetition of the same formula, 
awaited a repetition of the same substantial acknow- 
ledgment of their civility. In this manner 20 to 
30 was soon expended, so that Coke discovered that 
acquaintance with the elite of Vienna was an exceed- 
ingly expensive privilege ; which discovery was aug- 
mented when he began to go out in society and found 
that, at many of the great houses, shops were opened 
where visitors were expected to purchase articles in 

1 Prince von Kaunitz (1711-94). In 1753 he was appointed Chancellor, 
and for almost forty years had the principal direction of Austrian 

return for the hospitality which had been shown them, 
or they were invited to put heavy sums in lottery 
tickets an invitation which it was impossible to refuse. 

Prince Kaunitz, however, showed him great atten- 
tion, and it soon became understood that wherever the 
Prince was invited, there also went Mr. Coke. As the 
intimacy grew, Coke became a constant guest of the 
Prince, not only at the public entertainments which 
the Minister gave on a scale of great magnificence, 
but in his more private life, and also at his famous 
country seat at Austerlitz in Moravia, which was the 
scene of the battle of the three Emperors in 1805. 
Coke thus mixed familiarly with all the people of note, 
from Maria Theresa downwards, and often saw the 
Emperor, who had a covered way built from the ram- 
parts, so that he could reach the town house of Kaunitz 
unobserved. Daily, both in town and in country, the 
Prince had covers laid for about twenty guests whom 
he had invited two days in advance, by means of his 
courier. Dinner took place at six o'clock, when, al- 
though the food provided was sumptuous, the wine 
was surprisingly scanty in quantity, only two bottles 
being allowed for about twenty guests, so that one day 
when an Englishman imprudently took four glasses 
of wine, he was looked upon as having been guilty of 
most extraordinary behaviour. 

A lady of the name of Carey, a widowed niece of 
the Prince, presided over his household. She was 
very agreeable and a delightful conversationalist. The 
craze for collecting beautiful china was then at its 
height in Vienna, and the Prince's niece was an en- 
thusiastic collector, having a special admiration for 

china of English manufacture. Coke, on discovering 
this, went to great pains to procure a peculiarly beauti- 
ful service from England, which arrived safely, and 
with which, to her great delight, he presented her. 
No doubt he must often have been regaled by the 
vivacious Carey with anecdotes of his cousin, Lady 
Mary, who had preceded him, but whose imaginary 
ill-favour at Court did not affect his own popularity. 
The English at that date were in great request in 
Vienna, and Coke appears to have ingratiated himself 
considerably with the fashionable young beauties of 
the town. Sir Robert Keith, the English Minister 
there, writing the following year (January 5th, 1775) 
to Lady Mary Coke, remarks reminiscently : " Your 
Ladyship's relation, Mr. Coke, made considerable havock 
amongst the young Beauties during his stay, and I 
mistake him much if he does not support his Reputa- 
tion of Conquest in England ! " 

From Vienna, Coke at length went to Paris, where 
he again encountered Lady Mary, homeward bound, 
and where he arrived at an exciting time. On May 
loth, Louis XV had died, unregretted, and the ill-fated 
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had ascended the 
throne amid the acclamations of an adoring people, 
and amidst auguries perhaps unparalleled in their 
presage of a happy reign and a new era of prosperity 
for France. In the bright spring days all Paris was 
rejoicing ; the one thought of the young King seemed 
to be how to dedicate his life to the welfare of his 
people, and the beautiful young Queen, appearing at 
the opera, driving about the sunny streets, and paying 
with smiles the love which everywhere greeted her, 


filled the populace with an enthusiasm bordering on 
intoxication. Even Lady Mary, according to her 
nature, was generous to her fancied enemy. "I am 
persuaded she will be yet more adored as Queen than 
she was as Madame la Dauphine. She has every 
quality to make her so, and will put all those in use," 
she says magnanimously; while of the young King she 
has only one fear he is too good to live ; she dare not 
hope that his reign will be prolonged to fulfil the 
gracious promise of these early days ; she is convinced 
that he will fall an early victim to that scourge of 
Europe, small-pox, and so blight the prospects of 
France. "The people are extremely fond of him, and 
tho' they see him every day, the crowds that always 
attend is prodigious and the acliamations [szc] of joy 
when they see him are the same." But, again and 
again, this thought recurs : " He seems in everything 
to have so much at heart the reforming all kinds of 
Abuses and to give such flattering hopes of being a 
blessing to his people, that I fear his reign will not 
be a long one." 1 

Young Coke, however, could not prolong his stay in 
the gay city where all seemed sunshine and gladness. 
An event had occurred which may have caused his own 
heart to beat with an agreeable suggestion, but which, 
in any case, set a limit to his wanderings. His younger 
sister, Elizabeth, had become engaged to his friend, 
James Button, and the wedding was fixed to take place 
at Longford on July 7th. 

1 Journal of Lady Mary Coke, edited by the Honourable James Home, 
privately printed. 

I. K 




JAMES DUTTON, who was afterwards created 
Baron Sherborne, was the eldest son of Mr. 
Lennox Button formerly Naper Button, of 
Sherborne, Gloucestershire ; who, it is said, 
succeeded to the Sherborne property under the follow- 
ing circumstances. 

His uncle, Sir John Button, was childless, and the 
choice of an heir lay between Sir John's two nephews, 
the sons of his two sisters, who were respectively Mrs. 
Naper, of Loughcrew, in Ireland, and Lady Reade, of 
Shipton Court. Young Naper and young Reade were 
constantly with their uncle, and the old man was still 
undecided to which of them to bequeath his property, 
when one day he called them to his bedside, and asked 
them to tell him what books they were then studying 
at school. The Naper boy at once answered that he was 
studying the Latin Grammar, but the Reade boy 
casually replied that he " didn't know, except that 
it was a Blue Book " blue being the Tory colour and 
his uncle a rabid Whig. From that date Sir John 
announced that he intended to leave his property to 
the boy who knew what he was studying, and this he 


1774] EARLY MANHOOD 131 

accordingly did. Mrs. Naper's son succeeded to the 
Dutton property and took the name of Button. He 
had three sons James, who married Miss Coke, 
William and Ralph ; and four daughters. 

A friendship of many years' standing had existed 
between the Cokes and the Buttons, who had con- 
stantly visited each other. Before his departure abroad 
young Coke had been struck by the great beauty of 
Jane, the youngest daughter of Mr. Button. Whether 
this boy and girl attraction had amounted to a definite 
romance is not known, but it was said that already at 
that date the Button family had the match in view. 
Not so Mr. Wenman Coke. That his own pretty 
daughter should marry the heir to Sherborne he had 
no objection ; but that Mr. Button's pretty daughter 
should marry the heir to Holkham was a different 
matter. He cherished more ambitious views for his 
son, and it is probable he was far from desirous that 
the latter should return in time for the wedding, when 
it was unavoidable inviting the sisters of the bride- 
groom to be his guests at Longford. 

Young Coke, however, timed his return to reach Long- 
ford for the event ; moreover, having left his home an 
immature youth, he reappeared there manly in appear- 
ance, polished in manners and transformed from the 
schoolboy who had started off on his travels nearly 
three years before. The change was calculated to im- 
press Miss Button, and he, on his part, was destined to 
discover that his lengthy acquaintance with foreign 
beauties had not diminished his admiration for the 
object of his boyish romance. 

Jane Button, at this time twenty years of age, was 

in the height of her beauty. Fair and stately, with a 
graceful figure, her exquisitely modelled head was set 
on a full, white throat, her features were delicate, her 
eyes fine, and her hair, when not hidden by snowy 
powder, was " yellow as ripe corn." 

At Sherborne there is a picture by Zoffany of Mr. 
and Mrs. Naper Button watching their two children, 
James and Jane, who are seated at a table playing 
cards. In a duplicate of this picture at Minterne 1 they 
are represented reading their Bibles ; but either picture is 
very life-like, and the effect conveyed is that of looking 
into a room where living people are actually sitting. 

In the Sherborne picture, James Button, in a suit 
of grey satin, is leaning back to show his cards to his 
mother, who, dressed in black, with fine lace upon her 
head, is seated beside the fire, resting a book upon her 
lap. Mr. Button, the father, is seated near his daughter 
Jane, who, evidently as the beauty of the family, occu- 
pies the most prominent position in the picture. Over 
an underskirt of white satin she is wearing a delicately 
tinted peach-blossom brocade. Black lace at her neck 
enhances the whiteness of her skin ; her hair is 
elaborately dressed and studded with pearls ; her finely 
cut features and the beautiful contour of her head are 
strikingly portrayed, and show, clear as a cameo, 
against the blue walls of the room beyond. 

Talented as she was handsome, witty in speech and 
winning in manner, with a dignity caught from the 
great world to which she had been introduced, mellow- 
ing the freshness of the country life to which she had 
been bred, Jane Button took young Coke's heart by 

1 The seat of Lord Digby. 

1774] EARLY MANHOOD 133 

storm. They met in an atmosphere of romance, with 
the air full of wedding-bells and summer sunshine, 
while between them lay the link of a past attraction ; 
and it is small wonder that those golden days served 
to bring about the result which Wenman Coke had 
feared the romance was cemented for all time. 

" I hear that the young Mr. Coke has returned from 
abroad in love with the Pretender's Queen," wrote the 
arch-gossip Horace Walpole the following month j 1 
but, though the bright eyes of Louise of Stolberg may 
have flattered young Coke's vanity, it was not the 
remembrance of that Royal Ariadne which enchained 
his fancy. Yet even his present more stable romance 
seemed threatened with extinction. Mr. Wenman Coke 
looked coldly upon his son's infatuation. The cherished 
days passed all too quickly ; the bridegroom and his 
bride drove away ; the Button family returned to 
Gloucestershire, and the old monotony settled down 
upon quiet Longford. 

After his long experience of excitement and change 
abroad, young Coke found this isolated country exist- 
ence somewhat depressing. To relieve the dullness, 
and perhaps to prevent brooding over his father's 
opposition to his wishes, he asked permission to attend 
Newmarket races. His father advised him to keep 
away ; but, finally, seeing that his son was bent upon 
going, and perhaps hoping that the experience might 
prove salutary, Wenman Coke yielded, and having 
bought his son a handsome horse for the price of fifty 
guineas, made him a further present of fifty guineas to 
defray the expenses of the journey. 

1 Letter to H. S. Conway, August i8th, 1774. 

Thus equipped, young Coke set out. Arrived at 
Newmarket, he met several of his friends, and was 
introduced to a Mr. Willoughby Dixie, of Bosworth, 
a professed gambler and a very eccentric character ; 
indeed, so peculiar was Mr. Dixie, and so unaccount- 
able in his manners, that it was suspected he was not 
quite right in his head. He was, however, very good 
company, and that same evening he induced young 
Coke to go with him to one of those gaming-houses, 
appropriately designated Gambling Hells. Coke after- 
wards related how, when he entered the room, the 
players were all seated round the hazard table, and a 
heavy sum in gold, amounting to several hundreds, 
was staked upon the chance. Amongst the party was 
a man named Hall, a notoriously bad character, who 
was placing within the circle a sum perhaps equal to 
the entire stakes of all the players. As Dixie advanced 
to the table, he yelled out : 

"At you all 
And Highwayman Hall ! " 

meaning that he would stake still higher than any sum 
yet deposited ; and this he did, neither knowing nor 
caring what was the amount risked, since by a cursory 
glance at the table it was impossible to compute the 
sum lying there. 

Long before the end of the evening young Coke's 
fifty guineas had transferred their ownership. His con- 
sternation was great ; he found himself without the 
means of paying his bill at the inn, or of travelling 
home again. The only possible method of extricating 
himself from the difficulty appeared to be to sell his 

1774] EARLY MANHOOD 135 

horse ; he therefore offered it to one of his friends, who 
immediately agreed to give him its original cost. With 
the fifty guineas thus obtained he returned the second 
evening to the gambling table, hoping to retrieve his 
luck ; but he played until his purse was again emptied 
and he was in a worse plight than before. Absolutely 
bankrupt, he had no course but to borrow the sum he 
wanted, and to leave Newmarket the next evening in a 
state of great depression. 

It was a humiliating position for a would-be man of 
the world and prospective bridegroom. When he 
arrived home, his father inquired how his steed had 
carried him. u Very well there," replied the young 
man meekly. ' ' There ? " echoed his father. ' ' Did he not 
bring you back equally well?" " He did not bring me 
back at all ! " replied the culprit, and proceeded to 
make a clean breast of his adventures. His father's 
comment on the recital history does not relate ; but 
Coke concluded his confession with the remark: "I will 
give you my solemn word of honour, sir, that I will 
never go to Newmarket races again ! " 

" It was money well spent," he used to say in after- 
life. "I kept my word, and have never been near the 
races from that day." 1 

None the less, the humiliation of his only appearance 
on the turf always rankled, and to the end of his life, 
whenever he had occasion to cross over Newmarket 
Heath, he made a point of drawing down the blinds of 
his chariot; and used to advise his son: "Tom, re- 
member when you pass over Newmarket, don't omit to 
draw down the blinds ; never look at the place ! " 

1 Norwich Mercury, July gth, 1842. 


He does not appear, however, to have borne any ill- 
will towards Mr. Dixie, with whom he had one or two 
subsequent adventures which, although they belong to 
a later date, may as well be related here before quitting 
the subject of this eccentric being. 

Some years later, Coke and James Dutton went to 
Dishly to purchase some rams from the celebrated 
breeder, Mr. Bakewell, who lived in Mr. Dixie's neigh- 
bourhood. Mr. Dixie, hearing of their intention, pro- 
posed to them to pass the rest of the day with him 
"and take a bed at Bosworth." Accordingly, their 
business ended, they repaired thither. When they 
arrived, Dixie was out shooting in the company of his 
servant, "Mr. John," a species of Caleb, who served 
him with wonderful versatility in any capacity whatso- 
ever ; but on his return, he gave his guests the heartiest 
welcome and they sat down to such a dinner as " Mr. 
John " could scrape together at short notice the most 
substantial part of it being a dish of bacon and eggs, 
and a brace of partridges which the said John had 
just had the good fortune to assist his master in killing. 

The evening passed very merrily, the young men 
being much amused at their host and his hospitality. 
At length the hour for rest arrived ; Mr. Dixie rose, 
and, snatching up a candle in each hand, announced 
with much ceremony and palaver that he would show 
Mr. Coke to his room. Coke would fain have waived 
the ceremony, but Dixie was not to be deterred ; he 
led the way solemnly upstairs, and paced along a 
passage till he reached a large, lofty and gloomy apart- 
ment in which there was a huge state bed, centuries 
old, covered with gigantic plumes and ornaments of a 

1774] EARLY MANHOOD 137 

remote date and fashion. " There ! " he said dramati- 
cally, placing the two lights upon the floor, " There is 
your bed. King Richard III slept in it the night 
before the battle of Bosworth Field, and it has never 
been lain in since ! " * So saying, he vanished ; leaving 
his unfortunate guest not a little dismayed at becoming 
the successor to Royalty after so long and depressing 
an interval. 

Coke, however, was very tired, and at last, reluctantly, 
made up his mind to lie down in his clothes on the floor, 
where he slept soundly until the morning. After 
breakfast Dixie showed his guests the site of the battle, 
and on arriving at one part of the field announced 
with profound conviction that it was the identical spot 
where King Richard had stood when he exclaimed 

" A horse a horse ! My kingdom for a horse ! " 

Which exclamation Dixie shouted in such a stentorian 
voice, and accompanied by such dramatic action, that 
they thought it well not to dispute the information. 

Some years afterwards, when Coke was staying at 
Godwick Hall, his house at Tittleshall, where he 
occasionally went during the hunting season, and which 
had been the original seat of Sir Edward Coke, Mr. 
Dixie unexpectedly made his appearance. Coke re- 
ceived him cordially, but told him that, not having had 
any previous information of his visit, the house was 
unfortunately full, and the best he could do for him 
was to provide a bed at the farm-house in the neigh- 

1 See Gardiner's History of Richard ///, revised ed., 1898, p. 232, 
note 2 ; also Hutton's Battle of Bosworth Field (1813), p. 48, with plate 
of the bedstead. 

bourhood. This was accordingly arranged. Amongst 
the guests at Godwick Hall, however, was a Mr. 
Valentine Knightly, who was an intimate friend of Mr. 
Dixie's, and whom the latter used to call familiarly 
V. K. Hearing what had happened, Mr. Knightly 
begged to be allowed to give up his room to Mr. 
Dixie, and to sleep at the farm in the place of the 

This was satisfactorily settled ; but by some mis- 
chance the fresh arrangement was not made known to 
Mr. Dixie, and when night came he repaired to the 
farm. Mr. Knightly had gone to bed and was fast 
asleep when he was roused by Mr. Dixie's salutation of 
"What! V. K. in my bed!" In vain did Mr. 
Knightly protest, and explain the circumstances. Mr. 
Dixie stripped off the clothes, took V. K. by the heels, 
dragged him on to the floor, and running out of the 
room, returned to the Hall. 

Such an insult was not to be borne. Early the next 
morning Mr. Knightly sought out Mr. Coke, related 
what had passed, and added that he was about to 
challenge Mr. Dixie. Coke entreated him at least to 
postpone this intention until he saw him again, assuring 
him that not an hour should pass before this was the 
case. He thereupon left the irate Mr. Knightly and 
hurried to Mr. Dixie, with whom he remonstrated 
warmly on his conduct, confirming the statement 
that Mr. Knightly had relinquished his room in 
the house solely to oblige Mr. Dixie. He added 
that Mr. Dixie must apologise in the fullest and most 
satisfactory manner to Mr. Knightly, or else he, Mr. 
Coke, should feel it his duty personally to demand 

1774] EARLY MANHOOD 139 

satisfaction for the insult offered to himself, in the 
person of his friend and guest. 

" Apologise to V.K. !" said Mr. Dixie placidly; 
"oh, I'll apologise with all my heart!" But Coke, 
not feeling easy respecting the form which the pro- 
posed apology would take, felt it necessary to impress 
on the culprit very solemnly, that unless the amende 
was made seriously and in terms the most honourable 
to Mr. Knightly, he should consider it in the light 
of a fresh and personal affront, and should assuredly 
call Mr. Dixie out. Dixie, however, proved himself 
in earnest ; he went immediately with Mr. Coke, and 
made his peace in a way that healed all differences, 
and thus, fortunately, the matter ended. 

The last which we hear of Mr. Dixie is the entry in 
the Holkham Game Book, dated December i6th, 
1797 : 

"Mr. Dixie betts Mr. Coke 20 guineas that the 
Partridge shooting by Act of Parliament does not 
commence on the ist of September 1799. If the ist 
Sept. is on a Sunday, then the second is under- 

Shortly after the episode at Newmarket, the dis- 
solution of Parliament, so long anticipated, took place 
in September, 1774. The country was plunged into 
the excitement of a General Election, and Mr. Wenman 
Coke having been again invited to stand for Norfolk, 
young Coke found himself called upon to stand for 

He consented most unwillingly. In Norfolk his 
father and Sir Edward Astley were returned without 

opposition as Knights of the Shire, 1 and the result of a 
brisk canvass in Derbyshire had already shown that he 
himself must inevitably be returned at the head of 
the poll, when a difficulty arose. An opponent, who, 
curiously enough, although no relation, bore the same 
surname as himself, Mr. D. Parker Coke, 2 called upon 
him, and inquired whether he had yet attained his 
majority. Young Coke answered frankly that he was 
still within eight months of doing so. "Then," 
replied Mr. Parker Coke, " I shall oppose you ; and if 
you are elected, you must understand that your elec- 
tion will be declared void." Coke, thus finding that it 
was useless to stand, retired from the contest, nothing 
loath ; but being anxious that his party should not 
suffer, he persuaded Mr. Gisborne, much against the 
latter's will, to come forward. A severe contest ensued, 
in which young Coke took an active part; and during 
some serious riots he was not only badly bruised, but 
knocked on the head and stunned. Parker Coke, how- 
ever, to his great delight, was ousted ; Mr. Gisborne 
carried his election by a small majority and remained in 
Parliament for many years afterwards. 

It may be mentioned here that Coke only once 
represented Derby in Parliament, and that only for a 
space of about three weeks, as we shall see, in the 
year 1807. 

When Mr. Wenman Coke went to town for the 

1 County members were called Knights of the Shire, because in 
theory it was originally necessary that they should be Knights, the 
presumption being that all representatives of the Shire would be minor 
tenants in chief who were legally bound (by distraint) to take their 
knighthood. The phrase survived such requirements and conditions. 

2 Daniel Parker Coke, afterwards M.P. for Nottingham. 

i?74] EARLY MANHOOD 141 

reassembling of Parliament, young Coke accompanied 
his father, and attended Court. James Button and his 
bride were also in London at that date, and it is not 
surprising that, with the dual attraction of the latter 
being at once his sister's husband and the brother of 
the girl he loved, Coke should have developed a great 
friendship for his brother-in-law, even though James 
Dutton was his senior by ten years. Neither is it sur- 
prising that Wenman Coke, anxious to discourage the 
intimacy between his son and the lady of his choice, 
did not look favourably upon this growing friendship 
with her brother. One incident, which he must have 
hoped would have the effect of cooling this intimacy, 
occurred soon after their arrival in town. 

James Dutton suggested to young Coke that, as a 
useful means of extending his acquaintance and of 
passing some pleasant evenings, he should become a 
member of some respectable club, and named that of 
the Cocoa Tree 1 as likely to answer his purpose. 
Young Coke fell in readily with the suggestion. He 
was nominated and elected, whereupon it was an- 
nounced that a dinner would be given the following 
week in his honour, as a new member, at which Sir 
Robert Burdett was to be chairman. 

Mr. Wenman Coke, hearing of the circumstance, 
told his son that he wished to be present at this dinner. 
Young Coke replied that he feared it was against the 
rules that any one who was not a member of the club 
should attend this function ; but the old gentleman per- 
sisted, saying that the president was well known to 
him, and that, in any case, Mr. Dutton could easily 

1 In Mr. Keppel's notebook it is called also the " Cow and Tree." 

arrange the matter. With some difficulty permission 
was obtained for him to be present, and he was placed 
next the chair. 

The dinner passed off very pleasantly, but at its 
conclusion, when the cloth was removed, Mr. Wenman 
Coke rose and addressed the chairman, Sir Robert 
Burdett. He begged that his presence might be no 
restraint, and as their first toast was "THE PRINCE" 
(the Pretender) he would drink it in the customary 
manner. He then unbuttoned the knee of his breeches, 
knelt down upon his bare knee, and, to the astonish- 
ment of his son, drank the toast in this posture, and 
then quitted the room in silence. 1 Young Coke was 
dumbfounded at the revelation which his father had 
chosen to convey in such a curious manner, and at 
what he now recognised to be the dangerous conse- 
quences of his own introduction into a society of whose 
political significance he had been utterly ignorant. 2 
Alas ! for the remembrance of the Pretender's Queen 
and the white cockade, he never again entered the 
Cocoa Tree. 

1 In public, as has often been recorded, the Jacobites were forced to 
content themselves with responding- to the toast of "the King!" by 
passing- their wine-glasses over their finger-bowls or beyond the water- 
jugs (for which cause it eventually became etiquette whenever Royalty 
was present, for all who were not royal to dispense with the use of finger- 
bowls). In private, however, and whenever circumstances permitted 
such a frank display of loyalty, the health of the Pretender was always 
drunk by his followers kneeling in the manner described ; and it must 
have been an impressive sight when a large assembly drank it thus 
upon their knees in solemn and reverential silence. 

8 This noted club was originally the Tory chocolate-house of Queen 
Anne's reign. It was converted into a club, probably before 1746, when 
the house was the head-quarters of the Jacobite party in Parliament. 
In De Foe's Journey Through England, p. 168, he remarks: "A Whig 
will no more go to the Cocoa Tree than a Tory will be seen at the 
Coffee House at St. James." 

1774] EARLY MANHOOD 143 

But a stronger cause, even, than a discovery of the 
abhorred Jacobite tendencies in his brother-in-law 
would have been necessary to sever the friendship of 
the two young men. If a divergence of opinion did 
exist politically between them, it must have been more 
than counteracted by the many tastes which they 
shared in common, and, more particularly, that of 
hunting, of which they were both passionately fond. 
It was probably the winter after his return to England 
that Coke took Beadwell Hall, Oxon, in conjunction 
with James Button, and there started a pack of his own 
hounds and kept his kennels. His craze for all out- 
door sports had survived his boyhood ; keenly alive to 
every delight, he lived every moment of his life with 
a heartwhole enjoyment which his splendid health 
alone made possible ; but while he appreciated society 
and took a harmless pleasure in the popularity which 
his prospects and his good looks universally ensured 
him, he was ready to renounce every other pleasure for 
a day in the covert or a run with his hounds. He was 
a fine and a fearless rider, and soon became as noted 
for his seat on horseback as he was for being one of 
the best shots in England. 

While the winter months passed, he still prolonged 
his sojourn with James Button. One cause for this 
was his growing estrangement from his father. The 
subject of his projected marriage had become a con- 
stant source of friction between them. Mr. Wenman 
Coke remained obstinately opposed to it ; his son 
as obstinately determined upon it. Mr. Wenman 
Coke admitted Miss Button's attractions that she was 
handsome, accomplished and amiable ; but he was 

resolved that his son should make a better marriage 
from a worldly point of view, and had long decided in 
his own mind upon the wife whom he wished him to 
wed. This was the daughter of a neighbouring 
baronet, 1 the heiress to an exceedingly large property 
and to an income of not less than ^40,000 a year. The 
lady's father was equally anxious for the union, and it 
was believed that the lady herself would have no objec- 
tion to it. Clever, sensible and otherwise attractive, she 
was, unfortunately, slightly deformed ; and, fully alive 
to her lack of physical beauty, she had refused many 
good offers, being determined that her husband should 
be a simple country gentleman who would be more 
likely to value her for her real worth. 2 Everything 
being propitious, therefore, that his son should reject 
such an addition to his wealth and his estate, seemed 
to Mr. Wenman Coke to be flying in the face of 

But the suggestion of a deformed wife in the place 
of the beautiful Jane Dutton, very naturally, did not 
appeal to young Coke, and he flatly refused to listen 
to his father's favourite project. Wenman Coke as 
firmly refused his consent to the marriage with Miss 
Dutton, and, in consequence, a complete severance 
took place between father and son, which threatened 
to be permanent. Events, however, conspired to bring 
about the fulfilment of young Coke's wishes. 

The year 1775 was a momentous one in his life. On 
February 28th his great-aunt Margaret, Lady Leicester, 
died at Holkham ; and, her determination to outlive 

1 In Mr. Bacon's MS. the name is purposely suppressed. 

2 She eventually married, and died at the birth of her first child. 

1775] EARLY MANHOOD 145 

Mr. Wenman Coke thus frustrated, the latter suc- 
ceeded to the property of Holkham. On April i3th 
young Coke was appointed Steward, Coroner, and 
Bailiff of the Duchy of Lancaster in Norfolk : and on 
May 6th he attained his majority. 

This last fact probably brought matters to a head, 
and his engagement with Miss Dutton appears to have 
been announced. " Mr. Coke's marriage with Miss 
Duton," \sic\ wrote Lady Mary Coke in her Journal, 
Friday, June, 1775, "is said to be all agreed. I think 
he might have done better, but he was certainly to 
judge of that himself; 'tis thought the lady and her 
family have had this match in view some years, even 
before Mr. Coke went abroad." 

Still Mr. Wenman Coke remained obdurate ; and 
even Lady Mary, while admitting her cousin's right 
to choose for himself, did not altogether approve of 
that choice. On Friday, June 3Oth, she remarks : 

"Mr. Coke and Miss Duton are much talked of; 
his father is so displeased that he will not give his 
consent or anything else. I fear the lady is not very 
modest, for she took hold of Mr. Coke's hand at Court, 
when the Queen was very near, which was taken notice 
of by her Majesty." 

Moreover, announced the Journal, Mrs. Dutton 
had told Lady Townshend that "Jenny and Mr. Coke" 
had discussed the future ordering of their life together 
in a manner which greatly shocked Lady Mary. "So 
much familiarity before marriage," concluded Lady 
Mary severely, "seems to me as if the Lady has very 
little delicacy. ..." 

But little recked the young lovers if the whole 

I. L 

world were against their romance, save only in this 
particular, that if a suitable allowance were not forth- 
coming from Mr. Wenman Coke, the marriage appeared 
impracticable. At length friends interposed to effect 
a reconciliation, arguing that, in view of the would-be- 
bridegroom's future wealth, to insist that he must needs 
marry money was surely unreasonable. Sir Harbord 
Harbord, who was a great friend of young Coke's, had 
a long correspondence with the irate father, and pleaded 
his friend's cause with warmth and tact. He it was 
principally who was instrumental in healing the breach, 
though Mr. afterwards Judge Willes, who was a 
friend of both families, likewise took part in the dispute 
and gave great assistance in bringing matters to a 
happy conclusion. 

At length Mr. Wenman Coke made a virtue of neces- 
sity and accepted the inevitable. But one fact remains 
unexplained Did his capitulation occur prior or subse- 
quent to the marriage? One old paper makes mention 
of young "Mr. Coke 's wonderful ride to Shireborne" but 
of this no details have survived. Did he ride off like a 
true knight of romance and secure his bride in the 
teeth of opposition ? In view of the determined charac- 
ters of both father and son this seems highly probable. 
All we know is that the wedding took place on Friday, 
October 5th, 1/75, at Sherborne, or, as it was then 
written, Shireborne ; and that two things about it were 
unusual : first, that owing to the proximity of the parish 
church to the house, the ceremony was performed there 
by the Rev. B. J. Twining, the local rector, instead of 
in the house itself, as was customary at that date ; and 
secondly, that the names inscribed as witnesses are 

1775] EARLY MANHOOD 147 

those of James Dutton and T. Master, 1 by which it 
would appear that none of Mr. Coke's own family were 

Under the circumstances, the wedding was presum- 
ably a very quiet one ; but seldom can a more striking 
couple have formed the centre of such a ceremony. 
Both, as we have seen, were remarkable for unusual 
good looks and personal charm the bridegroom in 
this particular had a European reputation while to a 
perfect face and figure the bride united fascination of 
mind and manner. Both were twenty-one years of 
age ; both were deeply in love ; and for both on that 
October day we may safely conclude that the world 
was fair with a promise of happiness such as falls to 
the lot of few mortals. 

Whatever the state of young Coke's finances at the 
time of his wedding, he contrived to give his bride 
many handsome gifts ; amongst others on her wedding 
day he presented her with a very beautiful watch, key 
and seal of purple enamel encrusted with diamonds. 2 
The hands and face of the watch are set in diamonds ; 
on the centre of the back is a diamond urn which still 
contains the fair hair of that bridegroom of over one 
hundred and thirty years ago, while the seal bears the 


Je ne change qu'en mourant. 

Winter was coming on, and it seems probable that 
with the approach of the hunting season the young 
couple went to live at Godwick Hall, Tittleshall, which 

1 T. Master, Esq., of Cirencester, married Mary Dutton, sister of 

* Now in the possession of the writer. 

has already been referred to. Mrs. Coke, like her 
husband, was a fine rider and loved to spend long 
days in the saddle. Soon Coke brought a portion of 
his pack to Norfolk, and before long succeeded Lord 
Townshend as Master of the Hounds ; x but he hunted 
for a few weeks only till the breed of foxes was in- 
creased. Mr. Rolfe of Heacham made some gorse 
covers on his estate in that parish, and set the first 
example of rearing them. 

But the gaiety of those light-hearted days came to an 
abrupt termination. Six months after young Coke's 
wedding, early in April, news came to him of the 
serious illness of his father. It was some time since 
Mr. Wenman Coke had given up the house in Hanover 
Square for one in Grosvenor Square, and it was while 
there that, on April loth, 1776, his death occurred. 
Although he lived to be nearly sixty years of age, he 
may be said to have fallen a victim to his sedentary 
habits. His frame and constitution, which were natu- 
rally robust, were destroyed by continually sitting to 
read in a bent position. This produced internal trouble 
which eventually ended in his decease. At the date of 
his death he had been in possession of Holkham for 
eleven months only, and had been resident there for a 
very short period, owing to his enforced absence in 
town to attend to his Parliamentary duties ; yet during 
that time he had lowered the rents which Lady Leicester 
had raised, and had thus endeared himself to the ten- 
ants. His death is noted in the Annual Register as 

1 It is said that he succeeded Lord Townshend at eighteen (see Coke 
of Holkham, by Walter Rye, reprinted from the Journal of the Royal 
Agricultural Society , Third Series, Vol. VI, Part I, 1895); but he cannot 
have been in Norfolk at that age. 

1776] EARLY MANHOOD 149 

follows: "Died, Wenman Coke Esqre, Member for 
Norfolk and Surveyor of the Woods belonging to the 
Crown in the Duchy of Lancaster." His will was 
proved by his father, Philip Roberts, his widow Eliza- 
beth, and his son Thomas William. 

Young Coke thus found himself called to the more 
serious business of life ; and, with the possession of his 
estates, he discovered that the representation of the 
county was also considered to be part of his inherit- 
ance. Sir Harbord Harbord and Sir Edward Astley 
called upon him immediately in London ; they urged 
his station in the county, and, above all, the claims 
which the friends who had supported his father had 
upon him ; till at length, unwillingly, he yielded. 

It is curious to note that the Manifesto which he 
issued to the public is dated two days after his father's 


GROSVENOR SQUARE, April i2th, 1776. 

The anxious Ambition which I feel to succeed my worthy 
father, would scarcely have induced me so early, under 
such a Calamity, to have solicited this Distinction, which 
it was his Happiness to have experienced, had it not been 
well known to me it was his ardent Desire that every 
Effort might be early exerted for the Attainment of so 
desirable an Object. You flatteringly held out your Pro- 
tection to him before he was called to the Succession of 
his Ancestors, which now devolves to me ; but it would 
lose greatly of its value, if by the Sense of a General 
Meeting I should be deemed unworthy of the Honour of 
representing the County of Norfolk. The Time will not 
admit of my paying that Respect which is undoubtedly due 
to every Elector ; but, let me assure you that if my Wishes 


prove successful, it shall be my study to justify your Pre- 
ference, by giving the most unwearied Attention to your 
particular Interests, and to the Honor, Liberty, and 
essential Well-being of my country. 

I am, with the greatest respect, Gentlemen, 

Your most obedient and most humble Servant, 


N.B. The day of Nomination being fixed by the Sheriff 
for Wednesday next the 24th, I beg leave to intreat the 
favour of my friends' appearance. 

On Wednesday 24th, accordingly, a meeting was 
held at the Shirehouse to consider who was to succeed 
Mr. Wenman Coke. Young Coke, who came forward 
with an "amiable composure and engaging address," 1 
created a very favourable impression and was nomi- 
nated without hesitation. The following day he issued 
another Manifesto : 


I beg leave to return you my most sincere thanks for 
the High Honour you have conferred upon me by the 
unanimity with which I have been nominated a Candidate 
to supply the Vacancy occasioned by the Death of my late 
Father ; an Honour which receives an additional Value 
from the undoubted Testimony it affords of your approba- 
tion of his Conduct. 

Permit me to request the further favour of your Attend- 
ance and Support upon the day of Election. Be assured, 
that if I have the Happiness of being returned your Repre- 
sentative, my unwearied Attention shall be given, not only 
to the real Interests of this County, but likewise to the 
Honour, Liberty, and Welfare of the Nation. 
I am, with the greatest respect, Gentlemen, 

Your most obedient and humble servant, 


1 Norwich Mercury, Saturday, April 27th, 1776. 

1776] EARLY MANHOOD 151 

At eleven o'clock on Wednesday, May 8th, he entered 
Norwich at the head of a numerous body of gentlemen, 
clergy and freeholders, and proceeded to the Shire- 
house. He was dressed, as was the custom on such an 
occasion, in full Court dress, bag-wig, buckles and 
sword, and the people, who viewed him with curiosity, 
commented audibly on his handsome appearance. At 
the Shirehouse many speeches took place, but one 
alone deserves passing mention, because of the strange 
train of events which are said to have been its indirect 
result. We are told that u a gentleman high in office" 
delivered the following appropriate remarks : 

" Gentlemen, The melancholy event that calls 
you together this day, is too well known to you all. 
You are met to consider of a proper person to repre- 
sent this great commercial county in Parliament ; an 
object at all times important in itself, but rendered 
more so by the critical situation of public affairs at 
this juncture ; it is now we want the abilities, the un- 
biassed firmness of the late Mr. Coke, to protect the 
interests of the people ; it is now we begin to feel the 
value of the faithful guardian we have lost ! 

" Your choice this day, I make no doubt, will fall 
upon some gentleman distinguished by a large pro- 
perty in Norfolk, whose fortunes render him inde- 
pendent, whose inclination is to be so, and whose 
ambition will lead him to imitate that conduct in 
Parliament which does honour to the memory of his 
predecessor, and who may succeed the late Mr. Coke 
in public virtue as well as public station." 

These diplomatic remarks, which pointed so plainly 
to one particular candidate, were, it is said, written 
for the " gentleman high in office" by a man named 
Richard Gardiner, formerly a major in the army, 
better known by his nom de plume of Dick Merry- 


fellow. The reputed son of a Norfolk clergyman, 
though by many believed to be a natural son of Lord 
Orford, he was a witty writer of electioneering skits, 
verses and speeches ; and so highly was his influence 
valued, that it is said he was often paid by candidates 
for his support. No doubt with a view to his future 
advantage if he could put young Coke under an obliga- 
tion to him, he exerted all his influence to aid the 
latter's election, and later we shall see what use he 
endeavoured to make of his unsolicited energy. 

Young Coke, however, was not dependent upon Dick 
Merryfellow's favour. His position in the county, his 
attractive appearance and manner, combined with the 
respect in which his father had been held, made his 
election a foregone conclusion. He was unanimously 
chosen by the electors, and returned his thanks to them 
in u an elegant speech delivered with the most engag- 
ing address/' 

Immediately after the election the chairing took 
place. The origin of this custom is said to have 
been the elevation of kings at their inauguration ; but 
in Norfolk it differed from the chairing in other counties. 
The Member, who stood on a platform in front of the 
chair, was carried by four-and-twenty strong men who 
halted at every thirty or forty yards, and, at each halt, 
tossed their burden three successive times high in the 
air out of their hold, as far as their united strength 
could send it, catching the poles again as it descended. 
To a nervous person the experience was anything but 
pleasant, especially as the Member thus conspicuously 
elevated was sometimes a target for brickbats and mud 
from his less friendly constituents. 

In the possession of Mr. George Cnbitt, Norwich 

1776] EARLY MANHOOD 153 

But, fortunately, no untoward event marred young 
Coke's experience as Knight of the Shire while, borne 
shoulder-high above the heads of the people, he 
occupied for the first time the position he was to fill 
so often during the course of a long life. The chair 
beside which he then stood is still in existence in Nor- 
wich, faded and battered, a curious relic of bygone 
days. A great unwieldy throne, upholstered in red silk, 
it is fixed upon a platform supported by two stout poles. 
The back is overtopped with a gaudy design in gilt 
carving, emblematic of Plenty, and surmounted by a 
cap of Liberty ; while large gilt Cupids in carved 
wood, carrying bunches of grapes, uphold the arms on 
either side. From this unsteady eminence Coke sur- 
veyed the scene around him on that memorable day. 
The market-place was full of stavesmen and spectators, 
every window showed gaily-dressed women fluttering 
handkerchiefs with a cockade in the corner which bore 
his colours, flags were flying and voices cheering, while 
a cavalcade of his new constituents on horseback had 
assembled to escort him. 

With strangely mingled feelings he must have 
looked down upon the boisterous crowd beneath. Life 
stretched before him afresh with great duties and 
responsibilities. In the last few months he had passed 
from youth to manhood. He had married, had come 
into possession of his estates, and had now been 
chosen a representative of the people. It is not 
difficult to realise the thoughts which must have swept 
tumultuously through his brain in that moment. 
Knowing the temperament of the man, one under- 
stands how he must have looked on the future with 

awe and with determination the awe of a nature 
always diffident about his own capabilities, the deter- 
mination of a nature always strong for what he con- 
sidered right. The words of his Manifesto must have 
been present to his mind : " Be assured, that if I have 
the happiness of being elected your Representative, my 
unwearied Attention shall be given, not only to the real 
interests of this County, but likewise to the Honour, 
Liberty and Welfare of the Nation." 

How he should fulfil that promise his life was to 

And so, amidst the cheering, shouting crowd, Coke 
was borne in triumph through the town. It was thus 
that, two days after his twenty-second birthday, he 
entered Parliament. He was the youngest Member 
when he entered the House ; he was the oldest when, 
after a long and honourable career, he retired. He was 
elected for thirteen Parliaments, and with the exception 
of a short break when he judged it best to retire, he 
represented either Norfolk or Derby for a space of 
fifty-six years. 




Mtat 22-24 

WHEN Sir Edward Astley and Sir Harbord 
Harbord had waited upon Coke in order 
to persuade him to stand for the County, 
they told him that they would desire him 
to write one letter only to one person, and that was to 
Lord Orford, 1 the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk. Coke 
wrote accordingly, and asked Lord Orford's support. 
He received the following answer : 

" My dear Sir, 

" Holkham and Houghton have ever been 
united in the strictest bonds of friendship, and I 
hope will ever continue so." 

The second time, however, when he had occasion to 
make the same request, the answer was couched in the 
following terms : 

"I have great regard for you, but I regret to see 
that you so often clog the wheels of the Govern- 

None the less, Lord Orford did not then withdraw 
his support ; but when, on a third occasion, Coke 

1 George, third Earl of Orford, a man of very eccentric mind and 



again applied for it, the answer returned was as 
follows : 


"I respect you as an Agriculturist, but you 
must not turn the County of Norfolk into a borough." 

And Lord Orford threw all his weight into the 
opposite scale. 

The attitude of Lord Orford may be considered 
typical of the manner in which Coke's opponents were 
disposed to regard him ; at first with complacent in- 
difference, soon with growing alarm, next with a very 
respectful fear. The fact of his devotion to field sports 
and his known reluctance to enter the political arena, for 
a time blinded them to the underlying determination of 
his character and his invincible earnestness. 

There is no doubt that, when he entered Parliament, 
a political career had little attraction for him. As a 
means of personal advancement it was as useless as it 
was unpalatable to him. On the one hand, he was 
wholly without that ambition which is a craving for 
gratified vanity. He disliked the fret of party strife, 
the petty jealousies of contending factions. Country 
life with its peaceful pursuits had always been more in 
harmony with his temperament. To follow his hounds 
in exciting chase through Suffolk, Oxford, or Essex ; 
to tramp with his gun through the keen Norfolk air in 
a long day's sport ; to live in the midst of his tenants ; 
to gather his friends about him and make them taste of 
a hospitality which was princely this existence ap- 
pealed to him far more strongly than the strain of 
public life and its often unworthy ambitions. On the 


other hand, a mere youth in years, he found himself, 
without personal exertion, already possessed of all 
which could render existence enjoyable. Recently 
married to a wife to whom he was deeply attached, the 
owner of great wealth and of a palatial home, the in- 
heritor of a position which, as a Commoner, was un- 
assailable, he had nothing to gain, and much to lose, 
by letting himself drift into the vortex of a public 

Yet he threw himself with characteristic vigour into 
the work which had been thrust upon him. He had 
been bred among those to whom party spirit was not 
merely a pose dictated by convenience a gentle lever 
to professional success, but a burning force, a breeder 
of great loves and greater hatreds, a creed whose nega- 
tion was a blasphemy ; to whom there could be no 
uprightness, no honesty outside of the faction to which 
they themselves belonged. And he was of the days of 
immense concentration, of stubborn conviction, of 
heartwhole energy ; when existence, spent of necessity 
in a more circumscribed area, battened on its own 
personality ; when those of like persuasion, herding 
together, waxed stubborn in each other's strength ; 
when individuality was not dissipated in the eternal 
contact with counter-currents, in the hurry of a life 
which, while broadening each man's outlook, cripples 
his assurance. There were giants on the earth in those 
days ; they were the days of great achievements. 

So to Coke, with his splendid youth emphasising its 
boundless capacity for enjoyment, and his boundless 
means for gratifying that capacity, the claims of duty 
and of patriotism remained paramount. The principles 


which he had imbibed with his earliest boyhood were 
bred in his bone and had grown with his growth. 
They were as defined and staunch at this the com- 
mencement of his career, as they remained to its close. 
"When I was first elected," he said half a century 
later, "I told the freeholders the line of conduct I 
should pursue. I told them I was a Whig of the old 
school, a lover of the principles of the Revolution of 
1688, and by that line of conduct my course should be 
governed." To fear God, to help Man, and to hate all 
Tories, those were the tenets to which he considered 
himself pledged. There was in his character, we are 
told, a remarkable simplicity and a complete lack of 
egotism which was infinitely lovable, as it was, 
perhaps, infinitely remarkable in his peculiar circum- 
stances. But devoid of all self-assurance as he always 
remained with regard to his own capabilities, he was 
already decided in his views and unalterably con- 
sistent in his code of action. A passionate love of 
justice and of fair-play ; an unbroken attachment to 
civil and religious freedom ; a hatred of all taint of 
oppression and coercion, of all intolerance and bigotry 
these were the leading characteristics of his nature, 
alike at this, the outset of his career, as at its close. 

Years afterwards, on retiring from Parliament, he 
described his feelings on his first entry into political 
life ; and they are best given in his own words : 

" When I first offered myself for this county, I did 
so with great reluctance, for I had no wish to come 
into Parliament. I was no orator, no politician. I 
was young, and just returned from abroad, and my 
own pursuits (if I could appeal to the ladies) were 
much more congenial to my feelings. But I was 


much solicited by Sir Harbord Harbord, Sir E. 
Astley and Mr. Fellows of Shottisham, who said, and 
said truly, that I owed it to my father's memory, and 
to Sir E. Astley, who had just stood a severe contest; 
and that, if I did not stand, a Tory would come in. 
A t the mention of a Tory coming in, gentlemen, my 
blood chilled all over me from head to foot, and I 
came forward. Educated as I had been in the belief 
that a Tory was not a friend to liberty and the 
Revolution but a friend to passive obedience and 
non-resistance a supporter of bribery and cor- 
ruption and of all the evils of oligarchy I could 
not resist ! I had not been in the House of Com- 
mons two months when Charles Tompson said to me 
one day " If Mr. Coke is inclined for a Peerage, I 
will mention it." Soon after this the Duke of 
Portland wrote to me, and said that the King allowed 
them to make three Peers, and that I should be the 
first if I liked. I immediately went to London, to 
Burlington House, and called on the noble Duke, 
and told him I was astonished that he should think I 
would desert Mr. Fox, and that so great was my 
regard for him (Mr. Fox) so long as I lived I would 
ever support him." 1 

The bait of a peerage offered thus at the very outset 
of Coke's parliamentary career, and the complaint in 
Lord Orford's letter previously quoted, that, as a 
Member of very brief standing, Coke was already 
able to "clog the wheels of Government," is suffi- 
ciently remarkable, and shows that his was very early 
recognised as an influence which it was well to con- 
ciliate, or to suppress. 

But although, as he points out, he was no orator, no 
polished rhetorician, he speedily acquired the reputa- 
tion of a man who swayed his hearers by the mere 

1 See Farmers Magazine (1843), P- 3- 


force of his immense sincerity. He never spoke on 
any subject on which his conviction was not absolute. 
The strength of his personality, his overwhelming in- 
tegrity, impressed his hearers as a more studied elo- 
quence would have failed to do. Owing to the laxity 
with which the Parliamentary records and newspaper 
reports were kept at that date, often only incom- 
plete fragments of current speeches were preserved. 
Despite this, with regard to Fox's eloquence Lord 
Erskine remarked that "in the most imperfect relics 
of his speeches the bones of a giant are discoverable " ; 
and although the same verdict, from the same stand- 
point, cannot be applied to the often distorted survivals 
of Coke's utterances, yet of those, too, one feels that they 
reveal a man of bolder, grander mould than his fellows 
not, be it again emphasised, a giant in rhetoric, 
but a giant in individuality, in honesty of purpose, 
in the fearless expression of that honesty. " I 
have nothing to ask from either side of the House," 
Coke stated; "I speak merely as an honest man 
representing a great and important county " ; l and 
in that very simplicity lay his strength. 

"Mr. Coke," we are told, "though a very constant 
attendant on his Parliamentary duties, and a ready 
speaker, had no ambition to rank high as an orator. 
His speeches are few, short, and unornamental. He 
spoke in the style and in the character of a liberal and 
independent Country gentleman ; but whatever he said 
had the merit of being simple and to the point." 2 

1 Parliamentary Delates, Vol. XXXI, p. 782. 

2 Pamphlet, Thomas William Coke, Earl of Leicester, published by 
Whiting-, Beaufort House, Strand, circa 1838. 


Thus, at this distance of time, and when interest in 
the topics discussed has grown cold, there is a life, a 
force about his remarks which still can impress one with 
the moral strength of the man, and can enable one to 
understand the verdict pronounced at the close of his 
career, how the mere influence of his example for more 
than half a century had had an extraordinary effect in 
keeping up the standard of public morality. 1 Indeed, 
when his indignation was aroused by any acts of in- 
justice, of oppression or corruption, he denounced 
these with a heartwhole abhorrence which was apt to 
occasion alarm to timid hearers. " If," says the 
Farmer's Magazine in anxious apology, "in some of 
his after-dinner addresses he betrayed a want of taste in 
culling his expressions of contempt, he did it out of the 
overwhelming conviction of his own mind, and not 
with a desire to wound ! " 

There is no doubt that, from his first entrance into 
public life, carried away by his convictions, his 
vehemence often gave a handle to his enemies ; for, 
like his ancestor, the Lord Chief Justice, he was no 
time-server, no respecter of persons. To him the 
truth was so vital, the cause to which he had pledged 
himself so sacred, that the more squeamish susceptibili- 
ties of an illiberal audience, or the minor considerations 
of his personal popularity could not weigh in the 
balance. In reference to this we are told "It has 
been charged against his public conduct that it was 
generally marked by vehemence and intemperance, 
and those who did not know him imagined that his 
natural disposition was violent. No mistake was ever 

1 Op. cit. 
I. M 

greater. He was, it is true, ardent and honest, and 
was never disposed to compromise or conceal any fact 
or any opinion connected with public duty. He rarely 
appeared or spoke but on the occasions when the 
abuses he denounced demanded energetic opposition." 1 

In later life he once told a characteristic story of 
these the early days of his political career. It appears 
that his friends were anxious to arrange a dinner in 
Yarmouth on his behalf, and applied to the Mayor 
of that town for permission to use the town hall for that 
purpose. The Mayor, a man of conventional views 
and cautious disposition, took alarm at anything which 
might, in its development, affect his civic dignity. So 
he made his acquiescence to depend on what Coke 
afterwards described as "an insulting and suspicious 
stipulation " he would lend the hall, he said, if Mr. 
Coke would give a solemn promise not to abuse the 
Corporation. Needless to say, the offer was not 
accepted and the promise not given. Whereupon 
a man of less timid temperament, the manager of the 
theatre, came forward and offered the loan of his 
building for the required purpose ; an offer which was 
at once accepted. But the wrath of the local magnates 
at what they considered a defiance of their authority 
knew no bounds. With a system of petty tyranny 
which it is difficult to credit, they informed the 
manager that, in future, neither would they attend the 
theatre themselves, nor allow their wives and daughters 
to do so. 

Coke went to the dinner ; but he told the Corpora- 

1 Undated newspaper extract, preserved by the Hon. the Rev. 
Thomas Keppel, fifth son of William Charles, fourth Earl of Albemarle. 


tion very plainly what he thought of their conduct ; 
and it was twenty-five years before he could again be 
persuaded to dine in Yarmouth. 

" A public man like myself," he said, when relating 
the story fifty years afterwards, "is undoubtedly fair 
game. In early life I went to Yarmouth, but found so 
much illiberality in the Corporation, that I told them : 
* There is an illiberality in your conduct which I do 
not like ; I shall never again make my appearance 
here until you have a Mayor presiding of opposite 

Twenty-five years later, Mr. Palgrave, a Mayor of 
this description, reminded Coke of his promise, and 
called upon him to redeem it. Coke did so, and 
attended the Mayor's dinner, but the circumstances of 
his former visit were fresh in his memory, and he took 
a subtle satisfaction in giving frank expression to his 
political views. The Corporation, moreover, had not 
waxed more liberal with the flight of years and their 
change of chief. They took alarm very early in the 
evening, and, in a body, they hurried from the room. 
" Truth to tell," said Coke, when relating the inci- 
dent, "I drove all the Corporation from the room 
but perhaps the company was not much the worse for 
that ! " 

The story, however, is valuable as an indication of 
the manner in which his influence was regarded, even 
in the very early days of his career. A reluctant poli- 
tician of twenty-two, he had already made himself 
recognised as a power to be feared. The timid mag- 
nates of a provincial town, the wary ministers of a 
powerful Cabinet alike adopted methods which seemed 


to them politic in an attempt to stifle his inconvenient 
honesty. And both alike failed. 

On the other hand, when not roused to resentment 
by what he considered a just cause, no human being 
was ever more forgetful of injuries, more peaceful in 
his tastes and disposition, and more equable in daily 
life. His contemporaries describe him as of a "de- 
lightful temper," and invariably speak of him as un- 
assuming, sincere, and marvellously free from egoism. 
He had a horror of flattery, and no man saw through it 
more quickly or treated it with greater contempt. On 
one occasion, soon after he came into possession of 
Holkham, his health was proposed at a dinner, and the 
proposer was proceeding to preface his toast by a 
speech of fulsome compliments, when Coke suddenly 
disconcerted the flow of his eloquence by murmuring 


Lay it on thick, 

Some of it will stick ! 

Still more, his father's philosophy of loyalty to his 
friends and indifference to his enemies was never 
absent from his remembrance ; it formed the great and 
commanding rule of his life, and lay at the root of his 
unfaltering independence of action and opinion. 

He was still very young when he attended a public 
meeting in Norfolk where a man was present who had 
great influence in the county, and whose friendship 
was of great importance to him from an electioneering 
point of view. But there were certain things in this 
man's conduct of which Coke disapproved, and he 
unhesitatingly told the man in no measured terms what 
he thought of him. On leaving the building, a friend 


of Coke's remonstrated roundly with him, and told him 
that he had been most unwise; "You have made an 
enemy of that man for life," he complained. "And 
with his conduct, what was he before ? " retorted Coke. 
" I will tell you one thing my father called me to him 
when I was a boy, and said, 'Torn, stick to your 
friends, and disregard your enemies ! ' I have done 
so, and will do so to the end of my existence ! " 

Soon after Coke entered Parliament, Lord Rocking- 
ham, the head of the Whig party, invited him to a 
Ministerial dinner. There he met and was formally 
introduced to Charles James Fox, and there the founda- 
tions of a lifelong attachment were laid. Very rapidly 
their political relations developed into a warm personal 
friendship which terminated only with Fox's death in 
1806. Fox described Coke as one of "the brightest 
ornaments of England " ; l while, as a statesman, Coke 
admired Fox's principles ; and as a man revered the 
qualities which, in spite of Fox's very obvious faults, 
made him lovable to his contemporaries, and still 
endears his name to posterity. "When I first went 
into Parliament," Coke related at his last nomination 
in 1830, " I attached myself to Fox, and I clung to him 
through life. I lived in the closest bond of friendship 
with him. He was a friend of the people, the practiser 
of every kindness and generosity, the advocate of Civil 
and Religious liberty." 2 

Although Coke was devoid of, and indeed had a 
special abhorrence of the particular vices which marred 
Fox's character, there was in other respects much akin 

1 Hist. Mems. of His Own Time, by Nathaniel Wraxall (1836), 
Vol. I, p. 244. 2 Norwich Mercury, August 7th, 1830. 


in their natures. Both upheld liberty as the very life 
of the State and the very breath of existence ; both 
were simple and unostentatious in their tastes, pre- 
ferring country life and hating the prominence of a 
public career ; both were disinterested, downright and 
incautious in the vehemence of their sincerity. For 
Fox's oratory Coke had the most profound admiration. 
To the end of his life he used to say that none but 
those who had heard it could ever form any conception 
of that marvellous fluency. For five hours at a stretch 
Fox would speak without notes, without preparation 
of any description, and during all that time not once 
would he hesitate for a word to convey his exact mean- 
ing to his hearers, or pause to sift the arguments 
which poured from him in one impassioned flow of 
eloquence. The genius of Fox appealed to Coke only 
less than the principles it was employed to advocate. 
"So great is my regard for Fox, so long as I live 
will I ever support him," Coke vowed in the dawn of 
his political life, and he was faithful to the principles in- 
volved in this resolution till the day of his own death. 

His loyalty was very early put to the test. The 
moment when he entered Parliament was a moment of 
great national crisis. England's quarrel with America, 
brought about by the arbitrary and tactless policy of 
the British Government, had reached a crucial stage. 
The blockade of Quebec had just been raised. The 
American Congress was preparing the Declaration of 
Independence, a circular Manifesto to be sent to the 
several Colonies, thirteen of whom, on July 4th, abjured 
all allegiance to the British Crown. And meanwhile, 
in order to remedy the mischief of past tardiness, the 


English Government determined to carry on the struggle 
with a vigour which should astonish all Europe, and to 
employ such an army as had never before entered the 
New World. This, it was considered, would be the 
most effectual means of silencing clamour and of pre- 
venting troublesome and now useless inquiries. For 
the English, as a nation, are philosophic, and resign 
themselves to the inevitable with a dogged determina- 
tion to make the best of a bad job. When once the 
people were heartily engaged in a war, it was believed 
that they would no longer cavil over the causes which 
had led to it ; they would be agreed that, whoever was 
right in the beginning, American insolence deserved 
chastisement ; and, their national and military pride at 
stake, they would carry the struggle through with 
eagerness and determination. Still more, the efforts 
of the minority, battling against general opinion, and 
apparently directed against the national interest, would 
every day become more feeble, and deprive them of 
popularity, which is the soul of opposition. 

From the first, Coke, of his very nature, was 
vehemently opposed to the American war ; and he 
voted in the first minority against it. Not only did he 
foresee its disastrous consequences and deplore the 
mistaken policy which had led to it ; not only did he 
recognise that the American States who, as our allies, 
were a source of our commercial prosperity as a people 
conquered and alienated could prove only an impossible 
drain upon our resources, a perpetual menace to our 
tranquillity. Stronger than any motives of selfish policy 
to him was the question of fair play. Taxation without 
representation was radically unjust ; those who paid 

the taxes had a right to appoint those who imposed the 
taxes ; upon that ground alone he opposed the pro- 
secution of the war. For the Colonies had been goaded 
into insurrection ; the Declaration of Independence had 
at first been accepted by twelve out of the thirteen 
States unwillingly, and only when all hope of com- 
promise was at an end. The Colonists, individually, 
were men who were attached to the Crown, who did 
not desire emancipation, who only demanded justice as 
the pledge of their loyalty. And Coke, recognising the 
reasonable nature of their demands, believed, even at this 
critical juncture, that it was not too late for an Adminis- 
tration with insight and tact to cope with the situation. 
But the obstinacy of the King, the incompetency of 
the Ministers, were fatal to a pacific adjustment. 
George III declared that he would never yield, or give 
office to any man u who will not first sign a declaration 
that he will keep the Empire entire, and that no troops 
shall consequently be withdrawn from America, or inde- 
pendence ever allowed." The war was the King's 
war ; the Ministers were his tools ; by the bulk of the 
people, and, unfortunately, by the educated classes, the 
whole question was woefully misunderstood ; while the 
friction of rival parties made it impossible to promote 
a clearer understanding. Coke had early learnt to dread 
the King's influence in politics, the narrow, unconstitu- 
tional policy of George III, which, rightly or wrongly, 
had been attributed to Bute's pernicious teaching. In 
allying himself with Fox in opposition to what was 
known as the King's party, he was aware that he 
espoused an unpopular, and, as it was believed at the 
time to be, a losing cause. For to uphold the King's 


policy was the way to place and power ; to oppose it 
was to incur royal and all but universal disfavour ; the 
dissentients to the war were, by the majority, considered 
to be the professed enemies of their King and country. 
Later, when the truth of their conclusions had been 
disastrously proved, men recognised, too, the disinter- 
ested honesty of their struggle for justice. That small 
minority who had kept their honour unstained were 
then seen to be the true upholders of the vaunted 
British Constitution and of the traditional British love 
of freedom. But, for the present, misapprehension 
and calumny dogged their footsteps. 

At the opening of the next Session on October 3ist, 
the King, in his speech, declared that it was necessary 
to prepare for another campaign, as the revolted 
Colonies had rejected "with circumstances of indignity 
and insult, the means of conciliation held out to them 
under the authority of our Commission." An address 
of thanks was framed in the usual manner ; but to this 
an amendment was moved by Lord John Cavendish, 
deprecating the attitude of the British Government to- 
wards the Colonies, and pointing out how greatly their 
grievances had been misunderstood and misrepresented. 

It was with regard to this Amendment that Fox 
wrote the first letter which is extant from him to Coke, 
and which, differing in tone from his later correspond- 
ence, shows that their acquaintance had not yet ripened 
into the intimate friendship which afterwards sub- 
sisted between them. 

" Dear Sir, 

" I am very happy to acquaint you that every- 
thing is settled much to our wishes. Lord John is to 


move the amendment much upon the plan of Lord 
North's, only omitting the Loyalist clause. Lord 
North will support him and move to insert some 
words favourable to the Loyalists, to which, if they 
are moderate, we are not to object. I found Lord N. 
as reasonable as we could desire. I trust this will 
give general satisfaction to all our friends, as it has 
to those in this room who have heard it. 

" I am, dear sir, 

" Your humble and obt. servant, 


"Sunday night, ST. JAMES' ST." 

The Amendment concluded with the significant 
words : 

" We shall look with the utmost shame and horror 
on any events that shall tend to break the spirit of 
any large part of the British Nation, to bow them to 
an abject, unconditional submission to any Power 
whatsoever . . . for though differing in some cir- 
cumstances, those principles evidently bear so striking 
an analogy to those which support the most valuable 
part of our own Constitution, that it is impossible 
with any appearance of justice to think of wholly 
expelling them by the sword in any part of His 
Majesty's dominions without admitting consequences 
the most dangerous to the liberties of this kingdom." 

Coke, Fox, Wilkes, Thomas Townshend and Colonel 
Barre supported the Amendment. Lord North only 
mildly repelled the charge of hypocrisy which it 
suggested against that portion of the King's speech 
which expressed His Majesty's desire to restore to the 
Americans law and liberty. The set against it, how- 
ever, was too strong, and it was defeated by 242 against 

Henceforward opposition to prerogative Government 


became the watchword of the Whig party ; and Coke, 
faithful to it, adopted two toasts to which, throughout 
his life, he always gave prominence on every public 
One was 

" A Ministry which will support what is right, 
And a Parliament which will support nothing wrong." 

The other 

"The respectability of the Crown, 
The durability of the Constitution 
And the prosperity of the people." 1 

He also adopted as his badge the colours of blue and 
buff, in consequence of the blue coat and buff waistcoat 
which Fox had made popular among his followers, and 
which closely resembled the military uniform worn by 
the levies commanded by Washington. 

Meanwhile he was busily occupied with the affairs of 
the county which he represented. In 1776 his name 

1 In the Creevey Papers mention is made of the Duke of Sussex 
having 1 quoted a garbled version of the latter toast. The Hon. H. C. 
Bennet, writing to Creevey from Brooks', 1814, says : "Our dinner last 
night was good and well managed and a good spice of Whiggism. The 
Duke of Sussex talked very sad stuff, and his last feat was the following 1 
toast, ' Respectability to the Crown, Durability to the Constitution, and 
Independence to the people.' Mr. Keppel, however, states that both the 
toasts given above were the ' favourite and original toasts' of Mr. Coke, 
and the Duke never attended the Holkham Sheep-shearings without 
giving the latter toast as Coke himself g-ave it. Lord Albemarle gives 
another version as ' The Liberty of the Subject ' " (Fifty Years of My Life, 
by George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle, 1876, Vol. II, p. 3). It would be 
interesting to know if Mr. Bennet talked of the Duke's toast as "sad 
stuff" because it was new to him personally, or because the usual 
formula was misquoted, as on the famous occasion when the toast was 
given as ' The Majesty of the People,' or 'Our Sovereign the People.' 
See The Life and Times of C. J. Fox, by Earl Russell (1866), Vol. Ill, 
p. 168. 


was on the list of the Grand Jury of the Norfolk 
Summer Assizes ; while, from time to time, it appears 
in other public capacities ; but an event in January, 
1778, first served to bring it into political prominence. 

A memorable public meeting was then convened at 
Norwich. An advertisement for this was first issued, 
inviting, as it explains 

"All who are disposed at this critical juncture to assist 
the exertions of the British Empire in support of the 
Constitutional authority, to defend these kingdoms, if 
necessary, against any foreign attack." 

This meeting was called at the " Maid's Head," the 
famous old inn in Norwich where Queen Elizabeth 
stayed, and where the room in which she slept is still 
used, little changed since she occupied it. 

A counter-advertisement promptly appeared summon- 
ing the opponents of war to meet at the Swan Inn. It 
was couched in the following terms : 


" There being reason to apprehend that there is a 
design of attempting to raise a regiment in Norfolk pro- 
fessedly for the purpose of carrying on hostilities in 
America, and engaging this County and City of Norwich 
into giving a sanction to those measures which directly 
tend to the protracting of this fatal war ; lest the resolu- 
tions of those who still wish for coercive measures should 
be deemed the declaratory sense of the inhabitants of 
Norfolk and Norwich respecting the present unhappy 
contest it is wished that a general meeting of the 
Nobility, Gentry and others may be held at the White 
Swan in St. Peter's, Norwich, on Wednesday the 28th of 
this instant January, precisely at ten o'clock in the fore- 
noon, to consider whether any measure that gives 


countenance or support to so burdensome, fruitless and 
inglorious a war can be consistent with the landed and 
trading interest of the County and City of Norwich, or 
is conformable to the wishes and sentiments of the inde- 
pendent part of the inhabitants." 

Needless to say, it was this latter meeting which 
Coke attended ; but when the opponents of the war 
were assembled at the u Swan," it was decided that they 
should confront the meeting then assembling at the 
" Maid's Head," and, accordingly, they repaired thither. 
They found Sir John Wodehouse in the chair, and the 
business being opened by Lord Townshend, then 
Master of the Ordnance, who stated that he had called 
his friends together 

" For the purpose of consulting upon the means of 
affording such assistance as should best enable the 
Government, at this critical juncture, to exert itself 
for the support of the Constitutional Authority of the 
British Empire ; that the unhappy war in which we 
were engaged with America was unavoidably at- 
tended with large expense, had been followed by a 
destruction of men, and a waste of force, which was 
much to be lamented, and that our natural enemies, 
it was much to be apprehended, would avail them- 
selves of our situation, and therefore it was become 
necessary to be provided with a force that would 
enable us to resist any attack that might be made 
upon us at home. For which reason he submitted to 
the company whether opening a subscription for the 
purpose of raising levies to fill up those Corps which 
had been considerably reduced, and might be ex- 
pected to return from America, would not, as it 
appeared to him, be the least exceptionable and most 
beneficial made." 

Lord Townshend was seconded by Henry Hobart, 
brother to Lord Buckinghamshire. But the occasion 


was made memorable by the fact that Mr. Windham of 
Felbrigg arose and made his first public speech. Tall, 
keen-eyed and athletic as when in his schooldays at 
Eton Coke had known him as " Fighting Windham," 
he stood before the excited crowd ; and although so 
often in after-life accredited with being a nervous and a 
diffident speaker, enthusiasm for his subject now ban- 
ished all self-consciousness, while in a clear, strong 
voice he detailed at length the past, and anticipated 
the future public consequences of the war, protesting 
against the subscription proposed at the meeting. Coke 
succeeded him, strongly concurring with all he had said, 
and uttered a vehement denunciation of the proceedings. 
Nevertheless, a large fund (more than 5000) was 
raised, Sir John Wodehouse and Lords Buckingham- 
shire and Townshend each subscribing 500. The 
Whigs never forgot this ; eighteen years afterwards, 
when Colonel Wodehouse was standing for the elec- 
tion of 1806, a huge placard was posted about Norwich 
bearing the trenchant inquiry 




Coke, however, took more speedy action to bring the 
meeting into disrepute. He set to work with an energy 
which astonished and delighted his constituents. By 
the following month, on February i;th, 1778, he pre- 
sented a petition from them, in the wording of which 
it is easy to recognise his influence, if not his actual 
penmanship. It does not slur over recent happenings ; 
it is dignified, strong and sincere. 


After praying for an inquiry into the " true grounds 
and conduct of this unhappy civil war, and that the 
best means be found for bringing it to a speedy termin- 
ation," it points out sarcastically the "utmost concern 
and surprise" with which the petitioners view the 
' ' extraordinary endeavours used in this kingdom to raise 
men and money for His Majesty's service by free gifts 
and contributions, not given and granted in a Parlia- 
mentary course," of which "unusual and strained 
efforts not only is the legality most doubtful, at a 
time when Parliament is sitting, etc., . . . but is certainly 
calculated to convey a most dangerous impression to 
neighbouring countries that the public resources of the 
kingdom are in an exhausted condition." It points out 
how the petitioners themselves have been called upon 
in a " manner equally alarming" to raise men and 
money for supporting the Constitutional authority of 
Great Britain ; it announces : 

"We hope and trust that the Constitutional 
authority is safe and well supported in the affections 
of a loyal and free people ; we know of no attack upon 
or resistance to the operation of the Laws of this 
country or in this Kingdom impaired as we may be 
in Power and reputation abroad we have, however, 
peace at home ; but in the thirteen once flourishing 
and obedient Colonies of Great Britain, His Majesty 
has no authority or other Government to be supported. 
A misrepresentation of our unhappy situation would 
be a mockery of our distress. An Empire is lost. 
A great Continent in arms is to be conquered or 

It concludes by deploring the state to which the 
country is reduced, and by pointing out that the 
petitioners entertain grave doubts of the "Wisdom, 


Care and Prudence of those who conduct His Majesty's 
affairs, and by whom a deserving people have been 
greatly injured, deceived and endangered." 

On December 4th of the same year Coke followed 
up this first attack by bringing forward a motion in the 
House condemning a Manifesto which had been pub- 
lished by the Commissioners for restoring peace with 
America. This Manifesto he first moved might be 
read to the House, 1 and next moved : 

"That an humble address be presented to his 
Majesty, to express to his Majesty the displeasure of 
this House at a certain Manifesto and Proclamation, 
dated the 3rd October, 1778 . . . and to acquaint his 
Majesty with the sense of this House that the said 
Commissioners had no authority whatsoever, under 
the Act of Parliament, in virtue of which they were 
appointed by his Majesty, to make the said declara- 
tion . . . nor can this House be easily brought to 
believe, that the said Commissioners derived any 
such authority from his Majesty's instructions." 

Whereupon he called upon the King to disavow 
publicly the matter set forth by the Manifesto, which 
he pronounced to be inhuman, unchristian, derogatory 
to the Crown and debasing to the people. 

This was a strong measure, since, if approved by the 

1 The Manifesto contained the following- threat with regard to the 
American Alliance with France. "The policy as well as the benevo- 
lence of Great Britain have thus far checked the extremes of war, when 
they tended to distress a people still considered as our fellow subjects, 
and to desolate a country shortly to become again a source of mutual 
advantage ; but when that country professes the unnatural design, not 
only of estranging herself from us, but of mortgaging herself and her 
resources to our enemies, the whole contest is changed, and the question 
is how far Great Britain may, by every means in her power, destroy, or 
render useless, a connection contrived for her ruin, and for the aggran- 
dizement of France," etc. (Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XIX, p. 1389.) 


House, it practically forced the King to eat his own 
words and to revoke the sentiments which he had 
announced to two hemispheres through the mouths of 
his Commissioners. Coke followed up this daring 
motion by a brief speech, in which he denounced the 
policy of the King's Ministers as being " inconsistent 
with the humanity and generous courage which have 
always distinguished the British nation." 

His speech created considerable sensation. A heated 
debate followed, during which Lord G. Germaine 
having asserted that the King was his own Minister, 
Fox cleverly took it up, lamenting that his Majesty was 
his own unadvised Minister. 1 When the House divided, 
Coke was one of the Tellers. The motion was lost by 
123 against 209. 

That same day George III, writing to Lord North, 
pointed out, no doubt with unpleasant anticipation, 
that there was a " Long Debate expected this day " 2 on 
Coke's Motion. It is not difficult to imagine the light 
in which the King already regarded the youngest repre- 
sentative of his people, since Coke's abhorrence of the 
unconstitutional policy of George III was only equalled 
by George Ill's annoyance at Coke's opposition to it. 
For a man like Coke, who was influenced by none of the 
considerations which carried weight with the majority 
of men ; whom it was impossible to conciliate as it was 
impracticable to coerce ; whose integrity was above 
suspicion ; who cared nothing for place or patronage, 

1 Memorials and Correspondence of C. J. Fox, edited by Lord John 
Russell, 1853, Vol. I, p. 203. 

2 The originals of the correspondence of George III were given to 
George IV, and are now in the possession of the Crown. 

I. N 


royal favour, or popular approbation ; who was, more- 
over, wealthy enough to dispense with both, and to 
sustain, unsupported, the position of first Commoner 
in the Kingdom was, indubitably, an awkward antago- 
nist to the undue exercise of the royal prerogative. 
And to understand the antipathy of the two men, it is 
only necessary to realise their respective views and 
characters. George III believed in the " divine right" 
of Kings ; Coke in the sacred right of the Constitution. 
George viewed the Ministers as his servants, bound to 
obey his supreme will ; Coke viewed them as the 
servants of the State, bound to uphold the liberty of 
the subject. George was wedded to his own conclusions ; 
his decision once formed, it became unalterable. Coke 
said of himself: "For my part, I am governed by 
experience and I always make haste to discard error 
.when I find it out." 1 George with all the self-assur- 
ance of a narrow nature, Coke with all the diffidence 
of a strong nature, were opposed upon the very prin- 
ciples which, to each, were vital, unalterable and the 
very root of his being. 

Nor did Coke attempt to conceal his opinion of his 
Sovereign. "Mr. Coke's strong Whig politics and 
decided opposition to the wars with America and 
France," we are told, "rendered him peculiarly ob- 
noxious to George III. Mr. Coke, who neither courted 
the favour nor feared the frowns of a Court, was in the 
habit of uttering with the most perfect bluntness his 
opinions respecting his Majesty." 2 

1 Dr. Rigby's Holkham and its Agriculture, 1818. 
3 Pamphlet, Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, printed by Whiting-, 
Beaufort House, Strand, 


In yet another matter were the King and his first 
Commoner radically at variance. 

Apart from his activity in opposing the American 
War, Coke, from his first entry into Parliament, exerted 
himself with regard to economic reform. A description 
of the House written in 1768 was often aptly quoted at 
this period : 

That dirty House no mortal yet can dense ; 
Rub as you please, and polish as you can, 
Pensions and bribes will iron-mould the man. 

The existence of preposterous Pensions was, more 
especially in the impoverished state of the country, one 
of the crying evils of the day. They were given to 
royal and ministerial favourites, and had little bear- 
ing upon the services which the recipients had 
rendered to the State. Not only did the King have 
recourse to bribery to obtain his ends, and the 
Ministers by the same means ensure the success of 
measures which they brought forward in the House, 
but the actual existence of Members could sometimes 
be traced to the same system exercised by private 
individuals. Coke used to related characteristic story 
of how George, Lord Orford, who died in 1791, once 
paid his gambling debts. 

He was accustomed to play high, and had contracted 
a debt of from 3,000 to 4,000 with Macreath, a 
waiter at White's Club. 2 On a dissolution of Parlia- 
ment he asked Macreath if he would like to be in the 
House. Macreath expressed his astonishment at the 
question, i>ut at last said he should certainly like it. 
"Well," said Lord Orford, "if you will strike off what 

1 See Recollections of Holkham, 1830. Printed anonymously in 1842. 
Holkham MSS. 

2 Macreath afterwards became proprietor of Arthur's Club. 


I owe you, I will elect you for my borough of Castle 
Rising," and the bargain was concluded. 

Now for many years this borough had only two 
electors the parson of the parish and a farmer, who 
alternately elected each other to the Mayoralty, and who 
returned two members to Parliament at the bidding of 
the two patrons, Lord Orford and Lady Suffolk. On 
this occasion, when the Mayor and his assistants were 
assembled upon the day of the election, they found to 
their dismay that Lord Orford had omitted to signify to 
them his will and pleasure as to whom they should 
elect. In the midst of their distress, however, there 
arrived a letter from their lord containing only three 
words " Elect Macreath Orford." Unfortunately 
his lordship had omitted to state the Christian name of 
the member-elect ; and after some deliberation, it being 
absolutely necessary to proceed to elect, and deciding 
that " John " was a common and likely name, they 
elected John Macreath. When the waiter appeared 
before the Speaker to take his seat, he said that his 
name was Robert, not John, and the election was 
therefore declared void. But a second time was the 
Honourable Robert Macreath, waiter at White's, 
returned to represent the people of England in Parlia- 
ment, by the free and independent Electors of Castle 
Rising; he was knighted and sat in Parliament a 
considerable time, probably with as much usefulness 
and honour to his country as many of those men by 
whom he was surrounded. 1 

1 Horace Walpole also mentions this story; see Journal of Lady Mary 
Coke, privately printed, Vol. IV, p. 416 ; and Walpole Letters, Vol. VI, 
pp. 119-152. But Walpole erroneously states that the election caused 
so much scandal that Bob Macreath voluntarily resigned his seat. 


In short, as was remarked in the House nearly half a 
century later with regard to a petition presented by 
Coke against this same evil: "It was notorious that 
Seats in that House were bought and sold like cattle in 
Smithfield market." 1 Norfolk and Derbyshire papers, 
however, leave us in no doubt with regard to Coke's 
attitude towards such practices. He, we are told, 
" ever showed himself the steadfast friend of freedom 
and of popular rights"; was ever the "independent, 
bold, uncompromising enemy of every species of aggres- 
sion upon the liberty or the property of his country- 
men." " Both in and out of Parliament he ever advo- 
cated a virtuous system of Government, he denounced 
alike the principles and the practice of corruption, 
whether discoverable in a list of pensions, an enormous 
Military establishment, in the erection of a palace or 
the contests of a county court in a word, his name is 
to be found in every controversy, and in every division 
which involved the Rights of the people, on their side"* 
" Nor can it be found that any enticements however 
strong, or from what quarter they emanated, could 
induce him to give a single vote that tended in the 
smallest degree to take the money out of the pockets of 
the people. 3 " At all times he was a strenuous advocate 
of economy, and raised his voice in Parliament against 
the extravagance of the Government, from which he 
anticipated the utmost danger to the country." 4 

1 Parliamentary Debates, New Series, Vol. VII, p. 779. 

2 Norwich Mercury, July Qth, 1842. 

3 Memoir of Thomas William Coke in A Narrative of the proceed- 
ings, etc., connected with the dinner of T. W. Coke, Esq., pub. Norwich, 

4 Derby and Chesterfield Reporter, July 7th, 1842. 

Undoubtedly, he never lost an opportunity of telling 
Ministers what he thought of their system, and that 
with a frankness which they must have found discon- 
certing. " I am determined to oppose corruption what- 
ever form it may assume!" he announced, "and its 
defence I leave to those who thrive by it. When I 
look to the situation of the Hon. Gentlemen on the other 
side of the House, I no longer pay attention to what 
they say on this subject ! ni "Such is the abject and 
degraded condition of their adherents in the House," 
he said angrily on another occasion, "that if ministers 
were to hold up a hat in the House and declare it to be 
a Green Bag, up would come a procession of their 
placemen, and solemnly vote that it was a Bag and not 
a Hat ! " 2 And he strongly advocated triennial Parlia- 
ments, for he said that, when the time approached for 
Ministers to meet their constituents, their behaviour 
underwent a considerable revision ; at other times he well 
knew the "profligate manner in which the public 
money was squandered," and "he would go to the 
full length of asserting that this was a corrupt House 
from which no good could be expected ! " 3 

For many years both Fox and Coke continued to 
point out how the tendency of the prevailing system of 
government was to reduce the entire country to a state 
of poverty. The contrast between the condition of the 
masses prior to a long period of Tory administration, 
with its corruption at home and its wars abroad, com- 
pared with the condition of those same classes subse- 

1 Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XL, p. 493. 

2 Speech at the dinner held on the anniversary of the birthday of 
Charles James Fox, 1819. 

3 Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XL, p. 1210. 


quent to that period, was a subject which Coke in later 
years could scarcely bear to contemplate. On his 
retirement from public life, looking back over a long 
Parliamentary career, and being then in a position 
such as few men could boast to gauge that result with 
accuracy, he remarked, "I am afraid there are few 
present who will recall a period so long past, and I will 
merely show you the difference between the times they 
were then and the present times. You will scarcely 
believe that, when I entered Parliament in the year 
1776, this was an untaxed country there was then no 
poor's rate ; every man was able to brew his own beer, 
and every family to bake its own bread. They had all 
these conveniences in their own homes. . . . But 
Mr. Fox foretold the dreadful state to which the country 
would be reduced. . . . That great statesman for he 
was the greatest that ever lived foresaw and foretold 
this great evil." One day, so Coke related, during the 
early days of their acquaintance, Fox remarked to him : 
" My dear Coke, if you live long enough, you will see 
this country reduced to a state of dire poverty by the 
system which the Tories are pursuing " ; and there- 
upon Fox proceeded to delineate with unerring insight 
both the growth of that system and its result. 

How that prediction was fulfilled Coke was fated to 
observe, year by year, with bitter recognition ; but 
eagerly, during those first days of his Parliamentary life, 
he fought the evil which, throughout his career, he 
never ceased to condemn. 1 

1 That Coke was exonerated from all participation in the Ministerial 
loaves and fishes seems to have been apparent even to the somewhat 
stolid bucolic intelligence, for the verses of Parkinson, who constituted 
himself a Poet Laureate to the farmers, drovers and publicans of the 

In the year of his first election, he presented a Petition 
for the Abolition of Unjust Pensions. Later he attacked 
the pension of Colonel Barre. " In a crowded house, 
Lord Rosebery remarks, " Coke of Norfolk called 
attention to the pension of Barre. To Barre had been 
given a pension of 3200 a year, and though this 
enormous sum would not, after the payment of taxes 
and fees net, be above 2100, enough remained to be, 
even in those days, a fair subject for Parliamentary 
inquiry. 5>1 In 1780, when Coke had been barely four 
years in Parliament, we find him writing to Sir Martin 
ffolkes and other gentlemen in Norfolk to beg their 
assistance in promoting a petition to Parliament to 
reduce public expenditure ; while in connection with 
his letters on this occasion one fact must be remarked. 
Coke was constantly, both in early and later life, ac- 
cused of being before everything a party man. At the 
close of his public career his enemies maintained that 
for fifty years he had always voted with his party what- 
ever the measure brought forward, and that he illus- 
trated the Whig principle of "The Party everything, 
the country little or nothing unless seen through Party 
Eyes." That this accusation was inaccurate is proved 

Norwich Cattle Market, and gave voice to their opinions, prove that, on 
this point at least, Coke did not encounter much misapprehension. In a 
doggerel entitled, The Independent Statesman ; a respectful tribute to 
T. W. Coke, Esq. , Parkinson exclaims with more fervour than poetry 

" Can the Ministers say they e'er found you willing, 
To share from the loaves and the fishes a shilling ? 
I only this circumstance slightly just name, 
And ask many Statesmen if they can do the same ? 
Was they daily to act as Statesmen like you, 
Our burthens and troubles we soon should subdue ! " 

etc., etc. 
1 Life of Pitt, by the Right Hon. the Earl of Rosebery, 1891, ch. II. p. 35. 


by any study of his Parliamentary speeches. Coke 
certainly was a strong believer in party politics, and 
never hesitated to call himself a party politician ; after 
he had been for forty years in Parliament he stated 
that " he had for forty years uniformly maintained 
those principles which he should continue to maintain 
till his death principles of decided hostility to those on 
which, for that period^ the government of the country had 
been conducted." l But the principles were everything, 
and the party was to be upheld only as the ostensible 
promoter of those principles. Again and again in the 
course of his life we find him urging men to fling aside 
their narrow party prejudices and to think only of 
their country ; when the Tory Government advocated 
measures he approved, he was ready to vote with them ; 
and his views are seldom more clearly illustrated than 
in his correspondence with regard to this petition of 
1780, while he was still a novice in the political world. 

"I need not observe,'* he emphasises to Sir Martin 
ffolkes, "that Party has little to do with this business ; 
but that the obtaining a redress of grievances is uni- 
versally and severely felt must be equally wished by all 
Parties except the few Individuals who are preying upon 
the vitals of their country " 

This petition, when formulated, prayed the House of 
Commons "to guard against all unnecessary expendi- 
ture, to abolish insecure places and pensions and to 
resist the increasing influence of the Crown." Against 
it, however, a strong protest was raised. Coke's oppo- 
nents declared that it was not the genuine petition of 
the county of Norfolk, and tried to quash it. Coke 

1 Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Vol. XXXV, p. 782. 

held his ground determinedly ; he proved that the 
petition was bonafide; it was received and was ordered 
to be put upon the table of the House ; but no result 
came of it, and his non-success in what he felt to be 
such an urgent reform greatly disheartened him. " I am 
not fond of making Motions," he said subsequently; 
"the ill-success of my Motion for the abolition of an 
unjustifiable Pension has put me out of conceit with 
Motions. " l 

Yet his energy does not seem to have abated. Glanc- 
ing over the next few years, his name appears con- 
stantly in the Debates of the period ; and his sugges- 
tions were terse, practical and dictated by common 
sense. He had a distinct horror of needless palaver ; 
brief and businesslike himself, he required others to 
be so. Once we read how, when Chancellor Pitt 
moved a trifling financial reform, Sir Joseph Mawbey, 
who was considered the bore of the House, arose, 
"and was entering upon an ample discussion of the 
present state of the Nation's finances and negotiations 
for peace, when he was called to order by Mr. Coke of 
Norfolk." Coke curtly pointed out to the too loquacious 
Member "how fond some gentlemen were of debating 
in that House, and how little the public profited by it. 
He considered the dignity of the House suffered 
by it" 2 : a reflection which, it is to be regretted, is 
not more often brought under the consideration of 
Members of a later date. On that occasion, Sir 
Joseph Mawbey, called to order by the youngest 
Member of the House, lapsed into discomfited silence, 

1 Gentleman's Magazine, December 22nd, 1780. 
8 Ibid. (1783), December ijth, p. 107. 


to the great joy of his colleagues ; and the motion was 
carried without further opposition. 

On another occasion we read that, when making 
some very practical suggestions, Coke met with less 
success. It was when Alderman Newnham had moved 
for a repeal] of the receipt tax that Coke, in support 
of a former opinion which held " that no person ought 
to move the repeal of a tax without having another to 
propose," suggested three new taxes, which he calcu- 
lated would represent 530,000 a year to the revenue. 
One was a tax upon dogs ; another was to be put upon 
a species of property which "had never yet been 
taxed, and that was pews in churches, upon every one 
of which, if private property, he proposed a minimum 
tax of twenty shillings, and upon large pews for 
corporate bodies twenty pounds, and on every bishop's 
twenty pounds ! " Further, he suggested " that tomb- 
stones should be taxed the sum of twenty shillings 
each, and for burying in churches a licence of ten 
pounds should be required " ; but this last, he ex- 
plained, " he was far from desiring to see a productive 
tax, as he considered the custom insanitary and objec- 
tionable. He had known a whole parish kept from 
church a month on account of a person being buried 
in it who had died from small-pox." 

These suggestions were sufficiently unexpected to 
cause amusement. Sheridan wittily opposed the idea 
of a tax upon tombstones. "The receipt tax," he 
allowed, "had been objected to as troublesome and 
vexatious ; that on tombstones was certainly not liable 
to the same objection, as the people out of whose 
fortunes it would be levied would know nothing of the 

matter, since they must be dead before there could be 
any call for the tax. But who knows," he added, 
" that it might not be rendered unpopular by being 
represented as a receipt tax upon persons who, after 
having paid the debt of nature, had the receipt engraved 
upon their tombs ! " l 

It is interesting to notice that, although not treated 
seriously at the time, one at least of Coke's sugges- 
tions, the tax on dogs, was afterwards adopted by Pitt. 
Possibly Coke was to be congratulated upon his failure 
to introduce this measure, for Mr. Dent, 2 who ulti- 
mately carried it, was ever afterwards known as "The 
Dog" or "Dog Dent, "and was incessantly the unhappy 
recipient of large hampers garnished with hares' legs, 
pheasants' tails, grouse and partridge wings, etc., but 
filled with dead dog's. 

Amongst other measures which Coke early brought 
forward was a strong bill against night poaching ; also 
a characteristic bill for utilising the waste lands and 
commons of Norfolk, and a bill to regulate the votes 
of honorary freemen ; he attacked the carelessness of 
the Admiralty in not affording proper protection to 
trade upon the coast of the kingdom ; 3 he was, we learn, 
the only member who offered active opposition to 
General Conway's 4 bill for arming the people ; 6 and he 
uttered a strong protest against the ceding of Gibraltar ; 
while upon all agricultural subjects he was particu- 

1 Gentleman's Magazine, December 4th, 1783. 

2 Mr. Dent, Member for Lancaster ; of a Westmoreland family and 
partner in Child's Bank. 

3 February 2ist, 1780. 

4 General Conway, Secretary of State, 1765. 

5 June i7th, 1783. 


larly active. This is anticipating the march of events, 
but it suffices to show that at no time was he contented 
to be a mere spectator of other men's labours. Alert, 
energetic and keenly in earnest as he appears, it is 
difficult to realise that his whole inclination was not in 
the work before him. 

Yet whatever reforms occupied his attention at the 
commencement of his career, the paramount question of 
the injustice done to the American States was never 
long absent from his thoughts nor from his speech. 
He struggled unwearyingly to promote a better under- 
standing of the grievances of the American Colonists, 
and to show that the cause of America was also the 
cause of England herself. He was far from desiring a 
separation between England and her Colonies ; yet he 
quickly realised that if the schism were irrevocable, it 
was better to agree to the independence of the States 
and to retain them as willing allies than as conquered 
enemies. But so long as the English arms were 
successful, so long men refused to believe that the cause 
in which they were succeeding was an unjust one. It 
was not until England had been impoverished by a long 
and bloody warfare, until Washington had turned the 
scale of victory against us, that the nation at large 
began to question whether the policy of George III and 
his Ministers had not, after all, been as mistaken as it 
was unjustifiable. 

Meanwhile Coke, out of his very loyalty to what he 
held to be the true principles of the British Constitution, 
could honour the struggle of those who, he protested, 
interpreted such principles more accurately than did the 
obstinate King and his servile Ministers. In later 

years he seldom cared to refer to this period of our 
national history, but once at a Holkham sheep-shearing 
he told the company a curious fact. 

" Every night during the American war," he said, 
"did I drink the health of General Washington as 
the greatest man on earth." 1 

And this admiration, as Lafayette informed him, 
Washington throughout his life cordially reciprocated. 2 

Only two more events remain to record with regard 
to Coke's first Parliament. In this year of 1778, after 
little more than eighteen months of public life, he was, 
for the second time, offered a peerage on this occasion 
by Lord North and again he declined it decisively, 
little dreaming that before six years were over he 
would, for the third time, reject a like offer, under 
circumstances yet more remarkable. 

In the following year, 1779, we have his own 
authority for the statement that he first voted with Fox, 
on March 29th, for Catholic Emancipation ; and now, 
on this occasion, he little imagined that half a century 
would elapse before, on the actual anniversary of that 
date, Catholic Emancipation would be carried in the 
Commons, March 29th, i829. 3 

1 A Report of the Transactions at the Holkham Sheep-shearing, 1821. 
By R. N. Bacon. Printed by Burks and Kinnerbrook, and sold by 
J. Harding, St. James's Street. 

2 See post, Vol. II, p. 377. 

3 Obituary Notice, Norwich Mercury, July gth, 1842. Also Coke's 
speech at Thetford, July, 1830. 




sEtat 22-26 

IN 1780 occurred a dissolution, and Coke again 
offered himself for the representation of Norfolk. 
This was the first General Election in which he 
had taken part since his entry into Parliament. 
While canvassing, an influence was brought to bear 
against him which might have seriously affected his 
success ; and the story of his conduct in connection 
with which furnishes further proof of the quiet deter- 
mination of character for which he early became 

When new to the management of his estate, Coke had 
had a curious and disagreeable experience. Richard 
Gardiner, alias Dick Merryfellow, who had supported 
him in his first election and who was said to have 
written the speech on that occasion, already quoted, 
determined to turn that fact to his own advantage. He 
was a man whose life had been full of vicissitudes, and 
at the age of fifty-three he found himself with a wife 
and family in a state of pecuniary embarrassment. He 
accordingly wrote to Coke and offered himself as what 
he termed Auditor-General for the Holkham estates. 
Coke was at first unwilling to consent; but Gardiner's 



importunities and his own good-nature overruled his 
better judgment. Partly out of gratitude for the man's 
services at the time of his first election, for which he 
felt himself under an obligation, and partly out of a 
desire to help any one of straitened means, he yielded ; 
and just three and a half months after his accession to 
his property, on August ist, 1776, he delivered the 
appointment under his hand and seal making Richard 
Gardiner Auditor-General of all his estates in Norfolk 
at a salary of 600 a year. The office was practically 
a sinecure ; though Coke may have thought that the 
experience and advice of a man of Gardiner's age and 
ability might be a help in his newly-acquired duties. 

He was soon to find out his mistake. Gardiner, 
seeing himself in possession of a comfortable salary, 
and in a post which he believed to be secured to him for 
life, at once, as an old account says, " assumed the 
character and dignity of a Dictator-General." Having 
got his way without difficulty in the first instance, 
" unfortunately for himself he thought Mr. Coke's 
youth and inexperience would correspond with Shake- 
speare's dupe of fortune 

* Who will as tenderly be led by the nose 
As asses are . . . ' " l 

In short, despite his natural shrewdness, Gardiner hope- 
lessly miscalculated the temperament of the man with 
whom he had to deal. Coke's amiability at first ap- 
pears to have blinded friends and foes alike to his real 

1 Memoirs of the Life and Writings (prose and -verse) of R-ch d 
G-rd-n-r, Esqre, alias Dick Merryfelloiv. Of serious and facetious 
memory. Printed by G. Kearsley, Fleet Street, London, and M. Booth, 
Norwich, January ist, 1782. 


character ; but, however young and inexperienced, he 
was not of a nature to submit tamely to being made a 
dupe by any one. At this period, his Parliamentary 
duties enforced his absence from Holkham during 
each session ; yet he soon discovered that the estate 
was not being managed as he wished. On No- 
vember 1 5th he left Holkham for town, and did not 
return till early the following January, when he hastened 
back for the audit ; and then an incident occurred which 
convinced him that Gardiner was not making a proper 
use of the power with which he had invested him. 1 

Amongst other reports made by Gardiner to Mr. 
Coke was one to the effect that a certain forester, known 
to tradition as " Owd Tom," had better be dismissed. 
He was, so Gardiner stated, a lazy, useless old man, 
who did not work honestly at his " grub-stubbing " 
(weeding), and was best got rid of. Coke replied 
casually that he would decide the matter another day. 
A few days later there arrived among the foresters a 
new hand who seemed a hard-working, kindly fellow, 
and who upon being asked by one of his mates to lend 
his help with a peculiarly stubborn root, did so with a 
heartiness and skill which won him golden opinions. 
He was, accordingly, received by them with rough cor- 
diality and made free of their society ; he worked steadily 
and uncomplainingly with them, and drank his half-pint 
of beer or ate his crust of bread and cheese affably 

1 The story of this incident is so universally preserved about the 
neighbourhood of Ring-stead in Norfolk that no doubt can be entertained 
respecting- its authenticity. Tradition indeed assigns it to a date when 
Coke was a far older man and in the height of his fame ; but as no 
other instance is on record of the abrupt dismissal of his bailiff or agent, 
the inference appears conclusive. 

I. O 

with the rest. As he worked amongst them, however, 
he made special friends with " Owd Tom," reported a 
sluggard and idler, and who, so far from being what 
Gardiner had represented him, toiled at his weeding 
with untiring energy and industry. At the end of two 
days the new mate disappeared, and the following pay- 
day at Holkham " Owd Tom," to his extreme surprise, 
was presented by the Squire with a handsome rise in 
wages, which, later, was supplemented with a comfort- 
able pension. Coke, like Haroun al-Raschid, had gone 
amongst his labourers disguised, rather than do a 
possible act of injustice to one old man ; and the follow- 
ing February he dismissed Gardiner with a gratuity 
of 200, just six months after the date of his appoint- 

Gardiner was dumbfounded. He was a man of 
prodigious vanity, and the public blow to his self- 
esteem was intolerable to him. For some reason, feel- 
ing convinced that Sir Harbord Harbord had advised 
Coke to take this step, he wrote to the former accusing 
him of having prompted his dismissal. Sir Harbord 
Harbord answered the letter denying that he had in- 
fluenced Mr. Coke in any way; though he admitted 
that he did concur with the impropriety of vesting so 
extraordinary a power in the hands of any man. This 
letter Gardiner never forgave. He, however, made one 
last appeal to Coke. On July 3rd, 1777, he wrote: 
" If you do not mean, Sir, to persevere in your appoint- 
ment of me as Auditor, at least for some time, you have 
done me the most irreparable injury " ; and he begged 
that Coke would, at least, afford him some explanation 
"that I may retire in such a manner as to do honour 


to yourself and me, and that you may at least leave me 
where you found me." 

Coke good-naturedly consented to an interview, and 
Gardiner in that interview accepted the assurance that 
Sir Harbord had in no way been implicated in his 
dismissal, finally declaring, upon his honour, that he 
was satisfied with Coke's assertion to the contrary. 

None the less, he promptly published a scurrilous 
letter of ninety-three pages against Sir Harbord, which 
he sold for eighteenpence, in which he recapitulated his 
accusation with full details. 

Coke thereupon wrote as follows : 

u gj r " HOLKHAM, August 6th y 1777. 

" It is with very great concern that I find 
myself obliged to write to you on such a subject ; but 
after the very inconsiderate step you took at Norwich 
in regard to my friend, Sir Harbord, subsequent to 
the explanation we had on this affair at Holkham, 
with which you seemed so well satisfied, you cannot 
be surprised that I think it incumbent on me to 
decline receiving you any more into my house, and 
demanding back the appointment of Auditor-General, 
which I desire you will return by the bearer. 

"I am, Sir, 

" Your most obedient humble servant, 


Gardiner was incensed. " You must excuse me, Sir, 
in not returning your appointment," he answered, 
"though I will never act under it" And from that 
time forward, not only did he look upon Coke as his 
inveterate foe, to be bespattered with every sort of abuse 
and calumny, but everybody connected with Holkham 

came within the scope of his biting malice. Witty 
and unscrupulous, his vindictive pen was a power to be 
feared ; for weeks in the public press Coke was sub- 
jected to every species of ridicule and vituperation, and 
no effort was omitted to draw him into an undignified 
controversy. He was called " Simple Simpkin " or 
" Squire Shallow," the " Derbyshire block-spitter," 
the " Prince of Pines" or " Prince Pinery" on ac- 
count of his plantations and many other names, but 
principally " Young Sir Growl," in contradistinction to 
his father, who was referred to as the deceased ' ' Old 
Sir Growl." 

From March 2ist till May 2nd Coke maintained a 
total and disappointing silence. Then, finding it ab- 
solutely incumbent upon him to contradict the imputa- 
tion cast upon Sir Harbord, he at last broke silence in 
the following dignified notice : 


HAVING waited to see the utmost efforts of Mr. Gardiner's 
malice and abilities for abuse, at length I think it incum- 
bent upon me to assure the public that all his assertions of 
Sir Harbord Harbord's having done him disservice with 
me are absolutely FALSE : and that all the discountenance 
I shewed him during his continuance in my service and my 
final dismissal of him from that service arose entirely with- 
out the advice, suggestion , or even the knowledge of Sir 
Harbord Harbord, or any of the gentlemen to whom it is 
imputed in his pamphlet. 

That his conduct, whilst in my service, being disapproved 
by me, I therefore exercised that right, which I apprehend 
every gentleman has, and dismissed him with a gratuity of 
^"200 which he has not taken the least notice of in this 
publication. The public bustle he made at Norwich in re- 
lation to Sir Harbord Harbord after the assurance I had 
given that Sir H. H. had never done him any disservice 
with me, I considered as implying his disbelief of my as- 


surances, and consequently, as such, an affront to myself, 
that I thought it necessary to forbid him my house. Some 
time afterwards, finding he did not think the gratuity 
adequate to his services, I proposed to refer the point to 
arbitration, which he at first refused, though I am informed 
he has since inclined to but as he now by his CALUMNIES 
and FALSEHOODS has forfeited every claim to my favor, I 
shall leave him to try what the law will further give him. 


To this letter Gardiner wrote a furious answer, de- 
claring that Coke did not possess a hundred pounds 
with which to pay his labourers and the family ex- 
penses ; but the papers refused to publish it, whereupon 
he had it printed as a handbill at his own cost, together 
with a notice accusing Coke of having interfered in a 
cowardly manner with the liberty of the Press. The 
printers, however, in justice to Coke, flatly denied that 
their action in the matter had been in any way in- 
fluenced by him, and there the subject temporarily 
dropped, save for two " explanatory pamphlets" issued 
by the irrepressible Dick Merryfellow, one of which 
was headed : 

There are, I scarce can think it, but am told, 
There are, to whom my satire seems too bold : 
Scarce to Sir H-rb-rd complaisant enough, 
And something said of " Simpkin " much too rough ! 

When the election of 1780 came on, however, Dick 
Merryfellow saw his chance. He set to work with all 
the energy and wit of which he was capable to prevent 
Coke's being re-elected. Every scurrilous story, every 
disparaging innuendo which he could rake up to in- 
fluence popular opinion against his enemy was dili- 
gently applied to the purpose. His satires were 


brilliant and scathing, his perseverance indefatigable. 
He hit Coke at every point where it would have been 
undignified or impossible to retaliate ; he attacked his 
love of hunting, his attempts to preserve his game, and, 
in a long and stinging poem, urged the freeholders to 
" Ne'er give a vote to Growl's tyrannic heir." This 
effort is perhaps interesting as a specimen of political 
reprisals in another century, and also as evidence of 
the passion for sport with which Coke was accredited. 


Addressed to the Freeholders of Norfolk previous 
to the County Election 


Part of it ran as follows : 

How boasts Prince Pinery the game he breeds ! 

That game, alas ! his ruined tenant feeds : 

Let the poor man but whisper, he's undone ; 

The keeper's sent to take away his gun ; 

Should hares and pheasants spare the corn he grows, 

He must not shoot, not even shoot at crows. 

The madman's hounds next take their summer-beat, 

And hunt in August through the standing wheat. 

And, O ! ye Gods ! shall this bashaw be sent 

A senator to Britain's Parliament? 

There to preserve our liberties and laws, 

A peerless guardian in his country's cause? 

Let French invasions never fright your ear, 

'Tis our domestic tyrants we must fear. 

And shall we send them to the Commons' door, 

And arm them with fresh power to hurt us more ? 

No, countrymen, be firm ! this year agree, 

And shew you have the courage TO BE FREE ! 

Shew you despise their low septennial arts, 


False promises, false oaths and falser hearts : 
Shew that you know them well ; and tho' before 
You have been duped, you will be duped no more : 
Be honest to yourselves ! fear no man's frown ! 
And as you set them up, so pull them down. 

But hark ! what shouts of joy ! the poll is o'er ; 
And O ! Sir Growl's a senator no more. 

To Derby send the Prince of Pines away, 

His father's friends to ruin or betray ; 

The wise indeed are cautious to offend, 

No foe so deadly as an injured friend ! 

Deep in the coal pits plunge the Tuscan down 

To bring up colliers and parade the town ; 

To Derby send him back, where all agree, 

No coals or colliers are so black as he. 

Proud, but yet mean, affecting Leicester's state, 

Of soul too little ever to be great ! 

Whom not good faith nor gratitude could bind, 

A hollow heart ! and a deceitful mind ! 

True greatness springs from high descent alone, 
Where virtue fails, 'tis lost upon a throne ; 
Of ancestors a long illustrious race, 
Where virtue fails, but adds to our disgrace ; 
The gilded palace noise and nonsense rules, 
And Holkham House becomes a nest of fools. 

No sense of honour nobly spurs him on, 
His hounds and horses his delight alone : 
Feeling so little for the worst disgrace, 
He'd rather lose his seat than lose a chace : 
To shew the ruling passion of his soul, 
His hounds and huntsmen must attend the /<?//, 
Th' election lost, he cares not, so the pack, 
Can find him out a fox in coming back : 
Freeholders, then, in time observe your cue ! 
And make as light of him as he of you. 

etc., etc. 

It ends up 

Worth like Sir John's 1 shall merit your applause, 
And Windham's eloquence protect our laws : 
To men like these, ye sons of Norfolk look ; 
And laugh at all such patriots as Coke. 
September gfk, 1780. 

To Dick Merryfellow's bitter disappointment, on 
Wednesday, September 2Oth, " Sir E. Astley, Bart., of 
Melton Constable, 2 and T. W. Coke, of Holkham Hall," 
were attended to the hustings by 2000 freeholders and 
there chosen without opposition. 

Dick died the following year, and Coke was saved 
further persecution from him, although at an election 
twenty years afterwards a witty squib was produced, 
which purported to be written by the ' ' Ghost of Dick 

1 Sir John Wodehouse, of Kimberley. 

2 Sir Edward Astley, 1729-1802. 

I7 8o] 



dEtat 26-30 

A pointed out in the last chapter, anything 
which serves to throw a light on Coke's 
temperament has a special interest, and 
about two months after his return to Parlia- 
ment in 1780, he addressed the House of Commons 
in a speech that reveals, perhaps more clearly than 
any other ever uttered by him, the lack of prejudice 
which, in contrast to the unswerving nature of his 
convictions, presents an anomaly in his character. 

Although at the age of five, Coke was said to have 
been inappropriately painted with a sword in his baby 
fingers, one of his most strongly marked characteristics 
throughout his life was his intense horror of bloodshed, 
and his steady opposition to all war not resorted to 
from dire necessity. Yet, averse as he thus was from 
war in the abstract, and well known to be one of the 
most strenuous opponents of the American war, it is 
curious to find him bringing forward a motion in the 
Commons on November 27th that the thanks of the 
House should be accorded to two distinguished 
Generals who were conducting the hostilities against 



America, General Sir Henry Clinton and Lieutenant- 
General Earl Cornwallis. 

In so doing, however, he differentiated plainly be- 
tween his admiration for the conduct of the Generals, 
and his disapprobation of the cause in which they were 
engaged. " The origin of the war," he announced 
frankly, "he kept entirely out of view in the present 
question. He did not say that the war with America was 
not big with calamities to Great Britain ; he apprehended 
even that it would be the ruin of this country financially, 
but still he saw no medium between unconditional sub- 
mission to the enemy and the most spirited exertions." 

His speech throughout left no doubt respecting his 
unalterable attitude with regard to the burning question 
of England's policy towards America a policy which 
for ever remained indefensible in his opinion, even 
though, as he pointed out, America was now the ally of 
France, confederate of the House of Bourbon, and had 
proved false to her higher standard. But in the 
difficult situation into which England had brought 
herself, spirited exertions were her only resource until 
such time as she should recognise and accept the con- 
clusion to which matters were rapidly tending. For, 
in this year of 1780, discontent was becoming universal 
with regard to the war and to the disastrous expendi- 
ture involved. This was powerfully represented by 
a growing opposition which had Fox, Burke and 
Dunning for its leaders, and which originated petitions 
for the reform of abuses together with a change of men 
and measures. And this spirit of discontent waxed, 
until in the succeeding year of 1781 it rose to a pitch then 
deemed formidable. For a time, indeed, public attention 


was transferred to the No Popery riots in London, which 
were partially incited by the formation of a Protestant 
Association in Scotland, and influenced by the fanati- 
cism of Lord George Gordon. But it revived in fresh 
vigour, and entered upon a new phase with which Coke 
was again connected. 

Many of the counties, considering that an organised 
plan of resistance would have more effect than milder 
and disjointed expressions of opinion, formed Associa- 
tions with this object in view, and further appointed 
delegates to meet in convention and give effect to the 
general resolutions of such constituent societies. They 
also prepared a petition ; but, having ascertained that 
considerable disapprobation of such a convention 
existed, even among those most desirous of a redress 
of grievances, three of the delegates signed in their 
individual capacities, not in their quality of representa- 
tives. The House of Commons regarded the petition 
with Constitutional jealousy, and, amongst others, 
Coke expressed his strong disapprobation of an 
organised plan of resistance, which, in a long speech 
on April 2nd he pronounced to be " dangerous, un- 
constitutional, and exceedingly improper," being, 
moreover, calculated to defeat its own object. 1 

His remarks on this matter are historically valuable, 
because they reveal, not merely his personal views on 
the subject, but those of the party with whom he had 
allied himself, and who, later, were accused of abetting 
the affiliated societies enrolled during the French Re- 
volution. His speech shows that this was far from being 
the attitude of a mass of the most pronounced Whigs, 

1 From the unpublished notes of R. N. Bacon. 

but that, on the contrary, both Coke and his partisans 
did not fail to distinguish between the legitimate ex- 
pression of individual opinion in a public assembly, 
and an organised conjunction of numbers whose object 
was to overawe the Government and the Legislature. 

An instance, however, of how the object of societies 
was often misrepresented occurred some years after- 
wards. Coke was called upon in Parliament to defend 
the Norwich Union Society, a harmless gathering of 
Norwich citizens, whose sole object was the furthering 
of Parliamentary Reform, and who, as they pathetically 
protested, " never used other weapons but truth and 
reason." Yet so nervous had the Government become, 
that this club was represented by them as a terrible 
secret society affiliated with other societies, that it 
had secret oaths, bought fire-arms, held midnight 
orgies in which the Scriptures were ridiculed, and was 
forming a plot to overthrow the Government I 1 

In 1782, much to George Ill's annoyance, that 
Sovereign found himself forced to place the Whigs in 
authority with Rockingham at their head. Forthwith 
there arose a repetition of the usual gossip that Coke 
was about to accept a peerage. On June 8th, Lord 
Malone wrote to Lord Charlemont : " There is to be a 
large batch of new Peers made, as soon as they rise, 
Mr. Crewe, Mr. Coke of Norfolk, Mr. Parker of Devon- 
shire, and many more whose names I have forgot." But 
on July ist Rockingham died ; and the following day 

Fox wrote to Coke : ,, ~ r / ^ o 

"GRAFTON ST. , July znd^ 1782. 

u Sir, I am sure it is unnecessary for me to point 
out to you how severe a blow the strength and union 

1 Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XXXV, p. 790. 


of the Whig party have suffered in the death of Lord 
Rockingham. What consequences this melancholy 
event may produce, it is difficult to judge ; but it is 
impossible for those who have at heart to keep 
together that system which it was the object of his 
life to promote and support, not to wish you and 
other considerable persons of the same principles to 
come to town at this critical juncture ; and to assist in 
forming some plan for acting together in a body 
upon the same system and principles upon which we 
have hitherto acted. 

u I am, with great truth and regard Sir, 

" Your obedient and humble servant, 

"C. J. Fox." 

The King at once appointed Shelburne as Prime 
Minister, believing that the latter would be amenable 
to his will. Fox, supported by Coke, and by most of 
his adherents, opposed this action of the King, stating 
that the nomination of First Minister rested with the 
Cabinet, who recommended Portland for the post. For 
two days the contest raged ; then Fox resigned. 

That same year was a momentous one, in that 
it witnessed the long-delayed conclusion of the Ameri- 
can war. Fighting had practically ceased since the 
surrender of Cornwallis, October i8th, 1781 ; but still 
the formal ratification of peace remained in abeyance ; 
the King still refused to face the inevitable ; and those 
of his persuasion still clung as tenaciously to the 
delusion that their cause was not lost. Meanwhile, 
throughout the country the clamour for the termination 
of hostilities became imperative. Impoverished, dis- 
heartened at the non-success of their arms, horrified at 


the large sums which had been expended, at the lives 
which had been lost in a long and bloody struggle, dis- 
abused of their faith in the policy which had led to it, 
the people were frantic for the recognition of peace 
on any terms. 

On February 22nd, 1782, General Conway moved 
that an address should be presented to his Majesty 
to implore him to listen to the advice of his Commons 
that the war with America might no longer be pursued. 
The debate on this occasion lasted till two in the morn- 
ing, and the motion was lost by a minority of one, 
(I93-I94). 1 A second motion, similar in substance, but 
couched in less definite terms, met with better success. 
But the crucial question remained indeterminate 
whether the King could be forced to acknowledge the 
independence of the revolted colonies. Unless this 
were so, unless the independence of the United States 
were openly ratified by England, it was universally re- 
cognised that anything in the nature of a treaty was 
merely temporising with the question at issue and that 
a fresh outbreak of hostilities was ultimately inevitable. 
As Fox pointed out later, when the preliminaries of 
peace were discussed, 2 to sign a treaty with the Ameri- 
cans on the footing of independence, and to make 
no mention of independence "was a difference that 
he thought of the most dangerous nature to the public ; 
and what," he urged, "would the other Powers think 
if they heard that the independence was not finally re- 
cognised, but remained dependent on another treaty, 
the conclusion of which was at best problematical ? " 

1 Parliamentary Debates^ Vol. XXII, pp. 1047-48. 

2 Gentleman's Magazine^ Vol. XIII, p. 3. 


The whole question, therefore, turned on that one 
issue Could the King be forced into giving a decisive 
assent to the wishes of his people? and, primarily, 
could the House be forced into agreeing to an address 
which made such a reply imperative ? To all previous 
addresses the King had returned an answer which 
avoided committing himself to any definite statement. 
What hope could be derived from his reply to the 
address on General Conway's second motion: " You 
may be assured that, in pursuance of your advice, I 
shall take such measures as shall appear to me to be 
most conducive to the restoration of harmony," etc.? 1 
It was requisite that an address should be framed which 
boldly stated the point at issue, in terms which left no 
loophole for evasion or procrastination. 

The position of affairs being thus, Mr. T. Keppel 
relates that it was Coke who at length brought forward 
the motion in the House that the Independence of 
America should be recognised. All realised then that 
the crucial moment had at length arrived, the moment 
which was to determine for all time the relation between 
the Mother-country and her Colonies. All other dis- 
cussions had been playing round the real dilemma ; 
and the Tories, aghast at the conclusion which now 
hung in the balance, refused to divide. All night long 
the House sat. Robinson, the Whig whipper-in, and 
the whipper-in on the Tory side, both stationed them- 
selves at the door of the House and allowed no one 
to go out. The dawn still found them sitting, weary, 
determined, anxious : each side hopeful, each side fear- 

1 Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XXII, p. 108. The italics are my 
own. Author. 


ful of the crisis upon which hung the peace of Europe 
and the fate of two great nations. 

At 8.30 the end came. The House divided. Amid 
breathless silence the result was announced 177 Noes 
against 178 Ayes. A ringing cheer went up from the 
ranks of the Whigs ; Conway had been defeated by a 
minority of one, Coke had succeeded by a majority of 
one. The result for which Fox had laboured inde- 
fatigably during nine long years was at length achieved ; 
the Independence of America was secured. 

The Tories were overwhelmed at what they con- 
sidered the ignominy of such a conclusion, the Whigs 
triumphant at what they viewed not only as a long- 
delayed act of justice but as the only policy now 
possible for England to adopt. Yet all Whigs and 
Tories, and the country at large alike experienced an 
overwhelming relief at the prospect of the peace which 
was at length assured. 

Coke, at the instigation of Fox, at once moved that 
the address to the King should be taken up by the 
whole House. By the unanimous voice of his party 
he was called upon to present it ; and to this, supported 
by General Conway, he consented. As Knight of the 
Shire he had not only the right to wear his spurs in 
the House, 1 but a further right to attend Court " in his 
boots," i.e. in his country clothes ; which latter 
privilege, however, was seldom, if ever, exercised. 
But on this occasion Coke availed himself of it, and 
appeared unceremoniously before the King wearing 
his ordinary country garb. It was an extremely pic- 
turesque dress top-boots with spurs, light leather 

1 See Diary and Correspondence of Lord Colchester, Vol. I, p, 45. 


breeches, a long-tailed coat and a broad-brimmed hat ; 
but it caused the greatest horror at Court, and neither 
the matter nor the manner of the address was palatable 
to George III. 

One can picture that strange scene the discomfited 
King, forced to agree to what meant the failure of all 
his hopes, of all for which he had so long and so 
obstinately struggled ; the excited Members divided in 
opinion on the momentous event in which they were 
assisting ; and the man who headed them, that youth 
of twenty-eight, who alone in that great body of men 
whom he represented showed himself oblivious to the 
petty details of Court etiquette to everything, in fact, 
save the one thing which he felt that he had come in 
triumph to claim a belated act of justice to a long- 
injured people. 

Gainsborough afterwards painted Coke in the dress 
which he wore on this historical occasion. 1 It is a life- 
sized picture, said to be the last portrait ever painted 
by that artist, and which now hangs in the Saloon at 
Holkham. Coke is represented standing beneath a 
tree with a dog at his feet and in the act of loading his 
gun. The figure is carelessly graceful, its attitude 
natural, its surroundings rural ; yet it suggests some- 
thing more than the quiet charm of that rural scene. 
For into the beautiful, disdainful face in the picture 
Gainsborough has surely put something of the expres- 
sion which Coke must have borne when he headed the 
address which announced to George III the failure of 
injustice, and the independence, for all time, of the 
United States. 

1 See Frontispiece, Vol. I. 
I. P 


Years afterwards, when welcoming an American to 
the Holkham sheep-shearing in 182 1, 1 Coke referred to 
that day. 

" Every one," he said, " knows my respect for the 
Americans, for their manly and independent asser- 
tion of their liberties. I came into Parliament pre- 
vious to the commencement of the disastrous war 
which divided the two countries, which, under a 
mild and wise Government, might have been joined 
hand in hand, and, thus united, might have bid [sic] 
defiance to the rest of the world. It may not be 
known, for I have never mentioned it to my friends 
in that House, that I was the individual who moved 
to put an end to that war, and it was carried by a 
majority of one, the numbers being 177 to 178. I 
was the only Member out of twelve from this county 
who voted against the war ; and I thank God for it ; 
I look back with satisfaction to that conduct, and 
have followed the same principles ever since. When 
it was carried, Lord North moved that the debate 
should stand over till the following day ; but Mr. 
Fox suggested to me to move that the Address be 
carried up to the Throne. The Debate lasted till 
seven the next morning, and Lord North, seeing that 
not a man would stir, at length gave way ; and I 
carried up the Address as an English Country Gentle- 
man, in my leather breeches, boots and spurs. But, 
would you believe it, the traitor General Arnold, 
when I presented the Address, stood as near to his 
Majesty as I am now to the Duke of Sussex a most 
lamentable proof of that fatal policy of which we 
have long seen the evil effects. . . ." 

As is well known, General Benedict Arnold was a 
man of contemptible character, who had first been on 

1 A Report of the Transactions at the Holkham Sheep-shearing (1821), 
being the Forty-third Anniversary of that Meeting. By R. N. Bacon. 
Printed by Burks and Kinnerbrook, and sold by J. Harding', St. 
James's Street, London. (Pages 73-4.) 


the American side during the war, but who, having 
been brought before a court-martial and found guilty 
of certain charges which entailed his being condemned 
to a public reprimand, afterwards in revenge privately 
espoused the Royalist side, and betrayed to them any 
secrets of the party to which he still professed to belong. 
On his treachery being discovered, he joined the British 
openly, and was appointed Colonel in the British army, 
receiving payment of upwards of 6ooo. 1 

The close proximity to the King of such a man, on 
such an occasion, was calculated to incense all lovers 
of straight dealing, irrespective of party feeling ; but 
another fact which specially angered the Whigs was 
that owing, it was whispered, to the presentation of 
the address being singularly unpalatable to the King 
public mention of it was subsequently suppressed or 
minimised in as far as was practicable ; it will be 
observed that Coke himself, a few years afterwards, 
spoke of it as a fact which "may not be known." On 
March 6th, 1782, "Sir Joseph Mawbey claimed the 
attention of the House to what he called an indecent 
behaviour in Ministers, who always took care to have 
inserted in the Gazette every address from every little 
paltry borough that flattered and cringed to them, but 
the important Address to His Majesty, to put an end to 
the accursed American war, and his Majesty's answer 
to it, had not yet made its appearance ; he there- 
fore desired to know the cause of such neglect." In 
consequence, Lord Surrey further pointed out that 
Ministers had never behaved in such an "indecent 

1 For many years General Arnold had a house in Gloucester Place. 
He died June I4th, 1801, and was buried on June 2ist at Brompton. 

manner" as when the Address to which Sir Joseph 
Mawbey referred was presented to the King, " for when 
the House went up with the address, who should they 
see close to His Majesty's right hand, but the most 
determined foe to America, General Arnold." 1 

In his speech for November 5th, however, when the 
following Session of Parliament was opened, the King 
was forced publicly to announce his assent to the deci- 
sion of his Parliament ; and the irony of this act must 
have been heightened by the knowledge that such a 
crisis had been forced by the balance of one vote. On 
the 25th of January following (1783), the United States 
were finally acknowledged free, sovereign and indepen- 
dent, and the preliminaries of peace were signed be- 
tween Great Britain, France and Spain. 

It was not long before Coke again presented an 
address to the King. Fox, who had never ceased in 
his endeavour to oust Shelburne from the Ministry, at 
last bethought himself of a plan which he believed 
would achieve his object. Early one morning, while 
Coke was still in bed, Fox came to see him, and enter- 
ing the room unceremoniously, seated himself upon the 
edge of the bed and unfolded his great scheme. He 
proposed, he said, to oust Shelburne by forming a 
Coalition with Lord North, and the conjunction of 
their two parties against the Government. Coke was 
horrified at a suggestion which he unhesitatingly pro- 
nounced to be a u most revolting compact"; and he did 
his utmost to dissuade Fox from pursuing it. A heated 
argument ensued between them. Fox pointed out, and 

1 Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XXII, p. 1109. See also Appendix A. 


laid great stress on the fact that Lord North had 
promised to act upon his opinion, not he upon Lord 
North's in other words, that North might be said to 
have gone over to Fox, not Fox to North. Coke told 
him that this was the one redeeming feature in an 
otherwise disgraceful alliance an alliance which 
would assuredly give rise to much misunderstanding 
amongst both friends and foes. 

Yet, profoundly as Coke regretted what he believed 
to be an act of mistaken policy on the part of Fox an 
act which, as he pointed out, was open to grave mis- 
construction his faith in the purity of Fox's motives 
remained unshaken. He judged Fox out of his own 
absolute integrity, and believed that, however faulty in 
judgment the great statesman might be at this juncture, 
his sincerity and the honesty of his intentions were in- 
violable. Thus, while he fought Fox's conclusions, he 
determined to adhere to Fox's cause with unflinching 
loyalty. For long they argued, each unconvinced by 
the other's vehement reasoning, each firmly persuaded 
that the judgment of the other was at fault ; but still, 
each with his faith in the motives of the other abso- 
lutely unchanged. 1 

Although Fox achieved his object, and Shelburne 
resigned on February 24th, yet how correct had been 
Coke's prognostic with regard to the more far-reaching 
results of that policy, was doomed to be proved subse- 
quently. That successful diplomacy brought Fox little 
honour ; his integrity was called in question ; it was 

1 From the unpublished MS. of R. N. Bacon. It is curious that a 
wood which Coke planted at Holkham at this date was called and still 
retains the name of the Coalition Wood. 

said that as he had coalesced with Lord North, so he 
would be willing to betray his party by forming a union 
with Pitt ; and his motives, though undoubtedly pure, 
were thus looked at askance by some of those who had 
been his warmest adherents ; while, by the general 
public of his day, as well as by many later readers of 
history, the true grounds of his alliance with North 
were never understood. 

Meanwhile, although Shelburne had resigned, his 
Ministry remained in power, and Fox appealed to Coke 
to consummate the triumph for which the Whigs were 
impatient. Early in the following March he wrote 
urgently to Coke to aid him in the formation of a 
new Ministry. 1 " I depended upon seeing you to-night 
at Brooks's," he wrote one Sunday evening, "or I 
should have sent to you to ask you whether you have 
any objection to moving to-morrow an address similar 
to that which you moved last year. There are many 
reasons why you are the properest person to move it, 
and I know your opinion to be so strong." 

The result of this pressing appeal was that, on 
the i gth of March, Coke gave notice that if an Ad- 
ministration should not be formed on or before the 
Friday following, he would on that day move an address 
to his Majesty to discover the reason. "This," says 
Walpole, "was probably to terrify the King." 2 The 
notice was supposed to have had the desired effect. 

1 This letter, like most of Fox's communications to Coke, is undated, 
but it is endorsed in Coke's handwriting-, "Re. moving an Address to His 
Majesty," and there can be little doubt that it was written at this juncture. 

2 Remarks of Walpole, quoted in Memorials and Correspondence of 
C. J. Fox, ed. by Lord John Russell (1853), Vol. II, p. 50. "Coke," 
adds Walpole, " had the promise of a peerage from Lord Rockingham." 


On the 22nd " Mr. Coke made his intended motion, but 
waived it on the Coalition declaring that they believed 
his Majesty would soon appoint an Administration." 1 
It was universally believed that the King had com- 
manded the Duke of Portland and Lord North to lay 
an arrangement for a new Administration before him ; 
but still, no definite announcement came of the King 
having taken action. On Monday 24th, therefore, Coke 
rose in the House, and demanded to know definitely 
whether any Administration was formed, or whether 
any was forming which was to consist of men possess- 
ing the confidence of the country? 

Mr. Pitt in answer, to the surprise of all present, 
declared that he was not Minister, and knew of no 
arrangement of Administration whatsoever. 

Thus again it devolved upon Coke to force the 
reluctant action of George III. He delayed no longer. 
" Public need," he said, " required him to take a step 
which might seem an infringement on the prerogative 
of the Crown, but the distracted state of affairs through- 
out the country was an invincible spur to action." He 
spoke strongly, pointing out the impossibility of re- 
taining in office " those Members on whose conduct 
the House had already passed a censure," and he 
entered into the cause and imperative need of the 
motion he was about to make, which he termed the 
"Call of the People by its Representative Body." 
"Every man," he summed up, "both in and out of 
Parliament, must admit the necessity of having an 
Administration, and that immediately."* 

1 op. cit., p. 52. 

2 From the unpublished MS. of R. N. Bacon. 


He then moved his address, which respectfully, but 
somewhat sarcastically, urged his Majesty to "con- 
descend to compliance with the wishes of this House." 
A heated and most remarkable debate ensued. Fox spoke 
at great length, and said that the motion had his hearty 
approbation ; the people demanded it and the kingdom 
required it. Finally, it was agreed to without a division. 

The King replied that "it was his earnest desire 
to do everything in his power to comply with the 
wishes of his faithful subjects," though on March 26th 
he remarked pointedly to General Conway : "It was a 
strange debate on Monday." 1 

But Coke's famous Address had dealt the death-blow 
to the Shelburne Ministry. 2 

On the 2nd of April following (1783), the Coalition 
Government was formed, with Portland at its head. 

It was on October 8th following that Fox, still 
anxious lest he should forfeit Coke's support, deter- 
mined on a special appeal for his assistance : 

" As the meeting of Parliament is now fixed for the 
nth of next month," he wrote, "and as the most 
important business is likely to come on immediately 
after its meeting, I cannot help troubling you with 
these few lines to state to you the importance of a 
numerous attendance on the part of the true friends 
of the Whig cause. As I flatter myself that I have 
not done anything to forfeit your good opinion, so 
I cannot help hoping that you will give me credit 
when I assure you that it is for the support of the 
cause and not of any particular situation that I am 
thus earnest in requesting your attendance." 

1 Memorials and Correspondence of C. J. Fox, edited by Lord John 
Russell, Vol. II, p. 54. 

2 See The Georgian Era, by Clarke, 1833, Vol. IV, pp. 50-52. 


Coke did not fail to respond to this appeal. He was 
in his seat when Parliament met on November nth, 
and also on the i8th when Fox brought in his great 
India Bill, which had in view the establishment of some 
definite control over the power of the trading company, 
who had become possessed of large provinces in India 
and who were abusing the authority thus acquired. 
The Bill, which was to vest the authority then exercised 
by the company in a body of seven Commissioners, 
passed triumphantly through the House of Commons ; 
but the King, who, after his defeat with regard to 
America, was more than ever tenacious of his preroga- 
tive, viewed it with suspicion, as a measure calculated to 
diminish his personal supremacy. He determined that 
it should not pass the Lords. On December i6th Fox 
wrote indignantly to Coke : 

" My dear Sir, 

" Nothing can go against me more than to 
trouble you at this time upon the subject of attend- 
ance in Parliament, but we are beat in the House of 
Lords by the direct interference of the Court, and if 
some vigorous measures are not immediately taken, 
the Parliament will be dissolved, and a system of 
influence be established by acquiescence, of the 
most dangerous of any yet attempted. I wish you 
at the same time to let this be known to any members 
you may happen to see, who have a spark of Whig 
principles left. I a m, dear Sir, 

" Yours ever, 

"C. T. Fox. 


"i6thDec., 1783." 

The King's conduct was incompatible with constitu- 
tional monarchy, and the uproar in the House of 


Commons was great. Motion after motion condemna- 
tory of it was carried by great majorities. On the 
i8th December the Coalition Ministry were dismissed 
from office and Pitt accepted the Premiership. The 
Whigs were forthwith determined on Pitt's resigna- 
tion, and Pitt was equally determined not to tender it. 
On February 2nd, 1784, Coke brought forward a 
motion prefaced by a short but telling speech against 
the continuance of the Ministers in their office, and 
Mr. Pitt's refusal to resign, declaring 

4 * That it is the opinion of this House that the 
continuance of the present Ministers in their offices 
is an obstacle to the formation of such an Adminis- 
tration as may enjoy the confidence of this House and 
tend to put an end to the unfortunate divisions and 
distractions of the country." 

The debate on this motion was great. The ground 
on which it was combated by Mr. Dundas and others 
was that the growing popularity of the new Adminis- 
tration rendered it impossible for the House to adjourn 
to the foot of the throne and implore the Crown to 
rescue them from its tyranny ! Fox made an eloquent 
speech in defence of the motion, while Pitt declared 
that he would not be forced to resign, in a speech 
which has become historical. " I refuse," he said, "to 
march out of my post with a halter round my neck, to 
change my armour, and meanly beg to be readmitted 
as a volunteer in the ranks of the enemy." Some of 
the Members suggested a Coalition, but finally the 
House divided on the motion, and it was carried by 
a majority of nineteen. 

In a subsequent debate Coke, alluding to this resolu- 


tion, said: "That no man should tell him that the 
calamities that might flow from the present interregnum 
were to be ascribed to him, for making that motion : 
they were to be ascribed to those Ministers who dared 
to stand up in proud opposition to the whole of the 
House of Commons." 

On the 25th of March, 1784, Parliament was dis- 
solved, and the country was plunged into the excite- 
ment of a General Election. 

Now Sir Edward Astley, on this occasion, appears 
to have acted towards Coke in a manner which even his 
own family strongly condemned. Without acquaint- 
ing Coke with his intention, he severed all connection 
with his former colleague, and started a canvass on his 
own behalf in Norfolk a fact all the more astonishing 
in that the expenses of this contest were to be shared 
by Coke. Coke's opponents in the county also set on 
foot an early canvass secretly during his absence in 
town, and further set afloat a triumphant rumour that 
Astley had gone over to their representative Wode- 
house. They hoped by this means, and by making the 
time between the day of nomination and the day of 
election unusually brief, to give Coke no opportunity 
for recovering lost ground. 

When, therefore, Coke set to work, it was practically 
impossible to get through the requisite canvassing. 
Whilst he drove about the country soliciting the sup- 
port of his friends, Mrs. Coke exerted herself actively 
on his behalf. By April 4th she was writing letters 
from Norwich to many of Coke's influential friends, 
informing them that the day of nomination was fixed 


for April 8th, "when an intention is publicky avowed 
by Sir J. Wodehouse's friends to disturb the peace of 
the county by putting him in opposition to the old 
Members." Her efforts were viewed with great alarm 
by Coke's opponents, who issued much sound advice to 
their followers on the subject, amongst others a song, 
dated the day previous to that of nomination, the 
refrain of which ran as follows : 

Britons to your country true, 
Let not beauty vanquish you ; 
Formed to conquer, formed to please, 
Gaze no more on charms like these : 
From the winning graces flee, 

Hostile now to Liberty ! 

April >]th, 1784. 

Yet, so late as April ist, Mrs. Coke had remained in 
town in order, as she mentions, to attend Court and 
pay her respects to his Majesty for conferring a 
peerage upon her brother James. 1 Before starting for 
Court, however, she had found time to dispatch a letter 
to Sir Harbord Harbord from Harley Street, asking him, 
"for Mr. Coke's satisfaction," to send a few lines to 
assure her that he, among Mr. Coke's other adherents, 
would support him on the day of trial ; and, in unfore- 
seen consequence of this letter, a strange misunderstand- 
ing arose between Coke and one of his oldest friends. 

Sir Harbord Harbord sent a reply to Mrs. Coke 
authorising her to declare "in anyway serviceable to 
Mr. Coke" that he was resolved to support him and 
Sir Edward Astley. Three days later, on April 4th, 

1 James Dutton, who had married Elizabeth Coke and was raised to 
the peerage as Baron Sherborne, of Sherborne, by Pitt, 1784 (Burke and 
Courthorpe date this creation on May 2oth). 

writing to Sir Edward, Sir Harbord happened to relate 
how Wodehouse called upon him subsequently, to 
canvass him, and how he had told Wodehouse that 
" Although I certainly do not think with Mr. Coke on 
politics, I shall undoubtedly support him in the county, 
and have told him so. 11 Wodehouse, he adds, consider- 
ably chagrined, exclaimed coldly: " Do I perfectly 
understand you that you are engaged to Mr. Coke and 
Sir E. Astley?" " Undoubtedly so," Sir Harbord 
states that he replied ; and Mr. Wodehouse, he further 
explains, u did not make a civil bow on leaving ! " 

For what reason I cannot say, Coke became firmly 
convinced that, in the ensuing canvass, Sir Harbord 
played him false, and was actively instrumental in 
turning the tide of popularity against him. Still more, 
he believed that it was as a direct reward of this 
treachery that Sir Harbord was given his peerage in 
1786. This, after their long friendship, and after the 
manner in which he, personally, had acted towards Sir 
Harbord in regard to the episode with Dick Merry- 
fellow, wounded him deeply ; but he never referred to 
the matter, and it was only by chance that a common 
acquaintance became aware of the fact long after Sir 
Harbord's death, and brought about an explanation. 
Over fifty years afterwards, Sir Harbord's son, Lord 
Suffield, in order to clear his father's memory, hunted 
for evidence amongst the latter's papers. The result 
was the discovery of several letters more or less avail- 
able for the required purpose, but, above all, of the 
account of the interview with Wodehouse which his 
father had written to Astley, and which successfully 
established Sir Harbord's sincerity towards his old 


friend. These were forwarded to Coke, and, after 
studying them, he expressed himself to his extreme 
satisfaction convinced that his suspicions of half a 
century had been unfounded. 1 

But the belief that both his friend and his colleague 
were acting counter to his interests in this election 
must have been a bitter thought to Coke, while it ren- 
dered his acknowledged opponents all the more active 
in their efforts to oust him. His bill against night- 
poaching of the previous session was brought up 
strongly against him, and a ridiculous little story 
made great use of amongst the Tory wags. A certain 
poor man had allowed his cow to wander into Holkham 
Park. Unknown to Coke, his steward summoned the 
man for trespass and lost the day. The onus of the 
steward's action naturally fell upon his master, and the 
incident was raked up at many subsequent elections, 
when songs, both scathing and scurrilous, attempted to 
immortalise it. 2 

1 Life of First Baron Suffield, by R. N. Bacon (privately printed). 

2 A favourite one was entitled " The Norfolk Cow-killer," and was 
sung- to the tune of "The Vicar and Moses." It consisted of nine 
verses in the following strain : 

In story we're told 
That Alcides of old, 
The fam'd bull of Minos laid low ; 
We've a hero as great, 
But of much later date, 
Holkham's Hercules conquer'd a coo ! 
Fal de ral, etc. 

Warwick's valiant Earl Guy 
Made a mad monster die, 
And fame has recorded the blow ; 
But old Leicester wou'd sneer 
To see this wou'd-be peer 
Vivet armis attack a tame coo ! 

Fal de ral, etc. etc. 

The great charge which the Tories tried to en- 
courage against Coke at this juncture was that he was 
working for a peerage. It is difficult to imagine that 
this idea could ever have obtained credence with 
regard to a man of his well-known independence of 
spirit ; but there were many who believed it, and it is 
referred to in the electioneering squibs, while the 
following doggerel which also contained verses to 
Astley and Windham became very popular : 

Tommy Coke, Tommy Coke, 

You so fain would have spoke 

I'd a strong inclination to hear you ; 

But your countenance told us 

For a peerage you'd sold us, 

So not a freeholder could bear you, 

Tom Coke, 
So not a freeholder could bear you ! 

Below this verse is the emphatic footnote 
N.B. The Fox stinks worse than ever! 

But while Coke's constituents were encouraged to 
believe that he would play them false, Pitt, aware of 
Coke's importance as a political opponent, secretly 
endeavoured to wean him from his allegiance to Fox ; 
and, failing to do so, took a petty revenge. The follow- 
ing story, told by Lord Albemarle, 1 is recorded also in 
a private notebook by Mr. Keppel, who, like Lord 
Albemarle, says that he heard it direct from Coke. 
Lord Albemarle relates : 

" In 1784, William Pitt the younger, wishing to 
draw Coke from his allegiance to his rival Fox, 
sought to bribe him with the Earldom of Leicester, 
which had been previously in his family. The offer 
was indignantly refused. 

1 George, sixth Earl of Albemarle, s. his brother, 1851. 


"To spite Coke, the Premier bestowed the title 
upon his near neighbour George Townshend. 1 Before 
accepting Pitt's offer, Mr. Townshend wrote to his 
father to ask his approval, and received for answer : 

* Dear Son, 

*I have no objection to your taking any title 
but that of 

4 Your affectionate father, 

" I had this anecdote from Coke himself." 2 

One point, however, should have been mentioned in 
connection with the previous offer of this peerage made 
by Pitt to Coke a point which is sufficiently obvious, 
and the omission of which by Lord Albemarle has 
very naturally cast some doubt on the authenticity of 
his story. This is, that Pitt's offer of the peerage 
to Coke was not a formal and public offer. Not only 
would it have been practically impossible for Pitt to 
approach a rival of Coke's political importance directly 
with such a proposal, but Coke's own evidence, as we 
shall see later, refutes the suggestion of such an event 
having taken place. In a letter to Lord Grey in i83O, 3 
in which he enumerates the formal offers of a peerage 
received and refused by him prior to that date, he makes 
no mention whatsoever of this offer of Pitt's, of which 
he had yet informed both Lord Albemarle and Mr. 
Keppel, separately, that he had been the recipient. 

1 May 1 8th, 1784. George, second Marquis, b. 1755. Summoned to 
Parliament 1770 as Baron de Ferrars of Chartley, to which Barony he 
succeeded (jure matris) on September I4th of that year. 

z Fifty Years of My Life, Vol. I, p. 133 ; see also Posthumous 
Memoirs, Sir. N. W. Wraxall (1836), Vol. I, p. 23. 

3 See post, Vol. II, p. 419. 


But neither does he make mention of a like offer con- 
veyed by Charles Tompson two months after the com- 
mencement of his parliamentary career, and of which 
we have undoubted proof that he had also been a 
recipient, since he had stated this fact definitely in a 
public speech. The inference appears conclusive the 
one offer, like the other, was a negotiation conducted 
privately through a third person, in which the earldom 
of Leicester was held out as a bait to Coke, and was, as 
he related, indignantly rejected. 

A very angry correspondence forthwith ensued 
between Coke and the Townshends with regard to the 
proposed appropriation by the latter of a title which 
had been previously annexed by Coke's great-uncle, 
and to which he therefore considered that his own 
family had a prior claim. The De Lisles, the repre- 
sentatives of the Leicester peerage created by Queen 
Elizabeth, wrote to both combatants to emphasise their 
own point of view, viz. that they alone had a right to 
the disputed peerage ; but this interference was con- 
sidered to be irrelevant. There seemed something 
strangely ominous to the family of Coke in the name 
of George Townshend ; it was a bearer of that name 
who had challenged some said, slain Lord Leicester ; 
it was a bearer of that name who, by a curious coinci- 
dence, now engaged in a duel of a different nature with 
his descendant. The feeling in Norfolk was very strong 
against the action of the Townshends in this matter, 
and George Townshend was so much annoyed at the 
manner in which his decision was regarded, that he 
wrote to many influential people in the county to ex- 
onerate himself from the charge of bad taste or deliberate 

ill-will towards Mr. Coke with which he was accredited. 
He had, he maintained, long thought of taking the 
title of Leicester in virtue of his descent from Simon 
de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, in the thirteenth cen- 
tury ; in short, his correspondence sufficiently proves 
that in this matter he was the unconscious tool of Pitt 
and was innocent of all complicity in, or suspicion of, 
the Minister's private desire to annoy Coke. 1 

Possibly in consequence of this episode, even more 
than on account of the Minister's general policy, Coke 
always said that "he could not call Pitt a great man, 
for he thought him a little one in all the actions of his 
life"; 2 nor did he hesitate to state emphatically before 
Pitt in the House: "I am one of those who never 
reposed any confidence in the Right Honourable 
Gentleman ! " 3 But that Pitt, on the contrary, always 
entertained a profound respect for Coke's integrity 
is certain. Some years afterwards he paid a public 
testimony to it, and that at a moment when such an 
action on his part could be least expected. It happened 
that Coke, exasperated by Pitt's policy, and always 
disposed to frankness rather than caution, had, in the 
heat of debate, been completely carried away by his 
feelings. He had made a violent personal attack upon 
the Minister; and upon resuming his seat and reflecting 
upon what he had said, he felt convinced that Pitt 
would, and with some reason, make a severe reply. 
To his astonishment, however, Pitt rose and said 

1 It is curious that when Coke eventually took the title of Earl of 
Leicester the Tory newspapers accused him of a breach of good taste 
towards the Townshends. 

2 Speech at Coke's nomination, August, 1830. 

3 Par. Debates, Vol. XXIX, p. 55. 


quietly : " I can put up with anything that the Honour- 
able Gentleman may be pleased to say, for he is one of 
the very few of his party who have never asked a favour 
of me." 1 

But whatever the power of Pitt's opponents in the 
election of 1784, the heart of the country was with 
him. The Dissenters and liberal-minded people were 
favourably disposed towards him because of his promise 
to support the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. 
Further, they announced that they would support no 
one who would not pledge himself to repeal these Acts 
and to advocate reform. Coke's enemies were fond of 
asserting that he would oppose all Ministerial measures 
whether right or wrong. 2 The Dissenters, therefore, 
decided to send a deputation, headed by two of their 
leading men, to wait upon him, in order to probe his 
views with regard to this matter, and to require from 
him an oath that he would support the cause which 
they had at heart, whoever the Minister might be who 
brought it forward. 

Now on this question Coke sided with Pitt, but he 
did not believe in the sincerity of the Minister, and felt 
convinced that Pitt would never carry the measure a 
conviction which subsequent events justified. Coke 
could, moreover, had he chosen, have reminded the 
Dissenters that when Sir John Rouse, during the Shel- 
burne Ministry, had moved the repeal of the Test 
Acts although the latter was a strong Tory, and 
although he was known to be acting under the bribe of 
a peerage from Lord Shelburne yet he, Coke, while 

1 Recorded in the notebook of the Hon. the Rev. T. Keppel, 

2 See Georgian Era, Vol. IV, p. 52. 

disapproving of the man, had unhesitatingly voted for 
the measure. But in view of the absolute consistency 
of his own parliamentary career, and the manner in 
which he had always put principle before party, he 
considered the question of the Dissenters insulting. 
His only reply to them was that " he was above giving 
a test," and that if they could not trust him without a 
test they must turn him out. " Moreover," as he sub- 
sequently commented disdainfully, "only Tories give 
pledges, and why? Because they do not hesitate to 
break them ! " 

The Dissenters were extremely chagrined at his frank 
contempt, and informed him pompously that under 
such circumstances they could not support him, as 
they believed in the assurances of Mr. Pitt, who was a 
most worthy young man. " I did not refer to my past 
political conduct," Coke said afterwards; "I did not 
condescend to recall to their minds my political senti- 
ments and actions. Nor would I ever condescend to 
such a step. God forbid that I should be driven by 
means so repugnant to every honest man ! What was 
the consequence? I was rejected, and I glory in being 
one of those who were called * Fox's Martyrs.' I was 
sacrificed, and three or four other determined Whigs 
who would not be bullied into such a measure." 1 

Up to the last the preparations for the election went 
forward undisturbed. Forty houses were engaged in 
Norwich for the friends of Sir John Wodehouse, who 
were to meet at the " Maid's Head " at ten for breakfast, 
then go to the poll and back to dinner. For the friends 
of Sir Edward Astley and Mr. Coke fifty-five houses 

1 Norwich Mercury, August 26th, 1830. 

were engaged ; but final arrangements do not appear to 
have been made public when Coke, to quote his own 
words, "made his bow to the county," and retiring 
from the contest, left the way clear for his antagonist. 

In so doing, he attributed the loss of his election, 
primarily, to the conduct of Sir Edward Astley. In a 
letter written to Jacob Astley, Esquire, in 1789, he 
refers to Sir Edward's conduct at the last election as 
having been " the sole cause of throwing me out of the 
county," and relates: "I bore all Sir Edward's ex- 
pences, as well after I retired as before." Some idea 
of those expenses may be gathered by the receipts 
still preserved, which show that to innkeepers in 
Norwich Coke paid 746, for cockades 115, to "Chair- 
men, Marshallmen, Stavesmen, Riders, Runners, and 
Assistants 160," etc. ; the total for one bill connected 
with this election representing over 2000. All ex- 
penses, however, he appears to have settled promptly 
by cash ; a feat which his opponent Wodehouse was 
unable to perform. 

Wilson, in his Biographical Index to the House of 
Commons ) says : "In the springtime of his popularity, 
Mr. Coke, notwithstanding his great stake in the 
country, lost his election for Norfolk." This, however, 
is inaccurate, for Coke retired voluntarily two days 
before the poll. 

"I retire," he announced, "from a contest which 
is likely to disturb the peace of the country without 
producing any advantage to that cause in which I 
am engaged. The shortness of the interval between 
the day of nomination and the day of election was 
thought insufficient to recover the effects of a 
canvass, which, it now appears, had begun during 


my absence in town, was carried on without my 
knowledge, and owed much of its success to an 
artifice not the most justifiable the pretence of a 
junction between my late worthy colleague and my 

With much dignity he enumerated the part he had 
taken in Parliament. 

" I took," he said, "a distinguished part in oppos- 
ing the American war ; I gave my vote most heartily 
and most successfully for controlling the enormous 
influence of the Crown ; and assisted that truly con- 
stitutional measure by which the most abused power 
of voting was taken away from the undeserving 
dependents of the Crown." 

And while "Coke the Lord of Norfolk shrank before 
the storm," 1 throughout the country the Whigs Fox's 
Martyrs, as they were ironically called were grievously 
defeated, and lost 160 seats. Only a few triumphs 
were scored by the adherents of the Coalition Cabinet : 
Windham contested Norwich and was returned by a 
majority of 64 votes, while, for Norfolk, Astley was 
elected. But for Coke a later triumph was reserved. 

Some years afterwards, walking in the streets of 
Yarmouth, he met the two Dissenters who had been 
sent to head the deputation in 1784, one of whom, it 
may be mentioned, bore the appropriate name of 
Mr. Hurry. They tried to avoid Coke, but he stopped 
them. ' ' How now ! " he said : ' ' what about your young 
friend, Mr. Pitt? Has he not proved all you thought 
him? " Mr. Hurry, looking considerably embarrassed, 
replied that " Mr. Pitt had indeed disappointed them ; 

1 Life of Pitt, by the Right Hon. the Earl of Rosebery, ch. in, p. 56. 

they had thought him a young man who would fulfil 
his promises ; but they had, apparently, made a sad 

"A mistake," rejoined Coke, " which will be made 
by all who pin their faith on Pledges" 



THERE followed the only break which oc- 
curred in Coke's long parliamentary career. 
Once he had decided that he was justified in 
retiring from the contest, it was with a sense 
of unutterable relief that he turned his back upon the 
political arena ; and although always active in the 
Whig cause, he did not again enter upon any personal 
contest for a space of six years. 

We must now turn from his life as a statesman to his 
life as a private individual and a great landowner. 

During the eight years which had passed since he came 
into possession of Holkham his private existence had 
been happy and comparatively uneventful. One tragedy 
only appears to have darkened it. To the nimble pen 
of Lady Mary Coke we are indebted for the information. 
Sunday, December ist, 1776, she writes: 

"Did you hear that my cousin Mrs. Coke was 
brought to bed of a dead son, occasioned by a fright ; 
a mouse got into her nightcap and demolished the 
heir to Holkham." 1 

In those days a lady's hair, profusely decorated with 
pomatum and powder, was worn strained over a big 
triangular cushion with large curls pendant on either 

1 From the still unprinted Journal of Lady Mary Coke. 


side ; the higher this erection, the more fashionable it 
was considered ; and since the labour required to rear 
a sufficiently elaborate coiffure was great, an enormous 
cap attached to the head by no less than twenty-four 
large black pins, double and single was worn at night 
to envelop and preserve it intact for the next day. It 
was no unusual event for a mouse, tempted by a prospec- 
tive meal of pomatum and powder, to attempt to creep 
into a nightcap ; and, if it once succeeded in entering 
the vast structure of hair without becoming impaled 
upon the long pins, it was no easy matter to oust it ; 
often this could not be accomplished until the whole 
head-dress had been pulled down. In days when ladies 
fainted at the mere sight of a mouse, their terror at 
such an adventure must have been great ; and, in this 
instance, its result was not only disastrous, but far- 
reaching. As the years passed by, no other son was 
born to Coke. Two daughters were born, Jane Elizabeth, 
afterwards the beautiful Lady Andover, born on 
December 22nd, 1777 ; and, just over a year later, on 
January 25th, 1779, Anne Margaret, who afterwards 
became Lady Anson ; but still no heir replaced the one 
who had been thus untimely " demolished," the destiny 
of Holkham had been decided by a mouse ! Therefore, 
when in 1793 a son was born to Coke's brother, Edward, 
he was accepted as heir-presumptive to Holkham, and 
not only was he named Thomas William after his uncle, 
but, like him, was brought up at Longford, Coke having 
generously lent that house to his brother for the latter's 

Debarred from having a son, the great aim of Mrs. 
Coke's life became the education of her two daughters. 
Herself clever, well read and gifted with a shrewd 


insight, she was exceptionally fitted for the task. The 
few letters from her still in existence are written in a 
firm, clear hand, full of character and determination, 
while those published in current biographies are 
remarkable for their fluency of expression and the 
literary knowledge which they reveal. In 1785, when 
Dr. Parr 1 presented her with his " Discourse on Educa- 
tion," she wrote to him with enthusiasm : 

" I have read your Discourse upon Education 
with the utmost attention, and with that eager desire 
of information which a parent may be supposed to 
possess, who has for seven years directed much serious 
thought to this most important object; for having 
only daughters, the pleasing task of their instruction 

becomes my province What stamps the 

highest value on your opinions in my mind, is this, 
that they are not mere assertions, but the result of 
many years' extensive experience, as well as much 
profound meditation, and diligent researches into the 
labour of other men. . . . Whereas Rousseau, and 
several authors I have perused, who have treated this 
subject, not possessing the superior advantage of 
experience, only serve to lead astray by plausible 
theories, which are undoubtedly not practicable." 

She further remarks how happy she is in having 
Parr's authority " in opposition to the fashionable 
doctrines of scepticism, that religion is the surest 
foundation on which we can raise moral virtue in 
either sex "; and she proffers the anxious inquiry 
" Pardon the liberty I take in requesting to be informed 
whether you think Johnson's Dictionary the best 
standard for the unlearned to consult concerning 
orthography and pronunciation?" In conclusion, 
she begs that Dr. Parr will come to Holkham in order 

1 Dr. Samuel Parr, LL.D. 


'^.rJ&f"^. s 


" to judge how far I have been able to put into practice 
with respect to my children, a system of education I 
profess so entirely to approve " ; though, she laments, 
u if they had been sons, it would have been my earnest 
wish not to confine my approbation of your excellent 
system to the barren tribute of my poor praise." 

The learned Doctor's verdict has not survived, but 
doubtless it was all that her heart desired ; for her 
children amply repaid the care which, from the 
earliest days, she bestowed upon them ; though this 
must be attributed as much to the fact that they 
inherited her ability, as to her judicious superintendence 
of their education. And that sound judgment which 
she brought to bear upon the training of her daughters, 
stood her likewise in good stead in her social relation- 
ships. In the fading legends which still cling round 
the life at Holkham during those early days of Coke's 
ownership, his young wife stands out a figure full of 
dignity and charm. The tales of her which still linger 
in Norfolk all hint at the admiration she inspired; how 
she was a fearless and a matchless rider ; how at Court 
her dancing of the Minuet de la Cour was celebrated 
for its grace ; how at the hustings, as we have seen, 
her influence was feared, since she won all hearts, and 
changed the fierce antagonism of adverse voters into 
an enthusiasm equally uproarious ; and how she was, 
withal, a woman of pity and gentleness, charitable 
to the poor, constant in doing good and gracious to 
all. " Mrs. Coke," we are told, "does from good 
nature and an ardent desire of pleasing what others do 
from vanity or politeness." x 

1 The Girlhood of Maria Josepha Holroyd, ed. by J. H. Adeane. 
(1896), p. 255. 


Moreover, she threw herself with tireless energy 
into all schemes and endeavours for the betterment of 
mankind. Much she accomplished for Norwich. The 
papers of the day speak of her " constant and spirited 
endeavours to promote and extend manufactures in the 
neighbourhood." Amongst other industries, Norwich 
was at that time striving to start the manufacture of 
" shawl-dresses," made from a material resembling 
Paisley or Indian shawls, which was fashioned into 
costumes. Young Mrs. Coke at once saw that some of 
the rich and delicate-coloured " shawl-dresses " would 
make lovely tapestries for walls and couches, so, we 
read, she gave instructions "to fit up part of her 
elegant mansion at Holkham with this beautiful 
article," and thus established an industry for which 
Norwich afterwards became famous. 

Only here and there, however, do isolated events 
loom out of the oblivion which enshrouds the life at 
Holkham during those early days. Legends likewise 
still cling round the memory of the young Squire of 
that date. His lavish hospitality, the princely state 
in which he lived and the independence of speech 
and action for which he soon became noted, form the 
subject of many tales always interesting as showing 
the estimation in which he was held though often, un- 
doubtedly, apocryphal. Old men in Norwich still relate 
how, in the days of their boyhood, their fajthers told 
them that Mr. Coke had his horses shod with shoes of 
gold, and had wheels of solid silver for his chariot, 
which wheels (it is firmly believed) are still preserved 
in the hall at Holkham. Another, but far from im- 
probable legend, tells how, knowing that it was in- 


admissible for any one save Royalty to drive six horses 
in town, he drove a coach with five horses and a 
donkey as leader past the King's palace in London, 
and flicked his whip at George III as he whipped the 
donkey gaily up to pace. His daring, his individuality, 
his openness of hand and heart, soon won him golden 
opinions amongst the tenants who, accustomed to the 
sober rule of his immediate predecessors, had been pre- 
pared to look askance at the reign of their gay successor. 
Very quickly was Holkham transformed from what 
it had been in the days when Lady Leicester lived there 
in dreary state. It speedily became the pivot round 
which all the social life of the county revolved. The 
young couple lived in full enjoyment of local society 
in Norfolk, to which they greatly contributed, and of 
society in London when parliamentary duties entailed 
their journeying to town. At Holkham they kept open 
house, and before long, men from every part of the 
world and representing every form of celebrity and 
every rank in life were made welcome there with un- 
stinting hospitality. Coke soon became known as a 
delightful host, considerate, unassuming and agree- 
able ; while he made a point of treating every guest, no 
matter of what rank, with the strictest impartiality. It 
soon became a favourite saying amongst his friends 
that "to Coke, prince and peasant are equal." 1 He 

1 To the last day of his life this was his unchangeable characteristic. 
" It is certainly a strong trait in the character of the Earl's manners 
that from the Prince to the Peasant, every visitor on leaving Holkham 
dwelt on the reception he had received from the Master of the House, 
and imagined himself the favoured guest. . . . His manners were indeed 
the finest, for they were based on benignity of heart" (Obituary notice, 
Norwich Mercury, July gth, 1842). 


himself, in later life, always declared that he would as 
soon meet a party of his yeomen as any men in the 
world. But from the first he took his own line and 
refused to court popularity. One of his earliest innova- 
tions created much comment. Since old Lady Leicester's 
time, the poor had attended at Holkham after every 
public day to receive the broken meat, a custom which 
had become abused by every vagrant in the neighbour- 
hood. Although Coke continued to keep open house 
on one day in the week, he promptly put an end to the 
subsequent promiscuous distribution of food to beggars, 
despite the violent resentment and unpopularity to 
which such an action was sure to give rise. In fact, 
Dick Merryfellow at once made a note of it, and wrote 
a fresh verse about " Sir Growl " 

His dogs are from his table fed the poor 
Are driven like slaves from his luxurious door ! 

One curious custom, however, which probably dated 
from the days of Lord Leicester, prevailed for many 
years after Coke came into possession of Holkham. 
The coaches still continued to call at the house twice a 
day to deliver and to fetch the mail, and every passenger 
who journeyed by them was allowed to ask for a glass 
of ale gratis, at the Hall, from servants who were in 
attendance daily for the purpose. The amount of ale 
thus consumed in the course of a year was great, but 
besides the strangers whom chance brought thus daily 
to partake of this apparently trifling hospitality, Coke 
had a constant influx of visitors who desired to see the 
house privately, or who attended the luncheon upon the 
public day. Among others, the year after he succeeded 



his father, Hannah More, driving through Norfolk with 
friends, wrote to ask permission to see the house and 
grounds. She did not see Coke personally, but in 
a letter she mentions her impressions of the place, 
which have an interest considering the early date at 
which she wrote : 

"The next place worthy of consideration is Hoik- 
ham Hall, the residence of the present Mr. Coke, 
and built by the late Lord Leicester. It is entirely of 
white brick, and take it for inside and outside, state 
and commodiousness, beauty and elegance, I have 
never seen anything comparable to it. The pictures 
are many and charming ; some exquisite Guidos, 
particularly St. Catherine, and a Cupid, inexpres- 
sibly fine. There are some admirable statues, a 
number of antiques, and some of the finest drapery 
I ever saw. There is a hall of pink-veined marble 
of immense size, superior to anything of the kind in 
this nation : round it is a colonnade of pink and 
white marble fluted. 1 

When any alterations to the design of the house were 
proposed to Coke, he replied unhesitatingly : "I shall 
never venture rashly to interfere with the result of years 
of thought and study in Italy " ; and thus it was due to 
his good sense that the original harmony and peculiarity 
of the building were preserved intact. But he early 
decided to enclose his estate of 43,000 acres with a ring 
fence, and he began building a wall round his park ; 
though this was not actually finished till September 
24th, 1839, when it measured nine miles less twenty 
yards in length. 2 

1 Memoirs of Life and Correspondence of Mrs. H. More, by William 
Roberts. Third ed. (1835), Vol. I, pp. 102-3. 

8 Part of the wood which formed the original paling placed by 
Thomas Coke round his park, was used to frame some Hogarth prints, 
which still hang on the walls at Longford. 


It was said that the house had been planned to be safe 
from fire ; and very early Coke had it carefully in- 
spected with a view to discovering if this were indeed 
the case. As a result it was pronounced fire-proof, and 
it has therefore never been insured. Although it has 
been on fire three times since those days, only superficial 
damage to furniture has ensued. 

Soon after Coke came into possession of Holkham he 
was asked to belong to a club called the " Gregorians," 
which flourished in Norwich about this date. It was 
at first instituted for social purposes, but afterwards 
assumed more of a political character. It had its special 
ceremonies, signs and insignia, and was, perhaps, the 
resort of more of the county gentlemen than have ever 
before or since mixed with the citizens of Norwich. The 
annual advertisement for the choice of officers for the 
year 1778 announces Coke as President of the meeting. 
The chief patron was Sir Edward Astley, and he 
usually occupied the position of host, for there was no 
one so celebrated for his qualities as a chairman and a 
boon companion. On July igth, 1779, we find that the 
Gregorians were invited in a body to Holkham by 
Coke, and there partook of the most sumptuous hospi- 

Many curious anecdotes are told of this club illus- 
trative of the manners of the times and of the 
habits of drinking. The first time when Coke visited 
it, at about one o'clock in the morning, toasts swim- 
ming in oil were set on the table, and Sir Edward 
Astley pressed him to eat. Coke inquired the cause 
of such an unusual refection, and was told that the 
toast would enable him to begin drinking afresh 

as if he had taken no wine from the beginning of the 
evening. 1 

On another occasion, at about six o'clock in the 
morning, the party had dwindled to six in number, and 
these tried to discover some striking way in which to 
end the revels of the night. All around the room was 
placed a row of strongly-fixed iron cloak pins, and 
upon these they hung their chairs, mounted into them, 
and then rang the bell. The waiter arriving in answer 
to the summons was astounded to find the company 
apparently transfixed to the wall, where they sat abso- 
lutely silent and immovable, like statues. But the poor 
fellow's terror at this unexpected sight was too much 
for one of the revellers. Sir Peter Amyot, who was a 
very heavy man, was racked with such fearful paroxysms 
of suppressed laughter that the pins which supported 
him gave way, and he broke the spell by falling to the 
ground with a resounding crash. The terrified waiter 
fled from the room, and the company descending from 
their seats with difficulty, assisted their stout companion 
to regain his feet amid peals of uproarious laughter. 

At intervals in the papers of this date there appear 
notices of entertainments promoted by Mr. and Mrs. 
Coke, which often took the form of private theatricals. 
In 1779, on the anniversary of their wedding day, 
October 5th, there is an advertisement of a play "The 
Clandestine Marriage and the Padlock" 2 a significant 
title considering the event which it was presumably 
destined to celebrate. This play was "bespoke" by 
them at the theatre, Walsingham, a neighbouring village, 

1 Drinking oil will prevent the fumes of wine rising to the brain. 

2 Written by Colman the elder and Garrick, about 1766. 

I. R 


to be performed by a company of comedians styling 
themselves the " Leicester Company." 

Another fashionable amusement, which had not fallen 
into disfavour in Norfolk since the days of Lord 
Leicester, was cock-fighting, but in this, however, there 
is no evidence that Coke took part. Yet it is curious to 
note that, at that date, the tenants at Holkham had 
to give two fighting-cocks with their rent a payment 
which in modern times is changed to turkeys. 

A sport, however, in which Coke certainly indulged, 
and which found great favour locally, was bull-baiting. 
In Beer Street, Norwich, there was a place for this 
amusement, of which Coke and his neighbour Lord 
Albemarle 1 became patrons. George, Lord Albemarle, 
relates how their bull was never known to have been 
"pinned," and how, one day, a farmer who had seen 
a number of dogs tossed in succession, called out, 
" Lawk ! it's like batting at cricket ! " 2 

It is all the more curious to find Coke the patron of 
such a sport because, both in early and in later life, he 
was noted for being a singularly humane man, who 
was opposed to cruelty in any recognised form. But at 
that date it was considered as unreasonable to object 
to bull-baiting as it is still to object to fox-hunting. 
Windham, writing to Captain Lukin in 1801, expresses 
this opinion: "I should rejoice in your bull-baiting," 
he says, " if I could rejoice in anything. I defy a 
person to attack bull-baiting and to defend hunting " 
a point of view which modern huntsmen may find less 

1 William Charles, fourth Earl of Albemarle (1772-1849). 

2 Fifty Years of my Life. By George Thomas, sixth Earl of Albe- 
marle, Vol. I, p. 324. 


palatable than easy to disprove. It was not till 1835 
that this amusement was made illegal in England. 

As we have seen, Coke early became M.F.H. He 
soon engaged a huntsman named William Jones, who 
became a celebrated character in Norfolk, and was con- 
sidered the best man of his class in the kingdom. The 
pack was reputed to be so skilfully managed, so judi- 
ciously hunted and so well ridden up to. Before long, 
Coke's hunting country extended through a great part 
of Norfolk, and he had kennels in Suffolk, Cambridge, 
and Essex. He was said to hunt the entire country 
from Holkham to Epping Forest ; for when he found 
that his parliamentary duties precluded the possibility 
of his enjoying the sport in those districts, he built 
a kennel near Mark Hall, in Essex, the seat of his 
friend Montague Burgoyne, and he hunted the whole 
country round Epping, where he could run down from 
town about four times a week. On one occasion he 
killed a fox with his own hounds in Russell or Bedford 
Square. 1 

Epping Place may be said to have been the centre of 
his operations ; and there was in those days a cele- 
brated Irish giant, O'Brien or O'Bryne, who came to 
live there solely for the sake of joining Mr. Coke's 
hounds whenever he allowed himself any recreation. 

1 In a letter from the late Lord Digby to Mr. Henry Coke, January yth, 
1883, this statement was confirmed. Lord Digby says: "My grand- 
father (Thomas William Coke) killed a fox with his own hounds either in 
Bedford or Russell Square. Old Jones the huntsman, who died at Holkham 
when you were a child, was my informant. I asked my grandfather if it 
was correct ; he said, 'Yes, he had kennels at Epping Forest, and hunted 
the Roodings of Essex, which he said was the best hunting ground in 
England.'" Tracks of a Rolling Stone. By the Hon. Henry Coke 
P- 33i. 


O'Brien was eight feet high in 1780, and apparently 
went on growing, for in 1782 he measured two inches 
more, and after his death in 1783 he was found to 
measure eight feet four inches, yet no other members 
of his family were unusually tall. He was crazy about 
hunting, and became so attached to Jones, Mr. Coke's 
huntsman, that he paid the latter a visit at Holkham, 
and was there solemnly introduced by Jones to Mr. 
Coke and his guests. 

O'Brien 's end was curious. With extreme simplicity 
he invested all his property in a single bank-note of 
700, which, needless to say, he lost ; and grief at his 
loss, combined with excessive drinking, brought about 
his death. John Hunter, the celebrated surgeon, was 
extremely anxious to secure his skeleton ; and learning 
that the giant was dying, he set his men to watch the 
house in order to be sure of getting the body. O'Brien 
hearing of this, and having a horror of being dissected, 
left orders that his corpse should be watched night and 
day until a lead coffin could be made, in which it was 
to be conveyed to the Downs and sunk in twenty 
fathoms of water. O'Brien died, and his body started 
for the Nore, escorted by a walking wake of thirty 
Irishmen who drank deeply at the hostelries en route. 
Howison, Hunter's man, who watched closely, informed 
the surgeon when he might catch this bodyguard off 
duty at the public-house, and Hunter went thither to 
bribe them. He offered fifty guineas to one of the men 
to allow the body to be kidnapped, and the man con- 
sented on his own account, but said he must first con- 
sult with his companions, who, perceiving Hunter's 
eagerness, raised their price, first to 100, and finally 


to 500 before they would agree. Hunter borrowed 
the money to pay them, and the coffin consequently 
went on its way filled with stones, while the body of the 
dead giant journeyed back to London in a spring cart, 
until John Hunter's own carriage met it, after dark, 
and drove it to his house in Earl's Court. There, for 
fear of detection, he did not dare to dissect it ; but 
separating the flesh from the bones by boiling and cut- 
ting, quickly skeletonised it. Hence, in the Museum 
of the Royal College of Surgeons may be seen, to- 
day, the skeleton brown from boiling of the giant 
whose greatest joy when living was a gallop with 
Mr. Coke's hounds and the friendship of Mr. Coke's 

Jones, it may be here mentioned, lived to the age of 
ninety, having spent all his life in the service of Mr. 
Coke, who delighted in cheering the last days of his old 
and respected servant by paying him constant visits, and 
living over with him the memorable hunts of former 
days. Jones, in fact, survived until 1827, when Coke's 
two eldest baby-sons were taken by their father to see 
him. The old man's one grief was as he expressed it 
"that the young ladies had not been the young gentle- 
men," meaning that the daughters of Mr. Coke's first 
marriage had not been the sons of his second, in order 
that he, Jones, might have had the pleasure of training 
them to follow the hunt. 

Jones's mind was clear to the last, and he died 
surrounded by three generations of his family, who 
revered him as a father and a patriarch. Coke always 
described him, not only as the best of huntsmen and 
the first of sportsmen, but also as one of Nature's 

gentlemen, who won the respect of the field wherever 
he went by the perfect courtesy of his manners. 

Coke's passion for field sports, which had served as a 
telling argument for prophesying his failure as a poli- 
tician, further furnished reason for anticipating his 
incapacity as a landlord. His tenants, however willing 
to be cajoled by his " elegant and engaging address" 
of which we are constantly informed, remained dubious 
regarding the wisdom of a youth whose first aim had 
been to increase the breed of foxes. Dick Merryfellow 
but gave voice to a prevalent opinion when he pro- 
nounced Coke's " hounds and horses" to be "his 
delight alone." In a song sung by Coke's friends at the 
big hunting breakfasts at Holkham, he is described as : 

Attentive and civil till Reynard is found, 

Then hears nor sees ought but the head leading hound. 1 

The young Squire appeared, even to those who knew 
him best, too full of that joie de vivre for which he was 
conspicuous, to curtail his pleasures, or to take his 
duties as a landowner seriously. Moreover, if his Nor- 
folk estates were poor, he had property in other parts 
of England, he had money in plenty to gratify every 
whim, and beyond an amiable desire that those under 
him should be justly dealt by, little, it was felt, could 
be anticipated from the rule of a light-hearted youth, 
whose whole soul appeared to be absorbed in a spor 
which found small favour with the farmers upon his 

But another passion as powerful as that of sport, of 

1 A song of Mr. Cokes Hunt, by the Rev. Dixon Hoste. 

which, indeed, it formed part, operated to counteract 
what it appeared calculated only to develop. Coke's 
love of the country has before been dwelt upon ; it 
formed one of the strongest characteristics of his 
nature, surpassed, perhaps, only by that love of plain- 
speaking and honest dealing which had forced him 
against his inclination to stand his ground in current 
politics. The fresh, clear Norfolk air held an elixir for 
him which dwellers in the south can scarcely appreciate; 
it stimulated every sense, it whipped brain and soul 
into a keener life ; it meant health, it meant happiness. 
Windham, from his wooded hill-top at Felbrigg, com- 
plained that London asphyxiated him, and pleaded 
earnestly in Parliament for open spaces and parks to 
form "the lungs of London." Coke, from his bleaker 
and wind-swept home upon the coast, suffered mentally 
as well as physically when forced to forego the clean, 
free life which exhilarated brain and body. 

"For myself," he said in one of his speeches to 
his constituents at Holkham, "I should not be 
worthy of your confidence did I not speak my senti- 
ments in a bold, manly and independent manner. 
I should not wish to be your representative, nor do I 
desire to be so one day longer than my conduct 
deserves your approbation. I love the country, and 
I love liberty, and am always impatient to get home ! 
I suffer I know not what, cooped within the pestiferous 
walls of that House which should be purified by 
virtue and patriotism. Here I breathe salubrious 
air, but there I am stifled by corruption. So glad am 
I to get home, that in three days I am as well as ever, 
and I could wish that each day was as long as two I" 1 

1 A Report of the Transactions at the Holkham Sheep-shearing (1821) , 
by R. N. Bacon, p. 75. 


And this very passion for the freedom and purity of 
the country obviously predisposed him to an interest in 
every phase of rural life ; so that, in his early boyish 
delight in country pursuits lay, unsuspected, the root of 
his future renown. While his exuberant health made 
him a sportsman, and duty made him a politician, it 
was inclination that made him a farmer. Politics for 
ever remained outside his natural bent the toll he paid 
to circumstance but from rural sport to rural toil was 
an almost inevitable sequence to one of his disposition. 
When as an old man he retired from the political arena, 
he explained : " Though I have stood forward for the 
situation which I have occupied, I may state that it is a 
duty I never liked." Again and again in his political 
speeches he points out how "the peaceful pursuit of 
agriculture has always been much more my happiness 
than the turbulence of politics." It is as an agriculturist 
rather than as a politician that Coke must be remem- 
bered ; yet even so, and with all his tastes ripe for such 
a development, it was chance which actually decided 
his career, and caused him to turn his indomitable 
energy and perseverance in this direction. 

A large part of the Holkham estate, it will be re- 
membered, was originally salt marshes on the coast of 
the North Sea. In 1660 John Coke, son of the Lord 
Chief Justice, had reclaimed 360 acres from the sea, 
and in 1722 Thomas Coke, afterwards Lord Leicester, 
had reclaimed 400 acres and had struggled to improve 
the barren sweep of country. Yet when Coke came 
into the property, the whole district round Holkham 
was little better than a rabbit-warren, varied by long 
tracts of shingle and drifting sand, on which vegetation, 


other than weeds, was impossible. Soon after Coke's 
marriage, when Mrs. Coke remarked that she was going 
down to Norfolk, the witty old Lady Townshend 1 made 
a comment which was ever afterwards quoted as a 
most perfect description of the county: "Then, my 
dear," she said, "all you will see will be one blade of 
grass, and two rabbits fighting for that ! " And such, 
we may imagine, must have been Mrs. Coke's first 
impression of her future home. Beautiful as was the 
interior of Holkham, externally, we have seen, its sur- 
roundings were exceptionally unattractive. The park, 
as yet sparsely timbered, exhibited plantations which 
were still immature, the lake near the house ebbed and 
flowed daily with the tides from the salt marshes, and 
the country beyond lay exposed in its native bleak- 
ness a country which, here and there scantily culti- 
vated, could boast farming only of the most primitive 

Indeed, throughout the county of Norfolk the 
agriculture was of the poorest description. Between 
Holkham and Lynn not a single ear of wheat was to be 
seen, and it was believed that not one would grow. All 
the wheat consumed in the county was imported from 
abroad. And, meanwhile, everything that ignorance 
could do was done to impoverish further an already 
miserable soil. The course of cropping where the 
land would produce anything was three white crops in 
succession, and then broadcast turnips. No manure was 

1 Etheldrsda (Audrey), wife of Charles, Viscount Townshend, from 
whom she was separated, and mother of George, first Marquis Towns- 
hend, who challenged Lord Leicester. She was celebrated for her wit 
and beauty, and Walpole calls her " The beautiful Statira." She died in 



ever purchased. The sheep were a wretched breed, and, 
owing to the absence of fodder, no milch cows were 
kept on any of the farms. 

Yet such, as Coke found the land, it had been for 
successive generations ; and nothing seemed more 
incredible than that its condition could be permanently 
improved, and nothing, as Lord Spencer points out, 1 
" more improbable than that Coke then a youth of 
21 [sic] fond of and excelling in field sports, and with 
princely wealth, should have applied himself to the 
detailed management of a farm. . . . Yet it was," he 
adds, " to the obstinacy of a farmer of the old school 
that not only Holkham, but all England and another 
Hemisphere is indebted for the great Agricultural 
School established by Coke." 

One of the first discoveries made by Coke on succeed- 
ing to his property, was that the leases in the parish of 
Holkham, granted by old Lord Leicester, were about 
to expire. Five leases had subsequently been granted. 
In the leases previous to the ones then current, these 
farms had been let for eighteenpence an acre ; in the 
current leases this had been raised to three-and-sixpence. 
Coke sent for the tenants, Mr. Brett and Mr. Tann, and 
offered to renew their leases at the moderate rental of 
five shillings. Both refused, and Mr. Brett, who, as 
Lord Spencer remarks, ought to have his name recorded 
for the good which he unintentionally did his country, 
jeered at the suggestion, and pointed out that the land 
was not worth the eighteenpence an acre which had 
been originally paid for it. This was sufficient for a 

1 Article by third Earl Spencer in Journal of the Royal Agricultural 
Society, Vol. Ill (1842), Part i. Pub. J. Murray, Albemarle Street. 


man of Coke's temperament ; he immediately decided to 
farm the land himself. 

When one remembers that his hands were newly 
filled with his parliamentary duties and with the cares 
of a large estate ; when one realises that he was abso- 
lutely ignorant of the subject of practical farming, as 
he was, indeed, of all the work which he had recently 
undertaken, the energy of this youth of twenty-two 
was certainly remarkable. Nor is it surprising to learn 
that many years afterwards, when he was an old 
man, he said that throughout his life he had never 
known what it was to find time hang heavily on his 
hands ; he had never found the day half long enough 
for all that he had to do. 

In order, however, in a brief survey of his agri- 
cultural work, to gain any idea of what he attempted 
and what he achieved, it is necessary to treat the 
subject as a whole, rather than to insert events in their 
proper sequence in his life. We will therefore glance 
rapidly on through the years, and view, first his 
labours, and then the result of those labours. 

Coke's agricultural life is always considered to date 
from 1778, when the lease of Mr. Brett's farm fell in ; 
but before that date he was already at work. He at 
once set about remedying his ignorance. He began to 
collect around him practical men who could aid him 
at first, for the most part, humble and perhaps pre- 
judiced advisers ; but no means of information did he 
despise. It struck him what enormous benefits might 
be derived from an annual visit to one district of a 
company of men scientific, practical and theoretical, 


all interested in agriculture. But for the present he 
contented himself with assembling together a party of 
farmers from the immediate neighbourhood, who, upon 
a day fixed, were to meet and discuss agricultural 
matters, to inspect his own farm and method of farm- 
ing, to criticise what they saw, and to condemn or 
approve unhesitatingly as they thought fit. By this 
means he saw that he could not only gain, but also 
judiciously impart knowledge, and pave the way for 
local progress by raising an interest in the questions 

Next, he studied the agriculture in other counties, and 
lost no opportunity of observing the results of different 
methods of farming and different treatment of live 
stock. In Cheshire he visited several farms; also farms 
in the north and south. And what struck him most 
was the extraordinary waste of rich pasture in the more 
fertile counties. Where the country was poor, ignor- 
ance impoverished it ; where it was naturally fertile, 
stupidity failed to profit by it. He said afterwards that 
in Yorkshire he saw wide and beautiful fields, thick with 
luxuriant grass, yet, in passing a score of these, he 
discovered only a solitary donkey grazing. In Shrop- 
shire he drove many miles through the county, but saw 
only two sheep ; one was upon the road journeying to 
Mr. Roscoe in Lancashire, and the other was a ram 
chained in a corner of a field for fear it should do 

As an immediate result of his investigations, he 
adopted an improved course of cropping on his own 
land. Instead of growing three white crops in succes- 
sion, he grew two only and kept the land in pasture 


for two years' interval. This change slowly but surely 
brought about a marked alteration in the impoverished 
soil. He also caused deep pits to be dug in order to 
bring to the surface the rich marl which lay buried far 
beneath the thick layer of sharp flint and drifting sand. 
By such means clover and other grasses began to 
flourish, and it became no longer impossible to feed live 
stock upon the land. 

At Dishley, as has been already mentioned, there 
lived a well-known breeder named Robert Bakewell, 1 of 
whom it was wittily remarked that " his animals were 
too dear for any one to buy and too fat for any one to 
eat ! " Almost immediately upon coming into his 
estate, Coke had asked this man to come and spend a 
week at Holkham. Bakewell did so, and Coke was 
very struck by his remark that the Norfolk sheep were 
the worst in the whole of Great Britain. He questioned 
Bakewell about the cattle, and the answer was : " Mr. 
Coke, give me your hand, and I will guide it ! " 
Bakewell thereupon took Coke's hand in his own, and 
passing it over the cattle, taught him how to judge the 
formation of a beast's flesh, its inclination in feeding 
and whether it possessed the proper qualities for fatten- 
ing. At this time on the 3,000 acres which formed the 
Holkham estate, there were no cattle, and only eight 
hundred sheep, which were fed with difficulty. But 
directly it became practicable, Coke, who was a great be- 
liever in the Norfolk proverb that " Muck is the Mother 
of Money," increased the number of beasts upon the 
farms, realising that they would do more to improve the 
value of the land than any other means he could employ. 

1 He died in 1795. 


He did not at first trouble about the cattle. Remem- 
bering what Bakewell had said, he turned his attention 
to the old race of Norfolk sheep (possibly decadent 
descendants of the flocks of "the Lady Gresham"), 
" whose backs," he said, "were as narrow as rabbits ! " 
and he "did his best to extirpate those sheep, the most 
"worthless that could be kept! " * He had, he explained, 
no prejudice for any particular breed, it was his inten- 
tion to try every breed. But for a long time he believed 
that Merinos would flourish in Norfolk. " It was 
found," he pointed out, after various experiments, 
" that the Leicester sheep first beat the Norfolks, while 
the Southdowns next beat the Leicesters, and he 
questioned whether the Merinos would not beat the 
Southdowns. But he was by no means particularly 
anxious to recommend these sheep, for, as Mr. 
Bakewell used to say : " If they will not speak for 
themselves, nothing that can be said for them will do 
it ! " 2 There was, however, from the first a prejudice 
against them which he tried in vain to combat. This 
had been increased by a ridiculous cause. 

The King himself had tried to rear Merinos and had 
failed. It appears that a flock of forty score of these 
sheep had been sent to the Royal Shrubs Hill Farm to 
be wintered. About a fortnight before the annual 
auction at Kew the remains of that flock returned, in 
number not six score, and those such poor emaciated 
creatures that the prejudice already existing against 
their breed was publicly confirmed. The King's shep- 
herd was asked before several gentlemen what had 
occasioned this great mortality amongst the previously 

1 The Bury and Norwich Post, June 29th, 1808. 2 Op. cit. 


fine flock, and he said he " could not tell." Next he 
was asked to explain what had become of the skins of 
the animals, which were valuable on account of their 
wool, and again he " could not tell." He was par- 
ticularly pressed to declare what had been done with 
the fine skins of the lambs, which, it was reasonably 
concluded, must have been born into the flock ; but 
always he " could not tell." 

Subsequently some inquiring mind discovered that 
the skins of the King's sheep were given to one 
shepherd and the skins of the lambs to another as 
perquisites. This sufficiently explained the great 
mortality amongst the unfortunate Merinos ! 

But although this calumny against them was satisfac- 
torily exploded, the prejudice against them remained, 
and this in spite of certain undeniable merits possessed 
by them which were, from time to time, demonstrated 
at the Sheep-shearings. One year, for instance, there 
were exhibited " various beautiful specimens of ladies' 
Merino dresses, scarfs, shawls, stockings, coatings, 
cassimeres and stocking knit," which were manufac- 
tured from Merinos on the Holkham estate. A pair of 
the worsted stockings were of so delicate a fabric, 
we are told, that two could be passed at the same time 
through a lady's ring ; and a manufacturer at once 
ordered a dozen pairs at the price of 18 per dozen. 1 
Still more, Mr. Tollett, an agricultural friend of Mr. 
Coke's, who always attended the Sheep-shearing, 
proved at the same time the unique individuality pos- 
sessed by these sheep in the remarkable fact that 
a Merino ram which he owned, and which was horn- 

1 The Bury and Norwich Post, Wednesday, June 29th, 1808. 

less, produced annually plentiful offspring, one half of 
which invariably were hornless and the other half had 
horns ! Nothing served to make the Merinos either 
appreciated or prosperous in Norfolk, 1 and Coke, 
recognising this, substituted for them the Southdowns, 
which he brought to a wonderful state of perfection, 
until on the same area where eight hundred sheep had 
been kept with difficulty, he had a flourishing flock of 
two thousand five hundred. 

Meanwhile, during his hunting expeditions in the 
neighbourhood of Blofield, he noticed that, throughout 
that district, not a single sheep was visible, He was 
convinced that their introduction there would be per- 
fectly practicable and a great advantage to both the farm- 
ers and the land ; but he knew that he had to contend 
with a rooted belief to the contrary. Accordingly 
he took his own method of dealing with it. One morn- 
ing he rode over to a rich farmer in the neighbourhood 
and invited him to ride to Kipton Ash Fair. The man, 
much flattered and suspecting no ulterior design, ac- 
cepted the invitation, and they went together. Arrived 
at their destination, Coke observed some sheep which 
would answer the required purpose, and suddenly pro- 
posed to his companion that, as the animals were so 
fine, the latter should buy them and stock his farm. 
The man was horrified at the suggestion, and asked 
Mr. Coke indignantly what on earth he should do with 
the beasts if he did buy them, as it was impossible to 
keep them on his farm. " Impossible," suggested 

1 Napoleon shortly afterwards made similar exertions to introduce 
the breed of Merino sheep into France. (From the unpublished Journals 
of John Spencer-Stanhope, Esq., of Cannon Hall.} 


Coke, " is a word which is greatly abused. Until you 
have tried, how can you know what is ' impossible'? " 
The man still objected strongly ; whereupon Coke 
urged him further. " I will make you a fair offer," he 
said ; "as your buying them will be at my suggestion, 
if they die, I will refund your outlay ; if they live, 
your profit is your own." The farmer, thus overruled 
by Mr. Coke's determination, very reluctantly bought a 
hundred sheep. The next year, uninvited, he rode over 
to Holkham and begged Mr. Coke, as a favour, to ride 
with him to Kipton Ash Fair. Coke agreed, and, 
arrived there, the farmer at his own risk bought four 
hundred sheep for his farm on which he had thought it 
impossible to rear one hundred. Needless to say, his 
neighbours followed his example, and soon, in the 
district where it was imagined that not a single sheep 
could thrive, there was not a farm to be seen without 
flourishing flocks. 

One inveterate enemy, indeed, Coke thereby gained. 
A Norfolk lady, Mrs. Bodham, of the most vehement 
Tory principles, and who in later years obstinately said 
that she intended to outlive Mr. Coke (an aim which, 
to her immense satisfaction, she ultimately accom- 
plished by attaining to the age of ninety-four) always, 
to the last day of her life, railed against him on account 
of his "Whiggish Sheep," by the introduction of 
which into the county, she said, he had completely 
ruined the flavour of Norfolk mutton ! 

After importing fresh sheep, moreover, Coke soon 

introduced a breed of shorthorned cattle into Norfolk, 

which latter he discarded for the North Devon breed, 

when he found these to be superior. In this decision 

i. s 


he was influenced by the opinion of Francis, Duke of 
Bedford, 1 the agriculturist, who was one of his greatest 
friends. One morning, as he was riding down the park 
at Holkham, Coke encountered a drove of thirty Devon 
oxen solemnly marching towards the house. Much 
surprised at such an unusual sight, he inquired whence 
these unexpected visitors had arrived, and was told 
they had travelled from Woburn, a present to Mr. Coke 
from the Duke of Bedford, who wished him to try the 
special breed of Devons which he personally approved. 

Coke at once started a trial between the fattening of 
two Devons against one shorthorned beast ; and dis- 
covered that the two former cost the same as the one 
latter. When killed, the two weighed 140 stone, while 
the shorthorned beast weighed no stone only, and it 
had eaten more food than the two Devons. In short, 
Devons would flourish in pasture where Durhams 
would starve ; and Shorthorns, though satisfactory for 
the butcher, were unprofitable for the breeder. 

After he had made this discovery, he saw some Short- 
horns belonging to a tenant of his, and informed the 
man that he would find them great consumers. The 
man announced, however, that he was supremely satis- 
fied with his stock. Upon his next visit, Coke asked 
him if he was still satisfied with the Shorthorns? The 
man carefully ignored the question. At last, unable 
to contain himself any longer, he burst out, " Mr. 
Coke, you were right ! Them darned beasts have eat 
up all my turnips ; and gi' them a chance, they'd eat 
all the turnips in the parish, and all the turnips in 
England itself!" 

1 Francis, fifth Duke of Bedford (1765-1802). 


Not contented, however, with recommending the Devon 
breed amongst his farmers in the country, Coke called 
upon a butcher in London, a Mr. Handcock, who then 
supplied the principal families, and asked him if he 
killed any Devon beasts. The man replied, " Certainly 
not ! They are not good enough for my clients, who 
will only have the best Scots!" "Try the Devons," 
urged Mr. Coke, " and let me know the result ! " The 
result was that, for a considerable time, the butcher 
bought whatever Mr. Coke sent to market, in all more 
than a hundred beasts, and that both he and his clients 
were supremely satisfied with the change. 

Coke, who often used cattle for ploughing, found 
that the Devons were also the best for this work. That 
he was peculiar in thus using oxen is shown by a 
remark which he made in the House in 1805, tnat "in 
Norfolk, where farming was carried to a great degree 
of nicety, he believed there was no such thing known 
as the use of oxen in husbandry." 1 When he used 
horses he never employed more than two, though 
throughout the country it was customary to employ 
from three to five, and then to find that the land was 
not ploughed very deep nor was the work thoroughly neat 
and efficient. The secret was that, although always 
ready to test new inventions, where Coke found the old 
methods best, he stuck to them with equal determination ; 
and in spite of all that others less able to judge could 
say to the contrary, he kept to the old-fashioned Nor- 

1 Hansard, 1805, Vol. Ill, p. 883. 

" In 1784 Coke worked twelve oxen in harness for carting-, and found 
them a very considerable saving- in comparison with horses ; but by 1800 
he had been forced to give up using them partly from the difficulty of 
shoeing, but principally from the prejudice of his men against them" 
{Autobiography of Arthur Young, p. 481). 


folk plough which places the horses nearer their work, 
and thus saves the waste of force occasioned by four 
or five horses pulling from a point six or seven inches 
below the surface of the earth. 

In the Agricultural Annals of 1784, it is related how 
"the great Coke of Norfolk" visiting a friend near 
North Leach, in Gloucestershire, was utterly astonished 
to see "six horses at a length turning a single furrow 
with a clumsy plough," and making hard work of it. 
He could not rest till he had made his friend a present 
of a Norfolk plough and a pair of Norfolk cart-horses, 
and had sent the ploughman over to start these. This 
plough made excellent headway, and the two horses 
were not tired with work, well performed, which, with 
the other plough, it had fatigued six horses to do badly. 

Some years later, in 1801, Coke, while staying at 
Woburn, was enlarging upon the merits of the Norfolk 
plough, when Sir John Sebright, M.P. for Herts, who 
was an obstinate and eccentric man, shook his head 
and announced gruffly : " Coke, I'll stake you a wager 
of two hundred guineas that a Norfolk plough and two 
horses cannot plough an acre of heavy Hertford land 
in ten hours." Coke promptly accepted the challenge, 
but pointed out that, since Sir John would certainly 
lose his wager, he would be wise to offer lower stakes. 
Conditions were then drawn up by the Duke of Bed- 
ford, and the document ran as follows : 

"Sir John Sebright offers to bet 50 guineas that 
Mr. Coke will not plough an acre of land in one day 
in a husband-like manner with the wheel-plough 
commonly used in Norfolk, with two horses ; an 
acre of which Sir John Sebright will plough in the 
same time with a Hertfordshire plough and four 
horses ; the land to be fixed upon by Sir J. Sebright, 


near Beechwood in the month of October. One 
person to be named by each of them, and the call- 
ing in a third if they do not agree. 

" Accepted by (Signed) THOMAS WILLIAM COKE.'* 

Sir John, as may be imagined, took particular care 
that the land chosen should be the very worst he could 
find. Coke sent a responsible farmer to inspect the 
field beforehand and the report which I subjoin, un- 
expurgated, was far from reassuring : 

" Honor'd Sir, According to your desire I taken 
the first opportunity to go with your Man to Sir 
John Seabright's were he seen the land that is to 
(be) plough'd ; it is very stoney and what is worse 
the chosen Spot is rising Ground where the Horses 
will be obliged to go up and down the Hill. William 
says he cannot positively say whether he can plough 
it or not, from the innumerable Quantity of Flints 
there is above ground. The Day is fixed for next 
Friday when I will Aid and Assist as much as lays 
in my power. William is now at plough in the Park 
where his Plough performs the work better and with 
more ease than the Bedfordshire Plows do with four 
horses. I understand of Sir John Seabright there 
will be a large Concourse of People attend on the 
Day appointed. I am informed the Bets in the 
Neighbourhood of Beechwood are offer'd fifty guineas 
to Ten in favour of the Norfolk Plow, and that the 
Herfordshire Man may be beat is the sincere wish of 
" Your Most Obet. Humble Servant, 


" SPEEDWELL FARM, September 28th 1801." 

The contest was privately fixed for October 2nd ; but 
although the fact was not known in Hertfordshire until 
the previous day, a large crowd of agriculturists and 
farmers came from great distances to witness the trial, 
and made a sporting event of the strange incident. It 

is said that many strangers bet ten to one against Mr. 
Coke's plough when it started with his horses and men, 
but the task was accomplished in the time agreed upon, 
and the only question to be decided was whether it had 
been performed in a husband-like manner. " A Hert- 
fordshire gentleman," wrote a friend to Mr. Dixon in 
Norfolk, " told me that it was an extraordinary per- 
formance." "If in your mind there remains any 
doubt," wrote Coke to Sir John, on October 7th, " let 
it be referred to the Duke of Bedford, under whose 
roof, and in whose presence the bett was made." But 
the Duke could only assure Coke that, after minute 
inspection of the work by a competent farmer, no 
doubt could exist that he had won his bet. "All 
agree," he pronounced, "that it was the hardest day's 
work done by man or horse." 

So Sir John paid his fifty guineas with a good grace; 
"I should be wanting in Justice to your Ploughman," 
he wrote to Coke, "did I not state to you that his skill 
and exertions astonished every person present." And 
Coke, thanking him for his "polite" letter of informa- 
tion respecting the performance of the Norfolk plough, 
remarks: "Had I entertained a doubt of its success 
I should not have done justice to the skill and ability 
of the Ploughman, whose exertions, I can easily 
assume, must have astonished men less conversant in 
the Norfolk science of Agriculture." 1 

1 Two years later, on June ryth, 1803, Coke challenged all England 
with a Norfolk plough and a pair of horses to plough an acre, or half an 
acre, of any soil for fifty guineas, to be tried on light land at Holkham 
and on strong clay at Woburn. 

Sir J. Sinclair said he would accept the bet if it was extended to 
Scotland, which was accordingly agreed, but the result is not recorded. 


MEN were destined, however, rapidly to 
become conversant with the " Norfolk 
science of Agriculture " ; for, as Coke 
wrote to his farmers: " Everything con- 
nected with Agriculture must necessarily be a subject 
of the first importance to the public at large. From 
this source the labourer is employed and the manu- 
facturer fed ; from this source, also, the landlord re- 
ceives his rent, the tenant his support, and all classes 
of society their comforts." Similarly, a great contem- 
porary or, perhaps, more correctly, precursor of Coke's 
Voltaire, 1 had already remarked how "the best thing 
we have to do on earth is to cultivate it"; and how "to 
have cultivated a field and made twenty trees grow, is 
a good which will never be lost " ; which latter fact 
was also early recognised by Coke. 

Almost immediately in his experiments he turned his 
attention to timbering his estate, and thus transforming 
the bleak, bare coast. He decided to plant fifty acres 
every year till he had environed three thousand acres 
of land which was to compose the park and demesne. 
He planted four hundred acres of different kinds of 
plants, two-thirds of which he intended to be thinned 

1 Voltaire died in 1778. 


and cut down for underwood, leaving only oak, Spanish 
chestnut and beech as timber. 1 " Mr. Coke is doing 
wonders in planting and improvement," we are told in 
1 79 1. 2 Many years afterwards he had what was 
probably a unique experience in the life of any man. 
In 1832 he and his family embarked on board a ship at 
Wells built of wood grown from acorns which he him- 
self had planted. 

He also, like his ancestors, devoted his thought to 
reclaiming land from the sea. Laboriously, and at 
enormous cost, he reclaimed seven hundred acres which 
had previously been covered by the ocean, and began 
to prepare them for cultivation. Within two years, 
corn was growing upon soil which had been shingle 
swept by daily tides. 

Yet so late as 1808 we find him complaining that no 
meadows were in so disgraceful a state as those in 
Norfolk, and, in order to encourage irrigation, offering 
50 to the person who should convert the greatest 
number of acres (not less than ten) into water meadows 
by the following year. 3 

One result of his personally reclaiming thesalt marshes 
was that the lake at Holkham ceased to be an arm of the 
sea. This left it twenty acres in extent, and over a 
mile long. Not till sixty years afterwards was it cleaned 
out for the first time since it had been part of the 
ocean, and the mud which was then removed was found 
to contain many marine substances. This was used as 

1 Agricultural Survey of Norfolk (1796), by Nathaniel Kent, p. 90. 

2 The Girlhood of Maria Josepha Holroyd^ edited by J. H. Adeane 
(1896), p. 255. 

3 The Bury and Norwich Post, June 2gth, 1808. 


manure and proved most beneficial, four cart-loads 
being applied to one acre of land, and causing that land, 
though poor and sandy, to produce fourteen coombs of 
wheat to the acre. 

In the repairing and strengthening of the sea- 
breaches and the irrigation of this land Coke employed 
the well-known " Strata " Smith. This geologist, 
William better known as " Strata" Smith, 1 was the 
son of poor parents, and had risen by his own abilities. 
Coke first met him at the house of a friend, and being 
struck by his improvements in irrigation and draining, 
decided to employ him, and afterwards helped him by 
introducing him to friends, and particularly to Francis, 
Duke of Bedford, who made great use of him upon the 
Woburn estate. Smith gained celebrity as the author 
of the first Map of the Strata of England and Wales, 
and afterwards wrote a well-known book on " Water 
Meadows," which he dedicated to Coke. 2 In his 
Memoirs 3 there is a description of his first journey to 
Holkham. He rode on horseback from Bath with 
nothing but a one-sheet map to guide him. Being 
afraid that he would not remember the road on his 
return, he took characteristic measures to recall it. 
He relates: " I alighted from my horse, from time to 

1 William Smith (1769-1839), the Father of English Geology. 

8 Observations on Water Meadows, published in 1806, dedicated to 
" Thomas William Coke, Esq., M.P. for the County of Norfolk." The 
dedication, after referring to improvements in various parts of Norfolk, 
proceeds : " Indeed, the recital of these good practices is nothing but a 
faint echo of what the community is indebted to you ; but those only 
who live in the County of Norfolk can form any idea of the great good 
that is there going on, and the ultimate advantages of your invaluable 
improvements would to many appear like a romance, especially if put 
down in numbers, which is the only way of ascertaining their real worth. " 

3 Memoirs of William Smith, by J. R. Philips, F.R.S., 1844. 

time, sketched a section of the ascents and descents 
of the road, marked the stone quarries, outcrops of the 
rocks and other strata thereon, and could not refrain 
from loading my pockets with identifying fossils." One 
imagines that he must have been somewhat exhausted 
by the end of his journey ! 

Coke had all the aptitude of a clever man for discover- 
ing talent in others, and for recognising the men who 
were best qualified to help him in his endeavours. It 
was thus that he quickly recognised Gardiner's inca- 
pacity and unworthiness. It was thus that, later in 
life, he secured the services of an invaluable assistant, 
Francis Blakie, of whom we shall hear in due course. 
But whatever information he collected from others, he 
never considered it conclusive until he had personally 
tested its value, at whatever cost to himself. And in 
all the work which he undertook he did not look for 
any immediate profits ; indeed, the enormous outlay 
which his labours entailed must have prohibited any 
expectation of this. During the first few years of his 
experiments he spent over 100,000 in the erection 
and repairing of farm-houses and outbuildings alone. 
Between 1776 and 1842 he is said to have spent no 
less than 536,992 on improvements, which did not 
include any of the large sums spent on his house and 
domain, home-farm buildings and his expensive Marsh- 
farm of 459 acres. 1 His object was a disinterested one 
at whatever loss and exertion to himself to bring 
about a permanent improvement in the condition of the 

1 See Walter Rye, Coke of Holkham, p. 1 1 ; from the Journal of the 
R.A.S.E., 3rd series, Vol. VI, part i, 1895; also Journal R.A.S.E., 
Vol. XXIII, p. 370. 


soil and in the knowledge of agriculture. And though 
gain came to him, it must have seemed at first improb- 
able that his mere outlay could ever be recouped. 

One thing, however, he always maintained was that 
the interests of landlord and tenant were identical. 
" A good understanding between landlord and tenant" 
was always quoted as the root of the Holkham pros- 
perity. In order to encourage his farmers to exert 
themselves he let out his farms on long leases at a 
very moderate rental, and burdened by very few re- 
strictions. This, he saw, was, in the end, an advantage 
to both landlord and tenant. It made it worth while 
for the tenant to invest capital in his farm and to 
interest himself in its improvement, while it eventually 
benefited the landlord by enriching his estate. But 
in granting these long leases it was necessary to take 
into consideration the fact that, under a bad tenant, the 
land would have greater opportunity for deterioration ; 
therefore, when a certain tenant named Overman, who 
had been the first to further the new agricultural 
schemes, at length took a farm on the Holkham estate, 
Coke allowed him, as an experiment, to draw up the 
covenants of his lease himself. Overman inserted a 
clause making the improved course of cropping com- 
pulsory ; and Coke forthwith made this lease the model 
on which all others, with any necessary modifications, 
were framed ; so that the land was thus efficiently pro- 
tected from the possible results of a long course of bad 

In one particular, especially, Coke was unalterably 
consistent. Effort and industry in his tenants were 
met by him with unstinting liberality as a landlord. 


When a farmer by wit or work had increased the value 
of his holding, Coke did not, as the value rose, immedi- 
ately raise the rent. Such a course he considered 
calculated to discourage effort. In a neighbouring 
estate, where the landlord was old, the heir refused 
to renew the leases, thinking the farms might be worth 
a higher rent in the future. In consequence, all improve- 
ments on that estate ceased. But when a tenant who 
had taken a Holkham farm actually doubled the value of 
his holding, Coke twice renewed the man's long lease 
on the original terms, and the improvements increased. 
In the year 1818, one tenant reclaimed two pieces of 
meadow pasture from a complete bog at the expense of 
ten pounds an acre. When Blakie saw this he was 
so struck with it that he exclaimed : " Upon my word, 
young man, you have a stout heart ! " A few days 
afterwards the tenant found a note upon his table, in 
Coke's well-known handwriting, as follows : 

" I approve the improvements effected by you as 
reported to me by Mr. Blakie, and in consequence 
feel it my duty to grant you a new lease from Michael- 
mas 1818 for 21 years." 

This lease was to remain at the annual rental agreed 
upon when the land was partially bog. The farm was 
subsequently so improved that a second lease of twenty- 
one years was granted. 

A naive letter to Coke from the wife of one of his 
tenants, written at this date, refers to a similar trans- 
action : 

" COKE FOR EVER ! and so Mrs. Dowsing 
always has said, and ever will say. This is not the 
first time on which Mr. Coke has treated Mr. Dows- 


ing in the handsomest manner possible. A thousand, 
thousand thanks. Mrs. Dowsing likewise desires 
to express her best acknowledgments to Mr. Coke. 
This lady is a staunch friend and well-wisher to Mr. 
Coke, as well as Mr. D." 

Whenever a tenant had been proved to be a valuable 
farmer, in renewing his lease Coke gave him the 
bonus of an excellent house. " Gentlemen's houses 
for farmers" these gifts were described, 1 and his political 
opponents made it one of the complaints against him 
that he built palaces for farm-houses. He, however, 
built his home-farm, yard and buildings as a model to 
his tenants of what such buildings should be ; and 
more than once he said to a tenant : " If you will keep 
an extra yard of bullocks, I will build you a yard and 
shed free of expense." 

Besides all his other expenditure, he spent large 
sums in improving the dwellings of his cottagers. He 
designed special buildings for the comfort of the aged 
or infirm, whose cottages he planned all on one floor 
that they might not have the fatigue of going up and 
down stairs. Indeed, the permanent happiness of his 
tenants seems to have been his first consideration. " It 
has been objected against me," he said at one of the 
Sheep-shearings, u that my tenants live too much like 
gentlemen, driving their own curricules, perhaps, and 
drinking their port every day. I am proud to have 
such a tenantry, and heartily wish that instead of 

1 "The Stately Mansions, as they would be termed in most other 
counties, which the farmers occupy were equally admired by strangers 
with the degree of intelligence and spirit of improvement, which their 
hospitable occupiers possess" (The London Chronicle ; Account of the 
Sheep-shearing, July 3-5, 1804). 

drinking their port they could afford to drink their 
claret and champagne every day!" . . . "Such," 
adds the enthusiastic recorder of the speech, " is the 
spirit, such is the liberality and such are the feelings 
of Mr. Coke!" 1 

There is no doubt that Coke always put good solid 
comfort in daily life far before all outward and more 
striking signs of prosperity. "We can all be clothed 
with imperial cloth of British growth," he said at one 
of the Sheep-shearings; "but I had rather that an 
Englishman's back should go without a superfine coat 
than that he should want plenty of wholesome mutton 
inside him!" A cheery song called "Barley Mung," 
which was sung throughout Norfolk, celebrated his 
indifference to the considerations of appearance as well 
as of rank : 

Coke little recks of low, or high, 

Coats fine, or jackets barely worn ; 

The Landlord of Holkham ne'er looks down 

On the humble grower of Barley-corn ! 

Arthur Young, 2 the agriculturist, declares, indeed, 
that Coke was something of a martinet towards his 
tenants. On Sundays, he says, Mr. Coke insisted on 
all his labourers attending church, and afterwards sent 
them to work in the fields, declaring that honest labour 
was preferable to drunken idleness their only other 
method of spending the Sabbath. 3 This sounds ex- 
tremely like a fable circulated by his political oppon- 

1 Undated newspaper extract kept by the Hon. the Rev. Thomas 
Keppel. Holkham MS. 

3 Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. 

8 Arthur Young calculated that if the half-day Sunday work were the 
custom all over England, it would be worth 600,000 per annum to the 
Kingdom (Annals of Agriculture t Vol. II, p. 379). 


ents with the object of damaging his popularity 
among the working classes ; but, be that as it may, it 
is certain that no tenant ever left him, except owing 
to extreme old age, and that no man who had once 
known Coke as a landlord would ever consent to live 
under any other. 1 

" Though long leases and clauses of management 
were innovations," we are told, " Holkham farms com- 
manded the pick of the English tenants." 2 Even 
William Cobbett, 3 the hater of landlords, who had 
previously made a fierce and public attack upon Coke on 
account of his great wealth an attack which roused a 
chorus of indignation from current periodicals even 
Cobbett acknowledged the benefit which Coke's tenantry 
derived from his paternal rule. " Every one," con- 
fessed Cobbett in 1818, after a visit to the Holkham 
estate, "made use of the expressions towards him 
which affectionate children use towards their parents." 4 

As the condition of the land surrounding the estate 
improved, Coke must have often compared it mentally 
with the bleak and barren heath which he had seen 
upon his first arrival at Holkham ; and must have con- 
trasted, too, the prosperous farmers in their comfort- 

1 "I have never seen an instance of any tenant leaving 1 him, unless 
grown too far in years to be able to continue " (Nathaniel Kent, 
Agricultural Survey of Norfolk (1796), p. 123). 

2 Social England, ed. H. D. Traill (1893-7). Vol. VI, p. 80. 

3 William Cobbett (1762-1835), son of a small farmer and grandson 
of a day-labourer. Socialist and demagogue. M.P. for Oldham, 1832. 
Originator of Hansard's Debates (1806). 

4 Social England, Vol. VI, p. 80. It is perhaps a trivial circum- 
stance, but it helps to show the light in which Coke was regarded, that, 
throughout Norfolk, crockery was popular in the cottages which bore 
his likeness upon it, and the inscription " The Norfolk Patriot. Greatly 

able dwellings with a recollection of the ill-conditioned 
smugglers who had then occupied the cottages upon 
the coast. 1 One point, however, he was determined all 
should recognise, and that was the sharp distinction 
between his sentiments as a politician and as an agri- 
culturist. Strongly as he felt upon the subject of up- 
holding the principles of the Whig party principles on 
which he believed the welfare and liberty of England to 
depend he wished it to be clearly understood that, what- 
ever benefits he bestowed upon his tenants, he laid no 
claim to their political allegiance ; each man was free to 
follow the dictates of his own conscience, and no one 
should be coerced. 

" When any man who holds a farm under me gives 
me his support, I consider it a compliment ; when he 
votes against me, I naturally feel hurt ; but I give each 
man credit for his opinions, and I wish him to vote 
according to his conscience. I have on my estate some 
who have been very active partisans against me, but I 
have never removed them from their farms on that 
account." Once Lord Exeter, finding that some ten- 
ants upon his estate had voted against him, gave them 
notice to quit, and Coke did not spare the expression of 
his opinion upon that occasion. "Is it to be endured," 
he exclaimed in a public speech soon after, "that any 
man should extend his authority to such a despotic 

1 " Not many years ago, the site on which Mr. Coke's stables now 
stand was occupied by a few mean, straggling cottages, inhabited by 
miserable beings who, unable to obtain a maintenance from the inade- 
quate produce of the agricultural labour of the neighbourhood, derived a 
not less precarious subsistence from smuggling and the predatory habits 
connected with it." See Holkham and its Agriculture (1818), by Dr. 


extent as to tell a free-born Englishman, ' If you don't 
go to the lengths I do, I shall remove you from your 
occupation ' ! I would scorn to turn a man out of his 
farm or his dwelling because he voted against me ! It 
is horrid, it is revolting to every good feeling that a 
man should say, * You and your wife and your children 
shall be turned out into the road destitute because you 
exercised your franchise against my will/ If this is 
the conduct of the aristocracy, they must expect the 
result of it hatred and aggression. . . . J>1 

As a result, Coke always said that in the whole 
course of his life, wherever he went, he never met with 
anything but perfect civility from all denominations of 
people. 2 It was his pride to mix with the yeomanry. 
" He knew they were a proud and independent body of 
men men who were willing to be led, but would never 
be driven ; and he trusted to God they never would ! " 

To emphasise this attitude as in his political life he 
had adopted certain toasts to show his principles, so in 
his capacity of landlord he adopted a motto which 
became the keynote of existence upon the Holkham 
estate. This maxim, " LIVE AND LET LIVE," was his 
first toast at all gatherings of tenantry on the estate ; it 
was the maxim on which he moulded his life. His sole 
aim, he stated, was to give everybody a fair chance, to 
combat prejudice, to encourage effort, to increase 
practical knowledge. Towards the scoffers he showed 
an infinite patience : " To those who are hard of belief," 
he said, "I can only say Come and see you will be 

1 Norwich Chronicle, October, 1830. 

2 One must, however, recognise an exception in the conduct of some 
of the rioters subsequently referred to. 

I. T 

heartily welcome." When praised for his generosity, 
he always parried all compliment by answering simply 
that he considered himself a temporary steward of the 
ample fortune which Providence had bestowed upon 
him ; that he was bound to use it, not for himself, but, 
to the best advantage, for others. 

And, meanwhile, in all his efforts, he laboured most 
earnestly with the children of the tenants. His first 
idea was to educate the younger generation to a greater 
intelligence and love of enterprise than was possible 
with their fathers. He instituted special classes for 
their instruction in the knowledge of all matters con- 
nected with practical farming. He himself taught them 
by taking them about his farms ; questioning them on 
what they saw, and explaining what they did not under- 
stand ; while he made a careful note of those who 
showed greatest aptitude, and to them devoted most 
pains. But chiefly he encouraged all alike to exert 
their own powers of observation. What they merely 
learnt, he commended ; what they discovered for them- 
selves, he rewarded. 

Thus during the months of May and June when the 
grass was in bloom, he not only gave the children 
simple botanical lessons, but employed them to scour the 
country in search of the best stock of seed. This 
apparently unimportant action gradually consummated 
the transformation for which he was labouring in the 
pasture-lands. The want of deep drainage had formerly 
been severely felt, and the wet pastures had favoured 
the growth of the rankest and coarsest vegetation. Yet, 
although this had been altered, when the land wanted 
seeding, the farmers continued to throw on the ground 


an indiscriminate collection of seeds which often con- 
tained as much rank weed or coarse grass as nutritious 
herbage. Coke was the first practical farmer who 
appreciated the value of distinguishing between the 
various kinds of seed, 1 and, even as meadows and 
pasture, the light lands of Norfolk at length beat the 
grass-lands of other counties, despite the natural 
superiority of the latter. So clearly was this fact recog- 
nised, that the Norfolk fairs became crowded with half- 
fed Galloway Scots, Highlanders, Lowland Scots and 
Skye cattle, as well as beasts from less remote districts, 
which were sent to the eastern counties to be fattened 
for the London markets. 

Another improvement which he brought about de- 
serves mention, for though not developed by him 
personally, it was directly due to his promoting agri- 
cultural progress, and was handsomely rewarded by 
him. A tenant of his at Warham, Mr. Blomfield, who 
farmed on the Holkham system seventy acres very near 
the sea, discovered the plan of what he termed " inocu- 
lating " the land. This first occurred to him from 
noticing the pieces of flag along the hedgerows being 
well beaten with a spade. The country was absolutely 
without old pasture, and the attempt to "lay down" 
land, as it was called, was very expensive. Blomfield 
tried placing two pieces of grass-turf of flag about 
three and a half inches square at certain distances, 
leaving an interval between them uncovered equal to 
that which was covered. This turf was well rammed 
down in the winter months, and in the spring some 
grass seeds were sown on the uncovered spots. Before 

1 See Social England, ed. H. D. Traill (1893-7), Vol. VI, p. 80. 

the end of the summer the flag had extended itself, 
and, uniting the whole, appeared to be, and was actually 
equivalent to old pasture of fifty years. Thirty acres of 
wretched soil near Mr. Blomfield's house, which were 
practically valueless before this system was adopted, 
soon became rich land ; and Coke, delighted at this 
discovery, at once prepared a large piece of land in 
view of the house at Holkham to be improved in this 
manner. 1 

Many volumes might be filled with an account of 
Coke's methods and his ceaseless experiments ; but 
I fear these technicalities would have little interest for 
the general reader. " The life-story of < Coke of Nor- 
folk,' we are told, " is too much made up of agricultural 
technicalities to be generally attractive, but to the 
Norfolk farmer it reads like a romance an agricultural 
romance." 1 Lord Spencer, however, sums up Coke's 
system briefly : 

Improved rotations of crops. 

The application of marl and clay. 

The judicious use of artificial organic manures. 

The adoption of a more profitable description of live 

Exciting the general use of the drill. 

Concluding that the interest of the landlord and 
tenant were too closely united ever to be dissociated. 

Granting leases of a liberal nature and extent, 
burdened by few restricting covenants ; his theory 

1 The real reason of its great success on a soil not adapted to good 
turf is that some of the rich mellow soil on which the turf has been 
flourishing- goes with the roots and imparts new vigour to the unsuitable 
soil. The cost was about thirty-five to forty shillings per acre. 

2 Highways and Byways in East Anglia, by Joseph Rennel, pp. 233-4. 


being that these, while they cripple the exertions of a 
good farmer, but seldom improve the bigoted and 

To this must be added the magnificent rewards 
which he gave as an encouragement to industry and 
enterprise, whenever he came across them, together with 
the splendid annual prizes at the Sheep-shearings; and 
thus we glean a faint outline of the system he pursued. 
At the Sheep-shearing in the year 1808, for instance, 
we read that he gave ten silver tankards value 
ten guineas each, a bowl value twenty guineas, liberal 
prizes in money to all the farmers and shepherds who 
had reared fine sheep and lambs, and still more ample 
prizes in money or plate to competitors who exhibited 
successful new implements to aid any form of industry. 

Yet in spite of his generosity and in spite of his 
unrivalled perseverance, he had, in carrying out his 
schemes, to contend with incredible opposition. All 
that prejudice and ignorance could do to thwart him 
was done. The old race of Norfolk farmers were stolid 
and obstinate. Seldom moving many miles from the 
place where they were born, they were wedded to old 
methods and to what their fathers had taught before 
them. In the first instance, no doubt, Coke's youth 
told against him. That one who was a mere lad in the 
eyes of most of them should presume to meddle with 
old-time saws and knowledge that had descended to 
them from generations of forbears, was an insult to 
their most cherished traditions. Coke's experiments 
were ridiculed, his motives misunderstood, his liber- 
ality met with disheartening ingratitude even so late 

as 1804, with open riot and violence. His less aggres- 
sive opponents scoffed at the notion that his "rabbit 
and rye lands " were capable of better cultivation, and 
declared that the thin drifty soil must be ploughed by 
"rabbits yoked to a pocket-knife." "It is difficult," 
Coke admitted patiently, "to teach anything to adult 
ignorance. I had to contend with prejudice, an igno- 
rant impatience of change, and a rooted attachment to 
old methods." 1 

Even when he had proved that wheat would grow, no 
one followed his example. It was nine years before 
any one attempted to imitate him, and then at last Mr. 
Overman having made the experiment, others slowly, 
very slowly, followed his example. It is curious that 
nothing spreads more leisurely than any innovation in 
the agricultural world. Perhaps the brains of tillers 
of the soil are naturally unprogressive and conserva- 
tive ; for whereas in a manufacturing centre any im- 
provement in machinery is usually adopted directly its 
advantage is proved, in an agricultural district any 
change is regarded with suspicion, and a discovery, 
even when admitted to be advantageous, is too often 
allowed to lapse into oblivion rather than be adopted. 
For sixteen years Coke used the drill before any one 
could be induced to do so ; 2 even when the farmers 
at last began to recognise the advantage of the quicker 
method, he estimated that its use spread only at the 
rate of a mile a year. " When I introduced the drill," 

1 Dr. Rigby's Holkham and its Agriculture (1818). 

2 The farmers persisted in the old method of sowing the grain broad- 
cast, i.e. casting it upon the land ; or else in dibbing, i.e. laboriously making 
holes with a dibbing-iron into which the grain was dropped, while 
another man followed with a rake and covered the holes over. 


he said afterwards, "it was a long time before I could 
get a disciple." It used to be said: "Oh, it's very 
beautiful and it's very well for Mr. Coke!" but that it 
might be equally "well" for Mr. Coke's tenants was 
carefully ignored. By and by, however, he discovered 
that a quaint term for a good crop of barley had come 
into use upon the estate. His farmers called it hat- 
barley, for the reason that if a man throws his hat into 
a crop, the hat rests on the surface if the crop is good, 
but falls to the ground if it is bad. "All, sir," pro- 
nounced his tenants at length, "is * hat-barley' since 
the drill came ! " * 

In short, where a weaker man would have given up 
the struggle, Coke succeeded because he was not of 
a nature to be daunted. The more opposition he en- 
countered, the more determined he was to succeed. 
He used to tell many amusing stories of the want of 
grit with which he had to contend. One day a well-to- 
do tenant came to hire a farm on the Holkham estate 
which he had heard was to let. The farm proved to be 
close to the park, and on seeing this, and how the place 
abounded with game, the intending tenant refused it 
decisively. Blakie went to Coke and told him that the 
man had seen the farm and had declined it, considering 
it impossible to grow crops profitably upon it. " Oh," 
said Coke, "don't let him go without first coming to 
speak to me." The man, consequently, was brought 
to Coke and repeated his unalterable decision not to 
hire the farm. "Pray," said Coke quietly, "did you 
happen to see my crops adjoining the farm, just inside 

1 General Vieiv of the Agriculture of Norfolk, by the Secretary of the 
Board of Agriculture (1804), p. 251. 

the park palings?" "Why, yes, sir," was the reply, 
"they are first-class." " And what then is the matter 
with the paling t" asked Coke; "isn't it possible to 
grow as good crops one side of the paling as the 
other?" " I don't know, sir," was the dubious answer; 
and the man took his departure. Two days later he 
again put in an appearance at Holkham and asked to 
see the Squire. On being brought into Coke's presence, 
he announced solemnly: "Sir, I have been unable to 
sleep the last two nights for thinking of what you said 
about growing as good crops outside the park pales 
as inside, and I have been looking at the farm again, 
and if you please, I will take it at the rent you ask." The 
bargain was immediately concluded, the tenant proved 
satisfactory, and the crops subsequently grown out- 
side the park pales corresponded with those grown 
inside ! 

It was partly Coke's patience which prevailed against 
the inherent stubbornness of the natures with which he 
had to contend, partly that he took an infinitude of pains 
to enter into their objections and prejudices, and to learn 
what justifiable grounds existed for the opinions to which 
they held so tenaciously. But principally his was the 
influence of a strong nature imbued with strong con- 
victions. That profound honesty which constituted 
his power in the political world stood him in good 
stead with his Norfolk farmers. He often said that he 
never ventured to give an opinion on any subject till 
after three years' trial ; until then, he looked upon his 
experiments as a mere amusement. None the less, so 
unused was he to failure, so ill schooled to bear even 
its suggestion, that when any part of his experimental 


farming was unsuccessful, he would, while riding 
about his estate, turn his head resolutely away from the 
obnoxious sight much in the same manner as he 
refused ever again to look upon the scene of his first 
failure at Newmarket. But, once successful, once con- 
vinced of the utility of any particular practice or 
invention, his sheer determination that this should be 
adopted swept opposition and ignorance before it. 

One curious instance of the difficulties which he had 
to encounter was the deep-rooted prejudice which 
then existed in Norfolk against potatoes. He tried to 
introduce this vegetable amongst the villagers at 
Holkham, but great was their indignation. For five 
years he could not induce them to look upon it as an 
article of food, or to consent to cultivate it. He even 
offered them land rent free on which to plant it, but 
they refused firmly and with outspoken disgust. At 
length, upon his own farm, he introduced the Ox 
Noble, a very large species, and this, apparently from 
its size, found a little favour in their eyes, for a few 
farmers admitted, as a great concession, that, perhaps, 
"'t wouldn't poison tha' pigs." He persevered, how- 
ever, and, in time, he would have had as great a 
difficulty in persuading his tenants not to eat potatoes 
as he had at first in inducing them to risk swallowing 
such a suspicious article of diet. After his success he 
allowed the poor to plant potatoes among his young 
trees for two or three years, which kept his land clean, 
and saved hoeing. 

An interesting contemporary account of the attitude 
of both Mr. and Mrs. Coke towards strangers who 
approached them in the spirit of inquiry is given by 


two celebrated farmers, J. Boys, of Betshanger, in Kent, 
and J. Ellman, of Glynde, in Sussex, who visited 
Holkham in July, 1792, and which shows that Mrs. 
Coke, who, as we have seen, from the first days of her 
married life, was specially interested in promoting 
industry in Norfolk, not only entered into her husband's 
schemes, but must have been qualified to aid him in 
furthering them. 

It appears that these two men were to have met 
Arthur Young at Holkham for a tour of inspection ; 
but upon their arrival, to their " great mortification," 
they found that Mr. Young had been prevented from 
coming and had written instead to introduce them to 
their unknown host. At that moment, they were in- 
formed, Mr. Coke was riding with the ladies about his 
farms, so they set off, by request, to find him ; and 
their first dismay soon gave place to an immense satis- 
faction. " We meet here," Boys related complacently, 
" with a reception far superior to that which arises from 
mere politeness, and which we plainly perceive will 
detain us longer than we had intended ! " 

From their arrival till dinner-time, and from dinner- 
time till the evening, Mr. Coke devoted his attention to 
them. He showed them his crops with many stout 
oxen at work, his bulls and other splendid beasts, some 
of which they measured, his dairy of fifty cows, his 
two hundred score sheep, his ewes, "the finest we 
ever beheld." "Mr. Coke's farm," Boys says, "con- 
sists of three thousand acres within a fence, farmed in 
a very capital style, to describe which would require a 
pen and abilities far beyond what we possess in short, 
it appeared altogether a perfect paradise " ; and in his 


lengthy account he gives little homely touches which 
bring the scene before one's eyes how, near the sea, 
the yearling heifers were feeding upon very rich salt- 
marsh, "in grass up to their eyes"; how he found 
"the rams so uncommonly fat that it would be vain for 
them to attempt to waddle away from us," and how, on 
his return, in the beautiful July evening, he found "a 
fine group on the lawn of valets, footmen, grooms, 
cooks, women and labourers to the amount of sixty 
persons, all busy getting hay into cocks," a merry, 
busy scene in which, in a private letter, he admits that 
he and his friend could not resist joining. " The house," 
he concludes, "is a palace of the first-rate !" though 
his professional admiration breaks out more enthusiastic- 
ally when, in the same breath, he describes the slaughter- 
house, a " very extensive and elegant building ! " 

The next day was audit day, and Coke with many 
tiring hours before him, yet met the two men by 
appointment before breakfast at his stables, and at 
seven o'clock they mounted their horses and rode 
away to the marsh lands along the coast to study the 
grazing, etc., on their way back inspecting the brick 
manufactory, "where are made by far the best bricks 
we ever saw." After breakfast Coke was obliged to 
attend to receive his rents, whereupon Mrs. Coke 
ordered horses, and herself offered to accompany them 
to view the farms, the dwellings on which again called 
forth their admiration : "Nothing can exceed the con- 
venient arrangement of these buildings for the farmer ; 
nor the wonderful liberality of this gentleman in thus 
spending a princely income in making his tenants 
comfortable and happy." 


For thirty miles Mrs. Coke rode with them before the 
early dinner, pointing out the improvements, and enter- 
ing into the technicalities of agriculture with an enthu- 
siasm and a minute knowledge of each subject which 
surprised and delighted them. Little can she have 
thought that that simple act of good nature would be 
recorded for future generations ; but Boys' account of 
it has survived for over a century. " It is impossible to 
describe," he relates with a quaint simplicity, " either 
the pleasure we enjoyed in this morning ride or the 
agreeable surprise in meeting with such an amiable 
lady in high life, so well acquainted with agriculture, 
and so condescending as to attend two farmers out 
of Kent and Sussex a whole morning to show them 
some Norfolk farms. What improvements," he adds, 
"would be made in this country, if one half of the 
gentry of landed property understood and delighted in 
agriculture like this worthy family!" 1 And so, after 
" taking dinner with the ladies and company above," 
while Mr. Coke entertained his tenants in the audit 
room below, the two men rode away from Holkham 
much edified by all they had seen, and singing the 
praises of "the hospitable mansion and its worthy 

With regard to some of Coke's favourite theories 
and minor experiments, it may be interesting to 
mention that he was a great advocate for early 
sowing the wheat very thick in rows, and early 
cutting, even when the ear and stem are green and 
the grain not hard. He said he got two shillings 
a quarter for it more than wheat cut in a more 

1 Vol. XIX of the Annals of Agriculture (1793), p. 118. 


mature state. He was equally early in cutting oats and 
peas, saying that he should lose more by the falling of 
the ripe seed at the bottoms than he should gain by 
waiting till the rest were ripe. 

He also greatly improved the cultivation of turnips, 
and furthered the cultivation of mangel-wurzel ; but 
against this latter, for a long time, he was much 
prejudiced. Mangel-wurzel when first introduced into 
Norfolk had been given to cattle at too early a stage, 
had been found to be prejudicial, and was consequently 
abandoned. Sir Mordaunt Martin, of Burnham 
Upton, however begged Coke to resume its cultivation, 
and we are told that although Mr. Coke "had always 
laughed at mangel-wurzel, and cannot bear the taste of 
beetroot, he will nevertheless sow some of it on his 
estate next year." 1 The result of this decision was 
that experience soon taught him the proper method of 
using mangel-wurzel ; it was again cultivated through- 
out the country, and came into great favour. 

He moreover made a special study of the use of par- 
ticular birds in relation to the destruction of particular 
grubs. Once, when there was a plague of black canker 
a larva which feeds upon turnips he turned four 
hundred ducks into a large field, and found that in five 
days they had cleared the whole field from all trace of 
the larva. 2 

An entry written by him in an old notebook records 
the following : 

" The mode adopted in some parts of Fifeshire for 
protecting new sown fields from crows, wood-pigeons, 
and other destructive vermin, is the following : In a 

1 Norfolk Tour, 1829, p. 32. a Annals of Agriculture, Vol. II, p. 376. 


large field which has been newly sown, place a 
number of stamps, say a dozen (used for killing rats, 
etc.), cover them lightly with earth, and avoid by all 
means anything like methodical arrangement of the 
stamps. A few crows taken by such means will 
serve as so many beacons to protect the field. The 
noise they make is incredible. By this simple 
operation many pounds sterling will, in the long run, 
be saved to the agriculturist. And, besides, it is 
believed that in a short time the crows would be as 
much afraid of a new-sown field as of the gun. They 
would therefore confine themselves to the end for 
which Providence designed them ; viz. the destroy- 
ing of grubs. 

"In Dupplin, in the county of Perth, it is said 
that no less than eleven or twelve thousand nests and 
about twenty-seven thousand crows were destroyed 
one spring by Messrs. Stirton. It was done by 
contract for the sum of 25. The above simple con- 
trivance would have avoided this wholesale slaughter, 
and the loss of birds which are of use to the farmer 
in the destroying of pernicious grubs." 1 

I A few other entries jotted down by Mr. Keppel in 1837 as Notes on 
Farming from Conversations with Lord Leicester^ also have an interest: 

"Wheat should not be sown deep, say about three inches, for the 
sooner it shows itself the better, and hence the true and old saying : 
If you sow in slop 
You will have a crop." 

" Lord Leicester pays his ploughmen one shilling and sixpence an 
acre ; they plough about one and a half acres per day, and are allowed 
five hours each to do it in, of course using only one pair at a time. The 
wheat is drilled eleven inches wide, but if the land be good, at twelve." 

" When harvest is over, begin ploughing for wheat. The sooner this 
is done in the month of September, the better ; wheat being found to be 
more productive when sown on an old layer. Plough as fleet as you can, 
two and a half inches deep. If you can afford to manure for wheat, let 
this be done just previous to ploughing ; not as many farmers do viz. 
mucking their land weeks beforehand, by which means the heat of the 
sun absorbs much of the moisture and consequently deprives the manure 
of much of its goodness." 

II Wheat ought not to tiller. Lord Leicester has for many years been 


In conclusion, Coke was an original member of the 
Board of Agriculture, and is named in the charter 
granted by George III on August 23rd, I793. 1 On 
March i2th, 1806, the Board voted a Gold Medal to 
him for his extensive system of irrigation, and " for 
the very successful mode by which a tract of unprofit- 
able, boggy and gravelly soil in Norfolk was converted 
into sound and excellent water meadows." 

At the present date, however, an impression appears 
to prevail that Coke's labours were confined to the mere 
enriching of soil and pasture and the improvement of 
live stock; also that, permanently excluded from Parlia- 
ment, he was at leisure to devote all his energies to this 
betterment of his estate and advancement of agricul- 
ture. 2 That this was very far from being the case we 
have seen ; not only, throughout his life, did his political 
duties receive a large proportion of his time and 
energy, but his agricultural labours knew no limit. 
Still more, other forms of industry and enterprise 
received his support and encouragement. He instituted 
Thetford Wool Fair, the first institution of the kind 

in the habit of drilling four bushels an acre ; here is no tillering, conse- 
quently no mildew, which is generally the attendant on a thin plant ; and 
a thin plant only can tiller." 

"Lord Leicester's tenants are not allowed to sow oats for the last 
four years of the lease, and generally among good agriculturists the 
tenants are not allowed to sell hay, straw, or turnips, in order that 
the land may not be impoverished by the want of stock, and, thereby, 
the want of manure." 

1 In the earliest list of Members he is described as being " of 
Hanover Square." 

2 " Excluded by his politics from Court and Parliament, he devoted all 
his energies to farming" (Social England, ed. H. D. Traill, Vol. VI, 
p. 78). It is curious that such an error should exist respecting a man 
who was for over half a century an active member in the House. 


ever introduced into England, and he is said to have 
done as much for the trade in wool as he did for 
the trade in corn. He encouraged a Hemp and 
Flax Industry; and, as we have also seen, he had 
a brick manufactory on his estate which turned out 
excellent red and white bricks. In short, the area of 
his experiments comprised every branch of agriculture 
and every branch of local industry, while it is prac- 
tically impossible to convey any adequate conception 
of his secondary labours in imparting and promoting 
the knowledge that he arduously obtained. 


WE may now briefly compare these early 
labours of Coke's with their practical 
result, brought about during his own life- 

Not until 1778, two years after Coke had first collected 
the farmers together to discuss matters agricultural, 
did this local gathering assume a more definite character. 
This came about, apparently, without special effort on 
his part. First, his farmers brought with them their 
own relations and friends. These, in turn, brought 
others from a yet greater distance. Next, agriculturists 
from more remote parts of the kingdom wrote to ask if 
they might attend. Swiftly and steadily grew the fame 
of " Coke's Clippings" as they were called locally ; till 
scientists of note turned their attention to them, and 
men of celebrity from other countries came to England 
in order to be present at them ; till, year by year, they 
assumed greater proportions, so that, as we shall see 
later, they became representative of every nationality, 
British and foreign ; of every phase of intellect, 
scientific and simple ; of every rank, from crowned 
heads to petty farmers. It was Lafayette's greatest 
regret that he had never witnessed a Holkham Sheep- 
shearing; in 1818 the Emperor of Russia sent a special 
i. u 289 


message to say how he wished he could be present; 1 
among the most famous names on the page of contem- 
porary American history are men who journeyed from 
the other hemisphere expressly to take part in so unique 
a gathering. And meanwhile the rule which had 
characterised the meetings in their early simplicity was 
never departed from ; all united thus in a common in- 
terest, met on common grounds ; the suggestions of 
the simplest farmer were treated with the same respect 
as the conclusions of the most noted scientist; the same 
pains were taken in explaining to the former as to the 
latter the intricacies of a new system, or the merits of 
a new implement ; the same courtesy and 'hospitality 
were experienced by the most, as by the least distin- 
guished guest. 

And, year after year, another rule was never departed 
from. Politics were carefully excluded from these 
meetings. Any attempt to introduce a party spirit 
into the toasts or speeches was at once silenced by 
Coke. Still, in his political character, he was a friend 
and a leader of Whigs, still in his agricultural capacity 
he sank politics and opened his doors to men of brain 
and merit irrespective of their views. " Live and let 
live" was a maxim which, in his eyes, embraced all 
humanity. The first time this rule yas infringed was 
the last. Never until 1821 were politics tolerated at a 
Holkham Sheep-shearing; and then it was subsequently 
recognised to have been an evil omen, for that Sheep- 
shearing proved to be the final one. 

Thus the " Clippings," which were always dated from 
1778, extended over a period of forty-three years, until 

1 Sent by Dr. Hamel, a Russian physician. 


that ominous year of 1821 ; and, during that time, it is 
said that not a single year passed without some dis- 
covery being made, either of avoidance or adoption, 
and some practical benefit accruing to the human race. 

One of the most interesting accounts of these meet- 
ings and of Mr. Coke's system of agriculture appeared 
in 1816 in a little book written by Dr. Rigby, called 
Holkham and its Agriculture^ which met with an 
astonishing reception. 

For fifty-nine years in Norwich lived Dr. Rigby, its 
author, first studying, and then practising medicine. 
He obtained a European reputation by his writings on 
medical subjects ; to which he afterwards added a local 
reputation by becoming the father of twelve children, 
four of whom, three boys and one girl, were born at a 
birth, when he was seventy and his wife forty years of 
age. So struck were the Corporation of Norwich by 
his patriotic efforts on this occasion, that they presented 
him with a piece of plate, valued at twenty-five guineas, 
to celebrate the event. Dr. Rigby's maternal grand- 
father, Dr. J. Taylor, the Hebraist, had likewise been 
noted in his day, and all the descendants of that suc- 
cessful divine were so gifted with brains that Sydney 
Smith 1 said of them that they reversed the old proverb 
that " It takes nine tailors to make a man." Amongst 
other celebrities, Dr. Taylor was an ancestor of Harriet 

Dr. Rigby was abroad at the outbreak of the French 
Revolution, and witnessed the storming of the Bastille, 
when he had some exciting experiences and only escaped 
from Paris at the risk of his life to continue his tour 

1 Also attributed to the Duke of Sussex. 


abroad. 1 After his return to his peaceful existence in 
Norwich, he became greatly interested in all that he 
heard of young Mr. Coke's experiments in agriculture ; 
and he was specially struck by the misrepresentation 
with which, at this date, those efforts were met. 

In days when the grossest calumnies were spread 
broadcast by the members of opposing factions, and 
were treated only with dignified indifference by their 
victims, it must have been not a little confusing to sift 
truth from falsehood. One of the ignorant accusations 
against Mr. Coke was that he was enriching himself 
at the expense of the small farmers ; another, that the 
annual Sheep-shearings were a clever contrivance on 
his part to gain a temporary popularity and increase his 
influence at elections ; a third, that they were political 
meetings in disguise, which he had instituted thus, 
in order to blind people to their real significance. The 
injustice of these charges is sufficiently apparent time 
conclusively disproved them but Dr. Rigby, naturally 
of a scientific and a critical turn of mind, was no doubt 
perplexed what to believe, and became anxious to prove 
the nature and extent of Coke's efforts. 

In 1787 he must have heard that Coke had begun to 
grow wheat where it had been believed that none would 
grow. 2 In 1792-3 he probably read J. Boys' account of 
his visit to Holkham Boys, who had noticed with the 
quick eye of the farmer the advantages of the Holkham 
agriculture, and who, at that date, fourteen years after 
Coke had started farming, spoke with enthusiasm of 

1 Dr. Rigby 's Letters from France, etc., in 1789, edited by his daughter 
Lady Eastlake. Longmans (1880). 

2 Coke of Holkham, by Walter Rye, p. 5 (1895). 


" immense fields of barley, very great crops and per- 
fectly clean, on land naturally poor." 1 In 1796 he must 
have heard that Coke, who was the greatest planter of 
sainfoin in the district, cut 365 loads of excellent hay, 
rather exceeding a ton to a load, from 104 acres ; this 
from a plant four years old, upon land not worth more 
than twelve shillings an acre for any other purpose. 2 Yet 
it does not appear to have been till 1807, thirty years 
after Coke had started farming, that Dr. Rigby finally 
succeeded in paying his long-deferred visit to Holkham. 
He then relates many interesting details; how, at 
that time, Mr. Coke's establishment consisted of sixty 
persons, nearly all of whom were recruited from his 
own villagers ; how his postillions, smart, good-looking 
lads, were the sons of his own labourers in fact, when- 
ever Mr. Coke saw a lad of any promise he always en- 
deavoured to find him some post in his employment, in 
which, if steady and intelligent, the boy could better his 
position ; how, on all the Holkham estates, there was 
no one in a state of poverty, no one out of employment, 
so happily was work provided for all ; and how, in the 
village, people appeared to idolise Mr. Coke, and had 
learnt to look up to him with a veneration which knew 
no bounds. 3 Dr. Rigby could only express amazement 

1 Farmer s Magazine, 1793, p. 4. 

2 Agricultural Survey of Norfolk, Nathaniel Kent (1796), p. 63. 

3 " In his neighbourhood (it is not saying- too much) he was idolised. 
. . . His constant motto that which influenced his acts, and which he 
was constantly impressing on his tenantry was 'Live and let live.' 
He had one source of pride he gloried in his tenantry, and they, in re- 
turn, loved, revered, and looked up to him as a father. The darling 1 
object of his life was to render them independent the subject he derived 
most pleasure from talking upon was their intelligence, their skill in 
agriculture, their confidence in him " (Derby and Chesterfield Reporter, 
July 7 th, 1842). 

at what he saw ; " the splendid hospitality of Mr. Coke, 
and the admirable system of agriculture by which his 
extensive estate has been converted from a compara- 
tively barren soil to the most rich and exuberant 
domain in this part of the kingdom, fill me with enthu- 
siasm on the subject." 
Again he writes : 

" At the latter end of August, 1816, I was gratified 
by a visit to Holkham. Everyone who visits Mr. 
Coke is struck with the beauty of the Holkham 
scenery, the magnificence of his mansion, his princely 
establishment and his liberal hospitality. They 
impressed me forcibly. ..." 

He goes on to relate how he rode with Mr. Coke for 
several hours, on two successive mornings, and his 
astonishment at the exuberance of the crops, at the 
richness of the soil and at its extraordinary freedom 
from weeds. 1 It had been a very wet season, and else- 

1 " It is a certain and most striking- fact, and that which appears most 
wonderful to all farmers who for the first time view the Holkham Agri- 
culture, that scarcely a weed of any kind is to be seen in the crops ; 
fields of from 20 to 40 acres lying 1 on a slope and all in one view, present 
neither cornflower, cockle, nor poppy ! Upon our faculties, when, a few 
years ago, we witnessed these scenes, that had something of the effect of 
magic. In other places where culture is thought to be well performed, 
where crops are good, and weeds neither very noxious nor very numer- 
ous, yet some wild oats, darnel, hare weed, or charlock, etc. etc., will be 
seen. . . . It is not our intention here to compare systems, but to relate 
efforts. Visitors from a distance are apt to say ' We could not do so, 
we could not afford the expense.' Others observe ' It is all very well 
under such a landlord as Mr. Coke ! ' Some assert that they could not 
get hands to do it ; others gravely hint, ' Only think of the manure ! ' 
. . . All these objections are so many eulogies upon the system pursued 
at Holkham, and on the character of Mr. Coke, who is unquestionably 
the greatest patron of Agriculture that the world has ever seen ; and the 
good of the landlords and of the tenantry and of the kingdom at large 
will be promoted in proportion as his example spreads and the influence 
of his system prevails " (Farmers Magazine, July 2oth, 1818). 


where weeds were plentiful ; but on the Holkham estate, 
where they had once formed the chief vegetation, they 
were so successfully eliminated that he actually pauses 
to describe how, in the many miles which they must 
have traversed, he saw one plant of charlock Sinapis 
arvensis. They were riding over Mr. Blomfield's 
farm of seventy acres at the time, and with them was a 
German youth who was living with Mr. Blomfield 
to learn farming. Dr. Rigby, perhaps casually, per- 
haps of malice prepense, pointed out to the German 
the solitary specimen of unwelcome vegetation in all 
those acres of well-kept land. The result of his remark 
filled him with amusement. The youth, apparently 
overwhelmed at what he considered the personal dis- 
grace involved by the existence of this single weed, 
dismounted hurriedly, ran to the spot, plucked up the 
offending plant fiercely by the roots and tore it to frag- 
ments, all the while speechless with annoyance ! 

What surprised Dr. Rigby most, however, was the 
richness of the wheat and barley. Mr. Coke, he says, 
estimated the wheat from ten to twelve coombs an acre, 
and said nearly twenty coombs per acre of barley had 
grown upon it, which is at least double the crop in the 
county of Norfolk, and nearly treble that of many counties 
in England.^ 

So impressed was he with all he saw that he forthwith 
wrote his book Holkham and its Agriculture, which, on 
its publication in 1816, caused an unparalleled sensa- 
tion. In 1818 there appeared a third and enlarged 
edition, revised after he had had the " pleasure and 

1 A doubt having 1 been cast on this assertion, it was afterwards 
proved by experiment. (See Dr. Rigby's Holkham and its Agriculture.) 


advantage of accompanying Mr. Coke over his farms 
the day before the Sheep-shearing on July 5th of that 
year." This was translated into three different lan- 
guages, and had an extensive sale in Germany, France, 
Italy and America. 1 In it he described his visits to 
Holkham and to the Sheep-shearing ; he defended 
Mr. Coke indignantly from the misrepresentations of 
his enemies, and dwelt in terms of admiration on all 
Mr. Coke had accomplished. 

In 1776, he says, when Coke entered upon the pos- 
session of the estate, the annual rental derived therefrom 
was 2200. By 1816 the rental from the annual fall of 
timber and underwood alone was 2700, and, despite 
Coke's moderate rents, the annual income from the 
estate was 20,000. 

" Mr. Coke," he says, " gives 21 years' leases, and 
he has already seen the termination of such leases on 
most of his farms, and, though he continues the same 
encouraging system of long leases and moderate 
rents, his present relatively moderate rents . . . 
have admitted the total increase of his Norfolk rents 
to the enormous sum of twenty thousand pounds ; an 
increase of the value of landed property, a creation of 
wealth probably unexampled, except in the vicinity of 
large towns, or in populous manufacturing districts." 

And, after dwelling upon the complete transforma- 
tion in his surroundings which Coke had effected, he 
sums up, in the curious, sententious language of his 
day, how the condition of the estate 

"Has a character even surpassing the highest 
natural beauty it has a moral character which leaves 

1 Such universal interest did it arouse, that similar publications 
appear to have followed. In 1820 Molard published in France a work 
entitled Systeme d' Agriculture suivi par M. Coke. 


a more lasting and a more satisfactory impression on 
the benevolent mind. ... It exhibits man under his 
best features, and in his happiest state ; it is the field 
of human industry, and it shows its rich reward ; 
talent and invention science and experiment the 
principles of mechanics the discoveries of chemistry, 
and the investigations of Natural History are here all 
applied to the promotion of the first and most impor- 
tant of human arts. . . . Society at large the pro- 
prietor of the soil the farmer who occupies and 
cultivates it, and the labourer and artisan who work 
upon it, all share in these benefits all partake of the 
general good. I am indeed unable to express the 
high moral satisfaction I experience in witnessing 
the enviable state of the labouring classes in Mr. 
Coke's parish. ..." 

He was greatly struck, not only by the neatness and 
comfort of their well-built cottages, but by the fact of 
these being unusually well furnished, "for I observed 
in almost all of them articles not very common in a 
poor man's cottage, but of which when able to procure 
them, the poor man is very laudably proud " ; the 
manner in which the tables at meal times were " not 
sparingly covered," and the careful cultivation of the 
gardens annexed to each cottage also came in for a 
share of his attention. Yet another peculiarity of the 
village impressed him : "There is but one thing which 
could not be found, which has ever been reckoned 
desirable to enjoyment, namely an alehouse ; there had 
formerly been two, but they had long since been con- 
verted to other purposes." In fact, when Coke came 
into his estate there had been not only two alehouses 
in the village, but a poor-house, supported out of the 
rates, had been built for the parishes of Holkham, 
Warham and Dereham, which was always fully occu- 


pied. Later, both these alehouses had vanished for 
lack of customers, and, twenty-five years after the 
erection of the workhouse, a deputation waited upon 
Coke to inform him that it was a senseless burden to 
keep it up, as now it was always empty, and it had 
better be converted to some other use. Coke told them 
to consider well what they were about, and to look 
forward to times when they might not be so prosperous. 
They only replied that by the spirit of independence 
which their comfort inspired, and the certainty of 
labour, they were convinced they need dread no reverse, 
for the whole district now was industrious and moral. 
The workhouse was therefore pulled down, and the 
rates lowered. 1 

Again one is reminded of the verdict of Voltaire 
respecting the highest philosophy of life. "True philo- 
sophy," he says, " makes the earth fertile, and the 
people happier ; the true philosopher cultivates the 
land, increases the number of ploughs and so of the 
inhabitants ; occupies the poor man and thus enriches 
him, does not grumble at necessary taxes and puts the 
labourer in a condition to pay them promptly." And 
in sympathy with the great French philosopher, Dr. 
Rigby, on his return home, wrote to Coke (July 2Oth, 

" I have to thank you for many, very many things, 
and now that I am a little sobered from the delightful 
intoxication into which I was thrown at Holkham, I 
may attempt it. ... I feel, however, that I must 
first do it as a man; I must thank you for the ex- 
tensive good you have rendered to the Human Race ; 
you have indeed been a Benefactor to your Fellow 

1 Holkham and its Agriculture, third edition (1818), p. 79. 


Creatures, of the very first class ; you have improved 
and extended the most useful and important of human 
Arts : By exciting a more general Attention to this 
Subject, and by inducing so many more Individuals 
practically to engage in Agriculture, you have en- 
larged the Boundary of human Enjoyment ; and you 
have proved how much this is capable of exercising 
and improving the best powers of our Understand- 

In the same strain of stilted but heart-felt admiration, 
he dwelt at great length on his recent impressions at 
Holkham, referring also to those of his friend who had 
accompanied him, James Perry 1 of the Morning 
Chronicle^ whose verdict on the occasion he likewise 
records in his book : 

" In Mr. Coke," Perry pronounced, " I see a true 
Patriot ; and of all the exhibitions I have ever 
witnessed this is the proudest ; compared to it what 
are the boasted triumphs of a conqueror? As a 
man, as an Agriculturist, and as a Patriot, Mr. 
Coke has merited the esteem and gratitude of his 
countrymen, for he has inspired, not only his im- 
mediate neighbourhood, but the kingdom at large 
with a spirit of emulation and improvement, and he 
has his reward in the love of his tenants, the affec- 
tion of his neighbours, and the gratitude of all 
Mankind." 2 

But one might multiply indefinitely quotations from 
Coke's contemporaries in evidence of what he achieved 
in the space of, comparatively, a few years ; the Duke 
of Sussex, for one, was never weary of pointing out in 
his speeches how Coke "had made a garden of a 

1 " An excellent and constitutional writer, well known in America as 
well as in Europe " (Holkham and its Agriculture (1818), p. 43). 
a Op. /., p. 43- 


wilderness," and how he had " planted sufficient trees 
to put the entire British Navy in a state of defence." 1 
The Duke of Bedford, 2 after travelling abroad for some 
time, paid Coke a compliment which the latter said he 
valued more than any he had received : "In all Europe," 
the Duke said, " I found nothing like England ; and in 
all England nothing like Holkham." In 1833, Major 
Case said that he and his family had been tenants of 
Coke's for sixty-three years, and his grandfather had 
died worth 150,000, which they owed to Mr. Coke. 
Lord Lynedoch 3 writing yet later, in 1837, quotes: 

" I had yesterday an opportunity of seeing many 
of the farmers on our little agricultural drive, and 
you can form no idea in what raptures they one and 
all expressed themselves of Mr. Coke his agri- 
cultural knowledge, his readiness to impart what his 
long experience had taught him ; and his general 
kindness of manner were extolled one more than 
another; pray tell him this; he will not dislike to 
hear this, though coming from a prejudiced corner." 

But perhaps Coke's own modest reference to what he 
had accomplished, uttered at the Sheep-shearing in 
1818, the year Dr. Rigby was present, is sufficiently 

" He could state," he said, "from actual enumera- 
tion that three times the number of inhabitants 
were maintained on the same space of ground as 
before. In all his parish there was not a single 
individual, of any age, that did not find full employ- 
ment and they even wanted hands. He had per- 

1 Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), sixth son of 
George III. (See speech at the Holkham Sheep-shearing 1 , 1821). 

2 John, sixth Duke of Bedford. 

3 Thomas Graham, Baron Lynedoch, a celebrated general (1748-1843). 


severed steadily in the system which he saw was 
productive of prosperity and happiness ; he had 
fought with prejudice and had many times con- 
quered it ; he had accomplished by perseverance 
what experience had recommended, and he had the 
happiness to say that his meeting annually increased 
and improvements annually extended." 1 

Later, we shall be better able to weigh the value of 
such a statement of prosperity at the particular date 
when it was uttered a date of unparalleled distress 
throughout the length and breadth of England; but for 
the present, a simple comparison of facts is more 
convincing : 

1818, and onwards. 

Money derived from an- 
nual fall of timber and 
underwood alone, 2700. 
Rent Roll (with moderate 
rents) over ^"20,000. 

Norfolk, one of the rich- 
est wheat-growing coun- 
ties in England ; called the 


Rental derived from the 
Holkham estate, 2200. 

No wheat grown from 
Holkham to Lynn, and 
farmers convinced that none 
would grow. Upwards of 
10,000 qrs. of wheat im- 
ported annually to Wells, 
quantities averaging that 
amount to other parts along 
the coast, Blankney, Burn- 
ham and Brancaster, etc. 

Holkham an open heath, 
bleak and barren. 

Granary of England," 
exporting wheat abroad in 
larger quantities than any 
other district. 1 1,000 qrs. 
per annum exported from 
the port of Wells alone. 

Holkham a site of splen- 
did timber, rich pasture- 
lands and luxuriant crops. 
Wheat growing on soil 
which two years previously 
had been covered by daily 

1 Farmer s Journal, July 2oth, 1818. 



Population of Holkham 
under 200, a poor-house, 
built for it and the neigh- 
bouring parishes, support- 
ed out of the rates, always 
fully occupied. 

A few farmers assembled 
to discuss agricultural sub- 

1818, and onwards. 

Population noo. Not 
one pauper upon the es- 
tate. The poor - house 
razed to the ground. 

An annual international 
gathering held at Holkham 
to discuss agricultural sub- 
jects, which was attended 
by most of the noted men 
in England and by agri- 
culturists, scientists, etc. 
from every part of Europe 
and America. In 1817, 
2000 persons were present 
at the dinners given on 
this occasion. In 1821, 
7000 were present. 

Arthur Young wrote in 
1818: "Mr. Coke resides in 
the midst of the best hus- 
bandry in Norfolk"; while, 
fourteen years before this 
date, in 1804, already Coke's 
farmers, in token of their 
appreciation of his efforts in 
the cause of Agriculture, 
had voluntarily presented 
him with a piece of plate 
three feet high which had 
cost them 700 guineas. 

And the above that Coke had transformed the atti- 
tude of his farmers and the condition of his estate, that 
the population of Holkham was enriched and multi- 
plied, that agriculture was permanently improved, that 
England, Europe and another hemisphere were bene- 

Apathy and stupidity 
characterised the Norfolk 
farmers, agricultural ex- 
periments met with ingrati- 
tude, calumny and oppo- 


fited all was primarily due to the decision of a youth 
of twenty-two, to his subsequent energy and persever- 
ance, combined with a liberality which did not pause to 
count costs, nor mete out gifts by the gratitude these 

Still more, by Coke's untiring energy and the great 
interest he took in farming, he turned the attention of 
others in the same direction. A stimulus of the utmost 
importance was given to agriculture throughout 
England. It was due to him that persons of intellect, 
education and capital became interested in the pursuit, 
and began to view it no longer as a mere occupation 
for the lower classes, but as a science of the first import- 
ance. " Improvements," Coke himself wrote in 1809, 
" are everywhere taking place in agriculture. . . . Men 
of the most enlightened minds, the most virtuous 
characters and the most elevated stations in society, do 
not now disdain to attend to those pursuits, to promote 
them by their labours, and to extend them by their 
influence. ... A spirit of inquiry has gone forth that 
cannot ultimately fail to enlarge the boundaries of use- 
ful knowledge." It must be borne in mind that Coke 
was the precursor of the efforts of his great friend 
Francis, Duke of Bedford, his old schoolfellow, Lord 
Egremont, Sir John Sinclair 1 and others, whose labours 
also influenced their generation. He was, besides, one 
of the first persistently to uphold agricultural interests 
in the Commons, although he complained bitterly that 
* * never had he known a Minister willing to promote 
agricultural improvements," and instanced Burke, who 

1 Sir John Sinclair, Bart., of Dunbeath, Co. Caithness, author of 
The Code of Agriculture and other agricultural works. 

had decried all agricultural experiments as " perilous." l 
Yet, principally through Coke's agency, vast tracts of 
uncultivated land at length became cultivated ; be- 
tween 1804 and 1821 no less than 153 enclosures took 
place in Norfolk alone; while between the years 1790 
and 1810 he was directly instrumental in bringing 
into tillage not less than two millions of acres of waste 
land. 2 

Yet another result was attributed to him, and which, 
commented on by his contemporaries, was considered 
by them to deserve special record on the page of history. 
Before Coke had thus transformed the aspect of agri- 
culture throughout the country, England, unable to 
feed her people, was dependent for sustenance on foreign 
supplies. Had this state of affairs continued, it was 
averred, she would, at a crisis in her history, have been 
at the mercy of Bonaparte's decrees. Coke, by the 
timely impetus which he gave to agriculture, raised the 
whole standard of cultivation throughout the kingdom, 
so that, before Bonaparte became all-powerful, England 
became self-supporting. But for this fact, it was confi- 
dently asserted by those who lived at that date, but for 
the energy and determination of the man who was the 
first to give and the most indefatigable in sustaining that 
impetus, England's very existence as an independent 
Power would have been at stake. " Let those who have 
so wantonly decried Mr. Coke's exertions to draw large 
capitals, together with men of enterprise and skill, 
towards agricultural pursuits, steadily contemplate this 

1 Parliamentary Delates, 1811, Vol. XIX, p. 688. 

2 Sketch of Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, printed by Whiting, 
Beaufort House, Strand, p. 43 ; also Norwich Mercury, July gth, 1842. 


fact and yield him the praise he so eminently deserves 
from his countrymen." 1 

One of Coke's contemporaries said that he had saved 
his country with a ploughshare where a sword would have 
failed. 2 One may add that, whereas national poverty 
and individual misery follow the use of the sword, 
national riches and individual happiness followed the 
wake of the plough under the guidance of Coke of 

" Year after year," remarked the Duke of Sussex 
at the last of the Clippings, " what must be his pride 
and satisfaction in seeing so many enjoy the benefits 
whom his great mind and Christian conduct have 
made happy. This is to deserve that great reward 
which is promised to the faithful steward upon earth, 
where it is said, < Well done, thou good and faithful 
servant.' Blessed is the man who can do such work, 
and blessed are the people who receive his bounties. 
So long as this mansion shall last, as long as these 
blooming fields retain their verdure, so long shall his 
fame continue ; nay, till Time shall be no more." 3 

1 Sketch, Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, printed by Whiting 1 , Beaufort 
Street, Strand, p. 48. Many of the speeches of the day contain reference 
to this fact (see Norwich Mercury, May 6th, 1840), and most of the 
obituary notices of the Earl of Leicester in the daily papers, Norwich 
Mercury, July gth, 1842 ; Derby and Chesterfield Reporter, July 7th, 1842, 
etc. etc. 

2 Speech at the Earl of Leicester's birthday dinner (Norwich Mercury, 
May, 1832). 

3 Speech of the Duke of Sussex at the Holkham Sheep-shearing, 1821 
(see A Report of the Transactions at the Holkham Sheep-shearing, 1821, 
by R. M. Bacon, p. 101). 

I. X 



HAVING viewed the effect of Coke's labours 
upon the minds and fortunes of his own 
countrymen, it is interesting to glance 
briefly at the result produced thereby upon 
the minds of men in another hemisphere. 

Owing to the prominent part which he was known to 
have taken with regard to the question of American 
independence, Coke's name had been held in respect 
in America ; but the novelty of his position as a prac- 
tical and scientific farmer soon excited considerable 
curiosity there, and added fresh glamour to the original 
sentiment entertained towards him. Men who had 
before revered him as a politician began to inquire into 
and to desire to emulate his methods as a farmer ; the 
advice which they sought, they found him ready and 
anxious to impart ; and the impetus which agriculture 
had received in England soon communicated itself to 
the New World, so that, in this peaceful pursuit, a 
fresh rapprochement began to take place between the 
hitherto antagonistic sister countries. 

The result of this sentiment upon Coke, as a private 
individual, was certainly curious. Both causes 
political and agricultural operated to keep up a con- 
stant and increasing flow of communication between 
Holkham and the United States. This, it must be 



emphasised, was extremely remarkable at a date when 
Americans were still looked at askance as the recent 
foes of England and were received with scanty cordiality 
in this country. Coke was the first Englishman to 
open his doors to the first Minister sent by the United 
States at the conclusion of hostilities ; and this fact was 
always gratefully remembered in the other hemisphere. 
From the date of American independence, few Ameri- 
cans came over to England without proposing a visit to 
Coke ; these, in turn, sent letters of introduction to 
their friends, who unhesitatingly claimed his hospi- 
tality, many of them being men who journeyed over to 
Europe for the express purpose of seeing the English- 
man who in their eyes occupied a unique position ; and, 
still preserved at Holkham, are a number of letters 
from Americans who in their day were men of mark 
letters which reiterate the same story thanks for and 
surprise at the hospitality which had been shown to the 
writers and their friends gratitude for favours received 
and anticipation of favours to come. 

It is impossible to do more than glance very cursorily 
at a few names of those who were thus strangely 
brought into contact with the far distant life at Holk- 
ham during the period dating from the Emancipation 
until Coke's death ; but one thing must be borne in 
mind with regard to this correspondence that the 
majority of the writers, in the first instance, were 
strangers to Coke, who knew his name and his hos- 
pitality only by repute, but who none the less desired 
to pay some tribute to the former, and unhesitatingly 
laid claim to the latter. 

One of the most noted men in American history is 


Andrew Jackson, born in 1 767. l ' No figure in American 
history," we are told, "with the possible exception of 
Abraham Lincoln, stands out with more marks of 
originality than that of Andrew Jackson." 1 Jackson 
never visited Holkham, and never saw Coke ; yet he 
knew him so well by repute, that, when President, he 
wrote to Coke as to an old friend. His first letter, written 
from Washington, was to beg hospitality for an agri- 
culturist, Mr. Bradford, who wished to visit Holkham, 
and Jackson expresses a faint apology for his request : 

" Without the honour of a personal acquaintance, 
or of previous correspondence," he writes, "I have 
taken the liberty of introducing a highly esteemed 
countryman to your favourable notice. If contribu- 
tions like this are frequently levied upon your kindness 
and hospitality, you must attribute them to the true 
cause to the high regard which in this country is 
entertained for your Character, Sentiments, and pur- 
suits. Your name has reached us under those cir- 
cumstances which have rendered it dear to your own 
countrymen and revered in other countries." 

He proceeds to explain Mr. Bradford's love of farm- 
ing, and concludes his letter a little enviously. 

" Having during life devoted much of my atten- 
tion to this pursuit, and being most anxious to 
exchange for it the cares of office, I enter into the 
feelings of Mr. Bradford ; and believing he could 
nowhere find a more perfect model than at Holkham, 
I beg to recommend him to your own kind attention." 

1 History of the United States, by Charles Litten, p. 253. Before 
Andrew Jackson was thirty-two, he had been country storekeeper, 
lawyer, district attorney, judge, Congressman and Senator. He was 
also a celebrated General ; he was Governor of Florida in 1821 ; he was 
President of the United States for two terms, 1829-36. " The reign of 
Jackson," as this latter period is sometimes called, marks an epoch not 
only in the political history of the country, but also in material, intel- 
lectual and social progress. 


Rufus King, the second Minister sent to England 
by the United States after the adoption of the Con- 
stitution, also wrote as a stranger to Coke, to make the 
same request for a compatriot. Afterwards, during his 
sojourn in England, he became intimate at Holkham. 
His son was the late Charles King, President of 
Columbia College in New York from 1849 to l ^4 > 
and his granddaughter, curiously enough, became 
Madame Waddington, wife of the French Minister in 
London in the reign of Queen Victoria, whose amusing 
account of her experiences while in England appeared 
in her published correspondence. 

Another correspondent of Coke's who eventually 
became a visitor at Holkham as indeed each member 
of his family appears to have done was Richard 
Caton. Born in England, he became a merchant in 
Baltimore, and himself a tall, handsome man, of fine 
presence and dignified carriage, he married a celebrated 
American beauty, Miss Carroll, 1 who was greatly 
admired by Washington. Caton's first letter to Coke, 
apparently before the latter was personally known 
to him, is a request that hospitality may be shown 
to a whole party of his friends who were visiting 
Europe ; and he excuses the boldness of this demand 
in much the same terms as those used by Jackson 
and Rufus King: "I must tell you," he explains, 
"that your name imposes upon me a task which, 
to any other person than yourself, I would avoid. 
Our American travellers all keep in view a hope of 
seeing you and Holkham : and you must therefore 
endure all the pains and penalties which you un- 

1 Her father was the noted Charles Carroll of Carrollton. 


avoidably incur by your general hospitality and mag- 

Of the daughters of Richard Caton, all celebrated 
for their beauty and fascination, Mary, the most noted 
beauty, was the first to visit Holkham. When she came 
to London with her first husband, Mr. Patterson, 1 and 
her two unmarried sisters, the three fair Americans 
created quite a sensation, and were universally admired 
from the King downwards. A letter of introduction to 
Coke ensured to Mr. and Mrs. Patterson a welcome 
from him, and they appear to have been entertained 
by him right royally, for her father wrote afterwards 
with effusive gratitude to discover if he could do any- 
thing to repay the obligation he was under to her 
unknown host. 

" Although I have not had the honour of being 
personally known to you, your mind and character 
have been sufficiently manifested to me by my 
daughter and Mr. Patterson, to remove any hesitation 
I might feel in writing to you. A sense of your kind- 
ness and attention to my family would furnish me 
with a motive for so doing, did none other offer ; and 
when I tell you how much I partake of their senti- 
ments and regard for your unlimited hospitality and 
goodness, I shall repeat only what they have a hun- 
dred times expressed to you. Strangers as they were, 
such kindness was the more grateful, as it was neither 
expected nor due ; and if I may speak for them, I 
should say that you have implanted in them a senti- 
ment and feeling of respect and affection towards 
you, which can never be forgotten, and will be re- 
membered often and often with an ardent and a 
grateful recollection." 

1 Mr. Patterson's beautiful sister, Elizabeth, was the first wife of 
Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia and Marshal of France. 


He proceeds to beg that he may make some return, 
if possible, for this hospitality : 

" Can I in any shape, is there any means by which 
I can be the instrument to convey to you a small 
evidence of their regard, and my gratitude? In 
politics I can, if they be acceptable, offer you the 
fugitive pieces of the day. Would our American 
publications be desirable ? I fear our literary reputa- 
tion in Europe is less estimated than it deserves to 
be. If in Geology or Natural History you indulge 
a taste, I can meet you on more equal terms and 
perhaps afford you some rude specimens that would 
improve your Cabinet. 1 In the way of Agriculture I 
can offer little, for we have little that would be accept- 
able. ... I shall be happy to forward to you any- 
thing which our country affords, and something we 
may have which may be found useful to you, could 
we but know what it is." 

He concludes his letter with a prophetic utterance 
respecting the future of his country : 

" Our country is indeed a wondrous spectacle of 
human association, possessing means and variety 
without limit. It may be said, in truth, that we have 
emerged from first principles, and are fast developing 
into a Nation of numbers, plenty, power, energy, and 
policy with a rapidity that the world never witnessed, 
and that will one day make us feared and hated by 
all nations ; for I do not think that forbearance is a 
characteristic that will mark our conduct. I write 
now as one looking into futurity and designating a 
period when the greater part of the present generation 
will be at rest ; and I should not venture to utter the 
sentiment, did I not feel that it would be received as it 
is given, with a liberality detached from local feeling." 

Mr. Patterson, Mr. Caton's son-in-law, was deeply 
interested in agriculture, and was a clever and agree- 

1 Caton was a well-known geologist. 


able man ; but he occasioned some amusement at Hoik- 
ham by the extreme frankness of his remarks. It was 
the custom after dinner for every one to repair to the 
chapel for family prayers. On the first evening of his 
sojourn at Holkham, when Mr. Patterson was invited to 
attend, he replied with gravity, " I thank you I thank 
you ; but I pray, devoutly and sincerely, once a week ! " 
In those days, however, while the servants occupied the 
chapel for worship, and their superiors were present 
in a private room overlooking the sacred edifice like 
a gallery, it was yet considered necessary for cer- 
tain footmen of the establishment to be in attendance 
in that upper apartment during evening prayers in 
order to assist to their feet those gentlemen who were 
too drunk to rise from their knees. Mr. Patterson, 
therefore, may have concluded that to worship with a 
clear head on Sunday morning was more edifying. 

During her visit to England the beautiful Mary 
Patterson was as greatly admired by the " Iron Duke" 
as her mother had been by Washington. Later, her 
husband died, and constant mention is made of her as a 
young and lovely widow by Coke's correspondents, 
which prove that she made painful havoc among the 
susceptible hearts in the other hemisphere. On return- 
ing to England, she married in 1825 the brother of her 
early admirer the " Iron Duke," 1 and as Lady Welles- 
ley her portrait was painted by Lawrence and is now 
in Baltimore. Of her sisters, one became Lady Staf- 
ford, and another Duchess of Leeds "a singular 

1 Richard, second Earl of Mornington (1760-1842), created Baron 
Wellesley of Wellesley in the Peerage of Great Britain 1797, and 
Marquis Wellesley in the Peerage of Ireland 1799. 


instance," remarks a contemporary, "of three sisters, 
foreigners, and of a nation hitherto little known in our 
aristocratical circles, allying themselves to such dis- 
tinguished families in England." 1 But, however bril- 
liant their subsequent fortunes, the three sisters appear 
never to have forgotten the man who was one of their 
first friends on arriving as " foreigners" in a strange 
land ; and at last their father, following the example of 
his daughters, visited the English home of which he 
had heard so much. "I take so much interest in every- 
thing that relates to you and yours, more especially 
since my residence at Holkham," he wrote to Coke 
towards the end of his life, "that I can never lose the 
grateful recollections, nor think of them but with plea- 
sure and gratitude." 

As Coke's influence upon agriculture spread far and 
wide through that distant world, pamphlets respecting 
his system of farming, some of them written by his own 
tenants, 2 penetrated and were read with interest in 
remote parts of America. One of his correspondents 
mentions that " accounts of the Holkham Sheep-shear- 
ing are extensively circulated by the public journals in 
the United States : 

"After my return from England last autumn," 
writes John Parish, of the Montreal Agricultural 
Society, " I astonished them all with the detail of the 
wonderful experiments and agricultural operations of 
which I was an eye-witness at your last sheep-shear- 
ing. I also distributed among them a few copies of 
Dr. Rigby's pamphlet, which was perused with 

1 Journal of T. Raikes (1856), Vol. II, p. 384. 

2 Blakie in a letter mentions this fact, and also that he personally had 
been asked and had consented to write a pamphlet containing a descrip- 
tion of Coke's system of agriculture for America. 


avidity and delight. ... I know full well how much 
satisfaction you derive from an extension of that theo- 
retical and practical knowledge which centres at 
Holkham, and which, like the genial and beneficial 
warmth of the sun, diffuses its radiation for the profit 
and advantage of both hemispheres." 

The Montreal Agricultural Society soon after elected 
Coke as an honorary member ; and some years later 
James Lowell, father of the ambassador, wrote to beg 
the same honour for the Massachusetts Agricultural 
Society " impressed," he says, "with a just sense of 
the services you have rendered to Agriculture both by 
your example and opinions, and not insensible of the 
early, steady, firm and inflexible regard you have 
shown to this country in the darkest times." 

Thus, when American agriculturists began to make 
pilgrimages to Holkham more frequently even than 
did American patriots, Andrew Oliver, the Lieutenant- 
Governor of Massachusetts, appears to have journeyed 
thither in the former capacity. " Mr. Oliver," writes a 
common acquaintance, General D'Evere, "often ex- 
claims that his visit to you alone was worth his voyage 
across the Atlantic. . . . Mr. Oliver has enlarged and 
improved his system of farming since his return, no 
doubt to imitate your great example, so that he is now 
considered the Coke of Maryland" 

General D'Evere himself, who had been induced to 
perform the journey to Europe partly with a view to 
making Coke's acquaintance, had then brought with him 
a simple introduction to his host, which stated him to 
be "the gallant and distinguished defender of South 
American Independence, who has a heart as warm and 


generous as your own." He appears to have been an 
intimate friend of Mr. Caton and of Mr. Oliver, for 
later he writes : 

" I have been to the United States on a visit to our 
friends Mr. Caton and Mr. Oliver, when you and 
Holkham formed the pleasing subject of our con- 
versation. Mr. Oliver often exclaims respecting his 
visit to you ; and His Royal Highness the Duke of 
Sussex made so favourable an impression upon him 
as a Prince of the Blood, that he no longer feels any 
Republican hostility to Princes ! " 

General D'Evere did not hesitate, in his turn, to 
send a friend of his own to Holkham, pleading as his 
excuse to Coke "that hospitality to our countrymen for 
which you have gained so deserved a reputation." 

What seemed to impress Coke's American visitors 
most was the to them extraordinary contrast between 
the splendour of his surroundings and the simplicity of 
his individual tastes. A man who in his daily life was 
at once both prince and farmer; a patriot and the friend 
of kings ; luxurious, yet hardy ; proudly independent, 
yet absolutely unassuming in his attitude towards all 
men was a distinct anomaly in their experience ; and 
they found a never-failing romance in the feudal life of 
such a man, living in the midst of a free tenantry, who 
voluntarily accepted his will as law. To this day, 
Americans cherish that same element of romance with 
regard to institutions which, to an Englishman, have 
all the prosaic character of familiarity ; and at that date 
this sentiment was perhaps even stronger with regard 
to the world that they had renounced, and the existence 
they had discarded. The interest attached to their 
correspondence lies solely in its curious revelation of 

the estimation in which they regarded Coke ; while 
to-day, still preserved in the New York Public Library, 
are two apparently unimportant letters from him, evi- 
dently once deposited there as treasures. 1 

But amongst the miscellaneous correspondence 
addressed to him by writers whose identity it is now 
impossible to trace, there are others of a different 
character ; letters from unknown correspondents peti- 
tioning for advice in matters of perplexity, for en- 
couragement in times of failure ; letters expressing 
thankfulness for the sympathy the writers had experi- 
enced and the generosity they had met with for the 
practical help and valuable gifts which they had re- 
ceived. There are letters which refer to distressed 
families whom Coke had aided, and to struggling farm- 
ers to whom he had given the benefit of his experi- 
ence, or to whom he had sent out presents of machines 
or cattle as an encouragement to perseverance, men, 
not one of whom can have been known to him across 
the intervening miles of sea and land. Even the guests 
who had received his hospitality appear afterwards to 
have appealed for his aid for their impecunious friends : 
"Mr. Oliver and I often talk of you,'* again explains 

1 The first, addressed to " Lichfield," but the date of which is lost, 
shows that, like the Lord Chief Justice, Coke " never gave up his Body 
to Physic " ; he speaks with horror of medicine, and warns his corre- 
spondent, who has been ill, to avoid taking- it, of which avoidance Coke 
explains that he, personally, had proved the benefit. The other letter, 
without date or legible address, shows that he was, nevertheless, ready 
to welcome the progress of medical science, for it states that it was his 
" ardent wish to diffuse the benefit of vaccination as generally as 
possible. I shall certainly," he adds, "support any Petition that may 
be laid before Parliament for that purpose. I beg that you will express 
my sentiments to the Managers of this beneficial institution, and assure 
them that I will do all in my power to promote their views." 


Mr. Caton in one letter; "he has, I believe, written to 
you some time back, relating to a person who was 
known to you, and who has left a family in much 
distress. (The person is dead, I understand, under 
circumstances much to be lamented.)" One thing this 
variety of correspondence serves to prove is, that none 
who sought the sympathy and the aid of Coke did so 
in vain. 

But there were times when his role of benefactor was 
reversed, and, as in the case of Richard Caton, his 
correspondents were not contented to be passive 
recipients of benefits. Presents found their way back 
to him, though occasionally of a quaint character 
offerings of rare seeds for plants and grasses ; portraits 
of the writers ; once, a parcel of beautifully woven 
shawls ; once, a chest of sweet-smelling cedar-wood, 
procured specially from Canton ; once, entrusted to the 
care of Richard Rush 1 by a " gentleman of New York," 
a couple of cases of " American pure beef," intended 
by the giver, as Rush explains, to represent to Coke " a 
tribute of the high respect in which he holds your 
publick character and your services in the cause of Agri- 
culture." Unfortunately, the weather being warm, this 
" tribute" arrived in a condition which necessitated its 
hasty consignment by Rush to the depths of the ocean ! 
Another curious gift was a portion of a fleece of the 
brightest golden colour, said to be the only fleece 
of this hue which had ever been beheld by European 
eyes. Supposed to come originally from Thibet, it was 
found in a captured ship which had been carrying a 
rich cargo from Tartary to the Emperor of China ; but, 

1 American Minister at the Court of St. James*. 


valuable as was the cargo, this fleece was estimated to 
be the most priceless thing on board. 

Sometimes the offerings took the form of prints 
relating to American history. General D'Evere when 
he came over to England was the bearer of one of these 
tokens from a sometime guest at Holkham. 

"To one of the most early and constant friends of 
America," says the letter which accompanied it, 
"who is also a lover and a munificent patron of the 
fine arts, an American engraving of an American 
picture, which commemorates the birth of the 
American nation, will, I hope, be acceptable. . . . 
It will serve as a testimony of my grateful recollec- 
tions of Holkham its elegant and cordial hospitality, 
and the gratification I received from the society and 
kindness of its distinguished owner." 

But what must have been a greater tax on Coke's 
good-nature more even than the effusive gratitude of 
his unknown correspondents, or than the constant 
influx of pilgrims to Holkham, his admirers in that 
other hemisphere sent over artists expressly to take his 
portrait. " I am sending over Mr. West, a relation of 
Sir [sic] Benjamin West," 1 writes one persuasively, 
"who is said to have taken the best likeness of Lord 
Byron ever done of his Lordship ! " " The many proofs 
you have given of your friendship towards our country 
and countrymen will ever prove a lively remembrance of 
your name with us," pleads another; "to have the like- 
ness of him to whom we are so much indebted would 
add a lasting satisfaction to the thousands that will 
behold it ! " And while the request which was con- 
tained in these letters was often repeated during Coke's 

1 Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy. 

life, the romantic admiration which prompted it does 
not appear to have proved ephemeral, as one might 
have expected. As the years went by, Coke's corres- 
pondents continued to show a curiosity as keen in his 
unique personality, an interest as lively in his success 
as an agriculturist, a gratitude as enthusiastic for his 
aid during the struggle for independence. Stevenson, 
the American Minister, 1 gave proof of this when he 
came to England in 1836. His first visit was to Hoik- 
ham, and he claimed for himself the honour of having 
paid Coke the highest compliment which one man ever 
paid another. 

"I," he said, "the representative of fourteen 
millions of freemen, thought it my first duty on my 
arrival in England to pay my respects, and to offer 
the grateful acknowledgments of those fourteen 
millions of countrymen to the man who so early had 
acted so noble a part in vindication of America." 5 

1 Andrew Stevenson, born 1784, died 1857 in North Carolina. 
Minister at the Court of London, 1836-41. 
3 Norwich Mercury, July 9th, 1842. 




sEtat 29-35 

AVING now glanced briefly at Coke's early 
work, both in the capacity of politician 
and of agriculturist, we must once more 
resume the thread of events in due order. 
In doing so, however, it is perhaps essential to lay 
stress on one fact. 

In his dual capacity of politician and farmer, the 
noted men who crossed Coke's path at every period of 
his life were many and varied. Statesmen, agricul- 
turists, artists, literati, great generals and naval heroes 
English and foreign one by one they appear upon 
the stage ; and while it is impossible to do more than 
refer to a very limited number of those who were, at 
one time or another, thus connected with his career, 
and while mention of these can be made only in the 
order in which their correspondence happens to have 
been preserved, or in which their lives became inter- 
woven with the events of Coke's own life, it must be 
borne in mind that the names occurring thus most often 
in these pages do not of necessity represent those 
whose lives actually bore the closest relation to Coke's 
own. Of his deepest and most intimate friendships, 



indeed, in many instances, no trace remains beyond 
the bare knowledge of their existence ; and friends 
of whom mention will be made here most constantly 
and most in detail, are therefore, obviously, those of 
whom very often by a mere chance the corres- 
pondence was kept, and most record thus preserved. 

It was in 1783, the year before his temporary ab- 
sence from Parliament, that an incident occurred to 
which, although apparently trivial at the time, Coke 
used afterwards to advert with great interest. About 
three miles from Holkham lies the village of Burnham 
Thorpe, whose rector for many years was the Rev. 
Edmund Nelson. The parish of Burnham, in fact, 
adjoins that of Holkham, and a road to it runs through 
Holkham Park. Mr. Nelson, from this near neigh- 
bourhood, was well known to Mr. and Mrs. Coke, 
although neither his politics nor his social status in 
Norfolk were calculated to promote great intimacy. 
His fourth son Horatio, who was a little over four 
years younger than Coke, had gone to sea as a boy of 
twelve, in 1770, nearly six years before Coke came into 
possession of the estate. From time to time, however, 
young Nelson had reappeared for short intervals at his 
old home, and during these visits his chief amusement 
was to join Mr. Coke's hounds when out coursing. 
Fragile and delicate in health, there were occasions 
when he found even this healthy exercise more than his 
strength could stand, and was forced to abandon it for 
the less energetic amusement of bird's-nesting. "It 
was not my intention to have gone to the coursing 
meeting," he wrote to his brother on one occasion ; 
"for, to say the truth, I have rarely escaped a wet 
i. y 


jacket and a violent cold. Besides, to me, even the 
ride to the Smee is longer than any pleasure I find 
in the sport can compensate for." 1 Partly owing to 
the fact that he shunned violent exercise, partly owing 
to his carelessness in carrying his gun ready-cocked, and 
in shooting at random, it does not appear that he was 
ever asked to join the Holkham shooters, and he re- 
mained a poor shot, so that only once in his life did he 
succeed in killing a partridge. 

Shortly after the recognised close of the American 
War, in June, 1783, young Nelson returned home from 
a two years' cruise ; and, one morning, when Coke was 
seated in his study writing, he was told that Captain 
Nelson wished to see him, in order to make his declara- 
tion for half-pay as a Commander. Nelson, at that 
time, had just been presented to the King, and was 
known to Coke only as a creditable young man of very 
average ability ; no premonition crossed Coke's mind 
that, in the spare, fragile youth of five-and-twenty, 
who, a moment later, entered his study, he was welcom- 
ing a man whom posterity would acclaim as one of 
England's greatest heroes. And could any onlooker, 
knowing that future, have witnessed this interview, it 
might have seemed incredible that, of the two men 
before him, any word, any action of the apparently 
unimportant visitor would be treasured by posterity, 
while the memory of his host would be all but con- 
signed to oblivion. For at that date, while Coke, 
although only four years young Nelson's senior, was 
already acknowledged by his generation as a man of 
mark and the benefactor of his species, Nelson was 

1 The Life of Nelson, by A. T. Mahan (1897), Vol I, p. 90. 


still unknown to fame ; and thus confronted, the two 
young men must have presented a curious contrast, in 
which physically, as well as socially, and, apparently, 
mentally, Nelson was at a disadvantage. Undersized 
and insignificant in appearance, weak in health, nerv- 
ous in temperament and poor in circumstances, he 
could boast as yet little achieved in the present, and 
less prospect for the future, save what lay unguessed in 
his own keen brain and indomitable pluck. 

Yet, little over twenty years later, the chair in which 
he then sat was looked upon by Coke as one of the 
most prized possessions amongst all the treasures of 
Holkham, and a humble turret bedroom which he had 
occupied as Coke's guest was adorned with his portrait 
and proudly known as " Nelson's room." 

Nelson's own politics appear to have been comprised 
in the dictum, "To hate all Frenchmen as you would 
hate the Devil," but his father, as an avowed Tory and 
follower of Pitt, on no occasion ever bestirred himself 
to promote the cause of his great Whig neighbour 
at Holkham. Yet Coke could boast certain Tory 
friends in Norfolk. Henry Styleman of Snettisham, 
although a staunch Tory, was one of his great friends ; 
and Coke used often to visit him, on which occasions 
Mr. Styleman, with great delicacy of feeling, used to 
turn with its face to the wall a picture of William Pitt 
which hung in his dining-room ! Another Norfolk 
neighbour, William Windham, the statesman, on the 
contrary, affords an instance, as we shall see later, 
in which a political difference with Coke seriously 
affected an otherwise unwavering friendship. 

From his early days Coke evinced a strong attach- 

ment for Windham, and the first public speech of the 
latter in 1788 that bold protest against the war with 
America, uttered at a meeting called together for the 
very purpose of furthering hostilities had served to 
cement this attachment. Windham, on his part, felt 
for Coke perhaps as sincere an affection as he ever 
exhibited for any one. Lord Holland, indeed, believed 
Windham to be absolutely self-absorbed, and points out 
how Windham's Diary reveals " the total absence of all 
affection, and, with the exception of Dr. Johnson, of all 
admiration or deference for others," and thus destroys 
" anything like interest for the man." 1 But the prosaic 
record of a man's daily actions is not always the best 
criterion by which to judge his affections ; and had 
Lord Holland seen the warm and constant affection of 
Windham's letters to Coke, he would probably have 
modified that view of his character, and have discovered 
that Windham was capable of sincere friendship, strong 
appreciation, and also of exerting himself on behalf of 
those he really loved. 

Felbrigg, the Windham property, beautifully situated 
on the hills above Cromer, was about twenty-five miles 
by road from Holkham ; and often, in response to a sum- 
mons from Coke to join some unexpected guests at Holk- 
ham, or to share in the pleasure of a sudden visit from 
Fox, Windham passed along the intervening miles on 
horseback, meditating, as his Diary relates, 2 upon some 
abstruse problem which he had elected to solve en route. 

1 Further Memoirs of the Whig Party, 1807-1821, by Henry Richard 
Vassall-Fox, third Baron Holland, edited by the Earl of Ilchester, 1904, 

P- 57- 

2 Diary of Rt. Hon. William Windham (1784-1810), ed. by Mrs. 
Henry Baring, 1866. 


His first mention of a visit to Holkham, and of his 
impression of the house, occurs in August, 1784, when 
he states how he "left Felbrigg, and went in the 
phaeton from thence to Holkham," and how, the next 
morning, they all rode about on horseback. "The 
place finer than I expected," he says ; " nothing more 
Justin my opinion than Coke's ideas of laying it out." 
Later he writes more fully, in January, 1786 : 

"Set out for Holkham. Drive not unpleasant ; 
feeling of great satisfaction on my arrival, which was 
not rendered less by the circumstance of arriving in 
the midst of the audit. During the whole of my 
stay here I enjoyed myself very much ; in this enjoy- 
ment the house itself had no small share. Of all the 
modes of existence that vary from day to day, none is 
to me more pleasing than habitation in a large house. 
Besides the pleasure it affords from the contemplation 
of elegance and magnificence, the objects it presents, 
and the images it gives birth to, there is no other 
situation in which the enjoyment of company is 
united to such complete retirement. A cell in a 
convent is not a place of greater retirement than a 
remote apartment in such a house as Holkham. 

"Accordingly, during my stay there, I have read 
more than I have done in the same number of days in 
other places to which I have retired to read. The 
easy transition from company to study gained to 
employment many hours which, by coming in por- 
tions too small to admit of any reduction, must in 
other situations have been thrown aside as useless. 
The pond at the back of the house was frozen for 
two days so as to bear, and the ice was so clear and 
the weather so pleasant, that all the pleasure which 
solitary, skating can give, existed in perfection. 

"2ist. Rode after breakfast, and on one of 
Hoste's 1 horses to Rainham. 2 Before I set out, went 
for the first time into the library at the top, which I 

1 Mr. Dixon Hoste. 2 House of the Marquis of Townshend. 


had heard of when I was last here, and forgot again. 
The room and the collection answered fully to my 
expectation, and gave a pleasing impression of the 
use that might be made of it and the comfort enjoyed 
by any literary chaplain belonging the family." 

The * 'library at the top" was the large airy turret 
room in which Thomas Coke had first deposited his 
literary treasures. With big windows commanding a 
fine view over the park and lake, it was bright and 
pleasant ; while, approached only by a long silent 
corridor, its isolation was complete. At the time when 
Windham wrote, the dilapidated but priceless MSS. 
and rare tomes collected by Thomas Coke were stored 
there ; some, with ancient bindings incapable of hold- 
ing their leaves together, were lying neglected on the 
shelves without any attempt at order or classification ; 
others, in great boxes, lay still unpacked, as they had 
arrived from Italy, or as Drakenborch and other 
scholars had replaced them. There, too, in open 
wooden bookcases along the walls were the well-worn 
volumes which had once formed the library of the 
Chief Justice, together with books which had been 
the property of Sir Christopher Hatton, his wife's first 
husband a number of which to this day remain in the 
passage outside the former library. 

To Windham, who eventually owed his death to his 
appreciation for books, such a discovery must have 
been momentous. A library so far removed from the 
ordinary living-rooms of the house was, it may be pre- 
sumed, visited only by the scholarly or the curious ; 
and his remark that on his previous visits to Holkham 
he had " heard of it," and " forgot it again," is signifi- 


cant, while an entry many years later in his Diary 
records how, in one of the books which he was reading 
there, he came across a paper, undisturbed, which he 
had left in it two years previously. Having once found 
his way there, many delightful hours were passed by 
him in a solitude which he loved ; and to-day, looking 
round the now deserted room, one can still picture the 
brilliant, witty statesman revelling in its complete isola- 
tion, or pausing in his search amongst the treasures 
with which he was surrounded to look out on the peace- 
ful view over the sunny park. 

His visits to Holkham at this date were pretty fre- 
quent ; for despite his professed love of solitude, he was 
excellent company and a delightful conversationalist, so 
that his society was always welcome. Like Coke, he was 
a friend of Fox and Burke and mentions being asked to 
meet them at Holkham, and to dine with them and Coke 
in town. Sheridan, Burke and Fox at this date were 
constant guests at Holkham, but unfortunately, no cor- 
respondence from the two former has been preserved. 

On the other hand, the letters from Fox which sur- 
vive, although treasured with an affectionate care, are 
those only of the most terse and practical description. 
At a time when unimportant writers labelled their 
voluminous compositions with the day of the month, 
the day of the week, and, often, the very hour at which 
these were written, Fox, to his intimate friends, more 
usually dashed off his brief, matter-of-fact notes with 
no date, and little avoidable palaver. Besides his urgent 
appeals for help in any political crisis, his letters to 
Coke consist of equally short and yet more eager direc- 
tions with regard to sporting arrangements. 


" My dear Coke," he writes in a typical letter from 
St. Ann's hill, " I intend to be at Swaffham Tuesday 
night, and if you do not think it too early in the year 
for Houghton, and you go out Partridge-shooting 
Wednesday, I should be obliged to you if you would 
tell me where I can find you, as my dogs will prob- 
ably have had enough of it. I think I could easily 
be at Creek soon after ten, or even Holkham by 
eleven. If you could lend me a horse, it would be 
better, but I can manage to have my own with me. 
I do not hear that there's any chance of the Meeting 
of Parliament being put off. I received two brace of 
partridges and one of pheasants from you. 

" Yours ever, 

"C. J. Fox." 
And again : 

" Dear Coke, Lord Robert 1 and I mean to be at 
Banham Thursday, at about eleven, where, if you 
will send a keeper to meet us, I shall be obliged to 
you, and you could send me a horse for myself. It 
would be very convenient to me, as I think of sending 
my own strait \stc\ to Holkham to save him a little. 
If you have no horse fit for me, I shall still be glad 
if you send one, and I might, in that case, ride one 
of Lord Robert's and send his servant upon that you 

Send ' -Yours ever, 

"C. J. Fox." 

It was no easy matter to provide a horse equal to 
Fox's weight, and his letters usually show great anxiety 
on this point. He was always ready, however, for a 
jest against himself on account of his great size. Once, 
at Holkham, when they were teasing him for having 
grown so fat, Coke happened to remark that he won- 
dered which weighed most, Fox or the fat chef in the 

1 Lord Robert Spencer, third son of the third Duke of Marlborough, 
a great friend of Fox. 


kitchen. The idea was taken up, wagers were staked 
upon the result, and the party, surrounding Fox, hustled 
him off to the kitchen, where they weighed him and 
the stout cook one against the other. But history is 
silent upon the result. 

Coke, in later years, used to tell many amusing 
anecdotes about Fox. One night at Brooks's, when 
Coke was present, Fox, in allusion to something that 
had been said, made a very disparaging remark about 
Government powder. Adam, 1 who heard it, con- 
sidered it a personal reflection, and sent Fox a 
challenge. At the time appointed Fox went out and 
took his station, standing full face to his adversary. 
Fitzgerald pointed out to him that he ought to stand 
sideways. " What does it matter? " protested Fox ; "I 
am as thick one way as the other ! " The signal to 
1 Fire ! ' was given. Adam fired, but Fox did not. His 
seconds, greatly excited, told him that he must fire. 
"I'll be damned if I do!" said Fox; "/ have no 
quarrel ! " Whereupon the two adversaries advanced 
to shake hands. "Adam," said Fox complacently, 
" you'd have killed me if it hadn't been for the badness 
of Government powder ! " The ball had hit him in the 
groin and had fallen into his breeches. Needless to 
say, after this Adam and Fox were devoted friends. 2 

1 William Adam, 1751-1839, Attorney-General to the Prince of 

2 This was the famous Fox and Adam duel which took place in 1779. 
A different version of the story is given by Earl Russell in his Life and 
Times of C. J. Fox (1866), Vol. I, p. 219. Another, in Life and Letters 
of Lady Sarah Lennox, Vol. I, pp. 302-3. But Haydon confirms the 
above version related by Coke (see Haydon's Journals and Correspond- 
ence, edited and compiled by T. Taylor, 1853, Vol. II, p. 376). 

The Westminster Play of that year was Phormio, and the epilogue 


Fox, in common with his generation, had a profound 
admiration for his beautiful champion, the Duchess of 
Devonshire. On one occasion he turned to her at 
dinner and demanded abruptly, "Do you know what 
you are like?" 

The Duchess, anticipating a compliment, smilingly 
shook her head. 

" You," pronounced Fox, glancing at the fruit upon 
his plate, "are like a bunch of grapes." 

Somewhat mystified, the Duchess confessed that she 
could not discover the connection of ideas, and begged 
that Fox would explain his meaning. 

" Vous plaisez jusqu? a Vivresse!" responded Fox. 

Soon after Fox came into power, Coke dined with 
him. During dinner Fox talked most frankly before 
the servants, so that, when they were gone, one of his 
friends said to him, " Fox, how can you go on like that 
when the servants are in the room?" "And why the 
devil," said Fox, "should they not know as much as 
myself?" 1 

The sympathy between Fox and Coke as politicians 
was even surpassed by their sympathy as sportsmen. 
Coke used to say that Fox, like himself, was as fond of 
shooting as any schoolboy ; so eager, indeed, was 
Fox that he would constantly put the shot into the gun 
before the powder. A certain amicable rivalry existed 
between him and Coke with regard to their prowess 

was spoken in the character of a Government Powder Contractor. It 

" Quin cum privatis certetur ubique duellis 
Nemo perit pugnat pulvere quisque mea," 

which was received with shouts of laughter by Westminster Whigs and 

1 Haydon, Journals and Correspondence (1853), Vol. II, p. 377. 


with the gun. It was at the instigation of Fox that, 
in 1797, Coke, in fulfilment of a wager, shot at Warham, 
in a mile circumference, forty brace of partridges in 
eight hours in ninety-three shots, each bird being killed 
singly, and with the old muzzle-loaders. The day 
before, at the same spot, he had killed twenty-two and 
a half brace in three hours. In consequence of a like 
bet that he would kill thirty brace of partridges between 
sunrise and sunset with a single barrel, in 1788, he 
killed eighty-eight birds on the manor of Wighton, and 
only missed four shots during the entire day. Daniel, 
in his Rural Sports^ remarks how, on another occasion, 
" Mr. Coke killed in five days 726 partridges ; surely 
the number of discharges must deafen the operator, 
putting the destruction out of the question ; and Mr. 
Coke is so capital a marksman that as he inflicts death 
whenever he pulls the trigger, he should in mercy 
forbear such terrible examples of his skill." It must 
be borne in mind that his gun was a flint-and-steel, and 
that it was therefore necessary for him to fire two and a 
half times further ahead of a bird flying rapidly across 
the shooter than if a percussion gun had been used, i.e. 
the wielder of the flint-and-lock gun must aim five 
yards ahead of a partridge, where the wielder of a per- 
cussion would aim two yards ahead of the same quarry. 
Fox, with his uncontrollable impetuosity, could never 
come within measurable distance of Coke's success as 
a sportsman, but this fact in no wise diminished his 
ardour. Occasionally, however, other impulses were 
known to interfere with his ruling passion. One hot 
September morning he set out from Holkham fully 

1 Rural Sports, by the Rev. W. B. Daniel (1813), Vol. IV. 

anticipating a good day's sport at Egmere, Coke's best 
partridge beat. As was usual with sportsmen in those 
days, he started at daylight. Just as the family were 
sitting down to breakfast, Fox was seen staggering 
home. "Not ill, Charles?" inquired his host anxiously. 
"No," was the meek reply, "only tipsy!" Being 
thirsty he had asked a tenant of Egmere for a bowl of 
milk, and was too easily persuaded to add thereto a 
certain, or rather uncertain quantity of rum. As a 
consequence, he passed the rest of the day in bed 
instead of in the turnip field. 1 

Another time a party of Holkham shooters who had 
started out at daybreak were driven home by a heavy 
rain. Fox, however, who was reluctant to abandon all 
hope of his day's sport, was left behind, sheltering 
under some fir trees in company with a labourer who 
had been ploughing near. All day long it rained 
incessantly, but Fox did not reappear. Dinner-time 
arrived and the ladies were all waiting, assembled in 
the Saloon, when into their midst arrived Fox, drip- 
ping wet. " Where have you been, Charles ? " inquired 
his host. " Why, talking to that man all day," replied 
Fox; "there's hardly a man I can't get something 
useful out of if he only talks ! " It appears that the 
labourer had been giving him a history of the system of 
turnip husbandry, just then come into vogue, and so ab- 
sorbed was the statesman in the company of the plough- 
man, that he found it impossible to tear himself away. 2 

Fox's visits to Holkham were often followed by a 

1 Fifty Years of My Life, by George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle, 
(1876), Vol. I, p. 244. 

2 Op. cit., Vol. I, p. 244; also Haydon's Correspondence and Journals ; 
Vol. II, p. 377. 


sojourn at Quidenham, 1 and vice versa ; indeed, the 
intimacy between the two houses constantly led to an 
interchange of guests. Bob Jeffs, Lord Keppel's game- 
keeper, who was a great friend of Fox's, was a notorious 
story-teller, and used to vie with Baron Munchausen in 
the marvellous tales he related. Fox was in the habit 
of stopping on the road as soon as he came to Lord 
Keppel's manor, and beginning his day's sport with 
Bob, who was on the look-out for him. Upon one of 
these occasions, however, he lost his watch. In the 
month of February, after the break up of a long frost 
and deep snow, Bob found the watch, he told Mr. 
Coke, hanging on a fence, and going correctly / 2 

Lord Albemarle points out how, in an establishment 
like Holkham, gamekeepers are persons of importance ; 
and the celebrated Bob Jeffs of Quidenham found a rival 
in old Joe Hibbert at Holkham, who had been a prize- 
fighter in the days of his youth. On one occasion Sir 
John Shelley, who was celebrated for his neat sparring, 
challenged Hibbert to a set-to with the gloves, and 
some of the young men staying in the house mischiev- 
ously promised Joe a good tip if he would administer a 
judicious punishment to Sir John. Joe put on the 
gloves, but drew them off again ; turning round upon 
his backers he exclaimed, " Not for twice the money 
would I strike a gentleman ! " 

Another curious character was J. Hawkesworth, who 
was gamekeeper at Holkham for many years, and 
finally died at the age of seventy in 1804. He became 
very eccentric as he grew older, and never associated 

1 The seat of Lord Albemarle. 

2 From the Hon. the Rev. T. Keppel's notebook. 


with or spoke to any persons unless he was first 
addressed. He was very miserly, and, it was said, had 
accumulated a large fortune which he hid from fear of 
invasion, his death being actually due to his having 
deprived himself of sufficient nourishment. Coke 
always furnished him with proper liveries, but he would 
not wear them, and at the time of his death the suits he 
had hoarded were supposed to be worth more than 
.100. His dress was of the most miserable description, 
and he always wore an old painted hat patched over 
with pieces of cloth. He was known throughout the 
neighbourhood by the name of the " Walking Obelisk." 

The battues at Holkham began on the first Wed- 
nesday in November and continued twice a week for 
the rest of the season. The amount of game killed in 
three months was probably not more than it is now 
the fashion to slaughter in so many days, but the flint- 
and-steel guns always found plenty of work, and every- 
body enjoyed his day's sport, returning home con- 
tented and hungry after long hours of vigorous exer- 
cise. The non-battue days were passed either in the 
turnip fields among the partridges, or in the salt 
marshes in pursuit of snipe and wild-fowl. 

Coke, besides being a keen sportsman, was an 
equally keen game-preserver, and very determined that 
his neighbour's rights as well as his own should be 
respected. At Flitcham a trout stream separated his 
property from that of Sir Martin ffolkes, of Hilling- 
ton. A story runs that Coke's brother Edward, when 
shooting at Flitcham, was so anxious to prevent the 
pheasants from going over to Hillington that he 
waded up mid-stream. Sir Martin ffolkes saw him 


thus employed, and cordially invited him to come on to 
the Hillington side of the stream out of the wet. 
When Coke heard what had occurred he was ex- 
tremely angry, and swore that it should never happen 
again. He thereupon gave the Flitcham shooting to 
Sir Martin as a free gift. " Undoubtedly," he wrote, 
"as long as the manor of Flitcham is an object worthy 
your attention, no power whatever will be given by me 
for others to interfere with your amusement " ; and he 
sent an injunction to his tenants that they should not 
suffer anybody to shoot there without " Sir Martin's 
leave first obtained." The shooting remained in the pos- 
session of Sir Martin's family, without rent, until 1860. 
For three months during the shooting season Hoik- 
ham was filled from end to end, and the old game- 
books present an interesting record of the guests whose 
sojourn was the most frequent and most prolonged ; 
amongst whom, at this date, the names of Fox and 
Sheridan rank foremost. When friends who came from 
any distance had to post across country during long, 
wearisome days, they often extended their visit for 
some weeks. It was no unusual thing for a party of 
from fifty to eighty guests and their servants to be 
quartered on their host for an indefinite period ; and 
Royalty often stayed for a length of time which, in 
these days of lavish display, would mean ruin to their 
entertainers. In later years the Duke of Sussex l often 
spent a couple of months at Holkham during the 
winter. The Duke of Gloucester 2 came twice a year, 

1 Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, son of George III. 

2 William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, nephew of George III, 
m. Princess Mary, daughter of George III. 

but for a shorter period ; and an annual though less 
lengthy guest was George, Prince of Wales, afterwards 
George IV. " George the Fourth, when Prince of 
Wales," says a writer in the Monthly Magazine? " was 
exceedingly fond of Mr. Coke, and paid frequent visits 
to Holkham. His Royal Highness was accustomed to 
live in the greatest familiarity with him, and usually 
saluted him with the graceful salutation of ' My brother 
Whig!' His Royal Highness," the writer concludes 
sarcastically, "was then a subject; Mr. Coke con- 
tinues one, and is still a Whig! " 

In the days of his intimacy at Holkham, the Prince 
of Wales was believed to be a very warm adherent of 
the Whig cause ; and in him the Whigs placed their 
hopes for the future. An event, however, occurred in 
1787 which, although it had no direct bearing on party 
politics, first rudely shook the faith of both Fox and 
Coke in the Prince's honour and integrity. 

Part of this story, which is well known, need only be 
very briefly recapitulated. In the summer of 1784, the 
Prince had fallen desperately in love with Mrs. Fitz- 
herbert, a lady whose character was irreproachable and 
whose beauty was generally admired. She was an 
earnest Roman Catholic, and unlikely to change her 
religion from any worldly motives. The Prince, who 
was like a spoilt child when thwarted, used to call on 
Coke as well as on Fox and Mrs. Armistead, 2 to 
discuss his unhappy romance ; and, as Fox related, 
would testify to the vehemence of his passion by violent 
paroxysms of sobbing, by striking his forehead, tear- 

1 Quoted in The Georgian Era by Clarke (1833), Vol. IV, p. 52. 

2 Miss Blane, whom he married in 1795. 


ing his hair, falling into hysterics, and swearing that 
he would abandon everything and fly to America with 
the object of his affection. 

Both Fox and Coke, in whom he constantly confided, 
gave him sound advice upon the subject, which, how- 
ever, was unavailing. After one of his talks with Fox 
he stabbed himself, inflicting a real wound. Thereupon 
Mrs. Fitzherbert was informed that her acquiescence 
was necessary to save the Prince's life. She repaired, 
unwillingly, to Carlton House, where the Prince put a 
ring on her finger ; but she still remained obdurate in 
her refusal to marry him, and left that same day for 
Holland. For a year she remained abroad. At the end 
of that time, in December 1785, she returned to England, 
and it being rumoured that she had consented to the 
marriage, Fox wrote urgently to the Prince on Decem- 
ber loth, 1785, pointing out the political danger of such 
an event. The Prince, in reply, the next day, assured 
him that there were no grounds whatever for such a 
supposition. " Make yourself easy, my dear friend," 
he wrote; " believe me, the world will now soon be con- 
vinced that there not only is not, but never was, any 
ground for these reports which of late have been so 
malevolently circulated ! " 

The duplicity of this statement is the more striking 
since in it the Prince deliberately implies a denial of 
the rumoured marriage, while, by referring to it only 
under the vague term of " these reports" which have 
been " circulated," he avoids exposing himself to the 
utterance of a lie which could afterwards be proved 
against him. Yet at the very time when he wrote thus, 
he was devising every possible plan to accomplish his 
i. z 


secret marriage, and it took place immediately after- 
wards, on December 2ist. 

In the spring of 1787 there arose the question of pay- 
ing his debts, which amounted to 160,000. The King 
refused to discharge them, and the Prince appealed to 
Parliament to do so. The issue at once turned upon 
the question whether a marriage with Mrs. Fitzherbert 
had or had not taken place. By an Act of Parliament, 
marriage with a Roman Catholic invalidated all claims 
to the throne ; while by a second statute, the Royal 
Marriage Act, any marriage contracted without the 
Royal Consent was null. By pleading the second the 
Prince could avoid the action of the first, although, by 
doing this, he was virtually evading the law and 
literally taking away the character of his wife. This 
he did not scruple to do in order to achieve his object. 
He had placed in Fox's possession or so Fox believed 
the authority to declare that the marriage had not taken 
place; and Fox, trusting in the Prince's honour, denied 
it absolutely in the House on April 3oth, at the same 
time stating that he had direct authority for so doing. 

The result of a solemn assurance, given on the 
honour of a statesman whose veracity was held to be 
above suspicion, was that 161,000 were voted for the 
payment of the Prince's debts, and 20,000 for the 
completion of Carlton House. It is said that the very 
same day Orlando Bridgman 1 came up to Fox at 
Brooks's and said, " I see by the papers, Mr. Fox, you 
have denied the fact of the marriage of the Prince with 
Mrs. Fitzherbert. You have been misinformed. I was 
present at the marriage." 

1 Afterwards Lord Bradford. 


Now this statement, though very generally received, 
is undoubtedly apocryphal. Not only is there ample 
proof that Orlando Bridgman never was present at the 
marriage, but Fox, still obviously unaware that he had 
been duped, continued to correspond affectionately 
with the Prince so late as May loth following. It has, 
in explanation of this latter fact, been suggested that 
Fox had received no further authority for denying the 
marriage than that afforded by the Prince's evasive 
assertion in his letter of December nth, written pre- 
viously to the wedding having taken place ; yet that, 
actuated by reasons of expediency, the diplomatic 
statesman, conveniently closing his eyes to the shifty 
character of the Prince and to the probability of a 
marriage having occurred subsequently to that date, 
used the letter as his " direct authority" for proclaim- 
ing as true what he saw to be advantageous. 1 But 
Fox, whatever his failings, was no hypocrite, and 
evidence is plentiful that the man with whom he had 
to deal was one. Had the Prince not been the author 
of Fox's lie on this occasion, whatever His Royal High- 
ness's attitude in public to secure payment of his debts, 
in private, and with so great a friend as Fox then was, 
he would surely not have made himself an accessory to 
that lie, by the affectionate and approving letters which 
he wrote to Fox immediately after its utterance "on 
direct authority" Still more, Fox's own conduct 
affords striking proof of personal honesty, for having 
remained friendly with the Prince until May loth, 
what possible cause can be assigned for his subsequent 

1 Mrs. Fitzherbert and George IV, by W. H. Wilkins (1904), Vol. I, 

p. 202. 


open rupture with His Royal Highness were it not 
that, by some means, the Prince's duplicity had at 
length been disclosed to him? 

But after all the discussion which the matter has 
evoked, it is the more interesting to find that Fox's 
own statement to Coke apparently puts the question of 
his integrity beyond all doubt. Coke was his great 
friend, with whom it is incredible that he should have 
acted a double part, yet in the summer of 1788 he went 
to Coke in a state of profound indignation, and related 
that he had discovered himself to have been duped by 
the Prince. Not only, as he pointed out, had he to 
bear the onus of that lie which the public failed to 
accept, and to which it was now said that both himself 
and the entire Whig party were privy, but he saw 
himself unable to withdraw the erroneous statement 
which he had made, since the matter then undergoing 
discussion had been decided in consequence of that 
statement ; and now publicly to proclaim the Prince's 
duplicity would involve complications for the country 
which, at all costs, must be avoided. 

Coke shared his disgust, and the epithets applied to 
the Prince during that conversation might have been 
salutary hearing for His Royal Highness. But Coke 
was not bound by the considerations which enforced 
silence upon Fox. A short time afterwards the Prince 
wrote complacently to propose his annual visit to Hoik- 
ham, and Coke's reply was brief and characteristic : 

" Holkham is open to Strangers on Tuesdays." 1 
This would have been conclusive for most people ; but 

1 Related by Coke's third son, the Hon. Henry Coke. 


the Prince never allowed his pride to interfere with his 
convenience. He saw himself cut by two of the most 
powerful representatives of the party he had espoused, 
and while he recognised that it was to his disadvantage 
to quarrel with so prominent and popular a man as 
Coke, he understood that his best hope of reconciliation 
with Fox likewise lay in retaining the friendship of 
Fox's great ally. Accordingly, the sequel to the story 
is somewhat extraordinary. 

The following autumn Fox was afraid that he would 
not be able to come to Holkham as usual, on account of 
the indisposition of Mrs. Armistead. Coke wrote to 
urge him to do so, and on October 4th, Fox wrote : "I 
received this morning your obliging letter. Mrs. 
Armistead is quite recovered, and I think it next to im- 
possible that anything should prevent my being at 
Holkham on the igth or 2Oth at latest of this month." 

Shortly after his arrival at Holkham, however, a 
recurrence of Mrs. Armistead's illness gave him cause 
for anxiety, and he left sooner than he had intended. 
The very day of this unexpected departure, Coke 
received the intelligence of a still more unexpected 
arrival. A royal outrider appeared, who announced 
that the Prince of Wales was posting to Holkham, and 
would reach there that same evening. 

The law of hospitality, even towards an unbidden 
guest, could not be infringed. Coke felt that he had 
no choice but to receive his unwelcome visitor, who 
followed hard upon the heels of his messenger, and 
reached Holkham at seven that night. The Prince 
carefully ignored the marked absence of cordiality on 
the part of his host, and appeared in excellent spirits 


and extremely friendly. Towards eight, the company 
assembled for dinner, which had been delayed till that 
unusual hour on account of His Royal Highness's 
arrival. When at length dessert was on the table, the 
Prince arose, and begged leave to give a bumper toast. 
He solemnly announced : " The health of the best man 
in England Mr. Fox!" 

The toast, while it created some silent amusement, 
met with a hearty response. Others were proposed, 
and much wine was drunk. It was near one o'clock 
before the company showed signs of dispersing ; and, 
just before leaving the dining-room, the Prince rose 
again, and again gave a bumper toast "The health 
of the best man in England Mr. Fox ! " At nine 
o'clock the next morning he left Holkham on his return 
to London. 

What further took place between Coke and the Prince 
in that hastily patched-up reconciliation is not known. 
Coke, in relating the story to Lord John Russell, who 
mentions it in his life of Fox, 1 merely said that the 
palpable object of the Prince's visit was to find Fox 
at Holkham and effect a reconciliation with him. 
He did not mention that, in travelling all the way 
to Holkham in order to drink Fox's health, the 
Prince had determined also to force a reconciliation 
with his host. Fox, on his part, refused to speak 
to the Prince again for more than a year ; and, 
disgusted at the manner in which he had been treated, 
and out of heart at the position in which he found 
himself, he started on a prolonged tour abroad. 

1 See Life and Times of Charles James Fox, by Earl Russell, 1859-66, 
Vol. II, p. 187. 


Although for political rather than personal reasons 
he subsequently acted with the Prince, he never again 
believed in him ; while Coke, although for a time 
he admitted the Prince to his acquaintance, never 
again admitted him to his former trust and confidence. 

The following year, however, the Prince once more 
proposed a visit to Holkham, but which was unex- 
pectedly prevented. On November 5th occurred the 
centenary of the landing of William of Orange at 
Torbay ; and Norfolk determined to celebrate the 
occasion with due rejoicing. In Norwich great pre- 
parations were made for the event, while at Holkham 
the great Whig festival promised to be on a more 
elaborate scale. Hearing of this, the Prince of Wales 
sent a special message, couched in the form of a request 
that he might be present ; which suggestion was re- 
ceived with civility ; and, forthwith, upon the list of 
expected guests was entered: " The Prince of Wales 
from Carlton House with six attendants." 

But the day before the fete, when the Prince had 
journeyed as far as Newmarket on his way to Holk- 
ham, he was overtaken by an express messenger inform- 
ing him that the King's mental condition was such as to 
necessitate his immediate presence at Windsor. Very 
reluctantly, therefore, he turned his horses' heads about ; 
and in days when nothing was sacred from the wit of 
wags, many were the jests upon the fact that Newmarket 
had proved the unexpected goal of the Prince's journey. 

On the 6th, Fanny Burney relates how, at Windsor, 
" Suddenly arrived the Prince of Wales. . . . He had 
just quitted Brightenhelmstone " ; but Fanny Burney 
was no doubt purposely misinformed ; the Prince had 

returned from his interrupted journey to his father's 
bete noir at Holkham, and came at the call of his 
friends, not knowing whether the King's illness boded 
a Crown or a Regency for himself. Queen Charlotte, 
recognising with bitter jealousy the power which he 
anticipated, received him with distant coldness, which 
Fanny Burney observed, but failed to understand. 
" Something passing within," she remarks, " seemed 
to render this meeting awfully distant on both sides." 1 
But the Holkham fete took place none the less 
merrily despite the Prince's absence. For weeks 
beforehand it had formed the one topic of conversation 
throughout the county. It was, in fact, a great political 
entertainment, yet every care was taken to avoid giving 
it a party character ; cards were to be sent to every 
gentleman and beneficed clergyman in Norfolk and all 
were to be bidden irrespective of their professed politi- 
cal views. But in giving such a colossal entertain- 
ment, Mr. and Mrs. Coke were naturally very 
anxious that no offence should be occasioned by 
the unintentional omission of any who had a right 
to expect an invitation. Some competent person, 
therefore, in each Norfolk town was deputed by them 
to prepare a careful list of all residents who were 
entitled to notice ; and these lists were supplemented 
by much unsolicited correspondence which poured in 
from all quarters, supplying further names and offer- 
ing suggestions. A well-wisher, who prefers to be 
anonymous, calmly proposes that those who cannot be 
invited to the house should have a public invitation to 
the fireworks in the park ; several mention names of 

1 Diary and Letters of Madame d'Arblay, 1842-6, Vol. IV, p. 285. 


old or infirm persons who, although unable to be pre- 
sent, would yet be " highly gratified at your notice " ; 
while an excited correspondent announces in great 
agitation that " Archdeacon Warburton and family, 
hitherto your warm partisans, are greatly incensed 
at not being invited ! " 

As was inevitable in such an undertaking, omissions 
were made and offence was given. While partisans 
were offended at being accidentally forgotten, oppo- 
nents appeared unreasonably offended at being invited ; 
and a certain proportion of both were indignant at fancy- 
ing that invitations received late were an afterthought. 
The lists from each town are still preserved at Holkham, 
and also the answers of the invited, strung together 
upon string in alphabetical order, together with a book 
in which they are again carefully recorded. Down one 
column are entered their names, down another their 
answers whether " Yes "or " No " ; down a third, the 
nature of these answers ; and under this last heading 
we are presented with an .amusing variety. "Civil 'with 
a reason" or "Sensible with a reason" are evidently 
much appreciated ; but many are pronounced " Civil, 
but no reason," or simply "No reason." "Friendly" 
and " Very friendly " jostle "Rather angry." Against 
three "Noes" are written respectively, "Sensible Age 
Distance Ill-health." Lord Rosebery, we learn, 
was " Coolly civil" \ Windham, "An amicable and de-^ 
cisive friend." One alone was "Insolent"] while 
against the "No" entered opposite the unfortunate 
" Archdeacon Warburton and family" is put the sad 
memorandum, " Very angry at the lateness of the card" 
Some of the invited apparently declined humbly be- 


cause, though gratified at the invitation, they did not 
consider their social position warranted their accept- 
ance of it. The Reverend Edmund Nelson declined 
without explanation, and no comment being annexed, 
it appears that his reason was recognised to be political. 
Still strung upon the list of answers is the somewhat 
brusque refusal of young Captain Nelson, who had 
just returned to Burnham Thorpe from Bath with his 
recently-married wife, of whom the letter written by 
her, presumably at his dictation omits all mention : 

" Captain Nelson's compliments to Mr. and Mrs. 
Coke, and is sorry it is not in his power to accept 
their invitation for November 5th. 

" BURNHAM, October, 1788." 

As many guests as could be accommodated in the 
house were invited to spend the night there, and every 
corner of Holkham was to be inhabited. " At the ball 
last night," writes a grateful friend on October nth, 
"you were so kind as to hint that it might be possible 
for my wife and myself to creep into a garret on the 
approaching glorious 5th of November " ; and on this 
occasion, at least, Coke determined to gratify what he 
always described as his greatest satisfaction : he would 
see Holkham " filled from end to end." Of his imme- 
diate friends, Fox, as has been mentioned, was abroad, 
ostensibly travelling for his health through Switzerland 
and Italy; but Windham, the " amicable and decisive 
friend," had just returned from a tour through France, 
and his answer is preserved : 

The Rt. Honourable William Windham to Thomas 

"My dear Sir, William Coke. 

" As my return to England has been in time to 

receive your invitation, there can be no doubt of the 

-^. /?T* *&V f 0*jC~ #* f 

Facsimile of Mrs. Horatio Nelson's answer to the invitation from 
Mr. and Mrs. T. W. Coke 


answer to be given to it. I shall not fail to have the 
pleasure of paying my respects to you. A festival to 
celebrate the Revolution is a proper reception for a 
person just come from France, and there is no spot 
where I can feel that it can be celebrated with more 
propriety than the one now proposed. 

"The only part of your invitation which I shall 
not accept is the bed. I beg that that may be kept 
for some of those who may stand more in need of it, 
and probably be unreasonable enough to feel im- 
patient at not having it. This is one of the few 
occasions on which I must insist upon not having 
a bed at Holkham. Pray make my best respects to 
Mrs. Coke, and believe me, 

4 * With greatest truth, 

"Yours most sincerely, 


"HiLL ST., October 18^, 1788." 

"I am afraid that Fox, who has now got beyond 
the Newmarket Meeting, will hardly be back in time 
for an occasion when his presence, I think, would 
neither be unsuitable or unwelcome." 

Meanwhile, a clever Italian, named Martenelli, had 
been at Holkham ever since October 23rd preparing 
the fireworks and decorations. "He says," a friend 
explains to Mrs. Coke, "that it is absolutely necessary 
he should be there so long beforehand, as he dare not 
venture to send any of his works ready-charged, and he 
must assist in erecting scaffolding, etc. . . . the poor 
fellow really appears extremely anxious to give satis- 
faction ! " Another letter observes how, in view of the 
anticipated presence of the Prince, " I have just pointed 
out to Martenelli the Prince of Wales' crest and motto 
Ich dien> and have desired him to try what he can do 
with the Ostrich." 1 

1 The Coke crest. 


As the day approached, contributions of provisions 
began to pour in. Sir Martin and Lady ffolkes, of 
Hillington Hall, wrote on November ist, that " Had 
they not received a hint, they would not have presumed 
to send to Holkham a Hare, 10 Brace of Pheasants and 
two couple of Guinea Fowls which they hope may be 
acceptable " ; while Mr. Dixon Hoste, from Godwick, 
on November 2nd, sends "8 Brace of Hares and 25 
Brace of Partridges," and hopes further "to send a 
large parcell of Snipes." 

The momentous day dawned bright and sunny. In 
Norwich, from early morning, flags were flying, bands 
playing and bells ringing throughout the town. The 
proceedings began with a thanksgiving service in the 
cathedral ; after which there was a public dinner to 
the local dignitaries, and the city prisoners were also 
fed. At seven in the evening a gigantic bonfire was lit 
in the market-place, and the residents sang or danced 
or paraded round it to the strains of inspiriting music, 
while the rest of the city was brightly illuminated. 

At Holkham, as the beautiful autumn day faded into 
a clear, still night, only a faint breeze blew from the sea. 
While daylight died, the colonnades along the house 
and the pillars of the portico began to glow with 
wreaths of many-coloured fire, and next, above the 
pediment, in honour of the absent guest, there blazed 
a gigantic design of the Prince of Wales* feathers in 
the Whig colours of blue and buff. This threw its 
light far down the drive, where, by eight o'clock, the 
guests began to arrive. Soon the block of vehicles 
became so great that, in spite of every precaution, it is 
related ' ' some accidents and overthrows took place from 


the immense number of carriages of those who witnessed 
the elegance, magnificence and hospitality of this 
glorious festival." Within the house the scene each 
moment became more attractive. Martenelli had 
achieved his utmost. How illuminations were so cun- 
ningly contrived before the days of electric light I 
cannot say ; but by some clever machinery he had 
connected the illuminations within and without the 
house so that all were set in motion with but little effort. 
When the light illumined the exterior of the house, the 
Egyptian Hall became ablaze with lamps, sparkling in 
the ceiling, circling the niches of the statues, and 
swinging from colonnade to colonnade, interwoven 
with heavy festoons of flowers. As the guests entered 
the hall, their names were written down, and they were 
conducted up the steps to the Saloon, at the door of 
which Mr. and Mrs. Coke received them standing under 
a transparency on which glittered the words LIBERTY 
AND OUR CAUSE. The glow from this bathed both host 
and hostess in a flood of light ; and each Whig chronicler 
remarked how it helped to emphasise the grace and 
stateliness which, at the age of thirty-four, still made 
Mrs. Coke conspicuous as the most beautiful woman 
amidst all those who thronged up the steps to greet her. 
Despite every effort to make the party non-political, 
few Tories had accepted the invitation, and among the 
dresses of the guests blue and buff predominated, out 
of compliment to their host and the Cause. Thus, 
while men as well as women, with their powdered hair 
and gay clothing, added to the picturesqueness of the 
scene, among the former blue coats were conspicuous, 
while the older ladies were resplendent in orange bro- 


cades and the younger ones in white, with bright 
orange silk twisted amongst their powdered locks. 

At nine o'clock dancing began in the Statue Gallery. 
The ball was opened by Miss Jane Coke, now a pretty 
little girl of eleven, with the same fine features and 
bright eyes as her mother. In the absence of the 
Prince she danced with Lord Petre ; and as, in a 
short-waisted dress which fell to her heels, she solemnly 
trod the first measures of the minuet which opened the 
ball, other bands simultaneously struck up in other 
rooms out of ear-shot ; some also playing minuets, 
some country dances, and some the figures of a 
cotillion, so that the guests might have ample choice 
with regard to which dances they preferred. In other 
rooms, too, cards were provided and music of a more 
serious order. 

An hour later, however, dancing and cards were alike 
forgotten, and every one crowded to the windows of the 
house. At ten o'clock the grounds and lake were 
illumined, and, for two hours, a wonderful exhibition 
of fireworks was superintended by the Italian. In the 
fine clear night over five thousand people, not invited 
to the festivities within the house, had assembled on 
the lawn, and the crowd in the park was even greater. 
For these, booths had been erected filled with ample 
refreshments, while " in the background, beyond the 
fireworks, appeared like a great carbuncle an immense 
bonfire, which was set round with lesser jewels, but not 
of inferior value in the eyes of the exulting populace, 
viz. forty barrels of beer ! " 

At two o'clock the supper was served indoors. Here, 
again, the clever Italian artist had surpassed himself, 




for we are told that " when the company first entered 
the supper-room, those who had trod on enchanted 
ground in chrystal [sic] palaces in the Eastern stories 
of fairies and Genii, seemed to find the most luxurious 
flights of Arabian magnificence realised ! " And his 
masterpiece caused special admiration, for " By a 
curious piece of machinery the crest and garter were 
interwoven in dazzling lights among the wreaths and 
festoons of flowers which adorned the table and turned 
this room into fairyland." 1 

And there were other aids to enchantment, for all 
down the table a bottle of Burgundy and a bottle of 
champagne alternately were placed in front of each 
guest, to be replaced when emptied. The guests who 
supped in the dining-room were served with plate, 
those in the other rooms with almost equally precious 
china. Supper ended, all assembled to sing the after- 
wards famous song, the " Trumpet of Liberty," written 
for the occasion by Dr. Samuel Taylor, of Norwich, 
and which had been sung for the first time that same 
day by the townsfolk at their banquet. Next followed 
the toasts, which we are told were received with " shouts 
of conviviality and good humour." Under the cir- 
cumstances, the health of "The King," to the surprise 
of those present, was omitted an omission of which 
few can have known and few even guessed the full 
significance. But the Duke of Bedford gave the 
" Health of the Prince of Wales," and Mrs. Coke added 
"With sincere regrets for his absence and the cause 
of his absence which prevents him here celebrating the 
glorious Revolution." 

1 Norwich Mercury y November, 1788. 


At that very time a far different scene was being 
enacted at Windsor, where during dinner that evening 
the King's indisposition and "delirium" had at last 
declared itself in an attack of raving madness. Through 
the long hours of the awful night which followed, 
confined in a dressing-room adjoining the Queen's 
apartment, George III was a prey to the horrors of 
lunacy ; and the agonised Queen, sitting up with her 
attendants, listened in terror to his ravings, while, by a 
curious freak of fate, throughout the kingdom his sub- 
jects were holding high revel in joyous celebration of the 
" glorious event" which had placed him upon the throne. 

Little recking, however, that strange element of 
irony in their rejoicing, the guests at Holkham, their 
toasts concluded, resumed dancing merrily ; and 
though some of the more craven-hearted left so early as 
4 a.m., the majority kept it up with spirit till six 
o'clock in the grey dawn, when they departed 
Windham to ride back five-and-twenty miles through 
the fresh morning air to Felbrigg, and many to be 
driven a yet more weary distance before they had a 
chance of resting their tired limbs. 

" I," wrote one of the guests afterwards to a friend, 
" was at Mr. Coke's magnificent fete at Holkham on 
Nov. 5th. Descriptions of it you have seen in the 
newspapers, without doubt ; it suffices therefore to tell 
you that they were not at all exaggerated ; the enter- 
tainment being magnificence itself, and the splendid 
Mansion having quite the air of an enchanted castle 
when illuminated for the reception of the company." 1 

1 Memoir and Correspondence of Sir James Edward Smith, ed. by 
his wife, Lady Smith, Vol. I, p. 351. 


"It will be a great satisfaction to you to know," 
Windham informed Coke reassuringly, a few days 
later, "that for once, at least, people seem to judge 
right, and there is no dissenting voice about the 
elegance, splendour, grand conception and perfect 
execution of your ball at Holkham. I flatter myself, 
too, that as little offence has been given as it is possible 
to expect in so general an attempt to please. Such 
instances as have, or may come to my knowledge, I 
shall let you know, that where an opportunity offers, 
endeavours may be used to set them right. " And good- 
naturedly enumerating at great length all the people 
inadvertently omitted, he mentions that a " Mr. Twiss, 
who lives at Catton, and married Mrs. Siddons' sister, 
feels a little dissatisfied at not having received an 
invitation, both by his situation and his attachment to 
our party. He is a wearer of the Blue and Buff. I 
will take upon myself to explain this, but perhaps you 
may furnish me with some circumstances that may 
account for the omission." 

None the less, there were the usual scathing com- 
ments in the newspapers of opposite politics. Mr. Coke 
was asked what was "the Cause" which the trans- 
parency had advocated, and which he apparently wished 
to carry on unknown to the country at large. He was 
asked why the King's health was not proposed and 
whether such an omission would recommend him to his 
friend, the King's son. And witticisms were plentiful 
respecting the absence of Fox and " Bet Armstead." 1 

1 In the old letters the name is spelt respectively, Armistead and 
Armitstead, but in the Morning Advertiser and several daily papers she 
is referred to as above. 

I. 2 A 

[i 7 88 


BUT the absence of one notable guest appears 
to have escaped public comment. Dr. Samuel 
Parr, whom Mrs. Coke had consulted so 
anxiously respecting the education of her 
daughters, is entered upon the List of Guests invited 
for November 5th with "NO" opposite to his name, 
and the "Nature" of his answer explained by the 
jest " Par Pari." 

Shortly before the party, Coke penned an answer to 
Dr. Parr's letter of refusal : 

D ear sir " HoLKHAM > October, 1788. 

"Though my time is much engaged at present, 
I cannot reconcile to my feelings the delay, even of 
a few days, in answering your most flattering letter, 
or to express Mrs. Coke's and my concern that the 
illustrious author of the preface to Bellendenus should 
not be able to attend our secular commemoration of 
an event which preserved to us our religious and 
civil liberty. As a friend to my country I must 
lament that your talents should be buried in the 
obscure corner where you now reside ; not but what 
you must be sensible your writings are far better 
calculated to secure fame than to obtain preferment. 
" The approbation of such men as yourself I shall 
ever esteem as the highest gratification I can obtain 
from being in Parliament, and affords me ample con- 
solation in my private station. I enclose you a small 


John J antes Halls, Pinxt, 1813. 


W. Skelton, Sculpt. 

i?88] DR. SAMUEL PARR 355 

bill for the distressed family you mention ; and 
remain, dear Sir, with sincere regard and esteem, 

" Your obliged and faithful Friend, 


In the previous year, 1787, Dr. Parr had brought out 
a new edition of the three books De Statu of William 
Bellenden, a learned Scot, Master of Requests to 
James I. To this Parr had prefixed a preface of his 
own, setting forth his political sentiments, which ex- 
cited great approbation among the Whig party. 

But it was not due only to political affinity that Coke 
thus professed an admiration for Dr. Parr ; and in 
view of the close connection of the learned Doctor 
with Coke throughout a long life either as a tireless 
correspondent, an insatiable suppliant, or a loquacious 
admirer we must pause to glance briefly at the causes 
which could forge a link between two men, apparently 
of such diametrically opposite temperaments. 

Acknowledged to be one of the profoundest Greek 
scholars of his age, Dr. Parr had experienced a some- 
what chequered career. Assistant Master at Harrow 
School, 1767 to 1771, he had, upon the death of Dr. 
Sumner, tried and failed to obtain the headmastership 
there. On this occasion he was the innocent cause of 
a wild riot among the boys who had desired his success, 
several of whom were, in consequence, expelled from 
the school, among others being Lord Wellesley, 
brother of the Duke of Wellington. Subsequently, 
Parr had a school of his own for five years, then 
became headmaster of Colchester Grammar School, 
next of Norwich Grammar School in 1778. 


To this residence in Norfolk was primarily owing his 
acquaintance with Coke, who had previously had a 
slight knowledge of Parr's uncle, Robert Parr, a 
learned divine, said to be second only to his great 
nephew in solemnity of manner and pompous phraseo- 
logy. This same Robert Parr, who occasionally visited 
a son living in Norwich, and who then impressed all 
with whom he came in contact by his overwhelming 
dignity, nevertheless appears, once in his life, to have 
been guilty of a lapse into frivolity. Dr. Parr recounts 
privately in a letter to Coke : 

"Dr. Chapman [of Eton] was a most incorrigible 
Tory, a blundering Bigot, and a crafty worldling ; 
but I must say his learning was even prodigious, and 
among the naughty wits of Eton there was a merry 
story, that Chapman and my uncle Robert Parr 
began to read the Fathers, one at one end, and the 
other at the other, and that they met exactly in the 
middle ! 

From Norwich, in 1786, Parr removed to the Vicar- 
age of Hatton near Warwick, and there, much to the 
indignation of himself and of his Whig admirers, he 
passed the remainder of his life without preferment. 
To the Whigs, Parr was thus a hero and a martyr ; 
since by his vehement adherence to their principles he 
had put himself out of favour with the Court party, and 
debarred himself from worldly advantage. "I wish 
that I had the happiness to address this letter to a 
Palace," wrote the Duke of Sussex to him on more 
than one occasion ; and the Duke but echoed the senti- 
ments of the entire Whig party. Whether in his 
school in Norwich, or in his little parsonage at Hatton, 

1788] DR. SAMUEL PARR 357 

Parr was looked upon as a man to whose genius a mis- 
guided country had refused his legitimate reward. 

But no one entertained a greater opinion of the 
sacrifice thus consummated than did Parr himself. The 
loss of the bishopric which he so clearly recognised to 
have been his due, never ceased to rankle in his own 
mind even more than it did in the minds of his friends. 
He had an opinion of his own merits which nothing 
could daunt. The first time he saw Fox in the House, 
he exclaimed : " Had I followed any other profession, 
I might have been sitting by the side of that illustrious 
statesman. I should have had all his powers of argu- 
ment, all Erskine's eloquence, and all Hargrave's 
law ! " x When inveighing in a letter to Coke against 
"the professional neglect and persecution to which I 
have been doomed by Courtiers, Ministers and my 
Episcopal brethren," he closes his diatribe with the 
self-sufficient conclusion: "But I possess that which 
they cannot give in the resources of my MIND." And 
once only is he apparently anxious lest his pretensions 
are unsupported by any adequate achievement, when 
he professes to explain to Coke the various causes of 
this delay in the completion of much which he was 
minded to accomplish. 

"The truth is my Mind is in constant action, and 
that one subject thrusts out another from my memory. 
The difficulty of getting scribes, the quarrels with 
the Printers and their Journeymen, the quantity of 
outlandish Jargon, the shortness of the Days, the 
weakness of my Eyes, the want of skill in correcting 
the Press, and other causes," etc. etc., 

1 Annual Register, 1830, p. 482. 


constitute the explanation of his failure to astonish an 
expectant world. 

Nevertheless Parr, on account of his profound learn- 
ing, remained the friend and correspondent of most of 
the noted men of his day, who persistently expected 
great things from him and accepted his opinion upon 
the affairs of nations without a smile at the pompous 
egoism with which these were delivered. His humor- 
ous, obstinate face, set round by a dirty bob-wig, his 
self-opiniated speech, his eccentricities of speech and 
habit were familiar to all his contemporaries. So, too, 
were his kindliness of heart, his ready wit, and the 
laugh which, once provoked, would break with irre- 
sistible heartiness into the very midst of his rounded 
periods and bombastic utterances those, it is said, who 
had once heard Parr's laugh, never forgot it. Moreover, 
as William Taylor of Norwich expressed it, " There is 
a lovingness of heart about Parr, a susceptibility of 
the affections, which would endear him even without 
his Greek ! " " Have you," once wrote Roscoe to Coke, 
"seen our old friend Dr. Parr's comical letters to our 
other friend Dr. Butler? They are in his highest style 
of eccentricity. The strength of his head and the good- 
ness of his heart shine through the whole!" For Parr 
was warm-hearted, generous and noble-minded. He 
did good for the pure love of doing good. Through- 
out his life he was always on the side of the down- 
trodden and unfortunate ; the enemy to oppression in 
any form ; the vehement hater of tyrants ; the fiery 
upholder of civil and religious liberty. Such qualifi- 
cations sufficiently explain how he retained the lifelong 
friendship and admiration of a man like Coke a man 

i?88] DR. SAMUEL PARR 359 

who, of his very nature, was apt to overrate the merits 
of others as he was ready to underrate his own. 

Parr's correspondence with Coke, which has been 
preserved at Holkham, and some of which was pub- 
lished after his death, would, in itself, fill a bulky and 
amusing volume ; it forms a fairly consecutive com- 
ment on political events for many years, and is interest- 
ing as an echo often exaggerated of the sentiments 
of the Whigs upon current events. Still more, it 
enacts the part of a Greek Chorus with regard to Coke's 
own life and sentiments, for Dr. Parr had a habit of 
reiterating or applauding the views of the person to 
whom he was writing, so that he thus supplies a clue to 
Coke's own opinions on many questions upon which we 
should otherwise be at a loss to trace them. That the 
worthy Doctor's letters are not without a strong flavour 
of adulation is undeniable, and the astonishing self- 
approbation which pours from his pages in a torrent of 
verbosity strikes one as all the more remarkable when 
contrasted with the unassuming character of a man of 
genius like Fox, or of a man of vast achievement like 
Coke ; yet in Parr's very originality lies the stamp of 
his sincerity, in his exaggerated affections, hatreds 
and self-admiration he is profoundly, almost naively 
honest ; and if he can be accused of ingratiating him- 
self with Coke, from whom he received ceaseless bene- 
fits, so, too, he must be accredited with being, himself, 
the benefactor of many who had no claim upon him. 

For, self-doomed to poverty during the greater part 
of his days, Parr was ever ready to contribute to those 
who were in like penurious circumstances, and did so 
with a liberality out of all proportion to his means. In- 


numerable instances of this occur in his letters to Coke, 
one of which may be mentioned as typical of the rest. 

It appears that Coke had lent the Doctor a valuable 
book, and some time afterwards received a letter from 
him in great distressthe book had disappeared. 

"I have to tell you a dismal tale," wrote the 
Doctor. " In a closet near my breakfast-room six 
or eight shelves are reserved for the reception of 
books which I borrow, and so it is, from the con- 
venience of the place, and my diligence, that I never 
had a book missing before." 

Now Parr had been warned that a young Oxonian, 
to whom he admits he had been " not only a benefactor 
but a protector," had been seen in his absence, to invade 
this private closet where he kept his priceless books 
and papers ; he reproved the young man, and thought 
so little of the occurrence that, the following autumn, 
he gave the youth employment for five weeks sorting 
numerous precious letters an onerous task, for Parr 
had over 800 letters which he destined to go into his 

" One morning," Parr relates, " when he had just 
left my house to go to Banbury where he resides, I 
stept into his room and saw a large bundle, which 
rather surprised me, as on that very morning his 
trunk had, by his own order, been put into the 
waggon. I examined the bundle and found many of 
my own private letters and three or four books. I 
summoned him immediately. In the presence of a 
friend I obtained his confession to several stolen 
books and letters. I obtained from him a further 
acknowledgment that by his mother's advice he had 
burnt some of my letters at his own house in Banbury, 
and I obtained also a solemn declaration that he had 
taken no more." 

i 7 88] DR. SAMUEL PARR 361 

Subsequently, it was discovered that the pilfering had 
been more extensive than had been suspected. Coke's 
book had been taken, "and of the injury done me in 
my books and my engravings, which lay in his bed- 
chamber, in my MSS. and in my letters I can form no 
calculation," Parr adds sadly. Finally, as the Doctor's 
indignation overmasters him, we learn how this youth 
who had treated him so scurvily -was one who, with 
his mother and sister, had been destitute, and upon 
whom Parr had taken pity, how Parr had obtained for 
him many subscriptions, procured for him an advan- 
tageous scholarship at Pembroke College, Oxford, 
given him books once presenting him with a library 
to aid his studies, at a cost of 15, how he had 
guaranteed to the young Oxonian an annual sum of 
30 till he should have taken his degree, and, as if 
this were not enough, "from time to time I gave him 
money," so that, "on the very morning that he was 
leaving me I put into his hands 15." 

And this category of benefits bestowed by a poor 
man upon a youth who had no claim upon him, and 
who robbed him while accepting his charity, is closed 
by Parr with the unassuming comment : " It happens 
to me as it has so often happened to yourself, that in- 
gratitude and treachery are the requitals of kindness " ; 
and his conclusion upon mentioning that his protege 
had since proved yet more worthless than had at first 
appeared, is equally characteristic : " He has lately been 
ordained, and as he has no principle nor good feeling, 
he will make a truly loyal and orthodox Churchman ; 
but he is an INGRATE, and he is a LIAR, and he is a 


But, despite his liberality, for many years Parr's 
poverty was great ; the whole of his emolument from 
the Church, indeed, up to an advanced age was 93 on 
account of his living and 17 on account of his prebend, 
so that in 1795 his friends, to whom his straitened 
circumstances were always a source of deep regret, got 
up a private subscription for his benefit. To this Coke 
contributed handsomely, and the result of the sum thus 
collected was to provide the Doctor with an annuity of 
300 for life. Later, in 1807, Coke tried to secure him 
another addition to his income. In those days the 
standard of duty required from a clergyman was far 
more elastic than is the case at present. All that was 
considered necessary was that, in the parish of any 
living held by him, he should ensure a decent and 
regular performance of Divine Service, personally or 
by deputy ; and hence it was a common occurrence 
for the holder of a living to be a non-resident. Coke, 
aware of this, obtained from his mother, in whose gift 
was the living of Buckenham, representing 300 a year, 
permission to offer this to Dr. Parr. 

The Doctor wrote back enthusiastically, describing 
the wonderful effect which the good news had had on 
the spirits of Mrs. Parr, and how he, personally, should 
" jump for joy" if he found that, by resigning one of 
his present livings, he could accept that of Buckenham. 
But Parr was never called upon to perform the gym- 
nastic feat which it is difficult to associate with his usual 
deportment. He applied to the Bishop of London for 
leave to accept Mr. Coke's offer, and relates as follows: 

" When Mr. Coke offered me the living of Bucken- 
ham, in the diocese of London, I gave Dr. Prettyman 

i;88] DR. SAMUEL PARR 363 

to understand that I should perhaps resign one of 
my livings and retain the other. He told me that 
if I took Buckenham I must reside. The living was 
given to Mr. Crowe, 1 who never did reside, and at 
whose non-residence the Bishop connived. His 
rigor with me arose from his dislike to my sup- 
posed religious and my avowed political tenets." 

This episode, however, brought one great consolation 
to Dr. Parr, in that it enabled him to designate Coke 
his Patron. Henceforward, his letters to the latter 
usually begin, "My long-tried friend, and honoured 
Patron, Mr. Coke." Even his wrath against his de- 
spoilers afforded him a subtle satisfaction. Writing 
to Coke respecting Mr. Leigh, of Stoneleigh, "who 
although an hereditary Tory, never mentions Mr. Coke 
but in terms of respect and kindness," he adds com- 
placently : "He is one of the few Tories who do not 
wish to see me imprisoned in Newgate, pilloried at 
Charing Cross, hanged in front of Newgate and doomed 
to everlasting torments in the flames of Hell !" And he 
draws the contrast with his own attitude : " Under my 
roof Whiggism is established, but Toryism is tolerated, 
and upon the principles of Whiggism itself we must 
tolerate largely!" a happy self-deception which the 
unwavering fierceness of his invectives to Coke against 
Tory politicians goes far to disprove. 

But the poverty which was thus Parr's portion during 
the greater part of his life, never lessened his readiness 
to share his little with those whose need seemed to him 
greater than his own. And that liberality which he 
never failed himself to exercise in the days of his 

1 A Norfolk man, and a great connoisseur in art. 


greatest straits, he as unfailingly expected to be exer- 
cised by his friends. John Johnstone, who published 
his life in iSaS, 1 emphasises how " Parr, ever ready 
himself to comply with demands from others, never 
hesitated to beg for objects he deemed deserving " ; 
and almost every letter from him to Coke contains 
some request for aid to come, or some expression of 
gratitude for past aid, for himself, for his church, or for 
his friends ; and testifies to the ceaseless liberality 
which Coke showed him a liberality which, to Coke's 
obvious despair, Parr announces " shall be properly 
recorded in my parochial books for the credit of the 
donor, the instruction of my parishioners and their 

The Rev. J. Horseman, Vicar of Royston, a relation 
of Parr's and the poetaster of current events, one day 
enclosed to Coke the following epigram against Dr. 
Parr, together with his answer to it. Both, no doubt, 
present a faithful portrait of Dr. Parr as he appeared 
to his foes and to his friends : 


To half of Bushby's skill in mood and tense, 

Add Bentley's pedantry, without his sense ; 

From Warburton take all the spleen you find, 

But leave his genius and his wit behind ; 

Squeeze Churchill's rancour from the verse it flows in, 

And knead it well with Johnson's turgid prosing ; 

Add all the piety of St. Voltaire, 

Mix the gross compound fiat Dr. Parr ! 

1 The Works of Dr. Samuel Parr, with Memoirs of his Life and 
Writings, and a Selection from his Correspondence, by John Johnstone, 
M.D., in eight volumes. 

J788] DR. SAMUEL PARR 365 

To which Horseman replied as follows : 

To more than Bushby's skill in mood and tense, 
Add Bentley's learning- and his sterling- sense ; 
From Warburton take all the wit you find, 
But leave his grossness and his whims behind ; 
Mix Churchill's vigour as in verse it flows, 
And knead it well with Johnson's manly prose ; 
Sprinkle the whole with pepper from Voltaire, 
Strain off the scum and fiat Dr. Parr ! 

William Coke, Coke's nephew and heir-presumptive, 
was sent as a private pupil to Dr. Parr's a doubtful 
happiness, for the Doctor was an old-fashioned discipli- 
narian, and believed in flogging for all offences, and 
even for the absence of offence. One exception to this 
practice alone he made : never to punish a stunted 
capacity, nor try to extort from a mediocre intelli- 
gence more than it was capable of yielding. A divine, 
who was distinguished in later life, used to relate how, 
for some time after he entered Parr's seminary, he was 
happily classed as a " Mediocre," and enjoyed the com- 
parative amnesty accorded to that grade. One unlucky 
evening, however, the head assistant, after school 
hours, acquainted Parr with the momentous discovery 
that " From some recent observations, he had been led 
to conclude that . . . was a lad of genius." " Say you 
so?" roared out Parr; "then let the flogging begin 
to-morrow morning ! " 

William Coke, however, was not of a nature to be 
afraid even of the awe-inspiring Doctor and his 
pompous Johnsonian speech ; and many are the 
anecdotes, as we shall see later, of the manner in which 
he dared the redoubtable Doctor's wrath, and the tricks 
he performed to the Doctor's discomfort and to the 
admiration of his fellow-pupils. 

But the correspondence of Dr. Parr with Coke has 
as its primary subject neither the delinquencies of his 
scholars nor the affairs of Europe, though these were 
closely criticised and summarily dealt with by the 
indefatigable Doctor. A matter before which all else 
palled usually occupied Parr's attention when writing 
to Holkham. The event of his life the annual inci- 
dent of paramount importance was his birthday party, 
given on January 26th. For this festivity he issued in- 
vitations three months beforehand, and many distin- 
guished men from far and near were gathered at his 
little parsonage at Hatton upon the auspicious day. 
For weeks beforehand, too, the toasts to be given 
on this occasion usually about eighteen in number- 
occupied his most serious consideration. The first, 
perforce, was always : " Many Happy Returns of the 
Day " to himself ; the second comprised a list of his 
friends, in which Mr. Coke's name occupied a most 
prominent if not the first place. Other toasts varied 
according to the tide of public events or the mood of 
the host ; but four favourite ones remained : 

" The Cause of the Birch ; and the Learned Masters of 
Eton, Winchester, Shrewsbury and Harrow." 

" May Servility be Banished from our Universities, 
and Intolerance from our Church." 

" A Patriot King, and an Uncorrupt Parliament." 

" May the Lion of Old England never Crouch to 
Russian Bears and French Baboons." 

And to this festivity, in his role of an upholder 
of tolerance, Parr even condescended to invite certain 
favoured Tories. " My visitors," he explains to Coke 
on one occasion, "will be Whigs, with a little side- 

i?88] DR. SAMUEL PARR 367 

garnish of Tories ; and these Tories will not contami- 
nate our feast because they will have good manners, 
good nature and good morals, such as justify me 
in summoning them to my feast ! " 

On the great day, " the Master," we are told, " was 
in his glory," dressed in his best apparel, his fullest 
wig, his velvet coat and an impressive scarf; "the 
feast was sumptuous, and the wines various " ; while to 
the success of this entertainment Coke annually contri- 
buted a present of food, and annually the Doctor wrote 
anxiously before the reception of the gift, enthu- 
siastically after it so that his correspondence hinges 
round this, to him, all-important event of each year. 

One peculiarity of that correspondence, however, was 
conspicuous. From the haste with which he endeavoured 
to inscribe his too prolific thoughts, the Doctor's writing 
was all but impossible to decipher, and this was ren- 
dered more hopeless still by the fact that he was subject 
to erysipelas in his hands, and could often scarcely hold 
his pen. When this became literally impracticable, he 
was forced to employ as his amanuensis Mrs. Parr, his 
daughters or his pupils ; occasionally, in fact, em- 
ploying two or three such assistants at once, since he 
could with perfect facility dictate no less than three 
letters at the same time. 

But he does not seem to have recognised the relief 
which this change of calligraphy caused to the recipients 
of his correspondence. " I am sorry," he writes naively 
to Coke on one occasion, " that you could not read my 
letters through ; I hope that which my daughter wrote 
was legible?" 

Of Coke's letters in reply few are extant ; and these, 


brief and practical, form a remarkable contrast to the 
Doctor's sententious utterances. Johnstone, Parr's 
biographer, remarks how Coke's correspondence to 
Parr begins with the publication of Parr's Sermon 
on Education, and ended only in January, 1825, with 
the last annual present of game from Holkham for the 
Doctor's birthday party. Johnstone quotes few of the 
letters from Coke, and contents himself with observing 
with regard to the writer : 

"The consistency maintained in politics by this 
chief of the country gentlemen of England, his 
elevated and independent spirit, his love of civil and 
religious liberty, his devotedness to the old English 
Constitution, his domestic virtues, his magnificent 
hospitality and his liberality, are all illustrated in his 
correspondence; but I hope to obtain from Dr. Parr's 
letters to Mr. Coke words and expressions which will 
enable me to portray his character." 1 

Not content with paying every tribute to Coke him- 
self, however, Parr taught his scholars to do likewise. 
On one of those occasions when circumstances forced him 
to dictate but not curtail his lengthy correspondence, 
he remarks: "My Scribe, who although an Oxonian, 
is yet a Whig (and such he ought to be with the aid of 
my instruction and the discipline of my scourge) has 
often joined me in drinking your health, and never fails 
to propose it as a splendid toast under his own roof ! " 

It was once suggested to Dr. Parr that Mr. Coke ought 
to be raised to the peerage. "Raised to the peerage ! " 
echoed the Doctor indignantly, "Sir, Coke of Norfolk 
is a far greater title than any that monarchy can bestow ! " : 

1 Works of Dr. Samuel Parr, by J. Johnstone, Vol. I, p. 382. 

2 Norfolk Tour, Vol. II, p. 593. * 




JEtat 34-38 

A'DTHER friend of Coke's, of whom we find 
constant mention in connection with the 
Holkham fete of 1788, was his old Turin 
acquaintance, Martin ffolkes Rishton. 
Settled now in the neighbourhood of Lynn with his 
pretty wife, formerly Maria Allen, he was deputed by 
Coke to prepare the list of guests to be invited to the 
fete from that town a task which he performed with 
care and insight. Mr. Rishton, indeed, on all occa- 
sions never failed to take a keen interest in Coke's 
local well-being, and, being seven years Coke's senior, 
constituted himself a species of mentor towards his 
friend, dispatching to Holkham long letters of advice, 
admiration and adulation, intermixed with considerable 
dry humour. Fanny Burney, speaking of Mr. and Mrs. 
Rishton, observes : " There is a remarkable similarity 
in their humours, for he is as whimsical and odd as 
herself. There is a kind of generous impetuosity in 
his disposition which often lures him beyond the 
bounds which his cooler judgment would approve." 1 
And as in the case of Dr. Parr certain characteristics 

1 The Early Diary of Frances Burney ', Vol. I, p. 172, 
I. 2 B 369 


explain the root of Coke's liking, so in this very 
" generous impetuosity" of Mr. Rishton we find 
something akin to Coke's own temperament, and seem 
to read the keynote of his constant friendship towards 
his former fellow-student. 1 

Mrs. Rishton, on her part, developed an enthusiastic 
admiration for Mrs. Coke, and when Fanny Burney 
used to rave about her " dear Mrs. Thrale," Maria 
Rishton used to retort with a boast about her " delight- 
ful Mrs. Coke." Yet meetings between the half- 
sisters were not frequent, and consequently, although 
Fanny Burney occasionally visited Mrs. Rishton at 
Lynn, for many years no introduction seems to have 
been effected between the lively little writer and the 
woman of whom her dear Maria never ceased to make 
mention. Once Mrs. Coke wrote to entreat Fanny, 
whom she knew only as the author of Cecilia and 
Evelina, to choose her a governess "whom she will 
take from her unseen," but the first acquaintance 
between the two women who had heard so much of 
each other did not take place until the year 1792, 
when, on November 27th, Fanny, on a visit to 
Aylsham, writes: "I have been also, at last, intro- 
duced to Mrs. Coke, and I think her one of the 
sweetest women, on a short acquaintance I have ever 
met with." 

1 A portrait of Mr. Rishton by Barber was hung- by Coke in the 
ante-room to the manuscript library ; and in the Stranger s Guide to 
Holkham (1817) we are told: "The lively intelligence expressed in the 
countenance of this picture, renders it very interesting. Mr. Rishton is 
one of Mr. Coke's earliest and most valued friends, and a gentleman no 
less distinguished for the urbanity of his manners than for his shining- 
talents and g-eneral information." A portrait of Mr. Coke was painted 
by Barber, for Mr. Rishton, and is reproduced in Vol. II. 


Soon after the Holkham fete Mr. Rishton was again 
actively employed on Coke's behalf. Following upon 
the rejoicings of November 5th came the universal 
anxiety occasioned by the public knowledge of the 
King's illness. Great excitement also prevailed at the 
prospect of a Whig Ministry coming into office. At 
Bologna, in November, Fox received an urgent sum- 
mons to return for the meeting of Parliament on the 
2Oth of that month, rendered necessary by the state of 
the King's health. While journeying back to London 
a false report of the King's death reached him, and he 
travelled at such speed that he arrived in town nine 
days after leaving Bologna, so that, having gone abroad 
in a state of bad health, he nearly killed himself by his 
rapid return. 

Parliament, convened for November 2Oth, was pro- 
rogued till December 4th, and a variety of rumours 
penetrated to Norfolk from town. In the event of a 
General Election it was understood that Coke would 
again come forward for Parliament. Throughout the 
county every preparation was made by his partisans to 
resist any effort of the Tories to oppose the power of 
the Prince of Wales, champion of the Whigs. 

" We all agree," a local correspondent 1 had written 
to Coke on November i2th, " that the present position 
of affairs with regard to the King's health does not 
ought to relax our attention to the business we have 
undertaken. For if the King dies (tho' it will 
certainly lessen your difficulties) yet some struggle 
will be made to obtain a powerful Tory opposition in 
Parliament ; and if, as it is feared, the King is insane, 
it is not impossible that the present daring influence 

1 Mr. Repton, of Oxmead. 


may contend for a Regency in opposition to the 
Prince ; we therefore suppose you will join us in 
thinking that no time should be lost in preparing for 
a canvass which may be suddenly called for." 

The letter concludes with the piquant information : 

"Mr. Gurney told me this morning that, to his 
certain knowledge, Sir J. Wodehouse borrowed all the 
money, ab fc 9 thousand pound, which his Election 
cost him ; if this circumstance is New to you, as it 
was to me, I hope you will excuse the liberty I take in 
mentioning it." 

Lists were forthwith prepared stating the districts and 
persons to be canvassed ; and Windham and Mr. 
Rishton, concerting together, were active on Coke's 
behalf. After his experience of 1784, Coke determined 
to stand alone in the event of a contested election, and 
he wrote privately to Mr. Astley to tell him how a con- 
junction with Sir Edward "would endanger my re- 
election, which I flatter myself by standing unconnected 
I shall obtain." "From my heart I wish for peace," 
he wrote to another friend, "and shall endeavour all I 
can to promote it. I hate trouble, and have a thousand 
ways of laying out my money to my satisfaction [other] 
than in a contested Election, but the sense of the county 
whenever the time comes I am determined to try from 
the confidence I entertain of success." 

Coke's partisans, however, viewed with considerable 
alarm that he preserved his independent attitude, and, 
despising the means usually adopted to conciliate 
electors, relied solely on his past integrity of conduct 
and upon the fact that he need spare no expense in 
achieving his object. The advice which his different 


friends showered upon him at this juncture throws an 
amusing sidelight upon his character. 

Mr. Rishton wrote to urge him to court popularity, 
pointing out : 

" Men in your elevated situation do not and cannot 
dive into the dirt of Electioneering manoeuvres, or 
understand the measures to be pursued like ordinary 
men, who are more conversant in the drudgery of 
Common Life, and are more accustomed to hear and 
understand the opinions of men in lower stations." 

Windham wrote : 

" Let me take the liberty of suggesting to you a 
piece of caution, the want of which people pretend to 
say was of great prejudice to you at the last Election 
I mean the making any declarations of your de- 
termination not to be deterred by expence. It is all 
very well that people should suppose it, but the 
declaring it, while it is not necessary to make it 
believed, has something the air of a menace, which 
those who are not to profit by it will be disposed to 
resist. I would wish the thing to be supposed We 
would wish it to be in part true (tho' perhaps not 
so much as it is), but I would not wish it to be 
declared either by yourself or those immediately about 
you. You will excuse, I know, my giving you 
these hints." 

Sir Martin ffolkes wrote, diffidently, to point out 
that it would be in Coke's interest to attend the Thet- 
ford Assizes, which apparently he had not done for six 
or seven years. To the latter Coke's answer is extant : 

"I perfectly agree with you," he replied frankly, 
"that if I had paid more attention, and not relied 
too much on the purity of my political conduct, all 
the expence which is like to ensue and the trouble 
I am now under, the necessity of putting myself, too, 
to regain my situation as a Member for the County 
would probably have been avoided. The success 


and flattering support I have experienced from 
gentlemen of a decidedly different opinion in political 
questions, who are not the less urgent in their good 
wishes than those who entertain the same sentiments 
I do, inclines me to believe that my own election is 
very secure, and that the peace of the county may be 
preserved by a proper understanding, as far as I am 
able to form an opinion ; an object of the greatest 
importance to me, who have no inclination to throw 
away my money or put myself to more trouble than 
is absolutely necessary ; and much to be wished for 
the county at large. The Assizes I will certainly 
attend. . . . From the Assizes I will go to Hadleigh, 
where the hounds are to give me the meeting ; they 
will stay there about a fortnight before they return 
to Melford ; which of the two is the finest country 
I can't say, never having been to Melford, but Jones 
assures me that I may expect to see very good sport." 

With the approach of winter Coke usually went to 
Suffolk for hunting, and annually gave a celebrated 
hunting breakfast at Castle Hedingham. "A new 
toast to be drunk every day after dinner at the Fox- 
hunters' Club in Suffolk," Mr. Rishton now informed 
him, " is ' Good Friends in Norfolk and good Foxes in 
Suffolk ! ' " but though, for a time, the Norfolk friends 
had claimed Coke's attention, the foxes were destined 
not to be abandoned. To Melford Coke went, and 
apparently found satisfactory sport, for we find him 
writing from there again the following winter. The 
anticipated Dissolution was indefinitely deferred. On 
December i3th, 1788, a heated debate on the Regency 
question took place, and the bill was brought into 
Parliament the following February 3rd, but a fort- 
night afterwards, the recovery of George III from his 
illness put a temporary end to the dissensions thereby 


involved, and to the immediate prospect of a Whig 

Coke used to relate the following story connected 
with this period. With the recovery of the King's 
reason, Queen Charlotte showed herself in a peculiarly 
unamiable light towards her sons. During the King's 
illness the struggle for supremacy between her and the 
Prince of Wales had roused bitter animosity on both 
sides, and the Duke of York, siding with his brother, 
came in for a full share of the Queen's displeasure. 
Although the King was still weak in mind and body, 
and all agitation should have been carefully avoided, 
the Queen never ceased endeavouring to sow the seeds 
of discord between him and his sons, by relating stories 
of their misconduct during the struggle for the Re- 
gency. Moreover, all those who quarrelled with the 
Prince she openly befriended. 

Colonel Lennox, afterwards Duke of Richmond, 
whose mother held a place in the royal household, 
constituted himself the Queen's champion, and went 
about publicly abusing the Prince of Wales and the 
Duke of York. The royal brothers were indignant at 
his impertinence ; a quarrel was picked upon some 
trifling pretext, and Lennox sent a challenge to the 
Duke of York, which the latter accepted. It was 
arranged that the duel should be fought on Wimbledon 
Common ; but when the time came, although Lennox 
fired and grazed the Duke's ear, the Duke haughtily 
declined to return the shot, and the combat came to an 
ignominious end. The Prince of Wales, furious at the 
whole affair, went down to Windsor afterwards, deter- 
mined to tell the King what had occurred, and which 


he considered had been instigated by the Queen. The 
King, who was devoted to the Duke of York, became 
greatly agitated on hearing of the danger to which his 
favourite son had been exposed, but the Queen pro- 
nounced coldly that " It was all the Duke's own fault." 
The Prince told Coke afterwards how, that same even- 
ing, when his mother espied Colonel Lennox in one of 
the Court circles, she made a point of going up to him 
before everybody, in the most marked manner offered 
him her hand on first addressing him, and was singu- 
larly gracious to the man who, that very day, had nearly 
shot her son. 1 

In July of the year 1789, the news reached Norwich 
of the fall of the Bastille. The grievances of the 
French peasantry, and the boldness with which they 
had taken the law into their own hands, roused the 
sympathies and stirred the enthusiasm of all lovers of 
freedom. The greatest excitement prevailed, and dur- 
ing the public rejoicings which ensued, even the most 
sedate amongst the Norwich residents became demoral- 
ised. " Don't I remember," afterwards remarked the 
daughter of one of those citizens to the descendant of 
another, " your glorious grandmother dancing round 
the Tree of Liberty at Norwich with Dr. Parr ! " 2 

In the following October Windham formed one of a 
party at Holkham which included Fox and James 
Dutton. " There were others," he relates, "whom I 
had not known of before; Captain Roberts, a relation 
of Coke's, who had served a great deal in America, and 

1 Related by Coke also to Richard Rush, 1819. (See Residence at the 
Court of London , by Richard Rush (1833), p. 188.) 

2 Three Generations of Englishwomen, by Janet Ross (1888), Vol. I, p. 8. 


afterwards Rishton, etc." The next month he again 
visited Holkham, and on November 3Oth he states how 
he was aroused at Felbrigg, at five o'clock in the morn- 
ing, by a messenger from Norwich, who informed him 
of Coke's intention to canvass that town the next day. 1 
But still the Dissolution was postponed, and while 
awaiting the delayed summons to Parliament, Coke 
became occupied with a work apart from politics or 

For some time past Dungeness lighthouse had been 
in a deplorable condition. It was impossible to get the 
Government to act in the matter. Coke therefore pur- 
chased Dungeness, and also Harwich lighthouse, from 
the Government on lease, and, both thus becoming his 
private property for a term of years, he promptly re- 
built Dungeness at his own expense, so that from 
having been the worst upon the coast it became the 
best. In 1790 he reopened this fresh lighthouse, and 
an inscription was placed upon it recording the event. 
The new erection was built of wood covered over with 
sheet-iron ; and, probably for this reason, was eventu- 
ally destroyed by lightning ; but, before that day, we 
shall again have occasion to refer to it, and to the un- 
foreseen chain of events connected with Coke's action 
in this matter. 

On June i2th, 1790, the long-delayed Dissolution at 
last took place, and on June 28th Coke again entered 
Parliament, in company with his former rival Wode- 
house. As on his first entry he had found the House 
agitated by the fierce emotions and the hopeless 
divergence of opinion called forth by the American 

1 Windhams Diary, ed. by the Hon. Mrs. Baring, p. 109. 


struggle for independence, so now those same emotions 
were renewed if not surpassed by another struggle 
which, in its infancy, seemed even more justifiable and 
more imperative than the first. 

The eyes of all Europe were now directed towards 
France, where the masses, starved, down-trodden and 
enslaved, had finally asserted themselves in a desperate 
effort to better their condition. It was impossible not 
to realise their justification in the present, as it was all 
but impossible to foresee the unjustifiable lawlessness 
and brutality to which they would give rein in the 
future. Burke alone, the prophet of ill-omen as he 
was considered by the adherents of Fox, denounced 
the rise, and predicted the progress of the Revolution ; 
and his utterances gave birth to a diversity of opinion 
among the Whigs which threatened to separate their 
forces and to create an open schism. 

Before this took place, there occurred, on April i7th, 
1790, in Windham's Diary the following amicable 
entry : 

" Went at six to dine with Coke. I sat next to 
Burke, with Fox next to him, and had a tolerable 
share of conversation, the principal subjects of which 
were Bruce; the conduct of the Judges on the Im- 
peachment ; Dunning ; farming ; architecture and 
painting." 1 

A peaceable conversation, apparently, which cau- 
tiously avoided the burning topic of the day. But in 
the October following, Burke published the Reflections 
on the French Revolution, which brought fuel to the 
smouldering flame. Thirty thousand copies were sold, 

1 Windham's Diary, p. 197. 


and there is no doubt that it was received with sym- 
pathy by the majority of Englishmen, whose opinions 
were divided, not only upon the subject of the French 
Revolution itself, but on the increasing prospect of 
a war between England and France. 

In order to understand the light in which Coke 
viewed this question, it is necessary to realise the posi- 
tion of England at this date. After long smarting 
from the effects of a disastrous campaign a campaign 
from which she had emerged crippled in wealth, in 
prestige, and with an irreparable loss of valuable lives, 
England was just entering upon a fresh era of pros- 
perity. Her wounds were healing, her prospects were 
fair. Her self-respect was becoming reinstated, she 
was regaining her ascendancy among the nations of the 
world, her resources were increasing, and there was 
every hope that her renewed riches would enable her to 
pay off some of her national encumbrances. " In fine," 
as one of Coke's correspondents remarked, "the 
pinnacle of our greatness seemed placed on a base 
which nothing but our own folly could undermine." 

And all this slowly acquired advantage was to be 
risked, and England's prosperity irretrievably wrecked 
in the mad endeavour to exert an arbitrary interference 
with the affairs of a nation by whom our safety was not 
at present endangered, since France, absorbed in inter- 
nal strife, was not in a position to originate acts of 
aggression towards her neighbours. 

Still more, it was held, such an unprovoked attempt 
to crush not control France's struggle for freedom 
came peculiarly ill from England, the professed friend 
of liberty. France had broken her bonds asunder, and, 


mad with the licentiousness of newly acquired freedom, 
was given over to a period of delirium which inter- 
ference could only goad, not check. While the object 
of her struggle called forth Coke's warmest sympathies, 
no one viewed with greater abhorrence the lawless 
means by which she strove to attain that object. But 
any attempt at coercion on the part of England, he 
was convinced, could only serve to prolong the horrors 
of the Revolution, while retarding the issue of which 
those horrors were the birth-throes. It should have 
been England's policy to stand on guard, not to assail. 
" Our power made us the arbiters of nations, and even 
France herself might have been restrained in her mad- 
ness and half her enormities prevented, had we been 
wise." England's policy of interference appeared to 
him to be that of a man who, seeing two dogs fighting, 
rushes in and belabours them indiscriminately with a 
whip, thus increasing their blind fury ; and since all 
war not resorted to from dire necessity he held to 
be iniquitous, his natural antipathy to bloodshed was, 
if possible, intensified at this crisis. "I have always 
hated war," he said as an old man ; " rivers of blood 
were never congenial to my feelings ! 5>1 

Meanwhile, this question of impending hostilities 
with France affected every other measure which could 
be brought before Parliament. It involved opposition 
to reform, extravagant subsidies, enormous loans. It 
produced a further chasm in the Whig party, already 
divided in opinion with regard to the nature and the 
issue of the Revolution itself. Pitt, accredited by the 
Whigs with manoeuvring for war, at present preserved 

1 Speech, August yth, 1830. 


an attitude of neutrality ; but in 1791, as events tended 
more and more towards hostilities, the rupture between 
the Whigs became more emphasised, and the con- 
viction that Pitt was secretly determined upon war 
gained ground. 

"I shall at all times," wrote Dr. Parr to Coke, 
" look upon such a coalition as this between Mr. 
Pitt and our friends with a jealous mind, nor have I 
the smallest doubt that some day or other he will 
turn it to account against those who are not only re- 
peating his avowed language, but forwarding his 
unseen purpose." 

Windham, infatuated by the influence of Burke, was 
fast drifting away from his former politics and former 
friends. On January lyth, 1791, he wrote again in his 
diary : 

" Dined with Coke ; present, Fox, Burke, Duke of 
Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, Grey, Fawkner, Mr. 
Anson, Lord North, Lord Tichfield, Lord Petre." 1 

And this entry has a special interest, for it was probably 
the last occasion when Windham, Fox, Burke and 
Coke all dined together as friends. Although Wind- 
ham continued to visit at Holkham until 1792, in the 
political world he openly severed himself from his 
former party ; and on May 6th following occurred the 
famous breach between Fox and Burke on the subject 
of the Revolution, when Burke, like Windham, was 
ranked with the Ministerialists. 

Thenceforward all friendship between Burke and 
Coke appears to have ceased ; but on three occasions 
was a futile attempt made to renew the friendly relations 

1 Windham s Diary, p. 219. 


between Burke and Fox. The first attempt was under- 
taken by Burke himself, whether voluntarily or em- 
ployed against his inclination is not recorded, but in a 
manner which Fox, of all men, was not likely to accept. 

Burke wrote to Fox saying that he hoped their 
" political differences would not extinguish their mutual 
friendship," and, to this overture, Fox replied amicably 
that he was leaving St. Ann's the next day, in order to 
pay a visit to the Duke of Norfolk, and he wished that 
Burke would come to see him there. 

Burke accordingly went to the Duke's, accompanied 
by Powis, and after a friendly conversation on the 
crisis, he suddenly offered Fox the Secretaryship for 
Foreign Affairs "with such emoluments as he should 
prescribe." The other appointments which he said he 
proposed were : Sheridan as Under-Secretary, with 
^"2000 per annum ; for Grey, either the War or Pay- 
master Office; and for Bedford "Ireland, with the 
whole Patronage thereof." 

Fox smiled at this information, and pointed out that 
he could not understand how such a proposal could be 
made, as his new friends must know that he was 
pledged to give "all his opposition to the system 
which had so long prevailed." 

Powis thereupon attempted to cajole him. Fox, he 
said, must not consider himself as belonging to him- 
self ; his great abilities belonged to the public who, at 
this awful season, had a right to their utmost exertions. 
Fox quietly remarked that he was afraid he should keep 
some very worthy gentlemen waiting for their dinner at 
St. Ann's if he did not start for home immediately ; and 
he promptly wished the pair " Good morning." 


He told this story to Coke, who happened to relate it 
when dining at Lord Suffolk's in 1796. Lord Charle- 
mont, commenting on it afterwards to a correspondent 
who had repeated it to him, says : 

"The conversation between Fox and Burke is cer- 
tainly curious and not unlikely to have happened 
exactly as it was related to you. That overtures have 
been made I have little doubt, though the choice of 
Burke as a negotiator seems most whimsical and not 
a very wise one ; yet there is no reason why the fact 
should not be precisely true, and there can be no 
better authority than Mr. Coke of Norfolk." 1 

Not long afterwards, a common friend, Lord Petre, 
determined to afford the former allies an opportunity of 
reconciliation, and to this end he prepared a contrivance 
by which he hoped to turn their difference of opinion 
into a jest. He invited both statesmen to dinner, and 
upon entering the dining-room they perceived, in the 
centre of the table, a wonderful piece of confectionery 
fashioned in a model of the Bastille. As soon as dessert 
was put upon the table Lord Petre turned to Burke. 

"Come, Burke," he said, "attack that Bastille!" 
Burke gravely declined. "Well, Fox," pursued his 
lordship, "do you do it." "That I will, by God!" 
cried Fox heartily, and instantly dashing at the elabo- 
rate confectionery he demolished it with all the hilarity 
of a boy. 2 

One last attempt was made by Fox to heal the 

1 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Vol II, p. 179; (Charlemont to 
Halliday), Thirteenth Report, Part VIII, p. 283. 

2 Memoir, Journal and Correspondence of T. Moore, edited by Lord 
John Russell, M.P., Vol. V, p. 281. Credat judceus, comments Tom Moore, 
somewhat absurdly, with regard to this story. As Coke was present at 
the dinner, and Tom Moore was not, the authority of the former appears 
the more reliable. 


breach. When Burke was dying Fox went to see him, 
but Burke refused the interview. On Fox's return 
Coke was lamenting Burke's obstinacy. 

"Oh," replied Fox philosophically, "never mind, 
Tom ; I always find every Irishman has got a piece of 
potato in his head ! " l 

Yet Fox was perfectly ready to acknowledge when 
Burke's judgment had been more accurate than his 
own. Speaking once of Burke's book which he had 
opposed so violently, Fox said cheerfully 

"Well, Burke is right but Burke is often right, 
only he is right too soon ! " 2 

In 1792 the great severance between the leading 
Whigs reached its culminating point. In the spring 
of that year was established the Society of "Friends 
of the People," for the express purpose of advancing 
Parliamentary Reform, but which was accredited with 
revolutionary tendencies. Its list included twenty- 
eight Members of Parliament, and such names as 
Lord John Russell, Grey, Sheridan and Erskine ; but 
both Fox and Coke, from different motives, refused to 
belong to it. For this Fox was greatly blamed by his 
party ; he was accused of apathy towards Reform, and, 
indeed, at this date he was secretly unconvinced re- 
specting the advisability of that measure. But Coke, 
who from the first was its ardent advocate, caused yet 
greater surprise to his friends by his firm refusal to 
join a society formed in harmony with his well-known 
opinions. His motive, however, is not far to seek. 

1 H ay don s Journals and Correspondence, Vol. II, p. 373. 

2 Diary and Letters of Madame dArblay, edited by her niece, 1842, 
Vol. V, p. 316. 


Since anything in the nature of a bond or pledge was 
obnoxious to him, to join such a society was to bind 
himself to principles with regard to which, if his loyalty 
could not survive without a pledge, it degenerated into 
mere cowardice. He regarded with silent contempt all 
whose integrity required thus cementing. 

Meanwhile, amidst the anxiety with regard to affairs 
on the Continent, the state of political feeling at home 
was calculated to cause alarm. The revolutionary spirit 
which was running riot in France proved infectious, 
and the disaffected amongst the lower orders in Eng- 
land appeared disposed to adopt violent measures in 
dealing with their grievances. In 1791 Paine 1 had 
published the first part of The Rights of Man, which 
assisted in rousing the feeling of all classes to a dan- 
gerous pitch of excitement, and which filled the Govern- 
ment with alarm at the progress of opinions calculated, 
they feared, to undermine all law and order. These 
feelings were further intensified by a Royal Proclama- 
tion issued on May 2ist, 1792, warning the people 
against seditious writings, assemblies, etc., and repre- 
senting in strong colours the dangers to which the 
nation was exposed. 

It is possible to create evils by suggestion ; and in 
laying stress on dangers which were as yet potential, 
the Government was no doubt giving them a solidity 
in the minds of the people which they might otherwise 
never have possessed. Coke was convinced that such 
a measure at such a juncture was both impolitic and 
tactless on the part of Pitt, and that Parliament 

1 Thomas Paine, a Norfolk man, Deist and Radical (1737-1809), son of 
an ex-Quaker stay-maker. 

I, 2 C 


should have rested on its own strength without 
making any appeal to the people. "And there was 
a time," supplemented Doctor Parr sadly, "when Mr. 
Windham more than almost any other man was distin- 
guished by this solid and dignified way of thinking ! " 
But now Windham, in his new role as the ally of the 
Minister, strongly advocated the policy of the alarmists. 

Soon afterwards, an address was moved in Parlia- 
ment to thank the King for the Proclamation, and this 
occasion may be regarded as the exact point at which 
the new division of parties sprang prominently into 
view, for it was supported by many of the leading 
Whigs. The Duke of Portland, Lord Fitzwilliam, 
Windham, and Lords John and William Russell, 
brothers of the Duke of Bedford, openly avowed them- 
selves adherents of Pitt's policy ; while among those 
who remained faithful to Fox were Grey, Sheridan, 
Erskine, Samuel Whitbread, and "with them," writes 
Lord John Russell, "sat Mr. Coke and Mr. Lambton, 1 
two of the richest of the county gentlemen." 2 

The advocates of Pitt's policy in Norwich, therefore, 
held a meeting approving the address. This was 
supported by Windham the Apostate, Mr. Buxton 
and Charles Townshend. None but those who were in 
favour of the Proclamation attended the meeting, with 
the exception of Coke, who characteristically opposed 
it unsupported, although, naturally, with no hope of 
success against such overwhelming odds. 

"I attended the meeting," he wrote to Dr. Parr, 
"not with any hope of opposing an Address on the 

1 Afterwards Lord Durham. 

2 Life and Times of C. J. Fox, by Lord John Russell (1859-66), 
Vol. II, p. 321. 


Proclamation, but thereby to express my disapproba- 
tion of a measure which I deem calculated to spread 
a general alarm without any reasonable cause for 
fear, and to rouse our friends ; in which objects our 
artful Minister has, I fear, succeeded but too well. 

" Windham spoke well, I only wish it had been in 
a better cause ; but I must confess, I do not feel 
myself impressed with those terrors of impending 
evil with which he said his mind was filled, and 
I went so far as to whisper to him that I thought 
a time would come when he would find the storm 
would burst from another quarter, and that he would 
feel himself under the necessity of holding different 
language, for that the executive power appeared to 
me to be gaining strength daily, which afforded just 
offence to us of the Commons, tho' I so far agreed 
with him that this was not the moment to attempt 
Reform. As none but Addressers attended the 
meeting, but myself, I was the only individual present 
who did not sign the Address." 

" Bustle there is ! " responded Dr. Parr, " but I can 
assure our friend Mr. Windham that, even in this land 
of Toryism where I live, no man seems to have any 
real fears." He implored Coke to exert his influence 
to turn Windham from such evil ways, since already in 
London bets were afloat for and against the Apostate's 
prospects at the next Norwich election. 

Perhaps in consequence of this suggestion, two days 
after the meeting at Norwich, on July 3rd, Coke rode 
over to Felbrigg, doubtless to reason warmly with the 
Apostate upon his attitude of antagonism towards his 
former political party. Curiously enough, Windham 
in his diary explains that this was the first time during 
his own residence at Felbrigg that his friend Coke had 
ever been inside the house. Coke stayed to dine, but, 
possibly in consequence of himself and his host failing 


to agree, refused to stay the night and rode back again 
twenty-five miles to Holkham. 

Fox, however, still endeavoured to treat the situation 
philosophically. "It is lucky," he pronounced to Coke, 
"for both Burke and Windham that they take the 
royal side on the subject of the French Revolution, for 
they would certainly have been hanged on any other I" 1 

Still the question of a war with France hung in 
abeyance ; but events drew rapidly to the conclusion 
which the adherents of Fox deplored. Parliament was 
summoned to an Autumnal Session, and, in the 
Commons, Fox's following diminished from about 
160 to 50, while in the Lords he had but ten or twelve 
adherents left. Next, the unsettled state of affairs, the 
seditious conduct of the revolutionary societies in 
England, and the increasing tendency to riot, made 
Pitt decide to call out the militia on December ist. 
His legal excuse for this measure was alleged insurrec- 
tion amongst the lower orders ; but it was suspected 
that he had made up his mind, not only for repression 
in England, but for war abroad. 

Coke remained at Holkham, having good sport in the 
coverts, especially with woodcock, presents of which he 
constantly sent to Fox. Meanwhile his friends kept him 
informed of the course of events ; and two letters which 
he received at this date show the light in which current 
affairs were regarded by members of opposing factions. 

The first is from Roger Wilbraham, M.P. and F.R.s., 2 
who was a lifelong friend of Coke's. He had a house 

- l Moore's Life of Sheridan, Vol. II, p. 129. 

2 Son of Roger Wilbraham, of Nantwich, by his second wife, Mary, 
daughter of Thomas Hunt, of Mollington, and great-nephew of Henry, 
third Earl of Radnor. 



at Twickenham, surrounded by a garden which became 
celebrated for its beautiful flowers. He was a great 
scholar and a great gardener, a politician, an agricul- 
turist and, withal, a philosopher. He was Coke's 
consultant in the purchase of many valuable MSS. ; 
and a clump of trees in the park at Holkham is still 
named after him. 

Roger Wilbraham to Thomas William Coke. 

" Dear Coke, " LoNDON > ^ ih December, 1792. 

" I see no occasion for your coming to Town, 
but will learn more before I close up my letter. The 
mischief is done and I fear is a very great one. I do 
not know that the D. of P. has behaved in a manner 
at all culpable. In a conversation I had with him he 
highly blamed the Ministry for spreading what he 
thought a groundless alarm by calling out the 
Militia ; among the fifty minority were Lord E. 
Bentinck, young Lord George Cavendish, two Lord 
Russels, H. Howard, Lord Milton, etc. ; so that, at 
least, Mr. Fox was in appearance supported by the 
principal Whig aristocracy of this country. We 
have probably by our conduct irritated these mad 
and victorious Quixotes of a Liberty, the principles 
of which they do not practise ; and may involve 
this country in a war which possibly might have 
been avoided. They have at present an established 
Government, why not acknowledge it? it must be 
done sooner or later, and the acknowledging of it 
might be very advantageous to this country. 

" Adieu, my dear Coke, remember me with great 
kindness and respect to the ladies, and believe me 
most sincerely yours. R \\r. 

" If anything occurs worth communicating, I shall 
give you another line. 
" 3 o'clock. 
"I have just now been talking to Fox; he does 


not see any immediate necessity for your leaving 
Holkham we shall probably divide no more before 
the Holy Days, and certainly not on Fox's motion 
of this day to acknowledge the Republic of France. 
I asked him if he should be down in Norfolk about 
Xmas ; he feared not, from the probable shortness of 
the recess ; but on my telling him that an acquaintance 
told me he had heard from Mr. Pitt that Parliament 
would probably adjourn on Xmas Eve, and that he 
did not see any reason why they should not adjourn 
to near the Birthday, he replied, ' In that case I may 
very probably go down." 

Six days later, Coke's other correspondent wrote 

Extract from a letter from William Windham 

to T. W. Coke. 
" Dear Coke, 

"You will have seen in general by the papers 
the progress of our proceedings, and theyare certainly 
not such as to have given you much satisfaction. My 
hope was to have found that the opinions of our 
friends, when they came to be explained, approached 
near enough to each other to have admitted of some 
course of proceeding, or of some declaration in which 
we might all have agreed ; but after the best deter- 
mination that I can foresee of our respective senti- 
ments, that hope, I confess, is reduced almost to 

"The fact is that Fox's mind and affections are so 
given to this French Revolution ; he is so little inclined 
to see any ill in it, and so much disposed to hope good ; 
he views with so little apprehension the chance of 
effects which it may produce here, and has such a 
dread that by decrying the French, we are to injure 
the English Constitution, that I do not see in the 
actual state of things what community there can be 
of conduct between him and those who think of these 
things as almost all the rest of his friends do. We 


must wait till circumstances shall become so critical 
as to leave no room for dissent among those who 
might differ now most widely. In the meanwhile 
each must go his way (not individually, I don't mean, 
but according to the two great parts into which we are, 
unhappily, divided), not separating with any ill-will 
to each other, but with the earnest hope that our 
separation may be temporary, and that we may soon 
find ourselves together again in our old connexion ; 
the idea of continuing measures in which we might 
appear in conduct to be as much united as we still 
are, I am persuaded, in affections has been tried al- 
ready without success, and been adhered to, perhaps, 
already too long. 

" Fox, in the meantime, is seeking to abate some- 
thing of the violence of people against him, and by 
different steps which he is taking, and by his language 
yesterday about war, is, I hope, preparing for a course 
of conduct which may do away with much of the 
injury which he has lately done to himself. Never was 
there a man who had made such war upon all his own 
hopes and advantages. Had this cursed institution 
of "The friends of the People" never taken place, 
or had he done with respect to it what regard to him- 
self equally with regard to his party required, he 
would have been at this moment either in the lead of 
affairs, or in a situation still more proudly elevated, 
that of seeing his antagonists prostrate before him, 
and dependent for their power on his forbearance and 
magnanimity. All this he has now lost; and, in a 
way, in my opinion, never to be wholly recovered. 

"The terror is that, finding other prospects more 
and more desperate, he should give more and more 
in to those French principles, and at last throw him- 
self into the arms of that party. 

"With respect to Coalitions, you need have no 
apprehensions. . . . 

"With respect to War, Pitt's speech last night left 
it quite undecided . . . but I hope that this country 


may be ready and disposed to take all proper measures 
for the resisting this alarming progress of the French 

" I will not, after such a long letter, add more than 
my request of compliments to the ladies, and that 
you believe me 

" Ever most truly and affectionately yours 


"HiLL STREET, December 2ist, 1792." 

It is to be regretted that Coke's answer to this letter 
has not been preserved. Within a week, however, he 
had determined to enter the fray, for on December 27th 
Fox wrote applauding his decision and begging for his 
presence on a particular day, the first, Fox says, on 
which he himself proposed to attend. 

" I think," Fox adds, " every day more and more 
seriously of the mischievous consequences which this 
measure must produce, but I believe Pitt is determined 
to go on with it." 

On February ist, 1793, war was declared with France. 
The announcement met with almost universal satisfac- 
tion amongst the bulk of the people, who as yet had 
not realised that a few years of successful achievements 
in arms may be dearly bought by a long period of 
national distress. 

Soon after its commencement the commercial diffi- 
culties in which the country became involved gave 
weight to their arguments. Extensive mercantile fail- 
ures occurred, owing to the sudden transition from a 
state of peace to a state of war, which, by affecting all 
the foreign commercial relations of the country, was 
destructive to mercantile credit. Pitt, it is said, was 


never desirous for hostilities as his opponents repre- 
sented him, but he had to bear the onus of the measure, 
and he certainly grievously miscalculated both the 
duration of the conflict, and its result on the prosperity 
of the country. For that war which Pitt and his 
supporters believed would not last two years, lasted 
upwards of twenty ; and meanwhile the National Debt, 
which during the American war had increased from 
150 to 250 millions, during the war with France in- 
creased to 800 millions. 

" Would to God!" Coke said years afterwards, 
"that Ministers had seen their error before they 
plunged so madly into a war which has nearly been 
the ruin of the country"; 1 and once, during a period of 
acute national poverty and agricultural distress, he 
wrote an undated memorandum in a notebook : 

" If Pitt could look up from his grave, he might 
well say : * Behold the consequences of having inter- 
fered with France in '92.' George III and the Tories 
have to answer for it all ! " 

1 Norwich Mercury, January 23rd, 1830. 






ESPITE the prevailing political excitement 
at this period, Dr. Parr became occupied 
about a private matter, with regard to which 
he soon wrote to solicit Coke's assistance. 

Dr. Parr to Thomas William Coke. 


Dear Sir, " June I2th ' ' 792 ' 

"The experience I have had of your generosity 
and munificence induces me to take a second liberty 
in laying before you a case which extremely interests 
my feeling, and I trust will not be thought wholly 
unworthy of your attention. I shall do myself the 
honour of laying before you the most important 
particulars of the case, and for information I shall 
beg leave to refer you to Mr. Windham, who is 
personally acquainted with the extraordinary merits 
and the peculiar situation of the gentleman in whose 
behalf I am now writing to you. 

" Mr. Porson is a native of Norfolk. 1 He was 
born of very humble parents in the neighbourhood 

1 Richard Porson, Professor of Greek in the University of Cambridge 
from 1792 to 1808. His father was a weaver and his mother the daughter 
of a shoemaker. 



of North Walsham. His wonderful talents induced 
some worthy men to support him by subscription, 
first at Eton School, and afterwards at Trinity 
College, Cambridge. He justified and rewarded 
their kindness by a most astonishing proficiency in 
learning, and I hazard nothing when I assure you 
that at this moment he is the very best Greek Scholar 
in England. An University Scholarship, which he 
gained by his uncommon and indeed unparalleled 
erudition, has for some time been vacant, and in 
August next he must give up a very profitable 
fellowship at Trinity College, because he cannot, 
from motives of conscience, take orders, which by 
the statute of the society are necessary after a term 
of years. His honour therefore deprives him of the 
protection to which his learning entitles him, and he 
is thrown upon the world without a fortune and with- 
out a patron. One cruel aggravation of his case is 
that at Trinity College there are only two fellowships 
which laymen can long hold. Lately, one of these 
fellowships became vacant, and with claims such as 
no scholar could urge since the days of Dr. Bentley, 
Mr. Porson applied for it. I feel a pang when I tell 
you that the Master of the College who knows Mr. 
Person's distresses, attainments, and talents, was 
pleased to refuse his request, and to give the fellow- 
ship to a relation of his own. 

" Mr. Porson is a man of very few wants, not much 
acquainted with the world, and possessed of an 
independence of spirit, not favourable to his interests. 
Work he must, and work he will, for his bread ; and 
work, too, in such a manner as will do honour to the 
literature of his country and age. But so great a 
man should not be left wholly dependent upon book- 
sellers, nor exposed to the distresses which age or 
sickness may bring upon him. His friends, there- 
fore, intend to raise the sum of thirteen hundred 
pounds for buying him an annuity, and probably 
they will consult his feelings by not informing him, 
in detail, who his benefactors are. 

"Such, sir, is the case which I have the honour 


of submitting to your consideration, and when I 
assure you that Norfolk never produced a greater 
man and that England at this day cannot boast of so 
good a scholar, I hope that you will forgive me for 
sympathising with his sorrows and for endeavouring 
to interest men of fortune and men of worth in his 

" I will again refer you to Mr. Windham for the 
confirmation of what I have said." . . . 

"Less said by you on behalf of Person's great 
mind," replied Coke, " would have been sufficient, 
without referring me to a second person to induce 
me to contribute by a small gift of 50 to his future 
comfort, which I send a draft for." 

To which Parr replied, on June 27th : 

"Yesterday I had the honour of receiving your 
very obliging letter, together with a most valuable 
present of fifty pounds in favour of Mr. Person, 
for which, both in his name and my own, I entreat 
you to accept my most respectful and grateful acknow- 
ledgments. To a man in whose mind benevolence 
is united with that delicacy which is the fruit of good 
learning, it is a great consolation indeed to have an 
opportunity of directing his application to men of 
that prompt and dignified generosity which I have 
more than once experienced in you. 

" It will, I am sure, give you satisfaction to be told 
that our learned Norfolkian will probably be more 
comfortable for the rest of his days." 

In this instance, out of his own small means, Parr 
personally contributed fifteen pounds to the fund, and 
the result of the subscription collected was to provide 
Porson with an annuity of 100 a year. Thencefor- 
ward Parr always endeavoured to befriend the great 
Greek scholar, in spite of the strenuous opposition of 
Mrs. Parr, who objected, and not without ample reason, 


to the dirty and drunken habits of her husband's 
celebrated protege. Still more, although a vain man, 
and extremely jealous of his own priority in the 
Republic of Letters, Parr always magnanimously paid 
a tribute to Person's learning. " Professor Person," 
he would say, "is the best Attic Greek scholar in 
Europe " ; only, one day, when out riding with a 
friend, Parr suddenly switched his horse with an un- 
controllable impulse and exclaimed, determinedly : 
" Person has more Greek, but no man's horse, John, 
carries more Latin than mine ! " 

Parr's readiness to acknowledge the merits of a rival, 
however, Person did not share. Though grateful for 
the Doctor's efforts on his behalf, Porson viewed Parr 
very much in the light of sounding brass, and was keen 
to throw ridicule upon Parr's bombastic conversation. 
The only record of Coke ever meeting Porson was on 
the well-known occasion when, a large company being 
assembled at the Doctor's house, and Parr being minded 
to introduce some profound topic which should give 
full scope for displaying his own exceptional powers of 
reasoning, turned to Porson and inquired sententiously : 
" Pray, sir, what do you think about the introduction 
of moral and physical evil into the world ? " A hush fell 
upon the company, and all awaited Person's reply with 
respect. He thought for a moment, and then, with an 
air of solemnity which rivalled the Doctor's own, 
delivered himself of the conclusion which effectually 
nipped Parr's eloquence: " Why, Doctor, I think we 
should have done very well without either ! " 

Person's unbroken assurance, in short, awed even 
the self-complacency of Parr ; and the Doctor, who 

invariably lost his temper when contradicted, was no 
match for the cool and impudent repartee of the great 
Grecian. On one occasion in a dispute with Person, 
Parr, feeling he was getting the worst of the argument, 
said rudely: " Professor, my opinion of you is most con- 
temptible ! " " Sir," returned Porson calmly, " I never 
knew an opinion of yours that was not contemptible ! " 

The year following Parr's championship of Porson, 
another and a far different subject for charity presented 
itself to Coke. 

At this date Fox's financial embarrassment, occa- 
sioned by his reckless extravagance, had reached a 
crisis which made it imperative that his friends should 
come to his assistance. Once Fox, alluding to his ill- 
health, had remarked that he was compelled to observe 
much regularity in his diet and hours, adding, "I live 
by line and rule, like clockwork." " Yes," replied his 
friend, " I suppose you mean you go tick, tick, tick!" 1 
But by 1793 matters reached a point at which even this 
method of procedure was closed to him, and while Fox 
himself wondered, somewhat hopelessly, if he could 
make a living at the Bar, his friends decided to form a 
committee, secretly, to discover some plan of affording 
him relief. 

Coke was one of the first to respond to, if he did not 
actually originate, the means to be adopted to this end. 
The committee consisted of himself, Lord G. Cavendish, 
Lord John Russell, and Messrs. Crewe, Coombe, Adair, 
Byng, Francis Wyner, Wrightson, Skinner and Pelham. 
They met at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the 
Strand on June ist and discussed how the proposed 

1 Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs, Vol. I, p. 239. 


assistance could be proffered in a guise which would 
not offend. It was finally decided that it should take 
the delicate form of "offering to Mr. Fox some effective 
testimony of gratitude for his long and unwearied 
public exertions." 

The question had no sooner been bruited than Parr 
got wind of it. He waited till after the meeting, and 
then wrote to beg Coke to give him further information 
that he might become "a humble fellow-labourer in 
this important work of justice to the most injured of 
men, and of gratitude to the most useful of citizens, and 
of reverence to the most accomplished of Statesmen." 

"It gives me great pleasure," Coke replied, "to 
find that we may rank you with the promoters of the 
present laudable undertaking, which succeeds beyond 
the most sanguine expectations we could form ! Nor 
am I less pleased to find that you agree with me in 
thinking that Mr. Fox never deserved better of his 
country for his parliamentary conduct during the 
present Session, in opposing measures which I fear 
will shortly be proved to have plunged this country 
in very serious difficulties, with no better plea on the 
part of the Administration than to avert very distant 
evils, or rather danger of their own creating, in order, 
by working on the fears of the timid, to obtain the 
sanction of Parliament for involving us in the present 
calamitous war. All we have now to hope for is a 
speedy conclusion of it. But this we must hope for 
in vain, as nothing less than unconditional submis- 
sion on the part of France will be accepted by those 
in power, notwithstanding our dearly-bought experi- 
ence in America." 

Mrs. Coke also wrote furnishing Parr with particulars 
respecting the proposed fund, and a fortnight later the 
Doctor replied that he was "happy and proud to 

acknowledge " the letters by which he had been honoured 
from both, and to explain that he had sent his " little 
contribution" to the Fund. "It contains," he adds 
with a simplicity which contrasts with his otherwise 
bombastic utterances, "a full half-year of my ecclesias- 
tical income I wish it could with convenience have 
been more." 

He forthwith started an active canvass on behalf of 
the Fund, and forwarded to Holkham a detailed account 
of his stewardship. 

"With the good people of Warwick I had many 
interviews ; they are few in number and not very 
affluent in circumstances, but truly Whiggish in 
principles, and to Mr. Fox most friendly in attach- 
ment. Just before I left the country it was settled 
that upon the return of some reputable tradesman 
from Chester Fair, my friends should meet and agree 
upon their contributions. I left with them two 
guineas, which I received at a Bowling Green from a 
country clergyman and a country surgeon whose 
hearts are with us and whose gifts would have been 
larger if prudence had permitted. A wise and worthy 
man who lives at Birmingham, and whose firmness in 
seasons of danger and difficulty would stand even 
comparison with your own, gave me a hundred 
pounds. ... I applied to a neighbouring clergyman 
at Kenilworth whose property and person have been 
threatened as well as my own, because his opinions 
are just and his spirit as firm as my own and though 
encumbered with a family of six or seven children, 
he assured me he would send ten pounds." 

A Quaker and an " opulent Dissenter " in Birming- 
ham were the next objects of Parr's attacks. In 
Worcestershire he had the good fortune to encounter 
a " sturdy Whiggish yeoman," and " by my conversa- 
tion with him I obtained a promise that he would give, 


and persuade others to give to the full extent of their 
power ; neither he nor his neighbours are rich, but they 
will do something, and whatever they do will be well 
meant." In Monmouthshire he stayed with friends 
whose principles gave him the liveliest satisfaction. 

" You would sympathise with the joy I feel, not 
only from the hospitality and politeness of my host 
and hostess, but from the sincerity of their attach- 
ment to Whiggism, and from the warmth of their 
regard for Mr. Fox. I am at this moment surrounded 
by Welsh mountains, and I have a better taste for 
their grandeur from the presence of four Whigs 
whom no Court can corrupt, whom Pitt could never 
delude, and whom Mr. Windham himself could not 
intimidate ; from one of them I shall this day send 
up a contribution of ten pounds, and of the rest I am 
happy and proud to assure you that they feel all the 
ardour, and will act with all the generosity which you 
or I could wish. . . . My worthy host and hostess, 
Mr. and Mrs. Greene, are just as warm in the business 
as myself, and will do what is considered proper. 
Believe me, dear Sir, that if the success of our cause 
depended upon honest hearts and wise heads, these 
four Whigs would lead four hundred Tories captive, 
and put four thousand to shame by the rectitude 
of their intentions and the manliness of their 
conduct. ..." 

Apart from the burning question of party politics, 
and of patriotism as interpreted by active antagonism 
to Pitt, if posterity needed proof of the affection which 
Fox was capable of inspiring, they might surely find it 
in Dr. Parr's letter. The people of Warwick " not 
very affluent in circumstances," the " reputable trades- 
man " at Chester, the country clergyman and surgeon 
at the Bowling Green, the parson at Kenilworth with 
his large family, the " sturdy Whiggish yeoman," the 

I. 2 D 

" well-disposed attorney," and others apparently of 
small means, all giving what they could ill afford, not 
to mention Parr himself cheerfully resigning half his 
slender yearly stipend these are surely remarkable 
proofs of the sway which Fox exercised over the minds 
of his countrymen, more especially when one con- 
siders that all these contributors to the Fund must 
have been fully aware that Fox owed his distress, not 
to undeserved misfortune, but wholly to his own 
reckless folly and vice ; a cause by which they had no 
guarantee that their offerings would not also be quickly 

And if further evidence were needed, it might be 
found in the fact that a man, then almost in as great 
straits pecuniarily as was Fox himself, gave hand- 
somely to the Fund. That man was Coke's old friend 
Lord Moira (formerly Lord Rawdon), and his donation 
was due to the following curious chain of events. 

While Lord Moira was absent in India, the Duke of 
Richmond made certain observations respecting him in 
the House of Lords at which Lord Moira took great 
offence. Immediately upon his return to England, he 
called upon the Duke, and demanded a retraction and 
an apology. To this the Duke at once consented, but 
Lord Moira, not deeming a private apology adequate, 
required the Duke to read a public apology in the 
House of Lords. This also the Duke did, and Lord 
Moira then decided to call upon Fox to do the same in 
the House of Commons. Coke, knowing Fox's inde- 
pendent spirit, and that he would never consent to make 
an apology in any but his own words, went to the 
House of Lords the first occasion on which he ever set 


foot inside its walls and sent for Lord Moira. He im- 
plored the latter not to put his intentions into execution, 
saying, " Fox is my dearest friend ; and if you did but 
know him as well as I do, you would love him as much." 

At length Lord Moira consented to forego his inten- 
tion ; whereupon Coke insisted that he should come, 
forthwith, and be introduced to Fox. From that time 
forward these two great men, on the strength of their 
common friendship for Coke, became devoted to each 
other. When the subscription for Fox was being 
privately raised, Coke, knowing that Lord Moira was 
himself in pecuniary distress, did not wish him to con- 
tribute to it, but happening one day inadvertently to 
mention the existence of the Fox Fund in Lord Moira's 
presence, the latter, with characteristic generosity, at 
once exclaimed, "Tom, I am delighted you have men- 
tioned it to me here is a thousand pounds ! " and 
without a moment's hesitation he presented Coke with 
a cheque for the amount named. 1 

The result of the subscriptions got together by Fox's 
friends was a sum which enabled them to present him 
with a handsome annuity of 3000, for which Coke 
and two of his friends were appointed trustees ; and 
which Fox accepted in the spirit in which it was ten- 
dered. From that day forward Fox never attended 
Newmarket, 2 nor ever again played for money ; and 
although this must be considered as only what was due 
to the friends who had helped him in his embarrassment, 
yet in view of the habits of his whole former life it also 

1 Told by Coke to the Hon. the Rev. Thomas Keppel, Holkham MSS. 

2 Memoirs of the Whig Party, by Henry Vassall, third Baron Holland 
(1854), Vol. I, p. 66. 

indicates a strength of moral character with which his 
enemies did not always accredit him. 

During the months which followed, Coke does not 
appear to have taken any prominent part in current 
politics. The adherents of Fox were too much in the 
minority to stem the tide of events ; the great measures 
which Coke had most at heart Parliamentary Reform, 
Catholic Emancipation and the Abolition of the Slave 
Trade were all, . perforce, in abeyance. Measures 
more pressing at the moment, though of less permanent 
national import, occupied the attention of the House. 
Foremost amongst these was the unsettled condition of 
the lower orders throughout the land. For the spirit 
and the panic of impending revolution had spread 
through England till it had become a terror which 
inflamed the disaffected and paralysed the orderly ; and 
the measures by which Pitt endeavoured to cope with 
it seemed only to increase the passions of the seditious 
and to alienate the peaceable, who were indignant at 
what they considered his interference with the sacred 
rights of the individual. 

Still more, the result of the war which Coke had 
anticipated was already taking effect ; the National 
Debt went up by leaps and bounds, taxation became 
intolerable ; while, daily, the uselessness of interference 
with France became more apparent. For even the more 
moderate among the French politicians who condemned 
the methods by which France was obtaining her free- 
dom, recognised that freedom to be a matter of such 
vital necessity that, whatever the cost, they were 
pledged to defend and maintain it. 


Throughout this period Dr. Parr never ceased to 
inveigh loudly in his lengthy letters to Coke against 
"the cunning of Mr. Pitt and the ingenuity of our 
friend Mr. Windham." Twice he relates sarcastically 
how he encountered Windham and expostulated per- 
sonally with the Apostate : 

" I was well aware of the blind zeal which actuates 
our Felbrigg friend, but I had not heard of his in- 
tolerance. I met him twice last February ; the con- 
versation was warm each day, and on the second day 
he, with some precipitation, left the room. ... I did 
not find that he was gifted with a new stock of ability 
to defend his new system of politics. ... It took 
Mr. Windham some hours to explain his meaning, 
and it will take me many years to understand it ! " 

And again he laments : 

" It gives me the most agonising feelings to find 
our honourable friend, Mr. Windham, so devoted to 
bad men and so enslaved to a bad cause. Of his in- 
integrity you and I can have no doubt, and for his 
desertion even my partiality can make no apology. 
. . . Let the intrigues of the Court, or the division 
of parties, or the madness of the people be what they 
will, I know that you are acting the wise, as well as 
the honourable part. And I know also that the day 
cannot be very distant when they who now condemn, 
will hereafter applaud and thank you." 

But seeing that little hope existed, as yet, of stemming 
the adverse tide of politics, Coke tried to devise other 
means of lessening the universal distress. About this 
date we find him writing earnestly to Arthur Young to 
point out how the riots among the lower classes might 
always be traced to the same cause the high price 
of provisions, especially of bread. "From my own 

observation," he remarks, " I do suspect the poor suffer 
greatly from the shameful practices and combinations 
of the millers," and he proposed framing a bill to fix 
an assize on flour, according to the average price of 
wheat, which should enforce millers to grind for all 
persons at a certain sum per bushel, such persons being 
at liberty to inspect the corn whilst grinding, and penal 
clauses to be enacted against any adulteration of the 
wheat, or mixing water with the meal to increase the 

" I must also mention another cruel grievance to 
the poor," he added ; " that there is no legal restraint 
on shopkeepers in villages respecting their weights 
and measures. Could no means be devised to protect 
the buyer from the artifices of the seller without in- 
jury to the latter in their honest gains? Why might 
not magistrates have the power of punishing for 
short weights and measures, complaint to be made 
within six days? ni 

But Arthur Young's answer has not survived, and 
more than a century was to pass before Coke's sugges- 
tion of a Government supervision of weights and 
measures was adopted. 

While these matters were occupying his attention, 
however, an event happened at Holkham in which he 
was, no doubt, even more interested than in a vain 
attempt to bring about the betterment of public affairs. 

His two daughters, Jane and Ann, were now approach- 
ing womanhood. Jane, on December 22nd, was about 
to complete her sixteenth year ; while Ann had passed 
her fourteenth birthday on the previous January 23rd. 

1 Autobiography of Arthur Young; ed. by M. Betham Edwards, p. 212. 


The former had become a strikingly beautiful girl, the 
exact counterpart of her mother in feature, colouring 
and expression, although she is reputed never to have 
attained to Mrs. Coke's perfection of figure. A picture 
of her by Hoppner when she was quite young shows a 
lovely, roguish face, with a marvellous wealth of auburn 
hair piled carelessly above her forehead and falling in 
luxuriant masses about her shoulders. To her mother's 
beauty she united much of her father's brain ; and the 
inherent love of art, which had shown itself in two 
generations of Cokes, found expression again in her 
wonderful genius for painting. 

She was only fifteen when she painted a most re- 
markable picture, with about five life-sized figures, 
of Belisarius begging an ambitious and successful 
work, even for an artist of more mature age ; and had 
she belonged to a later generation, or been born in a 
different sphere, there can be no doubt that she would 
have made her mark as an artist of no small repute. 

Ann, too, had a great artistic talent. Some of her 
pictures painted when she was quite young, both 
original portraits and copies from the old masters, are 
extraordinarily clever ; while the exquisite manner in 
which, later in life, she copied and renovated some of 
the delicate illuminations in the old missals at Hoik- 
ham, as we shall see, filled Roscoe with admiration. 

Both she and her sister were pupils of Gainsborough, 
who stayed at Holkham to teach them ; and although 
it is impossible to tell if the master's brush improved 
the pupils' work, it is certainly difficult in some in- 
stances to distinguish between the paintings of the 
former and of the latter. 

Ann, without being possessed of the really dazzling 
beauty of her sister, was an unusually handsome girl, 
with fine eyes and a brilliant complexion. She had 
been more carefully relegated to the schoolroom than 
Jane, who, in her position of elder daughter, had taken 
a certain part in social events ever since she had 
opened the ball in 1788. Yet both girls had been 
brought up with the greatest care and a complete 
absence of luxury. Everything which could make 
them simple in their tastes and hardy in health was 
carried out in their education. Their food was of the 
plainest description, they were never allowed a fire in 
their bedrooms, or to approach the fire in the school- 
room by stepping upon the hearthrug, and this despite 
the fact that, according to the fashion of the day, they 
always wore dresses with short sleeves and low necks, 
even in the depth of winter. To such a Spartan dis- 
cipline, however, on the bleak Norfolk coast, and in a 
large, cold house, even habit could not always inure 
them ; and I have heard a tale that, on one occasion, 
Ann yielded to the inclination to approach the fire. 
Coming down to the schoolroom one day at 7 a.m., 
the hour when they always began lessons in the dark- 
ness of the cold winter mornings, Ann found a miser- 
able little apology for a fire flickering out its uncertain 
life in the large grate. No one being about, the 
temptation to warm her frozen hands and arms was 
too strong. She trod upon the forbidden hearthrug, 
and was lifting up the poker with the intention of 
poking the fire, when, to her intense dismay, the poker 
came in two in her hands ! She used to say that she 
could never forget the horror of that moment when she 


recognised the judgment with which her disobedience 
was so pointedly visited ! 
It was in the autumn of 1793 that Ann, looking out 
D the schoolroom window, saw a coach drive up to the 
front door, and heard that young Mr. Thomas Anson 
and his father had driven over to see Mr. Coke. The 
visitors remained for some time apparently in private 
conversation with her father, and Ann heard it whis- 
pered as an open secret that young Mr. Anson had 
come over to propose for her sister Jane. He was, at 
that time, twenty-seven years of age, and was heir to 
Shugborough, which his father had inherited from a 
maternal uncle. 

Suddenly a message arrived in the schoolroom to say 
that Ann was to descend to the Saloon at once. She 
ran down in her schoolroom dress, with her long hair 
falling over her shoulders ; and, to her astonishment, 
received the announcement that it was for her, and not 
for her elder sister, that Mr. Anson had proposed. 

The engagement was made public shortly afterwards. 
U I am very happy," wrote Fox on December i9th, 
"to hear that Miss Ann is to be disposed of in a 
manner in all respects so eligible. I scarcely know 
Anson myself, but everybody speaks well of him." At 
the date of this letter, Ann was within a month and a 
day of completing her fifteenth year. Five days later, a 
Norfolk clergyman, who was invited to Holkham, wrote : 

"So to Holkham, where we had twenty-three in 
family, and the most magnificent, elegant, and at the 
same time agreeable style of living. Lord and Lady 
Melbourne and three daughters, Mr. and Mrs. 
Edward Coke, and Mr. Anson made part of the 


society. The last-named gentleman is the husband 
elect of Miss Ann Coke, at present fifteen [sic]. She 
is to wait therefore a year to attain the age of sixteen, 
before she assumes the Dignity and functions of a 
matron and Mistress of a Family. Mr. Anson is 
said to have an Income of 22,000 per annum, 
and certainly not less than 14, or 15,000." l 

Ann wept copiously when her hair was put up for 
the first time, as she was greatly afraid that Mr. Anson, 
who had only seen her with it down her back, would 
not recognise her, or approve of the alteration. The 
wedding took place on September 2nd of the following 
year, when she was still within four months of complet- 
ing her sixteenth birthday. At the wedding breakfast 
she looked such a child that Dean Anson said mis- 
chievously to her: "Ann, if you will run round 
the table, I will give you a sovereign ! " Scarcely 
had the words left his lips, than away went the 
delighted bride, and, racing round the table, triumph- 
antly claimed her reward. She had four children 
before she was twenty, and was so young when she 
began to go out in London, that her husband provided 
for her being chaperoned, and at balls insisted on her 
sitting at cards with the dowagers, which unfortunately 
gave her a taste for gambling. 

Some years later, grave Arthur Young, who viewed 
all luxury with suspicion, dining at Mr. Anson's to 
meet "a farming party," whom he describes as "all 
M.P.'s or in high life," relates how Mr. Anson's was 
"a splendid house, one of the best in London, magnifi- 

1 The Girlhood of Maria Josepha Holroyd, edited by J. H. Adeane 
(1896), p. 255. 


cent furniture, plate, servants, wines and everything 
equal to 30,000 or 40,000 a year; "but," adds 
Arthur Young severely, "he has no such income I" 1 

The year after Coke lost his second daughter by 
marriage, a third daughter was born to him, on March 
3ist, 1795, who was thus just over sixteen years younger 
than her next sister, and only a few months older than 
her niece, that sister's child, who was born the follow- 
ing year. She was christened Elizabeth Wilhelmina, 
the first name being that of Coke's mother and of his 
younger sister, Lady Sherborne, while the latter name 
was given her at the request of the Duke of Clarence, 
and was then almost unique in England in fact, I have 
heard it said that she was, at one time, the sole posses- 
sor of the name in this country. 

Before her birth, however, Coke had again been 
drawn into public life. The year 1794 dawned darkly 
for England with dissension at home and war abroad. 
On February 7th, Fox wrote from the House of Com- 
mons to urge Coke to attend on the following Monday, 
"when," he says, "Grey makes a motion upon the 
illegality of introducing foreign troops into this country 
without the consent of Parliament, which I think a 
very material question, and on which one would hope 
we should have some of our old friends again. On 
Thursday I moved an inquiry into neglects about con- 
voys, and upon both these occasions we shall certainly 
divide." At this juncture Fox must have clung more 
tenaciously to those amongst his former friends who, 
through good and evil report, remained loyal to him. 

1 Autobiography of Arthur Young, p. 394. 

The July following there took place the great secession 
of the Whigs headed by the Duke of Portland. The 
Ministry was reconstructed and a new Conservative 
party was formed ; Portland became Home Secretary, 
Grenville Foreign Secretary, Windham Secretary of 
War and Fitzwilliam Viceroy of Ireland. 

The desertion of the Duke of Portland struck con- 
sternation into the ranks of those who adhered to Fox. 
Coke always maintained that the true cause of the 
Duke's change of politics was his desire to obtain a re- 
newal of certain property in Marylebone which he held 
under Government, worth 200,000. But whatever 
construction may be put on the Duke's motives at this 
crisis, he fell into the same error of which Pitt had been 
guilty before him, and endeavoured to bribe Coke into 
deserting his party. He wrote to Coke telling him 
that His Majesty had given permission to make three 
peers, and begging him to choose his title. 

Coke's indignation would not permit him to send 
a mere formal refusal. He at once posted to London 
and went straight to see Mr. Plumber, a very old and 
staunch Whig member. He inquired abruptly from 
the latter whether he was now a friend of Fox or of 
Portland, "for since so many had changed their prin- 
ciples, it was difficult to know where to find a friend." 
Mr. Plumber, whose politics were unswerving, replied 
warmly that if any other man had dared to ask him 
such a question he would have considered it as a direct 
insult, but that, since he knew Mr. Coke must have 
some good reason for such an inquiry, he begged him 
to explain what this might be. 

Coke then told him of the Duke's offer, and that he 


wished Mr. Plumber to accompany him to Burlington 
House, as he required a witness to his interview with 
the Duke. Mr. Plumber replied that, unfortunately, 
this was impossible, as he himself had, that very day, 
taken leave of the Duke for the last time, and had 
vowed that he would never again set foot in Burlington 

Coke then repaired to Sir John Miller, to whom he 
repeated his previous request. Sir John immediately 
complied, and they went together to Burlington House. 
Mr. Keppel gives a more explicit account of the inter- 
view than that recorded by the Press version of Coke's 
speech. 1 On entering the room, he says, Coke and Sir 
John Miller found the Duke of Portland surrounded 
by about half a dozen friends who were evidently pay- 
ing great court to him. Directly, however, the Duke 
saw who his fresh visitors were, he rose, and hurrying 
eagerly forward, held out both his hands, and welcomed 
Coke warmly to Burlington House. Coke drew back, 
and amidst the sudden silence of those present, ad- 
dressed the Duke in the following words : " My Lord 
Duke, I have come in person to answer your letter, and 
to express my astonishment and disgust at your Grace's 
believing me capable of selling my principles for a 
peerage ; and I beg to acquaint you that from this hour 
I will never again set my foot within your doors. Good 
morning, my Lord." 2 

He then turned and quitted the room, leaving the 
Duke confused and the rest of the company much as- 
tounded at the episode. "Mr. Coke," said Sheridan 

1 See ante, p. 159. 

2 Holkham MSS. 

subsequently, " disdained to hide his head within a 
coronet when offered him ! " J 

How bitterly Fox felt the desertion of his former 
friends is shown in the following letter which he wrote 
to Coke on September 5th, the week before Ann Coke's 

"Dear Coke, I deferred writing till I had seen 
Lord Robert, in order to be able to tell you with 
more certainty about my time of going into Norfolk. 
I mean to be at Thetford the i5th, and think I shall 
certainly be at Holkham before the end of the month, 
probably about the 29th, but when I am in Norfolk I 
shall be able to let you know for certain. 

" Respecting those political events you mention, I 
have nothing to add to what you say, I am truly 
sorry for them on every account. It is, in my 
opinion, a blow to the reputation of all public men, 
for which even those who, like you and me, are clear 
of the transaction and disapprovers of it, cannot 
fail in some degree to suffer ; for it will be reasonably 
said why is [this ?] or that man more trustworthy than 
those who are gone? But enough of this unpleasant 
subject, and I beg of Mrs. Coke and you to accept my 
most sincere congratulations on Miss Ann's marriage 
which I understand is to take place next week. 

"You know my stay in Norfolk is cut by the 
necessity which I am under of being in London on 
the loth of October ; but I hope both before and 
after that day to spend some very pleasant days at 
Holkham. Just about me there are but few birds 
this year, but I believe this is accidental, as at Oat- 
lands and other places in the neighbourhood there 
are more than usual, and I saw yesterday above thirty 
pheasants where I do not think I ever saw more than 
two or three in former years. 

" Yours ever, 

"ST. ANN'S HILL, Sept. tfh. " C. J. FOX. 

1 Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs, Vol. I, p. 3. 


" Pray tell Ralph, 1 who is I believe with you, that 
I shall be at Thetford to shoot and dine on the loth. 
It would induce him possibly to come thither a day 
or two before we go to Colham, which I understand 
to be fixed for lyth." 

In the excitement of his favourite sport at Holkham, 
Fox tried to bury the recollection of political troubles, 
but the effort was probably attended with but small 
success. It was while paying this visit that he wrote 
to Lord Holland (October, 1794) on the utility of party 
politics: "I am of opinion," he says "I hope not 
from mere obstinacy that Party is far the best system, 
if not the only one, for supporting the cause of liberty 
in this country. I am convinced that this system, and 
this alone, has prevented Great Britain from falling 
into what Hume calls the euthanasia of absolute 
Monarchy. . . . The master of this house, the Duke 
of Bedford, Guildford, and Derby, and some others, 
with myself, make undoubtedly a small basis ; but then 
how glorious it would be from such small beginnings 
to grow into a real strong party such as we once 
were." 2 

There is a ring of pathos about the concluding sen- 
tence which shows a determined hopefulness in the face 
of mighty odds. As a result of the defection of so 
many of his old friends, he wrote more persistently 
to beg for Coke's support for and against measures 
brought forward in the House. 

On January 5th, 1795, Sheridan moved for leave to 
bring in a bill to repeal the Act of the last session, the 

1 Ralph Dutton, Mrs. Coke's brother. 

2 The Life and Times of Charles James Fox, by Earl Russell (1866), 
Vol. Ill, p. 68-9. 

Suspension of the Habeas Corpus, and Fox wrote to 
beg the assistance of both Coke and his brother. Coke 
was then in town ; none the less, Fox seemed to fear 
that he would not be present for the division, for writing 
again more urgently, Fox pointed out the importance 
of the measures and reiterated " Unwilling as I am to 
trouble you, I cannot help very earnestly desiring you 
to come." 

This bill, which was opposed by the apostate Wind- 
ham and discussed at length by Lord Erskine, was 
thrown out. Against the Salt and Husbandry Tax, Fox 
also requested Coke's support, and when the Treason- 
able Practices Bill and the Seditious Meetings Bill 
came on he wrote to beg Coke to come up specially from 
Holkham. " I should be very sorry if these bills were 
to go without a vote of yours against them," he ex- 
plains. In the celebrated motion of Fox censuring the 
Ministers for having unconstitutionally advanced money 
to the Emperor of Germany and the Prince Conde, Coke 
again upheld him ; and Fox, in return, gave Coke his 
aid when the latter carried into law a bill, in which they 
were both interested, for extending the legal time of 

But to one matter, which was dear to Fox's heart, 
Coke refused his countenance. In September 1795 
Fox married Mrs. Armistead, with whom he had lived 
for many years ; but great as was Coke's friendship for 
Fox, he always refused to receive Mrs. Fox at Holkham. 
Lord John Russell says: " His (Fox's) life from his 
youth had been one of loose morality. Even now he 
seems to have been ashamed to avow to his friends and 
to the world that he was able to call an affectionate and 


faithful woman his wife. Hence Mr. Coke, his steady 
adherent, while he every year gladly received Fox at 
Holkham, refused to admit Mrs. Fox into his house." 
Although Mrs. Fox stayed at Woburn, at Mr. Whit- 
bread's, at Lord Robert Spencer's and at the houses of 
most of his friends, and although Coke must have met 
her often at St. Ann's Hill, yet he never acknowledged 
her existence other than by forwarding to her ample 
presents of Holkham game, or by putting a formal 
inquiry respecting her health at the end of his letters 
to Fox ; to which Fox replied with an equally polite 

I. 2 E 




JEtai 40-46 

IN the year of Fox's marriage, another wedding 
took place of less happy omen. Rumour, 
which had so often prophesied a separation 
between the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitz- 
herbert, had been particularly active with regard to 
this matter during the year 1794. " Princess Fitz," as 
she was facetiously called, was, gossip reported, about 
to be deserted for some German wife of the King's 
choosing. Under the circumstances, Coke not only 
on account of his intimacy with the Prince, but on 
account of his friendship with Lord Moira, the Prince's 
confidant was constantly applied to as an authority for 
correct information. On July I5th, 1794, Lord Morning- 
ton wrote triumphantly from Brighton to Lord Grenville : 

" I heard last night from no less an authority than 
Tom the Third [Coke] that a treaty of separation 
and provision is on foot (if not already concluded) 
between his Royal Highness and the late < Princess 
Fitz.' I think you ought to marry his Royal High- 
ness to some frow immediately ; and I am told (by 
the same eminent authority) that he is very well dis- 
posed to take such a wife, as it may be his Majesty's 
pleasure to provide for him." 1 

1 Fortescue MSS., Historical MSS. Com., Vol. XL 


Coke's information proved correct. The Prince, in 
order once more to secure payment of his debts, 
deserted Mrs. Fitzherbert with as little scruple as he 
had before exposed her to public dishonour with the 
same object in view. On April 8th, 1795, he was 
married to his cousin, the Princess Caroline of Bruns- 
wick a wedding which was succeeded by a separation 
immediately after the birth of the Princess Charlotte of 
Wales, on January yth, of the following year. 

The month after this event Coke dined at the 
Speaker's. The rule was for the Speaker to give a 
dinner upon the first Saturday of the session to the 
Ministers and their friends in office, who were Members 
of the House of Commons. The first Sunday was 
reserved for the Opposition ; afterwards his parties 
were promiscuous, consisting chiefly of his private 
friends and those who attended his levees on Sunday 
evenings. At the Ministerial dinner that year there 
were twenty-three present ; at the Opposition dinner 
three persons appeared neither in full dress, nor pow- 
dered, viz. Grey, Whitbread and General Tarleton ; but 
Fox was in full dress and powdered. 

At the dinner when Coke was present, the party, 
which numbered twenty, dined in a vaulted chamber, 
an ancient crypt of St. Stephen's Church. They were 
served on plate bearing the King's arms, and were 
waited on by three men out of livery and four men in 
full liveries and bag-wigs. All the guests on that 
occasion wore Court dress, including the Speaker, 
except that he wore no sword. Charles Abbot, 1 after- 

1 Charles Abbot (1757-1829), Speaker of the House of Commons, 
1 80 1 ; created Baron Colchester 1817. 


wards Lord Colchester, who was one of the guests, 
relates that: "The style of the dinner was soups at 
top and bottom, changed for fish, and afterwards 
changed for roast saddle of mutton and roast loin of 
veal. The middle of the table was filled with a painted 
plateau ornamented with French white figures and 
vases of flowers. Along each side were five dishes, the 
middle centres being a ham and boiled chicken. The 
second course had a pig at top, a capon at bottom and 
the two centre middles were a turkey and a larded 
guinea-fowl. The other dishes puddings, pies, puffs, 
blancmanges, etc. The wine at the corners was in ice- 
pails during the dinner. Burgundy, champagne, hock, 
and hermitage. The dessert was served by drawing the 
napkins and leaving the cloth on. Ices at top and 
bottom ; the rest of the dessert, oranges, apples, 
ginger, wafers, etc. Sweet wine was served with it. 
After the cloth was drawn a plate of thin biscuits was 
placed at each end of the table and the wine sent 
round, viz. : claret, port, madeira, and sherry. Only 
one toast was given 'The King.' The room was 
lighted by patent lamps on the chimney and upon the 
side tables. The dinner table had a double branch at 
top and bottom, and on each side of the middle of the 
table. Coffee and tea were served on waiters at eight 
o'clock. The company gradually went out of the room, 
and the whole broke up at nine." 1 

The great subject of conversation at this dinner party 
was the strained relations between the Prince and his 
wife. The general impression at that date was that the 
alienation would prove temporary, and that in the inter- 

1 Diary and Correspondence of Lord Colchester, Vol. I, pp. 34-35. 


ests of the State the Prince would be induced to conquer 
his dislike to the unfortunate Princess. Coke, aware 
of the wilfulness of the Prince's disposition, was less 
sanguine a view which was shared by his friend 
Francis, Duke of Bedford, who was always said to be 
in love with Mrs. Fitzherbert. 

In May, 1796, Fox brought forward his famous 
motion on the conduct of the war with France, when 
he again wrote to ask for Coke's support. Later in 
this month Coke was canvassing for re-election as 
Knight of the Shire. 

This was the fourth election in which he had stood 
for the county of Norfolk, and these contests, as has 
already been shown, were extremely ruinous. The 
expense of bringing voters from a distance in those 
days was very great, and the drink consumed during 
the poll was a considerable item. Had he accepted a 
peerage, it would have saved him half a million of 
money, for in the course of his political life he spent 
more than this sum on his electioneering expenses. 
He possessed a large landed property near Manchester, 
which had been purchased originally by the Lord Chief 
Justice, and this he sold to defray some of those ex- 
penses, parting with it, of course, at a fraction of what 
its modern value would have represented. 

His efforts on behalf of the county were commemor- 
ated by a song which used to be sung by the farmers 
on the estate, the refrain of which ran as follows : 

Squire Coke went to Lunnon to kick up a fuss ; 
He'd best stay at home and grow tur-r-nips with ous ! 

Yet they tried to sympathise with what they recog- 


nised to be his endeavour to represent their grievances 
in Parliament. The well-known coach-and-four, with 
the postillions dressed in blue and buff, and the horses 
decorated to match, in which he drove about the county 
on his electioneering campaigns, was sure of a wel- 
come, even in districts which were disaffected to the 
Whig cause. But on one occasion, when he was re- 
turning from canvassing a part of the county supposed 
to be antagonistic to him, a number of sympathetic 
tenants, afraid lest he had been disheartened, lay in 
wait for him outside the park gates, and as his coach 
approached, the spokesman of the party shouted re- 
assuringly, "Never ye mind, Coke, lad: we'll gieyeour 
vote ! " Whereupon the whole party insisted on stop- 
ping the coach and shaking him by the hand in order 
to put heart into him. 

Another time, when he was canvassing in a neigh- 
bourhood where politics were of a mixed character, he 
came across a party of rustic politicians, who, arguing 
hotly, were also staking whatever pence their means 
allowed on the immediate success or failure of the Whig 
cause. As he appeared, one of his postillions, who 
always accompanied him on his electioneering cam- 
paigns, came hurrying towards him from the group, 
scarlet in the face with excitement, and explained 
naively, "Oh, sir, suck a thing ! I've only got pence 
on me. Will you, sir, lend me a shilling till we get 
home, or they'll think me a Jacobin ! " Evidently the 
prestige of his master and of the Whig cause would 
have been lowered if he, of all people, had failed to 
produce a sum adequate to the great issue at stake. 

In those days to secure success at an election many a 


stratagem was resorted to which would now be thought 
incredible. It is said that on one occasion Coke's parti- 
sans planned to make the Tory freeholders drunk at 
his expense, intending when they were past scenting 
danger, to lure them on board a ship and keep the ship 
out at sea till the polling was over. The Tory free- 
holders fell in readily with the first part of the pro- 
gramme, and feasted royally at the cost of the Whigs ; 
but when the second part of the scheme was about to 
be put into execution, even their muddled wits became 
suspicious, and no plausible pretext could induce them 
to embark on the proposed trial trip. This triumph of 
intelligence on their part was afterwards celebrated by 
them in a song, the exultant chorus of which ran 

The Norfolk Freeholders ain't going to sea 
Though a dozen old women put drink in their tea ! 

That surnames, to which any meaning could be 
attached, should afford great scope for wit in elec- 
tioneering times, was only to be expected. The name 
Coke, as is well known, is pronounced Cook, and a 
ridiculous legend runs that it was always called Coke, 
till coal was found upon the Derbyshire estate, when 
its present pronunciation was hurriedly adopted, in 
view of the painful facility for Tory gibes which the 
older pronunciation would thenceforward afford. It 
is doubtful whether such a change could ever have 
recommended itself for such a reason ; yet Coke and 
his friend and neighbour, Lord Albemarle, were fellow- 
sufferers in this respect, though perhaps Lord 
Albemarle was peculiarly unfortunate, as his some- 
what lugubrious title of Bury offered special tempta- 

tion to local wags. Coke used to tell a good story 
that, upon one occasion when he was standing for 
election with Lord Albemarle, the latter was inter- 
rupted upon the hustings by a would-be wag in the 
audience : " Is thy name Bury?" asked the wag. " It 
is," replied Lord Albemarle; " have you any objec- 
tions?" "Well, it has a churchyard sound," com- 
plained the wag. "Quite so," said Lord Albemarle; 
" I have come to bury the other side! J>1 

But in Norwich a story is remembered in which Coke 
did not come off so well as did Lord Albemarle on the 
above occasion. Previous to the Election of 1796 
Coke was walking down the park one day at Holkham 
with Lord Ormonde (Hereditary Chief Butler of 
Ireland), when they saw coming towards them a sweep, 
well known to be a rabid Tory, who at that moment 
was so extremely black that Coke could not resist 
inquiring facetiously from him as he passed: "How 
he had left his father, the Devil ? " The sweep showed 
some gleaming white teeth and replied grimly: " He'll 
be better soon he's wanting a Cook and Butler!" 

For many years in Parliament there had been three 
Members of the name of Coke, viz. T. W. Coke, M.P. 
for Norfolk ; Edward Coke, of Longford, his brother, 
M.P. for Derby; and Mr. Daniel Parker Coke, many 
years M.P. for Nottingham. In order to distinguish 
which Member was being quoted in the record of 
parliamentary speeches, Coke was always referred to as 
"Mr. Coke of Norfolk." This name, used first 

1 I have heard this story told as belonging- to modern times. Possibly 
history repeats itself, but it was William Charles, Lord Albemarle, of 
whom Coke used to relate it. 


merely for purposes of identification, afterwards 
became a title of honour, and " Coke of Norfolk" 
was a name which, as its owner's fame grew, was only 
replaced by that of " the great Coke of Norfolk." Yet 
some there were who, while familiar with the name, 
remained ignorant of the causes to which it was to be 
ascribed, and thus, on one occasion, Coke profited by 
the dual interpretation which his patronymic afforded. 
He was journeying through a district where he was 
unknown, and at an inn where he had prearranged to 
stop for refreshment he was, to his surprise, served 
with dinner, which in the number of its courses and 
the excellence of its cooking rivalled the banquet 
ordered years before at the village of Bawdeswell by 
old Lady Leicester. Somewhat mystified at the 
magnificence of the repast, he inquired the cause : 
"Ah," responded his informant slyly, "you see we 
were warned that the Great Cook of Norfolk was 
about to honour us with a visit, so we did not wish 
to be outdone ! " 

George, Lord Albemarle, tells an amusing story of 
Betty Radcliffe, the landlady of the Bell Inn, Thetford, 
which probably belongs to the year 1796. " Betty," 
he explains, " wore a high cap, like that in which Mrs. 
Gamp is seen in Dickens' novels ; and a flaxen wig, 
which she appeared to have outgrown, for it ill con- 
cealed her grey hairs. Being the sole proprietress 
of post-horses in Norfolk, she assumed an independent 
demeanour and language, to which everyone was com- 
pelled to submit. Prior to one of those ruinous election 
contests in which Messrs. Coke and Wodehouse (after- 
wards Lords Leicester and Wodehouse) engaged, the 


former said to Betty : "I want all your post-horses for 
the next fortnight." Betty gave Mr. Coke a knowing 
wink and said : " I dare saa you do, but cub baw 
[come, boy] along wi' me. What do you see painted 
on that board ? " " ' The Bell,' of course." " And on 
the other side ? " " < The Bell,' too ! " " Just so," said 
Betty. " Don't you see that my sign is painted o' both 
sides? You shall have half my horses, but Wuddus 
[Wodehouse] the other half." 1 

It is often difficult to assign a date to any particular 
electioneering ditties, as, if popular, they did duty, with 
appropriate alterations, for more than one year's can- 
vassing ; but one Bacchanalian ditty, which was long 
a favourite in Norfolk, first saw daylight in the year 
1796 the year when Jane Coke married Lord Andover, 
although the wedding did not take place till after the 
election, and the name thus bestowed upon her was 
premature. There are seven long verses, three of 
which run as follows : 

I can't for my life think it anyway fit 

That you should be toasting each high-titled man ; 

What have we sons of Norfolk to do with Bill Pitt ? 

Or yet with Charles Fox that illustrious Statesman ? 

Fill a bumper, my host, and I'll give you my Toast, 

On whom Norfolk's Yeomanry joyously look. 

Fill up to the top on't, 

And drink every drop on't, 

And cherish your hearts with a bumper to COKE ! 


Then fill high your glass, and around let it pass, 
Your wine will gain relish by drinking- to Coke ! 

1 Fifty Years of My Life, by George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle(i876), 
Vol. I, p. 314. 


The landlord so good, and the friend so sincere, 
The generous heart that with kindness o'erflows, 
He who wipes from the moist eye of mis'ry its tear, 
Whose soul neither av'rice nor haughtiness knows ; 
Whose liberal hand doth with bounty expand, 
Who the mite from the widow or orphan ne'er took, 
With that true manly pride, 
That's to virtue allied, 
Such a soul is still found in the bosom of COKE ! 


Then replenish the bowl for each honest, true soul, 
And toss off a bumper to Freedom and Coke ! 

The damsels of Norfolk our triumph to grace, too, 
For Coke and for Freedom their charms will display ; 
See Andover comes with her beautiful face, too, 
And lovely blue eyes that might rival the day. 
That Norfolk for lasses, each county surpasses 
By their sweet selves I swear, and their lips be the book ; 
Thus wine our hearts firing, and Beauty inspiring, 
First drink to the Ladies, and then drink to COKE ! 

The Holkham freeholders were very proud of the 
beauty of Coke's eldest daughter, and when during 
the election her engagement became known, the news 
was received with universal interest and satisfaction. 
Now nineteen, she had become celebrated in society 
for her beauty. During the last two years her likeness 
to her mother had become accentuated ; as she had lost 
the plumpness which had belonged to her schoolroom 
days, her features had acquired the peculiar delicacy of 
outline for which Mrs. Coke was distinguished, and 
although her figure is said to have been less fine than 
her mother's, she was none the less renowned for her 
gracefulness and her beautiful dancing. Some years 


afterwards, when it was put to the question at a large 
dinner at the Pavilion, who was the handsomest woman 
in England, the Regent gave it as his opinion " With- 
out doubt, Lady Andover." 

Her attachment for Lord Andover had been of some 
duration, but he was poor and Coke objected to the 
marriage. Lady Suffolk, much affronted, inquired, ' ' And 
pray, sir, does the blood of all the Howards count for 
nothing?" " Madam," was Coke's answer, "I count 
my blood as good as the blood of all the Howards." 

Apart from the pecuniary objection, none existed, 
and Coke at length gave his consent. Lord Andover, 
who was a year older than Jane Coke, was clever, good- 
looking and extremely attractive. He had greatly dis- 
tinguished himself at college, and when the marriage 
at last took place on June 27th, the Dean of Christ- 
church, who had a great affection for him, journeyed 
all the way from Oxford to Holkham to perform the 

Before that date, however, on June ist, Coke and Sir 
J. Wodehouse no doubt with the aid of Betty Rad- 
cliffe's post-horses were both elected without oppo- 
sition for the county. 

Politically, England was approaching a disagreeable 
crisis. The prospect of a more permanent Government 
in France had appeared, for a time, to give hopes of 
that peace for which Pitt was now avowedly anxious. 
In the autumn of 1796, Lord Malmesbury was dispatched 
to Paris to enter into negotiations with a view to this 
conclusion ; but France refused to come to terms, and he 
was requested to leave Paris within forty-eight hours. 


Already the star of Napoleon was in the ascendant, 
and as a young and victorious general he was attract- 
ing the attention of Europe. The fear, therefore, of 
invasion from abroad, the heavy taxation entailed upon 
the country, the terrible financial distress, aggravated 
by a succession of poor harvests, and by mutinies in the 
navy which threatened our maritime power, all combined 
to render the position of the country extremely serious. 
Parr's comments to Coke upon the " Heaven-born 
Minister," Pitt, waxed yet more scathing : 

" I am not so keen-sighted as some of my brethren 
in the Doctrine of Original Sin among the natives of 
the earth ; but if Pitt was born in Heaven I should 
have no great reliance in the efficacy of original 
righteousness among the natives of these higher 
abodes the Devil, it is said, was born in Heaven, 
and we know where he now resides. Pitt may be 
his Minister and Hoadley 1 may be his chaplain, but 
I have no ambition to keep company with them ! " 

In April, 1797, a county meeting was held in the 
open air, on the Castle Hill, in Norwich, which was 
attended by Coke and Lord Albemarle, and by repre- 
sentatives from most of the great Whig houses, when 
a petition was moved by Mr. Fellows praying His 
Majesty to dismiss his present Ministers as the most 
effectual means of reviving the national credit and 
restoring peace. This was almost universally adopted. 
Later in the year, Coke was warned that by thus con- 
tumaciously opposing those in power he was sacrificing 
his popularity. His reply was decisive : 

" I shall not hesitate in so doing," he wrote in the 
month of September; " those who are with us upon 

1 Hoadley, chaplain to the Regent. 


principle are not to be shaken ; those who are against 
us will do all the mischief they can whensoever an 
opportunity occurs. I was brought up to those 
sentiments to attach myself to my friends, and to 
disregard my enemies, and not to betray those who 
had placed confidence in me, by bargain and sale ! " 

Throughout that month Fox remained at Holkham. 
" Mr. Fox has been here since the commencement of 
the sporting season and stays till ye 6th or 7th of 
October," Coke wrote ; but when Parliament reas- 
sembled, Fox and Coke, in conjunction with Grey, 
Sheridan and Whitbread, absented themselves from 
the House. There was no hope, Coke agreed with 
Fox, of awakening the nation to a sense of its real 
condition, and all power of serving the country or his 
constituents by attendance in Parliament was rendered 
impossible, when the Minister, by undue influence, had 
secured for himself a majority which carried everything 
as he wished. 1 

On December 4th Pitt introduced a bill for trebling 
the amount of the Assessed Taxes. This appeared to 
Fox to call for strenuous opposition, and he wrote from 
town requesting Coke's attendance in the House. " If 
the increase of the Assessed Taxes should be as much 
disliked in Norfolk as it is here/' he suggested, " I think 
you ought to come up to give one vote against them. 
I shall come up for it, of course. The dislike to the 
measure here is very strong indeed, and nearly univer- 
sal. Thanks for your game last Friday ! " 

As a result of this letter, on the i4th of December, 
when the second reading of the Assessed Taxes Bill 

1 Diary and Correspondence of Charles Abbot, first Baron Colchester, 
ed. C. Lord Colchester (1861), Vol. I, p. 122. 


was to take place, Fox, Sheridan and Coke again made 
their appearance in the House. As they passed through 
the lobby, which was full of strangers, they were 
greeted by a great burst of applause and clapping of 
hands. Fox made a long speech ; but the Ayes on the 
motion for the second reading of the bill were 175 
against Noes 5O. 1 

Meanwhile the fear of invasion from abroad was 
hourly increasing throughout England. The alarm 
reached a climax in May, 1798, when Napoleon, 
keeping his destination a profound secret, prepared 
to sail with his troops from Toulon on the igth. 
Eventually it was discovered that he was intend- 
ing a campaign in Egypt, but the impression in 
England was that his designs were directed against 
this country, and while his preparations for depar- 
ture were going on in France, equally rapid prepara- 
tions were being made in England for his expected 
arrival. Piles of faggots were ready to be fired in 
warning of his approach by night, and red flags 
were sent to each parish to be hoisted on the church 
steeples as a signal of his approach by day. In many 
rural districts active steps were taken towards strength- 
ening the national means of defence ; and Coke, although 
at no time does he appear to have entertained fears of 
Napoleon's arrival in England, so far yielded to the 
general panic, that he approached his old friend the 
Prince of Wales, with a view to strengthening the means 
of defence on the Norfolk coast. 

By now a friendly footing had been re-established 

1 It was again debated in the Commons January, 1798, and finally 


between the Prince, Fox and Coke, for the space of 
about ten years. Annually the Prince had visited 
Holkham, even during the year of his unfortunate 
marriage ; and whatever opinion Coke entertained, 
privately, of the Prince's character, the Prince was the 
avowed friend of his party, and their outward relations 
were cordial. 

Thomas William Coke to the Prince of Wales. 
u S ir, "May 6th, 1798. 

" I hope your Royal Highness will excuse my 
Presumption in writing this letter, and if, in the request 
I am going to make, I trespass against the rules of 
etiquette, I entreat your Royal Highness to pardon 
my transgression, which must be ascribed to my 
entire ignorance in these respects. 

" Feeling eager to show my zeal in defence of my 
King and Country at this alarming crisis (however I 
may distrust Mr. Pitt and his measures, which have 
produced the dangers which threaten the British 
Empire), I think the best service I can render is by 
raising a Squadron of Horse, of the most respectable 
Yeomanry in this neighbourhood ; and I have to 
request your Royal Highness's permission that we 
may wear the colours of ye loth for our Uniform, and 
that your Royal Highness would have the Condescen- 
sion to order two soldiers from that Regiment to drill 
us ; and it shall be our study to show ourselves not 
undeserving these favours by our unremitting en- 
deavours to profit by their instructions, of which I 
hope your Royal Highness will have the opportunity 
of judging by honouring Holkham with your presence 
in the autumn. I have the satisfaction to assure your 
Royal Highness from every enquiry I have been able 
to make, all descriptions of people, from the biggest 
to the lowest, are equally zealous to exert their 
utmost powers to repel the French and to fight to 
the last gasp in defence of their King and Country. 


" Military operations are forming in every part of 
this County, the Merchants and inhabitants of Lynn 
and Wells are arming all their small craft as expe- 
ditiously as possible, which is a very wise measure, 
as the object is to prevent the landing of the enemy 
in such ships as they must make such an attempt in, 
with any prospect of success, on our flat shores. 

" I am happy to think an united people have little 
to fear from an invading foe, and I freely confess that 
the hourly increase of the National Debt till the 
blessings of Peace shall be restored, and the deplor- 
able condition of Ireland, are more serious objects of 
terror to me than all the menaces of the French 
Directory. That every happiness may attend and 
every evil be averted from your Royal Highness and 
your Posterity is the fervent prayer of 


"Your Royal Highness's much attached servant, 

Apparently, all imminent fear of Napoleon's advent 
having been set at rest by the discovery that Egypt was 
his present destination, a certain delay occurred before 
the Prince was able to comply with Coke's request, and 
another letter from Coke must have urged its fulfilment, 
occasioning the following correspondence from the 
Prince : 

H.R.H. the Prince of Wales to Thomas William Coke. 

" CARLTON HOUSE, July i2th, 1798. 
"My dear Coke, 

"I this morning received your letter, and 
immediately take up my pen to answer it by return 
of Post. I assure you I have neither been forgetful 
nor neglectful as to my not having already sent you 
a Sergeant to drill and to instruct your Corps ; but 
the sudden order for the march of my Regiment and 

I. 2 F 


for the immediate change of our Quarters, together 
with the order for our being reviewed by the King, 
and which is to take place at so early a period as To- 
morrow Se'nnight, has entirely prevented my already 
forestalling your wishes ; I have found you a Sergeant, 
whom I will forward to Holkham as soon as pos- 
sible after the Review; besides being a good Sergeant, 
he happens to be one of our best Rough Riders, 
and consequently perfectly acquainted with the mode 
of treating the Horses, as well as drilling the Men 
just as they ought to be for Squadron duty. His 
name is Holtham, and I think when you see him you 
will be of opinion that I do not starve the Regiment. 
"I beg my very best compliments and kindest 
remembrance to Mrs. Coke, and am, dear Coke, 

" Ever very sincerely yours, 

" GEORGE, P." 

" P.S. I hope you have a good prospect of sport, 
and that the Wet will not effect [sic] the Birds, in 
which I confess I am not a little selfish." 

In July, Coke was appointed Major Commandant of 
the Holkham Yeoman Cavalry, and on the 23rd the 
Prince wrote to him again, still ignoring all the press- 
ing questions of national import, but dwelling with 
keen anxiety on the problem whether the Sergeant he 
was sending to Holkham, would or would not indulge 
in a failing to which his Royal Master was unquestion- 
ably addicted. 

' < My dear Coke, 

" Our Review was over last Friday, and 
Yesterday I ordered Sergeant Holtham up to town, 
to take his departure by this evening's stage for 
Holkham. I think he will not disgrace the Regi- 
ment, and that he will be diligent and conduct 
himself so as to recommend himself to your pro- 


tection ; he is honest, and good-tempered, but apt 
now and then to drink more than he should do, and 
when intoxicated he forgets himself entirely ; should 
this happen, it is best not to say anything to him till 
he comes to himself, and then no man can be more 
sensible of his error than he is ; he has been per- 
fectly sober of late, but I think it but fair in recom- 
mending him to you to state all I know of him to you. 
Should he, which I flatter myself will be the case, 
conduct himself quite to your satisfaction, perhaps 
you may find the means of procuring him in the 
country some permanent situation for the rest of his 
Life, in which case I could give him his discharge, 
as I have done by one, Sergeant Taylor, whom I lent 
to Lord Egremont, and for whom he has procured a 
permanent situation for Life in his Yeomanry Corps. 
Should Holtham conduct himself unworthily, I beg 
you will make no scruple in writing to me, and I will 
instantly order him back to the Regiment Bat n . I 
really believe him to be an excellent fellow, and that 
he is perfectly suited to what you want of him. 

" In short, my dear Coke, it shall not be my fault, 
if from the advice I have given, he is not every- 
thing he ought to be. My sincere wishes are that he 
may please, and when I have the pleasure of paying 
you a visit to Holkham in October, or November, I 
may have occuler [sic] demonstration of his having 
done his duty by the forwardness in which I shall find 
your Men and Tenants. 

" I beg my best compliments to Mrs. Coke, and to 
Ralph, should he be with you, and am at all times, 
my dear Coke, ever your sincere Friend, 

" GEORGE, P." 

Ralph Button, Mrs. Coke's brother, to whom the 
Prince desired to be remembered, was a great favourite 
with His Royal Highness. His marriage was an 
unusual romance, and occasioned considerable amuse- 
ment amongst his relations. His nephew, Lord Sher- 

borne's eldest son, fell in love with a beautiful Miss 
Honor Gubbins, whom he met at Bath. She was of 
good family, but poor, and his parents were anxious 
that he should marry an heiress, Miss Legge. Ralph 
Button was therefore deputed to go to Bath and 
reason with his erring nephew. He did so, but himself 
fell in love with the beautiful Honor Gubbins, whom he 
married ; thus effectually ending his nephew's romance ; 
so that the unfortunate youth had to return home and 
marry Miss Legge, his parents' choice. 

Ralph, who was constantly at Holkham, both before 
and after his marriage, appears to have been there in 
1798, when the Prince paid his visit ; and it was on this 
occasion that a funny incident occurred. 

Staying in the house at Holkham, in order to 
examine some of the historical works, was a venerable 
Professor. A great historian and bookworm, he had 
never had a gun in his hand in his life ; yet when 
he saw the rest of the party setting off cheerfully 
for a day in the covert, he so visibly regretted re- 
maining behind, that Coke, with his customary good 
nature, urged him to accompany them. Arrived at 
their destination, however, Coke took the precaution to 
place his learned guest at a corner of the covert where 
he believed the other sportsmen would be well out 
of his reach. During the course of the morning he 
heard a most valiant and continuous firing from this 
portion of the ground, and at length becoming exceed- 
ingly curious to know its result, he made his way back 
to the Professor. "Well, what sport?" he inquired. 
" You have been firing pretty frequently ! " " Hush ! " 
exclaimed the Professor excitedly ; " there it goes 


again!" and he was in the act of raising his gun to his 
shoulder to fire, when a man walked very quietly from 
the bushes about seventy yards in front of him. It was 
one of the beaters who had been set to stop the phea- 
sants, and his leather gaiters, dimly seen through the 
bushes, had been mistaken for a hare by the Professor, 
who, much surprised at the animal's extraordinary 
tenacity of life, had been firing at it whenever he saw it 
move. But and it was this fact which, needless to 
say, roused the hilarity of the assembled sportsmen 
not once had the beater discovered that the Professor 
was shooting at him ! 

Fox, who might possibly, for personal reasons, have 
seen less humour in the incident, was not present on 
this occasion. His hand had been injured by the 
bursting of his own gun when out shooting, and he 
wrote regretfully that he could not come to Holkham 
that autumn : 

" The doctors apprehend that there is yet more bone 
to come away from my hand, so that, for this year, 
I fear Norfolk is out of the question." 

In a later letter he says : 

"A Gentleman, a neighbour of mine, who was 
speaking with me last Wednesday, had a double- 
barrelled Gun burst in his hand, so that double-barrels 
are more decried here than ever." 

Two years later, Coke had sad reason to endorse 
Fox's opinion respecting the danger of what was then 
considered the new-fangled double-barrelled gun. 

The year 1799 appears to have passed unevent- 
fully. The only record of it relates to a visit paid by 

Coke in the month of June to Woburn, where the Duke 
of Bedford had for some time emulated Coke's example 
and established an agricultural meeting on the same 
pattern as that first instituted at Holkham. 1 On this 
occasion there took place a great dispute respecting the 
rival merits of the New Leicester and the Southdown 
sheep, and Coke created some excitement by offering 
the Leicestershire Society a bet of 500 that he would 
stock one hundred acres with Southdown wethers, 
against another hundred acres to be stocked by the 
New Leicester breeders. This offer was, no doubt 
wisely, declined by the New Leicester champions, so 
that the Leicester sheep were considered to have 
received a severe blow to their reputation, which was 
further augmented when Coke gave the Duke one hun- 
dred and fifty guineas for a Southdown ram. 2 Coke's 
own Sheep-shearing at Holkham took place the follow- 
ing week, and was succeeded in the autumn as usual 
by a series of shooting parties. Coke had given up 
keeping foxhounds in 1797, when Jones the huntsman 
had been made head of the stables ; but he continued 
as keen a shot as ever, and there was seldom a week 
during the autumn and winter months when his house 
was not filled with energetic sportsmen. 

1 It has been stated that the Sheep-shearing took place alternately at 
Holkham and at Woburn ; but for forty-three years, during- the years from 
1778 to 1821, there appears to be no break in the annual meetings held 
at Holkham. By 1813 the Woburn Sheep-shearings were given up on 
account of the expense (see Brougham's Life and Times, Vol. II, p. 79), 
but the Duke would not state the true reason, and his popularity suffered 
in consequence. In the print of the "Woburn Sheep-shearing" published 
by Garrard in 1811, reproduced in Vol. II, Coke is represented convers- 
ing with Sir Joseph Banks, Sir John Sinclair and Arthur Young, while 
Professor Davy is standing in a listening attitude behind him. 

2 The London Chronicle for 1804, July 3rd~5th. 


In January, 1800, a large party, who had assem- 
bled at Holkham for the New Year, were invited to 
prolong their stay for the series of ' shoots ' which took 
place during that month ; and of the number who thus 
remained were Lord and Lady Andover and Mr. and 
Mrs. Anson. The latter had brought their children 
with them, who were in the nursery with their small 
aunt, Eliza Coke ; but Lord and Lady Andover, 
although they had been married about four years, were 
still childless. They were, however, a most devoted 
couple : both young, clever and congenial in all their 
tastes, their marriage had been one of unclouded 
happiness and affection, and they were so absorbed in 
each other's society that they were still like bride and 

On January 8th it had been arranged that the 
shooters were to start early for their day's sport ; and 
although there was a sea-fog that morning, it was not 
sufficiently bad for them to alter their programme. At 
breakfast, however, Lord Andover announced that he 
had given up his previous intention of going with them, 
and meant to remain at home. Being pressed for an 
explanation of his change of plans, he at length 
admitted that his wife had had an unpleasant dream 
about him the night before, and was feeling so nervous 
that he had decided to spend the day with her. 

Lady Andover was well known by her family to have 
the most extraordinary gift of foreseeing events in her 
dreams ; so much so, that her relations used to beg her 
not to relate anything she had dreamed because they 
dreaded its fulfilment. But on the present occasion, 
curiosity was roused, and every one at the table was 


anxious to hear full particulars, until at length Lady 
Andover related how she had dreamt that while her 
husband was with the shooters his gun exploded and 
he was killed. All present listened to and commented 
upon the story ; some, naturally, made light of it, and 
urged Lord Andover not to lose a day's sport for such 
an absurd reason ; but he would not be persuaded, and 
after breakfast the shooters went off without him. 

He and Lady Andover thereupon went to the Land- 
scape Room, where they spent an hour or more very 
happily, she working at a copy she was painting of a 
Poussin, and he reading Shakespeare aloud to her. By 
and by the fog cleared off, and it came out a most 
glorious day. Then her heart smote her for persuading 
Lord Andover to stay indoors on such a lovely morn- 
ing, and she felt as though she were being very selfish. 
In a fit of compunction she begged him to go out 
shooting, assuring him that she no longer felt nervous, 
and would think no more about her unpleasant dream. 
He hesitated, but at last admitted that it seemed a pity 
to lose a day's sport, and said : " If you will promise 
me that you really will not be nervous, I should very 
much like to go." She reiterated that she was no 
longer nervous, and with this assurance he left her. 
No sooner, however, had he gone, than she bitterly 
regretted what she had done ; all her fears returned, and 
in a few minutes, unable to control her forebodings, 
she rushed after him, hoping to stop him and bring 
him back. 

She was, unfortunately, too late ; Lord Andover had 
already started, and rode away from Holkham never to 
return. Accompanied by one servant, he went towards 


the farm at South Creake, about five miles from Hoik- 
ham. Arrived there, he put up the horses, and walked 
on a mile farther with his servant to a common where 
birds were usually plentiful. Probably he hoped to 
fall in with the rest of the party, but he did not do so. 
About 1.30 the dogs pointed, and he went towards 
them, cocking his double-barrelled gun ; but one of 
them sprang at the birds, and, wishing to correct the 
animal, he called it to him, handing his gun, ready 
cocked, to his man who was behind him. Just as he 
was stooping to catch the dog, by some unhappy acci- 
dent the gun which his man was holding went off, and 
lodged its whole contents in Lord Andover's back near 
the shoulder. 1 

He fell instantly, and bled profusely. Convinced 
that he was dying, he refused to allow the servant to 
leave him and go for help. The horror of the scene 
can be imagined, and it was increased by the intense 
loneliness of the spot where the accident happened. 
The common was a mile from the nearest house, not a 
human being was within sight or call, while the un- 
fortunate servant was literally beside himself with terror 
and distress. It soon became evident that the shot 
must have penetrated the vertebras of Lord Andover's 
spine, probably in an oblique direction, as the lower 
extremities became paralysed. At last, being in great 
suffering, which was intensified by the extreme cold, 
he consented that the man should go for assistance. 
The latter took off his own coat with which to cover 
his master, and leaving him lying helpless upon the 

1 One account relates that the servant was on horseback, and the 
horse suddenly swerved. 

ground and apparently fast bleeding to death, ran like 
a madman back to the farm. After as little delay as 
was possible, he returned with the farmer in a one- 
horsed chaise. They found Lord Andover was still 
alive, and lifted him with difficulty into the bottom of 
the chaise, where he lay, supported by the farmer. 
The motion of driving over the rough road increased 
his bleeding, and they feared he would not live to reach 
the farm. His brain was quite clear, meanwhile, and 
his one anxiety was that no blame should be attached 
to his unfortunate servant. As they moved slowly on 
their way he begged repeatedly that every one would 
be kind to the man and comfort him. " If I die before 
the family arrive from Holkham," he said, " they are to 
be told this was my great wish." 

The farm was reached at last, but Lord Andover 
could not bear the pain of being carried upstairs, so a 
bed was arranged for him in the parlour ; and even 
when the terrible faintness somewhat diminished, he re- 
fused to allow himself to be moved, for fear he should 
bleed to death before his wife could arrive. The 
servant had been dispatched to Holkham with all haste 
to take the news, and to tell Lady Andover and the 
family to come without delay. 

Lady Andover, meanwhile, had been passing a 
time of wretched disquietude ; and at length, unable 
to bear the suspense any longer, she dressed and went 
out, hoping to meet Lord Andover returning home, or 
possibly to hear the sounds of shooting which might 
enable her to find him. It was a beautiful afternoon, 
and she cut across the crisp grass in the park, walking 
quickly, and listening as she went for the report of 


guns in the still air. Suddenly she heard a clatter of 
horse's hoofs approaching at full speed up the drive, 
and turning, she saw the servant on her favourite 
horse, Baroness, galloping madly towards the house. 
Her first thought was: " How angry Lord Andover 
would be if he could see that man riding Baroness in 
such a manner " ; her next was : " Something has hap- 
pened!" As the man caught sight of her he turned 
his horse, and coming towards her, he cried out: "I 
have killed my lord ! the kindest and best master that 
ever lived ! ' u 

In an extraordinarily short space of time Lady 
Andover had reached the farm, where the rest of the 
family followed later. She found Lord Andover lying 
in the state the servant had described to her, and he 
greeted her with the words : " Dear, your dream has 
come true ! " From the first the doctors pronounced 
his case to be hopeless, the shot having penetrated one 
lung. Yet his voice was strong and his mind remained 
clear to the last, while he met his fate with unflinching 
courage. He repeatedly begged the people of the 
house to pray for, and with him. He lingered from 
1.30 on Wednesday 8th, when the accident happened, 
till about the same hour on Friday ioth. 2 Lady 
Andover never left his bedside, and he died in her 
arms. He was only twenty-four at the time of his 
death, she being thus left a widow at twenty-three ; 
and the tragedy was heightened by the fact of their 
intense devotion to each other. It is said that in her 
great grief Lady Andover's beauty was intensified. 

1 Gentleman s Magazine (1800), Vol. I, p. 94. 

2 One account says he lingered till the I2th. 


She is reported to have possessed the rare gift of being 
able to weep without any facial disfigurement ; the 
large tears used to well slowly in her beautiful eyes, 
and fall, without causing any of the unbecoming 
symptoms in which weeping usually results, so that 
her distress only enhanced her loveliness. 

The body was put in a coffin on the i2th, and was 
subsequently removed in a coach-and-six to Tittleshall 
for burial on the 2Oth. It was borne to the vault by 
sixteen tenants, specially selected by Coke ; but it 
was placed in the opposite part of the vault to that 
occupied by members of the Coke family. It seems 
curious that it should not have been taken to Lord An- 
dover's home for burial, and a strange notice in the 
Gentleman's Magazine states that ' ' his father was not 
anxious to convey the corpse to Wiltshire, his only 
request was that it should be privately and respectably 

As to the unfortunate man who had caused the 
disaster, he wandered about for days, refusing all con- 
solation, and it was feared that he would go out of his 
mind ; but, as Lord Andover had requested, he met 
with nothing save kindness from the family at Hoik- 
ham, and was never blamed for the sorrow he had so 
unwittingly caused. 

But the note of tragedy with which this year of 1800 
had been ushered in was destined to be prolonged. 

Only three months after Lord Andover's death, we 
learn that Mrs. Coke was seriously ill. Of what this 
illness consisted there is now no record, but on April 
23rd Windham mentions in his diary how he was 
writing to Coke: " Who I am afraid is ill, as Mrs. 


Coke is, dangerously." Later, apparently, she went 
to Bath for her health, and there she died on June 2nd, 
at the age of forty-seven. Again, Windham happens 
to chronicle the event. He arrived at Bath on the day 
of her death, and wrote to Mrs. Crewe the following 
day: " As if all were to be melancholy on our arrival 
here, the answer I received upon a message sent to 
inquire [at the hotel] after Mrs. Coke was that she had 
died a few hours before. . . . This loss . . . involves 
in it much that one had been in the habit of contem- 
plating with satisfaction, and from which, at different 
times, part of my own happiness had been derived." 1 

In the papers we read that, a fortnight later, on 
June i6th, the funeral took place at Tittleshall "of the 
virtuous and most beloved wife of Mr. Coke, the body 
having been brought by slow stages from Bath." Lord 
Sherborne, her brother, and Tom Anson, her son-in- 
law, are mentioned as being present at the vault, where, 
less than six months before, the body of her other 
son-in-law had been laid to rest. 

With her perished the companionship, the sympathy 
and the affection which had been the mainstay of Coke's 
happiness during the best years of his life. In his first 
romantic, boyish love for the beautiful Jane Button, his 
judgment had not been at fault. That she was a woman 
of exceptional charm and superior intellect we have 
seen ; that she proved a wife who could enter into his 
temperament, further his schemes and promote his 
interests both socially and in the world of active 
labour in which his soul delighted we have also had 
evidence. That she never lived to reap, with him, the 

1 Windham s Diary, pp. 426-7. 

just measure of his reward in the full comprehension 
and gratitude of his generation is to be regretted ; so 
also is it to be regretted that, her personality being 
what it was, the only records of it which have survived 
are scanty and unsatisfying. Compared, indeed, with 
what is known of other lives of a date no more remote, 
her entire existence, like the record of her early years 
at Holkham, remains almost legendary ; while of more 
intimate little personal relics, two only appear to be 
preserved. One of these is a letter in doggerel verses 
written by her to her sister when a child, which is kept 
at Sherborne ; and the other, a long thick lock of hair, 
found at Cannon Hall 1 hair whose gold is still of a 
wonderful hue and brilliancy, although the head on 
which it once grew has been lying in the grave for over 
a century. 

But the pictures which remain to perpetuate her 
beauty are three in number. One, the picture by 
Zoffany, at Sherborne, already referred to, a portrait 
of her in the proud, somewhat cold loveliness of her 
girlhood ; another, a pastel at Cannon Hall, which 
has all the grace of a Reynolds, a portrait of her as 
a young matron, more stately than in her girlhood 
days, more radiant in beauty and happiness ; with 
powdered curls framing her charming face, and a fichu 
which leaves revealed her beautiful neck and arms, while 
beside her, in quaint, white dresses down to their heels, 
are her two children, Jane and Ann. 2 The third por- 
trait is by Barber, and belongs to a far later date. In 

1 The Yorkshire seat of Sir Walter Spencer Stanhope, K.C.B. 

2 This portrait, and also that of Lady Hunlpke, reproduced in the 
present volume, are said to have been painted by a French artist, whose 
name is now lost ; but many believe them to be by Sir Joshua Reynolds. 

* ^ 



it, the powdered locks are replaced by hair which is 
turning a natural grey, the brilliancy of her complexion 
is gone ; she looks older, more pale, more grave, but 
still we see the same sweetness of expression, the same 
delicacy of feature, the same winning grace ; and so 
she smiles at us across the century a charming, 
gracious presence, a true woman, a fitting mate of the 
man whom she married. 

Dr. Parr, who considered that no greater honour 
could befall any man than that he should compose an 
epitaph on that man's decease, wrote an epitaph on the 
death of Mrs. Coke, which is described in his Life as 
the best ever written by him. The original appears to 
be lost, but Dr. Parr forwarded it to Fox, who, on 
December 23rd, 1801, replied: 

" I received a few days since your letter with its 
enclosure. I do assure you without compliment we 
admire the epitaph to the greatest degree. Words 
could not have been more happily chosen to describe 
a pious and domestic woman with a cultivated under- 
standing and an affectionate heart " ; and he proceeds 
to criticise with great care and thought, whether each 
word and phrase is strictly appropriate. " Perhaps," 
he concludes his long letter apologetically, "my 
general taste leads me rather to feel faults of this 
side too nicely, and to overlook proportionately those 
of negligence or carelessness. You see I criticise 
freely, and always expect my friends to do the same 
by me ! " 

But the epitaph which was put up to Mrs. Coke's 
memory in the church at Tittleshall where she was 
buried, in its touching simplicity and the quiet sorrow 


which it reveals, appears to have been written by 
Coke himself. And even making allowance for the 
flattering nature of epitaphs at that period, it contains 
a very just estimate of a character which charmed all 
who came in contact with it. 


of Jane, Wife of Thomas William Coke Esquire of Holkham 
in the County of Norfolk, and daughter of James Lennox Button Esquire 

of Shireborne in the County of Gloucester. 
She was born at Shireborne November 2gth 1753, and was married there October 25th 1775 

and died at Bath June 2d 1800, leaving three daughters. Jane Elizabeth, 

widow of Charles Nevison, Viscount Andover, eldest son of the Earl of Suffolk, 

Anne Margaret, wife of Thomas Anson Esquire of Shugborough in the 

County of Stafford. And Elizabeth Wilhelmina Coke. 

Munificent without profusion and charitable without ostentation ; 

Calm and unassuming in the ordinary offices of social life. But inflexible 

and unwearied in the discharge of all its nobler and more arduous duties, 

Mrs. Coke deserved and obtained the love of equals, the respect of inferiors 

the attachment of domestics, the gratitude of the poor, the unfeigned esteem 

of every acquaintance, and the steady confidence of every friend : 

Her reverence towards God was accompanied by such benevolence towards mankind 

that religion seemed to reside in the sanctuary of her heart ; and saintly were 

the virtues which adorned her conjugal and parental character. 

He, by whom this monument is erected, will never cease to revere her memory 

and it is the fervent wish of his soul, that, by endeavouring to imitate her example 

himself and his children may become worthy to meet her again at the last day, 

and be partakers with her of the glory which shall be revealed 

to the spirits of just men made perfect. 

Above this, Coke caused a most beautiful monument 
to be erected, the execution of which was entrusted to 
Nollekens at a cost of 3000. Its composition and 
workmanship are exceptionally fine, and it has a special 
interest, since the principal figure is at once a statue 
of Mrs. Coke and of Lady Andover. The latter was 
pronounced by Nollekens as by others to be the 
living representation of Mrs. Coke, and since he could 
not wish for a more exact model, she consented, during 
the first sad months of her own widowhood, to sit for the 
statue of her dead mother. To this must be attributed 


a certain wistful sadness which has crept into the face 
of the figure, as she stands with gaze upraised towards 
a hovering angel, while Love, seated at her feet, holds 
up a flaming heart. The pose of the statue is beautiful 
and lifelike, and the lovely upturned face, with its 
small, exquisite features, is the face of Jane Dutton in 
the days of her girlhood. 

Coke was thus left alone with his youngest daughter, 
Eliza, who was at this time just five years old. She 
forthwith became the object of his tenderest care, as 
she remained throughout his life that of his deepest 
affection. " My beloved daughter, the comfort of my 
life," he calls her in 1809, when writing to Dr. Parr. 
She was, however, brought up on the same system as 
her sisters had been, that of a complete absence of 
luxury, of simple food and hardy habits ; until, at the 
age of eighteen, she left the schoolroom to become 
mistress of Holkham. 


UST DEC 1 \95t 



Stirling, Anna Mtria Di*-;n& 
llhelmina Dickering) 

Coke of Norfolk and his