Bridget Coke 1598
  Bridget Coke 1598  
Name Bridget Coke 1598
Date 1598 - 1598
Gender Female
Bridget Coke (née Paston) who died in 1598 aged 33 years is commemorated in an alabaster monument with a kneeling figure of the deceased and figures of her children against the base (Good, 2004; Pevsner and Wilson, 1999, 734). She was Sir Edward Coke's (1552-1634) first wife although he was not knighted until after her death (Hill, 2007, 2). There are eight kneeling weepers below her effigy (NMR, 2008).


Although little is known about Bridget, her husband's career serves to shed light on her status. Sir Edward, lawyer, legal writer and politician, was born on 1 February 1552 at Mileham, Norfolk, the only surviving son of Robert Coke (1513-1561), lawyer and landowner of Mileham, and his wife Winifred (d.1569), daughter of William Knightley of Norwich. Coke’s family were minor gentry. The only boy among seven sisters, Edward was educated at the grammar school in Norwich and Trinity College, Cambridge, which he left in 1570 without taking a degree. When Coke set off for London, it is said that he left with the horse on which he rode, £10 in his pocket, a rapier, and a diamond ring inscribed "O prepare". He immediately enrolled in an inn of chancery, moving to Inner Temple in 1572. He began to make a name for himself in debates even as a student. He was called to the bar on 20 April 1578, and almost at once brought himself acclaim with a series of brilliant defences. During the 1580s and 1590s, Coke became one of the most prominent lawyers in England. To browse through any volume of Elizabethan law cases is to find Coke representing a broad range of clients: country gentlemen, acquisitive parsons, Roman Catholic exiles, puritan dissidents, cockney publicans and City haberdashers, duelists, forgers and burglars. The Howard family, struggling after the attainder of Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk, were important clients; others included the family of the financier Sir Thomas Gresham and the sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon. Coke argued successfully many of the great cases to come before the bar during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I and these helped refine legal doctrine. Coke owed something of his success to his growing status (Boyer, 2008).


He married Bridget (1565-1598), daughter of John Paston of Suffolk, on 13 August 1582. It is rumoured that this connection brought a dowry of £30,000 and substantial amounts of property. Coke became a notable figure in Norfolk’s emerging county community – though local politics became more volatile in the wake of the collapse of the Howard family and the growing conflict among the gentry leaders. He was appointed JP for Norfolk in 1586 and for Suffolk and Middlesex by 1593. He was appointed recorder of Coventry in 1585, Norwich in 1586, London in 1591-2, Orford in 1593, and Harwich by 1604, the year after he was knighted (Boyer, 2008).


But it was Coke’s twelve years as attorney-general that were his most profitable. He was known for the major treason cases – he prosecuted Sir Walter Ralegh and Essex among others – but it was the mundane and routine legal work that brought him wealth. As attorney-general, he collected fees for processing certain transactions, and it is said that in the 1590s, his income rose from £100 per annum to £12,000 per annum, a figure comparable to the wealthiest men in England. In 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth, Coke advised "every man of estate (right or wrong) to sue-out a pardon" from the incoming monarch. With a fee of £5 for processing each pardon, Coke was said to have gained £100,000 that year (Dick, 1987, 162) – though that may be an exaggeration (Boyer, 2008).


Bridget Coke's garments:

Wired hair; headdress consisting of coif, stiffened cap with jewelled billament and veil hanging behind; large closed ruff; placard; gown with (possibly separate) sleeves and train falling from shoulders; girdle holds gown tight to body and follows bottom edge of placard; petticoat with forward-tilted stiff farthingale.



Boyer, A (2004) "Coke, Sir Edward (1552–1634)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press at www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/5826, (accessed 6 Feb 2008)


Dick, O (1987) Aubrey’s Brief Lives, Secker & Warburg


Good, M (2004) The Buildings of England Database, Oxford: Oxford University Press


Hassall, W - ed (1950) A catalogue of the library of Sir Edward Coke, New Haven, Conn


Hills, N (2007) St Mary the Virgin, Tittleshall: The Coke memorials, Tittleshall Parochial Church Council


Knott, S (2005), www.norfolkchurches.co.uk


Lewis, S (1848) A Topographical Dictionary of England, 362-366 at URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=51346 (accessed: 23 January 2008) at British History online, Institute of Historical Research,www.british-history.ac.uk


National Monuments Record (English Heritage), Images of England, (www.imagesofengland.org.uk), accessed 14 February 2008.


Pevsner, N & Wilson, B (1999) Norfolk 2: North-West and South, London: Penguin

Location St Mary's Church
Church Road
PE32 2RJ