John Cooke (prosecutor)

John Cooke (prosecutor)

John Cooke (1608 – 16 October 1660 ) (sometimes spelt John Cook) was the first Solicitor General of the English Commonwealth and led the prosecution of Charles I. Following the English Restoration, Cooke was convicted of regicide and hanged, drawn and quartered on 16 October 1660.


John Cooke was the son of Leicestershire farmers Isaac and Elizabeth Cooke who had their farm just outside Burbage; John was baptised on 18 September 1608 in the All Saints church in Husbands Bosworth, just south of Leicester. He was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, and at Gray's Inn. Cooke and his wife Frances had a son (name unknown) and a daughter, Freelove, who was still a baby in 1660 when Cooke was executed. Prior to his appointment as prosecutor, he had established a reputation as a radical lawyer and an Independent.

In a 2005 biography of Cooke, Geoffrey Robertson argued that Cooke was a highly original and progressive lawyer: while representing John Lilburne he established the right to silence and was the first to advocate many radical reforms in law, including the "cab rank" rule of advocacy, the abolition of imprisonment for debt and courtroom Latin, fusion of law and equity and restrictions on the use of the death penalty. He was also the first to argue that poverty was a cause of crime and to urge probation for those who stole to feed starving families; he originated the duty to act free of charge for those who could not afford it.

Although he was not fundamentally anti-monarchist, he was forced to this stance when Charles refused to recognise the legality of the court or answer the charges of tyranny against him. Robertson says that Cooke bravely accepted his fate at the Restoration when many others compromised with the new regime.

The idea of trying a king was a novel one; previous monarchs had been deposed, but had never been brought to trial as monarchs. The High Court of Justice established by the Act consisted of 135 Commissioners (all firm Parliamentarians); the prosecution was led by Cooke.

His trial on charges of high treason and "other high crimes" began on 20 January 1649, but Charles refused to enter a plea, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch.cite book
last = Robertson
first = Geoffrey
authorlink = Geoffrey Robertson
title = Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice
origdate =
origyear =
origmonth =
edition = 2nd ed.
year = 2002
publisher = Penguin Books
isbn = 978-0141010144
pages = p.5
chapter = Chapter 1 The Human Rights Story
] When Cooke began to read the indictment, Charles I tried to stop him using the poke of his cane. The ornate silver tip of the cane fell off and Cook refused to pick it up. After a long pause, King Charles I stooped to retrieve it. This is considered an important moment that may symbolize the divine monarch bowing before the human law.

As a regicide, Cooke was exempted after the Restoration of Charles II from the Indemnity and Oblivion Act which indemnified most opponents of the Monarchy for crimes they might have committed during the Interregnum (1649–1660). John Cook was tried and found guilty of high treason for his part in the trial of Charles I. He was hanged, drawn and quartered with the radical preacher Hugh Peters and another of the regicides on 16 October 1660.

Shortly before his death, Cooke wrote to a friend: "We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation, if the nation had not more delighted in servitude than in freedom."

The journalist, historian and anti-Corn Law propagandist William Cooke Taylor (1800–49) claimed descent from Cooke.The Gentleman's Magazine, 1850, p94–6.]


Further reading

*cite book
last = Robertson
first = Geoffrey
authorlink = Geoffrey Robertson
title = The Tyrannicide Brief
year = 2006
publisher = Chatto & Windus / Vintage
isbn = 9780099459194

* Patrick Maume (ed.) William Cooke Taylor in "Memoirs of Daniel O'Connell" (University College Dublin Press reprint, 2004)

External links

* [ Biography of Cook] British Civil Wars website

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