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John Cook (1608 - 1660) prosecutor of Charles I

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 20, 2017 7:47 am    Post subject: John Cook (1608 - 1660) prosecutor of Charles I Reply with quote


John Cook (1608 – 16 October 1660) was the first Solicitor General of the English Commonwealth and led the prosecution of Charles I. Following the English Restoration, Cook was convicted of regicide and hanged, drawn and quartered on 16 October 1660. ... Prior to his appointment as prosecutor, he had established a reputation as a radical lawyer and an Independent. ... " Mr. John Coke, late Chief Justice of Ireland, had in his younger years seen the best part of Europe ... after which he returned to England and applied himself to the study of laws; and in that profession became so considerable, that he was appointed by the High Court of Justice to be their solicitor at the King's trial. [ Edmund Ludlow ] ...

... In a 2005 biography of Cook, Geoffrey Robertson argued that Cook 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, courtroom Latin, fusion of law and equity and restrictions on the use of the death penalty. Cook was among 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 writes that Cook 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 ;) Cook accepted the brief to lead the prosecution. ...

... As a regicide, Cook 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 Civil War and Interregnum (1642–1660) ... 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, Cook wrote to his wife:

" 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."



Date: Monday 27th October 2008
Venue: The Cube, Dove St. South off King Square.
Time: 7:30pm
Price: £3/4

The Tyrannicide Brief
Speaker: Geoffrey Robertson

Renowned human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC examines the first trial of a head of state - Charles I, and how this groundbreaking moment in history opened the way for the trials of Augusto Pinochet, Slobodan Milosevic, and Saddam Hussein.

Robertson became a barrister in 1973 and a QC in 1988. His became well known acting for the defence in the celebrated English criminal trials of Oz, Gay News, the 'ABC Trial', The Romans in Britain (the prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse), the Brighton bombing and Matrix Churchill. Robertson was also threatened by terrorists for representing Salman Rushdie. He has appeared in civil liberties cases before the European Court of Human Rights and in other courts across the world. He sits as an appeal judge at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. His latest book, The Tyrannicide Brief, details the story of John Cooke, who prosecuted King Charles I of England in the treason trial that led to his execution.

AUDIO OF LECTURE - http://www.brh.org.uk/audio/heads2008/robertson.mp3



The chief prosecutor at the King's trial and an active law reformer, John Cook was the son of a Leicestershire landowner and educated at Wadham College, Oxford, and Gray's Inn. Although called to the bar in 1631, Cook found it difficult to set up a practice in London. He was admitted to the King's Inns at Dublin in November 1634 and remained in Ireland for two years, where he was employed by Lord-Deputy Wentworth to prepare a printed version of the Irish Statutes. Cook then spent several years travelling on the Continent. ... By 1641, Cook had returned to London. He courageously spoke out in support of his former patron Strafford at the time of his impeachment and offered legal arguments for his defence. In 1646, he was counsel for John Lilburne in his attempt to gain compensation for his persecution by Star Chamber in the 1630s. Cook published several pamphlets advocating legal and social reforms. During the conflict between the New Model Army and Parliament of 1647, he was one of the few lawyers to side with the Army, writing pamphlets to justify the occupation of London and arguing that it was only through the Army that liberty of conscience and reform of the legal system were likely to be be secured. ...

... As a radical lawyer and committed Independent, Cook was an obvious choice for the role of chief prosecutor at the King's trial in January 1649. He drafted the indictment against the King. The speech that he prepared for the prosecution was not used because the King refused to plead, but it was published after his execution. Cook was also involved in the prosecution of the Duke of Hamilton, and that of his former client John Lilburne and other Leveller leaders. In August 1649, Cook accompanied Cromwell on his expedition to Ireland, and in March 1650 he took up an appointment as Chief Justice of Munster. Cook worked vigorously to implement reforms in Munster and succeeded in improving the legal system to the extent that Cromwell remarked that Cook decided more cases in a week than Westminster Hall did in a year. ... In February 1660, with the Restoration imminent, Cook was arrested by Sir Charles Coote and sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London. He was exempted from the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion and brought to trial as a regicide in October 1660. Cook skillfully conducted his own defence, but was inevitably found guilty of treason. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 16 October 1660. ...



My hero: John Cooke - Geoffrey Robertson - Saturday 23 April 2011

As Cromwell's solicitor general [ NOT TRUE : CROMWELL DID NOT GOVERN THE COMMONWEALTH ], he drafted the Act which abolished the monarchy. Then, for good measure, he abolished the House of Lords as 'useless and dangerous' ...

... My hero is a man who did his best and gave his life to stop England becoming the kind of nation it will be over the next week. John Cooke prosecuted Charles I. As Cromwell's solicitor general, he drafted the Act which abolished the monarchy ("the office of a king in this country is unnecessary, burdensome and dangerous to the liberty, safety and public interest of the people"). Then, for good measure, he abolished the House of Lords as "useless and dangerous". For these heroic acts of republican faith, he was disembowelled at the restoration. He was the son of a Leicestershire farmer. He defended "Freeborn John" Lilburne the Leveller, in a case that established the right to silence. Cooke was the visionary who first recognised poverty as a cause of crime, and was the first to suggest a national health service (in 1647) and abolition of imprisonment for debt (two centuries before Dickens). He proposed that barristers' fees should be controlled and they should do 10% of their work pro bono. ...

... When all the great lawyers fled from the Temple for fear of treason if they prosecuted the king, Cooke accepted the brief and mounted what became in effect the first war-crimes trial of a head of state. The "great lawyers" soon returned to frustrate Cooke's reforms, so he accepted Cromwell's offer to become chief justice of Ireland, where he speeded up proceedings and decided cases in favour of tenants rather than landlords. Come the restoration, however, he was arrested as a regicide, subjected to an outrageously rigged trial, and then hanged, drawn and quartered at Charing Cross. ... Cooke was a man of great courage and republican principle. In words worth remembering this week, he wrote to his wife from the Tower shortly before his execution: "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 delighted more in servitude than freedom."




To kill a king

Geoffrey Robertson impresses Michael Moorcock with his biography of the lawyer who prosecuted Charles I, The Tyrannicide Brief

... This extraordinarily good book refreshes that respect. The Tyrannicide Brief is about John Cooke, a heroic, conscientious, reforming lawyer, selected by parliament to prosecute the trial of Charles I. Until now royalists have tended to have the last word on Cooke, presenting him as an arriviste regicide, but Robertson, one of our very best contemporary QCs, restores his reputation and gives him his central place in English history. ... As presbyterians and others sought to impose their views on the nation, Cooke argued: "To force men to come to church is but to make them hypocrites" and "the sword has no capacity to settle religion". Cooke thought justice a moral rather than a religious virtue. He proposed a form of social security and NHS, as well as a national land registry so the condition of estates could be immediately checked, a right of silence, prison reform, poverty relief, liquor licensing, commercial law, labelling of medicines and much more. ...

... After parliament's defeat of the royalists, a general disgust for corrupt legal institutions led Cooke to write his first full-length book, demanding law reform to serve the interests of common justice, established by parliament, not the legal profession itself, and based on the best foundations of English law: "One of the saddest spectacles in peace is to see might overcome right - a poor man's righteous cause lost for want of money to follow it." Extensive law reform, he felt, would make an honest lawyer "a necessary member of the kingdom". He argued for legal aid, for uncorrupt judges, for use of plain English in court rather than Latin and French. ...

... His conscience, rooted in his faith, was to prove his downfall. In 1660, those who had supported Cromwell were swift to shift allegiance to Charles II on his restoration, turning against Cooke and in some cases appearing as prosecution witnesses at what Robertson shows to have been an unjust, vengeful trial that led to Cooke's conviction as a traitor and a regicide. Again under existing English law, being a commoner, his fate was to be hanged, drawn and quartered (which Robertson describes in suitably gruesome detail). Nonetheless he made a death at least as brave as Charles's and met his maker with a clear conscience, perhaps reconciled in the knowledge that he had made tyranny a crime and forever changed the course of our legal and constitutional history. ...



The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man who sent Charles I to the Scaffold - Geoffrey Robertson

Charles I waged civil wars that cost one in ten Englishmen their lives. But in 1649 parliament was hard put to find a lawyer with the skill and daring to prosecute a King who was above the law: in the end the man they briefed was the radical barrister, John Cooke.

Cooke was a plebeian, son of a poor farmer, but he had the courage to bring the King's trial to its dramatic conclusion: the English republic. Cromwell appointed him as a reforming Chief Justice in Ireland, but in 1660 he was dragged back to the Old Bailey, tried and brutally executed.

John Cooke was the bravest of barristers, who risked his own life to make tyranny a crime. He originated the right to silence, the 'cab rank' rule of advocacy and the duty to act free-of-charge for the poor. He conducted the first trial of a Head of State for waging war on his own people - a forerunner of the prosecutions of Pinochet, Miloševic and Saddam Hussein, and a lasting inspiration to the modern world.


see also -


The King's Revenge: Charles II and the Greatest Manhunt in British History - Michael Walsh and Don Jordan

When Charles I was executed, his son Charles II made it his role to search out retribution, producing the biggest manhunt Britain had ever seen, one that would span Europe and America and would last for thirty years. ... Men who had once been among the most powerful figures in England ended up on the scaffold, on the run, or in fear of the assassin's bullet. History has painted the regicides and their supporters as fanatical Puritans, but among them were remarkable men, including John Milton and Oliver Cromwell. Don Jordan and Michael Walsh bring these remarkable figures and this astonishing story vividly to life an engrossing, bloody tale of plots, spies, betrayal, fear and ambition.
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