The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man who sent Charles I to the Scaffold
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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.
lives of famished soldiers and townspeople, and had only accepted their belated surrender on terms that their men would be pardoned but they would be ‘rendered to mercy’. When the officers had enquired what this might mean, they were told – in writing that Fairfax exhibited in court – that it meant he would be entitled to put them immediately to the sword, although he proposed to leave their fate in the hands of Parliament. Fairfax’s attendance at court on 13 February, a fortnight after the
showers the winged tempests lead And pour the deluge o’er the chaos’ head.25 By the time the storm subsided, the Lord Protector was dead. For Marvell, who would guide the steps of the blind Milton at Cromwell’s funeral, it had been the tumult of the universe as his wasting spirit left the earth for heaven. A darker rumour, that the storm had been Satan returning to claim his soul, was credited by too many for his successor’s comfort. Like the hereditary monarch he had refused all entreaties to
Haselrig’s capitulation, the ‘Good Old Cause’ was good no longer – indeed it was bad for anyone who valued their life at more than tuppence. A few honourable men stayed and fought as best they knew how – Ludlow and Scot by standing for the new Parliament. Thomas Harrison refused all offers to flee abroad, being ‘so fully satisfied of the justice of his cause’ that he waited calmly at home for his arrest.26 Lambert, ingenious as ever, escaped from the Tower one night in early April, sliding down
ordered that Lane was to have immediate possession: 14 March 1661 (CSP, 262). 23. There are records from Barwell Parish, near Burbage, which show that Mary Cooke, a widow, married John Shenton in 1669 and died in 1679. John Cooke’s last letter to Freelove (extract p333) urged obedience to her mother and ‘thy loving uncle and aunt Massey’ (Speeches and Prayers, p75). In 1680 Elizabeth Massey of Northampton, by now a widow, made a will leaving a bequest to her niece Freelove, ‘now the wife of John
the last.33 Cooke accepted that justice was a moral rather than a religious virtue (‘No doubt there are many good justices amongst the infidels’) but he urged that all judges be selected for their learning, prudence and integrity. Courage was required in standing up to the King and if needs be to Parliament, but disaffected royalists could not be suffered on the bench. Charles I had been wary of Puritan judges, but they were least likely to take bribes or draw out proceedings in the hope that a