I’m finally getting around to another of those books I’ve been wanting to read for decades, The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke by Catherine Drinker Bowen. I’ve just started it and already found a Latin tag I have to pass along, at the end of this passage about Coke’s appointment by Elizabeth as Speaker of the Commons in 1593:
The Speaker was responsible for procedure. And none knew better than Coke that in Parliament as in the law courts, procedure was vitally important to the liberties of the electorate. When a bill came to the vote, how were the voices counted? Should the Noes keep their seats during the count, and had the Speaker himself a vote? Small matters, but they could make the difference between freedom and tyranny, between an independent Commons and a Commons controlled by faction or by clique. In the previous Parliament (1589), Coke, sitting as Burgess from Aldeburgh in Suffolk, had noted these things, noted also how the Speaker’s attitude and bearing affected every corner of the House. He had acquired a rare and helpful little book, still in manuscript. Modus Tenendi Parliamentum, it was called; The Manner of Holding Parliaments. It would be convenient to have at hand during sessions. And though Coke considered it more ancient than it later proved to be, its rules were clear and explicit. In such matters men prefer the authority of print. Coke himself confessed to the scholar’s adage of non lego non credo — if I don’t read it I don’t believe it.
Like so many of my favorite books, it tosses out eye-opening nuggets almost as asides: “In pre-Tudor days it had been looked on as a calamity to be sent to Parliament. To leave one’s farm or shop or tavern and ride halfway across England, merely to vote a tax against one’s community — what was gained but tired buttocks and an empty purse? … Two knights from Oxfordshire fled the country on hearing of their election. Torrington in Devon managed to secure by charter perpetual exemption from representation in all Parliaments henceforth.” Quite a leap to “No taxation without representation”! (By the way, in case you didn’t know, Coke is pronounced “cook.”)