Edward Coke, 7th Earl of Leicester

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Lord Leicester's coat of arms

Edward Douglas Coke, 7th Earl of Leicester, CBE, DL (6 May 1936 – 25 April 2015),[1] styled Viscount Coke between 1976 and 1994, was an English nobleman. The Earl of Leicester was one of Norfolk's leading figures and played a key role in preserving and modernising the Holkham Estate over the last 40 years.[2]

Early life[edit]

Lord Leicester was the son of Anthony Coke, 6th Earl of Leicester, and Moyra Joan Crossley, Countess of Leicester. Born in 1936 in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where his father had settled as a young man, he spent much of his childhood on a remote farm in South Africa. His grandfather, a younger son of the 3rd Earl of Leicester, had been killed at Gallipoli a week after providing covering fire for the first troop landings, which took place a hundred years to the day before his grandson's death.

The Holkham Estate[edit]

By the 1960s it was clear that Edward was next in line to succeed to the Holkham Estate. At the age of 26 he came to England and settled in the Holkham area in 1965 in order to take up farming and familiarise himself with the estate.

By early 1973 he had taken over the management of the estate, which had become severely run down. Of the 300 houses on the estate only around 30 had bathrooms, the Hall was still heated by open fires and, as he later said, the Park Farm was possibly the only unprofitable farm in the country. This was the start of a lifelong project to modernise farming, the estate's buildings and the Hall, to ensure a successful and viable legacy for future generations. In 1996 he won the Laurent Perrier Award for Conservation, specifically recognising outstanding conservation work carried out to ensure the sustainability of the grey partridge population.

In 1976, following the death of the 5th Earl of Leicester and the decision of his father, the 6th Earl of Leicester, to remain resident in South Africa, as Viscount Coke he took over full responsibility for the management and leadership of the Holkham Estate. Upon the death of his father in 1994, he became the 7th Earl of Leicester.

The Earl was passionate about the Hall's extensive art collection and was a keen patron of the arts, loaning many paintings to galleries and exhibitions both nationally and internationally. Keenly interested in the history of the Coke family and all aspects of the Hall, he undertook the major task of restoring the original style of windows that had been destroyed by the insertion of large plate glass panes in the 19th century, and restored as far as possible the original picture hang. One of his last initiatives was to suggest a display (now in preparation) in the Hall about the Magna Carta and the role played by his ancestor, the great 17th century lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, in preserving its values. With the help of his second wife, Sarah, new vitality was breathed into the Hall by careful repair and refurbishment; open days were transformed by the removal of ropes and the addition of flowers in the state rooms; the Marble Hall hosted classical concerts and staff parties. They deliberately occupied two different wings of the Hall in summer and winter, in order to maximise use of the whole house.

Marriage and children[edit]

Leicester married Valeria Phyllis Potter, daughter of Leonard A. Potter, on 28 April 1962. They had three children together and were divorced in 1985.[3]

Leicester married secondly Sarah Forde, daughter of Noel Henry Boys Forde, in 1986, her second marriage.[4] The Countess serves as High Sheriff of Norfolk.[5]

Positions and offices held[edit]

Alongside overseeing the management of the estate the Earl of Leicester found time to play an active role in public life. Amongst the positions and offices he held were Leader of the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk (1980–1985), Chairman of the council's Planning Committee (1987–1991), an English Heritage Commissioner, Trustee of the North Norfolk Historic Building Trust, Founder Trustee and Chairman of the De Montfort University Global Education Trust, Trustee of the Royal Anglian Regiment, Chairman of the Country Landowners Association, Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk, President of the Ancient Monuments Society and President of Wells RNLI. He served as President of the Historic Houses Association from 1998 to 2003, in which capacity he was awarded a CBE for services to heritage. He continued his work with the HHA as a Patron.

The Earl was an active field sports enthusiast and was proud of Holkham's reputation as the birthplace of driven shooting. Over the years, as a lover of working dogs, he hosted the Kennel Club's Retriever Championships and Spaniel Championships on the Holkham Estate. In 1978 he held a country fair in the park to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Sheep Shearings held by his ancestor, the famous farmer, 'Coke of Norfolk', and it became the first of many such regular events.[6]

Retirement and later life[edit]

In October 2005, Lord Leicester retired from the active management of the estate and handed over control to his son, Tom, Viscount Coke (who is now the 8th Earl). He moved to another property on the estate in 2006 but continued to take a keen interest in the continuing improvement of the Hall, the estate and its buildings.

Lord Leicester died in the early hours of 25 April 2015. He leaves a widow, Sarah, Countess of Leicester, three children, and seven grandchildren.[6]


External links[edit]

Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Anthony Louis Lovel Coke
Earl of Leicester
Succeeded by
Thomas Edward Coke