Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (fifth creation)

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The Earl of Leicester
Arms of Coke, Earls of Leicester: Per pale gules and azure, three eagles displayed argent[1]

Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, KB (1697–1759) was an English land-owner and patron of the arts. He is particularly noted for commissioning the design and construction of Holkham Hall in north Norfolk. Between 1722 and 1728, he was one of the two Members of Parliament for Norfolk. He was honoured by being created first Earl of Leicester, in a recreation of an ancient earldom.


He was the son of Edward Coke (Coke is pronounced "Cook") and Carey Newton. As a young man, Coke embarked on a six-year 'Grand Tour', returning to England in the spring of 1718. During his time in Rome in 1715, he made the acquaintance of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, the aristocratic architect at the forefront of the Palladian revival movement in England, and of William Kent. Both were later to be engaged by Coke to work on his mansion at Holkham which housed the considerable collection of works of art that Coke had accumulated on his travels. In 1717, during these travels he purchased the Codex Leicester, containing some of the works of Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian artist and scientist.

However, Coke was badly affected by financial losses when his investments in the South Sea Company proved worthless. This delayed the building of Coke's planned new country estate for over ten years. It was not until around 1732 that Burlington and Kent made their first drawings for the new country house. Norfolk architect Matthew Brettingham was also influential in the design of the mansion (though he attributed the design of the Marble Hall to Coke himself). Work on the foundations began in 1734, but it was to be 30 years before work was completed. As he surveyed the result of his long years of labour and achievement, Lord Leicester lamented: “It is a melancholy thing to stand alone in one's own country. I look around not a house to be seen but my own. I am Giant of Giant Castle and have ate up all my neighbours my nearest neighbour is the King of Denmark.”[2]

Coke, who had been created Earl of Leicester in 1744, died in 1759, five years before the completion of Holkham, having never fully recovered his financial losses. He had been predeceased by his only son, the rake Edward Coke, Viscount Coke (1719–1753), whose marriage to the diarist Mary Campbell proved disastrous - he virtually imprisoned her at Holkham - and childless. [3] Therefore, Holkham was inherited by Thomas Coke's nephew Wenman Coke, who died in 1776 and was succeeded by his son, another Thomas, later 1st Earl of Leicester of Holkham, the MP and agricultural reformer.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1967, p.669
  2. ^ Stirling, A. M. W. (1908). Coke of Norfolk and His Friends; The Life of Thomas William Coke, First Earl of Leicester of Holkham. John Lane Company, Page 62
  3. ^ Jill Rubenstein, ‘Coke , Lady Mary (1727–1811)’,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 30 Nov 2015
Parliament of Great Britain
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Sir Jacob Astley
Thomas de Grey
Member of Parliament for Norfolk
With: Thomas de Grey 1722–1727
Sir John Hobart 1727–1728
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Political offices
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Edward Carteret
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Peerage of Great Britain
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Earl of Leicester