Front Page Titles (by Subject) |[125 a] The Case de Libellis Famosis. - Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. I
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|[125 a] The Case de Libellis Famosis. - Sir Edward Coke, Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, vol. I 
The Selected Writings and Speeches of Sir Edward Coke, ed. Steve Sheppard (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Vol. 1.
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|[125 a] The Case de Libellis Famosis.
(1605) Easter Term, 3 James I In the Court of Star Chamber.
First Published in the Reports, volume 5, page 125a.
Ed.: Coke, as Attorney General, prosecuted in the Star Chamber the publisher of poems making fun of two Archbishops of Canterbury.Thisopinion delineates the standards for a libel. A person may libel another person by harming their reputation, even by saying things that are true, whether the person is a private or public figure, and whether the person is dead or alive. A libeller may be punished by fine, imprisonment, or the amputation of the ears. See also the Lord Cromwell’s case, at p. 105 and Lamb’s case, p. 313.
In the Case of L. P. in the Starre-chamber this Term, against whom the Attorney General proceeded ore tenus1 on his own confession, for composing and publishing an infamous Libel in verse, by which John Archbishop of Canterbury (who was a Prelate of singular piety, gravity, and learning, now dead) by circumlocutions and descriptions, and not in express terms; and Richard Bishop of Canterbury who now is, were traduced and scandalized: In which these Points were resolved:
1. That every Libel which is called famosus Libellus, seuinfamatoriascriptura,2 is made either against a private man, or against a Magistrate or publick person. If it be against a private man it deserveth a severe punishment, for although the Libel be made against one, yet it inciteth all those of the same family, kindred, or society to revenge, and so may be the cause of per consequens to quarrels and breach of the peace, and may be the cause of shedding of blood, and of great inconvenience: if it be against a Magistrate, or other publicperson, it is a greater offence; for it concerneth not onely the breach of the peace, but also the scandal of government; for what greater scandal of government can there be than to have corrupt or wicked Magistrates to be appointed and constituted by the King to govern his Subjects under him? And greater imputation to the State cannot be, than to suffer such corrupt men to sit in the sacred seat of Justice, or to have any medling in or concerning the administration of Justice.
2. Although the private man or Magistrate be dead at the time of the making of the Libel, yet it is punishable for in the one Case it stirreth up others of the same family, blood, or society to revenge, and to breach the peace and in the other the Libeller doth traduce and slander the State and government, which dieth not.
3. A Libeller (who is called famosus defamator) shall be punished either by indictment at the Common Law, or by Bill, if he deny it, or ore tenus upon his confession |[125 b] in the Starre-chamber, and according to the quality of the offence he may be punished by fine or imprisonment, and if the Case be exorbitant, by Pillory and loss of his Ears.
4. It is not material whether the Libel be true, or whether the party against whom the Libel is made, be of good or ill fame; for in a setled state of Government the party grieved ought to complain for every injury done him in an ordinary course of Law, and not by any means to revenge himself, either by the odious course of libelling, or otherwise: He who killeth a man with his sword in fight is a great offender, but he is a greater offender who poisoneth another, for in the one case he who is the party assaulted may defend himself, and knoweth his adversary, and may endeavour to prevent it: But poisoning may be done so secret that none can defend himself against it; for which cause the offence is the more grievous, because the offender cannot easily be known; And of such nature is libelling, it is secret, and robbeth a man of his good name, which ought to be more precious to him than his life, & difficillimum est invenire authorem infamatoriae scripturae;3 because that when the offender is known, he ought to be severely punished. Every infamous libel, aut est in scriptis, aut sine scriptis;4 a scandalous libel in scriptis5 when an Epigram, Rhime, or other writing is composed or published to the scandal or contumely of another, by which his fame and dignity may be prejudiced. And such libel may be published, 1. Verbis aut cantilenis:6 As where it is maliciously repeated or sung in the presence of others. 2. Traditione,7 when the libel or copy of it is delivered over to scandalize the party. Famosus libellus sine scriptis8 may be, 1. Picturis, as to paint the party in any shameful and ignominious manner. 2. Signis, as to fix a Gallows, or other reproachful and ignominious signs at the parties door or elsewhere. And it was resolved, Mich. 43 & 44 Eliz. in the Starre-chamber in Halliwood’s Case, That if anyone finds a Libel (and would keep himself out of danger), if it be composed against a private man, the finder either may burn it, or presently deliver it to a Magistrate: But if it concerns a Magistrate, or other public person, the finder of it ought presently to deliver it to a Magistrate, to the Intent that by examination and industry, the Author may be found out and punished. And libelling and calumniation is an offence against the Law of God. For Leviticus 17, Non facias calumniam proximo. Exod. 22 ver. 28, Principi populi tui non maledices. Ecclesiastes 10, In cogitatione |[126 a] tua ne detrahas Regi, nec in secreto cubiculi tui diviti maledices, quia volucres coeli portabunt vocem tuam, & qui habet pennas annuntiabit sententiam. Psal. 69. 13, Adversus me loquebantur qui sedebant in porta, & in me psallebant qui bibebant vinum. Job. 30. ver. 7. & 8, Filii stultorum & ignobilium, & in terra penitus non parentes, nunc in eorum canticum versus sum, & factus sum eis in proverbium.9 And it was observed, that Job, who was the Mirrour of patience, as appeareth by his words, became quodammodo10 impatient when Libels were made of him; And therefore it appeareth of what force they are to provoke impatience and contention. And there are certain marks by which a Libeller may be known: Quia tria sequuntur defamatorem famosum:11 1. Pravitatis incrementum, increase of lewdness: 2. Bursae decrementum, decrease of money, and beggary: 3. Conscientiae detrimentum, shipwreck of conscience.
Part Six of the Reports
The Sixth Part of Coke’s Reports was published in 1607. It was originally entitled Le Size Part Des Reportes Del Edw. Coke Chivalier, Chief Justice del Common Bank. Des Divers Resolutions & Judgments dones sur solemne Arguments, & avec grand deliberations & conferences des tres-reverend Judges & Sages de la Ley, de Cases en Ley queux ne sueront unques resolve ou adjudges par devant: Et les Raisons & Causes des dits Resolutions & Judgments. Pulblies en le cinq’ An de treshuat & tres-illustre Jacques Roy Deengleterre, France & Ireland, & de Escosse le 41, le Fountain de tout Pietie & Justice, & la vie de la Ley. In English, The Sixth Part of the Reports of Sr. Edward Coke, Knight, Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas, of divers Resolutions and Judgments given with great deliberation, by in matters of great importance & consequence by the reverend Judges and Sages of the Law; together with the reasons and causes of their Resolutions and Judgements. Published in the fifth yeare of the most beloved and most illustrious King James, of England, France and Ireland and of Scotland the 41, the Fountain of all piety and Justice, and the life of the Law. The cases in this part cover a wide range of topics without quite the organization of the earlier volumes. Part Six includes cases on the maintenance of wards (infants or others under the protection of the king), feudal obligations, the rights of nobility, the powers of judges, procedural bars to repeat litigation, the interests in land to protect from the waste of it by others, as well as issues regarding estates and future interests.
Epigrams from the title page:
Neminem oportet esse Legibus Sapientiorem.
Non aliunde floret Resp. quam si Legum vigeat Authoritas.1
[1. ][Ed.: Literally, “by word of mouth,” a case heard ore tenus despite a confession determines liability, considering the available defenses as if they had been raised in demurrer.]
[2. ][Ed.: Scandalous libel or scandalous writing.]
[3. ][Ed.: and has troubled himself and comes across the publisher of inflammatory writings.]
[4. ][Ed.: either is in writing, or without writing.]
[5. ][Ed.: in writing.]
[6. ][Ed.: Words or songs.]
[7. ][Ed.: Communication (literally “handing over” or “passing on”).]
[8. ][Ed.: A scandalous libel without writing.]
[9. ][Ed.: Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbor (Lev. 17). Thou shalt not curse the leader of thy people (Exod. 22:8). Curse not the King, No, not in thy thought and curse not the rich in thy bed chamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter (Eccles. 10). They that sit at the gate speak against me, and I was the song of drunkards (Psal. 69:13). They were the children of fools, Yea, children of base men: they were viler than the earth. And now I am their song, I am their byword (Job 30:7,8).]
[10. ][Ed.: in a manner.]
[11. ][Ed.: because three things follow from scandalous libel:]
[1. ][Ed.: It is necessary that no one is wiser than the law. Nowhere does a state flourish unlesstheauthority of the law thrives.]