Coke of Norfolk was a landed magnate who lived in regal style. His seat of Holkham was one of those great new palaces which the age reared at such elaborate cost. It was full of beautiful things–the art of Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and Van Dyke, rare manuscripts, books, and tapestries. So magnificent was Coke that a legend long ran that his horses were shod with gold and that the wheels of his chariots were of solid silver. In the country he drove six horses. In town only the King did this. Coke despised George III, chiefly on account of his American policy, and to avoid the reproach of rivaling the King’s estate, he took joy in driving past the palace in London with a donkey as his sixth animal and in flicking his whip at the King. When he was offered a peerage by the King he denounced with fiery wrath the minister through whom it was offered as attempting to bribe him. Coke declared that if one of the King’s ministers held up a hat in the House of Commons and said that it was a green bag the majority of the members would solemnly vote that it was a green bag. The bribery which brought this blind obedience of Toryism filled Coke with fury. In youth he had been taught never to trust a Tory and he could say “I never have and, by God, I never will.” One of his children asked their mother whether Tories were born wicked or after birth became wicked. The uncompromising answer was: “They are born wicked and they grow up worse.”
There is, of course, in much of this something of the malignance of party. In an age when one reverend theologian, Toplady, called another theologian, John Wesley, “a low and puny tadpole in Divinity” we must expect harsh epithets. But behind this bitterness lay a deep conviction of the righteousness of the American cause. At a great banquet at Holkham, Coke omitted the toast of the King; but every night during the American war he drank the health of Washington as the greatest man on earth. The war, he said, was the King’s war, ministers were his tools, the press was bought. He denounced later the King’s reception of the traitor Arnold. When the King’s degenerate son, who became George IV, after some special misconduct, wrote to propose his annual visit to Holkham, Coke replied, “Holkham is open to strangers on Tuesdays.” It was an independent and irate England which spoke in Coke. Those who paid taxes, he said, should control those who governed. America was not getting fair play. Both Coke and Fox, and no doubt many others, wore waistcoats of blue and buff because these were the colors of the uniforms of Washington’s army.
Washington and Coke exchanged messages and they would have been congenial companions; for Coke, like Washington, was above all a farmer and tried to improve agriculture. Never for a moment, he said, had time hung heavy on his hands in the country. He began on his estate the culture of the potato, and for some time the best he could hear of it from his stolid tenantry was that it would not poison the pigs. Coke would have fought the levy of a penny of unjust taxation and he understood Washington. The American gentleman and the English gentleman had a common outlook.
From Washington and His Comrades in Arms,
A Chronicle Of The War of Independence
George M. Wrong, Toronto, 1920