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Tyrannicide Brief

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  226 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
Charles I waged civil wars that cost one in ten Englishmen their lives. But in 1649 Parliament was hard put to find a lawyer with the skill and daring to prosecute a king who claimed to be above the law. In the end, they chose the radical lawyer John Cooke, whose Puritan conscience, political vision, and love of civil liberties gave him the courage to bring the king to tri ...more
ebook, 464 pages
Published December 10th 2008 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published 2005)
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John Cooke was the most brilliant lawyer you've never heard of.

He was centuries ahead of his time in the legal reforms he advocated. He pioneered a prisoner's right not to incriminate himself, urged attorneys to not take excessive fees, petitioned for statutes and law reports be written in English instead of Norman French (!), and most critically, he undertook unpopular causes.

Very unpopular causes.

When other barristers fled London, rather than be saddled with the task of prosecuting King Char
Feb 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The Tyrannicide Brief" is a powerful account of the climax of the English Civil War, the trial and execution of Charles I, and its reversal in the Restoration by the trial and execution of Charles' prosecutors and judges. It has extreme relevance today, with its lesson that a head of state must not be above the law and must answer for his or her crimes. The abrogation of Charles' trial by the Restoration obscured this lesson; the story points up the fact that the English Civil War is at least a ...more
Dec 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is simply magnificent.

I've known how good it was for quite a while, of course. I first stumbled across Geoffrey Robertson's scholarship on John Cooke and the trial of Charles I back in first-year law, where Justice Kirby and Robertson, QC's disagreeing speeches on that trial were required reading. My interest whetted by Robertson's essay, I looked him up and found that subsequent to delivering the speech, he'd gone on to write a book investigating the legal foundations for the trial as
Karen Brooks
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, fascinating and impeccably researched.
Jul 15, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: British foggies and wannabe monarchists.
The first third of this book is excellent. The story of John Cooke who took the 'tyrannicide brief' and prosecuted King Charles is dramatic and inspiring to those, like me, who hate kings of all stripes. The author also does a nice job of illustrating this trial as precursor to the modern theory of "command responsibility" that has penetrated the sovereign immunity claimed by all the tyrants and mass-murderers brought to trial. The problem is that the book loses its narrative focus. Part of this ...more
Nate Cooley
Feb 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like history, this is a great book.

"The Tyrannicide Brief" is the story of John Cooke, the English Solicitor General who was assigned the brief to prosecute King Richard I at the height of the English Civil War in 1648.

Cooke and parlimentarians convicted the king and he was beheaded. Years later, the monarchy returned to power with Richard II as king and the regicides, including Cooke, were arrested, tried, and drawed-and-quartered.

Cooke's ideas about Republicanism and law reform did no
Jennifer (JC-S)
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
This is a book about the execution of Charles I from a legal perspective. If you can suspend whatever bias you may have about the execution itself, this is a good analysis of the legal issues involved.

I don't always agree with Geoffrey Robertson, I like the way he writes and found this book a great addition to my Stuart history shelf.

I'm on a Stuart history jag at the moment: revisiting some old books, reading some new.
Guy Cranswick
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliantly researched and written this covers a period that is uncomfortable for monarchists but reveals how ideas lead to big changes.
James Tucker
So there is no doubting the intellectual prowess and depth of this book. It's stunningly detailed, lovingly intricate and immaculately researched. Unfortunatel for me this great strength is also a great weakness. It's repetetive and arrid with the admittedly eye opening insights into legal innovations slowing the thrust of the narrative. Perhaps I was looking for the wrong thing, I thought this would be more of an historical novel and was dissapponted.
Ian Bates
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As expected, Geoffrey Robertson has produced an exquisitely researched and presented book revealing another of history's 'forgotten' men.
Gory in detail but then, how many people really know exactly what 'hung, drawn and quartered' actually meant?
Research, research and more research has resulted in a fine addition to any lawyer's bookshelf. Thankfully my lawyer friend Allen loaned me his copy.
Sep 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: history
This is an important book that covers the events surrounding the trial and execution of King Charles 1st of England.
The man who lead the prosecution has been air brushed out of English history. John Cooke was a dedicated hard working and honest man in an age of corruption, lies, religious zealotry, and despotism.He formed a concept of law that was years ahead of his time.He was the instigator of reforms that took many years to be implemented. Some have only taken place in the last twenty years.
Apr 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Law, politics and social history
Shelves: historical-fact
I have read this book again so I can do a review and also refresh my memory on the events of this incredibly chaotic time in English history. There is no doubt that Robertson has a powerful intellect and this is displayed by the forensic detail of his writing, through which he pulls together all the relevant people, events and circumstances that make up the total picture leading up to the execution of Charles I, the subsequent struggle to find a workable government within a Republic and then the ...more
Edmond Barrett
This book came to me a Christmas present and would be a period and topic I would have only a fairly passing knowledge of. With the main focus of the book on the man who prosecuted Charles the First of England, the English Civil war(s) get only really a fairly passing acknowledgement, which is fair enough. It covers the run up to, trial of Charles and ten years later that of John Cooke and his terrible death. It is all written in a language that is very accessible. Which is all well done.

My prob
Sep 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Were John Cooke given his proper place in history, he would be venerated as one of the most important legal figures. Rather, it is the world’s privilege to have Geoffrey Robertson bring his life to modern audiences. Cooke’s life and legacy is more than his important place in the English Civil War, the trial and execution Charles I and the repercussions of those involved. It is of the legal principles exposed and practiced that at worst now remain a worthy aspirational aim (e.g. making each lawye ...more
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very rewarding and interesting read. As expected.

well written, well researched and with some very interesting ideas about legal matters.

The first idea, that this time is when the notion of the duty to provide legal representation was taken seriously, is interesting and compelling given the results for this man.

Even more interesting was the idea developed by Robertson, from the records of this case, is the idea that a ruler loses the right to govern, if they do so to the detriment of those they
Criminal barrister Alex McBride has chosen to discuss The Tyrannicide Brief by Geoffrey Robertson on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject - Trial By Jury, saying that:

“…This is about a radical lawyer who took a case nobody wanted. John Cook prosecuted King Charles I on the basis that a ruler cannot kill his own people and then claim executive privilege. He won and in 1649 the death warrant was signed and the King was beheaded outside St James’s Palace. The room where the King spent
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law
I thoroughly enjoyed Geoffrey Robertson's account of John Cooke. John Cooke would I hope be happy to see the efforts that have been taken to try and restore his name after being executed as a regicide almost 400 years ago.

Recommended highly for those with an interest in the English Civil War/Revolution and for those interested in reading the account of a principled lawyer trying to reform a corrupt legal system. It goes into much more detail than simply the trial of Charles I and conveys the cha
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An overview of the civil war but mainly focused on the trials of Charles Stuart and then, 10 years later, the regicides.
This book is all centred on John Cooke, a lawyer, who took the brief of the Rump Parliament against Charles and ended up tried for treason himself when Charles 2nd came to power.
I think this is one of the most balanced Hx of the period I've read.
But the civil war is only the backdrop of the more intricate story of the way law was changed by the trial of the king, the way the re
Duncan Lane
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book about one of the pivotal moments of English history. It is non-fiction, but extremely well written and a compelling read. The book centers on the trial of King Charles I, and the life of John Cooke, the lawyer for the prosecution. It also cleverly weaves in details of all the political machinations and military conflict of the English civil war. The books does contain some fairly graphic details of torture and executions, but in a frank and factual way that simply demonstrates ...more
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alarming and concerning and expertly researched. Incredible how similar yet different society is today and much of this seems like it could be transplanted to a modern day court room (or are modern day court rooms that outdated?); a case for apostasy far more effective than any Dawkins or Hitchens book. Inspiring to see the first rays of light -- just and proper jurisprudence -- taking over from religious extremism. Good lord, how idiotic the monarchy is. Gah.
Jan 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of the English legal system, the birth of the English constitutional monarchy, and an intriguing analysis of precedents that have paved the way for world leaders to be tried for their crimes against their own people (Slobodan Milosevic and Pinochet in particular are highlighted).

This is an excellent book for law students, history buffs, and law history buffs.
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A new take on an old story. Robertson holds up John Cooke, the prosecutor in the case against Charles I, as a liberal hero who was 350 years before his time. Robertson puts the best face possible on the Interregnum, but he succeeds in making a case that Cooke - not the Stuarts - are the ones to celebrate in a republican world.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent review of the life of a great man, and a well written account of a time when England struggled, however, feebly towards a just society. Robertson skilfully and engagingly writes a biography of John Cooke, the lawyer who successfully prosecuted Charles 1st for tyranny and war crimes. Long live the Republic!
Jun 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well researched well written book. John Cooke is a man that has barely rated a mention in any history book I have read, this book fixes that oversight. Highly recommended to any one with an interest in republican England.
Feb 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, history
This is a wonderfully told story about one of the most significant trails in western history. The idea of putting a King on Trial was so radical for its time. from this court case a whol line of legal reasoning flows, which is very important today. Robertson, a lawyer, weaves a magical story.
Lawyer John Cooke is the hero of this book. Finally given his proper due as a man and barrister well ahead of his time. Robertson also wins his point about the brutality of the Reformation of 1660. Excellent, opinionated thoroughly researched history.
Apr 07, 2013 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nytimes, history, politics
As seen in the New York Times .

Thanks to Stan Lemberg for calling this article to my attention.
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
every page was gripping in fine research and Robertson's telling with wit and insight into how the past is present.
Mar 11, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you don't know what drawing and quartering is, this book explains it. And it ain't pretty.
Very good book on the history of Common Law
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Geoffrey Ronald Robertson QC (born 30 September 1946) is a human rights barrister, academic, author and broadcaster. He holds dual Australian and British citizenship.

Robertson is a founder and joint head of Doughty Street Chambers. He serves as a Master of the Bench at the Middle Temple, a recorder, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London.
More about Geoffrey Robertson...
“To the end that no chief officer or magistrate may hereafter presume traitorously or maliciously to imagine or contrive the enslaving or destroying of the English nation, and expect impunity for so doing … In this final flourish is found the principle that justified the trial of Charles I in the eyes of weary soldiers and their supporters in Parliament and the city. It was a means of deterring future tyrants from maltreating their own people. It was designed to end the impunity which Machiavelli had argued in The Prince should always protect rulers from the consequences of their crimes. When” 0 likes
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