Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an archetypal English Renaissance man, his talents extending from science to philosophy, history to jurisprudence. He became a barrister after completing his Cambridge education and remained a dedicated proponent of reform throughout his life. Numerous honors were bestowed on him, including a knighthood, baronetcy and viscountship, and he played a prominent role in establishing the British colonies in America. Though his life ended in disgrace — he was charged with twenty-three counts of corruption in 1621 and banned from ever holding a public office again — his advocacy of the scientific method and common law reforms have made him one of the most influential figures in western thought.
Edward Coke (1552-1634) was likewise a noted English barrister, and a fierce rival of Bacon’s both professionally and romantically. He was awarded a knighthood for his successful prosecution in high-profile cases, including the Gunpowder Plot, and made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. From this position he alarmed the monarchy by introducing reforms that made them subject to law, as a result of which he was then cast into positions intended to limit his influence. Nonetheless, in 1628 he introduced the Petition of Right which allowed property to be recovered from the Crown. This document is held to be one of the three crucial cornerstones of the British constitution, whilst his Institutes and Reports have both been instrumental in shaping the legal system. He is a vital figure in American history as his writings acted as a guiding force in the War of Independence, and later led to the introduction of the Third and Fourth Amendments.
William Noy(e) (1577-1634) took up a legal career in 1602 and was made attorney-general in 1631. Among the proceedings he instituted were those against William Prynne, whose surname Hawthorne may have borrowed for Hester. Though a redoubtable lawyer, he made himself deeply unpopular with the public by implemented draconian tax-raising measures and supporting the Crown’s interests above those of the citizenry.
Similar accusations were leveled at John Finch (1584-1660), who was called to the bar in 1611. He too was active in the judgment against William Prynne, and James Granger’s Biographical History of England (1769) contends that he “wrested the laws to a perverse meaning, to answer the purposes of a despotic court” (p. 430). Though he was made a baron in 1640, his woeful public standing led to his impeachment by the Long Parliament in the same year. Most of his remaining days were spent as an exile in Holland.
Bellingham rubbed shoulders with these illustrious figures as both he and they were elected members of parliament for the third government of Charles I’s reign in 1628.