Thomas William Coke

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Coke, Thomas William, 1st earl of Leicester (1754–1842). ‘Coke of Norfolk’ was an assertively Whig MP for Norfolk for over 50 years; there were two short intervals, when political excitement overwhelmed his local influence as a large landowner. He is remembered as an agricultural improver. Especially on the sandy soils of north-western Norfolk, new crop rotations raised production: turnips (winter food for sheep) preceded grain, followed by sown grass (summer food for sheep) leading again to grain; sheep fertilized for wheat and barley. Publicity for Coke's work and his agricultural shows (‘sheep shearings’), where tenants mingled with prominent radicals and Whigs, has caused neglect of the agricultural improvements of his great-uncle Thomas Coke (1697–1759), Viscount Lovell (1728) and earl of Leicester (1744), who followed earlier aristocratic fashions, collected humanistic manuscripts and Roman and Italian art, and patronized architecture, building Holkham Hall. He profited from Walpolean Whig connections in government; Coke of Norfolk's popularity among his tenantry enabled him, by contrast, vigorously to oppose governmental influence.

R. A. C. Parker