Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Coke, Thomas William

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COKE, THOMAS WILLIAM, second Earl of Leicester (1822–1909), agriculturist, born at Holkham, the family seat in Norfolk, on 26 Dec. 1822, was eldest son of Thomas William Coke, 'Coke of Norfolk,' afterwards first earl of Leicester [q. v.]. by his second wife, Lady Anne Amelia, third daughter of William Charles Keppel, fourth earl of Albemarle, whom he married when sixty-eight years old (Stirling, Coke of Norfolk, ii. 284). Educated at Eton and Winchester, Coke received the courtesy title of Viscount Coke on his father becoming earl of Leicester at the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. He was a minor when his father died on 30 June 1842.

Taking no prominent part in politics, sport or in public affairs, he was an ardent agriculturist and a skilful forester; and devoted himself to the management and improvement of his vast estate. A table appended to Mr. R. H. Row's report on the agriculture of Norfolk, made to the second Royal Commission of Agriculture of 1893, gives some instructive details as to the expenditure of money by the earl and his father in keeping up and improving the Holkham agricultural estate of 39,612 acres. The first earl spent in buildings and repairs 536,992l., the second earl spent 575,048l. up to 1894 in buildings, drainage and cottages, 377,771l., and in the purchase of land for the improvement of the estate, 197,277l.—or a total by both owners of 1,112,040l. The gross rents of the farms, which in 1878 were 52,682l., were only 28,701l in 1894, or a shrinkage of 23,981l. (45.5 per cent). In the year ending Michaelmas 1894 the disbursements on the. estate were 12,311l., despite the earl's personal supervision over all the details (App. C. 2 and C. 3 of Parly. Paper C. 7915 of session 1895).

The earl was appointed on 1 Aug. 1846 lord-lieutenant of the county of Norfolk, and held this appointment for sixty years, retiring in 1906, when he was succeeded by his eldest son. In 1866 he was made a member of the council of the Prince of Wales, and in 1870 keeper of the privy seal of the duchy of Cornwall, retiring in 1901 on the accession of King Edward VII. On 30 June 1873 he was made K.G. on the recommendation of Gladstone. He was in politics a whig of the old school, and became at the end of his days the 'father' of the House of Lords.

He maintained his health till 1905. He died at Holkham of heart failure on 24 Jan. 1909, and was buried there.

Leicester married twice: (1) on 20 April 1843, before he was of age, at Cardington, Bedfordshire, Juliana (d. 1865), eldest daughter of Samuel Charles Whitbread, of Southill, Bedfordshire, by whom he had four sons and seven daughters; (2) on 21 April 1870, at Latimer, Buckinghamshire, Georgiana Caroline, eldest daughter of William George Cavendish, second Lord Chesham, by whom he had six sons and one daughter.

A portrait of him by George Richmond, R.A., was presented to Lady Leicester by his tenantry on 22 Sept. 1858, and hangs at Holkham. The earl is represented as a young man on one of the bas-reliefs ('Granting a Lease') of the monument erected in the park by public subscription in 1845-50 as a memorial to his father.

[The Times, 25, 29 Jan., 1 March 1909; Mrs. A. M. W. Stirling's Coke of Norfolk and his Friends, 2 vols. 1908.]

E. C.