It was Thomas Coke who was the celebrated Coke of Norfolk who, during
a reign of sixty-six years from 1776 to 1842, greatly improved the Holkham
estate which became famous for its advanced methods of husbandry.
People interested in farming flocked here from all over Britain and
also from further afield, the more distinguished being lavishly entertained
in 'Coke's rustic palace' with an abundance of partridges, pheasants
and woodcock to divert those of them whose tastes were sporting as well
as agricultural. The annual Holkham sheep-shearings, known as 'Coke's
Clippings', rivalled the Derby as a national event.
For most of his long life, the princely owner of Holkham was content
to be plain Mr. Coke, though he could easily have obtained a peerage.
"I had rather remain the first of the ducks than the last of the geese,"
he used to say. There is a story of how, when the Prince Regent was
displeased with him, he threatened to knight him. When told of this
threat, Coke is reputed to have said: "If he tries to knight me, by
God, I'll break his sword." In 1837, however, Coke accepted a new earldom
of Leicester, a reason for his change of heart being that his second
wife, whom he married in 1822 when he was approaching seventy, had presented
him with four sons.
By his first marriage, Coke of Norfolk had only daughters. One of them
married the 1st Viscount Anson; another married Admiral Sir Henry Digby
and was the mother of the beautiful but wayward Jane
Digby, known as "Aurora, the Light of Day", who, after leaving her
first husband, Lord Ellenborough (a future Governor-General of India)
had a succession of husbands and lovers and ended up happily and respectably
married to a Bedouin Sheikh.
Houses", by Mark Bence-Jones, Leo van de Pas.