(14 July 2013) The four surviving original copies of Magna Carta will be brought together for the first time in history in 2015, the year of the 800th anniversary of the issue of the Charter by King John in 1215. The unification, which will be held at the British Library in collaboration with Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral and supported by the law firm Linklaters, will take place over 3 days in early 2015 and will kick off a year of celebrations across the UK and the world.
The unification will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers and the public to see the documents side-by-side. 1215 adults and children will be able to enter a ballot to win free tickets to see the unified manuscripts, and the manuscripts will be examined in the British Library’s Conservation Centre by some of the world’s leading experts on the documents who are currently undertaking a major research project on Magna Carta and the charters of King John, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This unique opportunity will allow the historians involved to study faded or obscured parts of the text more closely and to look for new clues about the identity of the writers of the texts, which is hitherto unknown.
Magna Carta, meaning ‘The Great Charter’, was issued by King John of England as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215. Written in Latin on parchment, Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law, rather than above it. Although nearly a third of the text was dropped or substantially rewritten within ten years and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British Constitution and its principles are echoed in the US constitution and others around the world. The many divergent uses that have been made of it since the Middle Ages have shaped its meaning in the modern era, and it has become a potent, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power.
There are four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta – two copies belong to the British Library, one copy is owned by Lincoln Cathedral and one by Salisbury Cathedral. All three organisations will be celebrating the 800th anniversary, with the British Library staging a major exhibition, Lincoln Cathedral opening their new purpose-built Magna Carta centre in Lincoln Castle, and Salisbury Cathedral launching a programme of learning and outreach events and celebrations.
Claire Breay, Lead Curator of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts at the British Library, says “Magna Carta is the most popular item in the Library’s Treasures gallery, and is venerated around the world as marking the starting point for government under the law. Bringing the four surviving manuscripts together for the first time will create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers and members of the public to see them in one place, and will be a fantastic start to a year of celebrations.”
The Dean of Salisbury, the Very Reverend June Osborne, said “Magna Carta’s clauses on social justice are as relevant today as they were 800 years ago and are at the heart of all we aspire to. We hope the publicity generated through the planned unification and 800th anniversary year will increase awareness of its importance, values, ideals and modern significance to a huge new audience.”
The Very Reverend Philip Buckler, Dean of Lincoln, comments “We know from the times when Magna Carta has been exhibited abroad – most recently in the United States – just how far-reaching its influence has been. This unification event will be of national significance, and will mark for us a pivotal point for our manuscript in the anniversary year before it returns to enter its new purpose-built home in Lincoln Castle.”
“The legal, political and social impact of Magna Carta is unique,” said Richard Godden, a partner at Linklaters. “It is a foundation stone of the Rule of Law and its influence extends around the world. The arbitrary authority of the state is just as much a threat today as it was in the day of King John and the principles enshrined in Magna Carta remain essential not only in relation to personal liberty but to creating an environment in which business can prosper. We forget them at our peril. ”
The British Library holds two copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta. For the purpose of the unification the other two remaining originals are to be loaned to the British Library by their owners, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral (subject to statutory authorities).