British Library announce four surviving original copies of Magna Carta to be brought together

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nearly a third of the text was dropped or substantially rewritten within ten years and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British Constitution and its principles are echoed in the US constitution and others around the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.

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).

The Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee is charged by the Magna Carta Trust to co-ordinate activities, raise the profile of the anniversary and deliver a number of key national and international aspirations. These, and much else, can be found at www.magnacarta800th.com

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