The British Library briefly reunited the four copies of Magna Carta that date back to 1215 for the first time in 800 years (well, 799 years and a few months) at a special exhibition that opened on the night of Monday, February 2, 2015 and closed on Wednesday, February 4, 2015. Only four copies of the Magna Carta still exist from when rebellious barons forced King John to sign the Great Charter at Runnymede on June 15, 2015.
Two copies belong to The British Library, one copy is owned by Lincoln Cathedral, and one by Salisbury Cathedral. All three organizations are celebrating the 800th anniversary. The British Library is staging a major exhibit, Lincoln Cathedral is opening a new purpose-built Magna Carta center in Lincoln Castle, and Salisbury Cathedral is launching a program of learning and outreach events and celebrations.
The law firm Linklaters, L.L.P. sponsored the exhibit. Linklaters stated, “On Monday 2 February [Monday, February 2, 2015], the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral have made history by bringing the four original surviving 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts together in one place, for the first time. This unification event, which we sponsored, is taking place at the British Library… and is part of a year of international celebrations.”
On Tuesday 3 February, 2015, 1,215 people who won the chance to attend the event after entering a public ballot launched last year viewed the manuscripts. The winners were randomly selected from 43,715 applicants from over twenty countries, who all entered the ballot to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Historian and journalist Dan Jones welcomed them to The British Library. He explained the history of the Magna Carta and its enduring legacy.
The ballot-winners then viewed the four manuscripts together in The British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. On Wednesday, February 4, 2015, a group of world-leading Magna Carta academics had the chance to examine the manuscripts side by side as part of a major research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
In a report on the brief reunion of the four Magna Carta copies, on February 1, 2015, B.B.C. News London stated, “Only three clauses are still valid – the one guaranteeing the liberties of the English Church; the clause confirming the privileges of the City of London and other towns; and the clause that states that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgement of his equals.”
On July 15, 2013, when The British Library, Lincoln Cathedral, and Salisbury Cathedral announced the three-day exhibition would take place, Claire Breay, Lead Curator of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts at The British Library, said, “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, commented, “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 Linklaters partner. “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.”
On February 2, 2015, Claire Breay, the Head of Medieval Manuscripts at The British Library; the Very Reverend Philip Buckler, Dean of Lincoln; and the Very Reverend June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury, jointly stated, “King John could surely never have anticipated the enduring global legacy of Magna Carta when he agreed to its terms in 1215. 800 years later, the international interest and excitement about this unification event is testament to the extraordinary significance and symbolic power of these four manuscripts.”
We are thrilled to be staging this moment in history together, as partners, at the start of the 800th anniversary year. For each of our institutions, this unique event marks the beginning of our own celebrations in 2015. The British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral will all be staging exhibitions and events later this year to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of this iconic document.
Robert Elliott, Linklaters Chairman and Senior Partner, stated, “In marking this anniversary, we are celebrating the rule of law itself, and the essential role it plays to support human progress and economic activity, based on protecting life, liberty and property.”
The fundamental principles expressed in Magna Carta are as resonant and relevant today as when they were first written in 1215. We must never take those principles for granted and remind ourselves of the Charter’s continuing significance in the 21st Century, ensuring that the rule of law is safeguarded and promoted today, and that it will endure into the future.
Following the three-day exhibition at The British Library, the manuscripts traveled to the House of Lords for one further day on Thursday, February 5, 2015, before being separated again so their home institutions could put them on display in major 800th anniversary exhibits.
The British Library’s two copies returned to The British Library, Lincoln Cathedral’s copy went to its new home in Lincoln Castle, and Salisbury Cathedral’s copy returned to its home in the Salisbury Cathedral Chapter House. The British Library will host the exhibit Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy from Friday, March 13, 2015 to Tuesday, September 1, 2015.
Lincoln Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta will go on display in Magna Carta: Power, Justice and Accountability in the newly-built David P. J. Ross Magna Carta Vault at Lincoln Castle on Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Lincoln Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta is normally stored along with the Charter of the Forest.
Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world to see the two important charters in one place. Please note the whole castle is closed to the public until April 1, 2015.
Lincoln Cathedral is hosting The Magna Carta Dinner, a black tie event, on Friday, June 5, 2015. The event is being held in the Nave of Lincoln Cathedral.
Salisbury Cathedral will open the new permanent exhibit Magna Carta: Spirit of Justice, Power of Words on Friday, March 6, 2015. “Work on the brand new Heritage Lottery funded exhibition celebrating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta in 2015 is progressing well,” Roz Mitchell stated on behalf of Salisbury Cathedral on Friday, February 13, 2015. “Most of the state of the art interactive displays and interpretive stations have been constructed off site, and are ready for transportation to Salisbury for the start of the installation in the Chapter House and Cloisters next week.”