January 14, 2015
Society of Antiquaries of London announces historic exhibition for Magna Carta 800
14th January, 2015, Culture 24
The Society of Antiguaries has released details of its plans to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta with a free exhibition exploring its priceless manuscripts of The Great Charter.
Grants from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the Headley Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts will fund an exhibition, uniting and displaying the Society’s three copies of the charter for the first time.
Magna Carta Through the Ages (May 26 – July 31) will explore the antiquarian interest in the charter through the centuries and the ways in which Magna Carta has continued to be relevant to successive generations.
The star exhibits will be the Society’s three remarkable copies.
They comprise a copy of the 1215 charter, made from a discarded draft, which gives an insight into the process by which the terms of Magna Carta were negotiated, a unique roll copy of the reissue in 1225 and a copy of the 1225 reissue in an early 14th-century collection of statutes, showing how Magna Carta was received in a 14th-century legal context.
Describing the manuscripts as “extraordinary finds”, Stephen Church, a Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, said the medieval copies will allow people to understand how the text was received and used by 13th-century people.
“The fact that they are copies, rather than official communications from the king, shows just how important it was for those at the sharp end of the reforms to possess their own copies of Magna Carta,” he pointed out.
King John sealed Magna Carta at Runnymede, on the banks of the River Thames, on June 15 1215 in an attempt to make peace with his rebellious barons.
Copies were distributed throughout the kingdom. Although its promise of religious rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, justice and limitations on feudal payments were largely ignored during the remainder of John’s reign, subsequent medieval kings reissued it in various forms as they vied for support and popularity.
Many historians argue that its significance became largely symbolic in the middle ages until the 16th and 17th centuries, when it became a symbol of freedom, justice and democracy in both England and her colonies.