Society of Antiquaries to restore and display Magna Carta for 800th anniversary

By Richard Moss | 12 June 2014

A conservation grant will see two important copies of Magna Carta preserved and displayed by the Society of Antiquaries

A photo of an illuminated manuscript
One of the copies of the Magna Carta held at the Society of Antiquaries in London© Society of Antiquaries
Two copies of the Magna Carta are to be preserved and displayed by the Society of Antiquaries for the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the iconic legal document thanks to a conservation grant.

The funding to preserve the copies, which are a draft of the 1215 charter before it was sealed by King John at Runnymede in 1215 and a third reissue from 1225, comes via the Bank of America Merril Lynch’s 2014 Global Art Conservation Project.

Only four original and 17 later copies of Magna Carta survive, 15 of which are in Britain. The Society of Antiquaries of London, which is the oldest antiquarian library in the country, owns three of them, two of which require conservation.

The grant will allow the Society to display all three in a special exhibition at their London Library in spring 2015 as part of the national programme of events marking Magna Carta's 800th Anniversary. A complete digitisation of the charters will also be made available online as a learning resource.

Signed by King John under the watch of the feudal barons on the banks of the River Thames on June 15 1215, the set of legal documents has become the foundation stone of British democracy.

Comprising a series of laws and conventions, the king’s seal under oath was the first successful attempt to curb the powers of a king by his subjects, and it has remained the most important and influential constitutional document in English law.

Describing the Magna Carta as “the document that brought about the beginnings of a limited monarchy” and the beginning of the “English-speaking world's journey toward representative government”, Dominic Wallis, the head of Development at the Society of Antiquaries, said the society was committed to developing greater public access and engagement with its unique historic collections, thanking the bank for its support.

The Society’s copy of the 1215 charter was discovered in 2013 in a late 13th century Register of Peterborough Abbey. The second copy of the 1225 third reissue is contained in an early 14th century collection of statutes. Both copies are on vellum and bound with other contemporary documents.

A third copy in the Society's collection is a unique roll copy of the 1225 reissue.

All three copies will be displayed as part of the 800th anniversary in 2015, which will see events take place across the UK.

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