British Library opens ballot to view four original Magna Cartas

By Richard Moss | 07 October 2014

The British Library launches its ballot to let 1,215 lucky people view the four remaining Magna Cartas

a close up of handwritten Latin
A close up of the British Library's Magna Carta © British Library. Photo Joseph Turp
Vast swathes of the population may not understand what the Magna Carta was all about, but the 800th anniversary of its signing by King John, under the watchful gaze of his rebellious Barons at Runnymede in 1215, has generated enough interest for the British Library to launch a ballot for people wanting to see it.

The Library is uniting all four original copies of the legal document, which curbed the King’s powers and set in train the long process of democratic rights and liberty worldwide, for one day only. Just 1,215 people will be able to view them.

It will be the first time in history the manuscripts have been in the same place.

The lucky winners will be drawn at random and will be given a special introduction to the history and legacy of the Magna Carta by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones, before being offered a timed slot which will ensure they get the most out of their visit.

Medieval music will keep visitors entertained in the British Library’s foyer before costumed characters from the 13th Century will take groups to view the four original manuscripts.

King John agreed the terms of a Charter of Liberties, subsequently known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on June 15 1215, authenticating it with the Great Seal.

Magna Carta documents were then drawn up for distribution across the kingdom - each of them individually authenticated in the same way.

Although we don’t know exactly how many copies were drawn up in 1215, two of the four surviving original Magna Carta documents are kept at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral.

Winners of the ballot will each receive a special edition Magna Carta gift bag containing a pair of tickets to forthcoming Magna Carta exhibitions at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral.

Each gift bag will also include a Certificate of Attendance, which will be inscribed with the winner’s name and sealed in wax with a stamp created to mark the day.

Following the event, the four Magna Carta manuscripts will be separated for display in their home institutions as part of major anniversary exhibitions in 2015.

The British Library will host Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy from March 13 – September 1 2015, Salisbury Cathedral will open their new permanent exhibition Magna Carta – The Power of Words from February 28 2015, and Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta will take pride of place in a new Magna Carta Vault at Lincoln Castle opening on April 1 2015.

  • The free-to-enter ballot to win tickets to attend the British Library viewing is now open at until October 31. Winners will be selected at random.

See a historical timeline of Magna Carta at

For more on the Magna Carta 800th anniversary see

a photograph of a page full of handwritten medieval Latin
The British Library Magna Carta© British Library. Photo Joseph Turp
a photo of handwritten medieval Latin text
Salisbury Cathedral's Magna Carta© Salisbury Cathedral. Photo Ash Mills
a photo of a large parchment covered in Latin writing
Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta© Lincoln Cathedral
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More on the Magna Carta:

Magna Carta 800th Anniversary celebrations for 2015 outlined for Runnymede and beyond

British Library and Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals to unite surviving Magna Cartas

Team of experts aim to "transform academic and public understanding of Magna Carta"

Curator's Choice: The Magna Carta at the British Library

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