Society of Antiquaries of London announces historic exhibition for Magna Carta 800

By Culture24 Reporter | 13 January 2015

The Society of Antiquaries of London has received a series of grants to show its rare copies of Magna Carta to the public

a photo of an illuminated medieval manuscript
An early 14th-century collection of Statutes of the Realm, including a copy of the 1225 reissue of Magna Carta and the 1225 Charter of the Forest (Magna Carta's companion document since the second reissue of 1217)© Society of Antiquaries of London
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.

It may not be fully understood by many sections of the UK populace today, but it remains regarded by many as a cornerstone of democracy, not least in the US, where it is seen as a key document in the struggle for American independence and liberty.    

The exhibition, which will explore how it was used as the cornerstone of lawmaking during the 13th and 14th centuries, will be the first in a series of major public exhibitions at Burlington House striving to engage a more diverse public with the collections.

Founded in 1707, the group is Britain’s oldest learned society concerned with the study and understanding of the material past. Its key objectives lie in fostering public understanding of heritage, research and the care of the historic environment and cultural assets.

An accompanying programme of activities will include a six-week series of free public lectures, schools workshops, a short introductory film and an online resource to help researchers study and interpret the documents.

Visit magnacarta800th.com
for more on the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

a photo of a rolled manuscript
A unique copy of the 1225 reissue of Magna Carta, probably made at Halesowen Abbey. This is a revision issued by Henry III, which represents the final form as later confirmed and enshrined in English law© Society of Antiquaries of London
a photo of an open book with pages of Latin text
A version of the 1215 Magna Carta found in a 13th-century cartulary of Peterborough Abbey known as the Black Book of Peterborough© Society of Antiquaries of London
More from Culture24's coverage of Magna Carta:

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

Lincoln Castle's £22 million restoration set to open to public on Magna Carta anniversary

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"

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