Where to celebrate the Magna Carta: The UK's best exhibitions and locations

| 11 June 2015

There are plenty of ways to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta this summer. Follow our guide to the best Magna Carta exhibitions, locations and events

Magna Carta at the British Library

a photo of a hand polishing a likeness of King John
Dusting a replica of King Johns tomb which resides in Worcester Cathedral for the opening of Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library© Photo: Clare Kendall
Two Magna Cartas, the original US Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, King John's teeth and tomb effigy and a slew of fascinating objects, interactives and films make Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy (until September 1) the best exhibition ever staged on the venerable charter.

And apart from the treasures to look at the exhibition offers the best opportunity to really think about the charter’s influence over the past 800 years and what it means today.

See www.bl.uk/magna-carta for more.

Salisbury Cathedral

a photo of bottles and quills on a table inside a cathedral
Quills and ink at the ready as Salisbury Cathedral prepares to reveal the Magna Carta© Ash Mills
Reckoned by many to be the best-preserved of the surviving original Magna Cartas, Salisbury Cathedral's exhibition on the venerable document Magna Carta: Spirit of Justice, Power of Words (throughout 2015) is designed to bring to life the history and the contemporary relevance of this extraordinary document.

As well as the chance to rest your eyes on an original, the stunning Cathedral setting makes this one of the most enticing Magna Carta exhibitions out there.

See www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/magna-carta/visiting-magna-carta for more.

A Magna Carta for the Common People at the British Library

an embroidered page from Wikipedia showing a photo of Runnymede
Magna Carta Memorial at Runnymede, stitched by Jill Hazell, Embroiderers’ Guild (South West Region)© Photograph British Library
Not content with developing the biggest exhibition ever devoted to the Magna Carta the BM also invited Cornelia Parker to oversee the development of an embroidered Wikipedia version of the venerable document.

Representing the Wikipedia entry for Magna Carat on a single day, the remarkable results can be seen in the Entrance Hall of the British Library for free (until July 24).

Lincoln Castle

A photo of a large castle
© Lincolnshire County Council
Timed to coincide with the £22m restoration of Lincoln Castle, Lincoln's Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest have gone on permanent display in the magnificent surroundings of a "stately vault".

Alongside is a new underground widescreen cinema with 210 degree wraparound screen and 3D sound including a film called Magna Carta: Challenging the Power of a King offering a dramatic reconstruction of events leading up to the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215.

See www.visitlincoln.com/magnacarta for more.


Magna Carta monument at Runnymede
© Len Williams and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence
It's been established (beyond most reasonable doubt) that King John sealed the Magna Carta at Runnymede so a visit to this tranquil spot by the Thames is a good place to contemplate the momentous occasion 800 years ago.

As well as the Magna Carta Monument itself the National Trust has developed a new Magna Carta Exhibition which includes a facsimile Magna Carta within the newly designated Magna Carta Centre (previously the Brunel boathouse).

See www.nationaltrust.org.uk/runnymede/ for more.

Medieval Magna Carta engrossments at the Bodleian Library

a photo of a green wax seal with an ecclesiastical figure imprinted on to it
A seal from a Charter sent by the royal chancery to Oxfordshire and stored at Oseney Abbey. The oval seal in dark green wax shows the papal legate Cardinal Guala in his ecclesiastical robes© Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
The Bodleian holds four of the 17 surviving Magna Carta engrossments from before 1300. Two charters from 1217 and 1225 are currently on display in Magna Carta 800 (until June 28), which also features a variety of documents from the Library’s collections that help explain the political background to Magna Carta.
The 1217 Gloucester Charter, considered to be one of the Bodleian’s finest manuscripts, is also on display as part of Marks of Genius, the inaugural exhibition of Bodleian treasures at the new Weston Library (until September 20).

See www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/whats-on/upcoming-events/2015/may/magna-carta-800 for more.

A Canterbury tale

a side by side photo of a statue and a manuscript
Canterbury in the age of the Magna Carta© Canterbury Museums
Canterbury's Beaney House of Art and Knowledge has a new exhibition called Canterbury in the Age of the Magna Carta, (until September 6 2015), which focuses on Canterbury residents' stories and lives during the age of Magna Carta.

The exhibition, which is part of a wider celebration of Magna Carta in the Kent cathedral city, includes the Canterbury Cathedral copy of an original Magna Carta transcribed into the Priory register.

See magnacarta800th.com/events/canterbury/ for more details.

Worcester Cathedral

a photo of a carved tomb sculpture of a medieval king with beard and crown
King John's tomb at Worcester Cathedral © Courtesy Worcester Cathedral
Worcester Cathedral is the site of King John's tomb, the oldest carved royal tomb in England so its fitting that the cathedral is mounting an exhibition exploring his legacy and that of the Magna Carta.

The legacy of Magna Carta Today (until December 2015) includes interpretive boards, a digital touch screen and mobile App that reflects on liberty, slavery and human rights. From September King John’s will and other artefacts will also go on display.

See more at magnacarta800th.com/events/worcestershire/

The Society of Antiquaries

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
The Society of Antiquaries brings together three medieval copies of Magna Carta in an atmospheric display featuring the Black Book of Peterborough, the Halesowen Abbey Scroll and the Hart Book of Statutes.

Together with other items from the Society's collection these three precious manuscripts are used to 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.

See www.sal.org.uk/museum-collection/exhibitions/magna-carta-through-the-ages/ for more.

Alnwick's Northern Rebellion

a photo of a medieval castle with outer walls set in grounds
Alnwick Castle - the former home of rebellious baron, Eustace de Vesci © Photo Phil Thomas, licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Alnwick’s baron Eustace de Vesci was one of the leaders of the baronial opposition to King John. As well as his role in forcing John to accept Magna Carta in 1215, he was involved in an assassination attempt in 1212.

The town's Bailiffgate Museum brings the story alive with an exhibition called simply Magna Carta (until July 5) exploring the role of the rebellious Baron while de Vesci's former residence, Alnwick Castle, meanwhile hosts a display including a copy of the King John seal (until November 1).

See www.bailiffgatemuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/ and www.alnwickcastle.com for more.

Edward Coke and Holkham Hall

a photo of a man wearing ermine gowns
Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)© Holkham Hall
Holkham Hall will be holding an exhibition on the role of Sir Edward Coke, whose reinterpretation and use of Magna Carta helped limit the powers of the Stuart kings. Coke also used Magna Carta to help draw up The Petition of Rights.

The exhibition includes some of his manuscripts and books from the Library and Archives, demonstrating the crucial importance that he attached to Magna Carta (June 14 - October 29).

See www.holkham.co.uk/events/exhibitions/magna-carta-2015 for more.

The Castles of the Barons' War

Rochester Castle
© Christine Matthews and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence
There are several castle locations that you can visit, and all of them played a major part in the run up to and aftermath of the sealing of Magna Carta. From Windsor and the Tower of London to the ruins of Rochester and Berwick you can explore them all in our Kings, Castles and Magna Carta: The Castles of the First Barons' War trail written by medieval expert James Murray.

Magna Carta online

The official site of the Magna Carta 800th anniversary organising committee magnacarta800th.com

Professor Justin Fisher on why the Magna Carta still matters today www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/why-magna-carta-still-matters-today


To commemorate Magna Carta, UK Parliament is asking the nation to take a moment to celebrate, debate and reflect on those rights which we very often take for granted but which people throughout history have campaigned to make happen or fought to preserve.

Find out more and find an event at liberteas.co.uk/


And finally, if you can't make any of these exhibitions, events or locations here's a trio of fun films:

Comic book history from UK Parliament

Horrible Histories Magna Carta Rap Battle

Monty Python's Terry Gilliam on What is Magna Carta

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