800 YEARS OF THE MAGNA CARTA

...including a flashback to its 600th anniversary

 

To commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, a new manuscript has been added to the Schoyen Collection website - MS 5543, the 1816 gold printed book dedicated to the Prince Regent (later George V) by John Whittaker, the inventor of an innovative gold printing process. Together with other manuscripts in the collection, including three other Magna Cartas and the only known signed Modus Tenendi Parliamentun (Parliamentary Procedures), this item in the Schoyen Collection gives an insight into the road to modern jurisprudence and the democratic system we know today that started on 15 June 1215.

The text of MS 5543 is printed in liquid gold and features full page paintings of King John and the sealing of the charter. It was made on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Magna Carta MS 5543 dedicationand is an indication of the continued importance of the charter in the early modern age. The commemorative book features the complete original 1215 text as well as the baron's charter in a single volume.

Notably, all four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta were sealed, not signed, and only one retains a remnant of the the original King John seal. The seal can nevertheless be viewed in another manuscript in the Schoyen Collection, MS 610. This document was sealed by John on 17 January 1215, six months before Magna Carta. Reflecting the tensions of the time, it was on that same day that a group of barons demanded a charter of liberties as a safeguard against the King's arbitrary decisions - one of the events that led directly to the negotiations at Runnymede on 10-15 June 1215.

That original Magna Carta, however, was only a first step. The charter was renewed by the 10-year-old old King Henry III in 1217 upon the death of King John, although that specific document did not carry Henry's seal until 1225. MS 563 features the 1217 text (copied circa 1310). This 1225 renewal is considered the definitive version of Magna Carta. Parts of this document remain on the statute books of England until today.

King Edward I's young son (the future Edward II) regranted Magna Carta in 1297 during his father's absence, and MS 1390 - the earliest Magna Carta in private hands - features this text (copied in 1299); included in this manuscript is one of the earliest renditions of the Statutes and this manuscript is one of the earliest Magna Cartas in book form.

Edward I, upon his return, therefore had to regrant the Great Charter himself in 1300. MS 710, written a few years after, contains this revised text and includes a contemporary portrait of the Edward I.

"It is often argued that the liberties Magna Carta set out to preseve in 1215 were merely those of 100 or so male earls, barons, clerics and knights out of an English population of some 3 million people - landowners for whom one crucial clause is chapter 39, which states: No free man shall be stripped of his property save by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land," commented Martin Schøyen.

"Nevertheless, 200 years ago and after a lot of evolution in the laws of the land - and one revolution - the 600th anniversary of Magna Carta was commemorated by the monarchy it set out to curtail.  This presaged the fast progress towards democratic structures in the 19th and 20th centuries," he added.

 

Note to Editors:

The Schøyen Collection crosses borders and unites cultures, religions and unique materials found nowhere else. The Collection, based in London and Oslo, contains over 20,000 significant manuscripts of major cultural importance and is an important part of the world’s heritage.

There is no public collection that has the Schøyen Collection’s unique array of manuscripts from all the greatest manuscript hoards, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Cairo Genizah of Hebrew MSS, The Oxyrhynchus hoard of classical papyri, The Dishna Biblical papyri, The Nag Hammadi Gnostic papyri, the Dunhuang hoard of Buddhist MSS, and many others. Nor is there one with such a variety, geographically, linguistically and textually, and of scripts and writing materials, covering so a great span of time — 5,000 years of history.