Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Magna Carta on Tour

A year before the 800th anniversary of King John’s issuance of the Magna Carta, one of four of the surviving copies of the document has gone on tour.

Lincoln Cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta has been on view at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts this summer in an exhibit called “Magna Carta: Cornerstone of Liberty.” “Focusing on Massachusetts’ and American’s ongoing relationship with Magna Carta, additional objects [in the exhibit included] the MFA’s Sons of Liberty Bowl (1768) by Paul Revere – engraved with the words ‘Magna/Charta’ and ‘Bill of Rights’ – and two manuscripts copies of the Declaration of Independence” and John Singleton Copley’s portrait of “a steely-eyed Samuel Adams defiantly pointing to the 1691 Charter of Massachusetts Bay on the eve of the American Revolution.”

"In September, Magna Carta moves to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts for an exhibition from September 6 until November 2. Michael Conforti, director of the Clark, said, 'We are delighted to have the opportunity to bring the Magna Carta to Williamstown . . . We are planning an exhibition that underscores the document’s importance as the foundation of the principles that shaped our nation and inspires our visitors to consider anew the notions of democracy and freedom.' ”

Two copies of the parchments sealed by King John at Runnymede in 1215 are owned by the British Library, and the fourth copy belongs to the Salisbury Cathedral. As the 800th anniversary year approaches, many events and celebrations are being planned in the UK and across the globe, with these four documents as their focal point.

The British Library has created a mini-website, one of its series of “Treasures in Full” that detail the history surrounding the signing of the document, provide a translation into modern English, and allow you to view one of its copies of the document in great detail with its “Magna Carta Viewer.”
King John, hunting with his dogs: Cotton MS Claudius d.ii.f.116r (detail), 14th-century
What is the significance of the Magna Carta? Robert Brink in his opinion piece in the August 18, 2014 edition of Mass. Lawyers Weekly, “History on Display: One Lawyer’s Musings on the Magna Carta” quotes Sir Frederick Pollock and Frederic William Maitland, authors of The History of English Law before the Time of Edward I:

“[I]t means this: that the king is and shall be below the law.”

Read Brink’s article to see its significance for those of us who live in Massachusetts.