Magna Carta to get modern makeover for 800th birthday

Thu Mar 22, 2012 11:19am EDT
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - The Magna Carta, the English medieval document considered a cornerstone of modern democracy, is to get an overhaul and be brought back into the public spotlight in time for its 800th anniversary, academics said on Thursday.

A three-year research project will also attempt to discover whether King John, the monarch who signed the document in 1215, really was the villainous monster made popular by portrayals in the Robin Hood legend.

"We're hoping to gather together all of the evidence for this iconic document that hasn't previously been assembled," Professor Nicholas Vincent, the historian leading the project, told Reuters.

"Everyone's assumed that all the work on this thing had been done because it's so famous, it's so well known, somebody must have done it. But in fact since 1804 there has been no proper attempt to do that."

The Magna Carta, which translates from the Latin as "Great Charter", was signed by King John of England at Runnymede to the west of London following an uprising by his barons, establishing certain rights of the English people and curbing the powers of the monarch.

Not only does it form the bedrock of Britain's constitutional freedoms, it was the basis for both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.


Auction house Sotheby's described it as "the most important document in the world" when it sold an original copy from 1297 five years ago in New York for more than $21 million.   Continued...

People look at a 1297 copy of the Magna Carta after it was sold at Sotheby's auction house for $21,321,000 in New York December 18, 2007. The Magna Carta is known as the basis of many parts of current law, most notably, the writ of habeas corpus, which allows appeal by prisoners against unlawful imprisonment by government. REUTERS/Chip East