Four surviving Magna Carta copies on show together after 800 years

Mon Feb 2, 2015 5:36pm EST
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By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) - The four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, the English treaty which established that nobody was above the law, were put on display together in London's British Museum on Monday for the first time.

Just 1,215 ballot winners will see the copies of the treaty in which King John granted rights to rebel barons.

King John added his seal to the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, giving all free men the right to justice and a fair trial, after landowners, reacting against heavy taxation, had renounced their oaths of allegiances to him and captured London.

Written with quills on vellum in 1215, it became a symbol for the rule of law and helped to inspire the U.S. constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Agreed 800 years ago on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede on June 15, the treaty was annulled by the Pope and reissued in 1216 after King John’s death by King Henry III. It was not called Magna Carta until 1217 when it was part of a peace treaty agreed at Lambeth.

While the Magna Carta failed to maintain peace at the time, it gained particular momentum in the 16th and 17th centuries when it helped lay the foundations for Britain's constitutional monarchy.

The display moves on Thursday to the House of Lords before two of the documents return to their homes in Lincoln Cathedral in eastern England and Salisbury Cathedral in the south west. The other two are kept at the British Library.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Louise Ireland)

A woman looks at the four surviving original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, at the British Library in London February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth