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LONDON (Reuters) - All four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in British history, will be brought together next year for the first time, to mark the 800th anniversary of its signing in 1215.
Establishing for the first time that nobody, not even the monarch, was above the law, the charter was initially a peace treaty between King John and rebelling barons, signed at Runnymede in Surrey.
John had faced a revolt by his barons over his heavy taxation and refusal to address their grievances. The barons renounced their oaths of allegiances to him and captured London.
Forced to negotiate, John signed the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, which gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. In fact, the treaty failed to maintain the peace, but it has lived on as a symbol of rule of law and laid the foundations for Britain's constitutional monarchy.
King John at the time had his clerks copy several manuscripts for distribution. Only four survive. Two are kept at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral in eastern England and one at Salisbury Cathedral in the South West.
The three institutions are holding a ballot to allow 1,215 members of the public to view the four copies together at the British Library for one day only next Feb. 3. After the viewing, the other two copies will return to their cathedrals.
The ballot started on Tuesday and ends on Oct. 31. It is available at www.bl.uk/magna-carta.
The British Library and the two cathedrals will all hold Magna Carta exhibitions next year for the anniversary.
Reporting By Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Larry King