Last Wednesday, a select group of scholars and other interested observers were the first people in 800 years to compare the four surviving 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts side-by-side. This one-off event was held at the British Library, and was part of the Magna Carta unification, sponsored by the global law firm Linklaters. Everyone involved was thrilled to be a part of history and, equally importantly, great strides were made towards learning more about the production and later ownership of these four manuscripts, held respectively by Lincoln Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral and the British Library. More details will doubtless be published in due course on the Magna Carta Project website. In the meantime, here are some photos of our special day (you get a bonus point if you can identify all of the participants).
Chris Woods (Lincoln and Salisbury conservator), Nicholas Vincent (University of East Anglia), Tessa Webber (Trinity College, Cambridge) and David Carpenter (King's College, London)
Edward Probert (Salisbury Cathedral), Louise Wilkinson (Canterbury Christ Church University), Philippa Hoskin (University of Lincoln)
Tessa Webber, Nicholas Vincent and David Carpenter
David Carpenter getting to grips with the Lincoln Magna Carta
Trying to identify the inscription on the back of the 'London' Magna Carta
If you've been watching and listening closely, you may have realised by now that the year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta. The British Library is heavily involved in these global commemorations — two of the four surviving manuscripts of King John's 1215 Magna Carta are held at the Library — and tonight you can see one of them in a special television documentary presented by David Starkey.
Tonight's documentary will explore the origins and later uses of this internationally-renowned document, and it will examine Magna Carta's rôle in establishing that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law.
David Starkey's Magna Carta is broadcast on BBC2 at 21:00 (Monday, 26 January). We're really looking forward to seeing our precious manuscripts on television, and we hope that you enjoy seeing them too!
The British Library's major Magna Carta exhibition opens in less than two months. We're delighted to announce that Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will feature a very important medieval document, on loan from Hereford Cathedral. On 20 June 1215, just a few days after Magna Carta had been granted, King John of England wrote to all of his sheriffs, commanding them to have the Great Charter read out in public. Only one of those documents — known as a royal writ — still survives, the letter sent to the sheriff of Gloucestershire and today kept at Hereford. The British Library is extremely grateful to the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral for so kindly agreeing to lend us this precious document for the duration of our exhibition, where it will be on display alongside other books and artefacts relating to the history and legacy of Magna Carta.
The Hereford writ, a unique survival of the letter commanding that Magna Carta be read out in public in 1215
Magna Carta was granted by King John (1199–1216) at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. Its most controversial feature was the condition that 25 barons be elected to oversee the implementation of the charter, or to seek immediate redress from the king if its terms were being ignored. The Hereford writ is hugely significant: it demonstrates that the sheriffs were commanded to restore the peace, and that they were ordered to swear obedience to the 25 barons. This particular writ is addressed to the sheriff of Gloucestershire — similar documents would have been sent to the other sheriffs, but this is the only one to have survived — and asks that 'you inviolably observe and cause to be observed, by everyone, everything contained in the charter, lest the peace of our kingdom should happen to be troubled again'.
There is a certain irony here, however. The sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1215 was none other than Engelard de Cigogné (d. 1244), and he was named specifically in Magna Carta as one of the king's evil advisers, who the barons demanded be dismissed from office. The writ's stipulation that Engelard investigate his own malpractices must surely have been difficult to enforce! Engelard also held the post of sheriff of Herefordshire, which may explain how this writ came to be preserved at Hereford Cathedral. It's also interesting to note that the only bishop who joined the baronial rebellion in 1215 was Giles de Briouze, Bishop of Hereford (1200–1215): he was excommunicated by the papal commisioners in September of that year.
Hereford Cathedral, where the writ has been kept since the Middle Ages
You can read a translation of the Hereford writ below. It will be on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library from 13 March to 1 September 2015, and tickets are already on sale. Once again, we are indebted to Hereford Cathedral for its generosity in kindly agreeing to lend us this item, so that it can be shown with other items relating to the granting of Magna Carta in 1215. You can read more here about Hereford's participation in the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
'John by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou to the sheriff of Gloucestershire, foresters, wareners, custodians of rivers and all his other officials in the same county, Greeting.
Know that to restore by the grace of God firm peace between us and the barons and free men of our kingdom, just as you will be able to hear and see by our charter, which we accordingly caused to be made, which likewise we order to be read publically throughout the whole of your bailiwick and to be held firmly; willing and strictly enjoining that you, the sheriff, cause all men of your bailiwick or the majority of them according to the model of the aforementioned charter to swear obedience to the twenty-five barons of whom mention is made in the aforementioned charter to the same command, in their presence or the presence of those assigned to this by their letters patent, and at the day and place which for this purpose the aforementioned or assigned barons established from them for this.
We also wish and order that the twelve knights of your county, who shall be elected by the county in its first session that will be held after receipt of these letters in your parts, swear an inquiry into the corrupt customs of as much the sheriffs as of their agents, of forests, foresters, warrens, warreners, riverbanks and their wardens, and the destruction of the same, as is contained in the charter itself.
Therefore you all, as you love us and our honour, and the peace of our kingdom, inviolably observe and cause to be observed, by everyone, everything contained in the charter, lest for want of you or by your digression, the peace of our kingdom should happen to be troubled again, God forbid. And you, sheriff, cause our peace to be proclaimed through the whole of your bailiwick and order it to be firmly held.
And these our letters patent we send to you thence in testimony of this. Witness myself at Runnymede, the twentieth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign.'
To mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting a four-part series on this iconic document. Presented by Melvyn Bragg, Magna Carta was recorded in part at the British Library, and features Claire Breay (our Head of Medieval Manuscripts) and other members of the Magna Carta Project, including Professor Nicholas Vincent (University of East Anglia), Professor David Carpenter (King's College, London) and Professor Louise Wilkinson (Canterbury Christ Church University).
Melvyn Bragg looking at Magna Carta with Claire Breay
Episode 1, The Road to Magna Carta, is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Monday, 5 January, at 09:00, and will subsequently be available to listeners in the United Kingdom via the BBC iPlayer. The remaining episodes, Runnymede, 1215, The Aftermath of Magna Carta, and The Legacy of Magna Carta, will be aired at the same time this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 6-8 January.
2015 represents a very exciting year for Magna Carta at the British Library. We are holding our own blockbuster exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, opening to the public on 13 March, and curated by Claire Breay and Julian Harrison. In addition to displaying our two manuscripts of the original 1215 Magna Carta, we will be featuring other key documents, books and artefacts associated with the history and legacy of the Great Charter, including two major loans from the United States of America.We will be blogging more about the exhibition in the coming months. Meanwhile, in February we will be hosting all four 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts, from the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, when they are brought together for the very first time.
Listen if you can to BBC Radio 4 this Monday -- we hope you enjoy the programme!
We'd like to thank everyone who entered our recent ballot to see the four original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts, when they are brought together next February for the first time in 800 years. We were overwhelmed by the response: just under 45,000 people entered online, and we received in addition more than 100 postal entries. Everybody at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral really appreciates the efforts made by members of the public to view our precious Magna Cartas.
The ballot is now closed, and the winning entrants are in the process of being selected. You may recall that we were offering 1,215 people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the four documents side-by-side. Winners will be contacted between now and 12 December, so please hold tight if you haven't heard from us yet: there's a chance that you may actually be one of the chosen ones!
Lincoln Cathedral (left), Salisbury Cathedral (middle) and the British Library (right), home to the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta
A reminder that the winners will view the four 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts at the British Library in London on Tuesday 3 February 2015. The winners will be given a special introduction to the history and legacy of Magna Carta from historian and TV presenter Dan Jones. They will also each receive a special edition Magna Carta gift bag containing free passes to each of the upcoming exhibitions at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, plus a Certificate of Attendance, inscribed with the winner’s name and sealed in wax with a special stamp created to mark the day. The event is being sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm, and we are very grateful for their support.
For anyone who does miss out on this one-off event, remember that all four Magna Carta manuscripts will be on display individually as part of major exhibitions in 2015 at their respective institutions - the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. See this webpage for more information.
The 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta by King John will be marked worldwide by numerous events and exhibitions, which will be publicised on this blog and via our Twitter account, @BLMedieval. In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the history of Magna Carta, please see the British Library's dedicated webpages. It's going to be a very exciting year for all of us!
We are pleased to announce that selected papers from the two-day international conference associated with the ‘Royal Manuscripts’ exhibition (11 November 2011 – 13 March 2012) are now available on the Electronic British Library Journal 2014 (articles 4–10).
God creating the Heavens and the Earth, from Guyart de Moulins, ‘Bible historiale completée’, Genesis to Psalms, France (Clairfontaine and Paris), 1411, Royal MS 19 D III, vol. 1, f. 3r
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination showcased over 150 richly decorated manuscripts associated with and collected by English monarchs between the ninth and sixteenth centuries. Drawn mainly from the Old Royal library given to the nation by George II in 1757, the exhibited manuscripts revealed a magnificent artistic inheritance and provided a vivid insight into the lives and aspirations of those for whom they were made.
The genealogical descent of Henry VI from St Louis in a book presented by John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, to Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, France (Rouen), 1444-45, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 3r
On the 12-13 December 2011, seventeen speakers gathered in the British Library to discuss different aspects of the Royal collection, from the makers and users of these books to content as diverse as genealogy and law, legend and history, and liturgy. An account of the conference, its speakers and their subjects, can be read here. Many of the manuscripts displayed in the exhibition can still be seen in seven themed facebook albums (The Christian Monarch 700-1400; The Christian Monarch 1400-1600; Edward IV: Founder of the Royal Library; Instruction: How to be a King; The World’s Knowledge; Royal Identities; and The European Monarch), each featuring between 15 and 25 items. Previous ‘Royal Manuscripts’ blog posts are listed here and here, and are often richly illustrated with items featured in the exhibition.
Henry VIII at Psalm 1 (where we would expect an image of David), from the Psalter of Henry VIII, England (London), c. 1540, Royal MS 2 A XVI, f. 3r
The research for this exhibition was funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Student bursaries for the conference were generously supported by AMARC.
On the eve of Independence Day in the United States, we are excited to announce that original copies of two of the most famous documents in the world, the Declaration of Independence and the US Bill of Rights, will be on display at the British Library next year, on loan from the New York Public Library and the US National Archives. They will be major highlights of our exhibition to celebrate the 800th anniversary of that other extremely famous document, Magna Carta. Our exhibition – Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy – will provide the first opportunity to see these American documents on display in the UK. The exhibition, which will include our two original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, will tell the story of its medieval roots and track its evolution from medieval peace treaty to modern, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of authority. Open from 13 March to 1 September 2015, the exhibition is sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm.
The Declaration of Independence, copied in the hand of Thomas Jefferson (image courtesy of New York Public Library).
The Declaration of Independence is being loaned by New York Public Library and is the text which Thomas Jefferson, the principal drafter of the Declaration, copied in his own hand, incorporating changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to a draft version. Jefferson’s document also shows passages subsequently excised by Congress, notably the grievance against the slave-trade. The Declaration established the separation of America from Great Britain, and paved the way for the drafting of the American Constitution as we know it.
Delaware's copy of the Bill of Rights (image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC)
The Bill of Rights is loaned from the US National Archives, and is one of the fourteen original copies of the document produced in 1789, of which twelve are known to survive. This copy was sent to Delaware, which attached its certificate of ratification to the document and returned it to the federal government. The amendments to the Constitution proposed in the document were written by a clerk in the House of Representatives on a single sheet of parchment, and contain clauses guaranteeing Americans a number of personal freedoms and limiting the power of government.
Detail of Magna Carta, 1215 (from one of the two originals held by the British Library)
Both of these US documents can trace constitutional influences back to Magna Carta, issued by King John in 1215. Magna Carta established for the first time that the king was subject to the law, not above it, and set out a new political order. Global law firm White & Case is sponsoring the loan of the two major US documents to the Library.
In 1976, the British Library loaned one of its 1215 Magna Cartas to the Library of Congress in order to commemorate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. We are delighted that the US National Archives and New York Public Library have so generously agreed to lend their precious documents to the British Library as we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015.
The Map Psalter gets its name from a very detailed map of the world on the first page, dating from the mid-13th century, one of the most important maps to survive from this period. The world is represented as a flat circle, with Jerusalem in the middle. The upper part of the circle is occupied by Asia, and the lower half divided into two quarters for Europe and Africa. Beneath Jerusalem it is quite easy to make out the names Roma, Grecia, Dalmatia, Burgundia, etc. The countries of the British Isles are discernable in the lower left quadrant, and despite the very limited space available one can make out rivers such as the Thames and Severn, and London is marked with a gold dot.
So, while the map is not accurate in our sense, it shows the places that were of interest to the people using it, and of course, most importantly, the earth is presided over by Christ and two angels: it is very much God’s creation.
There are indications that this manuscript was made in London and it has been suggested that the map may even be a miniature version of one that is known to have been painted on the wall of King Henry III’s bed-chamber in the Palace of Westminster.
Psalter World Diagram, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 9v
On the verso of the world map is this diagram of Christ with angels, holding a globe divided into the three continents containing the names of the principal kingdoms and cities of Asia, Europe, and Africa.
The two diagrams are followed by a table and then the calendar, which allows us to date the manuscript to after 1262, the year in which Richard of Chichester was made a saint, as he appears among the saints in the calendar page for June. Other saints in the calendar, for example the relatively obscure St Erkenwald, a seventh-century Bishop of London, added to the style of the decoration, seem to indicate that the book was probably made in or near that city.
The Psalms are decorated with historiated initials at the major divisions, including this image of Jonah at the beginning of Psalm 68. He must have known he was going swimming as he has taken off all his clothes, and yet he clutches vainly at a tree while the whale has him by the foot – poor Jonah!
Following the Psalter-proper are petitions and collects, and then the Psalter of the Virgin or Ave Psalter, preceded by this full page image of the Virgin and Christ enthroned, with the Virgin’s feet resting on a lion. The Christ-child is in a curiously contorted pose, playing with his mother’s hair:
Virgin and Christ enthroned, England, c. 1265, Add MS 28681, f. 190v
There follow a series of prayers to the Cross in Anglo-Norman French (ff. 212-217), whereas the rest of the Psalter is in Latin. At this time French was still the language of the English court.
A series of 6 full page miniatures on a gold background of scenes from the New Testament were added to the front of the Psalter. They are different in style to the decoration within the Psalter, but date from the same period, or slightly later. This one shows the Nativity with Christ in a chalice-shaped manger.