THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

72 posts categorized "Magna Carta"

13 October 2017

Job vacancy to work with digital images

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The British Library is recruiting for a Project Officer to work on The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200. This is a full-time, fixed term position, for nine months, in the Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts section of the Western Heritage Department.

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The opening page for the Gospel of St Matthew from 9th-century Northern France: Harley MS 2797, f. 15r.

The Project Officer will assist the curators with all aspects of preparation for and delivery of the digitisation project and other smaller digitisation projects, including the South-East Asian manuscripts project. This will include arranging for delivery to the studio, checking images and uploading manuscripts to the Library’s online catalogue, contributing to the development of learning materials, preparing blog posts, answering enquiries and a range of other curatorial duties. This is a 9-month post post beginning in January 2018, dependent on the necessary security clearances being obtained.

Full details of the post and how to apply are available on the Library’s website. The position is only open to applicants with the right to work in the UK.

To apply, please visit www.bl.uk/careers.

Closing Date: 5 November 2017

Interviews will be held on 16 November 2017. The selection process may include questions about the date and origin of a particular manuscript to be shown at the interview.

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Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

Supported by

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10 June 2017

Battles and Dynasties at Lincoln

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The second Battle of Lincoln, 20 May 1217, is one of the greatest English conflicts that almost nobody has ever heard of. The British Library is a partner in a new exhibition at The Collection Museum in Lincoln from 27 May to 3 September 2017 which hopes to change this: Battles and Dynasties. This exhibition brings together an enormous range of artefacts from the medieval to modern periods, celebrating the role of Lincoln in the development of modern Britain.

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The First Battle of Lincoln, 1141, in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum: Arundel MS 48, f. 168v.

Given the relative stability of the monarchy in the kingdom of England during the Middle Ages, it is easy to forget the many contests to the position of its kings and queens. We all know the bloody story of the Wars of the Roses, but conflict boiled over far earlier than this. Lincoln was a centre for this, as one of the prominent fortified settlements in the eastern part of England. The first Battle of Lincoln of 1141 saw the forces of the Empress Matilda capture King Stephen. At the second Battle of Lincoln, the future of the country was at stake as forces loyal to Prince Louis of France challenged the authority of King Henry III, still a child. Henry’s forces won the day, and he went on to rule for more than fifty years – but English history would have been different if the battle had gone otherwise.

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Peraldus, Summa de uirtutibus et uitiis: Harley MS 3244, ff. 27v–28r.

Lincoln was also a major intellectual centre of medieval England. Its cathedral school became one of the most prominent English centres of education in the late 12th century under the beloved teacher William de Montibus. His student, Richard of Wetheringsett, went on to become the first known chancellor of the University of Cambridge. As bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste became one of the most influential writers of the 13th century. All these figures’ works feature in Harley MS 3244, which is displayed at Lincoln with its splendid illustrated version of a treatise on the virtues and vices, as applied to the armour of a knight.

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Great Bible of Henry IV: Royal MS 1 E IX, f. 163v.

Also on display are some of the splendours of courtly culture made in the midst of conflict. King Henry IV is generally known for his ruthlessness, thanks to his deposition of Richard II, but he was also a lover of books: the enormous Great Bible, measuring 630 × 430 mm, is thought to have been in his collection. England’s interdependencies on Europe did not slow even in the face of the wars at this time: the volume of Jehan de Wavrin’s Anciennes et nouvelles chroniques d’Angleterre (Old and New Chronicles of England) in the exhibition, Royal MS 14 E IV, was produced in Lille and Bruges in the 1470s for King Edward IV, while conflicts over who should be the monarch continued to brew.

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Jehan de Wavrin, Anciennes et nouvelles chroniques d’Angleterre: Royal MS 14 E IV, f. 10r.

There are far more treasures to see in the exhibition. Also on display from the British Library are the Rochester Chronicle (Cotton MS Nero D II) and the chronicle of Ralph of Coggeshall (Cotton MS Vespasian D X). The collections gathered at Lincoln are a reminder that events maintaining the status quo are just as important as those that overturn it, and that culture can continue to flourish even in the midst of conflict. We hope that many of you get the chance to view our manuscripts in person.

Andrew Dunning

22 April 2017

How our ancient trees connect us to the past

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Some of the most stunning creations of the Middle Ages are still alive. Britain is dotted with trees planted hundreds of years ago, with over 120,000 listed in the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory. Some of them are over a thousand years old. This year, organisations across the United Kingdom have created a Tree Charter, which seeks to recognise the importance of trees to our national life. This charter harks back to a very important medieval document, the Forest Charter, which was originally issued in the name of King Henry III of England (1216–1272) on 6 November 1217. 

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The Forest Charter, in the version reissued in 1225, with the great seal of King Henry III: Add Ch 24712.

The Forest Charter can be thought of as the younger sibling of Magna Carta. One of its primary aims was to regulate royal forests, which had been created by William the Conqueror and covered around a quarter of England during the 12th and 13th centuries. Today, we think of forests as lands covered with trees, but in the 13th century royal forests also included pastures and even villages – indeed, almost the entire county of Essex was declared a royal forest. From our perspective, this move to make huge swathes of land into royal forests seems remarkably forward-thinking. We might think that in doing this William was seeking to preserve England's trees, but he had a specific purpose for his conservation effort: he wanted lands for the crown to hunt wild animals and game, particularly deer. 

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Animals romping in the margin of a manuscript of the works of Gerald of Wales: Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 10v.

To regulate these vast tracts of land, a special ‘forest law’ was created to promote their use as royal game preserves, enforced by a small army of foresters. In theory, they could impose enormous punishments on offenders, up to capital punishment. In practice, they normally issued fines, making the forest an important source of income for the crown.

The barons living under this rule took issue with the 'forest law'. They drafted the Forest Charter, which sought to scale back this law (translation from The National Archives):

Henceforth, no man shall lose his life or suffer the amputation of any of his limbs for killing our deer. If any man is convicted of killing our deer, he shall pay a grievous fine, but if he is poor and has nothing to lose, he shall be imprisoned for a year and a day. After the year and a day expired, if he can find people to vouch for him, he shall be released; if not, he shall be banished from the realm of England.

The charter further rolled back the area of the forests to their boundaries at the beginning of the rule of King Henry II in 1154, where the lands could be shown to have been taken wrongfully. (Henry II had vigorously expanded the forest borders, to the point of creating hardship.) Crucially, the charter also sought to expand common access to the forests. In this period, people relied on areas of woodland to provide fuel for heating and cooking, as well as pasture in which to graze livestock. The Forest Charter, therefore, had important implications for common people. 

The charter was repeatedly confirmed as part of English law. It was in association with the Forest Charter that the name ‘Magna Carta’ was first used, to distinguish it as the large charter as opposed to its littler (and later) sibling. The British Library’s copy of the charter is a reissue from 1225, and appears to have narrowly escaped destruction.

The Forest Charter represents a pragmatic approach to define the value of forests and ensure that they can be accessed as a resource crucial to the everyday functioning of society. Aspects of this approach are still valuable, such as in attempts to calculate the natural capital of forests in economic terms. The story of the royal forests are also the subject of a new book to be published next month by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, entitled Ancient Oaks in the English Landscape.

Andrew Dunning

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19 January 2017

Magna Carta at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival

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The British Library is delighted to be a participant in this year's ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival. Throughout the Festival, from 19 to 23 January, a facsimile of one of the four original Magna Carta documents from 1215, now held at the British Library in London, will be on display at the Diggi Palace in Jaipur. The Festival itself was inaugurated by Chief Minister of Rajasthan Smt. Vasundhara Raje, who was one of the first to view the facsimile.

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Children viewing the facsimile of Magna Carta at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival

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Claire Breay (The British Library) showing the facsimile of Magna Carta to Chief Minister of Rajasthan Smt. Vasundhara Raje

Then, on Saturday 21 January, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival is holding a panel discussion entitled ‘Magna Carta: Spirit of Justice’. The five speakers — writer and lawyer Chintan Chandrachud, historian David Carpenter, barrister Helena Kennedy, biographer and historian Patrick French and curator Claire Breay — will explore the history, impact and global legacy of the 4,000 words of Latin issued by King John at Runnymede in 1215. The British Library is represented at the Festival by Claire Breay (Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts), who will be discussing with Professor David Carpenter (King's College London) the medieval history of Magna Carta, and how the Library's major 2015 exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, explored both the medieval story of Magna Carta and how it came to be such a famous international symbol of rights and liberties.

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The crowd at the inauguration ceremony of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival

The loan of the Magna Carta facsimile is part of an ambitious British Library programme of engagement with India, which will also see the loan of one of the Library’s copies of the First Folio of William Shakespeare, to CSMVS Museum in Mumbai from 20 January to 8 March. The programme also includes a major project to digitise thousands of Indian printed books held by the Library: the first phase of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ aims to digitise and make available online 4,000 printed books in Bengali, unlocking their riches to researchers and a wider public than ever before.

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Outside the room where the facsimile of Magna Carta is on display at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival

Claire Breay

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#ZEEJLF

22 November 2016

Magna Carta Room Reopens

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This November it is 800 years since the first revised version of Magna Carta was issued in the name of the boy king, Henry III, in 1216, following the death of his father, King John, in October 1216. This November also marks the opening of a new display of the British Library’s original Magna Carta documents from 1215 in a newly redesigned room within the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.

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The newly redesigned Magna Carta room at the British Library.

On display in the new room are the Articles of the Barons, the document recording the draft settlement which formed the basis of the agreement reached between King John and the barons at Runnymede in June 1215. This original document was taken away from Runnymede, probably by Archbishop Stephen Langton (1150–1228), and gives us a direct connection with the momentous events of June 1215.

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The Articles of the Barons, June 1215: British Library Add MS 4838.

Also currently on display are one of the Library’s two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta together with the document from Pope Innocent III declaring Magna Carta to be ‘illegal, unjust, harmful to royal rights and shameful to the English people’ and ‘null and void of all validity for ever’ only ten weeks after it had been granted that June.

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Magna Carta, issued by King John in June 1215: British Library Cotton MS Augustus II 106.

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The papal bull declaring Magna Carta 'null and void', 24 August 1215: British Library Cotton MS Cleopatra E I, ff. 155–156.

The new display gives visitors to the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery another chance to see the film made for the 2015 exhibition summarising the content of Magna Carta’s 4000 words in two minutes, as well as videos of historians and public figures discussing the history, influence and contemporary relevance of Magna Carta in the anniversary year.

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Magna Carta 1215 alongside the Articles of the Barons and the papal bull annulling Magna Carta.

The Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery is open seven days a week and entry is free. You can also read more about the history of Magna Carta on the British Library's dedicated webpages.

Claire Breay

@BLMedieval/@ClaireBreay

23 October 2016

Fire, Fire! The Tragic Burning of the Cotton Library

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2016 has been a year of anniversaries, some of them more notable than others. Already this year we have commemorated 350 years since the Great Fire of London (1666), the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings (1066), and 1,000 years since the Battle of Assandun (1016). The 285th year since the infamous Cotton Library fire (1731) falls on 23 October, and although this may not be a date that immediately leaps to mind, it is a cause of great sorrow for many medievalists.

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A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton, commissioned in 1626 and attributed to Cornelius Johnson

Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631) was one of the greatest British collectors of manuscripts of all time. His library was vast and of huge national significance, especially when one recounts some of the books and documents it contained: two of the original manuscripts of Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Cotton Genesis, the state papers of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the Vespasian Psalter ... one could easily go on. Cotton made his library available to other scholars during his own lifetime, and enabled certain books to be borrowed (which is why some items, such as the famous Utrecht Psalter, ultimately entered other collections). Finally, 70 years after Cotton died, his manuscripts were accepted on behalf of the nation, and in 1753 they formed the first foundation collection of the new British Museum.

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The fire-damaged manuscript of King John's Magna Carta, 1215, rendered almost illegible following the 1731 Cotton fire: Cotton Charter XIII 31A.

Acquiring the Cotton collection for the nation should be regarded as a moment of great rejoicing. This was the first occasion in the British Isles that any library had passed into national ownership, bringing with it such treasures as Magna Carta and the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts assembled by any antiquary. But, sadly, a less joyful event happened in 1731, that threatened to destroy this gift for all time.

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The beautiful Vespasian Psalter, 8th century, one of the many treasures of the Cotton Library: Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 30v.

By October 1731, the Cotton manuscripts had been placed for storage at Ashburnham House in London, adjacent to Westminster School. Their former home had been regarded, ironically, as a fire hazard; and so the books had been transferred to the ill-fated (and unfortunately named) Ashburnham House. There, on the night of 23 October 1731, a terrible fire broke out, perhaps starting in a fireplace below the floor where the manuscripts were kept. Despite the efforts of the Deputy Librarian and others, who reportedly were forced to fling scores of books out of the building, a great number of the Cotton manuscripts were badly damaged by the flames and the water used to extinguish them, and a few volumes were destroyed in their entirety. Many unique manuscripts were lost for good, such as Asser's biography of King Alfred of Wessex. The following day, the Westminster schoolboys were said to have gathered fragments of manuscripts floating like butterflies in the wind, some of which have survived until this day (some leaves of the Cotton Genesis, for instance, passed into a collection at Bristol, before being returned to the British Museum in the 1960s).

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Boxes containing portions of the manuscripts almost destroyed in the 1731 fire, now classified as Cotton Fragments XXXII.

During the 19th century, a restoration programme was carried out at the British Museum, during which many of the burnt volumes were separated, their pages flattened, inlaid in paper mounts and then rebound. There is a masterful study of this process by Andrew Prescott, in Sir Robert Cotton as Collector, edited by Christopher Wright (The British Library, 1997). Meantime, however, many of Cotton's precious manuscripts had suffered irreversible fortunes. One of the two surviving copies of King John's Magna Carta, 1215, and the only one with the Great Seal still affixed, was rendered illegible as a result of the fire and efforts to save the text, and the seal was reduced to a glob of molten wax. The illustrated Cotton Genesis, already mentioned, suffered severe damage to its illuminations. The pages of Beowulf were burned along their edges, with the result that small portions of the letters reputedly started to crumble, before the volume was inlaid and rebound.

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An example of an inlaid Cotton manuscript, following the restoration process: Cotton MS Tiberius E VI.

All of this is extremely tragic, and the story is too detailed and complicated to tell in a single blogpost. Fortunately, the vast majority of the Cotton manuscripts survived the fire, many of them intact: the fate of others is described in an earlier account entitled Crisp as a Poppadom. But today, on 23 October, we should spare a moment to remember the beautiful and historic manuscripts damaged in the Cotton fire, the people who fought valiantly to rescue them, and those who restored them in the 19th century.

Julian Harrison

@BLMedieval/@julianpharrison

 

14 January 2016

A Belated Holiday Gift from Us: a Giant List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks!

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It's that time of year again, friends, and we're pleased to (belatedly) celebrate the holidays by giving you a magnificent gift.  This gift is certainly worth the wait, though - a massive list of Digitised Manuscripts hyperlinks!  We're mixing it up a little bit this time, though, as the list is now a PDF, but fully searchable and with working hyperlinks.  You can download it here:  Download BL AMEM Digitised Manuscripts Master List.  There are 1429 manuscripts on this list now, we are staggered to report.

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Illuminated frontispiece of the marital arms of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (created 1st Duke of Somerset, and Lord Protector in 1547) and his second wife, Lady Anne Stanhope, with the Seymour family motto ‘Foy pour Devoir’, from the Taverner Prayer Book, England (London), c. 1540, Add MS 88991, f. 2v

In honour of our biggest ever list of hyperlinks, we're pleased to share one of our smallest manuscripts, the Taverner Prayer Book (see above), which recently went online.  We've also added quite a few manuscripts from our Anglo-Saxon project, along with many from the illuminated collections in general.  We have some big plans for the coming year and many more manuscripts to share with you, so watch this space!

-   Sarah J Biggs

29 August 2015

Magna Carta Virtual Tour

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Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy has been the most successful exhibition ever staged by the British Library, with in excess of 100,000 visitors. But we are aware that many, many more will never be able to see it in person, before the exhibition closes to the public on 1 September. A full record of the exhibits is available in the catalogue (edited by curators Claire Breay and Julian Harrison) and, in a first for the British Library, on our dedicated Magna Carta website. And here's another way to see our popular exhibition, in virtual form — we hope you enjoy it!

The exhibition opens with a short introductory film, featuring some of the people associated with Magna Carta over the centuries and the key items visitors are going to see ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 01 (credit Tony Antoniou)

Magna Carta Exhibition 02 (credit Tony Antoniou)

The first item in the show (our poster boy, of course) is this statue of Geoffrey de Mandeville (one of the barons who rebelled against King John in 1215), on loan from the Houses of Parliament ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 03 (credit Tony Antoniou)

Here is King John's family-tree (being shown to HRH The Prince of Wales by co-curator Julian Harrison) ...

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The medieval section of our exhibition was designed to take the shape of the nave of a church ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 04 (credit Tony Antoniou)

This coin hoard, borrowed from the British Museum, dates from the early years of King John's reign (1199–1216) (interesting fact: John's coins bear neither his own name or portrait, since the design was retained from the coinage of his father, Henry II) ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 05 (credit Tony Antoniou)

These are the slippers of Hubert Walter, John's first archbishop of Canterbury, found in his tomb when it was opened in 1890 ...

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The Statute of Pamiers dates from 1212, and provides a contemporary parallel to Magna Carta (we borrowed it from the Archives nationales in Paris) ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 06 (credit Tony Antoniou)

A replica of King John's tomb, at Worcester Cathedral, stands at the end of the 'nave' ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 07 (credit Tony Antoniou)

John's head on his tomb is flanked by Saints Oswald and Wulfstan, and his sword is unsheathed, a sign that he was still at war with his people when he died in 1216 ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 08 (credit Tony Antoniou)

King John's tomb was opened at Worcester Cathedral in 1797, and certain of his body parts removed by visitors, including these two teeth and what is reputed to be John's thumb-bone ...

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During the 13th century several revised versions of Magna Carta were issued by the kings of England (as co-curator, Claire Breay, is showing HRH The Prince of Wales) ...

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In the foreground visitors are looking at the Forest Charter and the Savernake Horn (the more keen-eyed of you may spot a film of Professor David Carpenter, a leading Magna Carta expert, on the screen in the background) ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 09 (credit Tony Antoniou)

We're now in the English Liberties section of our exhibition, dealing with the 16th and 17th centuries (here is a painting of Shakespearean actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree, borrowed from the Victoria and Albert Museum) ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 10 (credit Tony Antoniou)

Foxe's Book of Martyrs, open at a page showing the alleged poisoning of King John by a monk of Swineshead Abbey ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 11 (credit Tony Antoniou)

In the room named Colonies and Revolutions is one of the exhibition's star items, Thomas Jefferson's autograph manuscript of the United States Declaration of Independence (borrowed from New York Public Library) ...

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And just for good measure we also have on show the Delaware copy of the US Bill of Rights (borrowed from the US National Archives) ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 12 (credit Tony Antoniou)

This painting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was kindly loaned to our exhibition by the Musée Carnavalet in Paris (and on the back-wall are two prints of The Contrast, comparing British and French liberty at the time of the French Revolution) ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 13 (credit Tony Antoniou)

Here in the Radicalism and Reform room of our exhibition is this Chartist poster, advertising a meeting at Carlisle in 1839 (loaned to us by the UK National Archives); next to it is an engraving of the procession which delivered the Great National Petition to the House of Commons in 1842 ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 14 (credit Tony Antoniou)

The Empire and After room opens with these paintings of St Helena and the fort at Calcutta from the British Library's India Office collections (on the back-wall is a photograph of Mohandas aka Mahatma Gandhi as a young lawyer in South Africa) ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 15 (credit Tony Antoniou)

The Treaty of Waitangi of 1840 (being shown to HRH The Prince of Wales by researcher Alex Lock) is often referred to as the 'Maori Magna Carta' ...

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In 1941 the British War Cabinet, led by Winston Churchill, considered giving the United States of America what was described as 'an old piece of parchment, of no intrinsic value whatever, rather the worse for wear) in order to persuade the Americans to join World War II (these are the Cabinet papers in question, borrowed from The National Archives) ...

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Heading towards the end of the exhibition is this wall featuring a modern English translation of the clauses of the 1215 Magna Carta ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 16 (credit Tony Antoniou)

Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631) owned two of the original manuscripts of King John's Magna Carta, one of which was sent to him by Sir Edward Dering, Lieutenant of Dover Castle, in 1630 ...

Magna Carta Exhibition 17 (credit Tony Antoniou)

And here is the final item in the exhibition, one of the British Library's original manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta (here being viewed by HRH The Prince of Wales, Claire Breay and British Library Chief Executive Roly Keating).

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Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, the largest exhibition ever devoted to the Great Charter, is on at the British Library in London from 13 March until 1 September 2015