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57 posts categorized "Magna Carta"

27 July 2015

Equality, Huh? Who Would Have Thought It?

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Our current major show, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, is about to enter its final weeks. The exhibition closes on 1 September, so hurry to see it while you still have the chance. If you're not aware, the reviews have been excellent (blush) and it's been the highest attended British Library exhibition to date.

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful objects in the show, ranging from King John's teeth to an executioner's axe. Here, researcher Alex Lock describes two of our favourite items in the exhibition, made at the time of the French revolution.

The Contrast

The Contrast, 1793: British Liberty, French Liberty, Which is Best? (British Museum 1861,1012.47): reproduced by kind permission of the British Museum

Engraved by Thomas Rowlandson (d. 1827) in 1792, at the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, this print entitled ‘The Contrast’ compares ‘British Liberty’ with ‘French Liberty’ following the revolution of 4 July 1789. Invoking Magna Carta, the print represents Britain as peculiarly blessed, prosperous, law-abiding and politically advanced, especially when compared with the ancien regimes of continental Europe or the anarchy of revolutionary France. The roundel on the left features Britannia holding ‘Magna Charta’ (symbolising law), with a lion sitting at her feet (symbolising loyalty and strength), and a ship sailing into the distance (symbolising prosperity, wealth and military might). In contrast, the cameo on the right depicts so-called French liberty in very unflattering terms: a gruesome French Medusa tramples a decapitated corpse and carries a trident impaled with hearts, while a corpse hangs from a lamp-post in the background.

Printed in the aftermath of the September Massacres – a wave of killings in France in late summer 1792 – and the arrest of King Louis XVI (who was soon to be executed), 'The Contrast' was designed to expose the dangers of Jacobin ‘French Liberty’, at the risk of revolutionary fervour spreading to Britain. This was exactly its purpose. Although etched by Rowlandson, the image was originally designed by Lord George Manning for the Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property, whose aim was to counteract Jacobin and reformist sentiments in Britain by circulating anti-French Revolution propaganda.

If the imagery is not clear enough, the words associated with each form of ‘liberty’ are listed underneath the roundels. The keywords for Britain – ‘Religion, Morality, Loyalty, Obedience to the Laws’ – are compared with those for revolutionary France – ‘Atheism, Perjury, Rebellion, Treason, Anarchy’ and worst of all ‘Equality’! The viewer must decide - ‘which is best’?

BM-Jug_English Liberty BM-Jug_French Liberty

An earthenware mug contrasting English and French Liberty, 1793 (British Museum 1982,1101.1): produced by kind permission of the British Museum

The image wasn't only disseminated in print form. We love the fact that it was also reproduced on a large earthenware mug, for those patriots who wished to compare British and French liberty with a cup of something nice!

Both the print and mug are currently on display in the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition, and we are extremely grateful to the British Museum for so generously lending them to us. You can buy tickets for the exhibition here (and remember, under 18s get in for free, the best deal in town!).

Alexander Lock

09 July 2015

Papal Overlordship of England: The Making of an Escape Clause for Magna Carta

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From Rome on 21 April 1214, Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) issued a papal bull taking the kingdom of England under his protection. Since 1208, England had been under a papal interdict and its king had been excommunicant since 1209; it looked like this would finally be resolved.

Bull of Pope Innocent III (Cotton Charter VIII 24), Italy, Central (Rome), 21 April 1214

In this large and impressive-looking document Innocent III confirms King John’s submission of his kingdom to the temporal lordship of Rome. John had come to an agreement with papal representatives in a meeting at Ewell outside Dover on 15 May 1213. There, he had placed England and Ireland under both the spiritual and temporal lordship of Rome, receiving it back as a vassal of the Pope for an annual tribute of 1000 marks (£666). Having done this, he was absolved from excommunication by Stephen Langton in July 1213 and on 3 October 1213, at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the agreement was confirmed by a royal charter bearing a golden seal and by the King placing his hands between those of the papal legate as a token of his submission.

The gesture would not have been dissimilar to the miniature in the Chronique de France ou de St Denis (Royal MS 16 G VI), depicting the moment in 1193 when John had paid homage to King Philip Augustus of France (r. 1180–1223) for his brother’s Richard’s continental lands.

Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (Royal MS 16 G VI, f. 362v), France, Central (Paris), after 1332, before 1350

Innocent III solemnly confirmed these acts in his 21 April letter to John, noting:

‘…you by a devout and spontaneous act of will and on the general advice of your barons have offered and yielded, in the form of an annual payment of a thousand marks, yourself and your kingdoms of England and Ireland, with all their rights and appurtenances, to God and to SS Peter and Paul His apostles and to the holy Roman to church and to us and our successors, to be our right and our property….’
(trans. C. R. Cheney and W. H. Semple)

He then goes on to recite the text of the King’s charter. At the foot of the bull appear the names and signatures of fourteen cardinals assembled as witnesses as well as the pope’s own signature, or ‘rota’ (a cross inscribed within two concentric circles). The bull has been sealed, like all papal bulls, with a lead seal (or bulla, from which the category of documents gets its name).

The interdict was itself lifted the following year, on 2 July 1214. The church bells were no longer silent and the sacraments of the church were no longer forbidden, meaning masses would again be celebrated and people could again bury their deceased relatives according to Christian rites. For the previous six plus years only the baptism of infants and the confession of the dying had been permitted.

Marginal drawing of a bell and clapper referring to the papal interdict (Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 90r), England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259
Marginal drawing of bells being rung referring to the relaxation of the papal interdict (Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 94r), England, S. (St Albans), 1250-1259

Innocent III’s support for John would be crucial during the baronial rebellion that led to Magna Carta. The Security Clause enforcing the 1215 agreement concludes: ‘We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished’. And yet, on 24 August 1215, Innocent III would issue a papal bull annulling Magna Carta on the grounds that it was extorted from the king by violence and fear, degrading his rights and dignity and the rights of the apostolic see besides.

The annual tribute from this agreement was paid to Rome, if irregularly, into the 1290s. However, English kings grew increasingly at odds with the papacy; no tribute was paid from 1300 to 1330 with the last payment ever recorded being for £1,000 in 1333 from Edward III (r. 1327–1377). The papacy continued to request its tribute, and the question of the growing backlog due from England on account of John’s submission was raised in 1365. This was debated in parliament with the conclusion that John’s original surrender had lacked the assent of the bishops and was thus in fact invalid, marking the formal end to English recognition of papal overlordship.

Both papal bulls are among the items you can see close up in our exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy open until 1 September 2015.

- Katherine Har

04 July 2015

Happy Birthday, Declaration of Independence!

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Today is the 4th of July, the birthday of one of the most famous documents in the world, the United States Declaration of Independence. This year we are celebrating another very important birthday at the British Library, namely the 800th anniversary (yes, eight hundred years) of the granting of Magna Carta by King John of England in 1215.

But we do like to do things in style at the Library. And so, this summer, for the very first time in the United Kingdom, we have on display not only Magna Carta BUT ALSO Thomas Jefferson's own copy of the Declaration of Independence AND the Delaware manuscript of the United States Bill of Rights!!! These are all truly sensational documents in their own rights, each of them testament to the fight for establishing rights and liberties in various forms across the ages, and for attempting to limit the rule of tyrants.

We have kindly borrowed Jefferson's Declaration of Independence from New York Public Library, and it's a fascinating artefact. Made a few days or so after the Declaration was ratified by the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia on 4 July 1776, this manuscript preserves the original state of Jefferson's text, before it had been amended by his fellow delegates. Some of its words and phrases are underlined, and these represent passages which were omitted from the final version of the text. One of those omissions is highly poignant, since it contained Thomas Jefferson's proposal that the slave trade be abolished -- he described this trade in the manuscript draft on loan to us as an 'execrable commerce', and he labelled King George III a tyrant for presiding over the transportation of men from one hemisphere to another. It's extremely moving to see this manuscript in the flesh.


HRH The Prince of Wales and exhibition curator Claire Breay looking at the Declaration of Independence at the opening of the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition

And just for good measure, the British Library's Magna Carta exhibition also contains a manuscript of the US Bill of Rights. This is the copy sent to Delaware in 1790, which was then sealed and returned to the federal government. We have been extremely fortunate to borrow this item from the US National Archives in Washington, DC, and we are extremely grateful to both of our lenders, and to the law firm White & Case for making these loans possible.

Magna Carta Exhibition DSC00581 (credit Tony Antoniou)

The Delaware manuscript of the United States Bill of Rights, currently on show at the British Library

And did you know another thing? If you're a big fan of American constitutional history, we're sure you'd like to know that you can also see one of the original printed copies of the US Declaration of Independence at the British Library this summer. Known as a 'Dunlap' printing (after its printer, John Dunlap), our copy was discovered by an American researcher in the United Kingdom National Archives in 2009, and has kindly been loaned to us by our friends at The National Archives.

EXT9-93 US Declaration of Independence 1776

A Dunlap printing of the Declaration of Independence, found at the UK National Archives in 2009

So don't miss the opportunity to see all these magnificent documents alongside Magna Carta! It truly is a feast for anyone interested in the history of England and the United States of America. The exhibition is open until 1 September 2015, and you can buy tickets here. Alternatively, you can read more about these items in the exhibition catalogue and on our dedicated Magna Carta website.

Julian Harrison

Co-curator, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy

15 June 2015

Magna Carta Celebrates Its 800th Birthday!

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The big day has finally arrived! Magna Carta, one of the most famous documents in the world is celebrating its 800th birthday. Granted by King John of England at Runnymede, a water meadow on the River Thames, on 15 June 1215, Magna Carta ('The Great Charter') established for the first time that everybody was subject to the law and nobody, not even our rulers, was above the law.


The only surviving photograph of King John signing Magna Carta at Runnymede in June 1215

So here are some Magna Carta facts and figures with which to impress your friends:

  • there are 4 surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, 1 of which belongs to Lincoln Cathedral, 1 to Salisbury Cathedral and the other 2 to the British Library
  • the documents are written on sheepskin parchment (note: Magna Carta was not written on moleskin as some people claim, you would have needed a pretty huge mole to have written 3,500 words of medieval Latin on it!)
  • 1 of the British Library's 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts was damaged in a fire in the 18th century, the other was found in a London tailor's shop in the 17th century (where it may have been about to be chopped up in order to line gentlemen's collars)
  • Magna Carta was originally a peace treaty between King John of England (1199-1215) and his rebellious barons; it was never intended as a blueprint for human rights
  • Magna Carta was annulled by the Pope just 10 weeks after it had been issued, being described as "shameful, demeaning, illegal and unjust" and declared "null and void of all validity for ever"
  • after Magna Carta was annulled, the barons rebelled for a 2nd time and offered the English crown to Prince Louis, son of the king of France; the French invaded England in late 1215
  • King John died in October 1216 and was succeeded by his 9-year-old son, Henry III; a new, revised version of Magna Carta was issued, securing the support of the barons and leading to the expulsion of the French
  • revised versions of Magna Carta were granted in 1216, 1217 and 1225, and the 1225 version was confirmed by King Edward I and entered onto the statute roll in 1297
  • Magna Carta was printed for the first time in 1508 (an English translation of the Latin text was published in 1534)
  • Sir Edward Coke (d. 1634) used Magna Carta in the 17th century to challenge the autocratic rule of the Stuart kings; Magna Carta was used at the trial of King Charles I in 1649, stating that nobody could have justice denied or delayed unto themselves
  • over the centuries Magna Carta has influenced and been cited by, among others, Sir Thomas More, William Penn, John Wilkes, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, Helena Normanton, Nelson Mandela and Eleanor Roosevelt
  • between 1828 and 1969 most of Magna Carta's clauses were repealed by Parliament, on the grounds that they were obsolete (since they referred to feudal customs) or had been superseded by other laws
  • just 3 clauses of Magna Carta remain valid in English law, namely the clause confirming the liberties of the English Church, that confirming the liberties of the city of London and all other cities, towns, ports and boroughs, and this, the most famous clause of all: "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice."

Here are some of the highlights of Magna Carta's year so far.

In February 2015, for the first time in history, the 4 surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta were brought together for a unification event at the British Library, before being taken to Parliament for one day.







In March HRH The Prince of Wales opened our major British Library exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy.





To date, the Magna Carta exhibition has been the most successful ever mounted by the British Library, and it remains open until 1 September 2015.

Magna Carta Exhibition DSC00567 (credit Tony Antoniou)

Magna Carta Exhibition DSC00590 (credit Tony Antoniou)

Magna Carta Exhibition DSC00595 (credit Tony Antoniou)


And in May we unveiled Cornelia Parker's new artwork Magna Carta (An Embroidery) at the British Library:

Cornelia-parker-with-a-fragment-of-magna-carta-an-embroidery-at-the-british-library-1 (1)


And here he is, King John, reputedly the worst king in English history!

Terry Jones


Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, featuring 2 of the original manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and US Bill of Rights and even 2 of King John's own teeth, is at the British Library until 1 September 2015.

14 June 2015

How The Forest Charter Was Saved From Destruction

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A short while ago we blogged about Magna Carta's smaller cousin, known as the Charter of the Forest. In 1217, Magna Carta's clauses relating to forest law were removed to a separate document, the Forest Charter. In our current exhibition we have on display a manuscript of the 1225 version of the Forest Charter, with the seal of King Henry III and its original medieval seal bag still attached. (You can also see it on our website and in the catalogue that accompanies our exhibition.) The Forest Charter is a beautifully preserved manuscript, but how has it managed to survive until the present day?

Forest Charter

The British Library's 1225 Forest Charter (Add Ch 24712)

A few days ago I was searching through our departmental archives, in quest of information about how the British Museum acquired our manuscript of the Forest Charter (Additional Charter 24712). I'd been prompted to do my search by Professor Nicholas Vincent (University of East Anglia), Principal Investigator of the Magna Carta Project, who is trying to determine the provenance of all the Magna Carta documents. I knew that the British Museum (the ancestor of the British Library) had acquired this item from a certain Mr Cain on 16 August 1875. But what I hadn't realised was the circumstances whereby Cain had acquired it, until I came across the following letter, bound in a volume of departmental correspondence ...

The letter itself is addressed to Edward Bond (d. 1898), Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum (1866–78), and it is signed by R. E. Cain. What it reveals about the Forest Charter, and its potential fate, is rather interesting.

1 Forest Charter Letter


41 Rathbone Place

August 10th 1875

Dear Sir,

I hasten to give you all the information I can in respect of "King Henry MSS" left with you last Saturday. In 1865, Cutten & Davis of Bassinghall Street sold the stock of a lithographer. Edwin Joseph Pennell of 4, Wood Street, Lambeth bought several lots, he bought Presses, stones & waste Paper. I helped him clear the lots and in the waste paper we found the MSS. left with you, insted [sic] of receiving 4/- for helping I chose rather to have the MSS. which he let me have, of cause [sic] you can write to Mr Pennell at Wood St if you like, I would rather you did not, for if he should find out I have sold the MSS. for £16-0-0 he will want £8-0-0 out of it but of cause [sic] I must leave this to you. I have tried to get the Catalogue from him but he says he cannot find it any where but I am as sure that it came from the sale at Cutten as I am sure of my own existance [sic]. I send you MSS book I bought at a book stall I believe it to be worth something, it's the best book on birds I have ever seen, if you can give me say £5-0-0 or anything less I should be pleased to part with it, I am known to Mr Butler, Francis Harray Esqr. St James's Street, Mr Waller Fleet Street, as always being on the look out for Autographs, MSS and old books.

Yours Faithfully

R. E. Cain

To Bond Esqr.

British Museum

P.S. I did think I should have got more than £16. I thought it would be worth about £40, but of cause [sic] you know the worth and I only think it's worth  R.E.C.


2 Forest Charter Letter

So piecing all this together, what can we deduce (apart from the fact that I'm beginning to sound a lot like Sherlock)? According to Mr Cain, the British Library's precious manuscript of the Forest Charter had been found among the waste paper of an unnamed lithographer, bought by one Edwin Joseph Pennell in 1865. Cain had asked to keep the document rather than receiving the 4 shillings he was owed for helping Pennell, and 10 years later he sold it to the British Museum for the more princely sum of £16. Note, however, Cain's rather defective negotiating skills — he believed the Forest Charter ("King Henry MSS") to be worth as much as £40, but he later offered a separate book of birds to the British Museum for around £5 "or anything less"! (The book of birds is now Additional MS 29892, and it dates from the 18th century.) Cain vouched for the fact the original sale had taken place at Cutten & Davis of Basinghall Street (near the Guildhall in the City of London), but he could not procure a copy of the catalogue from Mr Pennell, and nor was he minded that the British Museum should approach Pennell, because otherwise he might demand a share of the loot!

All in all this is a pretty rum tale, and Professor Vincent has observed to me that the report of the alleged discovery of this manuscript reminds him of the British television series Steptoe and Son (set in a rag-and-bone shop). But, if we do take Mr Cain at his word, it does suggest that our magnificent Forest Charter had been thrown away in 1865, only to be rescued quite by chance among some "Presses, stones & waste Paper".

And this manuscript is not the only fortuitous survival among the British Library's collections. Also in our Magna Carta exhibition are two manuscripts of the original Magna Carta, issued by King John in 1215. One of these two precious manuscripts was damaged in a fire in 1731 (and by a subsequent, failed attempt at restoration in the 19th century); the other was reputedly found in a London tailor's shop in the 17th century, where presumably it had been consigned as waste (I often tell our visitors that it would have been chopped up and used to line gentleman's collars). So our Forest Charter joins this lists of some of the greatest documents in history which nearly, but very nearly, didn't make it to the present day.

Julian Harrison


PS  We'd love to hear from our readers if they know anything further about the elusive Mr Cain, or Mr Pennell or the sale at Cutten & Davis in 1865. Get in touch with us via Twitter, @BLMedieval

PPS  Our exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, if you haven't heard, is the largest and most significant ever devoted to Magna Carta, and is on at the British Library until 1 September 2015

13 June 2015

The Magnificent Magna Carta Project

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The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has launched a film to publicise how the research undertaken during the three-year Magna Carta Project which they are funding has underpinned preparation for the Magna Carta exhibition and wider public programme at the British Library this year.



Claire Breay, Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, is a co-investigator in the project led by principal investigator, Prof. Nicholas Vincent from the University of East Anglia. Other co-investigators are Prof. David Carpenter from King's College London, Prof. Paul Brand from the University of Oxford and Prof. Louise Wilkinson from Canterbury Christ Church University.

Nicholas Vincent and David Carpenter have been members of the Library's advisory group which supported our development of the exhibition's themes and content. They contributed extensively to the catalogue, to our Magna Carta website and to a number of public lectures and debates in our conference centre. They have also been filmed and appear on screens in the exhibition and on our website. This partnership has helped to bring the research from the AHRC-funded project directly to the public through the British Library's exhibition and events programme.

Video-king-john-and-the-origins-of-magna-carta   Video-the-impact-of-magna-carta-in-the-13th-century
David Carpenter and Nicholas Vincent of the Magna Carta Project

The partners in the AHRC-funded Magna Carta Project were at the heart of our research day on 4 February 2015 during the week of the unification of the four 1215 Magna Carta documents. In the week of the Magna Carta anniversary itself, the Magna Carta Project will be holding a conference on 17-18 June at King's College London and on 19 June at the British Library, to present the research findings, together with a wide range of other papers, to mark the culmination of this three-year collaborative research project. The exhibition at the Library runs until 1 September 2015.


Nicholas Vincent (University of East Anglia), David Carpenter (King's College London) and Tessa Webber (University of Cambridge) examining the original manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta in February 2015

10 June 2015

Words on Sheepskin

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We have been overwhelmed by the critical response to our Magna Carta exhibition. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has already visited or has written to us about it, and we hope that many more people will do so before Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy closes on 1 September 2015. But readers of this blog may be aware that we're always happy to look at things from different angles, and Magna Carta is no different. We were recently approached by the poet Laila Sumpton, who had visited our exhibition and was keen to write a poem about it, reflecting on the nature of rights and our ongoing battle for them.

Laila poetry at KH

The poet Laila Sumpton speaking at Keats House

Here we publish Laila's poem. We hope it inspires you, much as Magna Carta as inspired people across the world in the 800 years since it was first granted by King John.


Words on sheepskin

We have rights, they are not given-

realised when inked, then acted.

We have rights destroyed, diluted, flouted,

then welded anew in rhetoric fires-

in a law maker wars that buffets our rights

between crown and barons, crown and commons,

with ‘boo’, ‘hurrah’ jousting over green benches.


Each decade rephrases our penalties,

our liberties, and the mound of cast-off laws

is growing- as the tailor re-fits skin

over bones and organs, then re-stitches

the tears on the cheek of Lady Justice,

adds to and weakens her muscles before

they argue and anoint her into being.

Whilst crowds gather to watch the few wielders

of libels, pamphlets and brazen placards

as they jump before all the king's horses

all the king's men; trying to put our lady

back together again.


Heirs of our rights were etched on a shield

held up by barons against a tyrant crown

laws as big as the sheep they were scratched on

with a few petering off down the legs

and into oblivion.

Above the shrivelled seal, of skeletal John

wrapped in robes with a sword pointing at God

shadows of former words proclaim that-


No free man is to be taken

without the lawful judgement of his peers.

That a woman’s word cannot imprison a man-

save on the death of her husband.

That all Welsh hostages must be returned.

That the Church of England shall be free.

That there must not be, under any circumstances,

any more fish weirs in the Thames of Medway.

That no town can be made to build a bridge,

unless they have an ancient oath to do so.

That widows can remain widows if they choose.

That wine, ale and corn should be measured

by the London quarter, everywhere.

That officials cannot partake as they please,

even if they do so in the London quarter.

That the City and their dragons can hold fairs

and be supreme, whilst no man, including the king,

most particularly the king, shall be above the law.


They scraped away gold, to reveal a wooden chair,

for below every polished floor is Earth,

and above each roof is sky-

so we still re-sole our boots

to march for the ghost and grandchild

of our Magna Carta.


Laila Sumpton


Laila headshot

Laila Sumpton (@lailanadia) is a member of the Keats House Poets and works in both the poetry and NGO world, hoping to bring the two together. She runs creative writing workshops at museums, charities, hospitals and universities and writes extensively about human rights issues. She co-edited 'In Protest- 150 poems for human rights', published by the University of London's Human Rights Consortium and is working on her first pamphlet with the working title of 'King Arthur in Kashmir.' 

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy is on at the British Library until 1 September 2015. The objects on display can also be seen in the exhibition catalogue and on our dedicated Magna Carta website.


08 June 2015

Magna Carta: My Digital Rights

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This week the public have the chance to shape a ‘Magna Carta for the digital age’, by voting for My Digital Rights clauses generated by school students from around the world. Launched with BBC Radio 1 earlier this year as part of the BBC’s Taking Liberties season, the project has been jointly conceived by the British Library, World Wide Web Foundation, Southbank Centre and British Council. The results will be published on Monday 15 June, Magna Carta Day.


In conjunction with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 25th anniversary of the web, more than 3000 10 to 18 year olds, over half of whom are overseas, have taken part in Magna Carta: My Digital Rights. The project is part of the British Library’s Learning programme, supporting our major exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, and encourages young people to think about the issues of freedom and control raised by Magna Carta in the context of the digital age.

Young people have taken part in debates and workshops to consider a range of digital topics from cyberbullying to surveillance, and they have written their own ‘clauses’ in response. Since January the Library has received over 500 clauses from schoolchildren relating to freedom, privacy and access. The clauses from students are striking: rather than a call for freedom or openness, half of the submissions reveal a marked concern about safety and security online.

The clauses from students include ideas such as:

  • The web we want will be safe and secure and have the ability to block and report malicious activities
  • The web we want will allow freedom of speech but discourage bullying 
  • The web we want will not let companies pay to control it, and not let governments restrict our right to information
  • The web we want will be private and not allow the government to see what we do online
  • The web we want will be untraceable to strangers
  • The web we want will be protective of all people
  • The web we want will be a human right

The British Library also consulted a range of public figures, including human rights activists, technology experts and surveillance specialists, during the course of the project. The contributors, such as Shami Chakrabarti, Professor Sir David Omand, Caroline Criado-Perez and Simon Phipps, wrote articles and featured in films as part of the project. 

The public can now vote for their favourite clauses on the My Digital Rights website until Monday 15 June, Magna Carta Day, when we will unveil the ‘Top 10’ clauses that emerge.