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17 posts categorized "Magna Carta"

18 October 2014

The Death of King John

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King John of England (1199–1216), of Magna Carta fame, was by all accounts a particularly unpleasant ruler. The charges levelled against him, many of them during his own lifetime, included the murder of his nephew, the sexual predation of the wives and daughters of his nobles, and the starving to death of the wife and children of one of his former companions. So unpopular was John that his barons finally rose up in rebellion against his arbitrary rule, and against the severe punishments often inflicted upon them, until they eventually forced the king to grant them the Charter of Liberties, also known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. Few can have lamented King John's eventual demise at Newark Castle — most probably following an attack of dysentery —in October 1216. Writing some forty years later, Matthew Paris (d. 1259), monk and historian of St Albans Abbey, delivered the ultimate condemnation: 'Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John'.

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King John in happier times, hunting on horseback according to this illustration in a 14th-century manuscript (London, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius D II, f. 116r).

Today may, or may not, be the anniversary of King John's death. The medieval chroniclers could not reach consensus on the exact date that John died. Matthew Paris and his St Albans' predecessor, Roger of Wendover (d. 1236), plumped for 17 October. Ralph (d. 1226), abbot of the Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall (Essex), stated instead that King John had succumbed to his illness on 18 October. A number of monastic chroniclers, writing at Tewkesbury, Winchester, Worcester and elsewhere, favoured 19 October as the day in question. Of these various witnesses, we should perhaps give greatest credence to the anonymous chroniclers writing at Waverley Abbey (Surrey) and Southwark Priory (Surrey), both of whom asserted that the death of King John took place on 19 October. The manuscripts of these two chronicles (Waverley, British Library Cotton MS Vespasian A XVI; Southwark, British Library Cotton MS Faustina A VIII) were both being written in the year 1216, as evidenced by their numerous changes of scribe at this period. The same is also true, however, of Ralph of Coggeshall's Chronicon Anglicanum (the autograph manuscript of which is British Library Cotton MS Vespasian D X). Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris, in contrast, were writing many years after the events being described, and so their testimony — albeit possibly derived from an authentic St Albans tradition — is more open to question.

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Is this how King John met his fate? As early as the 13th century, it was alleged that he had been poisoned by a monk of Swineshead Abbey (Lincolnshire), seen here offering him a poisoned chalice (London, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius A XIII, f. 5v).

Earlier in his reign, King John had determined that he should be buried at the Cistercian abbey he had founded at Beaulieu (Hampshire). In October 1216, Beaulieu lay in that part of England which was held by the rebel barons; and so John asked instead that he be buried at Worcester Cathedral, where his tomb can still be seen. In fact, the tomb was opened in 1797, in order to confirm whether it did contain John's body, and certain of the remains removed, which are also on view in Worcester. Mr Sandford, a local surgeon, inspected the skeleton, and reported that King John stood 5 ft 6½ in. (approximately 1.69 m) tall. Unlike one of his successors, Richard III, John was clearly not buried under a carpark.

Next February, the four surviving manuscripts of King John's Magna Carta will be brought together at the British Library for the first time in 800 years. A ballot is currently being held to give 1,215 lucky winners the chance to see all four manuscripts side-by-side. The ballot closes on 31 October: don't forget to enter for your chance to take part in this moment of history! If you do miss out, you'll still be able to see the British Library's two 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts at our own major exhibition later in 2015: tickets are already on sale. And if you'd like to know more about the history of Magna Carta, take the chance to visit our new Learning webpages, which will be updated with more information next year.

Strangely enough, we doubt that King John would have been particularly amused by the modern-day celebrations planned for Magna Carta in 2015. Less than ten weeks after that document had been granted in June 1215, Magna Carta was annulled by Pope Innocent III, at John's request, declaring it to be 'shameful and demeaning, illegal and unjust, and null and void of all validity for ever'. Just over a year later, a revised version of Magna Carta was issued in the name of John's son, King Henry III (1216–1272), and the rest is history. King John never did get the last laugh.

07 October 2014

Magna Carta: Be Part of History

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Would you like to be part of history? Next February, the four original Magna Carta manuscripts, granted by King John of England in 1215, will be united for the very first time at the British Library in London. Today, we're announcing the launch of a ballot, giving 1,215 winners the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see those four documents side-by-side.

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The British Library in London, home to two of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

Magna Carta is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John as a practical solution to a political crisis, Magna Carta has subsequently become venerated as an international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power, and as a guarantor of individual liberties. Magna Carta has influenced the drafters of many constitutional documents (including the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and three of its clauses remain on the English statute book, including the most famous, which states that:

'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 other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement 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.'

Once King John had agreed to the terms of Magna Carta in June 1215, copies were drawn up for distribution throughout England, most probably to be sent to the bishops for safe-keeping. Four of these original documents still survive, two of which are kept at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral.

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Salisbury Cathedral, home of one of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. To kick-start that year of international celebrations, the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral are inviting 1,215 people to see these four Magna Carta manuscripts together for the very first time, for one day only (Tuesday, 3 February 2015).This will be part of a special event at the British Library, sponsored by Linklaters, the global law firm, and including a separate opportunity for academics working on the Magna Carta Project (sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) to study the manuscripts in close detail.

So here's what you need to know. The ballot to win tickets to this event goes live today. It's free to enter, and the ballot will remain open until 31 October, after which the winners will be selected at random. In addition to being given this once-in-a-lifetime chance to view the four Magna Carta manuscripts in one place, 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.

Following the unification, the four Magna Carta manuscripts will return to their home institutions to be displayed as part of the 800th anniversary celebrations. The British Library's own exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, runs from 13 March to 1 September 2015, and separate exhibitions will be held at Salisbury and Lincoln Cathedrals.

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Lincoln Cathedral, home of another of the four surviving manuscripts of the 1215 Magna Carta

If you want to learn more about the background to Magna Carta, you can now also visit the British Library's new Magna Carta webpages.

Good luck to everyone who enters the ballot. We look forward to meeting the lucky winners on 3 February, and if you're not lucky this time round, we'd be delighted to see you at our respective Magna Carta exhibitions in 2015.

04 October 2014

Magna Carta Tickets On Sale

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Tickets for our major 2015 exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, are now on sale. The exhibition runs from 13 March until 1 September 2015, and promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime show which explores the history and resonance of this globally-recognised document.

A standard adult ticket costs £13.50 (with gift aid); entry for under 18s and Friends or Patrons of the British Library is free, and concessions are available for other visitors. Full ticketing details can be found on the British Library's dedicated Magna Carta webpage.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy is sponsored by Linklaters, and will feature the British Library's two copies of King John's 1215 Magna Carta, together with other items from our collections and generous loans from other institutions and private individuals, all of which will help to trace the journey of Magna Carta from its medieval origins to its modern significance. Among the exhibits will be a copy of the American Declaration of Independence, in the hand of Thomas Jefferson (on loan from the New York Public Library), and the copy of the US Bill of Rights sent to Delaware (loaned from the US National Archives). You can read more about these documents in an earlier blogpost.

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King John riding on horseback, from a 14th-century legal collection (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius D II, f. 116r).

We are extremely grateful to Linklaters for their financial support of our exhibition, and to White & Case for sponsoring the loan of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights from the USA.

More Magna Carta news will be posted on this blog in the next few days. Don't forget to follow our Twitter account (@BLMedieval) for news on Magna Carta: 2015 promises to be a very exciting year!

03 July 2014

Famous US Documents In Our Magna Carta Exhibition

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Claire Breay 

 

15 June 2014

Magna Carta Webpage Goes Live

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It's exactly one year to go until the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta (15 June 2015). To mark that anniversary, the British Library will be staging a major exhibition — Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy — telling the story of that document and the people who have used (and abused it) from 1215 until the present day. Our dedicated webpage for that exhibition is now live. Over the coming months we'll be adding more information to it, including how to book tickets, details of our events programme and news about the unification of the four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas in February 2015. The British Library's exhibition, which is sponsored by Linklaters, promises to be spectacular, and we're already very excited about it; so please keep an eye on the webpage for our latest news.

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In the meantime, here is our list of 10 things you didn't know about Magna Carta (unless, of course, you've been reading our blog!).

21 April 2014

Magna Carta in England's Hall of Fame

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A poll conducted recently by Visit England has chosen the four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta for inclusion in England's Hall of Fame. Members of the public were asked to nominate their favourite English things, and then a panel of experts made the official selections across six categories. The British Library's two copies of Magna Carta, together with those held by Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, have been awarded Bronze in the History & Heritage category, behind the gardens of Capability Brown at Kirkhale Lake and Courtyard, Northumberland (Silver), and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Gold).

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We're delighted to have been chosen for this accolade. The competition was undoubtedly fierce, and other award-holders include the Sandwich (winner in the Food & Drink category), The Beatles (winner in Culture & Entertainment), and Banksy (Bronze in The Great, the Good and the Notorious).

Here at the British Library we are planning our celebrations in 2015 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, issued by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 2015. Our events will include the three-day unification of the four originals in February 2015, in partnership with our friends at Lincoln and Salisbury, and a major Magna Carta exhibition to be held at the British Library from March until September 2015. We will be posting more information about that exhibition on this blog in due course.

Meanwhile, there will be a free open-air exhibition about England's Hall of Fame on London's Southbank from St George's Day, 23 April, until 30 April 2014.

02 December 2013

Magna Carta Internship 2014

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British Library Volunteer Programme 2014

Magna Carta Project, Department of History and Classics 

The British Library is offering a six-month volunteership for an American doctoral student to join the History and Classics Department in 2014. This position has been generously funded by the American Trust for the British Library.

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The student’s primary focus in 2014 will be contributing to the development of the Library’s major temporary exhibition on Magna Carta which will open in 2015 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the granting of the document in 1215. The exhibition will examine the medieval history of Magna Carta and its post-medieval impact and legacy, both in Britain and around the world.

We are particularly keen to receive applications from students able to contribute to the development of gallery interactives for the medieval sections of the exhibition. For that reason, it is essential that candidates have strong knowledge of medieval British history and excellent medieval Latin. Expertise in reading medieval documentary script is desirable.

The student will work closely with the Lead Curators of the exhibition, Dr Claire Breay, Lead Curator for Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, and Julian Harrison, Curator of Pre-1600 Historical Manuscripts. The intern will be involved in a wide variety of duties relating to the planning and preparation of the exhibition, and the wider programme associated with it. The project will provide the intern with invaluable research and practical experience of preparing for a major international manuscript exhibition. 

During the internship, the student will enjoy privileged access to printed and manuscript research material, and will work alongside specialists with wide-ranging and varied expertise. The position is designed to provide an opportunity for the student to develop research skills using original historical manuscript sources, and expertise in presenting manuscripts to a range of audiences.

Qualifications

The programme is only open to US citizens who are engaged actively in research towards, or have recently completed, a PhD in a subject area relevant to the study of Magna Carta. Applicants must have a strong knowledge of medieval British history and excellent medieval Latin.

Terms

The term of the placement is for a period of six months. The placement is voluntary and therefore unpaid.  However, the successful applicant will be reimbursed in respect of actual expenses in the performance of his or her duties, such as visa costs, direct travel expenses to London and commuting expenses to the British Library, accommodation, and immediate living expenses such as food (but not clothing or alcohol), subject to a maximum of £10,000. The volunteer will be responsible for making his or her own travel and accommodation arrangements.

If the applicant does not hold the right to work in the United Kingdom, the Library will sponsor the volunteer for a visa using the UK Border Agency’s points-based system under Tier 5 Charity Workers. The successful candidate will be required to submit the relevant application form to the local processing centre. The processing fee will be reimbursed by the Library.  No placement may commence until the appropriate right to work documents have been obtained and verified.

How to apply

Please send an application letter detailing the months you would be able to be in London, a résumé, and two reference letters to Dr Claire Breay, Lead Curator, Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts, The British Library, by email to claire.breay@bl.uk, or by post to 96 Euston Road, LondonNW1 2DB, by Saturday 1 February 2014.  A telephone interview may be held. All applicants will be notified of the results by the end of March 2014.

22 October 2013

Lindisfarne Gospels Back in Treasures

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Regular visitors to the British Library may be aware that some of our greatest treasures are often to be found on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery. At the time of writing you can see medieval manuscripts such as Magna Carta, Beowulf and the Luttrell Psalter; and we're delighted to announce that the magnificent Lindisfarne Gospels is a new addition to that list.

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Canon table in the Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 14v).

Now on display in London are two pages from the canon tables which preface the Lindisfarne Gospels. This Northumbrian gospel-book, renowned for its lavish carpet-pages and miniatures of the four evangelists, was made at the beginning of the 8th century, according to a colophon added some 250 years later (f. 259r). The canon tables provide readers with a concordance to the Four Gospels, allowing them to locate episodes described by more than one evangelist. Those tables in the Lindisfarne Gospels are notable for the intricate ornamentation of the columns, and for the rich palette of reds and blues, found elsewhere in the decoration of the manuscript.

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Detail of the Lindisfarne Gospels canon table (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D IV, f. 15r).

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library is open seven days a week, and is free to visit. You may also like to know that the Lindisfarne Gospels can be viewed in its entirety on our Digitised Manuscripts site.