THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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12 posts categorized "Magna Carta"

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).

Magna Carta

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 [email protected], 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.

15 July 2013

Magna Cartas to be Unified for First Time

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The British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral are delighted to announce that their copies of Magna Carta, issued by King John in 1215, are to be unified for the first time in 2015. In an event to be staged at the British Library in London, scholars, curators and conservators closely involved in the study of Magna Carta will be given the unique opportunity to examine the Magna Cartas side-by-side. What's more, no fewer than one thousand, two hundred and fifteen (1,215) members of the public, selected in a ballot, will be able to view the original documents together for themselves.

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Miniature of King John in Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum: St Albans, c. 1250 (London, British Library, MS Royal 14 C VII, f. 9r)

The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. The three institutions have been working closely to organise this one-off event, which will initiate a year of global celebrations of this key constitutional document. Claire Breay, Lead Curator of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts at the British Library, says "Magna Carta is the most popular item in the Library’s Treasures gallery, and is venerated around the world as marking the starting point for government under the law. Bringing the four surviving manuscripts together for the first time will create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers and members of the public to see them in one place, and will be a fantastic start to a year of celebrations." The unification is kindly supported by the law firm Linklaters, whose partner Richard Godden comments: "The arbitrary authority of the state is just as much a threat today as it was in the day of King John and the principles enshrined in Magna Carta remain essential not only in relation to personal liberty but to creating an environment in which business can prosper. We forget them at our peril."

Magna Carta (British Library)


Detail of one of the British Library's copies of the 1215 Magna Carta (London, British Library, MS Cotton Augustus II 106)

Magna Carta was issued by King John of England in June 1215, in an attempt to stave off the demands of his rebellious barons. Although Magna Carta was annulled by Pope Innocent III within ten weeks, revised versions were issued on behalf of John's successors Henry III (1216–1272) and Edward I (1272–1307), in 1216, 1217, 1225 and 1297 respectively. On this final occasion Magna Carta was entered onto the statute roll, and thus became enshrined in English law. Its key clause has never been annulled, and has ensured Magna Carta's status as one of the foundations of international law, since it influenced the drafters of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and other constitutional texts. The relevant clause (actually clauses 39 and 40 combined) reads as follows:

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 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.

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Miniature of King John hunting on horseback: England, 14th century (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius D II, f. 116r)

Once Magna Carta was sealed (not signed) by King John, a number of copies were distributed to the sheriffs and bishops of England in June and July 1215. Just four of these copies of the original 1215 version of Magna Carta have survived, two of which are now held at the British Library and one each at Lincoln and Salisbury. The Lincoln and Salisbury Magna Cartas are presumably those sent to the respective cathedrals in 1215; the British Library's two copies both belonged to the antiquary Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), one of them being sent to him in 1630 by the lieutenant of Dover Castle, and the other being found in a London tailor's shop. Only one of the four original documents still has its seal attached, but that copy (at the British Library) was damaged badly by a combination of fire in 1731 and a failed attempt at restoration in 1834.

Lincoln Cathedral's copy of Magna Carta on occasion travels for display at other institutions, while one of the British Library's two copies was loaned to the Library of Congress for the United States bicentennial celebrations in 1976. However, it is still exceedingly rare for these documents to leave their usual homes, and entirely unprecedented for them to be brought together in one place. The fact that they were written and distributed over a number of weeks in 1215 means that this is the first time ever that these copies of the original Magna Carta have been unified.

You can read more about Magna Carta, including seeing the Magna Carta viewer, a complete translation, and virtual curator videos, on the British Library's website.

15 June 2013

15 June 1215: A Significant Date in History

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Some dates in history have more significance than others. Readers of 1066 And All That may recall that there are only two memorable dates in the whole of English history: according to the authors, "2 out of the 4 Dates originally included were eliminated at the last moment, a research done at the Eton and Harow match having revealed that they are not memorable". But one date that does continue to have resonance is 15 June 1215, the date of Magna Carta.

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King John of England (reigned 1199–1216), who may or may not have sealed Magna Carta on 15 June 1215: London, British Library, MS Royal 20 A II, f. 8v (described in our recent post, What Did Medieval Kings Really Look Like?).

Walter Carruthers Sellar and Robert Julian Yeatman, the aforementioned authors of 1066 And All That, put the events of 15 June 1215 into typical perspective:

"There also happened in this reign the memorable Charta, known as Magna Charter on account of the Latin Magna (great) and Charter (a Charter); this was the first of the famous Chartas and Gartas of the Realm and was invented by the Barons on a desert island and in the Thames called Ganymede. By congregating there, armed to the teeth, the barons compelled John to sign the Magna Charter, which said:

1. That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason (except the Common People).

2. That everyone should be free (except the Common People).

etc

6. That the Barons should not be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand.

Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People)."

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Magna Carta as reissued by King Henry III (reigned 1216–1272): London, British Library, MS Arundel 310, ff. 8v–9r.

The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the famous events in the meadow at Runnymede. The British Library, as custodian of two of the four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas, will be at the forefront of those celebrations. But what really happened on 15 June 1215?

A qualified answer to that question is: nobody really knows. The four surviving copies of Magna Carta (two at the British Library, the others at Lincoln and Salisbury) all bear the date 15 June 1215. As Claire Breay summarises in her book Magna Carta: Manuscripts and Myths (London: The British Library, revised edition 2010), "the exact sequence of events at Runnymede remains unclear ... [15 June] may be the date on which the Articles of the Barons were sealed [by King John], or, if that event had already taken place, it may be the date on which further details of the settlement were agreed." And therein lies the rub; as Breay says, "In common with other medieval charters, Magna Carta bore the date of the agreement itself, not the date of the subsequent issue of the charter by the king. Whatever the precise details of the sequence of events may have been – and these will probably never be certain – on 19 June the barons made formal peace with the king by renewing their oaths of allegiance."

If you'd like to know more about Magna Carta, have a look at our dedicated Magna Carta webpages, where you can examine one of the British Library's copies, read a translation, and find out answers to questions such as "Where did King John sign Magna Carta?", "Why is Magna Carta hard to read?", and "What does Magna Carta mean?".

13 May 2013

Why Do We Blog?

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Good question. Why do we blog?

The simple answer is we blog in order to tell you, our readers, about our wonderful manuscripts. We are custodians of world-class collections of ancient, medieval and early modern manuscripts; but it may not be immediately obvious to you what we look after at the British Library, and we're trying to do our best to remedy that.

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Detail of an historiated initial 'R'(ege) with a seated scribe labelled 'OSBEARNVS', a censing monk, animals, and animal heads: Life of St Dunstan, Canterbury, late 11th or early 12th century (London, British Library, MS Arundel 16, f. 2r).

We use this blog to promote our events and exhibitions, most recently our exhibition on Royal manuscripts. We also like to tell you about our various digitisation projects, and to draw your attention to some of our resources, most notably the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site and our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

This blog has recently undergone a facelift. Signficant changes are the new field labelled "Search this blog", in which you can discover our previous posts, and the ability to subscribe by email. And you can keep up-to-date via our Twitter feed, @blmedieval.

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Donatus writing his grammar, his ink-pot held by a monk labelled 'Heinre'(?), at the end of Sedulius Scotus's Expositio super primam edicionem Donati grammatici: Germany, 2nd half of the 12th century (London, British Library, MS Arundel 43, f. 80v).

Are we doing a good job? We hope so -- after all, we have received well-nigh half a million page-views in the last year-and-a-bit -- but please feel free to comment at the end of each post, and using Twitter. Most importantly, we want to encourage your research in and enthusiam for our marvellous medieval manuscripts.

Julian Harrison & Sarah J Biggs

07 January 2013

British Library Magna Carta Internship

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The British Library is offering a six-month volunteership for an American doctoral student to join the History and Classics Department in 2013, working on the Magna Carta Project. This position has been generously funded by the American Trust for the British Library.

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Detail from a 15th century English legal collection: London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 464, f. 32r.

The student’s primary focus in 2013 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 both 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 the section of the exhibition which will explore the use and impact of Magna Carta in the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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 including researching and documenting potential exhibits, assisting in the selection of the items to be exhibited, and contributing to the planning of the wider programme associated with the exhibition. 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 the legacy of Magna Carta. 

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 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 £8,000. 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 [email protected], or by post to 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB, by Friday 8 February 2013. A telephone interview may be held. All applicants will be notified of the results by the end of March 2013.

22 December 2012

Christmas Presents for Manuscript Lovers

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It's been another hectic year in the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section. We hope that you have enjoyed reading this blog (and continue to do so), and that you derive great pleasure from seeing some of the manuscripts that we look after.

In case you are still chasing last-minute Christmas gifts for manuscript lovers, here is a small selection of items relating to our collections.

Love Letters: 2000 Years of Romance, by Andrea Clarke (British Library, 2011), priced £10.

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Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination, edited by Scot McKendrick, John Lowden & Kathleen Doyle (British Library, 2011), the catalogue of our hugely successful Royal exhibition in 2011-12, priced £40.

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Magna Carta: Manuscripts and Myths, by Claire Breay (British Library, 2011), priced £7.95.

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Beowulf: Treasures in Focus, by Julian Harrison (British Library, 2009), priced £3.99.

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