Thousands to see Magna Carta original on display at Supreme Court
Visitors planning a trip to see the highest court in the land this summer will now be able to see one of the final reissues of Magna Carta, in a rare opportunity to view one of the original manuscripts for free.
Westminster Abbey has agreed to loan its engrossment of the version of the charter sealed by Edward I in 1300 to the Supreme Court, its neighbour on Parliament Square, as part of the Court’s special exhibition to mark 800 years of the Great Charter’s legal legacy.
The Supreme Court’s summer exhibition will highlight the principal legal rights Magna Carta was intended to protect in 1215, and explore how similar rights were protected beyond England in other parts of what is now the UK.
Interpretative panels will also explore how the legal significance of Magna Carta developed over time and was used by the courts to protect fundamental freedoms, as well as to inspire emerging nations to place the rule of law at the heart of their written constitutions.
The exhibition will be open to the public on weekdays between 3 August and 25 September, during which time the court is not sitting.
Jenny Rowe, chief executive of the Supreme Court, said: “The aim will be for visitors to leave with a clearer idea of the footprint Magna Carta has left in different parts of the UK, and the extent to which it still protects citizens today.”
“An image of Magna Carta is prominently displayed at the heart of the Supreme Court building on our Library doors, but the 800th anniversary provides a great platform for examining the facts behind some of the mythology which has grown up around the charter’s impact.
“We are approaching the subject with a critical eye and hope to explain how Magna Carta is an export of which the British can be very proud.”
The 1300 engrossment which will sit at the centre of the exhibition was one of several reformulations issued during the thirteenth century, and copies were sent to sheriffs across the country to be read to the public twice a year.
The Dean and Chapter of Westminster have held a copy for as long as their records stretch back, although this copy appears to have been the one initially sent to the sheriff of Wiltshire. How it made its way to the Abbey in the Middle Ages is unclear.
The document is in good condition, and will be kept in a specially-designed secure cabinet that will protect it from light exposure whenever visitors are not close to the cabinet.
Alongside the copy of an original Magna Carta, visitors will be able to see a rare copy of the first unabridged English language edition of the charter.
George Ferrers’ translation, first published in 1534, was corrected and reprinted in 1542, and a copy of that publication has been lent to the Court by the library of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh.
In addition to the kind loans of the main exhibits, the summer exhibition is being curated and produced with generous financial support from the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee.
The explanatory material is being written by John Forsyth (pictured), a freelance journalist and editorial consultant based in the Scottish Borders.
The exhibition will also have a permanent legacy in the form of an exquisite hand-written and extensively illuminated exemplification of Magna Carta in modern English.
The reproduction, commissioned by the Crown Office, will be housed in the Supreme Court’s permanent exhibition space from June this year.
This new exemplification was sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, the City of London and heraldic artists. Six vellum sheets will be mounted in a new display case to enable visitors to examine each of the 63 original clauses.