A Folio Society limited edition
The Great Charter presented in a meticulously produced facsimile accompanied by a certificate of authentication.
On 15 June 1215 the tranquil meadow of Runnymede provided the unlikely setting for an event which was to change the course of English history and, ultimately, resonate across the world. On the run from his rebellious lords, King John – the archetypal bad king, cruel, lascivious, cowardly, unlucky and incompetent in war – was compelled to submit to a charter which consigned generations of Plantagenet tyranny to history and guaranteed unprecedented freedoms to his subjects.
Magna Carta – The Great Charter – is by far the most significant concession to the people ever forced on an English monarch, and as the enduring symbol of the rule of law over the arbitrary authority of the despot it is the most famous single document in the history of England, if not the world. In its clauses the King pledges to right the injustices of his reign, renounce his absolute power and, among many other concessions, grant his subjects the right to a fair trial. It embodies the spirit of defiance and moderation of extremes which has long been associated with the character of the English people. 'Here', the historian Thomas Macaulay was to write over 600 years later, 'commences the history of the English nation'.
Though it was almost immediately annulled, Magna Carta was re-established during the wars which followed John’s death a year later. It survived to be cited as a touchstone of liberty in the great quarrels between King and Parliament, in the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and then spread far beyond the English realm. Magna Carta informed the debates which fuelled the American Revolution in the 1770s, and was a primary source for the Declaration of Independence and both State and Federal Constitutions in the American colonies. It inspired the French revolutionaries a decade later, yet was cited as a reason why Britain escaped the turmoil which engulfed Europe during the Napoleonic age. Ultimately, it brought about the break-up of the British Empire, as India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa sought and won their own freedom in the clauses of Magna Carta.
The British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns; for it was through the union of many forces against him that the most famous milestone of our rights and freedom was in fact set up
Phrases from Magna Carta have been reiterated in some of the world’s most important legislative documents, culminating in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Great Charter remains a totemic force, a rallying point for all who would challenge threats to the rule of law and to the fundamental freedoms we hold dear. The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of its first sealing, making Magna Carta the focus of debate, commemoration and celebration across the world as never before.
Four days after the King’s acceptance of Magna Carta a firm peace was established, and John accepted renewed homage from the rebel barons. While the King and the barons waited warily for one another to make good on the promises they had made at Runnymede, copies of Magna Carta were produced and read aloud in each of the 30 or so county courts of England, in Latin and French, and – in a suitably democratic flourish – probably in English as well.
Sadly, the original Magna Carta sealed by King John at Runnymede is lost. Of the copies distributed to the country at large during June and July 1215, only four survive – one each in the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury, and two in the British Library. The two British Library copies suffered contrasting fates. Cotton MS Charter xiii.31a, the only one to retain its original seal, was badly damaged in a fire in 1731 which destroyed part of the collection of the antiquarian and MP Sir Robert Cotton. However, Cotton MS Augustus ii.106 – the copy reproduced in the Folio Society facsimile – is splendidly preserved.
Nothing is known of the original destination of Cotton MS Augustus ii.106. The manuscript makes its first recorded appearance on 1 January 1629, when it was given to Sir Robert Cotton by the barrister Humphrey Wyems. Its survival is apparently owed to a remarkable stroke of luck – according to one account, it had been found in a London tailor’s shop and was narrowly rescued from being cut up into suit patterns.
I never thought I would be in the House of Commons on the day Magna Carta was repealed
The Folio Society’s facsimile of Cotton MS Augustus ii.106 has been painstakingly created to capture the appearance and feel of the original document. It is printed on a single piece of parchment, which has been hand cut to replicate the exact shape of the manuscript. Although this copy of Magna Carta has lost its seal, we have sufficient surviving examples from other copies of the Charter to produce a scrupulously accurate likeness of the original, depicting the King in majesty on the obverse. The replica seal is attached to the document with a parchment tag, as it would have been 800 years ago.
The presentation of the facsimile is faithful to the stateliness and elegance of the original artefact. It is displayed on a linen-mounted board covered by protective glass, in a beautiful oak frame bearing a descriptive brass plaque. On the reverse of the frame is a label stating the unique limitation number of each copy.
The facsimile of Magna Carta is accompanied by a certificate of authentication signed by David Way, when Head of Publishing at the British Library. The certificate is printed letterpress on Zerkall paper with deckled edges and numbered by hand; it is presented in an envelope also printed letterpress.
In addition, a copy of the most recent and authoritative study of Magna Carta is included with each facsimile – Magna Carta: The Foundation of Freedom 1215–2015, published by Third Millennium Information in collaboration with the British Library and the Magna Carta Trust. For this richly illustrated volume, the acknowledged world authority on the subject, Professor Nicholas Vincent of the University of East Anglia, is joined by a range of experts from around the world to provide a definitive account of Magna Carta, its genesis, its antecedents and its subsequent influence across the centuries. The book also contains a complete English translation of the 1215 text of Magna Carta.
John, by the grace of God King of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, count of Anjou, sends greetings to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, reeves, ministers and all his bailiffs and faithful subjects.
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No free man will be taken or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor shall we go or send against him, save by the lawful judgement of his peers and/or by the law of the land. To no one shall we sell, to no one shall we deny or delay right or justice.
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If anyone has been disseised or deprived by us without lawful judgement of his peers of lands, castles, liberties or his right, we shall restore them to him at once, and if any disagreement arises on this, then let it be settled by the judgement of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause securing the peace.
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Wherefore we wish and firmly command that the English Church will be free, and the men in our realm will have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights and concessions well and peacefully, freely and quietly, fully and completely for themselves and their heirs of us and our heirs in all things and places for ever, as is aforesaid. Moreover, an oath has been sworn, both on our part and on the part of the barons, that all these things aforesaid will be observed in good faith and without evil intent. Witness the above mentioned and many others. Given by our hand in the meadow of Runnymede between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth of June in the seventeenth year of our reign.
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