Why are there so many Magna Cartas?

Magna Carta has gone on display at a newly created gallery in London

t is known by many as the document that ultimately resulted in modern democracy. So why are there so many versions around of Magna Carta?

Magna Carta is one of the most important, well-known documents in history and next year marks its 800th anniversary.

To celebrate this, London Metropolitan Archives is putting on display its version in a new heritage gallery.

“People imagine that it’s going to be really pretty, and that it’s going to be an illuminated manuscript, and it’s not, but that’s really interesting because it’s a working document,” said Geoff Pick, director.

“It was a negotiated peace treaty between warring sides.”

It is not the only one that is on display of course – there are in fact 17 copies of the Magna Carta which are known to have survived over the years.

But why are there so many?

The document was a peace treaty first agreed by King John in 1215 to appease rebel barons in the heart of battle.

Once the treaty was agreed, identical versions were copied out and sent to legal and religious officials across the country to make sure it was carried out.

About 250 copies were created, however it is impossible to know the exact figure as no official list was created. The ones which have survived are on display in places including Salisbury Cathedral, the British Library and the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Magna Carta was first agreed by King John on 15 June 1215

Magna Carta was reconfirmed six times by kings following conflicts with barons and would often be used by monarchs as a bargaining tool for more tax to support their military campaigns.

It was “I’ll reconfirm Magna Carta, if you let me do something else,” says Mr Pick.

Although there are many versions around, Mr Pick argues that the one the London Metropolitan Archives team looks after for the City of London Corporation is the most important.

This version, from 1297, is of historical interest because the king at the time, Edward I, allowed it to be confirmed in Parliament, meaning it was copied into the statute rolls and became law.

From that point, if a king wanted to change Magna Carta, he would change statute law, requiring the consent of Parliament, rather than reissuing the document.

There are three versions of the 1297 Magna Carta still in existence


What is Magna Carta?

Magna Carta outlined basic rights with the principle that no one was above the law, including the king

It charted the right to a fair trial, and limits on taxation without representation

It inspired a number of other documents, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Only three clauses are still valid – the one guaranteeing the liberties of the English Church; the clause confirming the privileges of the city of London and other towns; and the clause that states that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgement of his equals

The British Library has two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta

Source: BBCNews Read more