The Magna Carta dates from 15th June 1215, when an unpopular monarch, King John, was forced by rebel barons to agree to a long list of fundamental rights. After the charter had been accepted by the King, copies were made and distributed throughout the land. Today, these four copies have been reunited at the British Library to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the event. Earlier in the year, 40,000 people entered a ballot for the 1,125 tickets to see the brief encounter of the four historic documents.
Of the four originals, the only one never to have left the area where it was originally taken is the one in the care of Salisbury Cathedral. It has only been out of the city once and that was during WW2, when it was hidden underground nearby for protection. The copy from Lincoln Cathedral also travelled during the war, it was taken to Washington DC for safekeeping.
The Charter is important because it established the fundamental basis of law. It outlined basic rights with the principle that no one was above the law, even a monarch, and stated that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgement of his equals. Another clause put limitations on taxation without representation.
A later version of the Magna Carta was produced in 1297. This version had the significance that it was approved by King Edward 1’s parliament and thus became law. The document became the basis for many national constitutions, including that of the United States and also the Human Rights Act.
In commenting on the significance of the anniversary, the Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, Rev June Osborne said, “When people look at these documents they will be looking at the whole history of liberty. They will be very aware that there is no value that is more important to us than freedom.”