Sunday Reader: Lost Edition of Magna Carta Found

Lines of manuscript text are seen through a glass cabinet on the Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta as it is displayed with the three other surviving original parchment engrossments of the Magna Carta to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen's Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.

Lines of manuscript text are seen through a glass cabinet on the Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta as it is displayed with the three other surviving original parchment engrossments of the Magna Carta to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen’s Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.

The historic document, possibly worth near £10 million, found in Kent council archive

An edition of the Magna Carta which could be worth up to £10 million has been found after it lay forgotten in a council’s archives. The discovery of the version of the historical parchment which established the principle of the rule of law, in the files of the history department of Kent County Council, has been described as an important historical find by an expert.

The document was found in the archives kept in Maidstone but belonging to the town of Sandwich. Speaking from Paris, Professor Nicholas Vincent, of the University of East Anglia, who authenticated the document, said: “It is a fantastic discovery which comes in the week that the four other known versions were brought together at the Houses of Parliament. It is a fantastic piece of news for Sandwich which puts it in a small category of towns and institutions that own a 1300 issue.”

Prof Vincent said the fact Sandwich had its own Magna Carta gives backing to the theory that it was issued more widely than previously thought to at least 50 cathedral towns and ports. And he added the discovery gives him hope that further copies will also turn up.

There are only 24 editions of the Magna Carta in known existence around the world.

The seal of King John is seen on one of the four original surviving Magna Carta manuscripts that have been brought together by the British Library for the first time, during a media preview in London, Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. King John agreed the terms of the charter known originally as the Charter of Runnymede, now known as the Magna Carta, on June, 15, 1015, they were authenticated by John's great seal, not his signature, which established the timeless principle that no individual, even a monarch, is above the law.

The seal of King John is seen on one of the four original surviving Magna Carta manuscripts that have been brought together by the British Library for the first time, during a media preview in London, Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. King John agreed the terms of the charter known originally as the Charter of Runnymede, now known as the Magna Carta, on June, 15, 1015, they were authenticated by John’s great seal, not his signature, which established the timeless principle that no individual, even a monarch, is above the law.

Prof Vincent said: “It must have been much more widely distributed than previously thought because if Sandwich had one… the chances are it went out to a lot of other towns. And it is very likely that there are one or two out there somewhere that no one has spotted yet.”

Prof Vincent, who specialises in medieval history, said the value of the Sandwich edition could be up to £10 million, but it was ripped with about a third missing. He said: “This would be an upper value as it has, like the town of Sandwich, suffered over time from French invasions and the like.”

Members of the media film four of the original surviving Magna Carta manuscripts that have been brought together by the British Library for the first time, during a media preview in London, Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. The event marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which established the timeless principle that no individual, even a monarch, is above the law. The original Magna Carta manuscripts were written and sealed in late June and early July 1215, and sent individually throughout the country.

Members of the media film four of the original surviving Magna Carta manuscripts that have been brought together by the British Library for the first time, during a media preview in London, Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. The event marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which established the timeless principle that no individual, even a monarch, is above the law. The original Magna Carta manuscripts were written and sealed in late June and early July 1215, and sent individually throughout the country.

The discovery was made by archivist Dr Mark Bateson at the end of December just before the 800th anniversary year celebrations of King John’s concession. The Sandwich Magna Carta was found when Prof Vincent asked Dr Bateson to look up a copy of the town’s original Charter of the Forest.

It was found next to the charter in a Victorian scrapbook and its high value comes from the fact it also comprises the Forest Charter. There is only one other such pair in the world, owned by Oriel College, Oxford. It is understood that Sandwich does not intend to sell its Magna Carta but instead is hoping to benefit from its potential as a tourist attraction.

The Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta is installed in a cabinet by Chris Woods (right), the director of the National Conservation Service, to be displayed alongside the other three surviving original parchment engrossments of the Magna Carta to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen's Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London.

The Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta is installed in a cabinet by Chris Woods (right), the director of the National Conservation Service, to be displayed alongside the other three surviving original parchment engrossments of the Magna Carta to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen’s Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London.

Paul Graeme, mayor of Sandwich Town Council, said: “On behalf of Sandwich Town Council, I would like to say that we are absolutely delighted to discover that an original Magna Carta and original Charter of the Forest, previously unknown, are in our ownership.

“To own one of these documents, let alone both, is an immense privilege given their international importance. Perhaps it is fitting that they belong to a town where Thomas Paine lived, who proposed in his pamphlet Common Sense a Continental Charter for what were then the American colonies, ‘answering to what is called the Magna Carta of England… securing freedom and property to all men, and … the free exercise of religion’.”

People including Salisbury Cathedral archivist Emily Naish (left) look at the Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta as it is displayed with the three other surviving original parchment engrossments of the Magna Carta to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen's Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London.

People including Salisbury Cathedral archivist Emily Naish (left) look at the Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta as it is displayed with the three other surviving original parchment engrossments of the Magna Carta to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen’s Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London.

He added: “Through the American Declaration of Independence, continuing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Magna Carta still underpins individual liberties worldwide. To own such a document – and the Charter of the Forest – is an honour and a great responsibility.”

The four known 1215 editions are from Salisbury Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral and two held at the British Library. They were brought together for a one-day exhibition at Parliament for a crowd of 2,015 chosen by a public ballot.

Speaking of the exhibition, the Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza, said: “Magna Carta established the principle of the rule of law and equality before the law; for 800 years we have been influenced by its contents and it remains one of the most important political documents in the world, with countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada tracing constitutional influences back to Magna Carta.

Director of Information Services and Librarian at the House of Lords, Elizabeth Hallam Smith (second right) with Sir Tim Berners-Lee (right) with his family, looking at the Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta as part of the Maqna Carta and Parliament exhibition in the Palace of Westminster, London.

Director of Information Services and Librarian at the House of Lords, Elizabeth Hallam Smith (second right) with Sir Tim Berners-Lee (right) with his family, looking at the Salisbury Cathedral 1215 copy of the Magna Carta as part of the Maqna Carta and Parliament exhibition in the Palace of Westminster, London.

The Speaker, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, said: “Over the past eight centuries the public and their Parliament have shaped society and changed the way we live our lives. The sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Montfort parliament of 1265 marked the start of the journey towards modern rights and representation, paving the way for the House of Commons and democracy as we know it today.”

The parchment, which was issued by Edward I in 1300, is the final version of Magna Carta and three of its clauses remain on the statute books today. These include the defense of the church, the protection of the City of London and the right to trial by jury.

People look at the four surviving original parchment engrossments of the 1215 Magna Carta as they are displayed to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen's Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London.

People look at the four surviving original parchment engrossments of the 1215 Magna Carta as they are displayed to mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, in the Queen’s Robing Room at the Houses of Parliament in London.

The first Magna Carta was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and agreed by King John on June 15, 1215 to make peace with a group of rebel barons. It was reissued and reaffirmed on many occasions in subsequent years.

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