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Surviving copies of Magna Carta to be reunited after 800 years

Surviving copies of Magna Carta to be reunited after 800 years

The four surviving original copies of Britain's Magna Carta are to be reunited in 2015. Photo: Associated Press

LONDON (Reuters) – The four surviving original copies of Britain’s Magna Carta, the document that first defined government powers as limited by law, will be brought together in 2015 for the first time to mark the charter’s 800-year anniversary.

The British Library said on Monday the four documents, currently held by Lincoln Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral and two by the British Library, would be united at the national library in London for a three-day exhibition.

Originally published in 1215, Magna Carta, meaning “The Great Charter”, was intended by then-King John to placate powerful English barons who were rebelling against him over unsuccessful foreign policies and rising taxes.

Written in Latin on sheepskin parchment, the charter limited King John’s hitherto arbitrary powers by asserting for the first time that English royalty was to be subject to the law.

All but three of the Magna Carta’s 63 clauses have now been repealed. Those that remain include one protecting the liberties of the English church, another confirming the privileges of the city of London, and the most famous clause concerning civil liberties and guaranteeing judgment through the law.

The text became the foundation for the English system of common law and remains an important cornerstone of the unwritten British constitution in its use to defend civil liberties.

Its principles are also echoed in the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“(Magna Carta) is venerated around the world as marking the starting point for government under the law,” Claire Breay, lead curator of medieval and earlier manuscripts at the British Library, said in a statement.

The 2015 event will give researchers and the public a chance to study the texts side-by-side to look for clues about the still-unknown authors of the work.

The British Library said that 1,215 members of the public would be chosen by ballot to receive free tickets to see the unified manuscripts.

“Bringing the four surviving manuscripts together for the first time will create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers and members of the public to see them in one place,” said Breay.

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