A super-rare display of the four surviving original Magna Carta copies has begun in Great Britain, and it’s a once-in-an-eight century event.
The founding documents from 1215 were put on private display on Monday in London’s British Museum, in what is believed to be the first simultaneous exhibition of the Magna Cartas ever.
The Magna Carta was issued in June 1215 by King John of England and it established the concept that the King was not above the law of the realm. It also led to some familiar concepts in the U.S. Constitution, such as due process.
“No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land,” the Magna Carta read.
The 800-year Magna Carta anniversary is kicking off this week and will continue through 2015.
The library event was limited to 1,215 people, with about 40,000 entering a lottery to see the four documents. The four Magna Cartas will be at the museum for three days, until they make a trip to the House of Lords for one day.
Then two copies will return to the British Museum, while the other two return to cathedrals where they are stored.
“Eight hundred years later, the international interest and excitement about this unification event is testament to the extraordinary significance and symbolic power of these four manuscripts,” the British Library and the Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals said in a joint statement.
The British Library will then start a special exhibition in March that pairs its two Magna Carta copies from 1215 with two of America’s founding documents: the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
“It is believed that none of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of Independence, have ever been on display in UK before, marking a national first as they are exhibited as part of the British Library’s exhibition,” the British Library said in a statement last year when it announced the documents were coming to Britain.
The British Library will display Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration and one of 12 original copies of the Bill of Rights at the exhibition, called Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, which is set to run from March 13, 2015 to September 1, 2015.
The global law firm White & Case is supporting the loan of the Bill of Rights and Declaration to the library. The exhibition is sponsored by the global law firm Linklaters.
The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, were inspired by basic rights and concepts first articulated in the Magna Carta.
In addition to due process, the Magna Carta expressed the concept of higher law, or the law of the land, which meant that not even the king, or a legislature, was above the law.
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