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Library of Congress to Display 800-Year Old Copy of Magna Carta, Part II

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In 1984, the Ross Perot Family Foundation bought a 1297 copy of Magna Carta from the aristocratic Brudenell family, who discovered they owned it in 1974 as a result of a survey of their archival holdings, for $1,500,000. The Brudenells had kept it on display on an easel at their ancestral home of Deene Park in Corby, Northhamptonshire.

Mr. Edmund Brudenell explained that it was necessary to pay for the upkeep of the family estate, stating, “Works of art and historic documents don’t pay the grocer and once the Magna Carta’s value was established, it then was a worry to have it in the house.”

In 2007, the billionaire David Rubenstein purchased this copy of Magna Carta at a Sothebys auction for $21,300,000. Now the only copy to be privately owned, it is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Rubenstein said, “It is the most important document in Western Civilization. It was the inspiration for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This is a gift to the American people. It is important to me that it stays in the United States.”

The Australian Parliament owns a 1297 reissue of Magna Carta that was originally sent to Robert de Glamorgan, Sheriff of Surrey, to be proclaimed in the county court and then spent centuries in an obscure Sussex convent. Eventually, it came into the possession of King’s School in Bruton, Somerset. In 1952, the Australian Government purchased it. The document is on display at Magna Carta Place in the federal capital of Canberra.

Hereford Cathedral (The Cathedral Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Ethelbert the King) has a 1217 copy. It is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science from Friday, February 14, 2014 (St. Valentine’s Day) to Sunday, August 17, 2014.

Durham Cathedral has two copies in its collection. It has a 1216 copy of Magna Carta in addition to the 1225 copy that will tour Canada in 2015.

The Library of Congress, the oldest federal cultural institution in the U.S. and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158,000,000 items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the federation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning Web site.

Over the summer of 2015, a copy of Magna Carta and a companion document, the Charter of the Forest, will tour Canadian cities. The exhibit Of Kings, Barons and Commoners will appear in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta Visitor Centre Edmonton, the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and the Fort York National Historic Site in Toronto.

Carolyn Harris wrote, “The six copies of Magna Carta from 1300, engrossed with the royal seal of Edward I are housed in libraries, archives, universities and churches in the United Kingdom. These documents are in the collections of Westminster Abbey, the City of London, Faversham Town Council, Durham Cathedral, Oriel College at Oxford and the Bodleian library. After the reign of Edward I, Magna Carta fell into comparative obscurity, only to be revived by the writings of the seventeenth century jurist, Sir Edward Coke. The decline of popular and political interest in Magna Carta may have resulted in the loss of many copies of the Great Charter but also allowed others to rest undisturbed in archives, waiting to be rediscovered!”

The Library of Congress stated, “The exhibition, which celebrates the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, will tell the story of the charter’s creation in England, reinterpretation through the centuries, and emergence as an enduring document of constitutional law in the United States.”

The Library’s 10-week exhibition will feature medieval manuscripts, published works, prints, photographs, maps, posters and annotated draft opinions by justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. The 75 items will be drawn from the collections of the Law Library of Congress and from the following custodial divisions at the Library: Prints and Photographs; Rare Book and Special Collections; Music; Manuscript; Geography and Map; and Serial and Government Publications...

Major support for this exhibition is provided by The Federalist Society and 1st Financial Bank USA, with additional contributions from The Burton Foundation for Legal Achievement, the Friends of the Law Library of Congress and the Earhart Foundation.
The Library’s exhibition will show how the interpretation of Magna Carta through the centuries led to the constitutional guarantees of individual liberty brought forth by the Founding Fathers of the United States. It will describe how a number of the most basic principles of the U.S. Constitution—consent of the governed, the right to a trial by jury, the right to due process of law, freedom from unlawful imprisonment and limited government under the law—can be traced to Magna Carta. Also, liberties associated with Magna Carta are not just for the history books; many of those liberties are still being litigated in U.S. courts today.

The exhibit’s narrative will start with the creation of Magna Carta ("Great Charter"), which was sealed in 1215 in a grassy meadow at Runnymede, by the Thames, when barons coerced King John into granting a number of rights and liberties. It will cover this conflict, the contents and purpose of Magna Carta and the great charter’s re-issue by subsequent kings and Parliament.

As the storyline continues, the exhibition will focus on Magna Carta’s rediscovery in the 17th century, when English jurists, especially Sir Edward Coke, made Magna Carta into the fundamental source of constitutional guarantees of individual liberties; Magna Carta’s adoption and interpretation in Colonial America; and Magna Carta’s influence on the creation of American written constitutions.

The exhibition will show the relevance of Magna Carta by tracing four important areas of constitutional jurisprudence from their medieval origins through present-day litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court. A small section will highlight the interpretation of Magna Carta in art, music, drama and cultural commemorations.

The Library of Congress convened an advisory board of scholars to help plan the exhibition content. The board includes Bruce O’Brien, professor in the Department of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington; Ellis Sandoz, the Hermann Moyse Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science and director of the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies at Louisiana State University; A. E. Dick Howard, the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Virginia School of Law; and Joyce Lee Malcolm, the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law.

The exhibition curator is Nathan Dorn, librarian in the Law Library of Congress, and the exhibition directors are Cheryl Ann Regan and Martha Hopkins from the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office.

With more than 5,000,000 items in various formats, the Law Library of Congress contains the world’s largest collection of law books and other resources from all countries and provides online databases and guides to legal information worldwide through its Web site.

[1] Old Sarum was a Norman fortress-city that no longer exists. After running into conflict with the garrison in the nearby castle, and with the permission of King John, Bishop Herbert Poore (died 1217) moved his see from the hilltop fortress-city to Salisbury Plain. During the Interdict, he fled to Scotland. His brother and successor, Bishop Richard Poore (died 1237), a former student of Stephen Langton, actually carried out the plan. He also platted the city of Salisbury in 1219.

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