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Magna Carta: Ballot to view four original copies opens

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Media captionThe document of basic rights is seen as the cornerstone of constitutional law.

A ballot has opened for the chance to see the four remaining copies of the original Magna Carta displayed together for the first time.

Just 1,215 members of the public will attend the event on 3 February next year at London's British Library to mark the document's 800th anniversary.

The document of basic rights is seen as the cornerstone of constitutional law.

The library's two copies will be joined by those normally housed at Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals.

Magna Carta, meaning Great Charter, was agreed at Runnymede, Surrey, in 1215.

The charter was issued by King John as a way of solving the political crisis he faced when powerful barons rebelled against him and captured London.

'Still relevant'

Although almost all of the clauses have been repealed in modern times, the document established a number of important principles that remain in place and have been copied around the world.

Julian Harrison, curator of early modern manuscripts at the British Library, said: "It established for the first time that nobody - not even the king - was above the law and it contains certain principles relating to individual liberties which still remain relevant today. Nobody can be imprisoned or detained indefinitely without being put on trial."

The document inspired the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The free ballot runs to the end of the month.


Magna Carta

Image copyright British Library Board
  • Magna Carta outlined basic rights with the principle that no-one was above the law, including the king
  • It charted the right to a fair trial, and limits on taxation without representation
  • It inspired a number of other documents, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Only three clauses are still valid - the one guaranteeing the liberties of the English Church; the clause confirming the privileges of the City of London and other towns; and the clause that states that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgement of his equals
  • The British Library has two copies of the 1215 Magna Carta
  • One original copy is owned by Lincoln Cathedral and one by Salisbury Cathedral

Source: The British Library


Those selected in the ballot will be able to view the four Magna Carta manuscripts side by side, following an introductory speech about the legacy of the document from historian and TV presenter Dan Jones.

Some of the world's leading experts on the document are currently undertaking a major research project and the British Library said the unification of the documents would allow them to be studied much more closely in its conservation centre.

It said particularly faded or obscured parts of the text will be examined for new clues about the identities of the still-unknown writers of the texts.

This event will kick-start a year of commemorations across the UK and the world to mark the 800th anniversary.

The four original Magna Carta manuscripts will then go on display in their home institutions as part of major anniversary exhibitions.

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