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Teeth extracted from King John to be displayed at British Library

King John's tooth Image copyright PA
Image caption It is believed an apprentice took King John's teeth in 1797 as a souvenir when his tomb was opened

Teeth extracted from a medieval English King will be displayed as part of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Two molars belonging to King John, who granted the charter in 1215, will be displayed at the British Library alongside two copies of the document.

The library said the teeth were taken by an apprentice in 1797 when the monarch's tomb was opened.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy which celebrates the roots of parliamentary democracy, opens on 13 March.

Curator of the exhibition Julian Harrison said: "John's tomb at Worcester Cathedral was opened for a brief period in 1797, and certain body parts removed as souvenirs... by William Wood, a stationer's apprentice."


King John 1166-1216

Image copyright Thinkstock
  • King John, the youngest son of Henry II, became king in 1199
  • He went into war with France and by 1206 had lost Normandy, Anjou, Maine and parts of Poitou. Determined to win them back he required money. Taxes soared, prompting the civil war of 1215
  • When the rebels seized London, John was compelled to accept Magna Carta
  • Later, King John said he had signed it under duress leading to further civil war, but his death in 1216 prompted compromise and the succession of his son Henry III

A thumb bone, reputedly that of King John, which was returned to the cathedral in 1957, will also be displayed.

King John authorised the Magna Carta on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede to appease rebel barons in the heart of battle.

It is now considered one of the first steps towards parliamentary democracy and includes the principle that no one was above the law, including the king,


What was Magna Carta?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There are four originals of the 1215 Magna Carta in existence

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

Earlier this month, the four surviving original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta were united for three days at the British Library.

More than 40,000 people entered a public ballot for 1,215 tickets to see them.

The exhibition will also include King John's will and Thomas Jefferson's handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, as well as one of the original copies of the US Bill of Rights.

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