03 February 2020

The Mystery of the Magna Carta

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    The Magna Carta has been a mystery to scholars for centuries, research in recent years has shown there is so much more to discover and learn. However, despite this ancient text being a constant source of conundrum, experts from the Magna Carta Project have established the scribe of at least one and possibly two of the original Magna Cartas of 1215.

     

    “To have found and identified the work of these scribes, 800 years after their writing, is a significant achievement, certainly equivalent to finding needles in a very large haystack.”

    Prof. Nicholas Vincent

     

    Our scholars set out to examine and research sections of the Magna Carta in the hope of new discoveries. Collaborating with King’s College London, we made the landmark discovery of who it was that wrote the Lincoln Charter (and most likely who wrote the Salisbury Charter). This discovery came on the eve of the 800th anniversary of the ratification of the Magna Carta. Authorised on June 15th, 1215 by King John, Magna Carta asserts the fundamental principle of the rule of law. However, the new finding of who actually penned these principles points to the church as the stimulus behind the charter’s production.

    The Magna Carta Project has undertaken detailed work on the four surviving 1215 charters. The project also works closely with curators at the British Library and an expert at the University of Cambridge. The researchers on the project established that the Lincoln and Salisbury charters were written by religious scribes working outside the kind own writing office.

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    “King John had no real intention that the charter be either publicized or enforced. It was the bishops, instead, who insisted that it be distributed to the country at large and thereafter who preserved it in their cathedral archives.”

    Prof. Nicholas Vincent

     

    Therefore, the major finding that the church was responsible for the production of the texts lends itself to other exciting discoveries: namely, that one of the original copies of the Magna Carta was sent in 1215 to Canterbury Cathedral and can now be known as ‘The Canterbury Magna Carta’. Professor Vincent states that three of the four surviving originals of the charter went to cathedrals: Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. It is probably that cathedrals were the destination for the majority of other original charters issued in 1215.

     

    “The cathedrals were like a beacon from which the light of the charter shone round the country, thus beginning the process by which it became central to national life.”

    Prof. Nicholas Vincent

     

    The researchers on the project have concluded that the church was central to the production, preservation and proclamation of Magna Carta. The eye-opening exhibition demonstrates the importance of understanding the society we live in today and the formative influence of the United Kingdom’s experience on institutions all over the world.

    The Magna Carta Project has been made possible for researchers from UEA, and other collaborating universities, by a grant from The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The British Library is a partner and UEA Medieval History Professor, Nicholas Vincent, works alongside Professor David Carpenter to carry out this project.

    The aim of this study is to investigate the context, production and reception of the Magna Carta. A project website has been established to provide detailed information about the Magna Carta and the outcomes of the investigation.