The exhibition is, of course, part of the celebrations of the 800th Anniversary of the Charter, and it is both fascinating and comprehensive.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically, starting with some background reading - a beautifully illuminated scroll setting out King John's genealogy, Henry I's coronation charter, and the Laws of King Cnut, reminding us that Magna Carta didn't emerge from a vacuum, but built on previous ideas and legal agreements. There were contemporary accounts of John's first forays into warfare (in Ireland) and of his murder of his nephew Arthur, and documents relating to the political and financial issues which led up to Magna Carta (the Papal Interdict, documents relating to the treatment of Jewish moneylenders, and so on.) The Papal Bull which put England under the Pope's overlordship is also displayed, as the the Statute of Pamiers, which was a charter issued by Simon de Montfort to his French subjects in 1212, guaranteeing rights similar to those in Magna Carta.
|Thomas Cromwells's remembrances:|
Photo British Library
There were also copies of the later Charters, reissued in 2017, and by Henry III.
The next stage of the exhibition moves on and looks at how Magna Carta was used and invoked, including a handwritten note by Thomas Cromwell (believed to relate to Sir Thomas More's trial), The Petition of Right of 1628, to King Charles I, (and printed details of his trial) and the Bill of Rights of 1688, (which invited William and Mary of Orange to take the throne, and set lmits to their power if they did)
|Declaration of Independence :|
Photo from NY Public Library
And then moved on to the Colonies, starting with transcripts of the trial of William Penn (at which the Judge notoriously imprisoned the jury for failing to give the guilty verdict he felt appropriate!),and including Thomas Jefferson's handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, and contemporary printed copies, together with material relating to the laws of various of the original States, some of which, such as Massachusetts and Virginia specifically invoked Magna Carta.
There are also political cartoons relating to the French Revolution, and to to the Chartist movement in this country.
The remaining section of the exhibition relates to more recent developments - documents relating to the East India Company, and, later, the Colonies. There are also documents relating to Churchill's suggestion to give the Lincoln Magna Carta to the USA, in the hopes this would encourage the US to join the War, and modern political cartoons, as well as, on a lighter note, Magna Carta themed jigsaws, games, a Ladybird Book, and of course Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That which notes that John was a Bad King, but that Magna Carta was a Good Thing (which, now I come to think of it, is srguably the message of this exhibition, too!)
Right at the end of the exhibition are the British Library's two copies of Magna Carta, the 'London'and 'Lincoln' copies.
|The 'London' Magna Carta - British Library|
The exhibition continues until September, so I am hoping that I shall have a chance to go back, perhaps when the exhibition is a little less crowded (well, a girl can hope!). If you are in or near London between now and September, I'd strongly recommend going.