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Author Topic: MAGNA CARTA  (Read 1438 times)
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« Reply #15 on: December 06, 2007, 08:35:26 pm »

Eighteenth century

The power of the Magna Carta myth still existed in the 18th century; in 1700 Samuel Johnson talked of Magna Carta being “born with a grey beard” referring to the belief that the liberties set out in the Charter harked back to the Golden Age and time immemorial. However, ideas about the nature of law in general were beginning to change. In 1716 the Septennial Act was passed, which had a number of consequences. Firstly, it showed that Parliament no longer considered its previous statutes unassailable, as this act provided that the parliamentary term was to be seven years, whereas fewer than twenty-five years had passed since the Triennial Act (1694), which provided that a parliamentary term was to be three years. It also greatly extended the powers of Parliament. Previously, all legislation that passed in a parliamentary session had to be listed in the election manifesto, so in effect the electorate was consulted on all issues that were to be brought before Parliament. However, with a seven-year term, it was unlikely, if not impossible, that all the legislation passed would be discussed at the election. This gave Parliament the freedom to legislate as it liked during its term. This was not Parliamentary sovereignty as understood today however, as although Parliament could overrule its own statutes, it was still considered itself bound by the higher law, such as Magna Carta. Arguments for Parliamentary sovereignty were not new; however, even its proponents would not have expected Parliament to be as powerful as it is today. For example, in the previous century, Coke had discussed how Parliament might well have the power to repeal the common law and Magna Carta, but they were, in practice, prohibited from doing so, as the common law and Magna Carta were so important in the constitution that it would be dangerous to the continuing existence of the constitution to ever repeal them.

Extent of the Commons' powers

In 1722 the Bishop of Rochester (Francis Atterbury (a Stuart Jacobite)), a member of the House of Lords, was accused of treason. The Commons locked him in the Tower of London, and introduced a bill intending to remove him from his post and send him into exile. This, once again, brought up the subject of which was the more powerful house, and exactly how far that power went. Atterbury claimed, and many agreed, that the Commons had no dominion over the Lords. Other influential people disagreed however; for example, the Bishop of Salisbury (also a Lord) was of the strong opinion that the powers of Parliament, mainly vested in the Commons, were sovereign and unlimited and therefore there could be no limit on those powers at all, implying the dominion of the lower house over the upper house. Many intellectuals agreed; Jonathan Swift went so far as to say that Parliament’s powers extended to altering or repealing Magna Carta. This claim was still controversial, and the argument incensed the Tories. Bolingbroke spoke of the day when “liberty is restored and the radiant volume of Magna Carta is returned to its former position of Glory”. This belief was anchored in the relatively new theory that when William the Conqueror invaded England he only conquered the throne, not the land, and he therefore assumed the same position in law as the Saxon rulers before him. The Charter was therefore a recapitulation or codification of these laws rather than (as previously believed) an attempt to reinstate these laws after the tyrannical Norman Kings. This implied that these rights had existed constantly from the ‘golden age immemorial’ and could never be removed by any government. The Whigs on the other hand claimed that the Charter only benefited the nobility and the church and granted nowhere near the liberty they had come to expect. However although the Whigs attacked the content of the Charter, they did not actually attack the myth of the ‘golden age’ or attempt to say that the Charter could be repealed, and the myth remained as immutable as ever.
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« Reply #16 on: December 06, 2007, 08:37:56 pm »


The 1765 Stamp Act extended the stamp duty, which had been in force on home territory since 1694 to cover the American colonies as well. However, the colonists despised this since they were not represented in Parliament and refused to see how a body, which did not represent them, could tax them. The cry ‘no taxation without representation’ rang throughout the colonies.

The influence of Magna Carta can be clearly seen in the U.S. Bill of Rights, which enumerates various rights of the people and restrictions on government power, such as:

No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Article 21 from the Declaration of Rights in the Maryland Constitution of 1776 reads:

That no freeman ought to be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, or privileges, or

outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, or deprived of his life, liberty, or property, but by the

judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.
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« Reply #17 on: December 06, 2007, 08:40:03 pm »

Parliamentary sovereignty

The doctrine of parliamentary supremacy (if not parliamentary sovereignty) had largely been established 1765 when William Blackstone argued strongly for sovereignty in his Commentaries on the English Law. He essentially argued that absolute supremacy must exist in one of the arms of Government; and he thought it resided in Parliament, as Parliament could legislate on anything, even legislating the impossible if they wished, regardless of whether it was practical.

The debate over whether or not Parliament could limit or overrule the supposed rights granted by Magna Carta was to prove to be the basis for the discussion over parliamentary sovereignty. Blackstone thought however that despite Parliament's power, it should respect Magna Carta as a show of law from time immemorial.

The other great legal mind of the time Jeremy Bentham used the Charter to attack legal abuses
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« Reply #18 on: December 06, 2007, 08:41:20 pm »

John Wilkes

In 1763 John Wilkes, an MP was arrested for writing an inflammatory pamphlet, No. 45, 23 April 1763. In his defence, he continually cited Magna Carta, and the weight that Magna Carta held at the time meant Parliament was wary of continuing the charge. He was released and awarded damages for the wrongful seizure of his papers, as the general warrant under which he was arrested was deemed illegal. He was still expelled from Parliament and spent a week in the Tower of London.

He spent a number of years abroad until 1768 when he returned and failed to be elected as the MP for London. Unperturbed he stood again for Middlesex but he was expelled again based on the earlier offence the next year. He stood again and was elected but the Commons ruled that he was ineligible to sit. At the next three re-elections Wilkes again was the champion, but the House did not relent and his opponent, Lutteral, was announced the winner.

The treatment of Wilkes caused a furore in Parliament, with Lord Camden denouncing the action as a contravention of Magna Carta. Wilkes made the issue a national one and the populace took up the issue. All over the country, there were prints of him being arrested whilst teaching his son about Magna Carta. He received the support of the Corporation of London, which had long sought to establish its supremacy over Parliament, based on the Charter.

Those who supported Wilkes often had little or no knowledge of the actual content of the Charter, or if they did, were looking to protect their own position based on it (such as the Corporation of London). Wilkes re-entered the House in 1774 having begun the cause for a reform movement to ‘restore the constitution’, through a more representative, less powerful, and shorter termed Parliament.

Granville Sharp

One of the principal reformists was the philanthropist Granville Sharp. Sharp called for the reform of Parliament based on Magna Carta, and to back this up he devised the doctrine of accumulative authority. This doctrine stated that because almost innumerable parliaments had approved Magna Carta it would take the same number of Parliaments to repeal it. Like many others, Sharp accepted the supremacy of Parliament as an institution, but did not believe that this power was without restraint, and thought that Parliament could not repeal Magna Carta. Many reformists agreed that the Charter was a statement of the liberties of the mythical and immemorial golden age, and there was a popular movement to have a holiday to commemorate the signing of the Charter in a similar way to the American 4th of July holiday; however, very few went as far as Sharp.
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« Reply #19 on: December 06, 2007, 08:43:09 pm »

Proposed reform of Magna Carta

Although there was a popular movement to resist the sovereignty of Parliament based on The Charter, others thought that too much was claimed for the Charter. Cartwright pointed out in 1774 that Magna Carta could not have existed unless there was a firm constitution beforehand. He went even further later and claimed that the Charter was not part of the constitution, but merely a codification of the constitution that existed at the time. Cartwright went on to suggest that there should be a new Magna Carta based on equality and rights for all, not just for landed persons.

People like Cartwright were showing that the rights granted by the Charter were out of pace with the changes that had happened in the intervening six centuries. There were certain provisions, such as Clauses 23 and 39, which were not only still valid then but still form the basis of important rights in the present English law. Undeniably, though, the importance of Magna Carta was diminishing and the arguments for having a fully sovereign Parliament were increasingly accepted. Many in the House still supported the Charter, such as Sir Francis Burdett, who in 1809 called for a return to the constitution of Magna Carta, and denounced the House of Commons for taking proceedings against the radical John Gale Jones, who had accused Parliament of acting in contravention of Magna Carta. Burdett was largely ignored, but he continued, claiming that the Long Parliament (1640-60) had usurped all the power then enjoyed by the Parliament of the time. He stated that Parliament was constantly contravening Magna Carta (although he was referring to its judicial not legislative practice), and that it did not have the right to do so. He received popular support and there were riots across London when he was arrested for these claims.


The major breakthrough occurred in 1828 with the passing of the first Offences Against the Person Act, which for the first time repealed a clause of Magna Carta, namely Clause 36. With the myth broken, in one hundred and fifty years nearly the whole charter was repealed.

The Reform Act 1832 fixed some of the most glaring problems in the political system, but did not go nearly far enough for a group that called itself the Chartists, who called for a return to the constitution of Magna Carta, and eventually created a codification of what they saw as the existing rights of the People, the People's Charter. At a rally for the Chartists in 1838 the Reverend Raynor demanded a return to the constitution of the Charter; freedom of speech, worship and congress. This is a perfect example of how the idea of the Charter went so far beyond its actual content: it depicted for many people the idea of total liberty.

It was this over-exaggeration of the Charter that eventually led to its downfall. The more people expected to get from the Charter, the less Parliament was willing to attempt to cater to this expectation, and eventually writers such as Tom Paine refuted the claims about the Charter made by those such as the Chartists. This meant that the educated no longer supported these claims, and the power of Magna Carta as a symbol of freedom gradually faded into obscurity.
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« Reply #20 on: December 06, 2007, 08:46:34 pm »

Influences on later constitutions

Many later attempts to draft constitutional forms of government, including the United States

Constitution, trace their lineage back to this source document. The United States Supreme Court has

 explicitly referenced Lord Coke's analysis of Magna Carta as an antecedent of the Sixth Amendment's

right to a speedy trial.

Magna Carta has influenced international law as well: Eleanor Roosevelt referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as "a Magna Carta for all mankind".

Jews in England

Magna Carta contained two articles related to money lending and Jews in England. Jewish involvement with money lending caused Christian resentment, because the Church forbade usury; it was seen as vice and was punishable by excommunication, although Jews, as non-Christians, could not be excommunicated and were thus in a legal grey area. Secular leaders, unlike the Church, tolerated the practice of Jewish usury because it gave the leaders opportunity for personal enrichment. This resulted in a complicated legal situation: debtors were frequently trying to bring their Jewish creditors before Church courts, where debts would be absolved as illegal, while the Jews were trying to get their debtors tried in secular courts, where they would be able to collect plus interest. The relations between the debtors and creditors would often become very nasty. There were many attempts over centuries to resolve this problem, and Magna Carta contains one example of the legal code of the time on this issue:

If one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, die before that loan be repaid, the debt shall not bear interest while the heir is under age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt fall into our hands, we will not take anything except the principal sum contained in the bond. And if anyone die indebted to the Jews, his wife shall have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if any children of the deceased are left under age, necessaries shall be provided for them in keeping with the holding of the deceased; and out of the residue the debt shall be paid, reserving, however, service due to feudal lords; in like manner let it be done touching debts due to others than Jews.
After the Pope annulled Magna Carta, future versions contained no mention of Jews. The Church saw Jews as a threat to their authority, and the welfare of Christians, because of their special relationship to Kings as moneylenders. "Jews are the sponges of kings," wrote the theologian William de Montibus, "they are bloodsuckers of Christian purses, by whose robbery kings dispoil and deprive poor men of their goods."

Thus the specific singling out of Jewish moneylenders seen in Magna Carta originated in part because of Christian nobles who permitted the otherwise illegal activity of usury, a symptom of the larger ongoing power struggle between Church and State during the Middle Ages.
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« Reply #21 on: December 06, 2007, 08:49:21 pm »

Popular perceptions

In 1957 the American Bar Association acknowledged the debt American law and constitutionalism had to Magna Carta by erecting a monument at Runnymede.Magna Carta is often a symbol for the first time the citizens of England were granted rights against an absolute king. However, in practice the Commons could not enforce Magna Carta in the few situations where it applied to them, so its reach was limited. Also, a large part of Magna Carta was copied, nearly word for word, from the Charter of Liberties of Henry I, issued when Henry I rose to the throne in 1100, which bound the king to laws which effectively granted certain civil liberties to the church and the English nobility.

The document commonly known as Magna Carta today is not the 1215 charter, but a later charter of 1225, and is usually shown in the form of the Charter of 1297 when it was confirmed by Edward I. At the time of the 1215, charter many of the provisions were not meant to make long-term changes but simply to right some immediate wrongs; therefore, the Charter was reissued three times in the reign of Henry III (1216, 1217 and 1225). After this, each king for the next two hundred years (until Henry V in 1416) personally confirmed the 1225 charter in his own charter. It should not be thought of as one document but rather a variety of documents coming together to form one Magna Carta, in the same way as the treaties of Rome and Nice (among others) come together to form the treaties of the European Union and the European Community.

Popular perception is that King John and the barons signed the Magna Carta, however there were no signatures on the original document, only a single seal by the king. The words of the charter-Data per manum nostram-signify that the document was personally given by the king's hand. By placing his seal on the document, the King and the barons followed common law that a seal was sufficient to authenticate a deed, though it had to be done in front of witnesses. John's seal was the only one, and he did not sign it. The barons neither signed nor attached their seals to it.

The document is also honoured in America, where some view it as an antecedent of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. The United States has contributed the Runnymede Memorial and Lincoln Cathedral offers a Magna Carta Week.

The UK lent one of the four remaining copies of Magna Carta to the U.S. for its bicentennial celebrations and donated a gold copy which is displayed in the U.S. Capital Rotunda.

In 2006, BBC History held a poll to recommend a date for a proposed "Britain Day". June 15, as the date of the signing of the original 1215 Magna Carta, received most votes, above other suggestions such as D-Day, VE Day, and Remembrance Day. The outcome was not binding, although Chancellor Gordon Brown had previously given his support to the idea of a new national day to celebrate British identity.
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« Reply #22 on: December 06, 2007, 08:52:11 pm »

Usage and spelling

Since there is no direct, consistent correlate of the English definite article in Latin, the usual academic convention is to refer to the document in English without the article as "Magna Carta" rather than "the Magna Carta". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first written appearance of the term was in 1218: "Concesserimus libertates quasdam scriptas in Magna Carta nostra de libertatibus." (Latin: "We concede the certain liberties here written in our great charter of liberties.") However, "the Magna Carta" is also frequently used.

In the past, the document has also been referred to as "Magna Charta".


Numerous copies were made each time it was issued, so all of the participants would each have one — in the case of the 1215 copy, one for the royal archives, one for the Cinque Ports, and one for each of the 40 counties of the time. Several of those copies still exist and some are on permanent display. If there ever was one single 'master copy' of Magna Carta sealed by King John in 1215, it has not survived. Four contemporaneous copies (known as "exemplifications") remain, all of which are located in the UK:

The 'burnt copy', which was found in the records of Dover Castle in the 17th century and so is assumed to be the copy that was sent to the Cinque Ports. It was subsequently involved at a house fire at its owner's property, making it all but illegible. It is the only one of the four to have its seal surviving, although this too was melted out of shape in the fire. It is currently held by the British Library
Another supposedly original, but possibly amended version of the Magna Carta is on show just outside of the chamber of the House of Lords situated in Westminster Palace.

One owned by Lincoln Cathedral, normally on display at Lincoln Castle. It has an unbroken attested history at Lincoln since 1216. We hear of it in 1800 when the Chapter Clerk of the Cathedral reported that he held it in the Common Chamber, and then nothing until 1846 when the Chapter Clerk of that time moved from within the Cathedral to a property just outside.

In 1848, Magna Carta was shown to a visiting group who reported it as “hanging on the wall in an oak frame in beautiful preservation”. It went to the New York World Fair in 1939 and so had to be held in Fort Knox, next to the original of the US Constitution, until the end of the Second World War. Having returned to Lincoln, it has been back to America on various occasions since then.

It was not on display for a time to undergo conservation in preparation for its visit to America, where it was exhibited at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia from March 30 to June 18, 2007 in recognition of the Jamestown quadricentennial.[10][11] From July 4 to July 25, the document was displayed at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, returning to Lincoln Castle afterwards.

One owned by and displayed at Salisbury Cathedral.

Other early versions of Magna Carta survive. Durham Cathedral possesses 1216, 1217, and 1225 copies.


Magna Carta Place, within Canberra, Australia's Parliamentary Triangle opened on 24 May 2003.In 1952 the Australian Government purchased a 1297 copy of Magna Carta for £12,500.

This copy is now on display in the Members' Hall of Parliament House, Canberra. In January 2006, it was announced by the Department of Parliamentary Services that the document had been revalued down from A$40m to A$15m. It is interesting to note that this copy has a large stain on it, whose origin is explained on the Government run tour of Parliament House. A historian who while examining the document spilled a cup of coffee on this valuable document caused this.

In September 1984, the Perot Foundation purchased another copy of the 1297 issue of Magna Carta. This copy was loaned to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. until September 2007. The Perot Foundation plans to sell this copy in order to

 “have funds available for medical research, for improving public education and for

assisting wounded soldiers and their families.”
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« Reply #23 on: December 06, 2007, 09:02:08 pm »

                                                       Participant list

Barons, Bishops and Abbots who were party to Magna Carta.


Surety Barons for the enforcement of Magna Carta:

William d'Albini, Lord of Belvoir Castle.
Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Hugh Bigod, Heir to the Earldoms of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford.
Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford.
Gilbert de Clare, heir to the earldom of Hertford.

John FitzRobert, Lord of Warkworth Castle.

Robert Fitzwalter, Lord of Dunmow Castle.

William de Fortibus, Earl of Albemarle.

William Hardell, **Mayor of the City of London.

William de Huntingfield, Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk.

John de Lacie, Lord of Pontefract Castle.
William de Lanvallei, Lord of Standway Castle.

William Malet, Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset.
Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex and Gloucester.

William Marshall Jr, heir to the earldom of Pembroke.

Roger de Montbegon, Lord of Hornby Castle, Lancashire.

Richard de Montfichet, Baron.

William de Mowbray, Lord of Axholme Castle.
Richard de Percy, Baron.

Saire/Saher de Quincey, Earl of Winchester.

Robert de Roos, Lord of Hamlake Castle.

Geoffrey de Saye, Baron.

Robert de Vere, heir to the earldom of Oxford.

Eustace de Vesci, Lord of Alnwick Castle.


These bishops being witnesses (mentioned by the King as his advisers in the decision to sign the Charter):

Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church,
Henry, Archbishop of Dublin

E. Bishop of London,

J. Bishop of Bath,

P. Bishop of Winchester,

H. Bishop of Lincoln,

R. Bishop of Salisbury,

W. Bishop of Rochester,

W. Bishop of Worcester,

J. Bishop of Ely,

H. Bishop of Hereford,

R. Bishop of Chichester,

W. Bishop of Exeter.


These abbots being witnesses:

the Abbot of St. Edmunds

the Abbot of St. Albans

the Abbot of Bello

the Abbot of St. Augustines in Canterbury

the Abbot of Evesham

the Abbot of Westminster

the Abbot of Peterborough
the Abbot of Reading

the Abbot of Abingdon
the Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey

the Abbot of Winchcomb

the Abbot of Hyde

the Abbot of Certesey

the Abbot of Sherborne

the Abbot of Cerne

the Abbot of Abbotebir

the Abbot of Middleton
the Abbot of Selby

the Abbot of Cirencester

the Abbot of Hartstary


Llywelyn the Great Also the other Welsh Princes

Master Pandulff, subdeacon and member of the Papal Household

Brother Aymeric, Master of the Knights Templar in England

Alexander II of Scotland

See also

Divine Right of Kings

Fundamental Laws of England

History of democracy

Joyous Entry

Magna Carta Place
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« Reply #24 on: December 06, 2007, 09:05:08 pm »

                                   Magna Cartas on show for first time in 800 years

Thu Dec 6, 2007
LONDON, (Reuters Life!) - Four 13th century copies of the Magna Carta, considered to be one of the most important documents in the history of democracy, go on public display next week for the first time in nearly 800 years.

The four, three of which date from 1217 and one from 1225, are held by Oxford University's Bodleian Library and represent nearly one quarter of the surviving 13th century Magna Carta manuscripts in the world.

"These three 1217 charters are a unique historical collection," said librarian Sarah Thomas. "No other institution can boast such a concentration of Magna Cartae."

The Magna Carta was signed by England's King John at Runnymede near Windsor just to the west of London in 1215 under intense pressure from rebellious barons who had captured London in protest at his exercise of arbitrary power over them.

In return for the concessions granted in the charter which effectively assured the barons of their feudal rights, the barons pledged allegiance to the English throne.

While it contains few sweeping statements of principle, it did establish in writing for the first time that the power of the monarch did have limits.

As such it is considered to be one of the cornerstones of democracy despite the fact that in restating feudal laws it has little or nothing to do with either human or equal rights.

Only four copies of the original charter dated 1215 survive, of which two are held by the British Library.

But the document was reissued regularly by or on behalf of succeeding monarchs, and only 17 of those dating from the 13th century now survive.

Apart from the four held by the Bodleian Library -- which houses more than eight million books and many other manuscripts -- the others are held at nine locations in Britain, Australia and the United States.

The Bodleian's collection will go on public show for just six hours at Oxford's Divinity School on Tuesday December 11. ahead of a sale on December 18 by Sotheby's in New York of a copy of the Magna Carta owned by Ross Perot and priced at up to $30 million.

(Reporting by Jeremy Lovell; editing by Paul Casciato)
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« Reply #25 on: January 18, 2009, 07:24:56 pm »

                                            Early copy of Magna Carta on sale in NYC

Associated Press Writer
Dec. 7, 2007

 NEW YORK - In the year 1215, a group of English barons handed King John a document written on parchment. Put your royal seal on this, they said. John did, and forever changed the relationship between the monarchy and those it governed.
The document was the Magna Carta, a declaration of human rights that would set some of the guiding principles for democracy as it is known today.

While that original edict was initially ignored and John died the next year, its key ideas were included in other variations over the next few decades, most notably the right of Habeas Corpus, which protects citizens against unlawful imprisonment. More than 800 years later, about 17 copies survive, and one of those, signed by King Edward I in 1297, will go up for sale Dec. 18 at Sotheby's.

The document, which Sotheby's vice chairman David Redden calls "the most important document in the world," is expected to fetch a record $20-30 million.

While earlier versions of the royal edict were written and then ignored, Redden said, "the 1297 Magna Carta became the operative version, the one that was entered into English common law and became the law of the land," ultimately effecting democracies around the world.

Today, its impact is felt by perhaps a third of the world's people, he said. This includes all of North America, India, Pakistan, much of Africa, Australia and other areas that made up the British Commonwealth.

"When it's something as enormously important as this, you try to get a handle on it," he said. "It is absolutely correct to say the Magna Carta is the birth certificate of freedom. It states the bedrock principle that no person is above the law — that is the essence of it."

Only two copies of the Magna Carta exist outside Britain, one in Australia and the one Sotheby's is auctioning off.

An earlier Magna Carta version was loaned by Britain to the United States for its bicentennial celebration in 1976, but suggestions that it be made a permanent gift were rejected.

The 1279 Magna Carta was forced on Edward I by barons unhappy over taxes imposed to pay for his military campaigns in France, Wales and against Scottish rebel William Wallace. The levies were approved in the king's absence by his 13-year-old son, Prince Edward.

Written in medieval Latin on sheepskin that after 710 years remains intact and legible, the 1297 Magna Carta was owned for five centuries by a British family that put it up for sale in the early 1980s.

From 1988 until a few months ago, it was exhibited in a custom-designed, gold-plated container at the National Archives in Washington, a few feet from its direct descendants, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

"As the only non-American document in there, many would love to see it go back" on display, said Redden, who will wield the hammer. He said the auction will be open to the public, but being a single lot sale, might not take longer than five
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« Reply #26 on: January 18, 2009, 07:38:48 pm »

                                               Magna Carta sells for $21.3M in New York

Tue Dec 18, 2007
NEW YORK - A 710-year-old copy of the declaration of human rights known as the Magna Carta — the version that became part of English law — was auctioned Tuesday for $21.3 million, a Sotheby's spokeswoman said.
The document, which had been expected to draw bids of $30 million or higher, was bought by David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, the spokeswoman said.

Sotheby's vice chairman David Redden called the old but durable parchment "the most important document in the world, the birth certificate of freedom."

The document was owned by the Perot Foundation, created by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, since the early 1980s. It had been on exhibit at the auction house for the past 11 days.

Bearing the seal of King Edward I and dated 1297, it is one of 17 known copies of the historic tract that defined human rights as the foundation for liberty and democracy as it is known today. It is one of two that exist outside Britain; the other is in Australia.

The Perot Foundation bought its copy from a British family for $1.5 million. From 1988 until earlier this year it was on loan to the National Archives in Washington, sharing space with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, two documents that drew on its principles.

"Over those years," Redden said, "it may have been seen by 40 to 50 million people, certainly the most viewed version of the Magna Carta anywhere."

The Magna Carta came into existence when a group of English barons demanded that King John affix his seal to a list of protections at Runnymede in 1215. Those edicts were not fulfilled, but subsequent versions of the document followed for the next 80 years, until 1297, when it was codified into law.

Tuesday's sale price included the auction house's commission.
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