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The British Library

Magna Carta exhibition
and Guided Tour

Friday 24th April 2015

Our visit to the British Library was essentially to view the Magna Carta exhibition, but commenced with a guided tour, by a most instructive guide.  I was particularly impressed with the Kings Library of George III – a 6-storey glass tower holding 65,000 printed volumes along with pamphlets, manuscripts & maps collected by the King.  One wonders when he had time for regal duties.

Before visiting the main exhibition, we were drawn to the Treasures of the British Library, where we found a magnificent collection of original material.  This ranged through samples of the original Lindisfarne Gospels, Shakespeare’s First Folio, Handel’s Messiah and even the scribbled origin of one of the Beatles’ songs.  This exhibition is free, and one to be recommended.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy

Since 1215 the Magna Carta has evolved from a political agreement to an international symbol of freedom.  Yet it started as a practical solution to a political crisis 800 years ago.  Fundamentally, it established the principle of the Rule of Law.  The collection at the exhibition was thorough and edifying.  We saw 2 of the 4 original Magna Carta documents, albeit one had been badly burnt.  One has to remember that the Magna Carta was used as a precedent for the creation of the legal documentation upon the independence of the USA.  We were shown Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence and one of the original copies of the American Bill of Rights.

Salisbury Cathedral’s
Magna Carta manuscript, 1215
Delaware's ratification of the Bill of Rights
on loan from US National Archives

Although many of the terms of the Magna Carta became irrelevant over the years, the principle tenets remain as relevant today as they did in 1215.  The European Human Rights legislation, for example, contains much of the relevant rights established in that original document.

All in all, a most successful visit and thanks to Gwen for her usual valiant efforts at organising the visitors.

Philip Akroyd

Related Links (open in new window):

The British Library
Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy