This is Magna Carta year: the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the foundation stone of the English legal tradition, a manifesto enshrining notions of liberty and justice into law, a ‘Great Charter’ still central to the written and unwritten constitutions of many countries of the English-speaking world. Specific provisions of Magna Carta are, for example, echoed in the Declaration of Independence and it went on to serve as the keystone of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
By all accounts, King John was a terrible king — ‘Foul as Hell is, it is defiled by the presence of King John’ said the 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris. The 1215 Charter was designed to curtail his power, and to bind future monarchs to basic legal principles: no more arbitrary arrests, no more imprisonments without due process (at least in theory). It was sent out to the bishops and all English counties, and four of these original charters still survive today — two are at the British Library, the others in the cathedral archives of Lincoln and Salisbury.
But, though mythical and totemic, the 1215 text agreed at Runnymede did not survive long in its original state. In November 1216, a month after Henry III’s accession to the throne, Magna Carta was reissued (one copy survives in the archives of Durham Cathedral), and then again a year later, in 2017 (four copies survive, all in public institutions).
A more authoritative revision was issued on 11 February 1225, but it is only in 1297, under Edward I — and this is where our manuscript comes into play — that Magna Carta truly became an integral part of English Law.
Magna Carta and Statutes, Law Tracts, and Register of Writs, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, Decorated manuscript on vellum [England, perhaps London, c.1300]. Estimate: £50,000-80,000. This manuscript is offered in our Valuable Books and Manuscripts including Cartography auction in London on 15 July
The 1297 reissue of Magna Carta was the first time that the charter officially became part of the law of the land, enshrined within the written laws of England. It subsequently began to be included in statute books (the earliest type of secular manuscript produced in any quantity in England) used by lawyers and students of the law. The manuscript we will offer on 15 July in London contains this important 1297 text, and is no later than 1299: it is therefore one of the earliest — if not the earliest — appearances of Magna Carta in a statute-book.
The manuscript was evidently assembled for a student lawyer, since it contains several other texts and summaries originating from lectures to law students, at a period when the organisation of legal education was far from fixed. It is an exceptionally interesting example both of the genesis of the statute book, and of the role of Magna Carta in early legal training.
Magna Carta and Statutes of the Realm, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, illuminated manuscript on vellum, [England, possibly York, c.1300-1310]. Sold for $137,000 on 12 June, 2015
On the 12 June in New York — almost 800 years to the day since the issuing of Magna Carta — we sold another near-contemporary copy for $137,000. Where the one we will offer in London on 15 July is exceptional for its text and early date, the New York copy was uncommon for the extent and quality of its illumination: large foliate initials with borders opened each statute and the Magna Carta in Edward I’s reconfirmation of 1300 opened with a portrayal of the monarch himself.
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