UK

Magna Carta scribes identified ahead of 800th anniversary

Copies of the Magna Carta Image copyright British Library

Scientists have identified the scribes who wrote two of the four original 1215 copies of the Magna Carta.

They found the copies held in Lincoln and Salisbury were written by scribes based at those cathedrals, rather than by someone working for King John.

The discovery was made ahead of the 800th anniversary of the historic charter on Monday.

Lead investigator Professor Nicholas Vincent, said to identify the authors was a "significant achievement".

He said after 800 years it was "certainly equivalent to finding needles in a very large haystack".

The new discovery sheds further light on the Church's role in the creation and distribution of Magna Carta - which sought to restrain the powers of the king.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Scientists say Salisbury's copy was "probably" made by someone working for the cathedral's dean and chapter

Professor Vincent said: "It has become apparent, not least as a result of work undertaken for the Magna Carta Project, that the bishops of England were crucial to both the publication and the preservation of Magna Carta.

"King John had no real intention that the charter be either publicised 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."

The project, involving academics from the University of East Anglia and King's College London, found the Lincoln Magna Carta was written by a scribe who produced several other documents for the Bishop of Lincoln and Salisbury's was "probably" made by someone working for the cathedral's dean and chapter.

Image caption Charter bearers are carrying a replica of the document down the River Thames as part of the 800th anniversary celebrations

Project team member David Carpenter, a professor of medieval history at King's College, said: "We now know that three of the four surviving originals of the charter went to cathedrals: Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. Probably cathedrals were the destination for the great majority of the other original charters issued in 1215.

"This overturns the old view that the charters were sent to the sheriffs in charge of the counties. That would have been fatal since the sheriffs were the very people under attack in the charter.

"They would have quickly consigned Magna Carta to their castle furnaces."

A replica of the Great Charter began its journey down the Thames on Saturday as part of events to mark its 800th anniversary.

The Royal Barge Gloriana is leading 200 boats from Hurley in Berkshire to Runnymede in Surrey, where the document was signed, over two days.

Related Topics

More on this story