|Dr Hugh Doherty, who curated the Weston Library's Magna Carta exhibition|
Visitors to Oxford’s Weston Library during the past month will have seen engrossments of two different versions of Magna Carta, together with a collection of other documents from the period, on display in an exhibition curated by the Magna Carta Project’s Dr Hugh Doherty.
One engrossment is that of the issue of 1217, marking the end of the civil war that followed King John’s rejection of the Runnymede Charter of 1214. The other dates from 1225, when what became the definitive version of the Charter---the Charter subsequently copied into the Statute Book---was issued by Henry III.
Alongside these Charters is a selection of other contemporary and near-contemporary documents and manuscripts from the Bodleian's rich collection relevant to the history of Magna Carta. These include a late twelfth-century manuscript copy of Henry I's coronation edict of 1100, a contemporary copy of King Stephen’s charter of liberties for the English church, and a very interesting, non-chancery copy of the 1215 Magna Carta, possibly transcribed by a clerk in the service of the papal legate Guala and subsequently taken to Italy. Also on display is one of the three surviving manuscripts of Roger of Wendover’s chronicle, which is an essential (if partisan) narrative for events in 1215--17.
Hugh Doherty explains the thinking behind the exhibition: 'The exhibition highlights two essential themes in the construction and drafting of Magna Carta. The first---much overlooked in popular narratives on the subject---is the tradition of royal edicts confirming and declaring established (as well as imagined) custom and law. Magna Carta thus stands in a long tradition, and this tradition is illustrated by such examples as Henry I's coronation charter and King Stephen's charter of liberties for the English church. The second theme is the flawed and failed nature of John's kingship and personality. There are thus a number of documents in the exhibition relating to the king himself. Magna Carta was a direct and detailed rejection of his kingship'.
The exhibition has now closed, but you’ll be able to read more about these documents in Nicholas Vincent’s forthcoming book on Magna Carta for Bodleian Publishing.