Whilst searching through the council archives of an English county, a researcher recently came across an exciting and rather unexpected discovery: an original copy of the final edition of the Magna Carta, stashed away inside a Victorian scrapbook. Although, unsurprisingly, it’s in fairly bad shape, experts say that the document could be worth a staggering £10 million ($15 million).
The ancient text, which is a document of basic rights, was revealed after Kent archivist Dr. Mark Bateson was asked by historian Professor Nicholas Vincent to hunt for a different charter from the small town of Sandwich. Vincent is the leader of the Magna Carter Project, a recent effort to thoroughly investigate the Magna Carta to mark the text’s 800th anniversary.
Bateson was looking for Sandwich’s Charter of the Forest, a complementary text released alongside the second edition of the Magna Carta which primarily aimed to reduce the area of royal forest in England and thus the amount of revenue that the king could claim from it. It also meant that those constructing buildings and creating land for crops and agriculture inside forests could no longer be fined for doing so.
During his search through Maidstone’s town archives, Bateson came across the tattered parchment, which actually belongs to Sandwich, inside a scrapbook. Sophie Ambler, a research associate with the Magna Carta Project, told Live Science that the document had been put in the book by an official from the British Museum towards the end of the 19th century before being placed in Sandwich’s files, which were housed in Kent. It then lay there, forgotten, until now.
The badly damaged document, which is missing around a third of the text, dates back to the year 1300. This particular version was the final edition produced of the Magna Carta, or “great charter,” which was issued by King Edward I, 85 years after King John was obligated to sign the first agreement. Widely recognized as the foundation of constitutional law, the manuscript was drawn up by barons to prevent any king, but in this case King John, from being able to abuse his power. Rights to justice were also laid out in the document, and limits were set on taxes.
Since the four known copies of the 1215 edition were signed, a further 23 versions were periodically issued and reaffirmed by England’s kings. The newly discovered document is the 7th surviving copy found so far of the year 1300 edition. Although the half-meter-long document is missing a substantial chunk of the text and bears the scars of water damage, the date was in plain sight and determining authenticity was easy. This particular text is also only the second to have been found paired with the Forest Charter, which adds to its value.
According to experts, the discovery hints that the Magna Carta may have been more widely distributed than originally believed. Some have even suggested that it could have been issued to more than 50 cathedral towns and ports, raising the possibility that more forgotten or hidden texts may crop up in the future.
[Via The Guardian, BBC News and Live Science]