Back in 2015, in an unexpected turn of events, small-town historian and archivist, Dr. Mark Bateson, stumbled upon what is likely one of the significant historical discoveries of the decade. Thanks to his meticulous work, a previously unknown copy of the Magna Carta was found inside a Victorian scrapbook, in Kent, UK. In a historical sense, the charter was signed by King John at Runnymede, on 15 June 1215, and is widely believed to be one of the earliest steps towards parliamentary democracy.
First drafted as a way of appeasing rebellious barons, the document, which centuries later helped compose the US Constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, had undergone several revisions and re-enactments. Authorized by King John’s son Edward I, in 1297, the 1300 Magna Carta was quite possibly the last one to be issued under the royal seal. Towards the end of December in 2014, Nicholas Vincent, of the Magna Carta Research Project, asked Kent-based historian Dr. Bateson to look for a copy of the Charter of the Forest – a 1217 paperwork that granted common people access to the royal forests – in the Sandwich archives.
It was while going through a nondescript Victorian scrapbook that Bateson came across a tattered and discolored piece of parchment, that has now been verified as one of the seven extant copies of the 1300 Magna Carta. Unfortunately, over one-third of its total text, as well as its royal seal, are missing. Nevertheless, the half-meter-long manuscript is worth more than $15 million; a figure that is a testament to the charter’s enduring importance. Furthermore, the discovery, which has come only months before the document’s 800th anniversary, marks the second time in history that the Magna Carta has been found along with the Charter of the Forest. Calling it a “fantastic discovery”, Vincent said (back in 2015) –
It’s a fantastic piece of news for Sandwich which puts it in a small category of towns and institutions that own a 1300 issue. … It must have been much more widely distributed than previously thought because if Sandwich had one … the chances are it went out to a lot of other towns. And it is very likely that there are one or two out there somewhere that no one has spotted yet.
The Magna Carta is one of the earliest documents to expound the principles of human rights and the rule of the law. Also called nomocracy, the rule of the law states that no individual, be it the king or any government official, is above the law. Experts believe that as many as 250 copies of the manuscript were originally created and distributed across the country. Now just to allude to the rarity of the aforementioned discovery, only twenty-four of these have managed to survive until the present time.
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