News | September 18, 2015

Special Limited-Time Display of a Rare 1217 Magna Carta at the New-York Historical Society

New York, NY, September 18, 2015—The New-York Historical Society is proud to display a rare early copy of the Magna Carta, one of the most important historical documents in the world, in an exhibition titled Magna Carta 800: Sharing the Legacy of Freedom. On loan from Hereford Cathedral in England, this 1217 version of the Magna Carta will be on view at the New-York Historical Society from September 23 through September 30, 2015. Originally issued in 1215, with subsequent reissues based on the revised 1217 version that will be on view at N-YHS, the Magna Carta celebrates its 800th anniversary this year. The document will be accompanied by the King's Writ of 1215, also on loan from Hereford Cathedral, which is the only known surviving copy of instructions issued by John at Runnymede to local Sheriffs to prepare for the coming of the Charter.

The exhibition at the New-York Historical Society is the only U.S. appearance and the first stop in a global tour of the Magna Carta, in a partnership between Hereford Cathedral and the GREAT Britain Campaign, which will also pass through China (including Hong Kong), Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, and Singapore.

“The Magna Carta is a hugely important part of our history and stands as a beacon for our values today,” UK Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire said. “The tour is a fantastic way of enabling people from America to Asia to see it first hand, and to reflect on all that it stands for.”

“We are thrilled to offer New Yorkers a chance to experience the Magna Carta, one of the most influential historical documents of all time, on the occasion of its 800th anniversary,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “The Magna Carta established fundamental principles that inspired America’s Founding Fathers when they wrote the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, so this seminal document will allow our visitors to trace an important path of history back to its very origins.”

The document that became known as the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter,” was initially developed in 1215 and issued by King John as a peace treaty with rebel barons to address specific grievances of his rule. Although the treaty did not hold, the document established the principle that everyone, even the king, was subject to the law, with all free men granted the right to justice and a fair trial. As such, the document has enormous symbolic power, granting protection against tyrannical rule and defending civil liberties, a central source of inspiration for future constitutional documents.

On view with the Magna Carta at New-York Historical will be an original copy of the King’s Writ, issued on June 20, 1215, by King John to inform the sheriff and other royal officials in each county of the terms of the peace treaty. The 1215 treaty was modified and reissued in subsequent years, in part to garner support for King Henry III, who was just nine years old when he succeeded the throne in 1216. The 1217 version, which will be on view at New-York Historical, was issued by John’s immediate successor—the young Henry III—and contains significant additions, which would be retained in subsequent reissues of the Charter by English monarchs. Only four copies of the 1217 version survive.

Copies of the Magna Carta have traveled to New York in the past, most notably for the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, where it was displayed at the British Pavilion. In more recent years, copies of the document have been on view in New York and Washington, D.C., but this is the first time that the Hereford Cathedral copy has traveled to New York. 

About the New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

About the GREAT Campaign

The GREAT Britain campaign showcases the very best of what the UK has to offer and encourages people to visit, do business, invest, and study in the UK. It unites the efforts of the public and private sector to generate jobs and growth for Britain.

Follow the progress of the #MagnaCartaTour on Twitter @HFDMagnaCarta and Instagram. Information on Magna Carta and its 800th anniversary is available on the Magna Carta Committee’s website.