See Magna Carta And Its Legacy At The British Library
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
To mark the 800th year of the sealing of Magna Carta, the British Library has assembled an in-depth exhibition covering the history of this seminal document and its legacy in the creation and development of laws both here in the UK and further afield.
The narrative starts out with the injustices carried out by King John, and the actions of the barons to bring him to Runnymede, in order to apply his seal to Magna Carta. This was essentially a peace treaty that limited the powers of royalty — but it would go on to inspire the rights of many more throughout history. We discover, for instance. that the principles contained within Magna Carta were later used to defend the stances of both sides during the English Civil War.
As the exhibition continues, we see documents inspired by Magna Carta: the English Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Thomas Jefferson's hand-written version of the Declaration of Independence. Then we carry on to modern times, learning how Nelson Mandela referenced Magna Carta in his trial, and how satirists questioned the compromising of its principles with the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Bill (this was subsequently repealed in 2011).
The two original copies of Magna Carta are saved until the end of the exhibition, bringing us full circle, and confirming just how vital this document — and the principles of freedom it enshrines — is.
And if the exhibition sounds like a load of paperwork to you, it's not: among the more surprising artefacts on display are King John's hunting horn, as well as a couple of his teeth.
Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy is on at The British Library until 1 September. Tickets are £12, concessions available.
Nearby is the excellent Forensics exhibition at the Wellcome Collection.
Last Updated 13 March 2015