Forgotten copy of Magna Carta found in UK archive

A rare early copy of the Magna Carta, the medieval English charter that forms the foundation of modern democratic rights, has been found in a Victorian-era scrapbook in Kent County, England.

For decades, the document, which dates back to 1300, lay forgotten in archives belonging to the town of Sandwich, which intends to keep the charter as a tourist attraction.

Dr. Mark Bateson, a Kent archivist, found the document late last year while looking for a copy of the Charter of the Forest, another medieval legal document, which granted common people access to royal lands, among other things. The two documents were found together in a scrapbook from the late 19th century. The only other such pair in the world belongs to Oriel College, Oxford.

Although the copy of the Magna Carta has been damaged by moisture and is missing about a third of its original text, it has historical and monetary value as one of just 24 known copies of the legal code, which Sotheby’s auction house has called “the most famous document in history.”

Nicholas Vincent, a professor of medieval history at the University of East Anglia in England, who authenticated the discovery, estimates the document is worth up to 10 million British pounds ($15.2 million).

The mayor of Sandwich Town Council, Paul Graeme, told the Guardian: “On behalf of Sandwich town council, I would like to say that we are absolutely delighted to discover that an original Magna Carta and original Charter of the Forest, previously unknown, are in our ownership.”

“To own one of these documents, let alone both, is an immense privilege given their international importance,” he said.

The original Magna Carta, written entirely in Latin, was the result of a compromise between the king and a group of rebel barons in 1215.

The famous charter established several important legal principles, including the rule of law and the notion that everyone–including the king—is subject to the law. It also codified the right of habeas corpus, stating that no free person should be imprisoned without a lawful trial.

June 15 will mark 800 years since King John sealed the Magna Carta near London in 1215. The occasion will be commemorated by a year-long series of events across the United Kingdom, including an initiative, planned for the eve of the anniversary, called LiberTeas, in which parliament will encourage citizens to “sit down to tea to celebrate, debate or reflect on their liberties.”