Oxford displays Magna Carta copies for first time in 800 years
( AFP ) - Four official copies of the Magna Carta, one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy, went on display for the first time in 800 years Tuesday at Britain's historic Oxford University.
For one day only and under heavy guard, the four 13th century manuscripts were exhibited under glass at the Divinity School of the university's world famous Bodleian Library to crowds of curious onlookers.
It is the first time the four single sheets of parchment have been displayed together. They are held at the Bodleian while 13 other remaining copies exist around the world.
The exhibition came ahead of the sale of a Magna Carta belonging to the US billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot at auction house Sotheby's in New York next week.
Perot's copy dates from 1297 and was issued by king Edward I, when the document formally became part of English law. It was formerly displayed alongside the original US Declaration of Independence.
Three of the Bodleian copies date from 1217 were sent out in the name of the 10-year-old boy king Henry III with the seals of his guardians, William Marshall and the papal legate Cardinal Guala.
The fourth dates from 1225 with Henry's own seal.
The Magna Carta -- or "Great Charter of English Liberties" -- was agreed by king John at Runnymede, west of London, on June 15, 1215 and reissued throughout the 13th century by England's rulers.
It was effectively a peace treaty between the unpopular king and his rebel barons, but enshrined the principle that no man was above the law.
Medieval history professor Nicholas Vincent, from the University of East Anglia in eastern England, told The Guardian website Tuesday that the Magna Carta is "history itself condensed into a single parchment sheet".
"Together with the Declaration of Independence, it is perhaps the only document that everyone in the English speaking world can claim to have heard of, if not to have read," he was quoted as saying.