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. Photo: ©The Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral from the Library and Archive collections.

NEW YORK, NY.- The New-York Historical Society is displaying a rare early copy of the Magna Carta, one of the most important historical documents in the world, in an exhibit titled Magna Carta 800: Sharing the Legacy of Freedom. On loan from Hereford Cathedral in England, this 1217 version of the Magna Carta is 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 is on view at N-YHS, the Magna Carta celebrates its 800th anniversary this year. The document is 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 also passes 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We are thrilled to offer New Yorkers a chance to experience the Magna Carta, one of the most influential historical documents of all time, on the occasion of its 800th anniversary,” said Dr.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 original Magna Carta was created under the reign of King John of Runnymade (left) to quell a civil war. It was quickly repealed by the Pope, but brought back two years later by King John's son King Henry III (right)

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 is 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 is 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. 


The version of the Magna Carta set for the exhibition  is kept by Hereford Chapel near the Welsh border in England.