The facsimile of what is regarded as the most celebrated legal document in the English-speaking world was purchased by Canterbury Cathedral Archives with funds from The Friends of The National Libraries, and the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral.
It sold for £3400 on November 28 against an estimate of £3000-5000 after being discovered at one of the auctioneers’ free Friday valuation mornings.
Printed on vellum in 1733, the engraving is a facsimile of what experts have established was the copy of Magna Carta preserved originally among the cathedral’s records, perhaps having passed through the hands of Archbishop Stephen Langton (1150-1228).
Only four copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta survive. One is owned by Lincoln Cathedral, another by Salisbury Cathedral, while the remaining two are held at the British Library in London.
New research has shown conclusively that one of the British Library’s copies was kept at Canterbury Cathedral in the Middle Ages and was removed from the cathedral collections in the 1630s. It has now been re-designated the Canterbury Magna Carta
However, the Canterbury Magna Carta, the only one to have the Great Seal of King John still attached, was damaged in a fire in 1731. A failed attempt at restoration in the 1830s rendered it barely readable by the naked eye. This makes the 1733 engraving particularly important.
The engraving in the auction was made by John Pine (1690-1756) a publisher, print and map seller, who was also Bluemantle Pursuivant at the College of Arms, and Engraver to the King's Gignet and Stamp Office. It is a first striking, produced importantly on vellum, in 1733. After that date, what further copies exist were printed on paper.
Telling the Magna Carta story
Cressida Williams, head of archives and library at Canterbury Cathedral, said the Pine Magna Carta “will be the best item in our collections to tell the Magna Carta story”.
She said: “We have a ‘registered’ version of Magna Carta – i.e. a copy of the document written into a medieval book – but this does not have the same impact as something which represents the document itself.”
Williams thanked the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral and the Friends of the National Libraries for their support and also The Canterbury Auction Galleries for waiving its buyer’s premium to “help bring a Canterbury Magna Carta back home”.