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15 June 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames in 1215.
The Magna Carta, regarded by many as the foundation of legal practice in England, has been a major influence on the development of democracy in countries around the world. In 1225 King Henry III reissued a much-revised version, and it was not until 1297 that the charter was enrolled on the statute books by King Edward I.
Edward’s 1297 statute is the version of the Magna Carta recognised by English law today. It includes the famous clause 29:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
The State Library of New South Wales has a copy of the 1297 statute, which was bound in a unique volume with 20 other statutes in about 1330. Approximately 10 cm long, it remains in the original bindings with scraps of skin attached to the rough wooden boards. The text is handwritten on vellum in a mixture of Latin and French, with a few decorated initials. The volume also includes the Charter of the Forest, a companion document to the Magna Carta, which provided a right of common access to royal lands. Clause 10 of the Charter of the Forest repealed the death penalty for capturing venison.
To mark the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the Library’s 1297 copy of the statute has been digitised and is available on our website. The volume will be on display in the Amaze Gallery and a number of public programs will recognise the Magna Carta as among the most influential documents in legal history.