Magna Carta Engrossments

This Quest is to visit the surviving Magna Carta engrossments that are regularly on display. In 2015, to celebrate its 800th anniversary, Momentous Britain wrote a blog - here - about Magna Carta then visited all the surviving engrossments. The owners made a big effort to make their engrossments publicly visible. In normal years, less than half of them are on display at any one time. Your reward for visiting the locations where they are usually on display will be the title Magna Carta Peritus.

First we should explain the difference between an 'engrossment', of which there are only 17, and a 'copy', of which there are many. Engrossments were made to be sealed, so they are always on single sheets of parchment, either still with their royal seal or with evidence of where it once was. The copies were made for reference or to be read out. There are lots of copies because there was once a law that Magna Carta must be read to church congregations several times a year. This Quest only concerns the engrossments.

There are four 1215 engrossments, one 1216, four 2017, four 1225 and four 1297. It is the 1297 version that passed into Statute. This is the version upon which subsequent history, including the British and U.S. Bill of Rights, is based. Magna Carta was re-issued one more time, in 1300, with instructions for sheriffs on how to apply the clauses, and an updated version of the Charter of the Forest. It is not normally considered to be a valid Magna Carta engrossment but it is one for our purposes here. Seven are known to survive. One was found as recently as 2012, so there may be more. This is the complete list of engrossments in Britain by location:

  • Salisbury Cathedral - 1 x 1215 (above)
  • British Library - 2 x 1215 and 1 x 1225
  • Lincoln Cathedral - 1 x 1215
  • Durham Cathedral - 1 x 1216 and 1 x 1225 and 1 x 1300
  • Bodleian Library - 3 x 1217 and 1 x 1225 and 1 x 1300
  • Hereford Cathedral - 1 x 1217
  • The National Archives - 1 x 1225 and 1 x 1297
  • City of London Corporation - 1 x 1297 and 1 x 1300
  • Westminster Abbey - 1 x 1300
  • Sandwich Town Council - 1 x 1300
  • Oriel College, Oxford - 1 x 1300
  • Faversham Town Council - 1 x 1300

They are unlikely to be all on display again until 2115. Salisbury, Durham and the British Library all have a permanent Magna Carta display space. Oriel does not have a display facility, which is a shame because their's is one of only three that still has its associated Charter of the Forest. Likewise for the National Archive, although they were redeveloping when we were there in November 2019. We have hopes that they might build a permanent exhibition area. The Bodleian and the British Library usually display no more than one of their's at a time. None were on display at the Bodleian when we were last there in October 2019. The City of London's 1297 and 1300 engrossments are kept at the Guildhall Art Gallery. They have not been displayed since the anniversary. Faversham Town Council displayed their Magna Carta at the Alexander Centre during the 800th anniversary, but it has not been seen since. Hereford and Lincoln regularly loan theirs out, sometimes abroad.

We suspect that the Faversham, the Oriel and the distressed parchments held by the Bodleian and City of London will not be seen again until 2115. We have high hopes that all the rest will be regularly displayed, albeit not at the same time. We will trust you. To complete this Quest, you just have to visit the 10 locations where the other Magna Carta engrossments are usually displayed. Your reward will be the title Magna Carta Questor. Note that the one belonging to Lincoln Cathedral is usually displayed at Lincoln Castle. Those belonging to the Bodleian are usually displayed at the Weston Library. Those belonging to the City of London are usually displayed at the Guildhall Art Gallery.