COMMEMORATING MAGNA CARTA British Library
/ Trustees of the
sent it to Sir Robert Cotton, whose fabulous collection came into national ownership in 1702.
Among the more trivial items that are on display and beautifully published in the catalogue are fragments said to have come from King John’s coffin in Worcester Cathedral. In 1797, the very fine Purbeck marble effigy of the king was removed from the top of the late-medieval tomb-chest. Inside were the remains of King John, lying within his original stone (probably Purbeck marble) coffin. The 800th anniversary of John’s death is, of course, next year. Perhaps the tomb’s surviving contents could be carefully examined again and conserved, as part of the ‘celebrations’?
ABOVE This engraving by Valentine Green shows the remains of King John in his Worcester Cathedral sarcophagus, which was opened on 17 July 1797. He lies in what is probably his original 13th-century Purbeck marble coffin, surrounded by the base of a monument built in the early Tudor period. ABOVE RIGHT The 12th-century Savernake hunting horn reflects medieval kings’ love of hunting.
One other superb item in the exhibition and catalogue deserves a mention. This is the 12thcentury elephant-ivory hunting horn (with early 14 t h-century silver and enamelled decorative bands). This was the hereditary horn of the wardens of Savernake Forest (including the Seymours of Wolf Hall), and was sold to the British Museum for £210,000 in 1975 by the impoverished Earl of Ailesbury. It represents the close connection between Magna Carta and the hated forest law; John, of course, loved hunting.
All in all, I found the exhibition to be excellent, but to get the most out of it, I would suggest you buy the catalogue first, and study it, before joining the masses in the British Library.
‘Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy’ runs at the British Library until 1 September 2015. The exhibition catalogue is Claire Breay and Julian Harrison (eds), Magna Carta:Law,Liberty, Legacy, British Library, £25.00, ISBN 978-071235763.
For further details, please visit www.bl.uk/events/magnacarta--law-liberty-legacy
Reading the ‘Burnt Magna Carta’ The Cotton Library amassed by Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631) and gifted to the nation by his grandson was an invaluable collection of books and manuscripts, including many medieval treasures such as the Beowulf manuscript, and a copy of Magna Carta. On 23 October 1731, disaster struck: a fire broke out at Ashburnham House in Westminster, where the library was stored. About a quarter of the collection was affected, with almost all the printed books lost, 13 manuscripts destroyed, and many more damaged (both by flames and the water used to put the fire out).
Among the damaged manuscripts was ‘Cotton charter xiii 31a’ – the Canterbury copy of the 1215 Magna Carta – damage compounded in the 19th century by British Museum library staff whose efforts to flatten and mount the document left it illegible.
Now the British Library’s Collection Care team has created the clearest images of the text for over 200 years, using high-resolution photography and multispectral imaging. This latter technique involved illuminating the manuscript with different coloured LED lights, ranging in wavelength from ultraviolet through the visible spectrum to infrared. As the chemical composition of the charter’s ink and parchment react differently to the lights, this enabled the team to digitally peel away layers of damage and reveal the medieval handwriting no longer visible to the naked eye.
current archaeology | www.archaeology.co.uk
July 2015 |