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University historian to work on major new Magna Carta project

22 March 2012

A Canterbury Christ Church University historian is part of team that has secured funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to contribute to a major new project on Magna Carta.

Magna Carta, first issued 1215.
Magna Carta, first issued 1215.

Magna Carta is one of the most revolutionary documents ever published and known around the world as the cornerstone of British constitutional liberty. Now a £910,000 project to track down lost originals and create an online database of new commentary is underway.

The three-year project, which coincides with the 800th anniversary of the charter’s issue in 2015, will supply the first proper edition of Magna Carta ever presented in all its guises, including the first ever full commentary on the standard 1225 text and the first commentary since 1914 on the original version issued by King John in 1215.

Dr Wilkinson, co-director of the project and Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Christ Church, said:  “It is exciting to be involved in a project that promises to revolutionise our understanding of such an important document. It is also entirely fitting that Canterbury, as one of the Magna Carta towns, should play a central role in the 800th anniversary celebrations.”

Professor Nicholas Vincent from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and lead for the project said: “This work will transform academic and public understanding of Magna Carta and King John.

“We will research who wrote it, what it means, whether its clauses were obeyed at the time, and how it marked a watershed between a lawless and lawful government.More than half of the surviving evidence lies buried in the archives and has never previously been either searched or assessed

“We will also piece together historical evidence about King John. Was he a monster as popular legend supposes? .”

Magna Carta is one of the most famous documents in history, celebrated throughout the English-speaking world.  It is widely seen as the foundation stone of the British constitutional tradition in which kings and law makers are themselves subjected to the rigours of the law.  And yet, there is a great deal about Magna Carta that remains unknown. 

There has been no proper commentary on the original 1215 issue of Magna Carta in the past hundred years, and there has never been a proper commentary on the 1225 reissue of the charter that became the standard version, with parts still on the Statute Book today. The subsequent reissues of the charter, including the definitive version of 1225, have also been left unedited and to a large extent unstudied since 1805. 

By 2015, the project team hopes not only to explain who wrote Magna Carta, but also the context and the circumstances in which this most significant of constitutional documents was born.

The website, intended to become the first port of call for anyone interested in Magna Carta, will contain full commentaries and English translations of all of the various versions of the document.  It will hold photographs and summaries not only of all of the surviving Magna Cartas, but of several hundred related documents and supply access to a large body of documentary evidence that until now has been locked away in the archives. This will be crucial in understanding and explaining the charter's significance, both in scholarly and popular terms. 

The work will also be used in a programme for schools and the public, and will assist in the mounting of a major exhibition at the British Library in the anniversary year, 2015.

The project will be led by Professor Nicholas Vincent, UEA, with Dr Louise Wilkinson, Canterbury Christ Church University, Professor Paul Brand, All Souls’ College, Oxford, Professor David Carpenter, King’s College London, Dr Claire Breay of the British Library and Professor Andy Day from UEA’s school of Computing Sciences, who will be responsible for creating the website.

Notes to Editor

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.

With nearly 20,000 students, and five campuses across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

•We are the third highest university in England for student employability, with 94.3% of our recent UK graduates in employment or further study six months after graduating*.

•Christ Church is the number one choice for local people looking to study at university in Kent (2010 UCAS).

•We are the South East’s largest provider of courses for public service careers (outside of London).

•2012 is the University’s Golden Jubilee, reflecting on 50 years of higher education and innovation.

*2009/10 Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey

 

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Jeanette Earl
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