Magna Carta

Magna Carta, Lincoln Cathedral Exemplar, 1215. Iron gall ink on parchment.
Lincoln Cathedral, England [Image © Lincolnshire County Council]
Ink on parchment, 1215
Loaned by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral, England

The Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta is among the rarest of surviving medieval documents. Of the forty or more original copies of the charter issued in 1215, only four remain in existence, each of them written in Latin, with abbreviations to save space. No two copies would have been identical due to the transcription process. The Lincoln copy displays an especially fine and careful script. The nearly 4,000 words set out sixty-three clauses that address issues such as taxation, inheritance, the freedom of the Church, and the administration of justice. These clauses were meant to protect the interests of the highest ranking members of thirteenth-century English society and to limit the king’s power.