Magna Carta and other political treasures

One of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy is the Magna Carta (or ‘Great Charter of English Liberties’). Agreed by King John at Runnymede in 1215 and reissued throughout the 13th century by England’s rulers, it helped to establish the role of the monarch towards the people. It was the most significant early influence on the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today, and its influence extends to the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Bodleian has four of the seventeen surviving pre-1300 ‘engrossments’ of Magna Carta, three of which date from 1217 and one from 1225. 

Find out more about the history of Magna Carta in an article written by Dr Hugh Doherty, Jesus College, University of Oxford.  

One of these engrossments, along with other political treasures such as those displayed below, is on display in the Treasures of the Bodleian exhibition. The exhibition brings together some of the rarest, most important and most evocative objects in the world, asking question ‘What is a treasure in the twenty-first century?'

To explore these objects, as well as others ranging from Jane Austen’s manuscripts to ancient papyri, visit the Treasures of the Bodleian website at The website also offers members of the public the opportunity to offer opinions on what a treasure is and what should be considered one.


All images © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

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