One of the earliest original manuscripts of Magna Carta dating to 1217 is on view at the Morgan through May 30. This extremely rare and important document came to New York for a special event for Oxford University but could not be returned to Britain because of the disruption to air traffic caused by the recent volcanic ash cloud. The Bodleian Library generously offered the Morgan the opportunity to exhibit Magna Carta while new arrangements were being made to transport it back to England.
This particular manuscript is one of four original versions of Magna Carta held by the Bodleian Library, and it had never before left Britain since being issued almost eight hundred years ago. Magna Carta or "Great Charter of English Liberties" was signed by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215 and was reissued throughout the thirteenth century by England's rulers. It is considered one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy and includes such fundamental rights as habeas corpus.
In total, there are seventeen surviving original manuscripts of Magna Carta dating from 1215 to 1297. They are "engrossments," not copies, meaning they bear the Royal seal. The influence of Magna Carta in America is great and can be seen in such fundamental documents as the Bill of Rights.