NEW YORK – A 13th-century copy of the Magna Carta, a milestone of English freedom, will be offered for sale in December, Sotheby’s auction house announced on Sept. 25.
The vellum manuscript owned by the Perot Foundation is estimated to sell for $20 million to $30 million, Sotheby’s said. The document was on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for more than 20 years until Sept. 20.
King John was forced by barons to agree to the charter in 1215. It guaranteed that freemen would not be imprisoned or deprived of property without due process, including a right to a speedy trial before a jury.
Versions of the Magna Carta were issued in 1216, 1217, 1225 and 1264 by John’s son, King Henry III.
The copy offered by Sotheby’s for sale on Dec. 10 is dated 1297, the year it was incorporated into the statute rolls of King Edward I. Discovered among the Brudenell family records in England in 1974, the copy is one of only four remaining of the 1297 charter.
H. Ross Perot bought the copy in 1984 and loaned it to the National Archives. It was first exhibited in 1985.
The Magna Carta was the most significant early influence on the historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law today. It influenced many common-law and other documents, such as the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and is considered one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy.
The Magna Carta was originally written because of disagreements between Pope Innocent III, King John and the English barons about the rights of the king. It required the king to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that his will could be bound by the law. It explicitly protected certain rights of the king’s subjects, whether “free or fettered” – most notably the right of Habeas Corpus, meaning that they had rights against unlawful imprisonment. Many clauses were renewed throughout the Middle Ages, and further during the 17th and 18th centuries.
After the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and advances in the 12th century, the English king had by 1199 become one of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. But after King John of England was crowned in the early 13th century, a series of failures at home and abroad, combined with perceived abuses of the king’s power, led the English barons to revolt and attempt to restrain what the king could legally do.
Some of the most important barons in England entered London in force on June 10, 1215, with the city showing its sympathies to their cause by opening its gates to them. King John was forced to agree to the “Articles of the Barons,” to which his Great Seal was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. In return, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on June 19, 1215. A formal document to record the agreement was created by the royal chancery on July 15. This was the original Magna Carta.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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