Faversham’s 1300 Magna Carta is about to make a rare public appearance as the centrepiece of an exhibition, which opens in the town on 23 May. The project’s curator, Laura Samuels explains what visitors can expect from the historic market town’s commemoration of Magna Carta – 800 years on.
This year is the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta by King John in 1215. Widely regarded as England’s greatest export, celebrations marking the anniversary of the document are taking place throughout the UK and across the world, and Faversham can boast a special right to be part of these commemorations. The town is the proud owner of an edition of Magna Carta dated 1300 – the last reissue of the document and featuring King Edward I’s seal.
The ‘Magna Carta Rediscovered’ exhibition offers the opportunity to explore Magna Carta’s original meaning, its close links with Kent and its evolution into a universal symbol of freedom from oppression.
More important, it offers a rare chance to view the Faversham Magna Carta up close. Over 700 years old, still legible and affixed with the seal of King Edward I, it is one of only seven surviving royal issues from 1300 and is rarely on view to the public.
The document itself is intriguing. Its plain presentation does not do justice to its significance. One of the least ornate of Faversham’s magnificent charter collection, it has no gold leaf or decorative initials, and is written in simple handwriting not beautiful calligraphy. Yet it is this simple presentation that offers an insight into the intensions of King Edward I. Unlike his grandfather King John, who sealed Magna Carta under duress, Edward had many copies quickly written out and circulated across his kingdom as a symbol of his commitment to just rule.
The exhibition uses technology to enable visitors – young and old, beginners and experts – to delve beyond the surface of the charter. For instance, visitors can investigate the clauses with simultaneous views of the original manuscript, a transcription and translation.
The hope is that everyone leaves the exhibition with a sense of pride that Kent holds a significant treasure – an original 1300 Magna Carta issued to the Barons of the port of Faversham.
The Magna Carta Rediscovered touring exhibition, part of the Kent-wide celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, will visit Faversham, Canterbury, Maidstone, Dover, Sandwich and Rochester from May to December 2015. It is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and is organised by Visit Kent and district partners.
Laura Samuels, of Jakaranda Tree Ltd, is the project curator, responsible for the exhibition content, storyline and interpretation. Her past work has included developing the narrative for The Museum of Methodism in Wesley’s Chapel; producing a touring exhibition on where Shakespeare was married for The Churches Conservation Trust; and working with the University of Reading’s Archaeology Department to deliver the Impact programme for their AHRC funded Anglo-Saxon excavation in Lyminge, Kent.