A previously overlooked Magna Carta belonging to Sandwich Town Council has been discovered in the archives at KCC’s Kent History and Library Centre (KHLC), in Maidstone.
The document is an original Magna Carta from the issue made in 1300 by King Edward I to the borough of Sandwich, one of the Cinque Ports.
Since then it has been carefully preserved in the borough’s historic archive, now at the KHLC, on deposit from Sandwich Town Council, the legal owners.
The discovery was made by KCC Community History Officer Dr Mark Bateson after leading Magna Carta academic historian Professor Nicholas Vincent contacted him to investigate a separate document in the archives – Sandwich’s original Charter of the Forest.
Dr Bateson spotted the Magna Carta right next to the charter, and Prof. Vincent then authenticated this exciting discovery.
The Mayor of Sandwich, Cllr Paul Graeme, said: “On behalf of Sandwich Town Council, I would like to say that we are absolutely delighted to discover that an original Magna Carta and original Charter of the Forest, previously unknown, are in our ownership.
“To own one of these documents, let alone both, is an immense privilege given their international importance.
“Through the American Declaration of Independence, continuing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Magna Carta still underpins individual liberties worldwide. To own such a document – and the Charter of the Forest – is an honour and a great responsibility.”
The document is the first Magna Carta to be discovered since 2007, when Sotheby’s produced a catalogue listing all known 23 original Magna Cartas issued from 1215 onwards. This makes the Sandwich charter the 24th known, and the second surviving for a Cinque Port, the other (again from 1300) being in Faversham.
The discovery has important implications for what historians know of the publication and distribution of Magna Carta.
TKHLC also becomes one of just two institutions worldwide holding both the 1300 Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest (Oriel College Oxford being the other).
KHLC will be at the heart of KCC’s Magna Carta commemorations in the summer. Its activities include being one of the host venues of a major touring exhibition, organised by Visit Kent and partners, based around the Faversham Magna Carta.
Mike Hill, KCC Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “‘This is most exciting news. Our History and Library Centre is a treasure house of records relating to the history of Kent.
“We welcome visitors from all walks of life and all stages of life, from children and others delving into the history of their family or community, to academics researching aspects of Kent’s rich past. As in this case, they can all help us discover and re-discover the amazing stories waiting to be unearthed here.”
A spokesman for Faversham Town Council said: “As the guardians of the Faversham Magna Carta, the town council welcomes this news, which reinforces the significance of the Cinque Port towns of Sandwich and Faversham in the Magna Carta story.”
Chief executive of Visit Kent, Sandra Matthews-Marsh said: “This is an incredible treasure for Kent – we already have the Canterbury Magna Carta and the Faversham Magna Carta, and can now add a third charter to our already fascinating story.
“Visit Kent and partners are delivering a one-off touring exhibition this year to celebrate Kent’s unique role in Magna Carta’s history – the star of which will be the Faversham Magna Carta, retained for the town since it was issued in 1300 – as well as many other fantastic public events across the county to mark the 800th anniversary.
“Kent is clearly the place to be for history lovers in 2015.”
A series of Kent-wide celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta will take place this year, led by the Magna Carta Rediscovered summer touring exhibition of never seen before artefacts and the 1300 Faversham Magna Carta.
The tour will visit Canterbury, Rochester, Dover, Maidstone and Faversham from May to December, and is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and organised by Visit Kent and district partners.
The exhibition’s promotion is also supported The Magna Carta Trust’s 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, which is responsible for coordinating national activities, raising the profile of the anniversary and delivering a number of key national and international aspirations.