Magna Carta: Manuscripts united to mark 800th anniversary

By Bryony Jones, CNN

Published 1441 GMT (2241 HKT) February 2, 2015
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The four surviving Magna Carta manuscripts have gone on display at the British Library in London. More than 43,000 people from around the world applied for tickets to see them together; just 1,215 will get in to the historic three-day exhibition. Clare Kendall/British Library
The Magna Carta was essentially a peace treaty between England's King John and a group of barons he had been in dispute with. It established the principle that no one -- including the King -- should be above the law. Getty Images
King John agreed to the charter in June 1215, but within weeks had it annulled by the Pope, on the grounds it was "base and shameful." However, after he died, his successors reissued an updated version of it; it has become one of the most famous documents in the world. Ash Mills/Salisbury Cathedral
Three of the clauses in the Magna Carta are still on the statute books in Britain today, and it has influenced the constitutions and founding beliefs of many other countries, including the United States, India and Australia. Ash Mills/Salisbury Cathedral
Two of the four surviving versions of the Magna Carta are held by the British Library in London; the other two are in Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. Lincoln's copy has traveled frequently to the United States and elsewhere. Courtesy: British Library
Each of the four Magna Carta copies was written on sheepskin parchment, using ink made of crushed oak apple galls. The skilled Medieval scribes who produced the documents used quills crafted from goose or swan feathers. Ash Mills/Salisbury Cathedral
The Magna Carta was not signed by King John -- instead his official seal was attached to it. This replica shows what it would have looked like. Only one of the four surviving copies, one of the pair held in the British Library, still has the remnants of its seal. Ash Mills/Salisbury Cathedral
The exhibition will give academics a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to examine all four of the Magna Carta manuscripts side by side, to study differences in text, handwriting, condition and signs of ownership. Clare Kendall/British Library