Magna Carta (Great Charter), 1297
Parliament House, Canberra

Magna Carta speaks to us from Medieval England, acknowledging, in writing, that no one in society is above the law: not the King nor his subjects, not the government nor the governed.

As an affirmation that authority should be subject to law arising from the community itself, Magna Carta is a foundation stone of constitutional and parliamentary government.

The manuscript held by the Australian Parliament is one of four surviving originals of the 1297 Inspeximus issue of Magna Carta and was sent to the Sheriff of Surrey, Robert de Glamorgan, to be proclaimed in the county court. Thereafter the provenance of the manuscript has been a matter for conjecture, other than at some point it came into the possession of King’s School in Bruton, Somerset, where it lay undisturbed until the 1930s. It was purchased for 12 500 pounds sterling by the Australian Government in 1952 and brought to Canberra, where it has remained in the custody of the Australian Parliament.

Other contemporary manuscripts of the 1297 Magna Carta are held in the National Archives, London, and in the Guild Hall of the City of London. Another is on public display at the National Archives in Washington DC.

The story of the acquisition and preservation of the document is told in more detail in the booklet Australia’s Magna Carta.