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Fury as cash-strapped council says it may sell off Magna Carta 

A council is considering selling off its 700-year-old copy of the Magna Carta for £20million. 

Faversham Town Council owns one of only seven copies of the 1300 edition of the historic document, signed and sealed by King Edward I.  

Council chiefs in the Kent town are in talks about what to do with their Magna Carta, including the possibility of selling it or loaning it out. 

During a meeting of the town council this week, councillors were told that it wouldn’t be feasible to display Magna Carta in the town hall as it would cost too much money to police.

Local resident Brian Pain said that as costs were ‘too high’ for the town council to display the document, it should look into selling it.

He said: ‘We can’t display the Magna Carta as there isn’t grant money to do it and the cost would be enormous.  

Faversham Town Council in Kent owns one of only seven copies of the 1300 edition of the historic document, signed and sealed by King Edward I (pictured: The Faversham 1300 Magna Carta in Rochester Cathedral, November 2015)

‘I wondered whether the council had considered turning the whole problem on its head and selling the Magna Carta?

‘Seriously – sell it to an academic or an academic institution on the condition it comes back once every four years and is displayed here.’

The original Magna Carta, a charter of rights agreed by King John of England, was drawn up in 1215, but in subsequent years other copies were made and signed by different kings. There are four surviving copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta. 

Copies of the 1300 edition are held by Faversham Town Council; Oriel College, Oxford; the Bodleian Library; Durham Cathedral; Westminster Abbey; the City of London and Sandwich Town Council. 

Two copies of the 1297 version of Magna Carta have been sold. One was bought by the Australian government for £12,500 and the other was sold to US businessman David Rubenstein for $21.3 million in 2007. 

The original Magna Carta, a charter of rights agreed by King John of England, was drawn up in 1215, but in subsequent years other copies were made and signed by different kings Pictured: Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire.

The original Magna Carta, a charter of rights agreed by King John of England, was drawn up in 1215, but in subsequent years other copies were made and signed by different kings Pictured: Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire. 

Council chiefs in Faversham are in talks about what to do with the Magna Carta, including the possibility of selling it - with a price tag of upwards of £20m (pictured: Faversham Town Hall)

Council chiefs in Faversham are in talks about what to do with the Magna Carta, including the possibility of selling it – with a price tag of upwards of £20m (pictured: Faversham Town Hall)

Cllr Kris Barker said that the decision on whether to sell Magna Carta should be ‘deferred’ until all options were looked at.

He said: ‘I think it’s a very valid question. There are also very similar options where we lease it to places like the Smithsonian.

Magna Carta: ‘The Great Charter’ remains a cornerstone of the British constitution 

King John issued the Magna Carta after agreeing peace terms with a band of rebel barons and it is now one of the world’s most celebrated legal documents.

Many people believed King John to be one of the worst kings in history after he imprisoned his former wife, starved opponents to death and murdered his nephew.

He also imposed heavy taxes on his barons for expensive wars and if they refused to pay he punished them.

But the barons demanded he obey by the law and captured London so King John was forced to negotiate.

The two sides met at Runnymede in June 1215 and they wrote the Magna Carter.

It established for the first time that neither monarch nor government was above the law and set out principles of liberty which echoed through the centuries.

The most famous clause, which is still the law today, gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial.

Two other clauses are still in force today – the freedom of the English Church and the ancient liberties of the City of London.

King John died of dysentery in 1216 and nine year old Henry III took to the throne.

Magna Carta was reissued several times during the 13th century, until it was finally made part of English law.

The ancient document has lived on for 800 years, and is used in the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There are four surviving copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta. 

Copies of the 1300 edition are held by Faversham Town Council; Oriel College, Oxford; the Bodleian Library; Durham Cathedral; Westminster Abbey; the City of London and Sandwich Town Council. 

Two copies of the 1297 version of Magna Carta have been sold. One was bought by the Australian government for £12,500 and the other was sold to US businessman David Rubenstein for $21.3 million in 2007. 

Source: British Library

‘I think we could explore all of those, but we would need to engage the town with what we’d end up doing with it, but at the moment I just think it’s worth making sure we run through these options.’

Town clerk Louise Bareham said this week: ‘We recognise the historic significance of this document and that it should be accessible to the public, rather than secured in a vault.

‘Four options have been tabled – including a permanent exhibition space for Magna Carta.

‘To this end, if we are unable to display Magna Carta in Faversham, we are keen to explore other options.’ 

Former journalist Mark Gardner, who has lived in the town for 50 years, said the council selling its Magna Carta would be ‘outrageous’.

He called it an ‘act of incredible irresponsibility’ for Faversham council to ‘sell off our town’s birthright’.

The 80-year-old said: ‘It is something that should be – and is – prized by all of Faversham’s residents.’

The copy of the Magna Carta is rarely put on show. In 2016, the authority purchased a former shoe shop to create a permanent exhibition space for the document.

The council also moved to the first floor of 12 Market Place that summer, and have used the ground floor as a temporary gallery place.

Resident Brian Pain said: ‘The whole of the 12 Market Place came about because of the idea of displaying the Magna Carta.

‘Now we can’t do that because there isn’t the grant money to do it and the cost would be enormous.

‘I wondered whether the council had considered turning the whole problem on its head on what we do with the space now and selling the Magna Carta?

‘Seriously – sell it to an academic or an academic institution on the condition it comes back once every four years and is displayed here.’ 

Locals voiced their anger online over the proposal to sell the historic document.

One said: ‘This copy of Magna Carta does not belong to the Council. It belongs to the people, or more correctly to the people of Milton Regis. Check it out and follow its history line.’

Another added: ‘The Barbarians are no longer at the gate. They are running the whole show now. This country is in steep decline and there does not seem to be an end in sight.’

A third wrote: ‘Money talks, this is a council we’re talking about. They can’t see the wood for the trees, once it’s gone that’s it, it will never be able to be re-purchased.

‘A town’s heritage is exactly that, the town’s. It does not belong to a group of council workers to sell.’

MAGNA CARTA: A TIMELINE 

10 June 1215 – Meeting at Runnymede 

Rebel barons assemble at Runnymede by the River Thames to negotiate with King John.

15 June 1215 – Granting of Magna Carta

King John grants Magna Carta.

19 June 1215 – Peace is restored

Barons make formal peace with King John and renew their oaths of allegiance to him.

24 June 1215 – Distribution of Magna Carta begins

The original seven copies of Magna Carta are delivered for distribution.

24 August 1215 – Pope annuls Magna Carta

Pope Innocent III issues a papal bull announcing that Magna Carta is null and void.

18 October 1216 – Death of King John

King John dies suddenly at Newark having failed to recover from an attack of dysentery. He is buried, according to his wishes, in Worcester Cathedral and his nine-year-old son becomes King Henry III.

12 November 1216 – First revision of Magna Carta

Less than one month after King John’s death, the Earl of Pembroke William Marshal issues a revised version of Magna Carta in his capacity as Regent.

6 November 1217 – Second revision of Magna Carta

William Marshal issues a second revision of Magna Carta.

11 February 1225 – Henry III issues revised Magna Carta

After coming of age Henry III issues a substantially revised version of Magna Carta under his own great seal.

12 October 1297 – Edward I confirms Magna Carta

Edward I confirms Henry III’s 1225 version of Magna Carta. This text is then placed on the first statute roll. 

1300 – Edward I issues what are thought to be the final copies  

Edward I issues what appear to be the last known copies of the document. 

Magna Carta proclaimed in English, the language of the great majority of the population. 

Source: British Library

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