If you paid attention in world history class, you know that the Magna Carta is a document that for the first time limited the powers of an English king and established some basic civil liberties. It served as a model for the U.S. Constitution and other important documents.
And now you can see a version of it at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Journalists got a first look at the exhibition surrounding the nearly 800-year-old parchment.
Chris Pullin is the canon chancellor of Hereford Cathedral in west England, which owns this 1217 edition of the Magna Carta.
“It's a tremendous moment for us at Hereford Cathedral in England to be able to loan this Magna Carta. In the six months that it's going to be here, it'll be seen by more people than would see it in Hereford in probably 20 or 25 years and that's wonderful.”
The yellowing parchment is displayed in a glass case with low light and controlled temperature. It only left the cathedral once: during World War II, when it was stored in Wales for protection.
So you may ask: Why Houston?
“Through mutual friends. We had a contact with the museum here, and that's how it came about it really. We talked and we saw that it was something that could be loaned — we would be glad to loan. They were keen to have it.”
After staying here for six months, the Magna Carta will go back to Hereford Cathedral, in time for its 800-year anniversary celebration next year. And Pullin says there are currently no plans to exhibit the piece elsewhere again.
Mayor Annise Parker agrees that gives Houstonians a good reason to brag.
“I'm certainly going to brag that this is the only place the Magna Carta will be outside of England, that (there are) 800 years of history exhibited in Houston and the fact that not just the Museum of Natural Science but that Houston was chosen to host this tremendously important document.”
Prince Charles even issued a statement to the museum, in which he emphasizes the document's significance for the British people and Americans alike.
King John issued the Magna Carta in 1215 to appease his barons and avoid civil war. The version displayed in Houston is actually from 1217, when it was re-issued after the pope had annulled it. It's also the first one that was actually called “Magna Carta.”
Along with it, the museum is displaying the only known copy of the so-called King's Writ.
Joel Bartsch, president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, says that document was sent out before the actual charter.
“What it's more or less is it's like a save-the-date card but it was a document that went out first throughout the kingdom, announcing that there was an important document coming out that the king wanted everyone to abide by and it would be the law of the land.”
The exhibit runs from Friday, Feb. 14, through Aug. 17 at the Museum of Natural Science.
Below is a letter from Prince Charles