800 years on: Commemorating the historic Magna Carta

6 Posted by - 22 June 2015 - Events, Feature stories

Eight centuries ago, the Magna Carta decreed that no person is above the law, not even a king. This ‘Great Charter’ is still the basis of our legal system, and influences our daily life. And a new collection from the Royal Australian Mint means we can all own a little piece of this historic document.

Few historical documents in the world are imbued with the importance of the Magna Carta. And it’s an importance that is not diminishing. When in 1952 the Australian Parliament bought one of only two 1297 editions for ₤12,500 pounds from a school in Britain, Australia got a comparative bargain; when the National Archives in Washington bought the sister copy in 2007, the figure paid was US$21.3 million.

1297 Magna Carta. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

1297 Magna Carta. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Magna Carta was sealed by King John on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede in London, by the River Thames. A king increasingly despised by his subjects, the drawing up of the document by a group of rebel barons was a reaction to King John’s unfair rulings and imprisonments, raising of taxes, and disregard for the welfare of his people.

It was subsequently reissued four times with modifications in the 13th century: in 1216, 1217, 1225, and 1297. It’s influenced generations since, from Sir Edward Coke in 1628, to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It was critical in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the Australian Constitution.

Celebrating 800 years of liberty
The list of rights on the ‘Great Charter’ forms the foundations of society today: asserting such values as the right to a free trial, and that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It even extends to asserting that there be standard measures of alcohol and cloth.

The 800th anniversary celebrations are stretching around the globe. The Royal Australian Mint in Canberra is commemorating the event by releasing a spectacular and collectable $5 coin. Adonis Cox has led the development team at the Mint on the project.

“In honour of this historic anniversary, the Royal Australian Mint has produced its own historic piece — its first Australian legal tender rectangular coin,” explains Cox. “The coin design is highly significant as through research, we found an image of the original Great Seal that was used on the original 1215 document, sealed by King John himself. We traced that seal and used that as part of the coin design.

“The reverse of the coin also features an inscription from the 1297 Inspeximus issue by King Edward, held at Australian Parliament House (APH),” she says. “The design of the coin is striking, and it was quite a process to get it right,” says Cox. “First we went to APH to inspect the 1297 Inspeximus issue and identified the section we wanted to incorporate into the design. We then engaged a translator to ensure we selected the correct section and went through additional measures to make certain we had been true to the original document.”

Cox is excited to be part of such a legacy.

“The Magna Carta was a revolutionary declaration, ensuring that any future rulers were also bound by laws,” says Cox. “The justice system that we hold dear today, with fair trials and juries, owes its existence to this historical artefact.”

“It is an honour for the Mint to play a part during this celebrative period, marking this historic anniversary with our own historic and tangible piece. This special edition, fine silver coin boasts a limited mintage, individually hand-crafted antique finish and a unique rectangular shape. It is a way to share the story of the Magna Carta with future generations for them to appreciate its continued relevance in today’s society.”

A romanticised 19th-century depiction of King John signing the Magna Carta, 1864. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

A romanticised 19th-century depiction of King John signing the Magna Carta, 1864. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The $5 commemorative Magna Carta coin is on sale now at the Royal Australian Mint. Visit eshop.ramint.gov.au for details.

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