One of four original versions of the Magna Carta at the Legion of Honor.
One of four original versions of the Magna Carta at the Legion of Honor. Cy Musiker/KQED

An original Magna Carta is on display publicly in America for the first time. It’ll be taking up residence  at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor until June 5.

The Great Charter is considered one of the founding documents of modern democracy and law. It was forced upon King John of England by feudal barons in an attempt to limit his powers and protect their privileges in 1217.

The parchment is roughly 21 inches high and 17 inches wide, containing 56 lines of Latin text , laying out some rather momentous (for the time) rules for society.

The document introduced the concept of a free man, giving rights to those who were not nobly born. It declares that no free man should be imprisoned without due process, and a constitutional government.

It also governs more mundane matters very specific to the time and place: fishing rights on the rivers Thames and Medway, knights’ duties, the rights of the church, and language to protect widows — although women were denied the right to accuse murders. Most of the Magna Carta’s clauses have been suspended in British or American common law, yet it continues to serve as a model and inspiration for governance.

This document is one of the four surviving manuscripts from the 1217 revised edition. It is considered an official Manga Carta sent out by the royal record office, and most likely housed at St. Peter’s Abbey, according to the Legion of Honor. It is on loan from the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

KQED News anchor/reporter Cy Musiker visited the manuscript Monday morning and took brought back these pictures.

Cy will have more about the exhibit in today’s 5:30pm radio newscast.

Learn more about the exhibit.

Magna Carta: Live! 9 May,2011Lisa Pickoff-White

  • John Gilmore

    Contrary to Cy M.’s report, which I heard on the radio moments ago, the Magna Carta has been on display in the United States before.

    I recall seeing the Magna Carta, in manuscript, in the cupola of the United States Capitol in 1976.


Lisa Pickoff-White

Lisa Pickoff-White is KQED’s data reporter. Lisa specializes in simplifying complex topics and bringing them to life through compelling visuals, including photography and data visualizations. She previously has worked at the Center for Investigative Reporting and other national outlets. Her work has been honored with awards from the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and SXSW Interactive.  Follow: @pickoffwhite Email:

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