Magna Carta owned by Henry VIII’s lawyer makes debut public appearance

by Samantha Woodhill02 Dec 2015
New Zealand’s oldest copy of the Magna Carta, a lawyer’s reference copy, originally owned by Henry VIII’s divorce lawyer when he divorced Anne Boleyn, will be on display at the University of Canterbury this month. 
The exhibit will be the first time the copy has been on public display and comes just one month after a team of researchers working with UC curator and historian Dr Chris Jones discovered a small inscription leading to the important discovery of who it belonged to.
“Rycharde Sampson dothe owne me,” the inscription read.
Richard Sampson was King Henry VIII’s divorce lawyer in 1536 against Anne Boleyn.
“I can tell you exactly when he bought it because he wasn't a bishop at the time and he became one in 1536, so he's the original owner or he had it within four years of it being printed,” Jones said.
“At the time it was the latest, up-to-date guide to English law, and Sampson would have had it in his hand when he acted in Anne Boleyn’s trial.”
Nearly 500 years old, UC’s fragile Copy of the Magna Carta is ordinarily restricted to academics who have a good reason to view it.  The exhibition, marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta’s sealing, is a rare opportunity for the public to view the important artefact.
“On its 800th anniversary, this exhibition explores the origins of the Great Charter, its links to the University of Canterbury, guardian of our country’s oldest copy, and its relevance in modern bicultural Aotearoa New Zealand,” Jones said, noting the importance of the document on contemporary democracy.
“UC is marking the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta not simply by looking to the past, but by seeking to explore what the Charter can tell us about our future as a nation.”
Curated by Jones and student Thandiwe Parker, the exhibition will display a number of items from the university’s collection, including medieval manuscripts and contributions from MPs Judith Collins, Andrew Little, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson and Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias.
The Mana of the Magna Carta: The New Zealand Experience of a Medieval Legacy, runs 1 – 6 December 2015.