Politics & Government

Pomp and Circumstance as Library of Congress Welcomes the Magna Carta - and Princess Anne

Britain's Princess Anne speaks during the public opening ceremony of a new Library of Congress exhibit, “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor,” Nov. 6, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
Britain's Princess Anne speaks during the public opening ceremony of a new Library of Congress exhibit, “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor,” Nov. 6, 2014, in Washington, D.C. AP

It was a day of tremendous ceremony that featured no less than herald trumpets, musical fanfares, two choirs, distinguished guests and a royal princess, all coming together to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the “great charter” of law and freedom.

The event at the Library of Congress today opened the exhibit, “Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor” as HRH the Princess Royal, Princess Anne cut the ribbon for the display of the document and more than 75 artifacts that show the influence of the document through the centuries, first in Britain, and later America and throughout the world.

“Nearly 800 years ago, Magna Carta gave us our first concept of a society governed by the rule of law – a major step,” said Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth.

“I think anniversaries are an opportunity to look forward to what will be happening in maybe 100, 200 years. Will we still be celebrating Magna Carta as it reaches those milestones and its relevance in that time and ensuring that the rule of law remains a valued concept in the future? It is imperative for us to instill these values, this understanding in the next generation."

The Magna Carta was the result of an uprising by a group of barons against King John demanding their rights and limiting his power, which he was forced to concede. The document, on a single page, in Latin, lays out the principles of law and individual rights that are the basis for the Western world’s legal foundation.

There are four copies from 1215 still in existence and the one on loan to the Library of Congress is the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, which has been on a U.S. tour from England since June. Next year, the four copies will be brought together for the first time in England.

In a quaint reminder of the historic nature of the document, the British delegation, including Ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott, handed Librarian of Congress James Billington the key to the case of the Magna Carta in an “entrusting ceremony.”

Billington reminded the audience gathered in the atrium of the Library of Congress’ ornate Thomas Jefferson building that it is not the first time the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta has been in the building.

It is the 75th anniversary of it being on display in the Library of Congress after being a part of the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. The Magna Carta was sent to the Library of Congress because World War II had begun.

“The Library of Congress played an important role in its safekeeping during World War II,” said Billington.

Princess Anne, accompanied by her husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, seemed to enjoy the musical elements that started with the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets and featured the Temple Church Choir, a male choir from England who sang “God Save the Queen,” and the Howard University Singers, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The current exhibit includes medieval manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps, posters and annotated draft opinions by U.S. Supreme Court. It is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. It runs from Nov. 6, 2014 to Jan. 19, 2015 in the South Gallery on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Online at www.loc.gov/exhibits/.