Medieval manuscripts blog

26 February 2015

Magna Carta: The Worcester Connection

There are now just a few weeks to the opening of our magnificent Magna Carta exhibition. We're very excited today to announce that on display will be some extremely precious items loaned to us by our friends at Worcester Cathedral and Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

King John teeth

King John's molars, found in his coffin in 1797 (image courtesy of Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum)

For starters, you'll be able to see King John himself at the British Library this spring and summer or, at the very least, those parts of him that survive outside his tomb! John's tomb at Worcester Cathedral was opened for a brief period in 1797, and certain of his body parts removed as souvenirs. On display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will be two of King John's molars, taken from the tomb by William Wood, a stationer's apprentice, and kindly being loaned to our exhibition by Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum. On show with them will be a thumb-bone, reputedly that of King John, which was returned to the cathedral in 1957. We're thrilled that we are going to have these items in our Magna Carta exhibition, and we're extremely grateful to the two institutions concerned for so kindly agreeing to lend them to us.


A piece of textile identified as the shroud wrapped round the body of King John, with a heraldic lion or "leopard" (image courtesy of Worcester Cathedral)

Worcester Cathedral will also be lending some other items to Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Also found in the tomb in 1797 were some pieces of textile, identified as parts of King John's hose and shroud, together with a portion of his leather shoe. Come and admire how a medieval king was dressed, and what he wore on his feet! In addition to this, we're very pleased to announce that we will also be displaying King John's own will in our exhibition, again on loan from Worcester Cathedral. This is the earliest surviving original English royal will, and it attests to John's deteriorating condition in his final days, since he left the distribution of his effects and the administration of his kingdom to a group of close advisers, being in an unfit state to make more detailed provisions. Once again, we are delighted that this key witness to King John's final days will be on display in London, where it can be seen alongside other books and objects relating to this troubled period in English history.

Will B1693

The will of King John, October 1216 (image courtesy of Worcester Cathedral)

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy promises to be the largest exhibition ever devoted to the Great Charter, and the centrepiece of international celebrations to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta in 1215. This could not have been made possible without the generosity of our lenders, among whom we wish to particularly acknowledge Worcester Cathedral and Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

Thumb bone

The thumb-bone of King John (image courtesy of Worcester Cathedral)

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy is sponsored by Linklaters, and is open from 13 March until 1 September 2015. Tickets are on sale now but beware, they are selling fast!

You can learn more about the history of Magna Carta on our dedicated site. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter (@julianpharrison and @BLMedieval) for more updates.

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The teeth and thumb-bone of King John, prior to their installation in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library


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