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Even if your high school history is a bit rusty, you know that the Magna Carta is an important historical document. Often called “The Great Charter,” it’s considered a landmark document that established basic civil liberties. It was the genesis for many of today’s concepts of law (trial by jury of peers, protection against cruel or unusual punishment, due process) and an important inspiration for the United States Constitution.“The Magna Carta’s legacy is important, but not because of what the original document actually said, but rather what people thought it said,” says Dirk Van Tuerenhout, Houston Museum of Natural Science director of anthropology. “The charter, which 17th-century politicians studied with great zeal, was not the 1215 Magna Carta but the truncated and modified version of the 1225 Magna Carta, based on a document issued in 1217, when Henry III was a mere boy and his reign far from secure.” Van Tuerenhout says that the king’s advisers thought it prudent to reissue the charter, to quell rebellion in the kingdom and to give the boy king time to establish his rule.
The HMNS has the rare privilege of displaying an original edition, one of four known handwritten copies of the 1217 version, through a partnership between the museum, the Chapter of Hereford Cathedral and the Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust. Via press materials, Canon Chris Pullin, chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, says, “On both sides of the Atlantic we have come to see Magna Carta as an iconic milestone on the long road of human liberties and justice. Many world leaders have been inspired by what it stands for, and we hope that this will strengthen the resolve of a new generation to safeguard the values of justice, peace and liberty.”
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Through August 17. Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive. For information, call 713-639-4629 or visit hmns.org. $20.