Attached to this charter is one of the best-preserved impressions of the Great Seal of King John. John appears seated on a throne, holding a sword in his right hand and a sceptre in his left, and with the legend ‘+ IOHANNES DEI GRACIA REX ANGLIE DOMINVS HIBERNIE’ (John, by the grace of God King of England and Lord of Ireland). On the reverse is an equestrian portrait of John, riding with his visor open. The legend on this side gives the king’s other titles, ‘+ IOHANNES DUX NORMANNIE ET AQVITANNIE COMES ANDEGAVIE’ (John, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou). In the absence of other images, these two impressions are the best contemporary likenesses of King John.
A similar impression of the Great Seal would have been attached to each copy of Magna Carta. In this example, the seal is made of dark green wax, and is affixed to the document with cords of light green silk, in near-perfect condition.
The charter itself was issued in King John’s name at Rouen in March 1203, and grants fifty acres of land at Weedon Bec, Northamptonshire, to the abbot and monks of Le Bec-Hellouin in Normandy. Among the witnesses are Robert fitz Walter
(1162-1235) and Saer de Quincy, Earl of Winchester (1170-1219), both of whom rebelled against John in 1215, together with Roger de Lacy, Constable of Chester (1170-1211), whose son John de Lacy was also one of the rebel barons. The third witness, in contrast, is William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury (1176-1226), who was one of John’s chief advisers at Runnymede. Loyalties clearly wavered during the course of King John’s reign.