Nobody knows exactly how the damaged Magna Carta came to acquire its current state. The best indication is provided in the diary of Sir Frederic Madden (1801–73), Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum from 1837 to 1866. Writing in 1858, Madden reported that this Magna Carta was ‘injured in the fire of 1731 (and still more, by the injudicious treatment it received from Mr Hogarth in 1836)’. Josiah Forshall (1795–1863), the previous Keeper, had requested permission from the British Museum Trustees to conserve Magna Carta in 1834, for which delicate task Hogarth, employed as a binder, may have been eminently unsuited. It has been suggested that Hogarth flattened the manuscript with a roller so as to adhere it to a backing sheet, perhaps having soaked it first; the application of blotting paper to dry the parchment may have lifted off much of the ink that survived such a process.
- Article by:
- Christina Duffy
- Clauses and content
One of the four surviving 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts was burnt in the Ashburnham House fire of 1731. Then a failed restoration attempt in the 1830s rendered much of its text illegible. In the charter’s 800th anniversary year, Dr Christina Duffy explains how a new scientific technique known as ‘multispectral imaging’ has revealed text thought to have been lost forever.