Throughout the Society’s history, Fellows with antiquarian interests in the past collected books, documents and objects relating to a royal power and pageantry in Great Britain and abroad. Iconic symbols of monarchy – the enthroned monarch wearing a jewelled crown and holding an orb and sceptre – date back over a thousand years but are instantly recognisable to us today.

This exhibition brings together rarely seen objects, books, and manuscripts from the Society’s collections to explore the religious beliefs and political motivations behind ceremonial displays of power; how images and objects such as seals are used to disseminate power; and how power has been contested and fought over during key periods of British history.

In the 18th-century the Society reproduced and published accurate copies of many images of royal power. Today collecting focus and scholarly interest has shifted away from royalty to more marginalised and less well documented voices, bringing the stories of everyday people to the fore.

Saxon Kings Frieze (Athelstan), c.1515 (?), oil on oak panel
LDSAL 509.1; ScharfLXXVIII

Magna Carta

This roll contains a contemporary copy of the third revision of the Magna carta issued by Henry III in 1225, the final form was later confirmed and enshrined in English law with 47 clauses instead of the original 63. It is regarded as the chief constitutional defence against arbitrary rule. Written in Latin, the most famous clause (no.29) starting ‘Nullus liber homo’ translates as ‘No free man shall be… imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions… except by the lawful judgement of his equals of by the law of the land.’ The Society’s copy is believed to have belonged to Halesowen Abbey, Worcestershire. It was owned by Bishop Charles Lyttelton, the Society’s President from 1765-1768, and was exhibited by him at meetings in 1749 and 1761. It was donated by Thomas Pitt, Lyttelton’s nephew and executor in 1771, with other records of Halesowen Abbey.

A facsimile, transcription and commentary of this manuscript, and 2 other versions of the Magna Carta owned by the Society (MSS/0060 & MSS/0701), is available online

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