"THE FOUNDATION OF MODERN CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT": EXCEEDINGLY RARE 1542 EDITION OF THE MAGNA CARTA, ONE OF THE EARLIEST EDITIONS IN ENGLISH
MAGNA CARTA. The Great Charter called in Latyn Magna Carta, with divers olde statutes whose titles appere in the next leafe Newly corrected: Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum. [London: Thomas Petyt, 1542]. Small octavo (4 by 5-3/4 inches), modern full brown calf, raised bands; +4, A-Z8, 2A-2D3 [without 2D4-7, last four leaves, from Table of contents, at rear; text complete]. $19,500.
Rare early 16th-century printing of the Magna Carta in English, "one of the central documents in the history of Western civilization… the symbol of political liberty… the foundation of modern constitutional government" (Viorst)—the last of only four 16th-century English-language editions.
The Magna Carta, the Great Charter of English liberties granted by King John in 1215 under threat of civil war, is one of the West's most influential documents, and its significance has grown immeasurably with the passage of time. The Magna Carta holds "a unique place in popular imagination; quite early in its history it became a symbol and a battle cry against oppression, each successive generation reading into it a protection of their own threatened liberties. In England the Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679) looked directly back to the famous… charter… In the United States both the national and the state constitutions show ideas and even phrases directly traceable to Magna Carta" (New Britannica). The Great Charter is "the most important legislative enactment of this epoch… Its historical importance consists in the fact that it opened a new chapter in English history, which ended by establishing a system of constitutional government, of which the Charter was regarded as the pledge and the symbol. All through the medieval period it was constantly confirmed; during the constitutional conflicts of the 17th century it was constantly appealed to; and in later ages its observance came to be regarded, both by lawyers and politicians, as a synonym for constitutional government" (Reams, 11-12). The first English translation of the Magna Carta, by George Ferrers from the original Latin and Law French (1508), was first published in 1534 by Robert Redman under the title The boke of Magna Carta. According to STC, this was a version of the Charter of inspeximus dated 28 Mar., 28 Edward I (i.e., 1300), which was essentially a reconfirmation of the Charter of inspeximus dated 12 Oct., 25 Edward I (i.e., 1297), both of which printed the revised 1225 version of the Magna Carta rather than the original 1215 charter. The 1225 version, with the long title (originally in Latin) "The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest," still remains on the statute books of England and Wales, albeit with most articles now repealed. Edward I reissued the Charter of 1225 in 1297 (reconfirmed in 1300) in return for a new tax. The 1534 first English translation was reprinted in 1539 by Redman, and then reprinted again in 1541 by Redman's widow Elizabeth, under the title The Great Charter. This 1542 edition, the last of the early 16th-century editions in English, contains Ferrers' final corrected text. A lawyer, politician, poet and writer of court masques, Ferrers gained a reputation for legal oratory and later turned to politics and literature (DNB). Printed in London by Thomas Petyt in Gothic type with decorative woodcut initials, title within historiated woodcut-frame border. All 16th-century printings of the Magna Carta are extraordinarily rare and desirable; unfortunately, many copies are found defective or incomplete. This copy without four leaves of Table of contents, at rear (2D4-7); the text, however, is complete.
STC 9276 (with "this second prynt" on +2r). Beale S13. Sweet & Maxwell I:351. Harvard Law Library, 816. See also Viorst, Great Documents of Western Civilization, 112. Early owner ink signatures and annotations to first few leaves and verso of title; owner signature to title page blotted out. Frequent early ink marginalia and pen trials. Later ink stamp to title page verso and last leaf of text; later owner signature to front blank.
Repair to lower corner of leaf B, just touching letterpress; final 11 leaves (2C-2D3) with paper repairs along outer margins, at times affecting chapter numbers or shoulder notes. Without final four leaves (2D4-7) at rear, from alphabetical "Table," text complete. Binding fine and attractive. An important cornerstone of law and liberty.