Man Arrested For Trying To Steal Magna Carta

A crowd looks at a copy of the Magna Carta in Washington D.C.
Molly Riley / Getty Images

A man was arrested Thursday for allegedly vandalizing and attempting to steal a copy of an original Magna Carta. The document, which is one of the four surviving copies, is housed in the Salisbury Cathedral in London. According to the New York Times, a 45-year-old man was taken into custody on suspicion of smashing three holes into the case that protects the document.

A man allegedly entered the cathedral on Thursday and used a hammer to smash holes in the case that houses the Magna Carta, which was made in 1215. The suspect was quickly apprehended and the document itself is unharmed.

“We are very relieved that no one was hurt during the incident and that the Magna Carta itself is undamaged,” said a representative for the Salisbury Cathedral. “We are very grateful to all who dealt with the situation so swiftly.”

The document was removed from display temporarily after the incident.

The Magna Carta is often considered to be the first declaration of the rule of law and the establishment of the principles for men to protect their own rights. It is generally agreed that the document is the basis for the concept used to create the system of government in the United States.

The document was written by English barons who were angry with taxes levied by King John. The king was forced to recognize the document, agreeing to give men access to lawful process before being arrested or having their property taken, in order to prevent a civil war.

A historian interviewed by the New York Times said that this is the first instance he knows of someone attempting to attack the document. There were originally at least 13 copies, but only four survive.

“The main damage to originals, apart from them merely being lost, has been from fire or ill-advised attempts at conservation,” said professor David Carpenter.

“Only four copies of Magna Carta dating from 1215 have survived the ravages of time and Salisbury Cathedral is proud to be home to the best preserved original manuscript,” the cathedral said.

Carpenter joked that King John would probably have liked to destroy the Magna Carta, which means Great Charter in Latin, but he died shortly after the documents were made.

Police are looking for anyone who might have witnessed the event on Thursday.

“If you witnessed this incident in Salisbury Cathedral yesterday afternoon, and haven’t yet spoken to police, officers are keen to hear from you. Call 101,” Wiltshire police said in a tweet.

Police haven’t released any details on what the suspect intended to do with the document.