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A Brief History of the Magna Carta

To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the creation of the Magna Carta, the British Library has created two animations—narrated by Monty Python's Terry Jones—about the groundbreaking "Great Charter." The first, which you can watch above, explores the document's history. The second, below, outlines why the charter was created and what it says.

The document has its roots in a conflict between King John and 40 British barons, which arose in 1215. "Many people believe that King John was one of the worst kings in history," Jones says in the video. John was the kind of king who imprisoned his own wife, allegedly murdered his own nephew, and made his barons pay high taxes so that John could fight expensive foreign wars. "If they refused to pay, he punished them severely or seized their property," Jones says. "The barons demanded that King John obey the law; when he refused, they captured London and John was forced to negotiate."

The two sides met at Runnymede on June 10, 1215 to hammer out the agreement which became the Magna Carta. Though it was nullified by Pope Innocent III just a few weeks later, the document was reissued several more times before the "final" version was issued in 1225. Three clauses from that version of the Magna Carta remain on the books today. The document would inspire many, including America's Founding Fathers, suffragettes, and Gandhi. It also paved the way for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was written after World War II.

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By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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