Historical Essays on the Magna Carta

Scope and Content

Manuscript with an illuminated title-page: A Series of Historical Essays, illustrative of the Illuminations and Ancient Drawings, in the Magna Carta of King John; Printed in Letters of Gold by John Whittaker, and executed for The Right Honourable George-John, Earl Spencer: &c, &c, &c, Selected and Arranged by Richard Thomson. London, 1820. The volume contains: 

  • folios 2-3: Preface (subscribed Richd. Thomson, May 1820);
  • folios 4-5: The Garter Page;
  • folios 6-7v: The Plantaganet Page;
  • folios 8-9: The Spencer Quarterings;
  • folios 10-10v: The Shrine Page;
  • folios 11-11v: The Skeleton Page;
  • folios 12-13: Innocent 3d;
  • folios 14-15: The Knights Page;
  • folios 16-17v: The Montjoie Page;
  • folios 18-19: The Fitzwalter Page;
  • folios 20-21: The Effigy Page;
  • folios 22-23v: The Forest Page;
  • folios 24-25: The Crusade Page;
  • folios 26-27v: The Golden Page;
  • folios 28-29: The Innocent Page;
  • folios 30-31v: The Meadow Page;
  • folios 32-33: The City Page;
  • folios 34-35: The Tower Page;
  • folios 36-37: The Peer's Page.

Administrative / Biographical History

Richard Thomson (1794-1865), antiquary and librarian, was born in Fenchurch Street, London. It is thought that he was educated privately; he never attended university. He developed an interest in exploring the antiquities of London, and published a number of valuable historical studies. Heraldry was one of his hobbies and he assisted enquirers in investigating their pedigrees.

In 1820 Thomson published his Account of processions and ceremonies observed in the coronation of the kings and queens of England, exemplified in that of George III and Queen Charlotte and also The book of life: a bibliographical melody, presented to the members of the Roxburghe Club. He also published an edition of Walton's Compleat angler (1823), Chronicles of London Bridge, by an Antiquary (1827; 2nd edition, 1839), Illustrations of the history of Great Britain (1828) in volumes 20 and 21 of Constable's miscellany and the anecdotal Tales of an antiquary (1828; 2nd edition, 1832), published anonymously in three volumes. His Historical essay on Magna Charta appeared in 1829.

Thomson was a frequenter of the London Institution in Finsbury Circus and was its honorary secretary from 1824 until 1869. On 14 August 1834 Thomson, along with Edward William Brayley, was elected joint librarian of the Institution. The catalogue of its library (then containing about 27,000 volumes), issued in four volumes between 1835 and 1852 and considered a model for its period, was largely compiled by Thomson, who published little else during these years. He published, anonymously, Historical notes for a bibliographical description of mediaeval illuminated manuscripts of hours, offices, &c. (1858), Lectures on illuminated manuscripts and the materials and practice of illuminators (1858), and An account of Cranmer's catechism. Thomson died at the London Institution on 2 January 1865, aged seventy and unmarried.

Source: K.A. Manley, 'Thomson, Richard (1794-1865)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/27321.

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Acquired by the John Rylands Library from an unknown source at some date before 31 January 1900.


Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Richard Thomson.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MS 1179).

Related Material

The volume to which this manuscript refers, which has been described as the most magnificent of all editions of Magna Carta, was printed on vellum in London in 1816 by John Whittaker under the title Magna carta regis Johannis, XV die Junii MCCXV Anno regni xvii, and was acquired by Mrs Rylands for the John Rylands Library as part of the Spencer Collection (accession no. 20671 ).


Geographical Names