An Attempted Theft of the Magna Carta

Iona Bielby 

It hasn’t been an easy year for the people of Wiltshire, England. Earlier this year, a British couple fell ill to the same nerve agent that poisoned a former Russian spy and his daughter. Both incidents took place in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Now, according to the Wiltshire Police, a man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted theft of the Magna Carta at the Salisbury Cathedral. 

The Magna Carta is a cornerstone of English liberty, law, and democracy. A charter of rights agreed by King John in 1215, it remains one of the most influential components of British legal manuscripts. There are only four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, dating from 1215. The copy in the Salisbury Cathedral has been dubbed the “finest of the four.” 

 According to The Art Newspaper, alarms were activated when a 45 year old man smashed the glass box surrounding the Magna Carta around 5pm. Police were immediately called and the cathedral was evacuated. The man, who remains unnamed, has been released on conditional bail. Officials believe the glass case was smashed with a “hammer-like object in the upper left corner, making a small hole.” Remarkably, the Magna Carta remains undamaged.


Salisbury Cathedral’s the Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulous stated to BBC News that he has “no immediate concern for its security.” He also described his staff as “courageous” after the ordeal. But art theft is a prevalent issue: one that should be taken seriously by institutions that hold such precious entities like the Magna Carta. Experts claim that tens of thousands of works of art are stolen yearly. International police organisation Interpol suggests that in 1998 alone, over 60,000 works of art were stolen. Apparently, these thefts are most likely to be made by “everyday opportunists.” David Shillingford, the Director of Marketing and Operations at The Art Loss Register claims that “a criminal that will steal a car or a VCR is the most likely person to steal a piece of art.” Cases of art theft have a rich history: allodd, intriguing and surprising, to say the least. Art thefts from Boston to Paris have made headlines with millions in assets stolen or otherwise, lost. The sheer act of art theft is one that suggests the invaluable allure art possesses: an allure that is studied by art historians, and apparently, sought after by collectors and thieves alike. 

Since the event, the Magna Carta exhibition will remain closed. Unfortunately, the incident and closure of the exhibition is most likely to disrupt Salisbury’s tourist business, further since the Novichok poisonings earlier this year. 


"Best-Preserved Magna Carta Goes on Show at Salisbury Cathedral." BBC News. February 27, 2015. Accessed November 01, 2018.

Chang, Andrew. "Art Theft: Big Money, Big Problems." ABC News. Accessed November 01, 2018.

Dodd, Vikram, and Steven Morris. "Wiltshire Novichok Poisoning Investigated by UK Counter-terror Police." The Guardian. July 05, 2018. Accessed November 01, 2018.

"Magna Carta Theft Attempt Prompts Cathedral Security Review." BBC News. October 27, 2018. Accessed November 01, 2018.