William Penn’s “Excellent priviledge” (1687) on display in the British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition

20150226_090547 Tract Volume 563 is a miscellaneous collection of pamphlets dating from the 1670s to the early 20th century, unassumingly bound in blue cloth. But among its contents is a pamphlet that includes the first printing of Magna Carta in America, William Penn’s Excellent priviledge of liberty and property being the birth-right of the free-born subjects of England (1687), a subject of some interest, particularly this year, the 800th anniversary of the original Magna Carta.   One of only three known surviving copies of this work (the other two are in the United States), it has been loaned to the British Library for its forthcoming Magna Carta exhibition, as an illustration of the continuing significance of some of Magna Carta’s core principles far beyond the original mediaeval context. So Tract Volume 563 has made its way down Euston Road, leaving Friends House for the first time since 1926, and will be on display in the exhibition at the British Library from 13 March to 1 September 2015.

Penn's Excellent priviledge p.22-23

Penn, William. Excellent priviledge of liberty and property (1687) p. 22-23

The printer of Penn’s Excellent priviledge of liberty and property was William Bradford (1663-1752), apprentice and son-in-law of Andrew Sowle, printer for London Quakers. Bradford and his wife emigrated to America in 1685, where he set up Pennsylvania’s first printing press (and over the years became embroiled in a series of controversies with Quakers and others over his printing activity – but that’s another story).

Penn, WIlliam. Excellent priviledge (1687) - title page

Penn, William. Excellent priviledge of liberty and property (1687) – title page

Though you won’t be able to read the original here in the Library until it returns at the end of the Magna Carta exhibition, we do have a facsimile, published in 1897 by the Philobiblon Club of Philadelphia; and a digitised version of that facsimile is also available online. Visit the British Library to see our copy of Penn’s Excellent priviledge of liberty and property on display, join in the series of related events or read more about Magna Carta and its legacy on the website.

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