Ross Perot’s copy of Magna Carta, which is expected to take £15m at auction.

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This iconic vellum manuscript of 2500 words, dated 1297 and sealed by Edward I, has been on display alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. since arriving in America over 22 years ago. It is the only copy ever likely to be sold.

While Magna Carta is linked in the popular mind to June 15, 1215 when King John agreed to the Articles of the Barons in the meadow at Runnymede, numerous versions were made in the 13th century (most of them based on a revised charter of 1225). With each king who succeeded John, the document was modified, ratified and reissued. Numerous copies were made each time it was issued: in the case of the 1215 copy, that meant one for the royal archives, one for the Cinque Ports, and one for each of the 40 counties of the time. Four of these survive: two in the British Library, and one each at Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.

The copy owned by Sotheby's vendor (The Perot Foundation) is dated October 12, 1297, when Edward I's Parliament reissued Magna Carta for the final time.

In September 1984 Ross Perot, the Texan billionaire who twice ran for President in the 1990s, bought it for $1.5m from descendents of James Thomas Brudenell, the Earl of Cardigan who led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. Originally intended for the shire of Buckingham, it was documented in the possession of the Brudenell family of Deene Park, Northamptonshire since the late 14th or early 15th centuries. It is not known how the document came into the possession of the Brudenell family, but it was probably through one of two family members who were distinguished lawyers.

Together with another 1297 Magna Carta in the National Library of Australia (purchased by the Australian government for £12,500 in 1952) this is one of only two copies of Magna Carta outside England.

The document is estimated to sell for $20m-30m with the proceeds benefiting the charitable activities of The Perot Foundation.

By Roland Arkell