Britain's Princess Anne visited the Library of Congress on Thursday to open a new exhibition marking the 800th anniversary next year of the Magna Carta as a landmark declaration of rights and liberties.
Lincoln Cathedral in England is loaning one of the only four surviving copies of Magna Carta issued in 1215. The document is the centerpiece of the new exhibit, :"Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor.'' The 10-week display opened Thursday and runs through Jan. 19.
The daughter of Queen Elizabeth II presided over a celebration of the historic document's influence - it eventually inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States in shaping the Constitution and rights of citizens. The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets played a fanfare, and the Temple Church Choir of London sang two clauses of Magna Carta set to music in English and Latin.
Princess Anne said it is an important exhibition representing the shared values between the United States and the United Kingdom.
"We take so much for granted in terms of our freedoms and our expectations of freedoms and independence, and anniversaries such as this really are reminders of how far we have come in safeguarding our liberties,'' she said. "Nearly 800 years ago, Magna Carta gave us our first concept of a society governed by the rule of law - a major step.''
Ironically for a royal visit, Magna Carta was the first charter that directly challenged the English monarchy's authority and upheld the rights of individuals.
In 1215, 40 rebellious barons came together to declare their rights to King John, and he reluctantly consented to their demands. But within weeks, the pope voided the agreement, and England was thrown into war.
The rare 1215 Magna Carta was displayed earlier this year in Massachusetts. It was last brought to Washington 75 years ago for safekeeping at the Library of Congress during World War II.
The Washington exhibit also includes 76 items drawn from the library's collection, including George Washington's annotated copy of a draft of the U.S. Constitution from 1787 and a first-edition copy of the "Federalist Papers'' written as newspaper articles by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay when ratification of the U.S. Constitution was being debated.
The National Archives also holds a copy of Magna Carta from when it was reissued in 1297 under King Edward I. That document remains on long-term display in Washington along with the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
This is Princess Anne's first official visit to the U.S. since 1994. She also was scheduled to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and the charity Save the Children, which she has long supported.