Rubenstein Returns Magna Carta

By Tom Heath

Carlyle co-founder David M. Rubenstein came to the National Archives on Monday to officially return a copy of the Magna Carta to the building where it once had been on display.

Rubenstein in December bought the 1297 copy of the Magna Carta, an English royal document and symbol of freedom, for $21.3 million, including a roughly $2 million commission, at Sotheby's in New York.

David Rubenstein, far right, who recently purchased one of the only four remaining 1297 Magna Carta documents, looks over the document during an event at the National Archives. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Penned in a medieval Latin script on a document made from the uterine of a calf, the one-page, 2,500-word manuscript is one of 17 surviving 13th-century versions and bears the wax seal of King Edward I of England. The original version of the document was signed by Edward's grandfather, King John, in 1215.

Rubenstein bought it from the Texas-based Perot Foundation, founded by billionaire Ross Perot. Auction proceeds will be used for medical research and to aid military veterans and their families.

Perot purchased the Magna Carta in 1983 from the Brudenell family, earls of Cardigans, who had owned it for five centuries. Perot paid about $1.5 million and offered it for display at the National Archives.

On Monday afternoon, Rubenstein gathered with the Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the U.S., and Terry Boone, the exhibits conservator of the National Archives, in a ceremony honoring the document's return.

"I felt that I owed something to the country which has been so good to me," Rubenstein said, looking down at the nearly 800-year-old document, which was in a humidity-controlled case designed to slow its deterioration.

Rubenstein said he expected the document to be on loan to the National Archives indefinitely, and the only return he expected was "if people can come to see this and are happy."

"I did work in the government for four years under President Carter at the White House, but I'm not sure that people will view that service as such a wonderful repayment of the debt given the fact that we got inflation to 19 percent," Rubenstein quipped. "So this is an atonement for that to some extent. "

By Dan Beyers  |  March 3, 2008; 4:40 PM ET
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