Calendar Reform in England, 1752
It is widely known that in September 1752, England and Wales switched
from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar, joining Scotland
which had switched in 1600. In order to
achieve the change, 11 days were 'omitted' from the calendar - i.e.
the day after 2 September 1752 was 14 September 1752.
This change was as a result of an Act of Parliament - the
Act" of 1751 An Act for Regulating the Commencement of the Year;
and for Correcting the Calendar now in Use.
What isn't so widely known is a second change which the Act introduced -
as named in the first part of the Act's title. The Act changed the first
day of the year (or, if you want to impress your friends with a new
word, the Supputation of the Year).
Prior to 1752 in England, the year began on 25 March (Lady Day).
Lady Day is one of the Quarter Days, which are still used in legal
circles. The Quarter Days divide the year in quarters (hence the name :-), and
the Quarter Days are: Lady Day (25 March), Midsummers Day (24 June),
Michaelmas Day (29 September), and Christmas Day (25 December).
So, in England, the day after 24 March 1642 was 25 March 1643. The Act changed
this, so that the day after 31 December 1751 was 1 January 1752. As a
consequence, 1751 was a short year - it ran only from 25 March to 31 December.
To throw some more confusion on the issue, Scotland had changed
the first day of the year to 1 January in 1600 (in 1600, Scotland was
a separate kingdom). When King James VI of Scotland became also
King James I of England in 1603, the possibilities of date confusion
must have been very large.
Historians have to be on their toes with dates prior to 1752. For
example, in The Tower of London there is some graffiti scratched into
a cell wall by someone imprisoned in January 1642 for his role in the
Battle of Edgehill (which took place on 23 October 1642).
Some unanswered questions
- There is considerable evidence of contemporary dual dating.
For example, some essentially contemporary paintings of the
execution of King Charles I on Tuesday 30 January 1648 have a
title bearing the date 30 January 1648/9.
Samuel Pepys's diary begins on New Years Day (1 January) 1660, but
it is clear that this is actually the year 1659/60. So was the
Calendar Act in 1751 merely formalising common usage, or was it
a radical change ? The preface to one modern book of Samuel Pepys's
diary states that using 1 January as the start of the year was
common practice at that time - i.e. 1660.
I've seen a pamphlet at Broughton Castle which refers to
a speech made on Thursday 27 January 1658 - and the pamphlet
states it was printed in 1659. In order for the day to be a
Thursday, this must be referring to 27 January 1658/9 (i.e.
the pamphlet was printed some months after the speech), however
the year is specified as 1658 - and not as 1658/9.
So the year was commencing on 25 March in 1658, but on 1 January
in 1660 ?
Perhaps the answer is connected with the coronation of King
Charles II in Scotland on 1 January 1651 - that's a Scottish
date, for a Scottish king. Perhaps the Royalist cause used 'Scottish'
dates, and the Parliamentarian cause used 'old style' dates ?
Although this theory maybe doesn't sit well with the fact that
from 1654 Pepys had been steward to Edward Mountagu, a General-at-Sea
in Cromwell's Protectorate...
King Charles II did not become king of England until 8 May 1660
(coronation on 23 April 1661), after the start of Samuel Pepys's diary.
Leap Years in the Julian Calendar
In the Julian Calendar, leap years occurred every 4 years, and
in leap years the 29 February was added.
But remember that 29 February was in the last quarter of the year by
the old reckoning.
It appears that leap years were those where the year number
was one less than an exact multiple of 4! The
House of Commons Journal for Wednesday, February 29th, 1659
would seem to bear this out - remembering that this date is otherwise
expressed as 29 February 1659/60, and appears in Samuel Pepys's
diary as 29 February 1660 (just to add to the confusion).
House of Commons Journal for Thursday, 29 February 1643
(otherwise 29 February 1643/4) and
House of Commons Journal for Tuesday, 29 February 1647
(otherwise 29 February 1647/8)
confirm this, although note the Latin form of the dates which was
presumably dropped in the Commonwealth/Protectorate.
The Tax Year
Lady Day was one of the days when rents were traditionally due. In fact,
this practice must have continued will beyond the 18th century as I've
seen paintings of large meals for farm workers on Lady Day. Taxes
were also due on Lady Day. With the 'loss' of 11 days in
September 1752 and the stories of riots on the street, people weren't
impressed with having to pay their taxes in March 1753 like nothing
had happened (in fact, as 25 March 1753 was a Sunday the taxes were due on
Monday 26 March 1753 ) - so the taxman skipped the 11 days and decreed that
taxes were due on 6 April 1753. And, to this day, the UK tax year starts on