Going Gregorian

Or when was your ancestor buried, exactly?

The Times, Saturday June 19 2021, includes The year when 11 days of British history vanished (p32 col1). I had known about this, and even remembered the correct dates from a pub quiz question: What happened in England between the 3rd and 13th of September 1752? Answer: nothing! I was tempted to skip to the next piece, but something kept me reading.

Having read The Calendar by David Ewing Duncan, I was aware that various calendars had been in use, but the one used United Kingdom was the Julian Calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. This was 11 minutes 14 seconds fast, compared to the modern year, and over the centuries had had gained 11 days so it was less useful for setting important events, such as sowing seed for crops and setting the date of Easter.

By 1582 most of Europe had accepted the new Gregorian Calendar, after Pope Gregory VIII. Owing to Britain’s antipathy towards things papal, it would be another 170 years before she would adopt the new calendar. In 1751 Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, introduced to Parliament a bill for ‘An Act for Regulating the Commencement of the Year, and for Correcting the Calendar now in Use’. The bill passed through Parliament on 17 May of that year, and received Royal Assent on the 22nd from King George II.

The effect of the Act was to move the beginning of the year (New Year’s Day) from 25 March, and that Wednesday 2 September 1752 would be followed immediately by Thursday 14 September.

Looking back from the 21st century it seems odd that the year should begin on 25 March, but any date for this is arbitrary. Note that the tax year begins on 6 April: it would be 25 March, but for the abolition of those 11 days in 1752. Naturally, there were protests that there were eleven fewer days in which to earn the money to pay taxes on the quarter day, so it was deferred accordingly.

The first part explains something of interest to the family historian. Older records of church records, such as births, marriages, and deaths, were recorded from 25 March to 24 March, Here is one example from the parish of Wentnor, Shropshire, where my Medlicott ancestors lived.

The year 1657, parish of Wentnor, Shropshire.
Focusing on dates, right hand side. Top is 25 March, bottom is 13 March.
Focusing on Jeremiah ye son of William Medlicott & Jane his wife was baptized January ye 24th. Under the “New Style” this would be 1698.

The last country in Europe to adopt the Gregorian Calendar was Greece, in 1923!

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