Posted By Claire on March 25, 2015
The Tudor tradition of Lady Day keeps Tudor historians and researchers on their toes, and causes confusion when dating events which happened between 1st January and 24th March.
“Why?”, you may ask. Well, because in Tudor times the new calendar year did not start on 1st January, it started on 25th March, Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, the feast day commemorating the day that the Virgin Mary was first told that she was carrying Jesus. This has to be taken into account when reading tomb inscriptions and brass memorials, letters, documents etc. For example, a primary source may date Lady Jane Grey’s execution to 12th February 1553 and Thomas Boleyn’s brass memorial gives his date of death as 12th March 1538, but we would say that they died in 1554 and 1539 because we take the year as starting on 1st January instead of 25th March. Confusing, eh?
Of course, it isn’t just Tudor historians and researchers that have to be careful. It wasn’t until the Calendar Act of 1752 that the beginning of the calendar new year was changed from 25th March to 1st January, so any documents, tomb inscriptions etc. written and dated between 1st January and 24th March in a year prior to 1752 need a year adding to them. The National Archives website also explains that “In publications you may see this written as January 1750/51, the year as it was known at the time / the year as we know it now. This is also known as OS (Old Style) and NS (New Style).”
What makes things even more confusing is a change that took place in some countries in mainland Europe in 1582. As Kate Emerson explains on her website, “In 1582, in order to ensure that church holidays occurred in the proper seasons, Pope Gregory XIII issued a decree dropping ten days from the calendar. By 1583, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, and the Roman Catholic German States were all using “New Style” dates. England, however, as a Protestant nation, continued to use the “Old Style” Julian Calendar until 1752. Thus, English reports on the Spanish Armada of 1588 record events as taking place ten days earlier than Spanish reports do. The day of the week also differed. May 1, 1593, for example, was a Tuesday in the Julian calendar but a Saturday in the Gregorian calendar.”
Are you banging your head on your desk yet? Ha!
I’ve shared this little nugget of trivia before but it’s worth sharing again. Today in the UK, althought the calendar year starts on 1st January, the new financial/tax year starts on 6th April. This dates back to 1753 when rents were due on Lady Day (it was a Sunday so the taxes were due on 26th March), the old New Year, but because eleven days were skipped due to the implementation of the new Gregorian Calendar they became due on 6th April.
Have I left you hopelessly confused? Well, I’ll throw in another confusing fact for good measure… Although the calendar year started on Lady Day (25th March), New Year’s gifts were still given on 1st January, which came from the Roman tradition of New Year.
For those of you that are completely lost, here is what we’d call the year 1536 but how the Tudors would date it:
- January 1535 (1536 in our terms)
- February 1535 (1536 in our terms)
- 1-24 March 1535 (1536 in our terms)
- 25-31 March 1536
- April 1536
- May 1536
- June 1536
- July 1536
- August 1536
- September 1536
- October 1536
- November 1536
- December 1536
I hope that helps.
Happy New Year!
Notes and Sources
- The National Archives website, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/quick_reference.htm
- A Note on Dates and Why You Shouldn’t Trust Them, Kate Emerson Historicals, http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com/noteondates.html
- Happy New Year or Happy Lady Day!, The Anne Boleyn Files, https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/happy-new-year-happy-lady-day/
Image: The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898)