Happy New Year or Happy Lady Day!

Posted By on March 25, 2014

Paolo_de_Matteis_-_The_Annunciation Before you think I’ve gone mad, let me just explain that 25th March, or Lady Day, was the start of the New Year in Tudor times. Lady Day, or the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, was a feast day commemorating the day that the Virgin Mary was first told by the Angel Gabriel that she was carrying Jesus. It was the first day of the calendar year in England until 1752, when it was changed to 1st January and the Gregorian Calendar replaced the Julian Calendar. Although the year officially started on this day, New Year’s gifts were still given on 1st January, which came from the Roman tradition of New Year.

Historians and researchers have to bear Lady Day in mind when reading primary sources and reading tomb inscriptions etc. For example, according to primary sources Thomas Boleyn died on 12th March 1538, but to us this is actually 1539. In Thomas’s time, 1539 didn’t start until 25th March and he died before that, but to us 1539 started on 1st January – complicated!

Trivia: The UK tax year starts on 6th April which 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 11 days were skipped due to the implementation of the new Gregorian Calendar they became due on 6th April.

On Lady Day in 1555, during Mary I’s reign, diarist Henry Machyn recorded jousting at Westminster which was in celebration of the feast day:

“The xxv day of Marche, the wyche was owre lade [day,] ther was as gret justes as youe have sene at the tylt at Vestmynster; the chalyngers was a Spaneard and ser Gorge Haward; and all ther men, and ther horsses trymmyd in whyt, and then cam the Kyng and a gret mene [menée or retinue] all in bluw, and trymmyd with yelow, and ther elmets with gret tuyffes [tufts or plumes] of blue and yelow fether, and all ther veffelers [whifflers or forerunners] and ther fotemen, and ther armorers, and a compene lyke Turkes red [rode] in cremesun saten gownes and capes, and with fachyons [falchions] and gret targets ; and sum in gren, and mony of clyvers colers; and ther was broken ij hondred stayffes and a-boyff [above].”

The only knight named is Sir George Howard, but the knights were both English and Spanish, and a record two hundred staffs were broken.

Notes and Sources

  • The Diary of Henry Machyn: Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London (1550-1563)
  • On This Day in Tudor History, Claire Ridgway

5 thoughts on “Happy New Year or Happy Lady Day!”

  1. chiara says:

    In the Middle-Ages, here in Italy, the year began in this day or on 25th of december… until 1752, as you said !

  2. Mary the Quene says:

    It makes my heart happy to know today is Lady Day. 🙂 So many around me no doubt don’t know that.

    In private celebration, I’m going to a flower show this afternoon. Seems appropriate.

  3. Hans van Felius says:

    Lady Day and Christmas were but two of the styles. In the counties of Holland and Zeeland Easter was used. I had to learn all that for my chronology exams. We collectively hated the man teaching us that. He was the biggest bore around. At least to our mind… LoL
    But learning all that, and keeping in mind all the other feast days have proved useful for some of my research. So, with hindsight I think he was not that bad after all!

    The thing is, in daily life people celebrated new year like we do. At least, in the Netherlands. All these styles were mostly administrative. And in that way extremely relevant to historians studying pre 18th century European history. And even up to the first quarter of the twentieth century if we take the difference between Gregorian and Julian calendars into account.
    Recently I was asked to write some short articles for one of the leading genealogical magazines in the Netherlands on this subject. I chose ‘troubled times’ as the main title…

  4. BanditQueen says:

    Workers complained that they had lost 11 days and it affected their payments when the new calander was introduced. It seems to me that if they did not now pay taxes until 6th April they gained 11 days, or would they just pay more? I think in France 1st January is still when they give presents and make a big fuss rather than giving presents on Saint Stephen’s day which we then called Boxing Day or Boxes Day to be more correct. The Feast of the Annunciation is still very important in the Christian Calander as a feast dedicated to Mary. Happy Ladies Day!

    Did not Anne Boleyn write in her Book of Hours next to the picture of the Annunication a message for Henry: a cuplett: By daily proof you shall me find to be to you both loving and Kind, in response to his message to her in the same book of hours? The image that Henry chose was the Suffering Man of Sorrows and she chose the Annunciation that she would be the one who would give Henry a son. Talk about dropping a huge hint!

    Traditionally Mothers Day which is this coming Sunday is also dedicated to Mary and was to honour all women. The men made a feast and the laws of Lent where set aside for this one day and the men waited on all the women and treated them with honour. The origin of many feasts connected to renewal or new birth or the new sun of Spring and the harvest are also connected to Mary and the Christian calander. All things are connected as they say. Again Happy Ladies Day, Feast of the Annunciation or Happy New Year. Also Happy Mothers Day and Our Lady Day on Sunday.

  5. Charlene says:

    Reading this while listening to Billie Holiday was just a bit disconcerting. “HappyLady Day?” 🙂

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