Saturday, January 7, 2012

What’s the Date?

by Katherine Pym
When I started studying 17th Century London, I noticed documents with confused dates. For instance--15 February 1661-62. Sometimes, I’d see the day and month in larger print with the years beside the month, one on top of the other in smaller print.

Later, I learned England used the Julian calendar while other Western European countries followed the Gregorian calendar established in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. Catholic countries tended to obey the Pope, but Protestant countries preferred not. England continued to follow the Julian calendar, thinking the Pope’s calendar was a plot to return popery to the land. This inconsistency carried throughout the next centuries.

It must have been confusing for travelers. If you visited Spain (Gregorian) on June 11, 1660 and received a letter from a loved one in England (Julian) who married on June 11, 1660, your loved one-in England-actually married on June 1, 1660 (Gregorian).

Bewildered? Wait, there’s more…

Russia did not embrace the Gregorian until its Revolution in 1918. Due to the eleven day difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars, Denmark took forty years to implement it.

Per the Pope’s dictate, France followed the Gregorian calendar until, during the French Revolution it became a Republic. Since France no longer considered itself Catholic under the Republic, it tossed out the Gregorian, and created its own, unique calendar. French years were based on the year of the Republic, the months named after bits of nature and all things beautiful. There were no equivalents to base the new calendar with the standard Gregorian or Julian. The author of this new calendar, Fabre d’Eglantine, was later guillotined.

As a Protestant nation, England never considered the Gregorian and kept forthright with the Julian, a calendar that served them well for quite a long time.

More fluster: In 17th Century England, the new year began March 25, (Lady Day) and ended March 24. Did the Julian new year start in March, or was this a random date chosen by some pope hundreds of years prior? English legal documents and church registers maintained this confusion, filling their records with laws, births, deaths, and marriages with two year dates between January 1 and March 24.

The person who wrote the following Wikipedia article stymies us: “Old Style and New Style Dates: ‘…the execution of Charles I was recorded as “30 January 1648” (Old Style). In modern English-language texts this date is usually recorded as “30 January 1649” (New Style). A full conversion of the date into the Gregorian calendar is 9 February 1649, the date by which his contemporaries in some parts of continental Europe would have recorded his execution.’”

According to historical records, the execution of King Charles I was January 30, 1649. Is this Gregorian when England was Julian? Did the king die in England’s old year 1648? Should we consider King Charles I’s death of January 30, 1648-49 (Julian with the strange proviso that the new year started March 25), or per Gregorian, February 9, 1649? What’s the date?

Through the years, things got better…

No longer afraid of a popish plot, Britain went Gregorian with the Calendar Act of 1750. It aligned the dates with those of Europe, starting the new year on January 1 rather than March 25, but it made 1751 shorter, 282 days (That’s a difference of 83 days to today’s 365. How did that happen?)

When the new calendar took effect in September 1752, the land and all its colonies lost eleven days. It upset people. They went to bed on September 6 and woke up September 16 (see below). There were riots in the streets. Good folk demanded the Crown return those eleven days. It was their right to live them.

You are at below. I’ve seen experts count quite differently:
1) If you count on your fingers, starting at finger one with 6, your tenth finger will be 15, making the eleventh--invisible--finger 16.
2) One article author stated if you went to bed on September 2, you’d wake up on September 14. My math doesn’t see this as eleven days. Does yours? Please explain.
As you can see, even the experts are perplexed.

For more information on dates, you will not find it in my historical novels based on London 1660’s. I used the Julian calendar with the new year as January 1, not March 25. It would have been too difficult to explain the strange dating process to the reader.

To read more (other interesting stuff) on London 1660’s, please see my historical novels: Viola, A Woeful Tale of Marriage, London 1660, and TWINS, London 1661 (an EPIC 2012 contest finalist). 

You can find them at  or e-formats or paperback.


  1. Katherine, this is as confusing as where that space came from in your first paragraph. It is not showing on the back end of the blog- the editing page. I think you have warped the universe with this confusing issue. Where did that day go, anyway?

  2. When I was working to get my family history certification for British records, I had to deal with this confusing issue and I confession that I still have trouble charting out the dates. I just take into consideration that I may need to dig for information under two different dates.

    Yikes! Brave of you to tackle explaining this Julian/Gregorian Calendar issue.


  3. How crazy! I'm a dunce for not knowing about the calender issues, but...well...I did not know. Thanks for enlightening me as far as the whole mess is capable of being enlightened upon (lol).

  4. Hi Katherine, I had the same problem. Like you, I have kept it simple for the reader. Great post, though, to enlighten all those confused readers out there!

  5. I knew a little about the Julian and Gregorian calendars, but had no idea it was so confusing. Thanks for explaining the issue. I think I understand it better now.


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