On this date in 1752 through enactment of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar. Up until that point they had used the Julian calendar which was 11 days ahead of sun time. Because of this they had to eliminate 11 days, so Wednesday, 2 September 1752, was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752. For many years it was believed that people in England rioted demanding “Give us back our eleven days” as if somehow their lives had been shortened by 11 days. This is actually nothing more than an urban legend based on a misinterpretation of a contemporary William Hogarth painting. However, there were some real negative consequences to shortening the year. For historians, such as myself, interested in anniversaries, it is merely a simple curiosity that the dates 3 to 13 September 1752 do not exist. So, it would be a good pub quiz question to ask something like “what important event occurred in England on 10 September 1752?”
The Gregorian calendar, also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar, is internationally the most widely used civil calendar. It is named for Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it by papal bull in 1582. It was first used as a religious calendar whose primary purpose was to make sure that Easter was perpetually celebrated at the same time as in ancient times (more or less coinciding with Passover, when Jesus was crucified). It replaced the Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar, whose calendar year was very slightly ahead of the sun because the solar year is very slightly shorter than 365.25 days (0.002% shorter). If you have a leap year every four years you add a day every four years (February 29th). But since the year is not exactly 365.25 days you are adding just a little too much. The Gregorian calendar corrects for this by making century years NOT leap years if the first 2 digits are not divisible by 4. Thus, 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but 2000 was.
The Gregorian calendar was immediately adopted in European Catholic countries and their colonies, for both civil and religious purposes, but not by Orthodox and Protestant countries. Hence, when it came to buying and selling goods internationally there could be confusion about dates of billing, receipts, and so forth. Although it ought to have been simple for non-Catholic countries to shift into line with Catholic countries, it took a long time for the change to come about mostly because of prejudice. Some claimed, for example, that it was a papal plot to convert the world to Catholicism. It astonishes me how stupid and irrational prejudice can be. Greece did not change to the Gregorian calendar until 1923. I remember in the 1970s when the U.K. decided to stay on BST all year so that the clocks would align with those in continental Europe, thus making it easier to conduct international business and assuring that the stock markets opened and closed at the same time. I was amazed to watch the historian A.J.P. Taylor in an interview on television saying essentially, “we’re British damn it; we don’t have to do what foreigners do.” I used to like him up until that point. It’s one thing to be a maverick, it’s another to be an idiot. As it happens this change ultimately failed because it had a human cost. With the clocks advanced all year children in the north of England and Scotland were going to school in winter in the pitch dark.
Calendar reform in England in 1750 had two components. The first specified that the new year should begin on 1st of January (the old Roman new year). Previously there had been a welter of ways of marking the new year. The tax year and the civil year in general, for example, began on Lady Day (25 March). Many institutions, such as churches, calculated the years starting with the date when the current king or queen ascended the throne. Others used famous local events, or religious holidays such as Shrove Tuesday or Halloween. Having one official New Year’s Day for everyone was obviously beneficial. To bring everyone into line in England and Wales, the legal year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, running from 25 March to 31 December. 1752 began on 1 January. The change to 1 January had already been effected in Scotland in 1600.
The second component was meant to align the calendar in use in the U.K. to that on the continent, by adopting the Gregorian calendar which meant eliminating the 11 days from 3 to 13 September 1752. Thus the year 1752 was a short year (355 days) as well. The Act of Parliament, mindful of recent religious wars in Europe, adopted the Gregorian calendar without mention of pope Gregory or the Catholic church.
Some history books say that some people rioted after the calendar change, asking that their “eleven days” be returned. However this is not true. The legend is based on only two primary sources: The World, a satirical journal by Lord Chesterfield; and a painting by William Hogarth. Chesterfield was the author of the calendar reform Act. He wrote to his son, “Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none.” Here, he was boasting of his skill in having the Bill passed through the Lords; the ‘mob’ in question was his fellow peers, not some angry rioting mob protesting the changes.
When the son of the Earl of Macclesfield (who had been influential in passing the Act) stood for Parliament in Oxfordshire as a Whig in 1754, dissatisfaction with the calendar reform was one of a number of issues raised by his Tory opponents. In 1755, William Hogarth produced a painting (and an engraved print from the painting) loosely based on these elections, entitled An Election Entertainment, which shows a placard carrying the slogan “Give us our Eleven Days” (on floor at lower right — detail below).
An example of the resulting incorrect history is shown by Ronald Paulson, author of Hogarth, His Life, Art and Times, who wrote that “…the Oxfordshire people…are specifically rioting, as historically the London crowd did, to preserve the ‘Eleven Days’ the government stole from them in September 1752 by changing the calendar.” Thus the “calendar riot” fiction was born. The election campaign depicted by Hogarth concluded in 1754, after a very lengthy contest between Court Whigs and Jacobite Tories. Every issue between the two factions was brought up, including the question of calendar reform. The Tories attacked the Whigs for every deviation, including their alleged favoritism towards foreign Jews and the “Popish” calendar. Hogarth’s placard, part of a satire on the character of the debate, was not an observation of actual crowd behavior.
There were, however, legitimate concerns about tax and other payments under the new calendar. Provision 6 (Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities) of the Act stipulated that monthly or yearly payments would not become due until the dates that they originally would have in the Julian calendar, or in the words of the Act “[Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities] at and upon the same respective natural days and times as the same should and ought to have been payable or made or would have happened in case this Act had not been made”. In that way landlords would not get an extra 11 days rent for free.
Several theories have been proposed for the odd beginning of the British tax year on 6 April. One is that from 1753 until 1799, the tax year began on 5 April, which corresponded to 25 March Old Style (Julian calendar), that is, the old New Year’s Day. After the twelfth skipped Julian leap day in 1800, it was changed to 6 April, which still corresponded to 25 March Old Style. However it was not changed when a thirteenth Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6 April. Now write and tell me why Tax Day is 15 April in the U.S. (Pub quiz question of the day).
The Gregorian calendar continued to use the previous calendar era (year-numbering system), which counts years from the traditional date of the nativity (Anno Domini), originally calculated in the 6th century by Dionysius Exiguus. This year-numbering system, also known as Dionysian era or Common Era, is the predominant international standard today. This is why I, and a great many other people, use the abbreviations C.E. (Common Era) and B.C.E (Before the Common Era), rather than the ethnocentric A.D. and B.C.
What to give you for today’s recipe? I did find one or two ancient ones for wine that required a fermentation period of 11 days (which meant that if you followed the calendar wine begun on 2 September would be ready on 14 September – the following day). However, that is a bit of a silly joke. Instead here is an 18th century English recipe for “Asparagus dressed the Italian Way.” It seems appropriate in that it is from an English cook, allowing that the Italian way of cooking (home of the pope) has its merits. In those days, as now, the English were a xenophobic lot, so this recipe is a surprise.
Take the asparagus, break them in pieces, then boil them soft and drain the water from them; take a little oil, water, and vinegar, let it boil, season it with pepper and salt, throw in the asparagus and thicken with yolks of eggs. The Spaniards add sugar, but that spoils them.
Looks remarkably like asparagus with Hollandaise to me – which I love. Don’t be a Spaniard and add sugar. Wouldn’t want to spoil the asparagus – or you!