Sep 142013


On this date in 1752 the final phase of the switch from the old Julian Calendar to the new Gregorian calendar in England took effect.  The Julian Calendar was eleven days ahead of the Gregorian calendar, so eleven days had to be eliminated from the English calendar.  Thus, people in England went to bed on the night of September 2 and woke up on the morning of September 14. This historical fact is quite well known and gives rise to a piece of popular folklore concerning the stupidity of ordinary folk who rioted in the streets in England shouting “give us back our eleven days.” This never happened, but the Act that changed the calendar had many more provisions than shifting the date, and had broad consequences.

The Julian calendar was a reform of the Roman calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE (708 AUC by the old Roman calendar). It took effect in 45 BCE (709 AUC). It was the predominant calendar in most of Europe, and in European settlements in the Americas and elsewhere, until it was superseded by the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months. A leap day is added to February every four years. The Julian year is, therefore, on average 365.25 days long. It was intended to approximate the tropical (solar) year. Although Greek astronomers had known, at least since Hipparchus, that the tropical year was a few minutes shorter than 365.25 days, the calendar did not compensate for this difference. As a result, the calendar year gained about three days every four centuries compared to observed equinox times and the seasons. This discrepancy was corrected by the Gregorian reform of 1582. The Gregorian calendar has the same months and month lengths as the Julian calendar, but inserts leap days according to a slightly different rule. If the first two digits of a century year are not evenly divisible by 4, that year is not a leap year.  Thus 1900 was not a leap year but 2000 was (much to my eternal sadness). The Gregorian Reform made the calendar more accurately synchronized with the sun, but to get it back on track the extra days inserted by the Julian calendar by having a few too many leap years had to be lost.


The Julian calendar (still in use in some places) is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar; for instance, 1 January in the Julian calendar is 14 January in the Gregorian. The Julian calendar has been replaced as the civil calendar by the Gregorian calendar in almost all countries which formerly used it, although it continued to be the civil calendar of some countries into the 20th century. Most Christian denominations in the West and areas evangelized by Western churches have also replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian as the basis for their liturgical calendars. However, most branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church still use the Julian calendar for calculating the dates of moveable feasts, including Easter. Some Orthodox churches have adopted the Revised Julian calendar for the observance of fixed feasts, while other Orthodox churches retain the old Julian calendar for all purposes. The Julian calendar is still used by the Berber people of North Africa as an agricultural calendar because it regulates farm work better than the lunar Islamic calendar. In the form of the Coptic or Alexandrian calendar, it is the basis for the Ethiopian and Egyptian ecclesiastical calendars, and is also used in some agricultural areas. The dates on which various countries made the switch is depicted below (click to enlarge).


The Gregorian calendar was a reform made in 1582 to the Julian calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar was named, by papal bull Inter gravissimas dated 24 February 1582.The motivation for the adjustment was to bring the date for the celebration of Easter to the time of the year that the First Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325. Setting the date of Easter required having an accurate calendar because it was linked to 21 March (nominally the vernal equinox).  The aim of the Council was to have all Christians celebrate Easter on the same day.

Gregory XIII

Gregory XIII

England did not accept Gregory’s reform because of the state of politics and the church at the time. Elizabeth I was on the throne, and arguably the most significant achievement of her reign was to cement the English Protestant Reformation that had been initiated by her father Henry VIII and augmented under her brother Edward VI.  Elizabeth had a vested interest in keeping the country Protestant because under Catholic canon law she was illegitimate – Henry had divorced his first wife to marry Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn, and divorce was not allowed under Catholic law. Elizabeth, therefore, could not inherit the crown if the country were Catholic and subject to papal rulings.  Tensions with the papacy and with Catholics within England plagued her reign.  She was therefore not about to accept a papal order concerning the change of the calendar, and so England remained on the old one.


By the mid eighteenth century England was still not clear of religious conflicts, but it was severely out of line with most of the rest of Europe in terms of its calendar.  More and more business dealings required uniformity across the continent and the colonies, so Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, proposed changing the calendar in 1750 in what became known as Chesterfield’s Act, or, The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750. The Parliament held that the Julian calendar then in use, as well as the start of the year being 25 March was:

“ . . . attended with divers inconveniences, not only as it differs from the usage of neighbouring nations, but also from the legal method of computation in Scotland, and from the common usage throughout the whole kingdom, and thereby frequent mistakes are occasioned in the dates of deeds and other writings, and disputes arise therefrom.”

The fundamental reform was embodied in the Act as follows:

“The old supputation of the year not to be made use of after Dec. 1751. Year to commence for the future on 1 Jan. The days to be numbered as now until 2d Sept. 1752; and the day following to be accounted 14 Sept. omitting 11 days.”

Philip Stanhope

Philip Stanhope

In England, the year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, running from 25 March (the old beginning of the new year) to 31 December. 1752 began on 1 January. To align the calendar in use in England to that in use on the continent, the changes introduced in 1582 by the Gregorian calendar were adopted with effect in 1752. To this end, the calendar was advanced by 11 days: Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752. The year 1752 was thus a short year (355 days) as well.

Most of the other changes brought about by Pope Gregory were also adopted, such as the more accurate rules for leap years. However, with religious strife still on their minds, the British could not bring themselves to adopt the Catholic system entirely. They wanted their dates for Easter to coincide with those of the Catholic church, but were unwilling to accept the Catholic rules for deriving the date.  So they invented a new system of calculating the date that was distinct from the Catholic one, but achieved the identical result. What people will do when arbitrary sectarian principles are at stake!

It has been reported in some history books that a number of the public rioted after the calendar change, requesting that their “eleven days” be returned. However, it is very likely this is pure folklore, being based on only two primary sources: The World, a satirical journal of Lord Chesterfield and a painting by William Hogarth. Chesterfield, sponsor of the calendar reform, writes in one of his letters 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.

When the son of the Earl of Macclesfield (who had been influential in passing the calendar law) ran for a seat in 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 made 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). An example of the resulting incorrect interpretation of this painting can be found in Hogarth, His Life, Art and Times (1971) by Ronald Paulson, 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.”

eleven2  eleven5

The election campaign Hogarth depicted was one which concluded in 1754, after a very lengthy contest between Court Whigs and Jacobite Tories. Literally 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 on actual crowd behavior but on the time wasting of politicians (using the oblique reference to the calendar reform).  There were no riots. Don’t you wish historians would check their facts better?

There were, however, legitimate concerns about tax and rent payments under the new calendar. People did not want to pay taxes and rents for 11 days that did not exist. Under provision 6 (Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities) of the Act, Great Britain made special provisions to make sure that monthly or yearly payments would not become due until the dates that they originally would have been due 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.” Thus, if you had to make a payment on 25 March (old start of the new year), it would now be due on April 5, 11 days later by the new calendar (and would remain there). Fixed holidays, such as Christmas, remained on the same calendar day.

The Gregorian calendar serves us pretty well but it is still subject to minor adjustments because the earth wobbles a bit and creates tiny variations in solar time.  To correct this problem a leap second is occasionally added to or subtracted from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to keep its time of day close to mean solar time. The most recent leap second was inserted on June 30, 2012 at 23:59:60 UTC. Although a seemingly minor adjustment, it can throw off certain computer applications. In honor of this day I have added a 24 hour UTC clock to the blog’s sidebar under the (Gregorian) calendar. My blog server uses UTC which gives me the opportunity to post my new celebration any time after 21:00 my time and still be on the right day.

I thought that a recipe that took 11 days would be appropriate for today’s celebration.  I rejected dry aging your own beef because 11 days is not really long enough, and making your own bacon because 11 days is a little too long.  This recipe for 11 day pickles is perfect. You can use store bought pickling spice or make your own blend to suit.  My personal recipe is at the end.


Eleven Day Cucumber Pickles

8 cucumbers
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tsp alum
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
1 tbsp mixed pickling spice (see below)


Make a brine by dissolving  ½ cup of salt in 1 quart (1 liter) of boiling water.  Cool.

Cover whole cucumbers with salt brine in a non-reactive container. Let stand for 3 days and then drain.

Remove cucumbers from brine and cover with cold water. Keep covered in the water for 3 days.

Remove them from the water and cut into spears, or thick slices (or a variety).

Combine 2 cups cider vinegar, 4 cups water, and 2 teaspoons alum. Bring to a boil and pour over the cucumbers. Let stand for 2 days and then drain.

Combine 2 cups white vinegar, 4 cups sugar, and 1 teaspoon mixed pickling spices. Heat to boiling and pour over pickles. Let stand for 1 day.

Drain off the syrup into a non-reactive pan, bring to a boil, and pour over pickles. Let stand 1 day. Repeat.

Can or store in the refrigerator.


Pickling Spice

Mix together:

4 cinnamon sticks, crumbled
1 inch piece dried gingerroot, crumbled
2 tbsps mustard seeds
2 tsps whole allspice berries
2 tbsps whole black peppercorns
2 tsps whole cloves
2 tsps dill seeds
2 tsps coriander seeds
2 tsps whole mace, crumbled
8 bay leaves, crumbled medium fine
1 small dried hot red pepper, crumbled with seeds