Thursday, January 04, 2007

Question from Hannah - Tudor New Year


I've become increasingly confused about Tudor dating in my reading - some authors (such as Joanna Denny) say that the Tudor year began in March (I think the date is 25th), and she sticks to the Tudor dating in her book, which would mean that (for example) 2 Feb 1525 in Tudor times would be 2 Feb 1526 according to our calender - right?

Yet recently I read David Starkey's book on Henry VIII's six wives, and he asserts that Anne presented Henry with the carving of a maiden on a storm-tossed sea in new year 1526/7 - he then goes on to say that this was on 1st January. Can someone please help me unwind this riddle!

When was the Tudor New Year? If it was in March does this mean Starkey's dating of the letters is wrong?

Sorry if this is a bit technical and involved!

Thanks for any help!


PhD Historian said...

I'm afraid the answer is equally technical. New Years Day was observed in Tudor England on 1 January, but the new calendar year began on 25 March. Thus the passing of New Years Day (1 Jan) did not coincide with the date (25 March) on which people began writing the next highest year-number on documents.

Several different dating systems come into play: the older Roman calendar known as the Julian calendar (because it originated with Julius Caesar), the Gregorian calendar promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, the annual cycle of Roman Catholic religious feast days and religious observances, and Protestant resistance to both the Gregorian calendar and the Roman Catholic religious cycle.

Regarding New Years Day specifically, under the Julian system the calendar year began on 1 January. This did not coincide, in later years, with the Roman Catholic yearly cycle of religious observances that developed over the course of the first millenium. That cycle of feasts, known as the liturgical cycle, traditionally began on 25 March with the Feast of the Annunciation (marking the date on which Catholics believe the angel announced Christ’s impending birth to Mary). Thus the calendric New Year and the liturgical New Year did not match. There were, in effect, two New Years Days ... one secular and one religious.

On 24 February 1582, Pope Gregory XIII replaced the older Julian calendar with the new "Gregorian" calendar ... in Catholic countries (which obviously excluded England). The Gregorian calendar recognized 1 January as New Year’s Day for both religious and secular purposes. Protestant England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, however, so that New Year’s Day continued to be observed on 1 January but the number of the year did not change until 25 March, the first day of the traditional annual liturgical cycle (and ironically in accord with Roman Catholic tradition).

Now it gets even more messy. Some historians, like Denny, continue to use what is called “Old Style” dating, which recognizes any date in the same way that people living on that day would have recognized it. Thus, 1 January 1526 was “New Year’s Day” for Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, even though they did not change the way they wrote the date out. So when David Starkey reads a document dated “New Years Day 1526,” he knows that 1 January is meant, and that the year was 1526 to the person writing but would now be called 1527. Denny continues to call it 1526. But Starkey and some other historians like to use the combined (or slash) style to show that it was 1526 to the person writing back then, but 1527 to those of us looking back: 1526/7. Confused? Add to it the fact that many other historians, like myself, routinely convert “Old Style” dates into “New Style” dates for the sake of clarity. Thus we “New Style” proponents would simply “update” the way we refer to a given document and say “New Years Day 1527” in hopes of avoiding confusion. But clearly it doesn’t really work. It is still so messy, even to professional historians, that we frequently have to include a note at the beginning of our books specifying exactly how we are recognizing dates: Old Style, New Style, or combined.

Chris Gidlow said...

Yes, this is an interesting point. January Ist continued to be known as 'New Year's Day' as it was the start of the Roman Civil Year. January continued to be described as 'the first month of the year'. all this in spite of the fact that the AD year, the church year and the King's regnal year did not start on that date.
The Start of the AD year, March 25th, was known as Lady Day. It was the feast of the Annunciation, when Mary was told she would be the mother of Jesus. It was assumed that her (perfect) pregnancy started on that day, exactly 9 months before Jesus's birth at Christmas, and hence marks the start of the first 'year of our lord'.