Monday, December 29, 2008

Question from Kathy - Recording of time in Tudor England and Oking

During the Middle Ages, the time of day seems to have been generally referred to in terms of liturgical hours (matins, laud, etc.) But I've never seen that used in Tudor times.

A summary of a council meeting on August 23, 1545, contains the phrase " pray with them for my lord of Suffolk who died yesternight at 4 o'clock." S.J. Gunn says Suffolk died at 4 pm on the afternoon of August 22. But I'm curious as to why 4 pm is considered to be yesternight (italics mine). Did night start at noon and day at midnight? What conventions replaced liturgical hours?

And, if I can sneak in a quick, semi-related question, the council meeting in question was held at Oking where the king (who was on a progress) had moved on August 21 from Guildford. Where or what is Oking? I can't find any mention of it elsewhere.


  1. RE: Oking - Do you think it may have been a creative spelling of Woking? It's not that far from Guildford, so it could be traveled in a short amount of time.

  2. Lara, that sounds very plausible. The only thing I could think of was Oatlands, but Woking sounds more likely. 16th century spelling drives me crazy sometimes.

  3. You'd think they wouldn't leave off a (to my 21st century mind) fairly important initial letter like that, but there is no telling with early modern spellings. It drives me crazy sometimes too!

  4. Regarding the time, I think there just might have been some carelessness. I found two other notes in "Letters & Papers"; in a letter from William Parr to Suffolk in 1543, Parr refers to "yesterday at 4 o'clock"; and in another from March 1544, in which Hertford writes to Henry VIII from Scotland and refers to "yesternight at 5 p.m.". So although I think technically "night" began at 6pm, there might have been a fudging zone. Although I would think it more likely to use yesternight and yesterday interchangeably in winter, when the days are short; and of course you point out that Brandon died in August.

  5. I know literally nothing about this topic, but Foose's response makes me wonder: Is it possible that during the transition period from commonly marking time according to the canonical hours and church bells to marking it by mechanical clocks (making and marketing of mechanical clocks, and therefore personal ownership of clocks, having begun to flourish only in the 15th century) that there was "fuzziness," as Foose calls it, in how to describe the hours of the clock just as there was "fuzziness" in how written words were spelled? That is, might it be that names for the divisions and subdivisons of the clock-day were not yet standardized, just as spelling was not standardized? And that lack of standardization led to different people describing the same thing using different terms?

  6. PhD Historian, that is what I thought might be going on since there doesn't seem to be much information about 16th century timekeeping at all. They must have had some method though. I think it would be an interesting research topic for a paper.

    BTW, speaking of "Oking", I have a couple of internet acquaintances who live in Guildford. They tell me that Woking is only six miles from Guildford. So, it makes sense that Henry could have gotten there easily in one day. Also the old manor in Woking originally belonged to his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. That is obviously where he would have been headed for there.

    I have some links with some really interesting information on the Woking Manor, including current aerial photography of the site and a reconstruction of the original manor. I'll try to post that information in a day or so. (This is total trivia, but I live on Tudor trivia! *LOL*)

  7. To further muddy the waters, the term "yestreen" (yester evening) was also in use (I chiefly recall it from some old ballad that ran "Yestreen I saw the old moon/ With the new moon in her arms ..."). It turns up in "Letters & Papers" in a 1545 letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury, "My servant came yestreen at 7 hours at night." So Tudor people seem to have had the same concept of "evening" as we do, perhaps.

    Regarding the fuzziness -- maybe it was a case much like what we have today, where people will say "Last night I did such-and-such," and "last night" could mean any time between when-I-got-off-from-work (or when-my-spouse-got-home-from-work), and when-I-went-to-bed. I understand the system in Tudor England was originally based on sunrise + 12 hours = day, and sunset + 12 hours = night, but sunrise and sunset are so variable throughout the year that maybe a certain casualness about "yesterday" and "yesternight" was standard.


All comments are moderated so your replies may not show up immediately. Please be patient. Thanks!