Sunday, January 13, 2013

Question from Barbara - Knowledge of the date and year

Can you tell me how aware uneducated people in late Tudor times would have been about what date/year it was? Is this something they would have known or would they have been largely ignorant (apart, I assume, from church feast days)?
Thanks for any help you can give me!


PhD Historian said...

This is a difficult question because of the way it is worded. I don't mean to be difficult, but what do you mean by "uneducated"? Functionally illiterate? That would include over 90% of the Tudor population. Not having attended a grammar school? Again, over 90% of the population, but notably including in the early Tudor period a large percentage of the high nobility who held offices of state. Though "uneducated" in the strictest sense (no formal schooling of any kind), they were assisted by persons who *were* "educated, many of those at the university level. But judging by wills, court testimonies, and other documents of the period, it seems evident that most people, even the illiterate (or the person who wrote the document for them), were indeed aware of the year, at minimum. But I also have the impression that people of that era, at all levels, were far less concerned with precise dates than we are today. Even government officials tended to structure timetables and deadlines (eg: for taxes, court sessions) around major traditional church feast days familiar to everyone, such as Michaelmas or Candlemas or Easter. I cannot recall ever seeing a forward-looking document of the Tudor period indicating that an event was to occur on a specific day/month date (eg: "April 15"). Instead, they tended to give a general date ("Lady Day"). In contrast, however, many, many letters of the Tudor era are ended "on the so-an-so day of the month of such-and-such in the year Whatever", which indicates a pretty precise awareness among the letter-writing classes of the specific day/date/year. How far down the social and educational ladder this awareness penetrated is anyone's guess. I would love to hear from anyone who has read more on this subject.

shtove said...

PhD's observation on Tudor correspondence is spot on. Legal depositions - common in the state papers - are even more clear about specific time keeping.

His caveat on descriptions of future dates is worth thinking about, but I can't cite useful examples.

I guess the question is looking for an answer about the standardisation of time keeping, which makes it a question about the increase of central authority.

Can't say more. Except you've made me think, therefore you are a pain in the ass!

Foose said...

Possibly addressing the idea of future dates - almanacs were very popular. They apparently grew out of the old books of hours and religious primers, and when the Reformation came in and abolished the Catholic religious aids, filled the vacuum for people interested in, well, predicting the future.

Almanacs covered a year's events, especially the farming-related - harvests and famines, recommended times for activities to do with crops and farm animals, and everything else uncertain and unpredictable that everyone wanted to get some kind of control over. The weather featured heavily, and inevitably astrology, because weather was held to be influenced by the stars. This bled over into predictions of political events.

I don't know how the authorities viewed this latter aspect of them, unless the predictions were kept so general that anything could be read into them (as opposed to, say, a specific person's horoscope).

In a book I found at Google called Women and Writing, c. 1340-1650: The Domestication of Print Culture, the authors note that almanacs offered

"...affordable, highly portable, annual calendars, which could be chosen, personalized and carried for constant consultation."

In the Elizabethan era, they had titles like "An Almanac and Prognostication for the Year 1567," which presumably would lay out the dates and associated events for the year.

But of course almanacs required at least minimal literacy. On the non-literate level, I have read that Tudor pulpits (St. Paul's Cross, for example) could double as propaganda channels for the regime, and that Tudor proclamations could be read out. They often do feature dates. Possibly that might have helped the uneducated recognize the current year, at least.

The proclamations were also printed and legally required to carry the date, according to the sources I looked at. If they were also posted in the community, people might have read them out aloud to their neighbors, too. But this is just a guess.