Here is the memorial for Nathaniel Collier, the Rector of St Andrew’s Church Jevington. He died on 1st March but what year? Sixteen, ninety and a half?
Today we all know what year it is and the whole world knows it is 2013 but in medieval times a ‘regnal’ year was usually used rather than a calendar year.
This means the first day of the year depended on when the monarch was crowned so the year 1388 would be known by most people as the ‘11th Year of the Reign of King Richard II’. (You may think that this is archaic, but the system was officially in use for dating Acts of Parliament until 1963.)
The first widely used calendar was adopted by Julius Caesar in 46BC (although for the Romans, the year was 709 – the number of years after the building of Rome.)
In 525 a new method of naming the years was devised by Christians. The year was to be calculated from the birth of Christ ‘Anno Domini’ or AD. There was no year zero, so prior to this date the term ‘Before Christ’ or BC was used.
This system was not used widely until the 9th century. The Jewish faith calculated the date from Creation so the current year is 5773 in the Hebrew calendar.
Today you will often see the term CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era) being used, particularly by scientists and in non-Christian countries, however I was surprised to read that the first use of this time in England was as early as 1652.
Over the centuries, Caesar’s ‘Julian Calendar’ became slightly out of step with the seasons and this was particularly a problem for the calculation of Easter. In Rome, Pope Gregory XIII had arranged for a new calendar to be used and four catholic countries, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Italy, adopted it immediately in 1582.
In order to transfer to the new calendar the dates had to ‘jump’ 11 days and in those countries the last day of the old calendar was 4th October which was followed the next day by the 15th October 1582.
Even though the new calendar was sensible, Protestant countries, like England, were against it purely because it had been proposed by the Roman Catholics.
Queen Elizabeth I was intelligent enough to realise that the new calendar was good and was in favour of change but her religious advisors warned her against it.
Scotland, then a separate country, was staunchly against change and it was not practical for the two countries to be using different calendars.
Despite this official reluctance, people slowly began to realise that a change was inevitable and the Gregorian calendar was unofficially adopted. But there was another problem.
The first day of the year in the old calendar was Lady Day, the 25th March but with the new calendar it was on 1st January. This meant that a date between 1st January and 25th March could be in two different years depending which calendar you were using.
The date was shown as ‘old style’ (OS) or ‘new style’ (NS). At Burwash Church a memorial records the death of Elizabeth Cason as 14th February 1679/80 and, as you can see, Nathaniel Collier at Jevington died on 1st March 1691 (OS) or 1692 (NS).
By the mid-eighteenth century England was less religiously fervent and the union with Scotland had made the change to the new calendar easier.
Supported by mathematician Lord Macclesfield, Lord Chesterfield introduced an Act of Parliament in 1751 which finally adopted the ‘new style’ the next year. This however, meant that Wednesday 2nd September would be followed by Thursday 14th September 1752.
Not everyone was pleased and there were even stories of riots caused by people who believed that they had lost 11 days of their life and others who who sang “The New Style is a damnable thing - Twas made by a Pope and must Popery bring!”
The banks and other financial institutions were also unhappy as the change made their calculations complicated. They preferred to stick with the old style and that is why even today the tax year starts at the beginning of April.
Even the Government was reluctant to change. The Exchequer and local councils considered the first day of the year to be Michaelmas Day 25th September. Until 1885, the new Bailiff (Mayor) of Seaford was always appointed on that day, considered to be the first day of the civic year.
The Gregorian Calendar was eventually adopted across the world, the last country to change being Greece as late as 1923.