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September 2, 2015

2 Sep 1752: Britain adopts Gregorian calendar

Sometimes when I’m putting together TDIH posts on ancient or medieval sources, I ask myself: did this really happen on this particular date? Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a date is on the modern Gregorian calendar, the ancient Julian calendar, or the Mayan long-count. (Just kidding on that last one.)

Then I ask myself: who cares? I’m using these only as an excuse to talk about something historically notable; most of the days people really should know (July 4, for example) are modern. Plus, what’s a few days when you’re writing on something that happened two millennia ago?

Tell that to the people who were alive on this day in 1752, when Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar.

Pope Gregory XIII introduced his calendar in 1582. The Church wanted Easter to always fall in the spring, as it did when Jesus died; the Julian calendar was slightly too long, so the date kept inching backward. (Eurocentricity in action, I suppose.)

To account for this, the Gregorian calendar eliminates leap years in years divisible by 100 but not by 400 (1700, 1800, 1900, and 2100, for example). To set the vernal equinox back to March 21, countries had to skip 10 days when adopting the calendar; when Spain enacted the new calendar on Thursday, October 4, 1582, the next day was Friday, October 15, 1582.

Protestant countries were hesitant to accept a Catholic innovation. When Great Britain did so nearly two centuries late, “Give us our eleven days” became a catchphrase, as seen at lower-right in the image above.

Image: William Hogarth (1697-1764). An Election Entertainment (1754). Sir John Soane’s Museum.

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