Culture, History

The Calendar Riots of 1752: “Give us back our eleven days!”

This post is about one of those “rabbit-holey” things we all (or, or at least, those of us who suffer from the Elephant Child’s ‘satiable curiosity with an added fillip (which EC didn’t quite manage) that we like to get things right) get involved in when we’re looking up other things.

Thus it was with me:

Up until the mid-eighteenth century, the Western world kept track of days, months, and years with the Julian Calendar, one introduced by Julius Caesar in 50BC or so.  Caesar’s calendar replaced the previous lunar calendar, which was quite imprecise and required synods of astronomers to keep track of things and to make regular changes to add or remove days in order to sync up the calendar with the astronomical charts and events.  In order to bake these variations into the cake and eliminate the fiddling around, the Julian Calendar introduced the “leap year,” adding an extra day at the end of February every fourth year. (February was considered the last month of the year at the time–if you’ve ever wondered why “October,” the tenth month for us, is actually named for the number eight, wonder no more.)  But over time, even this accommodation was found to be inadequate, and eventually it became evident that another change needed to be made to sync the calendar with major astronomical events such as the solstices and equinoxes, and to bring religious observances such as Easter, back into compliance with traditional dates.

Enter, in the mid sixteenth-century, Pope Gregory and a bevy of scientists and mathematicians who, after much to-ing and fro-ing, recommended the Gregorian Calendar which adjusted the leap year formula by invalidating the extra leap day in “century” years–1700, 1800, 1900, 2000, etc.–unless they were divisible by 400, rather than by four.  This synced the calendar up a little better with the solar year, but didn’t fix the fact that things were already out of whack.  That was fixed by simply ‘cancelling’ ten days from the calendar, so that, upon its formal adoption, October 4 1582 was immediately followed by October 15 1582.  And, poof! October 5-14 simply disappeared as if they never were.  Because they weren’t, and they hadn’t been.

The Gregorian Calendar was quickly adopted by a number of Catholic countries because, you know, Pope, but the Protestant countries of Europe and points West were less enchanted by the idea, and took a little longer to get on board.

In 1732, The Empire (you know, The Empire. Need I be more specific? Surely not), was still using the Julian calendar, holding its breath and refusing to go along with the various Most Catholic Majesties of the world who had all adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1582. This Great Date Shift put most of the world out of step with reality, which, praise be, still pertained in Great Britain and its colonies until Wednesday September 2, 1752, when George II finally cried Uncle (not sure why, his uncles were a pretty undistinguished lot), and switched the dates.

This catapulted The Empire forward 11 days, to Thursday September 14, 1752 (one day more than in the original shift two-hundred years previous, in order to account for the ongoing inaccuracies since), prompting the British Calendar Riots of 1752, and the eruption of large crowds of the reality, arithmetically, and chronologically-challenged into the streets shouting “Give us back our eleven days!!!”

I’d like to think that mankind has progressed, not only in intellect and sophistication but also in reality-based arithmetic and computational skills during the intervening 271 years, but I’m often disabused of that quaint notion when I look at the site formerly known as Twitter. For a frightening example,  here’s what was then known as a Tweet, from just a few months ago:

Sheesh.  I can’t unsee that.  (While there is much to criticize WRT the Black Lives Matter movement, the idiotic pretense that they could have taken their $90 million dollars, and given every Black person in the United States (all 45 of them!!!) $2 million dollars each, is unworthy of comment.  So–unlike the person who gave that Tweet a “like,” I won’t, at the same time I hope that such a bit of inflammatory idiocy didn’t lead to widespread street rioting and millions of Black peasants shouting “give us back our $2million.” )

In reality (because–like Rush–I live in Realville), I note that there are almost 40 million folks identifying as “Black” in the United States.  Never mind the stragglers.  Just taking that 40 million number, and handing out $2 million to each of them gets us to a number more like eighty trillion dollars.  Lord, I don’t think BLM collected near that much, and I don’t think even California is contemplating that much in reparations on the backs of the American taxpayer.

Sun Tzu once said (relying on translations here) that, “if you wait by the river long enough, sooner or later the bodies of your enemies will float by.” Perhaps its modern equivalent is something to the effect that “if you wait on the Internet long enough, sooner or later those who you know are fools will expose themselves as such for all to see.”

Math.  If it’s too much for you, maybe leave it to the men? At least, the intelligent men?

What a concept.

However, I digress. Again

Back to the point. Most of you have probably figured out by now that–prior to 1752–dates in British and American history are off by eleven days.  Thus–on the American side of the pond, February 11, plus 11 days because of the calendar switch, equates to February 22, and you can clearly see why we end up where we do, vis-a-vis, among much else, George Washington’s putative birthday.

Speaking of George Washington, what did he think of this calendar change?

No dummy, he.

George Washington apparently took the change in stride and, from 1752 on, accepted February 22nd as his birthday. On the other hand, he didn’t completely ignore his old February 11th birthday. For instance in 1799 he attended a gala birthday party in his honor in Alexandria, Virginia, on February 11th, writing in his diary that night that he “went up to Alexandria for the celebration of my birthday.”

Eleven days later, on February 22nd, 1799, he celebrated his second birthday of that year.

Perhaps he had hobbit blood running through his veins.  Two breakfasts?  Two birthdays?

Why the hell not?  The sovereign of Great Britain follows suit to this very day, for meteorological, if not astrological reasons.

So let’s raise a toast to George Washington today, even though it’s not (either of) his birthday(s).  And perhaps, following his example, next year we’ll raise two!  Since I live in one of the many counties that was named after the man, in the heart of Whiskey Rebellion territory, I’m going to start with a glass of “Rebellion Rye.” Who’ll join me?

Happy Great Date Shift anniversary, all!


1 thought on “The Calendar Riots of 1752: “Give us back our eleven days!””

  1. Much of the Eastern Orthodox world still uses the Julian calendar, and stick to it as a kind of “Condensed Symbol” for holding fast to the faith in a world gone mad. But it’s now 13 days off, and as of 2100 it will be 14 days off. Causes rather a mess, if you ask me, but then again nearly a 1/4 of the Russian church splintered off in the late 1600s over a top heavy attempt to reform things – they’re known today as the “Old Believers”, and the schism persists.

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