In the year of 1752 the British government made a change that would have long lasting effects on the nation, and resulted in 11 days being erased from existence. Well, that may be a bit hyperbolic, but Britains did lose those days.

The loss of days occurred when Britain changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which would bring us inline with what the majority of Europe was using. Prior to the implementation of the Gregorian calendar, Easter would be observed on March 21st.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII issued the Inter gravissimas papal bull which would reform the Julian calendar, it would be nearly 200 years later when Britain would take it on. Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar as a way to restore the calendar to bring seasonal events critical for calculating Easter dates would be back in places where required. There were three things required for being able to have the correct determination of Easter days:

  1. Correct placement of the March equinox (vernal equinox).
  2. Identification of the full moon that happens on or next after the vernal equinox,
  3. and the first Sunday that follows that full moon.

There’s a lot that can be discussed just around this specific change and choice, but that sidetracks from our 11 day loss. However, the crux was that Pope Gregory XIII wanted to bring the equinox back to where it was during the Council of Nicaea, and also correcting a drift of 0.075 days from the Julian calendar and thus, the Gregorian calendar was born.

The Julian calendar was introduced Julius Caesar as a method for combatting power struggles that occurred with the previous methodology which allowed for pontifices and politicians to extend or shorted a year. Caesar reformed this with a calendar that remained aligned with the Sun. One of the issues with this methodology was that the actual solar year has approximately 365.2422 days, where as we Julian calendar followed 365.25 days. A difference of 0.075 days, and the result being an additional day is required, on top of leap days, every 129 years.

Spain, Portugal, France and Italy were among the first to adopt the new calendar in 1582, and the most recent being Saudi Arabia as recently as 2016 after it changed from the Hijri calendar. The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 would be the first introduction of the new calendar to Britain, bringing it inline with most of Western Europe.

The introduction of the calendar didn’t come without complication. The year 1751 would require a shorter year, consisting of only 282 days from 25th March to 31st December, with 1752 then beginning on January 1st. The problem remained with aligning the Julian calendar which Britain was using at the time with the “new” Gregorian calendar. It was decided that Wednesday 2nd September 1752 would be followed by Thursday 14th September 1752. A loss of 11 days to correct the problem.

An image of the painting 'An Election Entertainment' by William Hogarth
‘An Election Entertainment’ by William Hogarth

A myth of the resulting change and loss of 11 days has persisted over time, with some history books reporting riots in reaction to the changes. Reports often stating that people demanded getting their 11 days to be returned.

The likely source of this myth is partially down to Lord Chesterfield, a satirist who also introduced the  Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 to the House of Lords. It’s likely to be an intpretation of a letter to his son.

“Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none.”

Lord Chesterfield — Letter CXXXII

Another source is William Hogarth, another satirist who painted a series of four oil paintings titled ‘Humours of an Election’. One of these paintings being ‘An Election Entertainment’ which brings mention of “Give us our eleven days!” on a banner held by a Tory protester outside as Whig candidates dine inside.

When the son of the Earl of Macclesfield (who had been influential in passing the Act) stood for Parliament in Oxfordshire as a Whig in 1754, dissatisfaction with the calendar reform was one of a number of issues raised by his Tory opponents. In Hogarths painting, he brought up several issues from the debate, ranging from the Whigs supposed favouritism for Jews, to the calendar change.

And so, myths were created, Tories weren’t happy and Britain lost 11 days.