The Julian calendar (introduced by Julius
Caesar in 45 BC) was used throughout Europe until 1582. A standard
year had 365 days, and every fourth year (a 'leap year') had an
extra day, in order to match the calendar year to the solar year
(i.e. the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun, calculated
by classical astronomers as 365 Ľ days). This method of fixing the
date was known as 'Old Style'. In medieval Europe, including Scotland,
the beginning of the year was usually 25 March (the feast of the
Annunciation), so that the day after 24 March 1490 was 25 March
Medieval scholars noted that the year of
365 Ľ days was a slight overestimate, and by the sixteenth century
this had caused a discrepancy of 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII corrected
the error by cutting 10 days from the calendar in 1582 (so that
15 October 1582 followed 4 October 1582), and reformed the calendar
to make the end year of every fourth century a leap year. The calendar
became known as the 'Gregorian Calendar' after Pope Gregory, and
dates calculated by the Gregorian Calendar are described as New
Style. In addition he decreed that the year should begin on 1 January.
However, Pope Gregory's reformation of the calendar was not accepted
by most protestant states until the eighteenth century (and the
twentieth century in Russia, the Balkans and Greece). Scotland adopted
the change to the start of the year in 1599 (31 December 1599 was
followed by 1 January 1600). In the rest of the British Isles the
change did not take place until 1 January 1752, under Chesterfield's
Act (24 Geo. II, c.23), which also removed the eleven days required
to bring the British Isles (including Scotland) into New Style (2
September 1752 was followed by 14 September 1752). Some correspondents
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would actually mark
two dates on a letter, e.g. '17/29 March 1642', to take account
of the different calendars operating in different parts of Europe.
Problems for the historian
The historian may have problems correlating
dates from different countries: e.g. a letter written in Scotland
in February 1625 could be received in England in February 1624.
In Scotland it is the custom among archivists and historians to
use double dating for dates including the months of January - March
prior to 1600, e.g. documents dated 10 March 1586 and 27 March 1587
should be written '10 March 1586/87' and '27 March 1587', respectively.
The calendar in use in Scotland can be summarised
45BC - October 1582 AD Julian Calendar.
Beginning of year was usually 25 March
October 1582AD - 1599 AD Julian Calendar.
Beginning of year was usually 25 March
(Some parts of Europe, but not Scotland, now used Gregorian calendar
and 1 January as beginning of year).
1600AD - September 1752 AD Julian: but beginning
of the year was 1 January
(25 March was still the beginning of the year in England and some
other parts of Europe)
September 1752 AD - present Gregorian calendar.
Beginning of the year is 1 January for all the British Isles.
For further details on the calendar see
to C. R. Cheney (ed.) Handbook of Dates for Students of English
History (London, 1978), pp. 1-11; and David Ewing Duncan, The
Another problem facing historians of the
later middle ages and early modern periods in Scotland, is that
clerks sometimes employed a way of writing dates which look distinctly
odd to the modern reader. This is the form of dating which, instead
of using Arabic numerals (e.g. '23rd June 1632'), used a corrupt
Latin form (e.g. 23rd June JajvjC† and threttie twa yeiris). This
kind of date, as illustrated in image 2, looks odd to us because
they are a mixture of bad Latin and longhand numbers in Scots.
An example of a Jaj date ('Jajvijc† and eight yeares'): 1708.
How can I find out what weekday a certain date fell on?
How can I find out what national and local events happened on someone's
What were the Scottish quarter days?
How can I decipher a date written in the form beginning 'Jaj . .
.' in a seventeenth or eighteenth century document?
A double date from a document written in
Campveere in the Netherlands and sent to Scotland on 21st February
1651 (according to the Gregorian Calendar operating at Campvere)
but this was the 11th February 1651 (according to the Julian calendar
operating in Scotland at that time). From a document in the National
Archives of Scotland (reference: GD40/2/16).