Why Britain Lost 11 Days in September 1752

Aug 11, 2020 0 comments

Do you know how many British people were born between September 3 and September 13 in the year 1752? None. Absolutely no one was born, nobody died, and no marriages took place during that period. No wars were fought, no bets were made, no trade deals were signed. As a matter of fact, these eleven days didn’t even exist in the British calendar. People went to bed on the night of September 2, 1752, and woke up on September 14.

The loss of eleven days was the expected consequence of changing calendars. Before September 2, 1752, Britain was using the Julian calendar, while most of its neighbors had already moved to the more accurate Gregorian calendar. Nearly seventy years after it was proposed, Britain found itself slowly falling out of sync with the rest of the world. To fix that, the parliament passed the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750.

september 1752

Calendar courtesy: timeanddate.com

What’s wrong with the Julian calendar?

The Julian calendar was proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC in order to fix the inherent errors of a lunisolar calendar, which the Roman calendar was. The Roman calendar consisted of 12 months for a total of 355 days, which is approximately 10 days shorter than the solar year. In order to catch up with the sun, the Roman calendar added either 22 or 23 days to every alternate year, the same way we add leap days every four years. As a result, Roman years alternated between 355, 377 and 378 days.

To make matter worse, the leap days (also known as the intercalary period) were not added in a regular and systematic manner, but was determined by the Pontifex maximus, the high priest of the College of Pontiffs. Often the Pontifex would lengthen a year when his political allies was in office, and reduce it when his opponents were in power. The net effect of this was that the average Roman citizen often did not have a clue what date the current day was.

The Roman Calendar

The Roman Calendar

With the intention of sorting out the mess, Caesar called the best philosophers and mathematicians in town and asked them to create a calendar that kept sync with the sun without human intervention. At that time, it was thought that a year lasted 365 days and 6 hours. So Caesar’s mathematicians called for a calendar 365 days long, with an additional day added every four years to makeup for the 6 lost hours every year. In reality, the earth takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds to go around the sun once, so the Julian calendar was not exactly accurate. Over the centuries the errors accumulated, and the date slipped further and further away from the actual.

The Gregorian Calendar

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII pushed for a calendar reform. The Pope was particularly unhappy that Easter was drifting away from the intended date. According to tradition, Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after full moon following the spring equinox. By the 16th century, the spring equinox was a full ten days behind.

The wheels of change had started to turn nearly four decades earlier, in 1545, when the Council of Trent authorized Pope Paul III to reform the calendar, but it wasn’t until 1577, when a Calabrian doctor named Aloysius Lilius set down the complicated rules that defined the leap year. The proposed calendar demanded that there can only be an extra day in years that are divisible by four, but not for years that are divisible by 100 unless it was also divisible by 400. For example, the years 1600 and 2000 are leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 are not.

first printed editions of the Gregorian calendar

One of the first printed editions of the Gregorian calendar.

The calendar went into effect during Pope Gregory XIII, which is why it’s called the Gregorian calendar. The date for the change was fixed on 4 October 1582 (according to the Julian calendar). This was immediately followed by 15 October 1582—a loss of ten days.


Gregory's reform was enacted by a papal bull, but the bull had no authority beyond the Catholic Church and the Papal States. Protestant Churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and a few others refused to accept it. Some Protestants feared the new calendar was part of a plot to return them to the Catholic fold.

One of the first states to adopt the new calendar was Spain, which affected much of Roman Catholic Europe, as Philip II, the ruler of Spain, also ruled over Portugal and much of Italy. France, Poland, Luxemburg, the Kingdom of Bohemia and Prussia followed within the next 50 years. Britain held out for nearly 170 years.

In 1750, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, introduced the bill of calendar reform into the Parliament. It was passed the following year, becoming the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750.

Adopting the Gregorian calendar meant that England had to advance their current calendar by 11 days. September 2, 1752, was followed by 14 September, 1752. The day, however, progressed naturally, from Wednesday (on September 2) to Thursday (on September 14). The calendar applied to all British colonies, including the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Despite persisting rumors, there was very little backlash from the community. Life went on as usual.

Give us our Eleven Days

“An Election Entertainment”, painting by William Hogarth, ca. 1755. On the lower right, there is a black banner on the floor with the slogan "Give us our Eleven Days", which led to rumors that the adoption of the new calendar led to riots.


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