Manuscripts and Special Collections


Users of this skills module, and those wishing to decipher the dates of historical documents may find the following definitions useful:

Term Definition
Accession The action of entering upon a particular office or dignity, most often a king or queen succeeding to a throne
Civil year Administrative reckoning of the year, beginning on the 25th of March and ending on the 24th of March. This causes confusion for documents dated between January and March, because they will fall in one civil year, but in the following historical year e.g. 4 Feb. 1660 (civil year) is 4 Feb. 1661 (historical year). Historians usually deal with this by writing 4 Feb. 1660/1, or 4 Feb. 1660 O.S. (meaning old style, to indicate the civil year) or 4 Feb. 1661 N.S. (meaning new style, to indicate the historical year). Sometimes called the legal year or the ecclesiastical year
Coronation The crowning of a king or queen
Easter Term Law term running from the second Tuesday after Easter Sunday unti the Friday before Whit Sunday
Ecclesiastical year See civil year
French Revolutionary Calendar Operative during the period of the French Republic, following the Revolution. Introduced a completely new way of dividing the year, with new names for months and no use of weeks
Gregorian Calendar A modified form of the Julian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582 to counteract discrepancies which had emerged between the tropical (i.e. seasonal) year and the calendar year. Adopted by different countries at different times. Introduced in Britain in 1752
Hilary Term Law term running from the 11 January to the Wednesday before Easter Sunday
Historical year The year reckoned as beginning on 1 January and ending on 31 December
Immovable feast A religious feast day celebrated on the same date, year after year, such as Michaelmas
Julian Calendar System of dating instituted by Julius Caesar and followed from 46BC; introduced the concept of the leap year. Eclipsed from 1582 by the introduction of the Gregorian calendar
Legal term dates Four main periods of the year when it was possible to pursue legal business fairly continuously, without breaks for particular feast days - namely Michaelmas, Hilary, Easter and Trinity terms. Note that the terms did not all begin and end on the same date every year
Legal year See civil year
Michaelmas Term Law term running from 1 October to 21 December
Movable feast A religious feast day which does not fall on the same date every year but which can move around the calendar, for example, Easter
Old Style (O.S.) Dating of a document between 1 January and 24 March by the civil year rather than the historical year. Old Style dating of documents occurred in Britain up to 1752
Regnal year System of dating according to the year of the reign of the presiding monarch. The number of year was reckoned from the date or anniversary of the monarch's accession
Religious feast A religious anniversary celebrated every year, such as saints' days or days marking particular events such as the crucifixion, the ascension and so on. Feasts could be movable or immovable
Trinity Term Law term running from the second Tuesday after Whit Sunday until 31 July


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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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