Having spent the first few days this week putting together junior fellowship and bursary applications, for the last couple of days I’ve been working on John Roberts.  Mostly, this has involved a major crisis of confidence and a long time spent re-acquainting myself with the sources that I was using.  First I panicked that I hadn’t got all the source materials I needed.  Then I drew an enormous spider diagram of everything I knew about everyone that was involved in the main source for the article.  It was very colourful and finished up looking less like the spider and more like his web. Yesterday I worried that I’d misunderstood the document and had assumed people to be in prison at the wrong time, owing to the document’s use of ‘quarters’ to describe the time periods.  Eventually I asked on Twitter: if someone was in prison over the Christmas quarter, was that before or after Christmas?  The answer that came back was ‘probably after’. When I finally checked what I’d written, I’d made the same assumption so a lot of worrying had been wasted on something that was right anyway.  In fact, everything I’d worried about was right when I came to look at it.  Finally, today, I’ve had something resembling a bit of a meltdown, with a lot of staring into space and worrying about the dates, and not just the quarters, even the years.

That might sound ridiculous, but those people who work on late Tudor and early Stuart England will know just what I mean…  in 1582, Pope Gregory reformed the calendar to sort out a problem with the spring equinox and Easter.  The change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian began with the apparent loss of 10 days from the calendar, which corrected the drift of Easter.  The trouble is that although the papal bull became law in October 1582, it only applied to the papal states.  Protestant states  took up the ‘new’ calendar as and when they saw fit.  England only did so in 1752.  So there is an inherent problem in working with documents from this period, exacerbated by the fact that the new year in England was on Lady Day until 1752 too.  Sometimes dates are given as ‘Old Style/OS’ (Julian) or ‘New Style/NS’, or both years are given for the period where they don’t overlap, eg 10 Jan 1609/10.   Sometimes, a modern author will make a decision as to which calendar they are using, then mention it in the introduction to their work.   If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is.   There is no easy way to write about it!

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