March 25 is one of the quarter days that once marked the English year, called Lady Day (Our Lady’s Day) after the Virgin Mary. It was a very important in the Middle Ages, and was considered New Year’s Day for centuries (although New Year’s presents were typically given on the 1st of January, that was a CALANDAR new year while Lady Day marked the more important agricultural new year). Although it was not observed for religious reasons in the Regency, what with Our Lady being out of fashion among Protestants, it was still significant from a secular point of view.
As this brilliant post in the Regency Redingote points out, Great Britain didn’t change over to the Georgian calendar until 1752, so throughout much of the Regency era there would have been people alive “who would have remembered when Lady Day was the official New Year’s Day of England, Wales and Cornwall”. The same post additionally explains how important Lady Day was to the business of renting or leasing property, and for hiring and paying servants:
Tenant farm leases always ran for a year, since that length of time was needed to complete all of the complex activities of farm operations … The terms of these leases would always be at least one year, from Lady Day to Lady Day, though many such leases ran for a term of several years, depending on the relationship between the farmer and his landlord. But regardless of the number of years in the term of the lease, they always began and ended on Lady Day. By the terms of some leases, the farmer would pay rent only on Lady Day, but most required that they pay one-fourth of their annual rent each quarter day … Leases for London houses, particularly for those who were in town for the social season, would have to be negotiated and signed by Lady Day, in order for the tenant to be in residence by the start of the season. However, if a tenant only needed a London house for the duration of a single season, they may have signed just a six-month lease. In that case, their lease would have ended on Michaelmas Day, 29 September, which fell well after the end of the season … Lady Day was also the day on which most servants and laborers would be hired. In addition, it was the day on which most of those servants and laborers would be paid. Some servants were paid every quarter, but for those who were only paid once a year, that payday was usually Lady Day. In rural areas, hiring fairs were held every quarter day, but most farm laborers were hired on Lady Day for a year’s work on the farm of the man who hired them. Most domestic servants were also hired on this day, certainly in rural areas. Hiring in large cities was a bit less regular and more flexible, though once hired, a servant was generally paid only on quarter days.
There was also a superstition that if Easter fell to close to Lady Day the country would see a great misfortune that year. This fear was encapsulated in an epigram:
When my Lord falls in my Lady’s lap,
England, beware of some mishap!
Far be it from me to suborn a superstition, but Easter was on 27 March in 2016 and England took a poo in Great Britain’s tea by narrowly voting in favor of Brexit. Considering the nightmare Brexit looks to be from an economic standpoint, I am really glad Easter in on 16 April this year. There has been 2 other years since 2000 when Easter and Lady Day were very close to each other, 2005 and 2008. On 7 July 2005 there was a “series of co-ordinated terrorist bombings strike London’s public transport system during the morning rush hour. Three bombs exploded within fifty seconds of each other on three London Underground trains. A fourth bomb exploded on a bus an hour later in Tavistock Square. 52 civilians are killed and over 700 people were injured”. In 2008 there was a sharp economic downturn “and fears of a recession and mass unemployment” and the economy “contracted by 0.1% in the second quarter … ending 16 years of unbroken economic growth.”
Of course, ANY two years chosen at random would have at least one significant event that could be considered a misfortune for England in them. There is absolutely no reason to embrace the superstition regarding Lady Day and Easter. Nonetheless, I am going to listen to the creepy background music playing in the privacy of my brain and give any year with an Easter before 29 March the extreme side-eye forevermore, and wait for conformation bias to do the rest.
PS – I just looked it up and the year Lady Diana died (1997) Easter was on 28 March. 1989 Easter was 26 March and there was the Hillsborough Disaster. 1978 Easter was on 26 March and the winter of 78/79 (the “year” would go until the Easter of 1979) was the “Winter of Discontent“. 1967 Easter was on 26 March and there was the Hither Green rail crash. 1951, Easter falls smack on 25 March and King George VI dies on 6 February 1952. Easter was 24 March 1940 and then there was Dunkirk. In 1932 Easter was 27 March and that year there were two “clashes” between protesters and police in London causing “civil unrest”. Easter was on 27 March in 1921 and England mostly loses the Irish War for Independence. In 1913 Easter was on 23 March and 439 miners die in the Senghenydd Colliery Disaster.
Yikes – I just started correlating between Easters 72 hrs before or after 25 March and monarchial deaths (only after the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1752 because I don’t have the kath skills do otherwise) and realized the king before Queen Victoria, William IV died on 20 June 1837 and Easter was on 26 March that year. Queen Victoria’s doesn’t match, but her son, Edward VII, died on 6 May 1910 and Easter was on 28 March that year. George V died on 20 January 1936 and the Easter of 1935 wasn’t in March, but his son, King George VI fits because he died on 6 February 1952 and Easter of 1951 was on 25 March 1951. So since 1837 a full 3/5 of English sovereigns (who were on the throne at the time of death; I didn’t count Edward VIII) died in the agricultural year when the Lord lands in the Lady’s lap. WEIRD. Surely nothing but coincidence, but WEIRD notwithstanding.
I am now a little afraid of 2027. Easter is on 28 March that year and Queen Elizabeth II will be turning 100. Then in 2035 Easter is on 25 March, when King Charles III will be in his late 80s. There is another Easter on 25 March in 2046, when he’ll be turning 100 so let’s hope that’s the one to keep an eye on …