Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Time to Settle with Your Landlord: It's Lady Day

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Susan reports:

If you were an Englishman or Irishman of the past with quarterly rents to pay, you'd better know what today was. March 25 marks the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church, but it's also an old British Quarter Day, commonly known as Lady Day.

From at least the 12th c. to the mid-18th c., Lady Day was the beginning of the new business year. Lady Day was the day when annual contracts between landowners and landlords and their tenants would be renewed, rents fell due, and servants were hired.

Despite its Christian name (the "Lady" honors the Virgin Mary), the day's roots are more agricultural than religious. March 25 is the equinox, the day when day and night are the same length. To ancient pagans more in tune with nature's cycles, this seemed to be a fit place to begin the new year, and much more convenient than in the middle of snowy winter. It was also a good day for farmers to take time to tend to business matters, falling as it does neatly between plowing and harvest.

When England switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars in 1752, the first of January became the official beginning of the new year, and Lady Day lost much of its significance. It does, however, linger in the minds of modern English taxpayers. April 6, or Old Lady Day (adjusted with the days that were "lost" by the calendar change) is the English Tax Day.

Above: The Annunciation, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1490, Uffizi Gallery, Florence


Katy Cooper said...

I was reading a modern lease for office space in London, and the rent is due quarterly. If memory serves, the dates are 3/25, 6/24, 9/29 and 12/25. That gave me shivers when I read it... (If that dates aren't 100% -- I read the lease over four years ago -- they're close...)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

That's it, Katy! When I was looking up info for this post, I found references to modern English Estate Agents who referred to the "usual quarter days" in their leases, and still called the March date Lady Day.

I wondered, too, if the American fiscal year that begins and ends at the end of June is another relic of quarter days. I couldn't find anything to substantiate that on short notice, but it certainly SEEMS as if it should be so. Besides, I love the idea of American business being ruled by Midsummer Day/Night! *g*

Anonymous said...

And this is why we celebrate George Washington's birthday on Feb 22, although he was born on the 11th; the date was adjusted in 1752...

ConnieG said...

Lady Day is an important event in "Tess of the D'urbervilles", as the end-date of Tess's employment. So when Hardy was writing in the 1880s, Lady Day was still being observed by Tess's rural Wessex society.

Pauline said...

Up until the Napoleonic Wars, Lady Day was also the day any Royal Navy ship (in port in practice but even at sea or in a foreign port in theory) was expected to settle with dockyard workmen and suppliers of stores. Many times purchases for supplies and services were made on the promise of prize money after an upcoming cruise, so March 25 was an important day in large ports like Plymouth.

I write historical fiction and blog about all things seafaring over at
so I appreciate all the research you all put into your posts. Keep them coming!

ILoveVersailles said...

Lovely painting. Every day is improved with Botticelli in it.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Anonymous -- the whole switch of the calendars makes that era of history hard to keep track of. There are plenty of instances where letters written in France (Gregorian) arrive in England (Julian) before they were written!

Connie -- Now that you mention it, I do recall Lady Day in "Tess." One of the ways that Hardy emphasised the differences between the ranks of the characters....

ILoveVersailles--I agree, any day is improved by Botticelli sightings!

Pauline --Thank you so much for your compliments! Your blog is fascinating as well -- I particularly liked the story of Hatch the rat-catcher. You have beautiful photos, too.

I love Patrick O'Brien and Hornblower, and in my "other" writing life, I wrote a whole series of books about an (invented) family of RI privateers. All of which is reason enough to add your blog to our blog-roll. :)

Pauline said...

To say I'm honored is an understatement. Thank you so much!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Oh, we're the ones who are honored, Pauline! The internet has sooo many great history sites -- the trick is just finding them. :)

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