Early Time Travel? Why Britain Lost 11 Days in 1752
For one year, more than two centuries ago, September 3-13 didn't exist in the British Empire. Overnight, citizens were transported from Wednesday, September 2, 1752 to Thursday, September 14.
The loss of 11 days was intentional. Britain implemented the Gregorian calendar in place of the pre-existing Julian calendar, the main timeline used worldwide after Julius Caesar introduced it in 45 BCE. And in order to properly transition, the empire needed to move ahead in the month.
The Julian calendar was designed around the assumption that each year is 365 days and six hours long. The result: every four years an extra day was added to February—much like the leap years we know now. However, this format resulted in an lag of approximately 18 hours each century. As time passed, the Julian calendar became increasingly inaccurate, and the Catholic Church was particularly uneasy with Easter gradually moving farther and farther away from the spring equinox.
The Gregorian calendar attempts to correct this lapse and more closely align the calendar year with the solar year, the length of time it takes the Earth to complete one orbit around the sun. In order to do this, the qualifications for a leap year became more complicated. The calendar system demanded that there can only be an extra day in years that are divisible by four. If the year could also be evenly divided by 100, it was not a leap year unless it could also be evenly divided by 400. For instance, 1900 would have previously been a leap year, but it no longer was since it didn’t meet the updated guidelines. Another notable change is that the New Year, which previously began on March 25 in Britain, moved to January 1.
Some accounts claim the changes didn't go over smoothly. Citizens reportedly took to the streets, rioting and demanding, “Give us our 11 days.” This legend is reinforced by interpretations of William Hogarth’s 1755 painting titled "An Election Entertainment” that depicts Whig candidates at a tavern dinner and a stolen banner that reads "Give us our Eleven Days.” However, Historic U.K. reports that historians now believe stories of the riots are exaggerated and the protests are simply an urban myth.
It is also believed that many Protestant countries pushed back on adopting the Gregorian calendar because it was strongly supported by the Catholic Church. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 and Catholic countries like Spain, Italy, and Portugal put into place that same year. However, Protestant Germany held out until 1700 and England, of course, waited until 1752.
Whether or not the English citizens were unhappy with the loss of 11 days, one resident of the 13 Colonies, which was part of the British Empire at the time, reportedly didn’t mind. Benjamin Franklin praised the switch, writing, “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14."