Monday, 15 June 2015

Precise in imprecision...

We all like an anniversary and the events that give rise to them. Personally, I am deeply suspicious of most of them, especially of anniversaries that span several centuries. Most present conflicting and unverifiable claims and can be safely jettisoned by lovers of truth and consistency. Some wannabe anniversarians conveniently forget the discrepancies between the Julian and Gregorian kalendars, the which only increase as the years roll by. We all assume that people are born on precise dates; but are they really? Not necessarily. The register for Holy Trinity Church in Stratford records the Baptism of Gulielmus, filius Iohannis Shakespeare on 26th April 1564. The custom of celebrating Shakespeare's birthday on 23rd April arose in the 18th century as a sort of pious desire to connect England's most famous dramatic poet with St George's Day. But when was he really born? With regard to Baptism, the 1559 Book of Common Prayer states:

The pastors and curates shall oft admonish the people that they defer not the baptism of infants any longer than the Sunday or other holy day next after the child be born unless upon a great and reasonable cause declared to the curate and by him approved.

In 1564, 23rd April was a Sunday and St Mark's day was on Tuesday so if Shakespeare's parents were following the custom required by the Prayer Book, Shakespeare would have been baptised on St Mark's day (25th) at the latest. So why the 26th? Perhaps there was a "great and reasonable cause" for the delay? Perhaps the Shakespeares were influenced by the superstition that St Mark's day was "unlucky." There is no empirical evidence to support any of these conjectures so the tradition stands. And don't let's forget that by the mid-16th century the Julian Kalendar had fallen ten days behind the solar year so 23rd April 1564 corresponds to what most of us would call 3rd May. Shakespeare died the same date as Cervantes, but not on the same day. Perhaps accuracy in these matters is historically irrelevant.

To-day the democrats and historians are busy celebrating Magna Carta, arguably the most misunderstood (failed) peace treaty in the history of civilisation. I honestly don't know the history of Magna Carta well enough to say anything remotely insightful or original about it. All I know is that what happened at Runymede on 15th June 1215 did not occur exactly 800 years ago to-day. I refer readers to the expertise of Dr David Starkey, who on 2nd February appeared as a guest on the Daily Politics and spoke about Magna Carta. You'll notice that, under the auspices of the BBC, the liberty of the Church is deliberately not mentioned, nor is monies indebted to Jews, and many other guarantees in the old charter which would no doubt be offensive to modern sensitivities.

If any readers know of any other videos worth watching on the subject I'd be grateful. So far all I have is my Oxford History of England series by Poole "From Domesday Book to Magna Carta."

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