Red Letter Days

When Henry VIII found himself in need of a divorce I’m sure he had no idea what a nest of hornets he released. The divorce should have been easy enough. Though divorce was illegal, there were always ways for the papacy to manage to bend the rules for one of their supporters. The problem was the pope at the time was in exile, penniless and near friendless. The only help he could expect was from the Spanish King, who was unfortunately a close relative of Henry’s wife Catherine, so no deal

Instead, Henry embarked on a conversion of happy catholics to a bunch of disputatious subjects. Some wanted complete reform, others wanted a return to the old ways. One he started to sell of some of the monastic lands, and people started to make money out of it (hello Mrs Thatcher) some of the opposition was quieted, but since the Reformation was never planned, there were no plans to replace what was being destroyed.

The calendar was a particular problem, as it was littered with saints’ days, some celebrated nationally, some locally. There were 95 festival days, with 30 profesti, all of which involved at least 1 day off, sometimes at the hight of the harvest. Under Edward vi they managed to get this down to 27 holy days, listed in Elizabeth’s Book of Common Prayer as Red Letter Days., but this meant changing all the calendars. People were used to discussing times of the year as being near certain festivals, but the common law managed to live within these limits. But the reformed church courts and civil law stuck to the old ways. Rents were still due on Lady day and Michaelmas,  and saints days were still used for various fairs and markets. So after a time, the conservative almanacks and even the Book of Common prayer began to include these days which officially did not exist any more, but the vast majority of ordinary people, were the big landmarks in their lives. They were printed in black.

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