It’s the Queen’s official birthday on Saturday; an event that is celebrated every year with Trooping the Colour. A real spectacle to behold for anyone around Horse Guard’s Parade in the year that would be her 63rd regnal year. This July will also mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of William IV and, most importantly to this article, 53 years since the ending of a calender/dating system known as regnal years.
The practice of dating legislation on the statute books, and official public documents, in this fashion began in 1066 with William I. Unlike in ancient civilisations of the Egyptians and Babylonians, it did not take off as a calendaring system (as below) on a wider, more public scale.
Regnal years are calculated from the date of the monarch’s accession to the throne. Each regnal year finishes on the same date the following year. The system carries on in this format until the monarch either dies, is deposed or abdicates the throne.
For example Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne on 6th February 1952, the beginning of her first regnal year. This means that any date after 6th February 1953 fell in her second regnal year. This is represented as 1 & 2 Eliz. 2 1952 & 1953.
When translated into the citation used on legislation, the format slightly changes. By way of illustration the Royal Titles Act 1953, which was passed on 26th March 1953, has the following citation 1 & 2 Eliz. 2 C.9. What this means is that the Act was the ninth passed in the parliamentary session that spanned her first and second regnal years.
Ever since 1963 the usage of regnal years as a legislation numbering system has been redundant. It was abolished that year under the Acts of Parliament Numbering and Citation Act 1962. Acts of Parliament are now dated by calendar year and carry a citation that is structured as follows “Title of Act | Year | Chapter Number”. This change brought about the end of an antiquated system that was not deemed fit for the times.
To learn more about regnal years, and to discover examples dating all the way back to the reign of Henry III, download our free whitepaper below.