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Article PublishedApril 15, 1999
WHAT MONTHS ARE 7BRE AND FRUCTIDOR? - PART IIIa of III ON CALENDARS
By: Xenia Stanford Biography & Archived Articles
The French Republican or Revolutionary Calendar is an unusual one to us since the names of its months, such as vendémiaire, brumaire, floréal, thermidor and fructidor, are so different from the Gregorian and Julian calendars which were based on ancient Roman systems. In fact, this was a deliberate move on the part of the Jacobins (the most radical of the French revolutionaries) to resolve the problems of the former calendars, such as the naming of the months and days after ancient pagan gods or festivals.
After the French Revolution had deposed the monarchist system, the new government wished to remove all vestiges of the Old Regime, which they felt was based on mythology and superstition, and replace it with a system based entirely on logic or reason. The National Assembly and its successor the National Convention declared freedom of worship and removed special privileges of any kind, including those previously afforded to the Church. As part of their reforms, which included a new metric system, they devised a new calendar to be based on mathematics, nature and science.
The reformers called it the "Calendar of Reason" but it has become known as the French Republican Calendar, since it was established by the first Republic of France or the French Revolutionary Calendar, justifiable for two reasons. First the government who instituted it took power as a result of the Revolution and the calendar was certainly more revolutionary than any other has been since the ancient world.
(The standard acronym for this calendar is FRC, just as GR is accepted for Gregorian and JU for Julian.)
The calendar reforms were enacted by the French Parliament on October 5, 1793 and went into actual use on Nov. 24, 1793. However, day one of year one was set retroactively to September 22, 1792 (GR), the date the French Republic was proclaimed, which also happened to be the beginning of the autumn equinox. In FRC terms this was 1/1/1 or day 1(primidi) of Vendémiaire (first month) year 1.
This calendar was in effect until Napoleon reinstated the Gregorian Calendar on January 1, 1806 making the last official FRC date 10 Nivôse year 14 or December 31, 1805 (GR). However, unofficially some continued to use the dates as late as 1809 and the calendar was briefly reinstated during the Paris Commune in May of 1871.
Any areas of French rule followed the calendar. This included Belgium, Luxembourg, some of Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. Therefore, any records of those countries during this time would state the date in FRC. The exception would be those taken between year 1 and the beginning of year 2 (September 22, 1792 to Nov. 23, 1793) unless they were retroactively re-dated.
Sometimes the date will be found as day (1-30) of name of month and year (1-14) but officially it was to be designated as day # decade # month and year #. For example the date the calendar was no longer in effect was January 1, 1806 (GR) which officially was to have been day 1, decade 2, Nivôse, year 14. However, it was usually recorded as 11 Nivôse 14. (The days, decades, years, names of months and other aspects of this calendar will be explained later.)
Since the Treaty of Paris had ceded Canada or New France to Britain in 1763, thirty years before the FRC, our records were not significantly affected. There might be cases where immigrants from France or one of her territories might have had birth or marriage documents with them that referred to these dates. The English authorities or the immigrants would have had to convert the dates into the Gregorian calendar, which could have caused inaccuracies.
Where events such as birth and marriage occurred in French lands during the 1793 to 1805 period, it is best to find the date from the original records and convert them yourself. The bibliography at the end of PART IIIB will show web sites that give conversion methods or tables. The best in my opinion is found at http://genealogy.org/~scottlee/calconvert.cgi.
PREVIOUS CALENDAR PROBLEMS AND THE FRENCH SOLUTION
PROBLEMS WITH MONTHS AND SEASONS
January to August were named after old Roman (pagan) gods and festivals.
Months from September (7th month) to December (10th month) were named for their original number sequence, but with January 1st as the beginning of the year, these names no longer corresponded to the correct number of the month.
Seasons are based on solstice and equinox dates but this means they start within and not at the beginning of a month.
Start dates of the seasons (equinox and solstice) change since the numbers of days in months are uneven (e.g. autumn equinox ranges from September 21st to 23rd depending on the year) making it difficult for individuals to determine the first day of a season.
Names were changed to major weather, crop or events of nature commonly occurring in those months.
Each of four seasons was now exactly 90 days or 3 months long.
Seasons now start at the beginning of a three months sequence and on the first day of the month.
The first day of the month in which the season begins is close to the actual equinox and solstice dates.
*Names of months in modern French are not usually capitalised but the FRC months are found both ways in the 1993 unabridged Collins Robert French Dictionary.
**These GR dates apply to the first year and those not following leap years. First leap year under FRC was year 3 or 1794 GR - for which one day would be added to the beginning and ending GR date. For a table showing the beginning of each month for each FRC year see Toke Nørby's Perpetual Calendar at http://www.norbyhus.dk/calendar.htm.
***For September 17-21 see FRENCH SOLUTIONS TO FEAST DAYS, FESTIVALS AND HOLIDAYS in PART IIIB next issue.
Month names were also easily identifiable by season as the endings indicated in which they fell:
PROBLEMS WITH WEEKS AND DAYS OF WEEK
The number of days in a week at the beginning and end of the month varies from one to seven.
The first day of the year and the first day of months vary from Monday to Sunday.
Days were named after the planets or heavenly bodies, which in turn arose from names of ancient gods.
Different versions of the Gregorian calendar use varying days as the official beginning of the week with Sunday and Monday as the most common. Also different religions and cultures differ in which day of the week is recognised as the day of rest or worship with Sunday and Saturday being the most common.
The first few days of a year can be the end of the last week of the previous year so determining which is really the first week of a year is arbitrary. (Currently the ISO – International Standards Organization sets the minimum at 4 days so if January 1st is late in the week, the first week officially begins on January 4th.)
FRENCH SOLUTION TO WEEKS AND DAYS OF WEEK
In trying to make "reason" of the number of days in a week and weeks in a month, the French divided the month into three décades (decades) instead of weeks. These were called decades because they were comprised of ten days each.
The names for the days of the week in the Julian and Gregorian calendars had been retained from the old Roman calendar. These had been named after the planets or heavenly bodies, which had been named after the old Roman gods as can be seen from the table below (French and English names for days of the week are also included):
Tuesday to Friday in English has been changed to names of Anglo-Saxon gods (Tiw, Woden, Thor and Freya) who were identified as possessing the attributes of the equivalent Roman gods.
The French changed soleil (sun) di (day) to dimanche or day of the sleeve. This could have originated from dressing better on the day of rest and worship (i.e. shirts with sleeves rather than sleeveless chemises which might have been associated with labouring) or from "faire la manche", passing around the collection "sleeve" (vessel or plate).
The 18th century French revisionists, trying to get away from religious or mythical connotations, chose simply to name the days of the week by number. Since they had ten days in a decade they named them first to tenth day as follows: Primidi, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi, Quintidi, Sextidi, Septidi, Octidi, Nonidi, Décadi. (Capitalised here for emphasis though usually written lower case in French.)
Days had not had a particular significance by the number order in a month or week since the Roman calendar. In ancient Rome the month had a Kalends (first day), Nones (ninth day), Ides (fifteenth day) and Nundinae (market day which fell every eighth day as farmers after working 7 days brought their produce to market).
However, the Roman days were not consistent because in a month with 31 days Nones fell on the 7th day and the Ides on the 15th whereas in the shorter months Nones occurred on the 5th and the Ides on the 13th. In fact, the method of calculating Nones was such that it never fell on the ninth day of the month.
However, under the FRC method every month, every week and every year began on the first day or primidi. Every tenth day (décadi) became the day of rest. To the revisionists this was completely logical.
Of course, most commoners were not thrilled with their logic. The workweek had increased by three days before a day of rest and the devout felt God was no longer receiving his due with fewer days set aside for worship. In making the calendar subject to reason rather than religion, the reformers angered those who recognised seven as a significant religious number. According to the Bible, God had worked six days and rested on the seventh. Also seven was used for calculating church tithes. Churchgoers and clerics alike were not pleased with upsetting the "normal" order.
NEXT ISSUE - PART IIIB ON CALENDARS - WHAT MONTH IS FRUCTIDOR? (THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY/REPUBLICAN CALENDAR to be continued)
More Quebec/French Research Resources