Scotland’s New Year Dates 

All across the world, people have been celebrating the arrival of 2022. The new year was marked throughout the land on the 1st January. For many of our ancestors in Britain and Protestant Europe up to the mid-18th century, the new year began in March. For our Scottish ancestors, though, the year began on a different day. This could have been confusing to them in the 17th and 18th centuries, and may be even more confusing for genealogists researching today.

Scotland adopted 1 January as the first day of the year in 1600 following a proclamation by James VI. Although he was crowned James I of England and Ireland in 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth, the date was not changed in those nations. They continued to use the Julian calendar. Family historians also need to be aware of the date differences when we consult records from pre-1752. When researching in Scottish collections, we should double-check the dates used in 1599 and 1600.

Many of us with British ancestry are descended from royalty and the aristocracy. In 2017, geneticist Adam Rutherford argued that, ‘If you have broadly British ancestry, you are descended from Edward III’.

Members can access a digital copy of A Directory of British Peerages via our online collection. These peerages include various hereditary titles and assorted noble ranks from across Britain. Some of the titles were held by peers who divided their time between various countries, including separate countries of Britain. One example is the title of the Duke of Argyll, created in the Peerage of Scotland in 1701. 

Portrait attributed to John de Critz c. 1605


Field Marshal John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll (June 1723 – 24 May 1806), was a Scottish soldier and nobleman, who served in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession, later in Ireland as adjutant-general in Ireland and then some time in London, where he was a Member of Parliament. In the early part of his life, his family’s home of Scotland celebrated New Year on 1 January, while England and Wales (and other Protestant parts of Europe) continued to mark the beginning of the year on 25 March.

Some Scottish legal documents used a system of double-dating where 24 January 1707/1708 is 1707 for England (Julian system or Old Style)and 1708 for Scotland (Gregorian system or New Style). However, when examining letters written in Scotland, for example, from the Duke’s family in Inveraray Castle  in February 1735 to the young John Campbell when he was at private school in London could have been read in England in February 1734. It is also possible that, like many correspondents of the period, the Campbell family used the two dates (February 1734/1735).

In 1752, when the 5th Duke of Argyll was 29 years old, the date of New Year was changed in the rest of Britain to 1 January. This dating system is the present Gregorian calendar. Until then, the Duke would have needed to check what year the same day in January, February or March (up to 24th) was for different years. 

Although this can be confusing, it is a useful tip to bear in mind when researching across British historical records. 

John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll (1723-1806) by Thomas Gainsborough

Notes and comments

Please contact Emma Jolly for more information about this article

Get Involved

Join today and become a member

As member you can make the most of our resources, access our experts and find a welcoming community of people interested in family history and genealogy.

We all have roots. Let’s find them together.

Keep up to date with news and events

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up today to receive regular updates including our monthly newsletter full of hints, tips and special offers. You can also choose to receive information on upcoming events, talks and lectures to help you discover your roots.

Thankyou! Please look out for an email from events@sog.org.uk to validate your email address, after which you'll be added to our Newsletter subscription.