Per unum annum revolutum usque ad festum Petronille virginis

I am casting my accounts because my business year has just ended. My accounting year ends on 31 May, not our UK fiscal new year’s day of 5th April, which is of course ‘Old Lady Day’. Until 1752, the New Year according to the traditional calendar was 25th March – the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commonly known as Lady Day – but when the calendar was adjusted to bring Britain into line with continental Europe eleven days in September were jumped and the financial year-end slipped by the same interval to 5th April.

A saint for nearly every day
Mediaeval Latin compoti – parchment account rolls – did not always begin and end on Lady Day. Michaelmas (29th September) was more common for agricultural accounts, and All Saints (1st November) and Christmas (do I need to translate?) were used by some landowners and institutions. Dating is always by a Festival. Every day in the calendar is associated with at least one Saint. So whose day is the last in May? Saint Petronilla the Virgin Martyr, who may have been Saint Peter’s daughter. How appropriate. But my accountant might be puzzled so I’ll send him the figures (pounds and pence) and dates (DDMMYYYY) he understands best.

Assembling the figures has reminded me of the narrative of my work over the past year. It began with teamworIMG_4794k as the Duchess of Rutland’s book Capability Brown at Belvoir, designed by Nick McCann, went to press. My role, supporting the Duchess and her co-author Jane Pruden, was digging for new nuggets in the archives at Belvoir Castle; if you want to read them, you’ll have to buy the book!

My year ended similarly contributing to the Duchess’ speeches for her lecture tour in America. One of the great things about archives is that they keep on giving: new questions for new audiences bring out new answers. It’s a dialogue.


Newark Hidden Heritage team
Another great team I have begun working with are the local history buffs running the Newark Hidden Heritage project with HLF funding. They’re literally tunnelling under the present-day town, discovering a network of cellars and passages that might have been used during the Civil War siege. I’ve been teaching them to read deeds, court records and other documents that might ‘lighten their darkness’ underground. Teaching Master’s Degree students at UCL and Dundee University is always stimulating.

IMG_0911Rather fewer family historians hired me last year (are we still in a recession, or is my advertising missing this target?), but the ones who did brought me some interesting puzzles deciphering wills, feoffments, petitions, pleadings, and court rolls from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Translating for local historians continues to be significant. I say ‘local’, but as they send me digital photographs to work from, my projects have ranged geographically from south Devon to Lincolnshire, and chronologically from the 14th to the 17th centuries. Thank you all, John, Mike, William, Peter, Philip, Keith; I shall leave you to tell your own stories when you publish your work. My translation of the Norton Court Rolls  was published by the Hertfordshire Records Society last year – the result of an HLF grant to the Norton Community Archaeology Group over five years.  Something new this year has been transcribing and translating the mediaeval Bourne Chronicle for the College of Arms, telling the story of Hereward the Wake.


Work on legal matters continues for several clients, and of course I shall respect their confidentiality here, whether or not strictly sub judice. Likewise support for academics who will be publishing the results of our collaborations in monographs, articles and theses in due course. It’s always satisfying to know I had some input early on when a book is published or TV programme goes out. Last year it was the Channel 4 Alan Titchmarsh series about Capability Brown; this year it will be Leanda de Lisle’s book about Charles the First and Henrietta Maria, and a couple of Who do you think you are? shows – but of course the Wall to Wall production team will never tell you whose!


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Helene van Rossum says:

    “One of the great things about archives is that they keep on giving: new questions for new audiences bring out new answers. It’s a dialogue.” I love that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Peter Foden says:

      Isn’t that why we do what we do? We unlock the archives and let the conversations continue…


  2. So love your nuggets and they don’t damage my teeth!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Peter Foden says:

    Thank you Rafiki 🙂
    Oddly, I am simultaneously looking at my own year-end accounts and at Capability Brown’s. Despite the 240 year time-lapse, I find his far easier to read and understand.


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