The documents which we will be using were all written in the vernacular, English, but there remains a wide range of documents which continued to be produced in the language of record, Latin, a sort of upper register or legal language. You will, consequently, only be using a proportion of the forms of document available for the early modern period. In particular, records og higher level courts (but also some manorial courts) continued to be kept in Latin. In 1653, Latin was abolished as the legal language by a prospective Act of 1651, but was restored in 1660. By an Act of 1731, Latin was finally abolished completely as a language of record, with effect from 1733. For example, the entries in ecclesiastical courts' act books suddenly change from Latin to English about Lady Day 1733.


Before the Calendar Act of 1752, promoted by Lord Chesterfield, the legal year ran from Lady Day (March 25) to March 24, according to the Julian Calendar (Old Style dates). In 1752, the Gregorian Calendar was adopted, accepting a legal year running from 1 Jan to 31 Dec. Dates before 25 March in documents will thus relate to the Old Style, so that 22 March 1572 in a document (by the Julian Calendar) is 22 March 1573 by the Gregorian (New Style). To avoid confusion, it has been recommended that historians use OS/NS dates: thus 22 March 1572/3. To complicate matters further, Catholic countries of continental Europe adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1582.
Dates were given both as years of Grace and as regnal years. For regnal years, you will need to consult Cheney, Handbook of Dates for Students of English History as in the bibliography.


From the middle of the sixteenth century, arabic numerals infiltrate into English documents, most particularly in the Port Books. Most usually, however, your numerals (such as in amounts of money in probate inventories) will be in roman numerals. Some documents might have a mixture of both. Dates (years of Grace), however, were usually recorded in arabic numerals.

Terrier, 1589
In the right margin are:
  • j acre
  • iij roodes
  • j roode
  • iij acres