Shakespeare, William of Orange and the October Revolution

Both William Shakespeare and the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, had a tremendous influence on their respective native languages. It has even been suggested that they were the same person due to the similarities in their works and the curious contemporaneous periods of absence in their biographies. They also share the same date of death – April 23, 1616. But, Cervantes died ten days before Shakespeare. (Cervantes was lucky to make it so far; while serving as a soldier in 1571 he was shot twice in the chest and once in the left arm. A few years later, he was taken prisoner by corsairs and spent five years enslaved in Algiers).

William of Orange lands at Torbay on November 5, 1688 - or possible November 15.

A similarly puzzling event occurred in 1688. In that year, William of Orange sailed to England and instigated the Glorious Revolution, overthrowing the last Catholic monarch of Britain, his uncle and father-in-law, James II. William took the throne and ruled Britain for the next thirteen years. But there was something odd about that journey from the Netherlands. William set sail from the town of Hellevoetsluis on November 11. He arrived in Devon on Guy Fawkes Day – November 5 – six days before he left.

The explanation for these anomalies is also the reason that Russia’s October revolution occurred in November – the slow uptake of the Gregorian calendar by non-Catholic European countries. From its introduction by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 until its adoption by Greece in 1923, Europe was a chronologically divided region. An eleven minute per year error in the Julian calendar (which had been in use since 45 BC) had accumulated over the centuries into a ten-day discrepancy.

At midnight on 17 October, 1867, the Alaska Purchase came into effect, transferring ownership of Alaska from Russia to the US. This required a twelve day jump forward to adjust for the change from Julian to Gregorian calendars. The International Date Line, previously grouping Alaska with Russia, was also shifted into the Bering Strait, causing a one day loss, cancelled out by the midnight changeover. The population of Alaska went to sleep that night and awoke twelve days later, in another country in the opposite hemisphere of the globe.

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