Under Elizabeth and the early Stuarts the English developed a relationship to time—current time within the cycle of the year and historical time with reference to the past—that set them apart from the rest of early modern Europe. All countries followed a calendar that was rooted in the rhythms of ancient Europe and that marked the passage of time by reference to the life of Christ and his saints. But only in England was this traditional calendar of Christian holidays augmented by special days honoring the Protestant monarch and the ordeals and deliverances of the national church. In addition to regulating the seasons of work and worship, the calendar in England served as a reminder of the nation's distinctiveness, of God's mercies, and of England's particular religious and dynastic good fortune. Other Protestant communities, most notably the Dutch, enjoyed a comparable myth of historical exceptionalism—a replay of the Old Testament—but no other nation employed the calendar as the English did to express and represent their identity. Early modern England, in this regard, had more in common with modern America, France, or Australia (with Independence Day, Bastille Day, Australia Day, etc.), than with the rest of post-Reformation Europe.
This article deals with changes in calendar consciousness and annual festive routines in Elizabethan and Stuart England. It examines the rise of Protestant patriotism, and the shaping of a national political culture whose landmarks were royal anniversaries, the memory of Queen Elizabeth, and commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot. It opens a discussion on the vocabulary of celebration and the degree to which festivity was sponsored and orchestrated in the interest of national consolidation or partisan position. And it will show how calendrical observances that at first helped unite the crown and nation became contentious, politicized, and divisive.