|The memorandum of Edward III's birth from Foedera.|
People in England in 1312, and, specifically in the context of this post, Edward II's household, told the time using the canonical hours: Prime or about 6am; Terce or the third hour or about 9am; Sext or the sixth hour or about midday; None or the ninth hour or mid-afternoon; or Vespers, i.e. sunset. The other canonical hours are Matins (roughly midnight), Lauds (roughly 3am) and Compline (about 9pm, which in summer in England would be earlier than Vespers/sunset), though I've never seen these used in Edward II's accounts, because the king and most of his household were asleep or relaxing at those times. His clerks did use the word 'midnight' on occasion, for example in Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 569 and SAL MS 122, p. 50, and the Sempringham annalist talked of a violent thunderstorm which took place on 17 April 1320 at 'around midnight' (entour la mye noet). Evidently, to them this meant 'an indeterminate time in the middle of the night when most people are in bed, but probably not as late as the early hours of the morning', or 'gosh, the king is still up and awake and issuing orders long after dark' rather than a precise clock time - and of course the fourteenth-century French word la my(e) noet (modern French minuit) and the English word midnight originally just meant 'in the middle of the night'. If Edward III's time of birth had been recorded, it would have been 'around Prime'. People told the time in three-hour chunks, the sixth hour, the ninth hour and so on, not in ten-minute slots.
|An entry in Edward II's chamber account of February 1326, SAL MS 122, talking about la my noet, 'midnight'|
On Wednesday 7 February 1308, Edward II and his new queen Isabella of France arrived in England after marrying in Boulogne, and an entry on the Fine Roll states that they landed at Dover 'on Wednesday after the Purification...about the ninth hour', or roughly in the middle of the afternoon. [Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-19, p. 14] Edward and Isabella returned to England from their long visit to France in the summer of 1313 on 'Monday before St Margaret the Virgin, at vespers, in the seventh year of his reign,' which means around sunset or simply just 'late evening' on Monday 16 July 1313 (a time of year when the hours of daylight in northern Europe are very long). [Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-18, p. 66] This was as detailed as telling the time got in England in the early fourteenth century. Edward I was said by a chronicler to have died on 7 July 1307 'at the ninth hour', or around 3pm, or simply just in the middle of the afternoon. In this context, to talk of someone being born at precisely '5.40am' is nonsense.
In Edward II's household accounts, the date was normally written as e.g. 'the thirtieth day of January', in French or Latin, with Roman numerals used (le xxx iour de janv'). More usually, in letters and in the chancery rolls and in e.g. the memorandum recording Edward III's birth, saints' feast days were used: 'the Tuesday before the Translation of St Thomas Becket' or 'the morrow of St Hilary' or, as we see above, 'the Wednesday after the Purification' and 'the Monday before St Margaret the Virgin'. Edward III was born on the feast day of St Brice, 13 November, but Brice is an obscure saint and many chroniclers in 1312 didn't know that it was his feast day, so instead wrote that the future king was born on 'the Monday after St Martin' (St Martin is 11 November). Edward II himself was born on the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist (25 April), which is how he would have thought of the date. Sometimes religious days were also used in Edward's accounts, such as his hiring a boy-bishop in 1316 from 'the feast of St Nicholas until the Feast of the Holy Innocents', that is, 6 to 28 December. His clerks often recorded 1 January as the Feast of the Circumcision. 25 December was le iour de noel, Christmas Day.
To figure out any given date in a fourteenth-century English document, as well as having to know saints' days, you have to know the date on which the present king became king and the year he succeeded to the throne, because almost invariably English clerks recorded dates using kings' regnal years. Edward I died on 7 July 1307, Edward II's reign began on 8 July 1307, and thus his regnal year ran from 8 July to 7 July every year. His father Edward I's regnal year ran from 20 November to 19 November (because Henry III died on 19 November 1272), and his son Edward III's from 25 January to 24 January. 8 July 1307 to 7 July 1308 was Edward II's first regnal year, 8 July 1323 to 7 July 1324 his seventeenth, and so on. Edward III was born on 13 November 1312 in his father's sixth regnal year (which ran from 8 July 1312 to 7 July 1313), and died on 21 June 1377 in his own fifty-first regnal year, which had begun on 25 January 1377. Edward II was born on the feast day of St Mark the Evangelist in the twelfth year of his father's reign, 25 April 1284, Edward I died on 7 July 1307 in his thirty-fifth regnal year, and Edward II was forced to abdicate his throne to his son in his twentieth regnal year, January 1327. Occasionally, but only very occasionally, English clerks would write 'the year of grace one thousand three hundred and twelve' (as in the memorandum above recording Edward III's birth), but also invariably added the king's regnal year.
To give a couple of examples: Edward II lost the battle of Bannockburn on the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist near the end of his seventh regnal year, 24 June 1314, a fact of which Edward must have been painfully aware, as John the Baptist was one of his favourite saints. 27 August 1321 would be written as 'the Friday before the Beheading of St John the Baptist in the fifteenth year of the reign of our lord King Edward.' Often, in order to clarify which king was meant, clerks would write 'King Edward son of King Edward'. The whole formula doesn't exactly have the virtue of conciseness. Edward II was almost never called 'Edward II' in documents of his era, only 'King Edward son of King Edward', sometimes 'King Edward son of King Edward son of King Henry'. On occasion, however, you see a document referring to 'King Edward the second of this name after the [Norman] Conquest'. Somewhere, I can't remember now where I've seen it, there's a document in which the new king Edward III in 1327 is called 'King Edward son of King Edward son of King Edward son of King Henry.' His clerks evidently realising that this would be a most inefficient way to refer to their fourteen-year-old king on every occasion for the rest of his life, he began to be called Edward III, often with the cautious addition of 'after the Conquest' (there were three kings of England before 1066 with this name: Edward the Elder, Edward the Martyr and Edward the Confessor, so really Edward II should be Edward V).