Ladies' Privilege Enshrined in Law
The 29th of February 1288 AD
Information Britain is proud of its history pages, which we like to think inform and occasionally amuse, and are pretty much solid fact. But though it’s very far from factual, there’s a date that we would be remiss to miss as it were.
February 29 is the day, in Irish, British and some Scandinavian cultures, when women can propose to men. Ladies’ Privilege some call it. Some cite a legal backing for this in the form of a law passed in 1288 by Queen Margaret of Scotland, the Maid of Norway. Unfortunately Margaret was not in Scotland in 1288 – she died in the Orkney Isles (not a Scottish possession until the 15th century) on her way to the country in the autumn of 1290. And as she was (probably) born in 1283 Margaret would have been a very forward little miss to insist on such a statute when she was just four or five.
Margaret’s non-existent law, by the way, is supposed to exact a penalty from any man refusing a woman’s proposal on February 29. Fines of £1, £100, a kiss, or a new dress are all cited as the penalty for in modern terms non-compliance. Depending on your viewpoint and the lady in question they don’t look too stringent, though in the 13th century £100 would have been a fortune.
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