leap year

leap year
   The dominant belief about leap year is that it is the only time that a woman may propose marriage to a man, rather than what was considered to be the natural order of things: the other way round. This was often called 'The Ladies' Privilege'. At the time of writing, it is probably true to say that younger English people would not be aware of the belief if the media did not run features on the subject every fourth February. In previous times, when relationships between the sexes were more rigid and formal, there were a number of subsidiary beliefs surrounding the Ladies' Privilege. Some said that it was only on Leap Year day, that is 29 February, that it was valid, while others believed that a man proposed to in this way could not refuse, except on substantial payment - a silk gown, or Ј100, and so on. Indeed, it was widely reported (erroneously) that there had been a Scottish Act of Parliament in the 13th century making this legally binding (see N&Q 7s:10 (1890), 188), or that it had passed into English Common Law (Courtship, Love and Matrimony (1606), quoted in N&Q 4s:8 (1871), 505). One story about the origin of the Ladies' Privilege is set in Ireland: St Bridget met St Patrick one day and complained that women did not have the right to propose. He offered the opportunity once in every seven years, but she bargained him down to one in four (quoted in Word-Lore 3 (1928), 51-2).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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