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April Fool's Day in the 1500s

      1600s→

Eloy d’Amerval (1508) A long poem published in 1508 by a French choirmaster, Eloy d'Amerval, has caught the eye of historians of April Fool's Day because the text includes the phrase "poisson d'Avril," which is the French term for an "April Fool." Does this indicate that the custom of April Fool's Day was already established in France at the beginning of the 1500s?

Probably not. Or, at least, we can't conclude that from d'Amerval's poem, because the manner in which he used the phrase "poisson d'Avril" doesn't indicate that he associated the term with folly or April 1. Instead, for him it seemed to be a slang term for a pimp or matchmaker. Etymologists suggest that this was, in fact, the original meaning of the term, and that it only evolved to mean an "April Fool" in the 17th century.
A Meeting in Augsburg (1530) According to German legend, the origin of April Fool's Day traces back to April 1, 1530, when a meeting of lawmakers was supposed to occur in Augsburg in order to unify the state coinage. Unscrupulous speculators, who had knowledge of the meeting's purpose beforehand, began to trade currencies in anticipation of it, hoping to profit from the change. However, because of time considerations, the meeting didn't take place, and the law wasn't enacted. So the speculators lost their money and were mocked as fools. This supposedly inspired the custom of playing pranks on April first.

There's no evidence that this meeting (or non-meeting) in Augsburg actually played any part in initiating the custom of April Fool's Day. The story is another one of the fanciful origin myths that has sprung up to account for the celebration.
Shakespeare’s Omission of April Fool’s Day (Late 1500s) During the late 1500s, William Shakespeare was in London writing the plays that would eventually make him the most famous playwright in the world. He was, as Charles Dickens Jr. later put it, a writer who "delights in fools in general." And yet, Shakespeare never mentioned April Fool's Day in any of his works, which would be a strange omission if the custom was known in England at the time.

But in fact, no reference to April Fool's Day has ever been found in any English-language text from the 1500s — not even in diaries or letters. From this, it seems safe to conclude that the custom was not known in England during the sixteenth century.
The Jutphaas Spotmandement (circa 1550) This unusual, handwritten document (a 'spotmandement' was a kind of mock edict or proclamation) detailed the plan of events for a raucous, folly-themed Shrove Tuesday celebration in Jutphaas, near Utrecht in the Netherlands. It included a list of the food that was going to be eaten and the music that would be played. And then its anonymous author stated that April 1 would be the day on which fools would be required to have their fool's caps inspected.

The brief reference to April 1 doesn't specifically state that it was a day set aside for playing pranks, but it clearly demonstrates that the author of the text associated the day with fools and folly. And it is the earliest unambiguous reference to such an association that is known. (The exact date of this document's creation is unknown, but it's believed to have been written in the early to mid 1500s).
When Alva Lost His Glasses (1572) On April 1, 1572, Dutch rebels captured the town of Den Briel from Spanish troops led by Lord Alva. This military success eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands from Spain. A Dutch rhyme goes: "Op 1 april / Verloor Alva zijn Bril." This translates to: "On April 1st / Alva lost his 'glasses'". "Bril" means glasses in Dutch, but is also a pun on the name of the town, Den Briel.

According to Dutch legend, the tradition of playing pranks on April first arose to commemorate the victory in Den Briel and the humiliation of the Spanish commander. Like the other origin myths associated with April Fool's Day, there's no evidence that this one is true.
Eduard de Dene (1561) The Flemish writer Eduard De Dene published a comical poem in 1561 about a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April first, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. The servant recognizes that what's being done to him is an April first joke. The poem is titled "Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach." This is late-medieval Dutch meaning (roughly) "Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April."

De Dene's poem is a clear, unambiguous reference to a custom of playing practical jokes on April first, and it tells us that by 1561 April Fool's Day was already an established tradition in the Netherlands. In fact, de Dene's reference to April first as "verzendekens dach" is still a term used to describe the celebration in the Netherlands to this day (in modern Dutch: "verzenderkensdag").
French Calendar Reform (1564)
A popular legend holds that April Fool's Day began in 1564 when the 14-year-old King Charles IX of France passed the Edict of Roussillon, decreeing that henceforth the year would begin on January 1, instead of April 1. Supposedly some people failed to hear about the change and continued to celebrate the new year on April 1, causing people to make fun of them and play pranks on them. In this way, they became the first April fools.

The existence of references to April Fool's Day before 1564 suggests that this cannot have been the origin of the celebration. But also, the story is incorrect in that April 1 was not considered the start of the year in any part of France before 1564. The year began on different days in different parts of the country (March 25, March 1, Easter, or January 1). One of the reasons for the reform was to impose a single calendrical system throughout the entire country.