Researching Royalty: Deciphering Regnal Years

A statue of Queen Victoria in front Sydney's Queen Victoria building, exterior

If you have ever found yourself tracing a statute far back into history, working with very old legislation, or completing any research that takes you back into the distant annals of time, you may have encountered a source note that looks quite different than the rest. While we are used to source notes that follow the more intuitive formula of calendar year, chapter, and section (i.e. 2000, c. 41, s. 18), if we go back far enough, we encounter a time when regnal years sorted themselves into the equation.

As an example, if you were tasked to trace the Municipal Act back to its inception, you would run into the following source note:

3-4 Geo V., c. 43, s. 1

While it is true that this source note still follows that same formula of year, chapter, and section, the year is now represented by an abbreviation of the name of the monarch in power at the time of the statute’s enactment. So, the above source note refers to the third and fourth year of the reign of King George the Fifth (and spoiler alert: translates to S.O. 1913, c. 43, s. 1).

Now, unless you’ve memorized all the regnal years throughout time (or are intimately familiar with the history of British monarchs), this can pose quite the annoying curveball when you’re already elbows-deep in research.

But fear not! Handy charts exist to help you navigate the translation of regnal to calendar year. For example, Courthouse Libraries BC has curated the following reference list that cites to those secondary source materials containing regnal year lists or charts: Regnal Years. These materials can also be requested through the Great Library.

One Great Library favourite is Sweet and Maxwell’s Guide to Law Reports and Statutes “Table of Regnal Years of English Sovereigns”. This has been made available online by Harvard Law School here.

Additionally, a Great Library staff member has created another table, one based off the Sweet and Maxwell tool and replete with additional details, footnotes, and commentary. You can find this resource below: