George Stimpson

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Why may women propose in leap year?

The belief that women may propose marriage to men with perfect propriety in leap years is of considerable antiquity. Nobody knows just how it got started and no satisfactory explanation of this curious tradition has ever been offered. A pamphlet entitled Love, Courtship, and Matrimony, printed in London in 1606, says: "Albeit it nowe become a part of the common lawe in regard to social relations of life, that as often as every leap yeare doth return, the ladyes have the sole privilege during the time it continueth of making love, either [page 24] by wordes or lookes, as to them it seemeth proper; and, moreover, no man will be entitled to benefit of clergy who doth in any wise treat her proposal with slight or contumely." "'Tis leap year, lady, and therefore very good to enter a courtier," occurs in George Chapman's Bussy d'Ambois (1607). A grotesque and highly improbable story, often referred to as a legend, traces the privilege to an incident in the lives of St. Patrick and St. Bridget. It is said that in ages the parliament of Scotland passed a law providing that during the current reign maiden ladies had the privilege of proposing and that any map rejecting such a proposal should be fined unless he could prove that he was married or engaged, but this alleged statute is of doubtful authenticity. Similar alleged laws legalizing the custom in France and in the city-states of Florence and Genoa in Italy are likewise open to question. According to an old English saying, ladies may propose during leap year and if rejected they may claim a silk gown. There used to be a curious belief in New England that in leap year beans grow on the wrong side of the pod.