Yard - Origin Theories

Origin Theories

The precise origin of the measure is not definitely known. Some believe it derived from the double cubit, or that it originated from cubic measure, others from its near equivalents, such as the length of a stride or pace. One postulate was that the yard was derived from the girth of a person's waist, while another claim held that the measure was invented by Henry I of England as being the distance between the tip of his nose and the end of his thumb.

Tenth-century king Edgar the Peaceable is sometimes credited with having instituted the yard by a statute known as III Edgar 8.1, dated 959-63, from the Witenagemot at Andover. The statute, which survives in several variant manuscripts, says in effect that the measure of Winchester shall be observed throughout the realm. (A variant reading has it as Winchester and London.) The chief proponents of the Edgar theory were Henry William Chisholm (Warden of the Standards, 1867–77) and Captain George Tyrrell McCaw, CMG, OBE (editor of the Empire Survey Review).

The theory that Henry I invented the yard is based on a single line of text in William of Malmesbury's History of the Kings of England (Gesta Regum Anglorum). Translated from the original Latin, it reads: The measure of his own arm was applied to correct the false ell of the traders and enjoined on all throughout England. The part about Henry's nose was added some centuries later. Even though Watson dismisses as "childish" the suggestion that the original yard was the length of the king's arm, R. D. Connor, in The Weights and Measures of England, says that William of Malmesbury is generally a reliable informant for events taking place in his own lifetime, and that the French pied du roi supposedly derived from the foot of Charlemagne.

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