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The April Fool Archive: 1600-1799 | 1800-1849 | 1850s | 1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s
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Before 1700
A Meeting in Augsburg. (1530) According to legend, a meeting of lawmakers was supposed to occur in Augsburg on April 1, 1530 in order to unify the state coinage. Unscrupulous speculators, who had knowledge of it beforehand, began to trade currencies in preparation, 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 who had bet on the meeting occurring, lost their money and were ridiculed. German folklore has it that this was the origin of the custom of playing pranks on April 1.
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 1st, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. The servant recognizes that what’s being done to him is an April 1st 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.“ In the closing line of each stanza, the servant says, “I am afraid… that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.“

This appears to be the first clear reference to a custom of playing practical jokes on April 1st.
When Alva Lost His Glasses. (1572) On 1 April 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 1st arose to commemorate the victory in Den Briel and humiliation of the Spanish commander.

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