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Vasily Polenov: Le droit du Seigneur (1874).
A nineteenth-century artist's painting of an old man bringing his young daughters to their feudal lord.
The Mugnaia in Ivrea

Droit du seigneur (/ˈdrɑː də sˈnjɜːr/; French: [dʁwa dy sɛɲœʁ], 'lord's right'), also known as jus primae noctis (/ʒʌs ˈprmi ˈnɒktɪs/; Latin: [ju:s ˈpri:mae̯ 'nɔktɪs], 'right of the first night'), refers to a supposed legal right in medieval Europe, and elsewhere, allowing feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women (the "wedding night" detail is specific to some variants). There is no evidence of the right being exercised in medieval Europe, and all known references to it are from later time periods.[1][2] Overall, medieval jus primae noctis can be considered a historical fiction fabricated after that era.[3]



The French expression droit du seigneur translates as "right of the lord", but native French prefer the terms droit de jambage (French: [dʁwa d(ə) ʒɑ̃baʒ], from jambe, 'leg') or droit de cuissage (French: [dʁwa d(ə) kɥisaʒ], from cuisse, 'thigh').

The term is often used synonymously with jus primae noctis,[4] Latin for "right of the first night".

Historical referencesEdit

Ancient eraEdit

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is described as having practiced a similar custom: "He is king, he does whatever he wants... takes the girl from her mother and uses her, the warrior's daughter, the young man's bride."[5]

Herodotus mentions a similar custom among the Adyrmachidae in ancient Libya: "They are also the only tribe with whom the custom obtains of bringing all women about to become brides before the king, that he may choose such as are agreeable to him."[6]

When the plebians of the Etruscan city of Volsinii rebelled against the aristocrats in 280 BC, "They took their wives for themselves and placed the daughters of the nobles under the jus primae noctis, while all their former masters on whom they could lay hands were tortured to death."[7]

Middle agesEdit

The medieval marriage fine or merchet has been interpreted as a payment for the droit du seigneur to be waived.[2]

The supposed right was abolished by Ferdinand II of Aragon in Article 9 the Sentencia Arbitral de Guadalupe of 1486.[8]

In 1527, Scottish historian Hector Boece wrote that the right had existed in Scotland until abolished by Malcolm III.[9] William Blackstone mentioned the custom in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769),[10] echoing Boece's claim.

The right was mentioned in 1556 in the Recueil d'arrêts notables des cours souveraines de France of French lawyer and author Jean Papon (1505–1590).[11]

Later EuropeanEdit

Voltaire mentioned the practice in his Dictionnaire philosophique, published in 1764.[12]

In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State in 1884, Friedrich Engels argued the "right of first night" had an anthropological origin.[13] Paolo Mantegazza, in his 1935 book The Sexual Relations of Mankind, stated his belief that while not a law, it was most likely a binding custom.

In eighteenth-century France, a number of writers perpetuated other myths pertaining to the supposed power of the overlords during the Ancien Régime, such as the droit de ravage (right of ravage; providing to the lord the right to devastate fields of his own domain), and the droit de prélassement (right of lounging; it was said that a lord had the right to disembowel his serfs to warm his feet in).[14]


As late as the nineteenth century, some Kurdish chieftains (khafirs) in Anatolia raped Armenian brides on their wedding night.[15][16]

In the Hawaiian Islands, marriage in the Western sense did not exist until the arrival of Christian missionaries; there was no word for husband or wife in the Hawaiian language. The privilege for chiefs was often observed, according to "Sexual Behavior in Pre Contact Hawai‘i" by Milton Diamond.[17] A young girl's parents viewed the coupling with favor.[18] If she were lucky, she might conceive his offspring and be allowed to keep it. When western ships arrived, young girls and wives eagerly coupled with sailors who, given their weapons and large ships, were thought to be gods.[19]


In modern times Zaire's president Mobutu Sese Seko appropriated the droit de cuissage when traveling around the country where local chiefs offered him virgins; this was considered a great honor for the virgin's family.[20]

Cultural referencesEdit

  • In the fourteenth-century French epic Baudouin de Sebourc, a tyrannical lord claims the jus primae noctis unless he receives part of the bride's dowry.[2]
  • Voltaire wrote the five-act comedy Le droit du seigneur or L'écueil du sage[21] in 1762, although it was not performed until 1779, after his death.
  • In Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, which premiered in 1786 with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, the comic plot revolves around the successful efforts of the young bride and groom, Figaro and Susanna, to block the efforts of the unfaithful Count Almaviva to seduce Susanna. To achieve his aim, the frustrated Count threatens to reinstitute droit du seigneur.[22]
  • "Adventure Eight: Mary Ann and The Duke" in Eric Knight's The Flying Yorkshireman[23] (1948) has the nobleman negotiating for an alternative to his allegedly obligatory "drewit de segner."
  • Chapter 7 of Part 1[24] of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), a novel set in a future in which Britain is ruled by the Party, which runs a totalitarian government that adjusts history to suit its ideological aims, mentions, as part of the history imposed by the Party, the jus primae noctis, stated to be "the law by which every capitalist had the right to sleep with any woman working in one of his factories". The novel's protagonist, although unable to remember his own childhood, suspects that this may all be pure fantasy.
  • The 1965 film The War Lord features the practice as a key part of its story.
  • In the film Braveheart, the doctrine was exercised on at least one occasion when one of Sir William Wallace's compatriots was married. Additionally, this was suggested to be one of the reasons why Wallace married in secret. Scholars and others have cited this as an example of Braveheart's historical inaccuracies, as no historical evidence confirms that jus primae noctis was in practice in Wallace's time.[25][26]


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica([1]).
  2. ^ a b c The jus primae noctis as a male power display: A review of historic sources with evolutionary interpretation by Jörg Wettlaufer - Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol 21, Nr. 2 (2000): 111-123
  3. ^ Jus primae noctis or droit du seigneur by Vern L. Bullough - The Journal of Sex Research, Vol 28, Nr. 2 (1991): 163-166
  4. ^ "jus primæ noctis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Mitchell, Stephen (2006). Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York, USA: Free Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7432-6164-7. 
  6. ^ Herodotus, iv.168 (on-line text[permanent dead link]).
  7. ^ Von Vacano, Otto-Wilhelm, The Etruscans in the Ancient World, at 164 (Indiana University Press)(ISBN 0253200814).
  8. ^ Boureau 1998, p. 239.
  9. ^ Boureau 1998, pp. 17–18.
  10. ^ Commentaries on the Laws of England, volume 1, book 1, chapter 6, p. 83.
  11. ^ Boureau 1998, p. 203.
  12. ^ Boureau 1998, p. 41.
  13. ^ Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884, pp 28, 72-73.
  14. ^ Péricard-Méa, Denise (2005). Le Moyen âge. Editions Jean-Paul Gisserot. p. 90. ISBN 9782877478236. 
  15. ^ Barsoumian, Hagop. "The Eastern Question and the Tanzimat Era" in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New York: St. Martin's Press, p. 200. ISBN 0-312-10168-6.
  16. ^ Astourian, Stepan. "The Silence of the Land: Agrarian Relations, Ethnicity, and Power", in A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire, eds. R.G. Suny, Fatma Müge Göçek, and Norman Naimark. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 60.
  17. ^ (Revista Española del Pacifico. 2004. 16: 37-58)
  18. ^ (Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, 1972, p. 91; Sahlins, 1985, p. 24)
  19. ^ (Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, 1972, p. 92)
  20. ^ David van Reybrouck. Congo: The Epic History of a People. HarperCollins, 2012. p. 384f. ISBN 978-0-06-220011-2. 
  21. ^ ISBN 2-911825-04-7
  22. ^
  23. ^ Eric Knight. "The Flying Yorkshireman, free ebooks, ebook, etext". Retrieved 2016-09-23. 
  24. ^ 1984 – Part 1, Chapter 7. George Orwell. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  25. ^ Classen, Albrecht (2007). The medieval chastity belt: a myth-making process. Macmillan. p. 151. ISBN 9781403975584. 
  26. ^ "Urban legends website". Retrieved 2013-06-20. 


  • Boureau, Alain (September 1998) [1995:Albin Michel Le droit de cuissage: La fabrication d'un mythe (XIIIe–XXe siècle)]. The Lord's First Night: The Myth of the Droit de Cuissage. Translated by Cochrane, Lydia G. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-06743-8. OCLC 901480901. 
  • Evans, Hilary. Harlots, whores & hookers: a history of prostitution. Taplinger Pub. Co., 1979.
  • Schmidt-Bleibtreu, Hermann Friedrich Wilhelm. Jus Primae Noctis im Widerstreit der Meinungen. Bonn: Röhrscheid, 1988.
  • Utz, Richard. "'Mes souvenirs sont peut-être reconstruits': Medieval Studies, Medievalism, and the Scholarly and Popular Memories of the 'Right of the Lord's First Night'", Philologie im Netz 31 (2005), 49–59.
  • Wettlaufer, Jörg. "The jus primae noctis as a male power display: A review of historic sources with evolutionary interpretation", in Evolution and Human Behavior Vol. 21: No. 2: pages 111–123. Elsevier, 2000.

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