Droit du seigneur

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

Droit du seigneur (/ˈdrɑː də sˈnjɜr/; French pronunciation: ​[dʁwa dy sɛɲœʁ]) refers to a supposed legal right in late medieval Europe allowing feudal lords to have sexual relations with subordinate women. Also known as jus primae noctis (/ʒʌs ˈprm ˈnɒktɨs/; Latin pronunciation: [ju:s ˈpri:mai 'noktis]),[1] it allegedly allowed the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs' daughters.

There is no evidence of the alleged right in medieval Europe.[2]


The French expression Droit du seigneur roughly translates as "right of the lord," but native French prefer the terms droit de jambage (French pronunciation: ​[dʁwa d(ə) ʒɑ̃.baʒ]), ("right of the leg") or droit de cuissage (French pronunciation: ​[dʁwa d(ə) kɥi.saʒ]), ("right of the thigh"). The term is often used synonymously with jus primae noctis,[3] Latin for "right of the first night."


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."[4]

Early mention of the right occurred in 1556 in the Recueil d'arrestz notables des courts souveraines de France of French lawyer and author Jean Papon (1505-1590).[5] It acquired widespread currency after Voltaire mentioned the practice in his Dictionnaire philosophique and it soon became a frequent target for satire.[6] 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 the nineteenth century, many French people believed that several immoral rights had existed in France during the Ancien Régime, such as the droit de cuissage (droit du seigneur), 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).

As late as the nineteenth century, some Kurdish chieftains (khafirs) in Turkish Armenia reserved the right to bed Armenian brides on their wedding night.[7][8]

Somalia: The Jus primae noctis was extensively practized by the Ajuran Sultanate a Somali Muslim empire that ruled over large parts of the Horn of Africa in the Middle Ages (13th-17th century). It had a strong centralized administration, new methods of taxation for wells and aggressive military policy. The Garen rulers of the sultanate had seasonal palaces in Mareeg, Qelafo and Merca, which they would periodically visit to practice ius primae noctis. The tyrannical rule of the later Ajuran rulers with heavy taxation and ius primae noctis caused multiple rebellions to break out, and at the end of the 17th century, the Ajuran state disintegrated into several successor kingdoms and states.

Literary and other references[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica([1]).
  3. ^ "jus primæ noctis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. 
  4. ^ Herodotus, iv.168 (on-line text).
  5. ^ Boureau 203.
  6. ^ Boureau 41.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "1". Tractate Ketubot. p. 3b. אמר רבה דאמרי בתולה הנשאת ביום הרביעי תיבעל להגמון תחלה 
  10. ^ 1984 - Part 1, Chapter 7. George Orwell. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  11. ^ Classen, Albrecht (2007). The medieval chastity belt: a myth-making process. Macmillan. p. 151. 
  12. ^ March of Dumbs


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