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.

Droit du seigneur (/ˈdrɑː də sˈnjɜr/; French pronunciation: ​[dʁwa dy sɛɲœʁ]) was a putative legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters. Critical medieval scholarship now regards this supposed right as a myth, as one recent specialist has put it, "the simple reason why we are dealing with a myth here rests in the surprising fact that practically all writers who make any such claims have never been able or willing to cite any trustworthy source, if they have any."[1]



The French expression Droit du seigneur roughly translates as "right of the lord", but native French prefer the terms droit de jambage ("right of the leg") or droit de cuissage ("right of the thigh"), in reference to the exercise of this supposed right. The term is often used synonymously with jus primae noctis /ʒʌs ˈprm ˈnɒktɨs/,[2] which is Latin for "right of the first night".


The "Mugnaia" in Ivrea

The origin of this popular belief is difficult to trace, though readers of Herodotus were made to understand that a possibly similar custom had obtained among the tribe of the "Adyrmachidae" in distant ancient Libya, where Herodotus thought it unique: "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."[3]

Early mention of the right used as social criticism occurred in 1556 in the work of French lawyer and author Jean Papon (1505-1590).[4] It acquired widespread currency after Voltaire accepted the practice as historically authentic in his Dictionnaire philosophique; soon it became used frequently, especially in satire.[5] 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 nineteenth century, lots of French people believed that several immoral rights existed in France during the Ancien Régime, like 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 do disembowel his serfs to heat up his feet in).[citation needed]

Instances of the practice, while never present in Medieval Europe, have been observed elsewhere. As late as the early twentieth century, Kurdish chieftains (khafirs) in Western Armenia reserved the right to bed Armenian brides on their wedding night.[6][7]

Literary and other references

Cultural references to the custom abound. Examples:



  1. ^ Classen, Albrecht (2007). The medieval chastity belt: a myth-making process. Macmillan. p. 151. http://books.google.com/books?id=r_hncxYRQIoC&pg=PA147.
  2. ^ "jus primæ noctis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 2001. http://oed.com/search?searchType=dictionary&q=jus+prim%C3%A6+noctis.
  3. ^ Herodotus, iv.168 (on-line text).
  4. ^ Boureau 203.
  5. ^ Boureau 41.
  6. ^ 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. Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.) New York: St. Martin's Press, p. 200. ISBN 0-312-10168-6.
  7. ^ 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 Muge Goçek, and Norman Naimark. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 60.
  8. ^ "1". Tractate Ketubot. p. 3b. http://he.wikisource.org/wiki/%D7%91%D7%91%D7%9C%D7%99_%D7%9B%D7%AA%D7%95%D7%91%D7%95%D7%AA_%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%A7_%D7%90. ""אמר רבה דאמרי בתולה הנשאת ביום הרביעי תיבעל להגמון תחלה""
  9. ^ "1984 - Part 1, Chapter 7". George Orwell. http://www.george-orwell.org/1984/6.html. Retrieved 2012-10-03.


External links