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 widespread popular belief, centered on a late medieval, European context, concerning (supposed) legal rights allowing the lord to spend a night and have sexual relations with a subordinate woman. The putative rights are known also as jus primae noctis mainly when they include the notion of "first night".[1]

According to the most known variant, it was an alleged legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters.

There is no evidence, however, that the alleged rights ever actually existed in medieval Europe, much less that they were ever exercised,[2] although there is evidence of the practice in certain other regions and time periods.


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 (English pronunciation /ʒʌs ˈprm ˈnɒktɨs/),[3] which is Latin for "right of the first night".


Herodotus mentions a possibly similar custom among the tribe of the "Adyrmachidae" in distant 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 used as social criticism 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 accepted the practice as historically authentic in his Dictionnaire philosophique; soon it became used frequently, especially in 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 held the belief 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).

Instances of the practice have been observed elsewhere. As late as the nineteenth century, some Kurdish chieftains (khafirs) in Western Armenia benefited from "the right of the first night".[7][8]

Literary and other references[edit]

Cultural references to the custom abound. Examples:



  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. Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.) 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 Muge Goçek, 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. ^ url=http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-october-1-2013/march-of-dumbs


External links[edit]