Droit du seigneur
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Droit de seigneur French for the lord's right, is a term now popularly used to describe the purported legal right of the lord of an estate to deflower its virgins. It is also spelled droit du seigneur; (but native French prefer the term droit de cuissage or droit de jambage) a related term is ius primae noctis (also jus primae noctis), Latin for law (or right) of the first night.
Droit de seigneur is often interpreted today as a synonym for ius primae noctis, although it originally referred to a number of other rights as well, including hunting, taxation, and farming.
The custom is a plot element in the film Braveheart.
The existence of a "right of the first night" in the Middle Ages was a disputed topic in the nineteenth century. Although most historians today would agree that there is no authentic proof of the actual exercise of the custom in the Middle Ages, disagreement continues about the origin, the meaning, and the development of the widespread popular belief in this alleged right and the actual prevalence of symbolic gestures referring to this right.
In fact the ius primae noctis was, in the European late medieval context, a widespread popular belief in an ancient privilege of the lord of a manor to share the bed with his peasants' newlywed brides on their wedding nights. Symbolic gestures, reflecting this belief, were developed by the lords and used as humiliating signs of superiority over the dependent peasants in a time of disappearing status differences.
The origin of this popular belief is difficult to trace. In the 16th century, Boece referred to the decree of the Scottish king Evenus III that "the lord of the ground shall have the maidenhead of all virgins dwelling on the same". Legend has it that Saint Margaret procured the replacement of jus primae noctis with a bridal tax called merchet. King Evenus III did not exist, and Boece included much clearly fictional material in his account. In literature from the 13th and 14th centuries and in customary law texts of the 15th and 16th centuries, jus primae noctis is also closely related to specific marriage payments of (formerly) unfree people. There is good reason to assume that this relation goes back to the early medieval period and has its roots in the legal condition of unfree people and Gaelic marriage customs.
- From Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr's journal entry of 20 October 1979 (page 478) at the dedication of John F. Kennedy Library, Schlesinger writes: "Jackie [Kennedy] came by during lunch. I said that she had seemed to recoil visibly when [President] Carter kissed her. She said she thought it was too much...This tendency to kiss women on first meeting does not sit well in the East. 'He acts as if the presidency carries with it the droit du seigneur, ' Jackie said. Nor did the passages in his speech about kneeling down after hearing the news of Dallas and crying as he had not cried since the death of his father go well in reticent New England. Again too much"
- Voyages historiques de l'Europe (Volume IV: pages 140–141), by Claude Jordan, first published in 1694; the description is similar to Boece's, but attributes the change to Malcolm I of Scotland, in the 10th century.
- Voltaire wrote the five act comedy Le droit du seigneur or L'écueil du sage (ISBN 2-911825-04-7) in 1762, although it was not performed until 1779, after his death.
- Lorenzaccio (1834), by Alfred de Musset
- The Marriage of Figaro (1778) by Beaumarchais
- Woman, Church and State (1893) by Matilda Joslyn Gage—Chapter IV: Marquette
- The War Lord, a movie starring Charlton Heston
- Braveheart, the film directed by Mel Gibson. In the film jus primae noctis is invoked by Edward the Longshanks in an attempt to breed the Scottish out.
- The Postman, the film starring Kevin Costner. In the film, General Bethlehem (Will Patton), refers to prima noctis as giving him the right to bed Abby (Olivia Williams).
- The Aubrey–Maturin series of novels, by Patrick O'Brian, especially The Yellow Admiral
- Chapter 7 of the first part of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which "the law by which every capitalist had the right to sleep with any woman working in one of his factories" is an element of the Party's propaganda
- The tale of the ancient Irish hero Cúchulainn
- Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters, a Discworld novel, in which the droit de seigneur was used as a kind of double entendre, with one of the characters believing it was a kind of "big dog thing; hairy, that needs exercise".
- Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
- In Ben Franklin, an episode of the American television series The Office, Michael Scott claims ius primae noctis (in the ablative form prima nocte) over one of his employees who is to be married. Jim Halpert explains to the camera what it was, recalling it from the movie Braveheart, and that it meant something entirely different from what Michael believed it did. Jim also said that he had confirmed it by looking the term up on Wikipedia, meaning that he did look up this very page.
- In George Orwell's novel 1984 the term jus primae noctis is used by The Party to describe the horrible conditions before the Revolution and justify the claim that the people of Oceania are living a better life in a better world.