Droit de seigneur
Droit du seigneur (ˈ; dʁwa dy sɛɲœʁ) is an alleged legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serf
A spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometer is a type of magnetometer developed at Princeton University in the early 2000s. SERF magnetometers measure magnetic fields by using lasers to detect the interaction between alkali metal atoms in a vapor and the magnetic field.The name for the technique...

s' maiden daughters. There is no historical evidence that such a right ever existed.


The French expression Droit du seigneur roughly translates as the lord's right, but native French prefer the terms droit de jambage or droit de cuissage, where jambage and cuissage (from jambe, "leg" and cuisse, "thigh") refer to the exercise of this right. The term is often used synonymously with jus primae noctis dʒ, which is Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 for "law of the first night".


The origin of this popular belief is difficult to trace, though readers of Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 were made to understand that a possibly similar custom had obtained among the tribe of the "Adyrmachidae" in distant ancient Libya
Ancient Libya
The Latin name Libya referred to the region west of the Nile Valley, generally corresponding to modern Northwest Africa. Climate changes affected the locations of the settlements....

, 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."

Early mention of the right used as social criticism occurs in the work of French lawyer and author Jean Papon (1505/7-1509). It acquires widespread currency after Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

 accepts the practice as historically authentic, in his Dictionnaire philosophique
Dictionnaire philosophique
The Dictionnaire philosophique is an encyclopedic dictionary published by Voltaire in 1764. The alphabetically arranged articles often criticize the Roman Catholic Church and other institutions. The first edition, released in June of 1764, went by the name of Dictionnaire Philosphique Portatif. It...

; soon it becomes used frequently, especially in satire. 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.

Instances of the right have, however, been observed elsewhere, such as the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

. As late as the early twentieth century, Kurdish chieftains (khafirs) in Western Armenia
Western Armenia
Western Armenia is a term, primarily used by Armenians, to refer to Armenian-inhabited areas of the Armenian Highland that were part of the Ottoman Empire and now are part of the Republic of Turkey....

 reserved the right to bed Armenian
Armenian people or Armenians are a nation and ethnic group native to the Armenian Highland.The largest concentration is in Armenia having a nearly-homogeneous population with 97.9% or 3,145,354 being ethnic Armenian....

 brides on their wedding night.

Literary and other references

Despite the lack of historical evidence for the existence of such a right, cultural references to the custom abound. Examples:
  • In the biography Cissy, Ralph G. Martin describes Cissy Patterson
    Cissy Patterson
    Eleanor Josephine Medill "Cissy" Patterson was an American journalist and newspaper editor, publisher and owner...

    's observations on the estate of a Russian/Polish count she is married to, around the turn of the 19th-20th century - including the fact that several of the peasant
    A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

     children closely resemble the count, and that his permission is required before the peasants can marry each other. In this context Martin mentions the Droit du seigneur.
  • In the episode "Queen Of Hearts", of the BBC series Merlin
    Merlin (TV series)
    Merlin is a British fantasy-adventure television programme by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps. It began broadcasting on BBC One on 20 September 2008. The show is based on the Arthurian legends of the wizard Merlin and his relationship with Prince Arthur but differs from...

    , Prince Arthur and Guinevere (the maid of Arthur's stepsister Morgana) tried to keep their romance secret as Uther would not allow such a match to happen. However, he caught them on a secret picnic, but at first assumed that Arthur was just exercising his droit de seigneur.
  • 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
    Malcolm I of Scotland
    Máel Coluim mac Domnaill was king of Scots , becoming king when his cousin Causantín mac Áeda abdicated to become a monk...

    , in the 10th century.
  • Voltaire
    François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

     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.
  • The famous Italian novel, The Betrothed, starts when the priest refuses to let Renzo and Lucia marry because the local nobleman, Don Rodrigo, has his eye on her.
  • In George R.R. Martin's novel A Dance with Dragons
    A Dance with Dragons
    A Dance with Dragons is the fifth of seven planned novels in the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by American author George R. R. Martin....

    , the right is mentioned by Roose Bolton but never invoked
  • Oroonoko
    Oroonoko is a short work of prose fiction by Aphra Behn , published in 1688, concerning the love of its hero, an enslaved African in Surinam in the 1660s, and the author's own experiences in the new South American colony....

    (1688), a short novel by Aphra Behn
    Aphra Behn
    Aphra Behn was a prolific dramatist of the English Restoration and was one of the first English professional female writers. Her writing contributed to the amatory fiction genre of British literature.-Early life:...

    ; the young prince, Oroonoko, sees his bride kidnapped by his grandfather, who attempts to rape her claiming he has the right to do so.
  • Lorenzaccio
    Lorenzaccio is a French play of the Romantic period written by Alfred de Musset in 1834, set in 16th-century Florence, and depicting Lorenzino de' Medici, who killed Florence's tyrant, Alessandro de' Medici, his cousin. Having engaged in debaucheries to gain the Duke's confidence, he loses the...

    (1834), by Alfred de Musset
    Alfred de Musset
    Alfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay was a French dramatist, poet, and novelist.Along with his poetry, he is known for writing La Confession d'un enfant du siècle from 1836.-Biography:Musset was born on 11 December 1810 in Paris...

  • The Marriage of Figaro
    The Marriage of Figaro (play)
    The Marriage of Figaro ) is a comedy in five acts, written in 1778 by Pierre Beaumarchais. This play is the second installment in the Figaro Trilogy, preceded by The Barber of Seville and followed by The Guilty Mother. The Barber begins the story with a simple love triangle in which the Count has...

    (1778) by Beaumarchais and the 1786 opera of the same name
    The Marriage of Figaro
    Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata , K. 492, is an opera buffa composed in 1786 in four acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro .Although the play by...

     by Mozart, whose plot centres on Count Almaviva's foiled attempt to exercise his right with Figaro's bride, Suzanne in the play, Susanna in the opera.
  • La Sorcière
    Satanism and Witchcraft
    Satanism And Witchcraft is a book by Jules Michelet on the history of witchcraft, published, originally in French, in 1862. The first English translation was published in London in 1863. According to Michelet, medieval witchcraft was an act of popular rebellion against the oppression of feudalism...

    by Michelet (1862) in which the droit de seigneur prerogative is invoked to explain why the wives of serfs succumb to the temptations of home demons who promise protection and succour from the oppression of their feudal overlords.
  • Woman, Church and State (1893) by Matilda Joslyn Gage
    Matilda Joslyn Gage
    Matilda Electa Joslyn Gage was a suffragist, a Native American activist, an abolitionist, a freethinker, and a prolific author, who was "born with a hatred of oppression".-Early activities:...

    Chapter IV: Marquette
  • The War Lord
    The War Lord
    The War Lord is a 1965 film starring Charlton Heston, Richard Boone, Rosemary Forsyth, Guy Stockwell, Maurice Evans, Niall MacGinnis, Henry Wilcoxon and James Farentino, with Jon Alderson, Allen Jaffe, Sammy Ross, and Woodrow Parfrey. The film was directed by the future Oscar winning Director...

    (1965), a film by Franklin J. Schaffner, starring Charlton Heston
    Charlton Heston
    Charlton Heston was an American actor of film, theatre and television. Heston is known for heroic roles in films such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, El Cid, and Planet of the Apes...

     as a knight who falls in love with a peasant woman, using droit de seigneur to claim her on her wedding night. Based on Leslie Stevens
    Leslie Stevens
    Leslie Clark Stevens III was the creator of the cult TV series The Outer Limits and director of the cult horror film Incubus , starring William Shatner. He wrote an early work of New Age philosophy, Est: The Steersman Handbook .-Early life and career:Leslie Stevens was born in Washington, D.C...

    ' play The Lovers.
  • Braveheart
    Braveheart is a 1995 epic historical drama war film directed by and starring Mel Gibson. The film was written for the screen and then novelized by Randall Wallace...

    ; ius primae noctis is invoked by Edward Longshanks (Edward I of England
    Edward I of England
    Edward I , also known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots, was King of England from 1272 to 1307. The first son of Henry III, Edward was involved early in the political intrigues of his father's reign, which included an outright rebellion by the English barons...

    ) in an attempt to breed the Scots out, although historically inaccurate for this was never invoked by the English in Scotland, at any point in history.
  • Chapter 7 of the first part of George Orwell
    George Orwell
    Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

    's Nineteen Eighty-Four
    Nineteen Eighty-Four
    Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party...

    , 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
    Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

  • Mark Twain
    Mark Twain
    Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

    's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
    A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur's Court...

    makes frequent reference to the 'right.' For example, in Chapter 25, King Arthur
    King Arthur
    King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

    , acting as Chief Judge of the King's Bench
    King's Bench
    The Queen's Bench is the superior court in a number of jurisdictions within some of the Commonwealth realms...

     judges a case where a bishop
    A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

     attempts to claim the estate of a recently married young orphan girl whose property the Church held in seignory
    In English law, Seignory or seigniory , the lordship remaining to a grantor after the grant of an estate in fee simple....

     on the grounds that because she had married privately, she had cheated the Church out of the right.
  • Kanashimi no Belladonna
    Kanashimi no Belladonna
    , also known as "The Tragedy of Belladonna", is a 1973 feature film produced by the Japanese animation studio Mushi Production and distributor Nippon Herald Films...

    (1973), a film directed by Eiichi Yamamoto
  • The Discworld
    Discworld is a comic fantasy book series by English author Sir Terry Pratchett, set on the Discworld, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. The books frequently parody, or at least take inspiration from, J. R. R....

     novel, Wyrd Sisters
    Wyrd Sisters
    Wyrd Sisters is Terry Pratchett's sixth Discworld novel, published in 1988, and re-introduces Granny Weatherwax of Equal Rites.- Plot :...

    , satirizes the idea in several places, with several characters appearing to be under the impression that 'Droit de Seigneur' is a type of dog, leading to a recurring double entendre about it having to be 'exercised' often. The late King Verence's 'exercise' of his 'big hairy thing' later proves to be a key plot point.
  • In an episode
    Ben Franklin (The Office)
    "Ben Franklin" is the fifteenth episode of the third season of the American comedy television series The Office, and the show's forty-third episode overall. Written by Mindy Kaling, who also acts in the show as Kelly Kapoor, and directed by Randall Einhorn, the episode first aired in the United...

     of The Office, Michael Scott
    Michael Scott (The Office)
    Michael Gary Scott is a fictional character on NBC's The Office, portrayed by Steve Carell, and based on David Brent from the original British version. Michael, the central character of the series, was the manager of the Scranton branch of paper and printer distribution company Dunder Mifflin Inc...

     declares that he is instituting "prima nocta" to ensure everyone dresses well for Phyllis's upcoming wedding. Then Jim
    Jim Halpert
    James Duncan "Jim" Halpert is a fictional character in the United States version of the television sitcom The Office, played by John Krasinski. The character is based on Tim Canterbury from the original version of The Office...

     explains to the camera that "prima nocta is when the king got to deflower every new bride on her wedding night". Michael later admits that he might have misunderstood the meaning of the phrase.
  • In the Epic of Gilgamesh
    Epic of Gilgamesh
    Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia and is among the earliest known works of literature. Scholars believe that it originated as a series of Sumerian legends and poems about the protagonist of the story, Gilgamesh king of Uruk, which were fashioned into a longer Akkadian epic much...

    , hero Enkidu
    Enkidu is a central figure in the Ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu was first created by Anu, the sky god, to rid Gilgamesh of his arrogance. In the story he is a wild-man raised by animals and ignorant of human society until he is bedded by Shamhat...

     is appalled by King Gilgamesh
    Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk, modern day Iraq , placing his reign ca. 2500 BC. According to the Sumerian king list he reigned for 126 years. In the Tummal Inscription, Gilgamesh, and his son Urlugal, rebuilt the sanctuary of the goddess Ninlil, in Tummal, a sacred quarter in her city of...

    's use of droit de seigneur at wedding ceremonies. Driven by his anger, Enkidu confronts and wrestles Gilgamesh. The two later become great allies and friends.
  • In the X-rated film Caligula
    Caligula (film)
    Caligula is a 1979 American-produced Italian biographical film directed by Tinto Brass, with additional scenes filmed by Giancarlo Lui and Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. The film concerns the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar Germanicus, better known as Caligula...

    , written by Gore Vidal
    Gore Vidal
    Gore Vidal is an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist. His third novel, The City and the Pillar , outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality...

    , Malcolm McDowell
    Malcolm McDowell
    Malcolm McDowell is an English actor with a career spanning over forty years.McDowell is principally known for his roles in the controversial films If...., O Lucky Man!, A Clockwork Orange and Caligula...

     in the title role exercises the Roman emperor's droit by having sex with both the bride and groom.
  • In the 1973 movie And Now the Screaming Starts, the curse afflicting a family of British nobles is punishment for an ancestor's presumptive invocation of prima nocta.
  • In Family Guy
    Family Guy
    Family Guy is an American animated television series created by Seth MacFarlane for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series centers on the Griffins, a dysfunctional family consisting of parents Peter and Lois; their children Meg, Chris, and Stewie; and their anthropomorphic pet dog Brian...

    season 9 episode "Brothers & Sisters", an English 'local noblemen' attempts to invoke his right of 'prima noctus' on Lois' sister after she agrees to a date with Mayor West.
  • In the Author's Note to La Catedral del Mar
    Cathedral of the sea
    Cathedral of the Sea is a historical novel by Spanish author Ildefonso Falcones. The action takes place in 14th century Barcelona at the height of the Inquisition, with the construction of Santa Maria del Mar serving as background to the story....

    , Ildefonso Falcones
    Ildefonso Falcones
    Ildefonso Falcones is a Spanish lawyer and writer from Barcelona.He became famous with the historical thriller Cathedral of the Sea, published in 2006, and set in medieval Barcelona. His second novel is La mano de Fátima .-References:...

     incorrectly asserts that the medieval Usages of Barcelona enshrined the right of a lord to lie with the bride of any of his serfs on her wedding night.

External links

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