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Another Myth: the Jus Primae Noctis, or the Droit Du Cuissage (Droit Du Seigneur)

  • Albrecht Classen
Chapter
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

We began this study with a critical reading of the myth regarding medieval concepts of the flat shape of the earth. There are, of course, some people who, still today, are convinced that scholars until the time of Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492 assumed that the Earth was a flat disk.1 Subsequently I have dealt with the myth of the chastity belt, and I believe that I could demonstrate how much the idea concerning this allegedly medieval invention to protect a wife’s chastity during her husband’s absence also pertains to the world of myths, primarily established and colported in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. To conclude this study, I propose to look at a third, highly fashionable myth, also closely connected with love, marriage, sexuality, and power in the Middle Ages, the lord’s privilege to take the virginity of the newly-wed bride, that is, to sleep with her in the first night after the marriage rituals have been completed. As William Chester Jordan defines this myth, “([m]any modern writers of historical fiction imagine a Middle Ages in which lords had a special right that inhered in them as lords, hence the phrase ‘droit du seigneur,’ which literally means nothing more than the ‘the lord’s right.’ More suggestive and describing the same putative right is the Latin phrase ius primae noctice, or ‘right of the first night.’ ”2

Keywords

Modern Writer Feudal Lord Historical Fiction Medieval Concept Marriage Ritual 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 5.
    See also Frances Eleanor Palermo Litvack, Le Droit du Seigneur in European and American Literature: From the Seventeenth through the Twentieth Century (Birmingham, AL: Summa, 1984);Google Scholar
  2. Hermann Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt-Bleibtreu, Jus primae noctis im Widerstreit der Meinungen: eine historische Untersuchung über das Herrenrecht der ersten Nacht (Bonn: Röhrscheid, 1988).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    H. Ihm, “Jus primae noctis. Ein alter Bestreiter des Brauches,” Anthropophyteia: Jahrbuch für ethnologische, folkloristische und kulturgeschichtliche Sexualforschungen, ed. Friedrich S. Krauss, Vol. X (Leipzig: Ethnologischer Verlag, 1913): 183–89; here 186.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    James Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1987). Although he is most thorough in his detailed discussion of the entire corpus of medieval laws concerning sex and marriage, he has nothing to say about the Jus (and for that matter, nothing about the chastity belt either). We can trust his implied conclusion that church law did not know of this Jus and of the chastity belt.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 11.
    Karl Schmidt, Jus Primae Noctis: Eine geschichtliche Untersuchung (Freiburg i.Br.: Herder, 1881); a copy of this book is available on microfilm; I used the copy in the Library of the University of Arizona.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Jay Ruud, ed., Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature (New York: Facts on File, 2006), 608–09.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Alain Boureau, Le droit de cuissage: La fabrication d’un mythe XIIIe–XXe siècle (Paris: Editions Albin Michel, 1995).Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    Jörg Wettlaufer, Das Herrenrecht der ersten Nacht: Hochzeit, Herrschaft und Heiratszins im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit (Frankfurt a.M. and New York: Campus, 1999).Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    See, for instance, Michel Zink, The Enchantment of the Middle Ages, trans. Jane Marie Todd. Parallax: Re-Visions of Culture and Society (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996);Google Scholar
  10. Roger Dahood, ed., The Future of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Problems, Trends, and Opportunities for Research. Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 2 (Brepols: Turnhout, 1998);Google Scholar
  11. Andrew E. Mathis, The King Arthur Myth in Modern American Literature (Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Company, 2002).Google Scholar

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© Albrecht Classen 2007

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  • Albrecht Classen

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