cover of book

The Lord's First Night: The Myth of the Droit de Cuissage
by Alain Boureau
translated by Lydia G. Cochrane
University of Chicago Press, 1998
Paper: 978-0-226-06743-8 | Cloth: 978-0-226-06742-1
Library of Congress Classification JC116.S5B6813 1998
Dewey Decimal Classification 392.50940902

From the late Middle Ages to The Marriage of Figaro to Mel Gibson's Braveheart, the ultimate symbol of feudal barbarism has been the droit de cuissage, or right of a feudal lord to sleep with the bride of a vassal on her wedding night. The droit de cuissage even resurfaced in the debate over the French Penal Code of 1992 as a synonym for sexual harassment.

But, as Alain Boureau elegantly demonstrates in this book, the droit de cuissage is a myth. Under contextual examination, nearly all the supposed evidence for this custom melts away—yet belief in it has survived for seven hundred years. Boureau shows how each era turned the mythical custom to its own ends. For instance, in the late Middle Ages, monarchists raised the specter of the droit de cuissage to rally public opinion against local lords, and partisans of the French Revolution pointed to it as proof of the corruption of the Ancien Régime.

A fascinating case study of the folklore of sexuality, The Lord's First Night also offers evocative insights into popular (mis)conceptions of the Middle Ages.

On the French edition: "A richly informative study of attitudes to the past and the manipulation of history down the ages."—Peter Linehan, Times Literary Supplement
Nearby on shelf for Political theory. The state. Theories of the state / Medieval state: