Mesa D

Joerg Wettlaufer

Univ.Goettingen, Alemania


>For a very long time the right of the first night (jus primae noctis) has

>been under debate by historians and other scientists. No consensus has been

>reached so far. In this paper, several issues about the jus primae noctis

>will be addressed.

>The first topic deals with the medieval evidence of the jus primae notis:

>Today the debate about this so called right continues in several

>publications by English, French and German scholars. The discussion is

>about the relevance of a dozen texts from the late medieval period,

>originating from all over Western Europe. These texts seem to mention

>exactly what is understood as a lord's right to lie in bed with his

>peasants' brides in their wedding nights. What do these texts, which stem

>from customals and "dnombrements" in France, Switzerland and from official

>documents in Catalonia, really show and why do they mention the right of

>the first night at all? What is the origin of the right of the first night

>in European culture and how could this idea enter customal law text in the

>fifteenth century? When we analyse the medieval sources the right of the

>first night seems to be, 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 their peasants newly wed bride on her wedding night.

>Symbolic gestures, reflecting this belief, were developed by the lords and

>used as humiliating signs of superiority against the dependent peasants in

>a time of disappearing status differences. Actual intercourse on behalf of

>the alleged right is difficult to proof. It probably never occurred.

>Finally, the origin of the very idea of the jus primae noctis discussed.

>Where can this idea be found in human cultures? How does evidence from

>other cultures relate to the medieval European tradition and how can we

>understand today, from a methodological point of view, ideas like the jus

>primae noctis in an anthropological dimension? Several other non-European

>cultures have accounts of a similar custom that was related to the first

>sexual intercourse: ritual defloration of a girl by chiefs, priests or

>strangers. This non-European custom was not seen as a privilege but rather

>as a dangerous duty for men. The development and the relation of both

>customs is treated and a biological explanation of their foundation in

>human cultures is suggested.