Skip to main content

The Lord’s First Night

The Myth of the Droit de Cuissage

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

310 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1998

History: European History

Medieval Studies

Table of Contents

1: Remnants and Persistences
2: The Droit de Cuissage in the Corridors of History (1789-1854)
3: The Great Dispute of 1854-82: The Droit de Cuissage and the Invention of the Middle Ages
4: Seventy-two Proofs
5: The Body and the Land
6: The Ecclesiastical Droit de Cuissage
7: The Politics of Cuissage: The Social Uses of Persiflage
App. 1: A Literary Setting of Seigniorial Sexual Abuse
App. 2: The Droit de Cuissage in Spain: A Response to Carlos Barros
Chronological Bibliography of Works and Documents Relating to the Droit de Cuissage

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press