Droit du seigneur, literally "the lord's right", also known as ius primae noctis ("law of the first night") and other names, is an alleged legal right that the lord of medieval estates or fiefdoms has to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters (or at least gets first refusal). It is a popular trope in fantasy or medieval European settings, especially of the Crapsack World flavor. Usually invoked by a Feudal Overlord of the evil variety as one of his many Kick the Dog moments.
The historical basis for the "right" is murky, as discussed on the Other Wiki. Though historians have found no evidence that this practice was codified in common law, other historians argue that it was practiced informally and extra-legally as early as in the times of the Roman Empire and as lately as the turn of the century (which century is never really specified). The last reliable records regarding droit du seigneur are from 19th century Imperial Russia, where well-documented criminal cases existed that accused various noblemen of practicing this (not trying, but actively practicing for years until someone reported it to the authorities). In addition, there is historical basis for the seigneur having the right to a cash payment when the daughter of one of his unfree tenants was married.
The trope was popularized and treated as a reality in works written during the Enlightenment (notably in Beaumarchais's and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro), as the droit du seigneur was seen as embodying the abuses of the aristocracy and/or the supposed barbarism of the Middle Ages. To this day there are more examples of backlash against the supposed law than there are chronicled occurrences of it.
Subtrope of I Have You Now, My Pretty and a way to establish that Aristocrats Are Evil. If it's the Dung Ages, expect the lord to say "Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me." The Scarpia Ultimatum is a related concept, done with less legal backing.
- Mentioned by Diodora Astaroth in High School D×D as he gleefully tells Issei what he plans to do to Asia. Issei quickly makes him eat those words.
- In Rakuin No Monshou Prince Gil, blitzed out of his mind and jealous of a happy newly-wed couple, demands this with the bride. When the father of the bride tries to talk him down, Gil ends up stabbed in the ensuing struggle.
- The plot of Belladonna of Sadness begins with the Baron doing this to the protagonist.
- In the Elseworlds medieval AU one-shot Kal, Lex Luthor (as a local lord) invokes this on - no surprise - Lois Lane. The hero Kal dies avenging her rape and murder (she fought back, by the way). Like almost every usage of this trope that one might see, his underlings warn "That isn't really done anymore" - which he laughs off. Even within the fictional worlds where this holds sway, its a bit confusing, since the Kal story ends with the very elderly James, son of Oll, telling Kal's story to the young Merlin, which means the underlings were telling Lex this ancient right which was no longer invoked was even more ancient than that. Except for stories where it is a current and common practice, no one ever gives a real idea of just when it was common — only that it no longer is.
- One of the Jerk Jock knights in Garulfo apparently engaged in this (though all we get to hear before he's interrupted is that he goes in yelling "Prima noctis!" and backhanding a would-be interferer who was probably the husband).
- This was invoked by Doctor Doom once, in a minor way. He was walking through his kingdom one night, saw a family with a beautiful young woman (the daughter) sitting at the dinner table, and came to the door and informed her father that as ruler of Latveria, he had the right to the woman's company. Her father allowed her to go with Doom, but Doom had no underhanded intentions. He just wanted an audience for one of his boastful monologues.
- In the world of V for Vendetta, certain offences (like prostitution) are designated a "class-H offence". That means the punishment is entirely at the discretion of the arresting officer. This serves as a Kick the Dog for the Fingermen (and by extension, the government they serve) at the start of the story and ensures we don't feel bad when V shows up to kill them as they're about to rape Evey.
- Referenced in Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the Universe, in telling the story of an Ethiopian general Abraham the Split-Face, so named due to his taking an axe blade in the face during a duel. His servant saved him during the duel and helped him kill the other duelist, and Abraham offered to reward the servant anything he desired. When the servant demanded that he be allowed to exercise The Lord's Right, Abraham reluctantly agreed. However, after an irate husband murdered the servant, Abraham let the killer off and apologized for his servant's actions.
- Requiem Vampire Knight features a vampiric variant: Any blood virgin (victims who haven't been fed on by a vampire yet) in Draconia has to to be taken to the Sisters of Blood first, as King Dracula is supposed to have right of first blood of any virgins in his domain.
- In the Girls und Panzer AU fic Truth, Uncertainty and Tomorrow, it's indicated that Katyusha's father, a Russian aristocrat, uses this right. While he would not do this to his own daughter, he does take Nonna in as a servant when her father miscounts his taxes, and rapes her for overhearing a private conversation. This, of course ignores the fact that there are no more Russian nobles since 1917 because the people got sick of their shit and had them all shot, down to the last man, woman, and child.
- In The Last Spartan, one of N'thos siblings was sired by a wandering swordsman; who are not allowed to marry but are instead expected to sow their oats far and wide. A rare example of everyone being on-board with the idea; it's a great honour to bear and/or raise a swordsman's child.
- Jonnel Stark from A Northern Dragoness is really grateful to know the right of the first night long dead, as he suspects King Baelor to be gay and is very not keen on discovering if the groom can be bedded instead of the bride.
- The Life and Times of a Winning Pony: Jus primae noctis, the right for nobles to take the virginity of any of their subjects, is mentioned as having been in practice in Unicornia around the time of the Lunar Rebellion, nine hundred years before the show. However, it's noted in-universe that there's no proof that it was ever a real thing beyond anti-nobility propaganda and exaggerated rumors of real events.
- This image. A screen shot from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic timed just right + an out of context caption = Hilarity Ensues.
- Discussed for laughs in the My Little Pony fic By Process of Elimination. Princess Twilight Sparkle explains that Droit du Seigneur has no basis in historical fact—but Fluttershy keeps acting like it's real, or insisting that Twilight could make it real, because she obviously wants Twilight to "droit" her.
- In Braveheart, Edward "Longshanks" grants ius prima noctis to English lords, granting them the sexual right to take any Scottish girl for himself on her wedding night. He figures with this in place, some of his lords will both be more eager to rule in Scotland, and more thoroughly keep the Scots under their thumb. His explicit reasoning, though, was to "breed [the barbarism] out of" the Scots. We witness this happen at one wedding, where Morrison's wife is carried off by Lord Bottoms to be raped. When Morrison comes across Bottoms during William Wallace's attack on the English garrison, Morrison makes his grievance with him felt in no uncertain terms:
Lord Bottoms: I never did her any harm. It was my right!
Morrison: Your right? Well, I am here to claim the right of a husband! (Morrison kills Lord Bottoms)
- The English lords' practice of ius prima noctis also prompts William and Murron to marry in secret.
- The plot of the Charlton Heston film The War Lord, where the knight protagonist falls in love with a peasant woman and uses droit de seigneur to claim her on her wedding night. It was based on the Leslie Stevens play The Lovers.
- The title character of Caligula exercises his droit du seigneur by raping both Proculus and his new wife, widely considered his most sickening act of the movie.
- The Postman: General Bethlehem tries to pull this with one of the Pineview women and stabs the husband when he protests.
Bethlehem: Do you know what system of government we have here, son? (Michael shrugs) We have what known as a feudal system, like in the Middle Ages. That's lords and vassals. That's you and me. Now those lords, they had some ideas. They believed that if a vassal got married, it was the lord's right, his right, to sleep with the bride on the wedding night.
Michael: Me and Abby have been married for three years.
Bethlehem: Sorry, but I wasn't invited to the wedding.
- The Gothic horror film And Now the Screaming Starts! has a family of British nobles suffering from a curse brought about as punishment for an ancestor's presumptuous invocation of prima noctis.
- Downplayed in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, in which King Richard exercises his right to kiss Maid Marian at her wedding.
- Rabbi Tuckerman: It's good to be the king.
- Mentioned jokingly by the Prince Of Wales at Percy and Margeurite's wedding in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982).
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, when Tony Stark jokes about ruling Asgard, he mentions reinstating "prima nocta". This one ruffled a lot of feathers due both to the joke being in very poor taste, and the fact that the trailer didn't contain it at all, with the original joke being much more in character for Stark anyways.
- Brenner, the village patriarch in Das Finstere Tal, practices a form of this. But instead of forcing newlywed wives to spent one night with him, they must stay until they are pregnant. So every firstborn is actually his child. The priest justifies this by claiming that Maria's first child wasn't Joseph's, but God's.
- In A Knight In Camelot, while Sir Boss (Whoopi Goldberg) is preparing to duel the villainous Sir Sagramore, her friend Clarence eventually reveals the real reason he doesn't want her to fight him: He takes her to six graves set apart from the rest of the cemetary, which are his mother, father, grandfather, his eldest sister, her new husband, and his baby brother. All died on the same day fourteen years ago when their lord, Sir Sagramore, came to claim his right to the bride's virginity, and her husband—a freeman not of that estate—refused him. Six-year-old Clarence escaped into the woods while his whole family was killed, and afterwards Sagramore wouldn't even allow them to be buried on consecrated ground. Ever since, Clarence has dreamed of the day when he would take revenge, and he came to Camelot so that one day he could be a knight and have the right to challenge him. Clarence feels he is the only one who should be allowed to face Sir Sagramore in a Duel to the Death, but when Sir Boss asks him if he wants her to chicken out, he says no: she must fight him to the death. After this she petitions King Arthur and asks why he can't just arrest Sir Sagramore instead of letting the duel happen, but much to her frustration Arthur replies, for what crime? Even if the testimony of a commoner were to be believed over the word of a knight, Clarence himself admitted that his brother-in-law denied Sir Sagramore his legal right of the bride's first night, and it doesn't matter if Arthur thinks Sagramore's punishment was excessively harsh: it was still lawful punishment, and not murder. Sir Boss angrily asks whether he made that law—and when he tells her he didn't, why he can't just change it—but he blithely tells her that the king's duty is to uphold the ancient laws and customs, including this one.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, while banned by one of the previous monarchs, Jaehaerys I "The Wise", some lords still practice it.
- Roose Bolton acknowledges that he raped a maid who had married without letting him, as her liege lord, invoke his right of "first night." In an attempt to to present his fellow Northern Lords as Not So Different from him, Bolton claims that Umber lords (staunch allies of the "good guys") also practice it (though Roose is hardly the most truthful Lord). Something of a karmic example, although an innocent was slain in the process: This particular sexual crime bore a fruit named Ramsay Snow, who murdered Roose's rightful son and heir (and, by the limited accounts we receive, the only decent human being in the entire House), and saddled Roose with a psychotic and dangerously reckless illegitimate heir.
- The late Mad King Aerys II lusted after Joanna Lannister, wife of his Number Two Tywin Lannister. He joked that it was a shame that the practice had been outlawed, antagonizing Tywin. Although he is not known to have raped Joanna, Barristan Selmy does confirm that he took liberties in the bedding ritual, apparently going further than the accepted disrobing of the bride.
- King Joffrey Baratheon threatens to do this to Sansa Stark on her wedding night in yet another petty torment he inflicts on her, though his uncle Tyrion's threat to geld him if he lays a hand on her appears to frighten him off.
- An In-Universe example of Deliberate Values Dissonance occurs with the maester writing/narrating The Princess and the Queen (which takes place not long after that law's abolition) snarking at the irrationally-jealous smallfolk who frequently failed to recognize the "great honor" of letting the local noblemen get their wives and daughters with child. The practice was more acceptable to the smallfolk of the Crownlands under the direct rule of the Targaryen monarchs and even more in the isles of Blackwater Bay, due to the presence of Houses Targaryen and Velaryon.
- History reveals abusing this right meant extinction to House Qoherys: Gargon Qoherys was known as The Guest for always inviting himself to the weddings of every peasant in his domain. One of his guards was the father of a maid he deflowered, who allowed bandits to enter the castle, who castrated and left him to die. His house ended that night, and no one was particularly upset.
- A rare modern example occurs in Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which one element of The Party's propaganda is the claim that before Ingsoc there had existed a law "by which every capitalist had the right to sleep with any woman working in one of his factories".
- Played for laughs in the novel Wyrd Sisters. Duke Felmet would like to exercise his Droit du Seigneur, but nobody cares to explain him what it is. As a result, he imagines it to be some kind of large hairy dog. It is also a plot point that the previous king, King Verence I (murdered by Felmet) was very fond of practicing it (apparently without complaints, and it's mentioned that he would send a bag of silver to the couple the day after), and that while he was out, the Queen took up with the court jester- the product of this match is believed to be Verence's son but abdicates in favor of his half-brother, who is really the legitimate son of the Fool. They are crowned as Verence II and turns out to be a good ruler.
- It is mentioned by Nanny Ogg in Maskerade. During her youth, she worked as a maid in Lancre Castle. Very briefly, because the King tried to grab her while she was holding a large ham. The encounter "ended her life below stairs, and put a significant crimp in the king's activities above them."
- 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.
- Mentioned in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as one of the things that bad Aristocratic Feudalists like to get up to when oppressing the peasantry.
- This comes up in John Ringo's Paladin of Shadows series. The main character is reluctant to follow through with a tradition that requires the Keldar to deflower a newly married Keldaran woman, with the reasoning that you don't have sex with the brides of men who have guns at your back, but is eventually convinced to accept it by the village elders. A few books later, he figures out the real reason for it and refuses to do it againnote .
- Mentioned in Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary and attributed as a common practice of Medieval nobility.
- Played straight in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Arthur, while hearing cases, condemns a peasant girl for marrying without giving her lord his customary rights—even though the girl's lord is a bishop. As Arthur reasonably notes, it might be a sin for the bishop to sleep with a girl, but that's a matter between the bishop and the Pope (and God); it doesn't change the fact that under British law, the bishop was entitled to the girl's virginity if he wanted it.
- In an interesting twist, there is no mention of the farmer-priests in Frostflower and Thorn, who are the equivalent of feudal lords and priests rolled into one, having this kind of right. (Though as Frostflower discovered, they can be very coercive if they see someone they'd like to screw.) However, the warriors of this world—who are all female—have "warrior's privilege" in the form of sexual access to other women's husbands.
- In Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series, the time traveling protagonist is shocked by this practice, but quickly overcomes his objections. The local lord is a nice chap who ensures all the peasant girls are married off when they become pregnant, and Conrad is such a blatantly perfect man that every girl in the area is all too eager to bed him.
- Machiavelli strongly argued against this practice in The Prince where he essentially said "Peasants will put up with you doing a lot to them and taking a lot from them, but they won't put up with you taking their wives and daughters. It will inevitably cause a revolt."
- In the setting of V. Kamsha's White Pine novel, the lords of the lands are entitled to "buy the gown" of peasant girls. This euphemism arose from the custom of making the groom publicly exhibit the bride's bloodied gown on the morning after the wedding night. Magna, the miller's wife, openly states to her prospective daughter-in-law Barbolka that the mill she brought into the marriage was bought with the price of Magna's gown and that Magna's firstborn is a bastard.
- Discussed for laughs in the ninth book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Dust of Dreams. Chancellor Bugg claims there used to be a tribe where the chief and his wife had the privilege of bedding imminent brides and grooms the night before the marriage. King Tehol is immediately interested, but Bugg admits he just made that up. Queen Janath, who is incidentally also the court historian, however excitedly exclaims that it's no problem to write such a custom into the histories. The King immediately backpedals.
- A (pseudo-)futuristic version appears in "Tomorrow Town" by Kim Newman, which is set in a supposed twenty-first century society as imagined by a group of 1970s futurists. They claim that their Master Computer Big Thinks is so advanced that it can pair individuals up with their most suitable life-partner. In what must surely be nothing more than a coincidence, it has also enabled the community's founder to basically claim another man's wife away from him.
- In the Jules de Grandin story "The Bride of Dewer", a knight made a Deal with the Devil with the old god Dewer. This means that Dewer gets to rape every new bride of all the male descendants that the knight has. Each time this happens, the bride goes mad, and so the much of the house is carried on by the female line of the family.
- In the Merlin episode "Queen Of Hearts", 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 kissing at a secret picnic, but at first assumed Arthur was simply having his way with a serving maid (which he alludes to having done himself), though he still says it can't go on.
- In the The Office (US) episode "Ben Franklin," Michael decides to put "prima nocta" into effect, having watched Brave Heart. Jim has to explain to him what that means.
- Game of Thrones:
- Roose Bolton explains to his illegitimate son Ramsay that a peasant couple married on his lands without his permission and that he killed the husband and raped the woman in keeping with his "rights" (it is established that the practice was banned by the Starks in The North). This led to Ramsay's conception.
- Joffrey threatens Sansa with this during "Second Sons", declaring it doesn't matter which Lannister puts a baby in her.
- Camelot: The episode "Justice" reveals that at least one village's head man enforces this principle on local women before they're married. It results in him being killed by a girl's father after he comes for her (later she's revealed to be the result of such a rape, but considers this man her father anyway). Arthur's forces do end up abolishing the custom in the village, though he speculates that many others may also suffer from it.
- Subverted (for comedy) in Kaamelott, where a Carmelid custom holds that during interclan warfare, the victorious chieftain is to have his way with the loser's eldest daughter. Arthur wants no part in it, but Leodagan threatens to secede if he doesn't respect his vassals' customs. Arthur goes in to tell the girl she's safe with him... but it turns out she was actually looking forward to sleeping with pretty much the only man in the British Isles who bathes with some regularity (she isn't even the eldest daughter, she made a deal with her older sister to take her place). Both sides continue arguing until she threatens him with a knife if he doesn't take her then and there.
- In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh declares it his right as the God-Emperor of Uruk to have first crack at any new bride in his realm. When Enkidu hears about this later, he's so angry about it he travels straight to Uruk to beat some sense into Gilgamesh. The fight ends in a truce of mutual exhaustion and the two become fast friends (with no further word on droit du seigneur).
- Droit du seigneur is brought up in The Wooing of Emer when Bricriu of the Venomous Tongue declares that Conchobar doesn't have the right to sleep with Emer before Cu Chulainn (the guy who killed hundreds of men for the privilege of marrying her) so much as he has a legal obligation to. Being rightfully scared shitless of what Cu Chulainn would do to him if he did, but also reluctant to lose his authority if he didn't, Conchobar gets around it by "sleeping with" Emer in only the most literal sense.
- It is said of Axumitenote general/official Abraham the Split-Faced, Governor of Yemen,note that his appellation derived from a time when he was engaged in a fight with a man who wanted his job. After Abraham received a chop to the center of his face, his servant jumped in and killed his challenger. In gratitude, the guv said the servant could have anything he wanted; the servant asked for the right to sleep with every bride on her wedding night, which Abraham disliked but felt honor-bound to allow. So the servant went on sleeping with newlywed women for a while until an aggrieved groom killed him. When the case went before him, Abraham apologized and let the man go free.
- The tribute of a hundred maidens from Spanish legend has elements of this trope. The legend goes that the emir of Córdoba helped the Asturian bastard Mauregatus ascend to the throne on the agreement fifty peasant girls and fifty noblewomen would be given to him and his successors on yearly basis as a sign of submission (unlike other examples of this trope, the implication is that the girls wouldn't simply be deflowered and sent home, but they'd be forced into harems instead). Mauregatus agreed to these conditions, much to the outrage of his fellow Asturians who later had him killed. His successors tried to pay the Moors with money instead of girls until the cycle of demand and refusal led to the Battle of Clavijo. Just like in real life, it's doubtful that such tribute was ever instituted, much less with such specific demands like 50 girls having to be of noble birth.
- This is one of the major plot points in The Marriage of Figaro, with Count Almaviva wanting to seduce Susanna and threatening to reinstate this feudal custom.
- It also appears in Don Giovanni, where Masetto accuses Giovanni of wanting to try this custom out on his bride Zerlina. He's not too far off, in fact.
- In Warhammer Fantasy, the ius primae noctis is in effect in some Bretonnian duchies, although it is considered a rather dated practice even there, with few lords choosing to exercise it even if it were still law in their demesne. It's rather touchingly subverted, however, in the case of Lord Laurent of the Duchy of Artois, who requires any newlyweds in his dutchy to both spend their wedding night in his bedchamber. Lord Laurent sleeps outside the door to ensure they aren't disturbed, much to his subjects' surprise.
- In the Ravenloft campaign, this law is in effect in Falkovnia. Its Darklord, the tyrannical Vlad Drakov, is a known misogynist, and is considered to be scum even by other Darklords for this and many other reasons.
- The somewhat obscure early modern play The Custom of the Country by Beaumont and Fletcher has this as the initial impetus of the plot.
- The plot of Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna begins when the cruel Commander attempts to force the Girl Next Door Laurencia into this, and imprisons her and her fiancé Frondoso when they object. Laurencia escapes and tells everyone what happened; they rescue the still captured Frondoso and kill the Commander.
- In the Dragon Age series, it's mentioned that this practice is popular in Orlais amongst the Nobles and Chevaliers. Liselle, an Orlesian merchant encountered in Denerim, explains that the reason she came to Ferelden was to flee retribution after her brother knocked out a Chevalier who attempted to invoke this. It's implied that it is far less common in Ferelden as, for the most part, the nobility tends to hold themselves to the same laws and standards as the ones they impose on the common folk ("The nobles are not so high, and the commoners are not so low" as Liselle herself says). It's a sign of how monstrous Bann Vaughan Kendalls of Dragon Age: Origins is that he is the only Fereldan noble shown to routinely practice this.
- The City Elf Origin shows Vaughan at his utter worst, disrupting a wedding at the Denerim Alienage to make off with the bride (if you're playing a female City Elf, the bride is you) and several of her bridesmaids, who he and his cronies want to have their way with. The result is a Roaring Rampage of Rescue and Revenge (the latter part more pronounced if you're playing a female City Elf) that more often than not ends with Vaughan and his cronies seven different kinds of dead. Sadly, you're too late to save your cousin Shianni from being raped by Vaughan and possibly his men. Also, if you're playing a female City Elf your betrothed tries to storm in and save you, but is killed doing so.
- In Crusader Kings 2 a random event might happen, which informs you that the petty nobles in your realm are practicing this. You can then choose to either forbid it (which makes your barons mad) or allow it (which risks a peasant revolt).
- Debunked on The Straight Dope, citing the dubiousness of historical accounts, the absence of proof, and the grim but all-too-plausible argument that no medieval upper-class thug with a sword would need such a legal entitlement to get away with raping peasant women.
- Cracked says that this custom was "always practiced by the other lord down the street"; usually as an excuse to go kill them and take all their stuff by painting them as a monster. Since the winners write the history books...
- In The Grossery Gang webseries episode "Rockyland", one of Rocky's king decrees (flipped and mirrored, but still legible on the scroll) is "Reinstate the Primanocta". This is a kids' webseries, too.
- The Family Guy episode "Brothers & Sisters," has an English "local nobleman" attempting to invoke his right of "prima noctus" on Lois' sister after she agrees to a date with Mayor West.
- The Season 11 episode of American Dad! ("Gifted Me Liberty") involves Stan trying to hide his failing to buy a Christmas gift for the CIA Secret Santa on someone else. He pins it on an agent who recently died, and at the funeral, CIA Deputy Director Bullock grabs the agent's widow screaming "I DECLARE PRIMA NOCTA!" before dragging her away. Bullock obviously is not a lord or nobility by any means, and this instance is a funeral, not a wedding, but this is indicative and typical of Bullock's total disregard for propriety and borderline insanity.