Did the “ius primae noctis” or “right of the first night” really exist? No, it's a hoax

With the Latin expression ius primae noctisliterally “right of the first night”means a presumed privilege that some feudal lords of medieval Europe would have exercised on theirs farmers when these they got married. It is also known as “lord's right”, an expression deriving from French right of the seigneur; in Spain it was called backside of prenada. This right would have allowed the nobleman to lie with the bride on the wedding night in her husband's place. Actually this right he never existed: it is a fantasy that arose from some misunderstandings born between the 15th and 16th centuries regarding the legal interpretation of feudal rights, conditioned by negative prejudice that scholars of the Renaissance and the modern age had towards the Middle Ages.

ius primae noctis never really existed

Let's debunk: lo ius primae noctis it's a fantasy

Although it is an alleged medieval law, it ius primae noctis it is never mentioned in any medieval historical, legal or notarial source. The lack of mentions and sources in this regard is already in itself eloquent on the non-existence of this right, considering the diffusion that the topic has had in subsequent eras. During the European Middle Ages, in fact, a refined legal tradition developed which allowed us to precisely reconstruct a large part of the laws, rights and obligations that regulated life at the time. In the enormous amount of knowledge we possess, the ius primae noctis it never appears. But if he never existed, how did this fantasy arise?

How the hoax was born ius primae noctis?

During Renaissancebetween the 15th and 16th centuries, legal studies developed also thanks to the rediscovery ofancient Roman law. During the'Modern agewith the strengthening of absolute monarchies, a process of erosion of feudal rights by kings, with the aim of exercising greater control over the nobles. For this reason, the jurists of this era began to study with deep interest the laws, rights and duties of previous centuries, in some cases without being able to fully understand them, because the passage of time had changed or made us forget the precise meaning of some medieval legal words or concepts. These scholars obviously had all theinterest to demonstrate how the past had been a dark and oppressive period and the opportunity to do it maliciously yes resulted in misrepresenting some feudal rights.

Among the many rights that a lord exercised among his peasants, the largest part was of an economic nature. THE serfs they were required to pay rent to the owner of the land, i.e. the feudal lord, who therefore had every interest in ensuring that his farmers continued to work. For this purpose there was a right, certainly attested in 13th century France, which allowed the feudal lord to veto the marriage between one of his peasant women and a man from another villageso that they weren't there like that problems relating to inheritance and succession of the rent of the land.


In a document relating to the village of Version and dated to 1247, the peasants and the lord reached an agreement according to which upon payment of a tax, the feudal lord renounced his right of veto. This mechanism according to which peasants paid taxes, including those on marriages, in exchange for renouncing particular feudal rights is quite common in the last centuries of the Middle Ages. In subsequent legal studies, not without malice, Renaissance jurists wanted to see a form of ius primae noctis.

This mischievous tendency was also influenced by the lack of knowledge of the derivation of some terminologies of medieval legal language. Some examples of marriage taxes mistaken for ius primae noctis by jurists are the fodro and the culagium. The fodro was a tax paid to finance the the king's stables and the word has a Germanic etymology: it is in fact related to the English term fodder, “fodder”. Not being aware of the linguistic fact, centuries later, at the end of the 18th century in Italy, a scholar interpreted the word fodro as a contraction of the word “sheath”, understanding it as a synonym of the female genital organ. The word culagium instead it derives from the Latin colligare, “gather”, and was used in medieval legal texts to indicate the collection for the payment of certain taxes in the kingdom of France, including some on marriage. Not understanding the origin of the word, jurists of the modern era interpreted it on the basis of obscene assonance.

In Modern age therefore the existence of the ius primae noctis it crystallized in culture, so much so that some nobles, still in the 16th and 17th centuries, thought that some marriage taxes owed to them by peasants existed because their ancestors in the Middle Ages had agreed to exchange the right to go to bed with the bride in exchange for the tax . From then on, it ius primae noctis it remained as a fantasy useful to characterize the Middle Ages as a dark age.