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p-customs-msg - 3/22/02


Unusual period customs.


NOTE: See also the files: p-sex-msg, p-medicine-msg, p-marriage-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: mcdaniel at convex.com (Tim McDaniel)

Subject: Re: Jus Primae Noctis (was: Re: names and nicknames)

Date: Wed, 12 May 1993 14:48:09 GMT

Organization: Engineering, CONVEX Computer Corp., Richardson, Tx., USA


Mistress Dorothea apparently wrote, in an article that I never saw here:

>But "droit de seigneur" in the classic sense of "the lord has the right

>to go with the peasants' wives" ... never happened.  It's a Renaissance

>tall tale, ...


This happens not to be the case.  In summary, _jus_primae_noctis_ is

documented in customals in Normandy, Switzerland, Trentino, Catalonia,

Burgundy, and Auvergne (most quoted below).  The custom was "sporatic",

however, and its incidence is greatly exaggerated.  Also, it was not as

severe as is commonly thought: "the serf has always, at least from about

1170 onwards, the power of redemption".


With malice aforethought of copyright violation, I quote extensively

from Appendix 14 (pp. 464-469) of _The_Medieval_Village_, G. G. Coulton.

Dover Books, 1989, ISBN 0-486-26002-X.  It is a reprint of the original

edition of 1925 published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,

England.  This is a fine book, well worth the purchase. "_" denotes

italics.  I sometimes use "'", "`", and ":" for accent marks.




   The best discussion of this subject from the point of view of an

orthodox Roman Catholic is, so far as I know, the article by A. de

Barthe'lemy in the _Revue_des_questions_historiques_ (I, 1866, 95 ff.).

   The author does not deny that, on certain manors, custom demanded a

fine from newly-married peasant couples as an alternative to the lord's

right of passing the first night with the bride.  The most explicit

account is in a Be'arn customal of 1538.  It runs:


"Art. 38.  Item, in the village of Aas, there are 9 houses with their

appurtenances belonging to the said lordship [of Louvie] and affieffed

to the same.  These houses, their inhabitants and their owners are and

were serfs, of such servitude that they cannot and may not quit the said

houses, but are bound and constrained to live and dwell there to do

their service and pay their dues. ... The inhabitants of these houses

are called and named, in an ancient term of the vulgar tongue, "the

Bragaris of Louvie."  Art. 39.  Item, when the inhabitants of these

houses marry, before they know their wives they are bound to present

them the first night to the lord of Louvie, to do with them according to

his pleasure, or else to pay him a certain tribute.  Art. 40.  Item,

they are bound to pay him a certain sum of money for each child that is

born to them; and, if the firstborn be a male, he is free provided that

it can be proved that he was begotten in the work of the said lord of

Louvie in the said first night of his pleasures aforesaid."


   In the same year and province, the lord of Brizanos exacted a similar

tribute by way of redemption from a similar right.  In 1419, we find a

Norman lord exacting the same, and another equally plain instance comes

from Drucat in 1507; finally, examples might be given from Germany.

These are irrecusable business documents, which both sides admit to be

genuine.  Beyond this, we have the testimony of a poet not otherwise

favourable to the peasant, who accuses the monks of Mont-St-Michel of

taxing their serfs in redemption of this immoral right at the end of the

twelfth century; Nicholas Boyer makes similar assertions about "certain

nobles of Gascony" in the sixteenth; Hector Boyce, about the same time,

says the same about twelfth-century Scotland, and Montaigne, in his 22nd

_Essay_, alludes to it as a notorious fact.  We know, however, that

Montaigne must be discounted; and certainly Boyce is not a good

authority for the conditions of four centuries before his own time.

   We must remember that only a small proportion of the thousands of

medieval customaries have come down to us, and that a complete

collection would probably have provided many more instances than those

which can now be quoted.  But, even so, there can be no doubt that the

_droit_de_seigneur_ has been grossly exaggerated by a good many

antiquaries and historians from the seventeenth century onwards, in

Roman Catholic as in Protestant countries.  Even Ducange is here among

the exaggerators, and de Barthe'lemy's article has rendered a real

service to the public.  He points out justly that our most irrecusable

witnesses testify to the abuse only as alternative; the serf has always,

at least from about 1170 onwards, the power of redemption. His farther

arguments are less convincing; but it is only fair to state them here.

He doubts whether the lord had ever a real customary right of dishonor,

redemption or no redemption.  In his opinion, the whole story may be

explained by a canon of the 4th Council of Carthage, confirmed by a

capitulary of Charles the Great: "Let the husband and wife, when they

have received benediction from the priest, remain in virginity that

night by way of reverence for the said benediction." This prohibition,

like others of the kind, soon passed into a stage of redemption by

payment in money or in kind to the Church, and presently a similar right

of blackmail was "usurped by layfolk, after the analogy of tithes, which

had originally had a purely ecclesiastical character."  Apart from this,

the lord naturally exacted a fine when the couple had omitted to get his

permission.  From the later fifteenth century onwards, individual lords

were inclined to exagerate their feudal righs, and claimed to enforce

these marriage-fines by the most brutal sanctions.  Such sanctions,

however, were simply a legal device to ensure payment of the fine; as

when, in 1337, a gambler at Orthez was compelled to sign a formal

abjuration before his lord, a notary, and a priest: "if he broke his

oath, he swore to pay a consiferable sum of money or to plunge from the

bridge of Orthez into the river."  Thus far Barthe'lemy; but, from what

we know of early serfdom, and of the slavery from which in some cases it

had developed, it seems far more probable that these customs were

survivals of an abuse once literally enforced.  Yet there seems no doubt

that, within the five centuries with which we are converned, no national

or provincial code of laws enforced it, and that, even in this form of a

legal threat, it existed only sporadically on certain manors.  But, so

far, its existence is admitted by all who have troubled to look at the

actual evidence; and we cannot leave it altogether out of account in any

true survey of medieval peasant life.

   I know of no authentic evidence for the _jus_primae_noctis_ in

England; but such a case as I have printed in Chapter XI (p. 123) shows

how easily an unscrupulous lord might have taken advantge of his

unquestioned constitutional rights, and refused marriage-licence to a

serf-girl whom he coveted for himself.  Such possibilities must have

contributed to the result that "of all manorial exactations, the most

odious was incontestably the _merchetum_" (Vinogradoff, _Villainage_, p.


   I subjoin farther evidence which has come to hand in the course of

preparing this volume for the press.  The peasants of the Persen valley

in the Trentino entered a protest against certain new exactions on the

part of their lord; they complained of forced labour and of the

"fruictiones primae noctis de sponsalibus."   This was apparently in the

twelfth century.  (Footnote: F. Schneider, _Die_Entstehung_v._Burg_und_

_Landgemeinde_in_Italien, Berlin, 1924, p. 194; cf. p. 195, n. 1.  I owe

this reference to Mr C. W. Previte' Orton, who tells me that he has met

with a similar case in Sardinia.)  In Normandy, at Bourdet, in 1419, the

lord's customal makes this formal claim:


"I have a right to take from my men and others, when they marry on my

lands, 10 sols tournois and a joint of pork of the whole length from the

chine to the ear, and the tail frankly comprised in the said joint, with

a gallon of whatsoever drink is drunk at the wedding; and I may and

ought, if it please me, go and lie with the bride, in case her hisband

or some person on his account fail to pay to me or at my command one of

the things above rehearsed.  (Delisle, p. 72.)"


   On the manor of Maur or Mure, under the abbess of Zu:rich, the

customal of 1543 prescribes that, "whosoever here comes to holy

matrimony, he shall invite a baliff and his wife also ... and, when the

wedding-feast is over, then the bridegroom shall let the bailiff lie

with his wife the first night, or shall redeem her with five _batzen_

and fourpence."  A similar custom obtained in 1538 on the manors of

Hirslanden and Stadelhofen, dependent upon some abbey in Zu:rich and

appently upon the same as Maur (_Weisthu:mer_, I, 43; IV, 321).  On a

Burgundian manor, if a man in complete serfdom chose a wife outside the

manor, "il perd tout ce qu'il a, a` moins qu'il ne 'la me`ne ge'sir le

premier soir dessous son seigneur' " (Seignobos, p. 43).  A judicial

sentence of Ferdinand V, dealing with the lords of Catalonia in 1486

has, among other articles: "We declare that the said lords may not take

as foster-nurses for their sons or other children the wives of the said

peasants, with or without indemnity, against the will of the said women;

again, they may not, on the first night after the peasant had taken a

wife, sleep with her, or, as a sign of lordship, when the woman is laid

in her bed, pass over the bed and over the said woman."  Brutails (p.

193), while maintaining with great probability that this marks a dying

and exceptional abuse, rightly rejects Schmidt's attempts to explain it

away altogether.  Montalembert recognized the realities which underlay

even the anti-clerical exaggerations of his day; ... Finally, Bishop

Fle'chier had no dount as to its sporatic survival even in the

seventeenth century.  He writes (_Grands_Jours_d'Auvergne_, p. 157: ....

   Chassin gives farther evidence, some of which seems valuable in spite

of his evident exaggerations (_Serfs_, pp. 50 ff.).  And certainly the

marriage-restrictions suffered by the serfs under the abbey of

St-Claude, down to the very Revolution, are sufficiently scandalous to

corroborate the worse scandals of earlier times.  ....

   See also Vinogradoff, _Villainage_, p. 155; St-Aiglan, pp. 126 ff.

and Bonneme`re, II, 64.




Daniel of Lincoln, Barony of the Steppes, Ansteorra

(Tim McDaniel, Convex Computer Corporation)

Internet: mcdaniel at convex.com, mcdaniel at cyberspace.org, mcdaniel at adi.com



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: bcfrench at mothra.syr.edu (Barbara C. French)

Subject: Italian Dowry Fund

Organization: Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY

Date: Sun, 7 Nov 93 15:57:15 EST


A couple weeks ago, I posted something about the dowry insurance offered

in Florence in the 15th century. Dorothea of Caer-Myrriden (sp?) asked me

if I got my facts straight on when the fund was unavailable. My answer is:

Yes -- and here's a brief recap and explanation:


The subject: The Monte delli doti (the dowry fund), started in Florence in

about 1424/24. Lasted 100 years (more or less) until the grand doge's

fiscal reforms of the 16th century.


What was it? sort of a cross between dowry insurance and municipal bonds.

The idea started when Florence was in a fiscal pickle and needed money.

They offered to parents of daughters a plan: Invest a sum with the Monte

delli doti (called the Monte for brevity), and in a fixed term (usualy 7.5

or 10 years), you'll get the interest -- usually 2-5 times that of the

original sum -- to be given to the husband of said daughter for her dowry.

This solved 2 problems: city cash flow, and rising dowries no parent short

of the doge could afford.


Terms? The money could not be withdrawn at any time for any reason until

the term was up. The money had to go to the lawful husband of the daughter

for whom the Monte account was created.


So: The daughter had to live to see the end of the term AND had to be

legally married (ie. in a consummated marriage) at the time of maturity.


If she did not marry by the end of the term, the Monte account could be

held and used at a later time. But the money could only be withdrawn and

given to her legal husband. This was NOT a money-market account for Dad.


If she died before marriage, the Monte account reverted to the City of

Florence -- original investment, interest and all.


If the girl entered a convent and took religious vows, the Monte account

reverted to the City of Florence -- original investment, interest and all.

In Florence at that time, many of the girls of marriageable age who

entered the convent were thought to be unmarriageable.


The article I got this information from was interesting, because it showed

that many of the families who got into the Monte during the first years

falsified their young daughters' ages. If they had a ten-year term and

their daughter was ten, it meant that she could not get the money -- and

thus secure a marriage contract -- until she was twenty; in most upper

class families in Florence, this was nigh onto spinsterhood (most women

married between 13 and 17). So when they registered with the Monte, they

pushed back daughters' ages a few years to get them to a "marriageable" age.


They found this out by comparing tax roll information (Florentine census)

with the Monte records. They were able to compare about 970 records this way.


If anyone's interested in reading the article I got this information from,

the author is Anthony Mohlo, and the article "Deception and Marriage

Strategy" is the first article in the Summer 1988 _Renaissance Quarterly_.




Caitrin Gordon, Delftwood, Aethelmearc

bcfrench at mailbox.syr.edu



From: djheydt at uclink.berkeley.edu (Dorothy J Heydt)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Italian Dowry Fund

Date: 8 Nov 1993 04:22:53 GMT

Organization: University of California, Berkeley


Barbara C. French <bcfrench at mothra.syr.edu> wrote:

>A couple weeks ago, I posted something about the dowry insurance offered

>in Florence in the 15th century. Dorothea of Caer-Myrriden (sp?) asked me

>if I got my facts straight on when the fund was unavailable. My answer is:

>Yes -- and here's a brief recap and explanation:


[nice clear explanation deleted to save bandwidth]


How very interesting.  As you said, the City would _not_ pay a dowry

if the investor's daughter went into the convent.  There was probably

some perfectly sound economic, not religious, reason.


There's a bit of dialogue from Fry's _The Lady's Not for Burning_

that seems to apply (quoted from memory, so don't nit-pick me):


"I am quite usual, with five elder sisters.  My father thought

he'd never be able to find husbands for us all, so he decided to

simplify things by letting me marry God.  He gave me to a convent."


"What kind of showing did he think he would make as God's father-



"He let his beard grow longer.  But then he found that husbands fell

into my sisters' laps.  So he stopped thinking of God as eligible--

no prospects, he thought.  So he looked around and found me Humphrey

Devize.  Do you think he'll do?"


"Probably.  He isn't God, of course."


Dorothea of Caer-Myrddin          Dorothy J. Heydt

Mists/Mists/West                   UC Berkeley

Argent, a cross forme'e sable           djheydt at uclink.berkeley.edu



From: sclark at chass.utoronto.ca (Susan Carroll-Clark)

Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban

Subject: Re: Chastity belt an urban myth

Date: 16 Jul 1996 14:24:13 -0400




In a followup I seemed to have missed, someone said,

>Could you share your debunking with us? "Droit du seigneur" is cross-

>referenced in Brewer's under "Jus primae noctis"; the entry says, in

>part: "The custom seems to have existed in early medieval Europe to a

>limited extent but was more often the excuse for levying dues in lieu."

>Are you saying it didn't exist at all?


No. Few scholars of the topic will debate its existence in limited locales, usually in France, and as you say, usually for the excuse for levying a fine. Even that may be misunderstood. A recent query to the Medtextl listserv brought the following cite from Peter Binkley, which might help shed some light on the matter:


"See Alain Boureau, _Le droit de cuissage: La fabrication d'un mythe, XIIIe-XXe siecle_ (Paris: Albin Michel, 1995). It received a bravura review in the TLS , Oct. 6 1995, p.44, by Peter Linehan, who wrote: "[Boureau] is exigent in his taxonomy. Not any lordly lust will satisfy him. He will only consider cases of legal entitlement to a payment in lieu of ravishing a female feudal dependant on her wedding night. By that reckoning, all but five of the dossier's seventy-two "proofs" for the existence of the practice turn out either to be legendary or to involve a confusion with something entirely different, namely _merchet_, the payment made for "formarriage", when (in F.W. Maitland's words) "the girl married outside the vill", an event about as lubricious as a parish fete on a wet Saturday. And such is the virtuoso quality of the author's dismissal of the claims of the remainder that the reader is left regretting that there were not more of them deserving of his scalpel and his lancet." Although the myth is found as early as 1247, it flourished in the 16th century and especially around the time of the French Revolution."


The always reliable (in medievalist circles) Jim Marchand added, " According to the Book of Leinster, King Conchobar had the _jus primae noctis_ in his realm.". That must be one of the early medieva references cited by Brewer. It has also been noted that the motif appears in the epic of Gilgamesh.


In the particular case of "Braveheart", however, it seems quite easy to prove that Edward I never proclaimed it as law as a way to subjugate the Scots. Suffice it to say that it is not covered in Bracton, the most contemporary legal treatise in England, there is no mention of such a proclaimation by ANY historian of the period, there is no evidence, even allusory in any collection of legal documents dating from the reign of Edward I, and in fact, no one has yet provided even _one clear--or even unclear citation which could refer to the custom_ for England or Scotland in the period under discussion. And yes, I've looked--13th century English history is my primary field of study.


So, to wind this up....yes, the custom perhaps existed in a limited fashion in some areas of Europe, but certainly not to the extent believed in modern popular culture, and (so far) definitely not in England or Scotland during the time of Edward I. It is an exception, not a rule, in medieval law.


Susan "But Patrick McGoohan made a _great_ EdwardI" Carroll-Clark

PhD student, Medieval History, University of Toronto

sclark at chass.utoronto.ca



Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2001 22:24:18 -0500

To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

From: "Sharon R. Saroff" <sindara at pobox.com>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] period traditions


Actually Alban you are in error.  Droit de seigneur is mentioned in the

Book of Esther-the story read on the Jewish Holiday of Purim.  I am not

sure what it was called in ancient Persia, but I know that was something

that I learned in Hebrew school when we learned the book of Esther. We

also learned that it happened in later periods.  It is supposedly one of

the reasons why Jews combined the two parts of the Jewish wedding ceremony

into one.  Before the 13th century the Erusin (what we would refer to as

Prenuptual) and the Nesuin (actual marraige ceremony) were separate. There

was usually a year or so between them.  They were combined sometime during

the 1200's partially to prevent the item of Droit de seigneur.  The tenaim

(betrothal contract) was also not announced until just before the actual



HL Sindara


At 06:54 PM 12/10/01 -0500, Stefan wrote:

>>Some of these traditions such as "droit de seigneur" where the lord

>>got first dibs with the serf's bride on the wedding night are sometimes

>>difficult for modern folks to understand or at least they wonder why

>>it was allowed.


>Errrr, it wasn't. Modern historical thinking suggests that droit de seigneur

>didn't exist; it was a myth imposed on those times by later historians with

>a bad attitude.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org