p-customs-msg - 3/22/02
Unusual period customs.
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.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
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
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)
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)
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
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.