Posted Dec 23, 2014 by Martin Armstrong
A few people have asked what is my source for Prima Noctum since Wikipedia claims it is a myth. Sorry, but Wikipedia is seriously wrong in this department for the problem in their research is the classic error in politics – research not the act but the right. They have concluded it must be a myth because they cannot find written evidence of a king taking a bride on her wedding night. That is not actually the issue at hand. Research the RIGHT or PRIVILEGE and then follow the MONEY.
Some have argued that there is no strict evidence of Prima Noctum being a legal right of kings in medieval times. This is really shallow research. There is actually a ton of a substantial amount of evidence that surrounds this “right” that many have tried to argue is only a myth. The right or privilege of Prima Noctum emerges from the actual act of marriage. The financial records of every king and every manorial lord are full of fines paid by women at all levels of society to be allowed to choose their own husbands or to stay single. There are even records of a fine paid by a village man to avoid marriage with a particular widow of the village in England. We will publish this research in an up coming special report for BIG BANG – the Pension Crisis.
The legal status of all people was rather simple. You were the PROPERTY of the king which was a major legal question for the founding of the United States. If you were English and killed someone in Paris, the French king could not prosecute you. Instead, he sent you in chains back to your king who OWNED you for ONLY he could punish you. The Founding Fathers revolted against this principle and as such territorial jurisdiction was born so anyone who commits a crime on US soil is prosecuted here and not shipped back to their monarch. The United States was actually more than freedom from taxation, it was a revolution against the medieval RIGHT of a king who owned you as property.
Consequently, to understand Prima Noctum you must comprehend the entire legal right of ownership of the king, which those who drafted Wikipedia do not. The marriages of all children, including girls, were also subject to the permission of the father’s actual lord and peers. His fellow vassals at the upper levels of society or fellow villagers at the lower had to approve each marriage. There was no freedom to marry whoever you wanted. None of this Hollywood love at first sight nonsense. Anyone who ran off and married risked death, any offspring labelled bastards, and the confiscation of all property. So this Prima Noctum (jus primae noctis) stems from the fact that even a father had no legal right to consent to the marriage of his daughter without the permission of the king or lord. We will include the research to be published in coming Pension Crisis for this was also the origin of pensions as well.
If a father died, it became the king or lord’s duty to provide for the marriage of the surviving daughter or son. There was some abuse of this duty that became known as Prima Noctum, however, this is were we must follow the RIGHT or PRIVILEGE rather than just the mere act itself.
Prima Noctum was a RIGHT or PRIVILEGE that appeared in ancient Asia or modern day Middle East that surfaces in Europe after the fall of Rome when people become serfs and private property vanishes. Herodotus ( c. 484–425 BC) in fact mentions a similar custom among the tribe of the “Adyrmachidae” in distant ancient Libya: “They are also the only tribe with whom the custom obtains of bringing all women about to become brides before the king, that he may choose such as are agreeable to him.” The nobleman’s right to a woman’s virginity appears very early in written stories. King Gilgamesh of Uruk makes use of his noble right to bed the female (and the male if he chooses) in the epic poem Gilgamesh.
This was not a Roman custom for there the family was sacred. Augustus (27BC-14AD) instituted family laws. His goal in restoring public monuments and reviving religion was not simply to renew faith and pride in the Roman Empire, he had hoped that these steps would restore moral standards in Rome for the Republic fell into a period like the ’60s Free Love rebellion. Augustus also enacted social reforms as a way to improve morality. He felt particularly strong about encouraging families to have children and discouraging adultery. He politically and financially rewarded families with three or more children. This incentive stemmed from his belief that there were too few legitimate children born from “proper marriages.” On the other hand, he penalized unmarried men older than 38 years old by imposing on them an additional tax that others did not have to pay. They were also debarred from receiving inheritances and attending public games. Furthermore, the Lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus prohibited celibacy and childless marriages, as well as made marriage compulsory. Yet, marriage was voluntary and a human right since you were not considered to be the property of the state.
Augustus Denarius Showing His Family
Augustus also amended divorce laws to make them much stricter. Prior to this, divorce had been fairly free and easy. Someone just said I hereby divorce you and marry someone else on the same day. In addition, after Augustus’ reforms, adultery became a civil crime instead of a personal crime under the Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis. In other words, it became a crime against the state, which meant that the state (not just the husband) could take an adulterer to court if there was evidence of adultery. Penalties for adultery included banishment, or sometimes the husband or father of the adulterer could kill an adulterous wife. Augustus’ own daughter, Julia, was banished for adultery after this new legislation. She was exiled to a desolate island called Pandateria.
Augustus also sought to outlaw prostitution indirectly by ordering a coin with his image could not be used to pay for sex when all coins bore his image – clever, but not clever enough. Hence, we find prostitute tokens have survived where the customer bought the token to pay the prostitute and she could then redeem it. Clearly, one was free to marry and divorce without the state’s approval.
Therefore, the medieval myth that this privilege of Prima Noctum emerged from Rome was popular but totally unfounded. This right or privilege emerges in Europe AFTER the fall of Rome where people then sell themselves to a local lord for protection. This begins the age of serfdom where people became the property of the lord.
The earliest mention post-the Dark Age of the right of Prima Noctum appears in a text from 15th Century Switzerland which references the Lord of Maur demanding the right to take either the virginity of a bride or a fee, to be paid on the behalf of the betrothed. This right or privilege seems to emerge post-Black Plague during the 14th century. This is when labor becomes scarce after about 50% of Europe dies. Two things converge – (1) shortage of labor causes wages to emerge and (2) with the reintroduction of wages comes taxes, fines, and fees.
This right of Prima Noctum appears to be merely symbolic, as the fee was now required to be paid by the husband or the lord would take the girl on her wedding night. It is a blend of the right of ownership of all serfs with the implementation of taxes. Clearly, this right is commingled with the right of the king or lord to grant permission to get married.
Nonetheless, during 1556 in the Recueil d’arrestz notables des courts souveraines de France of French lawyer and author Jean Papon (1505-1590) mentions this right of Prima Noctum. There had been previously two types of marriage in France known as temporary and permanent until the Catholic Church insisted on only permanent marriages. Charlemagne married all his daughters in only a “temporary” marriage meaning that they possessed no legal right to the throne or property. That was the distinction between the two types.
The practice of Prima Noctum was perhaps indeed more of a tax/fee that emerged from such a right as a threat – pay-up or the king plays. It may have indeed been the abuse of some lords or kings after the black death given the shortage of women, but written records are scarce during this immediate period. Obviously, this privilege emerged from the fact that the lord or king possessed the supreme decision over whether or not the girl could marry and to whom. This was like the Speaker of the House in Congress is the only one who decides to bring some act to the floor for a vote. The ultimate blackmail.
Actual intercourse in the exercise of the alleged right is difficult to prove, and there is no hard evidence to suggest that it ever actually happened. The surviving records show all sorts of fees being paid concerning marriage but no ledger entries concerning the lack of a fee paid. Clearly, people paid a fee to the king for a marriage instead of sending their bride to his bed-chamber. If she did go, there was no need to make an entry in the accounts since no money changed hands.
The idea that Prima Noctum was a right always executed by a king or lord must be looked at in the full context, not just if he took some girl for the first night. He might be too busy to do that every day. It always came down to money and the threat of that consequence was a good incentive to pay-up. Keep in mind that taxes during medieval times were actually fair. The king had NO RIGHT to tax the people unless the money was needed for defense of the nation. The king of England was forced to seek the consent of Parliament to impose taxes. To this day, a bill must be entered into Congress to impose a tax. This is all historical tradition. Prima Noctum was not a tax “legally”, it was a “fee”. The entire trial by jury forced upon the king in Magna Carta was to curb the king’s revenue quest by fines and fees – not taxes.
Nevertheless, the idea of Prima Noctum absent the money alternative became rather accepted belief in France after Voltaire (1694 –1778) accepted this practice as historically standard in his Dictionnaire philosophique. Indeed, there are several instances of this practice which have been observed elsewhere including as late as the 19th-century where some Kurdish chieftains (khafirs) reserved the right to the first night with brides on their wedding night.
Therefore, the records are plentiful demonstrating fees and fines being paid to the king concerning weddings. Could a king take a particular girl on the first night – of course. It was absolutely his right for nobody could even be married without his permission. The obligation to pay the state some “fee” to this day to obtain a marriage license is the final evolution of this practice.