Lusty Kings: Right of the First Night

In doing some reading for school, (yes, I can hear you all say: "Lauren? Actually doing schoolwork? :eek:) I came across a small tidbit that might shed some light on the “right of the first night”, if not that it occured, but where the story comes from.

Lactantius, a Christian historian of the Late Roman empire, is a horribly horribly biased source. He slanders the non-Christian emperors (especially the ones that persecuted Christians) terribly. He says about Galerius: “nor did he ever sup without being spectator of the effusion of human blood.” (just to give you an idea)

Now the relevant tidbit. Whan talking about Maximin Daia, he says:

While I sincerely doubt the veracity of these claims, I think it’s important that this was used as a way to denigrate him. Could it have been used the same way with medival kings?

Didn’t Cecil address this once?

Did medieval lords have “right of the first night” with the local brides?

Psst… astro, this is comments on Cecil’s columns.

The thing that strikes me about this law is that it seems like overkill. If you’re powerful enough to invoke it, I’m pretty sure you can just point at someone and say, “Hey! You! Midnight! My castle! Be there!”

Back on track. I’d assume this question unanswerable beyond a simple “COULD have been? Yeah. Could have been.”

Suetonious claims that Caligula committed similar acts (Lives of the Cesars, Book IV - Gaius Caligula, Chapter XXV), so there’s precedent for the (claimed) acts of Maximin Daia. Though Caligula is not said to have made it into a law.

It is possible however that it was used as a tool to defame character.

Sorry thought I was in GQ.:o

“At length, he introduced a custom prohibiting marriage unless with the imperial permission; and he made this an instrument to serve the purposes of his lewdness.”

TREWAVBP (The Roman Empire Was a Very Big Place) :slight_smile: The logistics of requiring approval from one man, or even one central office, for every wedding in a state governing millions of people across an area that took several days to traverse strongly suggests this is not true. Heck, the U.S. can be crossed by a message instantly and by a person in eight hours, but the bureacracy, delay, and inconvenience would be unthinkable if each marriage in the U.S. had to be licensed centrally instead of at the county level!

Then again, one of the emperors (Diocletian?) thought he could completely freeze wages and prices and keep people in the same jobs from one generation to the next. :eek:

Well, Maximin Daia was really only emperor of about 1/5 of the empire. Still, I agree that it is a law not easily put into proctice if it did indeed exist.

You are assuming the law applied to all. It is much more likely the law applied to the knightly and senatorial classes in and around Rome (or wherever his capital was at the time).

I can see quite good logic in having a law controlling marriages in an era when marriages were a major means of consolidating power bases.

As others have pointed out, being emporer had a few perks along with the remarkably short life-expectancy. Being able to demand the favors of most women was one of these.

It makes a good story, anyway. I think I recall the right of the first night (or a more subtle version of it) as being a plot element in Beaumarchais/Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Certainly this sort of thing could survive as a liberty taken by a story teller as a convenient motivator and/or character descriptor in a fiction or “historical drama”.

Sorry… just re-read the column. Late night…

This may be true. On the other hand, it does strike me that it would be by no means the strangest thing that Caligula did. My history lecturer, Dr Chris Forbes, comments that Caligula was not exactly insane. "He was simply demonstrating the perfectly sane reaction to not having been told ‘No!’ since he was five years old . . :slight_smile:

Point being, Caligula was nuts. So whilst this in no way rules out another Roman made such a law, it’s worth putting that in perspective!