From the late Middle Ages to "The Marriage of Figaro" to Mel Gibson's "Braveheart," the ultimate symbol of feudal barbarism has been the "droit de cuissage," or right of a feudal lord to sleep with the bride of a vassal on her wedding night. The "droit de cuissage" even resurfaced in the debate over the French Penal Code of 1992 as a synonym for sexual harassment.
But, as Alain Boureau elegantly demonstrates in this book, the "droit de cuissage" is a myth. Under contextual examination, nearly all the supposed evidence for this custom melts away--yet belief in it has survived for seven hundred years. Boureau shows how each era turned the mythical custom to its own ends. For instance, in the late Middle Ages, monarchists raised the specter of the "droit de cuissage" to rally public opinion against local lords, and partisans of the French Revolution pointed to it as proof of the corruption of the Ancien Regime.
A fascinating case study of the folklore of sexuality, "The Lord's First Night" also offers evocative insights into popular (mis)conceptions of the Middle Ages.
On the French edition: "A richly informative study of attitudes to the past and the manipulation of history down the ages."--Peter Linehan, "Times Literary Supplement"