Sun 21 Aug, 2011 11:54 am
I think in the Middle Ages, the lord of the manner held certain rights over a young couple who wished to marry.
What was it called? What did it entail?
It should be lord of the manor
meaning house and territory. I assume you are referring to Droit du seigneur
or "first right". I am going to cut and paste wikipedia to save time:
Droit du seigneur (/ˈdrɑː də seɪnˈjɜr/; French pronunciation: [dʁwa dy sɛɲœʁ]) is a term now popularly used to describe an alleged legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters. While the modern power of the myth is undeniable, there is no historical evidence for such a right ever having existed.
There is an old movie called The Warlord
with Charlton Heston that explores this theme. Not a great piece of film making, but fun.
Droit du seigneur
in French; jus primea noctis
in church Latin.
Btw, I disagree with the Wikipedia article to this extent -- the right, so-called, certainly existed or, at least, was claimed by some barbaric chieftains. The only question is how much it was actually exercised. It was, it would seem, a pretty rare occurence in spite of 20th century romance novels.
Additionally, manors were units of land ownership, and serfs were bound to the land, but not necessarily bound to the "lord" of the manor. If the property were sold or otherwise transferred, those bound to the land went with it. Furthermore, someone could owe labor service on a manor, and still own land of their own, and essentially be both serf and free holder. Each manor house represented a unit of property from which a return were expected, and would be administered by a bailiff or a reeve. For however stupid and arrogant the owner of the manor might be, the bailiff or reeve would know well enough that to get useful labor out of the serfs, he'd have to conciliate them. A serf would work strip fields, and one in each three strips he worked would be for himself. To get him to work well on the two strips from which the manor derived its production meant that you didn't want to piss him off unnecessarily. I seriously doubt that any "lords" of manors would attempt to exercise such a right, and if they did, i suspect it would only have been done on the home farm--the manor which surrounded their residence. Even then, it would have been unwise.
After the Great Death of the 14th century, peasant labor became far too valuable to be playing any stupid games such as that. Labor was a seller's market, and a brutal manager of a manor house could expect most, if not all, of his labor force to desert him--and there are records of just such desertions taking place. All over Europe, feudal rulers tried, and failed, to end the migration of labor by statute. In the end, the only way they could "keep 'em down on the farm" was to treat them well, and to pay them for labor which once had been "free" labor service. The Black Death killed off serfdom in all but Russia and a few corners of central Europe--and those areas did not prosper.