The Return of Martin Guerre
History 3230: Early Modern Europe
The Return of Martin Guerre is a reconstruction of the famous case of Martin Guerre's return to the small town of Artigat in Southern France after being absent for eight years. However, "Martin" is actually an impostor named Arnaud du Tilh, or Pansette. He is accepted by his wife, family, and friends for over three years. After the so-called Martin Guerre has a dispute over family finances and the sale of some land that the family owns and maintains, he is accused by his uncle and father-in-law Pierre Guerre of being an impostor and thief. There are two trials, the first in the regional city of Rieux and the second in Toulouse. “Martin” is found guilty of being an impostor and sentenced to death. "Martin Guerre" appeals the case to the regional Parliament of Toulouse. The judges are close to acquitting “Martin” when the real Martin Guerre, with a wooden leg, shows up. Armand du Tilh is positively identified as an imposter and sentenced to death. The thesis or themes that Natalie Zemon Davis discusses throughout the book have to deal mostly with Bertrande and the impersonation of Martin Guerre. Why did Bertrande go along with “Martin’s” lies? Was she lonely? Or does Bertrande take advantage of the opportunity to have a better husband and lover than she did before? At one point, Zemon Davis seems to hypothesize that Bertrande is in a conspiracy to coordinate her stories with Martin, even though she knows he is an impostor. Is this to say that she was willing to risk her life to keep their marriage and her love for “Martin”, Armand du Tilh alive? How is it that “Martin” kept the stories of the real Martin’s life in order? Zemon Davis discusses the fact that it was easy for the Deguerres to change their identities to the Guerres when they moved to Artigat, so maybe the changing of Armand du Tilh to “Martin” wasn’t as hard as it would seem. The fact that most peasants were illiterate and didn’t have...
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