Historian Natalie Zemon Davis wrote an informative novel
about the lives of peasants in the sixteenth century. Entitled The Return of Martin Guerre, Davis tells a true story about a law suit against a man claiming to be someone he is not. She
familiarizes the reader with peasantry, laws, and moral attitudes of the time.
The story begins in 1527 with a family move from the French Basque country to the village of Artigat. There the Daguerre family settled and started a tileworks business; a prosperous business in the sixteenth century. They eventually started
businesses in wheat, millet, vines, and sheep. To be accepted in the new town the family had to make some changes such as speaking a different dialect, dropping the “Da” from their name thus pronouncing and spelling it “Guerre,” and also in style of dress. As for the Guerre women, life in the village of Artigat was a drastic change. No longer could they push ahead of the men to make their offerings at parish mass or go about the church to collect for the vestry. The Guerre’s seemed to like their new lives, their family grew, and they became successful in their trade.
In 1538 the only son of the Guerre family, Martin, got
married to Bertrande de Rols, the beautiful daughter of a
well-off family. After much trying they have one son. In 1548 the rich peasant disappeared from the village of Artigat after a family dispute over his stealing some grain from his father. Martin Guerre left his wife and child behind without a trace. In these days a wife could not marry in the absence of her husband unless she has proof of his death, even if he has been gone for twenty years. Bertrande was left with the burdens of being a single mother for the next eight years, until Martin returned, or so she thought.
In 1556 a peasant from a French village called Sajas was
traveling, possibly leaving town to avoid punishment for...