The Two Faces of Martin Guerre: A Case of Mistaken Identity?”

The Two Faces of Martin Guerre: A Case of Mistaken Identity?”

A born actor, Arnaud had little difficulty in convincing the villagers that he was Martin. How did he fool Bertrande? How could a wife not know that the man she was living with was an impostor? Or did she know?

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The Two Faces of Martin Guerre: A Case of Mistaken Identity?”

On September 16, 1560, in the small French village of Artigat in the foothills of the Pyrenees, an unusually large crowd gathered to witness the execution of a young peasant. He was neither a murderer nor a thief, but a man who had tried to pull off an audacious confidence trick – and had very nearly succeeded.

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The affair had begun in the summer of 1556, when news reached Bertrande Guerre that her long-lost husband, Martin, was on his way home to Artigat. He had disappeared eight years earlier, after a visit to his native Spain, and his wife and family had not heard from him since.

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Martin Guerre’s return was celebrated in style. Everyone agreed that he looked a little different – stockier, with darker hair and a beard – but it might be expected that a man would change as he grew older. Only Martin’s uncle, Pierre, voiced any doubts. He insisted that the man was an impostor, bent on robbing the family of its property.

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It was Bertrande who settled the matter. Unsure at first, she quickly confirmed that the man was indeed Martin Guerre. She welcomed him home, reintroduced him to his son, and helped him to get reacquainted with their neighbors.

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But the man was not her husband. He was an opportunist named Arnaud du Tilh.

A Chance Encounter

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Arnaud first had the idea of impersonating Martin when two men he met on the road had mistaken him for the missing man. Arnaud gathered information about Martin, his family, and his property, and before long had created a detailed picture of Martin’s past life.

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A born actor, Arnaud had little difficulty in convincing the villagers that he was Martin. How did he fool Bertrande? How could a wife not know that the man she was living with was an impostor? Or did she know?

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Perhaps Bertrande went along with the deception willingly. Her marriage to Martin had not been happy, and his disappearance had put her in a difficult position. Without a husband, yet neither single nor widowed, she was an outcast in her own community. When the handsome and charming Arnaud appeared, he may have seemed to offer her the chance she needed to start life anew. Whatever Bertrande’s role, she and Arnaud lived as man and wife for three years.

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But Martin’s uncle would not let his suspicions lie and took steps to discover the true identity of the man calling himself Martin Guerre. Gradually he accumulated evidence and found witnesses who could positively identify the impostor as Arnaud du Tilh. Pierre pressed Bertrande to take legal action against him. Reluctant she agreed, and Arnaud was brought to trial.

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The trial went well for Arnaud. He seemed to know every detail of Martin life, past and present. Where did he get the information? Was it from Bertrande? Then, just as it seemed he had persuaded the court that he was Martin Guerre, the real Martin Guerre suddenly appeared and the true story gradually unfolded.

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After leaving Artigat, the real Martin had crossed the Pyrenees to Spain and joined the Spanish Army. He soldiering ended when he lost a leg in battle; he became a lay brother in a religious order. It is not known why, after an absence of many years, he decided to return to his old life. Neither is it certain whether or not he had heard about the impostor before his return, or only discovered it afterward. But it was a timely reappearance.

Instant Recognition

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The arrival of a second Martin did not settle the case immediately. When each man was asked to relate details of his past life, Arnauld’s account was more accurate than that of the real Martin. But when Bertrande was bought into court, all doubts were removed. At the first sight of the newcomer she burst into tears and ran to embrace him. For the court this was proof enough of Arnauld’s guilt, and he was sentenced to be hanged.

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On the day of his execution, Arnaud made a full confession. But he refused to discuss Bertrande’s part in the affair, maintaining to the end that she was innocent. Just how much Bertrande really knew remains a mystery.

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18 Comments
cardy, posted this comment on Oct 11th, 2009

What a good read loved it nice work for you.

ken bultman, posted this comment on Oct 11th, 2009

Great story…one I had not heard before with an ending that could not have been better. Appreciate this one a lot.

Uma Shankari, posted this comment on Oct 11th, 2009

A great narration – enjoyed every bit. Definitely, the wife didn’t know: otherwise she wouldn’t have gone running to the real man.

CHAN LEE PENG, posted this comment on Oct 11th, 2009

You always have something different to show. Thanks! :-)

cutedrishti8, posted this comment on Oct 11th, 2009

thanks for this unique one

Shirley Shuler, posted this comment on Oct 11th, 2009

A great story, I enjoyed reading it very much, I love history, keep up the good work!!

Inna Tysoe, posted this comment on Oct 12th, 2009

I read the book–and was very sorry for Bertrande too.

Regards,

Inna

monica55, posted this comment on Oct 12th, 2009

A very interesting and enjoyable read. Well done.
Monica.

Idazalee, posted this comment on Oct 12th, 2009

Very interesting story..I really enjoyed it.. well-presented and great read as usual. Thanks Mr Ghaz. :)

papaleng, posted this comment on Oct 12th, 2009

I enjoy reading this one, very interesting and intriguing turn of events.

STEVE666, posted this comment on Oct 12th, 2009

Interesting tale, Mr Ghaz. Your articles are always so well presented.

wonder, posted this comment on Oct 12th, 2009

Great, for a movie. An engaging article you’ve written.Wonders never cease!

Sherry Wallace, posted this comment on Oct 14th, 2009

I enjoyed the story, mrghaz. Very interesting.

pennsylvaniamom, posted this comment on Oct 14th, 2009

This is very similar to the movie “Somersby” with Richard Gere and Jodi Foster. Intriguing stories, both.

Phill Senters, posted this comment on Oct 14th, 2009

Intriguing story Mr. G. Another good one.

hollynoel001, posted this comment on Oct 14th, 2009

another very interesting story:))

susan, posted this comment on Oct 14th, 2009

Very interesting tale.

John, posted this comment on Oct 14th, 2009

Like this story.

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