Paper Example on The Return of Martin Guerre

Published: 2023-02-21
Paper Example on The Return of Martin Guerre
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Judicial system Books Historical literature
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1196 words
10 min read

"The Return of Martin Guerre" by Natalie Zemon Davis recaptures the case that involved Martin's return to Artigat, Southern part of France, after spending more than eight years away from home (Davis, 2014). In a twist of events, it turned out that "Martin" was an impostor by the name Arnaud du Tilh. He is welcomed and embraced by Bertrande, Martin's wife, together with the family for more than three years. It was the dispute over the family finances and other properties that exposed "Martin," especially when he was accused of being an impostor by his father-in-law, Pierre Guerre. "Martin Guerre" is then subjected to the first trial at Rieux, where he was sentenced to death after being ruled as an impostor (Humbert, 2001). He later appealed the case at the regional parliament of Toulouse, where the arrival of real Martin Guerre dealt his impending acquittal a huge blow. Arnaud, the fake Martin undergoes great evolution where he almost earns acquittal after near-perfect persuasion of the learned judges that he was indeed Martin Guerre, which depicts him as a con artist.

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The evolution of Arnaud is demonstrated when he decides to impersonate Martin Guerre despite having different childhood upbringing and characters. As a child, he had a bad reputation as he valued gambling, drinking, and worse still prostitutes. He underwent great evolution and exhibited the character of a con artist, especially after learning that Martin had fled his home, leaving behind his wife and a young child. Arnaud, just like the typical conmen, took time to learn every detail of Martin Guerre to ensure that his plan of impersonating him does not backfire (Davis, 2014). Arnaud was very intelligent and talented, and he was expected to live a normal and prosperous life. However, he utilizes his wits to earn the acceptance of Bertrande, Martin's wife, for more than three years. Arnaud underwent an evolution to gain a new identity to enable him to fit perfectly in the family of Martin Guerre (Humbert, 2001). This evolution had historical propositions evidenced by the Daguerre family's move to adapt to the culture and language of Artigat after migrating from the Basque country during the sixteenth century.

Arnaud had a great desire to escape from the village, which he viewed as so constrained. He ultimately fled and joined the French Army. The hallmark of Arnaud's evolution was during 1553 when he was coming from Picardy battlefield, where he met Martin neighbors (Davis, 2014). They misidentified him as the lost man, and he utilizes the chance to learn so much detail of Martin's life, and it is this point where he hatched the plan to impersonate Martin and take his properties. Understandably, it was extraordinary in the sixteenth-century for a person to change his identity. However, the author demonstrates that some of the rural peasants were increasingly changing their identities to fit in a new cultural setting (Humbert, 2001). Notably, Arnaud's evolution was not only aimed at getting Martin's properties, but also he was in search of a new life. He was pursuing a radical transformation of his identity by assuming another person's name and inheritance.

Despite having no notable resemblance to the lost Martin Guerre, Arnaud was nonetheless accepted by Martin's wife together with his family, especially after Arnaud provided other non-physical shreds of evidence about their past events (Davis, 2014). It is worth noting that it would have been an uphill task to convince a modern family that a different person was their lost family member. This illustrates that the standard of evidence during the sixteenth-century was extremely low compared to the early modern evidential standards. Martin's family and his neighbors were not able to vividly recollect the physical attributes of Martin because he had no photograph or portrait. Furthermore, the evolution of Arnaud was given a new impetus by Bertrande, who became his accomplice in this game of deception (Tendler, 2017). Bertrande had been betrothed to Martin at a young age, and for this second time, she was hell-bent on getting involved in an "invented marriage." Notably, they were able to maintain this unconventional relationship as a contract reached before witnesses were enough to consider two individuals legitimately married during the sixteenth-century.

It is imperative to note that Arnaud made a religion transformation where he, together with Bertrande, became hinged on Protestantism. This was a reformed religion premised on individual connection to God without the involvement of a confessor, as in the case of Catholic belief (Davis, 2014). Arnaud and Bertrande found this Protestantism more fitting as there was no need for the priests to make decisions for them. During the sixteenth century, the societal identity was anchored on the property. After successfully gaining entry into Martin's family, Arnaud pursued the ambitious economic transformation of Guerre holdings, and this made him get into a war-path with Pierre Guerre. Arnaud's con artistry was evident when he started selling the ancestral lands that were a deviation from the conventional property management norms (Davis, 2014). Notably, the control of the property was significant in society during the sixteenth century, and it enabled the people to have an understanding of their identity. Arnaud's involvement in the unconventional disposal of the ancestral land was the beginning of Pierre's doubts on whether he is the real Martin, and his disinterest in swordplay gave credence to his doubts.

Understandably, Arnaud's evolution took a downward trend in 1559 when Rochefort narrated to the village that the real Martin was alive and depending on the wooden leg to move (Davis, 2014). This provided a strong foundation to decide on Martin's real identity by evaluating the physical evidence. Also, Arnaud's imprisonment by Jean d'Escornebeuf adversely affected his reputation (Tendler, 2017). More critically, Pierre forcefully made Bertrande testify against Arnaud as she was living in his house and was more dependent on him for financial support and better still, protection. Arnaud's imposture was illuminated by his character, which was unusual for the real Martin, and this is one of the factors that led to his downfall.

In conclusion, Arnaud managed to execute an extraordinary identity fraud for a long period. Understandably, this would not be possible in the early modern period where photography and fingerprints are always used to determine the real identity of one who attempts to con the people. Arnaud's transformation was intertwined with the conventional belief of attaching the property to identity. He exhibited great conman artistry by leveraging on the absence of Martin and learning his finer details to ensure that his imposture remains perfect. Moreover, his near-perfect imposture was reliant on Bertrande, who was his accomplice after realizing that Arnaud may not be her real husband. It is worth noting that the emergence of the reformed religion of Protestantism enabled Arnaud to develop a connection with God without involving the confessor. Notably, during the sixteenth century, there were no strong standards for evidence to determine the cases effectively, and the judges were reliant on the people's recollections, and this almost led to the acquittal of Arnaud.


Davis, N. Z. (2014). Martin Luther, Martin Guerre, and Ways of Knowing. Common knowledge, 20(1), 4-8.

Humbert, B. E. (2001). Re-making History and Cultural Identity: From" The Return of Martin Guerre to Sommersby". Film Criticism, 26(1), 2-24.

Tendler, J. (2017). The Return of Martin Guerre. Macat Library.

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