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History in Martin Guerres story

The story of Martin Guerre, a sixteenth-century French Basque peasant, is one of the most compelling stories to come down to us from the distant past. It has inspired a play, two novels, an operetta, and two movies, mostly because it is a true story. Firstly, the book presents Martin Guerre who was born as Martin Daguerre in the village of Hendaye, in the French Basque country, in 1525. Two years later, his father Sanxi moved the family: his wife, his unmarried younger brother, Betrisantz and two-year-old Martin, to Artigat, a village in the Pyrenees under the jurisdiction of Languedoc. Sanxi was the heir to his fathers house and lands and, as the Basque custom said, the oldest son inherited all of the fathers property after the fathers death. So, Martin was next in line to inherit the family property, since he was the first son, because only after they moved to Artigat he had four sisters. The Daguerres tried their best to accommodate to the new place: they changed their family name to Guerre, Betrisantz changed his name to Pierre and they learned the local dialect of the traditional language of southern France, Occitan. Eleven years after they had moved to Artigat, Martin Guerre married a girl from another peasant family, Bertrande de Rols, and the young couple followed Basque custom by moving in with Martins father. As they could not consummate their marriage, Bertrandes family pressed for a separation. After eight years of consulting village "wise women", they finally had their first child, who was named Sanxi after his paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, Martin hated Artigat and seriously thought of going off to join the kings army, but Sanxi Guerre would not hear of it. So, in 1548, shortly after the birth of his son, Martin took some grain belonging to his father without asking his uncle permission, and fled Artigat, leaving his patrimony, his parents, his wife and his son. He went to Spain, learned Castilian, and served as a lackey in a Cardinals palace before becoming a soldier in the army of Frances enemy, Spain. On St. Lawrences day, 1557, the Spanish army routed the French and in the battle Martin was hit in the leg by a French harquebus, and then it had to be amputated. For Bertrande de Rols Martins disappearance was a catastrophe. But, in the summer of 1556, a man presented himself to her as the long-lost Martin Guerre. At first the villagers believed that this man was actually Martin Guerre, but, in fact, this man was Arnaud du Tilh, nicknamed "Pansette", " the belly" , 1

because of his lifestyle. He committed a series of petty thefts, and then went to serve in the army of Henry II in Picardy, which was exactly the place where Martin Guerre was fighting for Spain. Arnaud left Picardy around 1553, and on the way home, he met two of Martin Guerres friends, who mistook him for the missing peasant. It is not known where Arnaud lived for the next three years, but it is certain that he spent them learning everything he could about Martin and went back to Artigat as Bertrandes husband. On one hand, he didnt look exactly like Martin, but the peasants had no pictures of the man eight years departed so Arnauds theatrical skills had the villagers convinced that he was Martin Guerre. However, Bertrande realized that this man was not her husband, but she was willing to help him "become" her lost one. For years she had yearned for another husband, who, unlike Martin Guerre, could make her happy and this situation was her dream come true. So, with her help, Pansette continued to rehearse the role of Martin Guerre. On the other hand, the new Martin started to take commercial advantage of the Guerre holdings, and, contrary to Basque custom, he sold some parcels of the Guerre patrimony. Pierre Guerre, the administrator of his nephews estate in his absence, after Pansette claimed for the accounts he had kept after the death of Martins father, seriously began to wonder if this man was really his long-lost nephew and finally became convinced that Arnaud was an impostor, but Bertrande, who was greatly respected in Artigat for her "virtuous and honorable life", insisted that he was indeed her husband and refused to separate from him. Moreover, in the summer of 1559, a soldier, passing through Artigat, saw Pansette and told several villagers that he had seen Martin Guerre lose a leg at the siege of Saint-Quentin and therefore the man living with Bertrande was an impostor. Shortly thereafter, a barn on the lands of the seigneur of Lanoux burned to the ground and Pansette was charged with the crime so he was put into prison, being also accused for having usurped the marriage bed of another man". Pansettes impressive dramatic skills attracted many supporters. For all that, the dispute soon had all of Artigat divided between Pensettes supporters and Pierre Guerres ones and finally Jean dEscorneboefs evidence concerning Pansettes alleged arson was flimsy and Bertrande was able to secure his release from prison. Pierre Guerre was determined to take Pansette to court, and in late 1559, he acquired some new ammunition for his cause because Pansette was recognized as Arnaud du Tilh by an innkeeper from a nearby diocese and also someone else in the vicinity called him Pansette. Pierre got word of these incidents, and now he could name the imposter: Arnaud du Tilh. Pensette, Pierre Guerre, and Bertrande were all interviewed by the 2

judge, who then summoned 150 witnesses from the surrounding two dioceses. Some of these witnesses were members of Arnaud du Tilhs family and insisted that he was Pansette, or at least not Martin Guerre, while Martins four sisters insisted that the prisoner was their brother. The case was too confusing to the judge so the accused appealed to the Parliament of Toulouse. Jean Coras was the member of the Parliament of Toulouse charged to report the proceedings and to make a recommendation of the sentence. Coras decided that he trusted blood relatives above any of the other witnesses, but even here he ran into contradiction after contradiction. He rejected Pierres argument about the defendants ignorance of Basque because Martin had only been two when he left the Basque country, and it was entirely possible that he had never learned his parents native tongue. After eight years away from home, it was also possible that he had forgotten what he knew. Another argument against Arnaud, was the size of Pansettes shoes which was smaller than Martins size was. On the other hand, Coras trusted Pansette because of his perfect recall of everything about Martin Guerres life, including the detailed and personal information given. Then, Coras considered the evidence about Bertrande and her character because she had repeatedly insisted that this man was her husband. Furthermore, he considered Martins sisters quite trustworthy, and they bore a physical resemblance to the defendant. So Jean Corass decision was that Pansette was the real Martin Guerre. However, the Criminal Chamber of the Parliament was now ready to the make its final judgment of the case. Suddenly, a man hobbling on a wooden leg appeared right outside of the building in which the trial was being held, pretending to be Martin Guerre. And so it was, because Martins sisters recognized their long-lost brother and finally, Bertrande conceded that the returned man was the one she had been bound in matrimony to. Finally, Pansette was sentenced to be hanged for his crimes and Bertrande de Rols was forced to witness Pansettes execution shortly afterwards, and face life with the heartless man whom she has recognized as being her Martin Guerre. 1 Looking at the French film Le Retour de Martin Guerre (The Return of Martin Guerre) we can admit that it is one of the most famous accurate films about medieval life. The film is a strong study of French, specifically Basque peasant life showing the dilemmas of women in the person of Bertrande, who accepts the false Martin back even if she is convinced that he was an impostor. As it concerns reactions and
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interpretations, Natalie Zemon Davis argues that Bertrande agreed to the fraud because she needed a husband and she was also treated well by Arnaud. On the other hand, the historian Robert Finlay showed that N. Z. Davis tried to fit a modern societal model onto the historical account. He points to the improbability of Bertrande accusing her own accomplice, leading to a highly complicated situation where she runs the risk of having to defend herself against charges of adultery or false accusation. Finally, the 1982 film Le Retour de Martin Guerre, directed by Daniel Vigne, remains mostly true to the historic account, except for the fictional explanation of Bertrande's reasons in the end of the movie. On the same subject, in 1993 appears another movie- Sommersby, based on the 1982 French film, being one of those rare remakes which does not tarnish the image of its inspiration. However it is not a direct copy, there are differences not only in setting, but also as regards the script- with the exception of a few early scenes lifted almost directly from Martin Guerre, only the general trajectory of the movie remains the same. The transition from 16th century France to 19th century America works effectively, and allows a few surprises for those who are familiar with Martin Guerre. Firstly, Sommersby is a love story. Much screen time is devoted to the relationship between Jack and Laurel, the main characters, the action being placed at the end of the United States Civil War. Therefore, the French movie Le Retour de Martin Guerre is one of the few movies which generates a book. This book was thus written by Natalie Zemon Davis, a Canadian and American historian of early modern period, being also a historical consultant for Daniel Vigne. Davis states that her purpose in writing the book was that she was troubled when the film was "departing from the historical record" she also confessed why had she returned to her sources: "to find out why Martin Guerre left his village and where he went, how and why Arnaud du Tilh became an imposter, whether he fooled Bertande de Rols, and why he failed to make it stick". Her conclusions regarding the mentioned questions were very logical and acceptable. For example, despite the court's declaration that Bertrande was deceived by Arnaud du Tilh (which meant they could exonerate her), Davis contends she was not deceived and offered evidence to support that conclusion. The most compelling evidence was the fact that du Tilh had extensive knowledge regarding Martin and Bertrande's private life, which he could only have got from Bertrande herself. This suggests that Bertrande was helping him to assume Martin's identity. Moreover, it seemed very strange that someone as well known in the village of Artigat as Martin Guerre was, could be impersonated at all. The author offers three plausible reasons why this could happen: the first one is that a new Martin was wanted in Artigat, to fulfill his place in village society, another one that he came announced by his wife, uncle, and sisters which "predisposed people to accept him", and the last one is that the new Martin convinced them by 4

calling them by name and recalling anecdotes from the past. Natalie Zemon Davis used extensive primary sources in researching this book: the two accounts of the story of Martin Guerre that appeared shortly after the trial were given prominence in Davis' text. Chapters ten and eleven in the book offer background information of the two authors and here she points out some differences, for example Le Sueur says that the pseudo Martin "forgot the name of a godparent at Martin Guerre's confirmation, but in Corass story he never forgets". Davis contends that Coras wrote his book in that manner to be a moral tale. In conclusion, I chose this character, Martin Guerre, as being part of history because it reveals the whole peasant society of the sixteenth century, the end of medieval world. The story shows how people lived during the 100 years war, their everyday life, their laws, habits and moral attitudes of the time. The movie and the book also reflects a society in which there is a dualism in beliefs, on one hand the pagan ones in witchcrafts, and on the other hand in the holy church. As an example, the movie shows the unity of the family in the household, the way in which the inheritance was passed from father to the oldest son. On the other hand, the movie offers us an introspective upon the wedding tradition in the sixteenth century revealing the importance of having children immediately after the couple got married. It presents us the position of men and women in their society, the man who was the absolute leader of the family is presented working the fields and taking care of the household while women are on a weaker position in the family having to accept every decision, although, the dowry brought to the family was very important. As the historian confirm the movie brings an accurate image of peasant traditional clothing in the late medieval world. Moreover, regarding the laws and the punishments which were applied, we can see a complex image of an early modern law suit doubled by barbarian punishments. Finally, the movie and the book The return of Martin Guerre, based on a real story, covers a part of history with all its facts.

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