II: Mistaken Identity – France, 1556

Hi all, and welcome back. Today, I have a strange one for you!

It’s a classic tale of boy marries girl, boy disappears, boy comes back (but looks different), girl has two children with boy, and boy turns out not to be the original boy. ‘Did I miss this episode of Eastenders’ you ask? No, this actually happened.

Let me set the scene for you – the French Pyrenees, 1527. Martin Guerre was born, fast forward to 1548 and he is married to Bertrande de Rols with a son. Later on, Guerre abruptly disappears (it is thought because he was accused of stealing grain from his father) leaving his family.

8 years later, ‘Martin Guerre’ (note the quotation marks here) returns. Almost everyone was convinced – Bertrande was convinced enough to have two children with him! The imposter was challenged by villagers in 1559, but was acquitted of any charges because of her dedication to him.

But could this impersonator get away with this lie forever? The answer is no. It eventually led to a trial in Rieux where the impostor was exposed as Arnaud du Tilh – a man with a notorious reputation from a few towns over. He maintained his innocence, until his conviction where he was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged outside Martin Guerre’s house later on that week.

The reason this case is so interesting to me is that it’s so strange. I just cannot imagine this happening in the present day! I would love to have been in Bertrande’s head as Arnaud a.k.a. Fake Martin turned up at their door. Is it really possible you could mistake your husband for another man? Or did she acknowledge that she needed a man given her financial and social situation, and this seemed like a reasonable option?

I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer but I know one thing for sure: this would make a darn good Hollywood blockbuster.

Bye for now,
Lucinda

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