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Return of Martin Guerre, 1556

Martin Guerre, a French peasant, married Bertrande de Rols in 1538. She bore him one son. But in 1548, after a falling out with his father, Martin disappeared. Eight years passed without any sight of him. Because of Catholic law, Bertrande could not remarry. But in 1556 Martin suddenly returned. Or did he?

The man who claimed to be Martin Guerre was similar in appearance and knew many details of Guerre's life. Bertrande accepted him as her husband, and lived with him for three years, bearing him two children. But when the new Martin sued his uncle for part of the inheritance of his father, the uncle became suspicious and accused him of being an impostor. Specifically, the uncle claimed that the new Martin was actually Arnaud du Tilh, a man from a nearby town.

The case went through a series of trials and appeals. The court seemed to be favoring the authenticity of the new Martin, until suddenly the original Martin Guerre showed up. He had been serving in the Spanish army, where he had lost a leg.

The fake Martin Guerre was executed. The real one eventually reconciled with his wife, who bore him another child.

A film based on the story of Martin Guerre was released in 1982.

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.