Martin Guerre Returns, Again

The saga of Martin Guerre continues, nearly five centuries after the birth of this obscure French peasant. His Basque family had settled in the southern French village of Artigat, where he married a local woman named Bertrande de Rois and had a son. In 1548, after being accused of theft, Martin disappeared suddenly at age twenty-four. Between 1548 and 1557, his whereabouts were unknown, and he was eventually presumed dead. But then a man claiming to be Martin appeared, looking enough like the long-lost Martin and knowing details of his earlier life so that Bertrande and many villagers in Artigat were convinced he had returned to resume married life with Bertrande. Martin and Bertrande did live as husband and wife. But Martin’s brother Pierre and others accused him of being an imposter and later identified him as Arnaud du Tilh (called “Pansette”), from a village in the area. The accusations resulted in court cases in 1559-60. During appeals to the Parlement de Toulouse (1560), the real Martin did indeed return as a war veteran with a peg-leg, and the judges condemned Arnaud to death for adultery with Bertrande. Then as now, the case made compelling reading—a morality tale with lurid details about love, abandonment, impersonation, betrayal, and ultimate punishment. These events were chronicled in two contemporary accounts. The most famous was an often reprinted account by the French jurist Jean de Coras (1515-72), one of the Toulouse judges, Arrest mémorable, du Parlement de Tolose (1561). The story would be retold for centuries and find a place in popular literature. It was even being turned into a movie, Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982), starring Gérard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye. And the story was reimagined during the American Civil War in another movie, Sommersby (1993), with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. The most important scholarly study is The Return of Martin Guerre (1983), by Natalie Zemon Davis, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emeritus, Princeton.

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to have acquired an unpublished Italian account of the case by the Pistoia humanist and poet Giovanni Battista Forteguerri (1508-82), Processo et Arresto ò sentenza data dal Parlamento di Tolosa sopra d’un fatto prodigioso et memorabile, tradotto di lingua Francese nella favella per M. Giovanni Battista Forteguerri, Dottore Pistorese, con cento annotationi ornate et aggiunte da lui. The paper manuscript, still in a contemporary limp-vellum binding, is Forteguerri’s 1591 autograph draft of his Italian translation and revision of the published account by Jean de Coras. Forteguerri prepared the manuscript for presentation to Christina de Lorraine (1565-1637), Grand Duchess of Tuscany, for whom Galileo would later write his 1615 letter. Forteguerri added a dedicatory letter to the Grand Duchess (fols. 3r-4v), dated April 1591, which is followed by his Italian translation (fols. 16r-178r), with substantial additions and revisions. Forteguerri rewrote particular portions of Jean de Coras’s text and added extensive Greek and Latin quotations from classical texts, thematically related to the case. No doubt he had consulted early printed editions, which were probably available at Pistoia’s Biblioteca Forteguerriana, founded by Niccolò Forteguerri (1419-73). Interestingly, there is no Greek text in the French and Latin editions of Jean de Coras’s text. The manuscript includes marginal bibliographic annotations in Latin, authorial corrections scattered throughout the text, and a “Sommail del fatto” (a separately booklet replacing Jean de Coras’s Argument & Sommaire du faict in French printed editions). The manuscript was formerly owned by Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja (1803-69). It was sold at the Libri sale, at Sotheby’s, London, on 28 March 1859, no. 382. The great British collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), of Middle Hill, Worcestershire, purchased the manuscript at the Libri sale and assigned it the Phillipps no. 16321. It was later offered for sale at Sotheby’s London, in Bibliotheca Phillippica: Catalogue of a Further Portion of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1910), no. 343; and by the New York antiquarian bookseller H. P. Kraus, in List 203 (1960), no. 132. Princeton acquired the manuscript from a bookseller who had purchased it decades ago from Kraus.

For more impormation about this manuscript and other Renaissance holdings of the Manuscripts Division, please contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,

Princeton MS. 230, fol. 46r.