Arnold Du Tilh

Arnold Du Tilh—the Pretended Martin Guerre

There are few cases in the long list of French causes célèbres  more remarkable than that of the alleged Martin Guerre. This individual, who was more greatly distinguished by his adventures than by his virtues, was a Biscayan, and at the very juvenile age of eleven was married to a girl called Bertrande de Rols. For eight or nine years Martin and his wife lived together without issue from their marriage, notwithstanding masses said, consecrated wafers eaten by the wife and charms employed by the husband to drive away the bewitchment under which he supposed himself to labour. But in the tenth year after the marriage a son was born, and was named Sanxi. The father's joy was of brief duration; for having been guilty of defrauding his own father of a quantity of corn, he was compelled to abscond to avoid the paternal rage and the probable consequences of a prosecution. It was at first intended that he should only stay away until the family difficulty blew over. But Martin, once gone, was not so easily persuaded to come back, and eight long years elapsed before his wife saw his face. At the end of that time he suddenly returned, and was received with open arms by Bertrande, who was congratulated by her husband's four sisters, his uncle, and her own relations. The re-united pair lived together at Artigues for three years in apparent peace and happiness, and during this period two children were born to them. But suddenly the wife Bertrande appeared before the magistrates of Rieux, and lodged a complaint against her husband, praying "that he might be condemned to make satisfaction to the king for a breach of his laws; to demand pardon of God, the king, and herself, in his shirt, with a lighted torch in his hand; declaring that he had falsely, rashly, and traitorously imposed upon her in assuming the name and passing himself upon her for Martin Guerre."

The affair created no small stir in the neighbourhood, and the gossips were driven to their wits' end to explain it. Some asserted that, either through an old grudge or a recent quarrel, she had adopted this method of getting quit of her husband, while others maintained that she was naturally a woman of undecided character and opinions, and that, as at first she had been easily persuaded that this man was her husband, she had acted latterly on the suggestions and advice of Peter Guerre, her husband's uncle, who pretended to have discovered that he was an impostor, and had recommended her to apply to the authorities. The accused himself staunchly maintained that the charge was the result of a conspiracy between his wife and his uncle, and that the latter had contrived the plot with a view to possess himself of his effects. That no doubt might remain as to his identity he gave an outline of his personal history from the time of his flight from home to the time of his arrest, stating the reasons which induced him to leave his wife in the first instance, and his adventures during his absence. He said that for seven or eight years he had served the king in the wars; that he had then enlisted in the Spanish army; and that, having returned home, longing to see his wife and children, he had been welcomed without hesitation by his relations and acquaintances, and even by Peter Guerre, notwithstanding the alteration which time and camp-life had made in his appearance. He declared, moreover, that his uncle had persistently quarrelled with him since his return, that blows had frequently been exchanged between them, and that thus an evil animus  had been created against him.

In answer to the interrogatories of the judge, he unhesitatingly told the leading circumstances of his earlier life, mentioning trivial details, giving prominent dates glibly, and showing the utmost familiarity with petty as with important matters of family history. As far as his marriage was concerned, he named the persons who were present at the nuptials, those who dined with them, their different dresses, the priest who performed the ceremony, all the little circumstances that happened that day and the next, and even named the people who presided at the bedding. And, as if the official interrogatory were not sufficiently complete, he spoke, of his own accord, of his son Sanxi, and of the day he was born; of his own departure, of the persons he met on the road, of the towns he had passed through in France and Spain, and of people with whom he had become acquainted in both kingdoms.

Nearly a hundred and fifty witnesses were examined in the cause, and of these between thirty and forty deposed that the accused really was Martin Guerre; that they had known him and had spoken to him from his infancy; that they were perfectly acquainted with his person, manner, and tone of voice; and that, moreover, they were convinced of his identity by certain scars and marks on his person.

On the other hand, a greater number of persons asserted as positively that the man before them was one Arnold du Tilh, of Sagais, and was commonly called Pansette; while nearly sixty of the witnesses—who had known both men—declared that there was so strong a resemblance between these two persons that it was impossible for them to declare positively whether the accused was Martin Guerre or Arnold du Tilh.

In this dilemma the judge ordered two inquiries—one with regard to the likeness or unlikeness of Sanxi Guerre to the accused, and the other as to the resemblance existing between the child and the sisters of Martin Guerre. It was reported that the boy bore no resemblance to the prisoner, but that he was very like his father's sisters, and upon this evidence the judge pronounced the prisoner guilty, and sentenced him to be beheaded and quartered.

But the public of the neighbourhood not being so easily satisfied as the criminal judge of Rieux, and unable to comprehend the grounds of the decision, became clamorous, and an appeal was made on behalf of the convict to the Parliament of Toulouse. That Assembly ordered the wife (Bertrande de Rols) and the uncle (Peter Guerre) to be confronted separately with the man whom they accused of being an impostor, and when the parties were thus placed face to face, the so-called Arnold du Tilh maintained a calm demeanour, spoke with an air of assurance and truth, and answered the questions put to him promptly and correctly. On the other hand, the confusion of Peter Guerre and Bertrande de Rols was so great as to create strong suspicions of their honesty. New witnesses were called, but they only served to complicate matters; for out of thirty, nine or ten were convinced that the accused was Martin Guerre, seven or eight were as positive that he was Arnold du Tilh, and the rest would give no distinct affirmation either one way or another.

When the testimony came to be analysed, it was seen that forty-five witnesses, in all, had asserted in the most positive terms that the man presented to them was not Guerre, but Du Tilh, which they said they were the better able to do, because they had known both men intimately, had eaten and drank with them, and conversed with them at intervals from the days of their common childhood. Most of these witnesses agreed that Martin Guerre was taller and of a darker complexion, that he was of slender make and had round shoulders, that his chin forked and turned up, his lower lip hung down, his nose was large and flat, and that he had the mark of an ulcer on his face, and a scar on his right eyebrow, whereas Arnold du Tilh was a short thickish man who did not stoop, although at the same time similar marks were on his face.

Among others who were called was the shoemaker who made shoes for the undisputed Martin Guerre, and he swore that Martin's foot was three sizes larger than that of the accused. Another declared that Martin was an expert fencer and wrestler, whereas this man knew little of manly exercises; and many deponed "that Arnold du Tilh had from his infancy the most wicked inclinations, and that subsequently he had been hardened in wickedness, a great pilferer and swearer, a defier of God, and a blasphemer: consequently in every way capable of the crime laid to his charge; and that an obstinate persisting to act a false part was precisely suitable to his character."

But the opinion on the other side was quite as firm. Martin Guerre's four sisters had no hesitation in declaring that the accused was their brother, the people who were present at Martin's wedding with Bertrande de Rols deposed in his favour, and about forty persons in all agreed that Martin Guerre had two scars on his face, that his left eye was bloodshot, the nail of his first finger grown in, and that he had three warts on his right hand, and another on his little finger. Similar marks were shown by the accused. Evidence was given to show that a plot was being concocted by Peter Guerre and his sons-in-law to ruin the new comer, and the Parliament of Toulouse was as yet undecided as to its sentence, tending rather to acquit the prisoner than affirm his conviction, when most unexpectedly the real Martin Guerre appeared on the scene.

He was interrogated by the judges as to the same facts to which the accused had spoken, but his answers, although true, were neither so full nor satisfactory as those which the other man had given. When the two were placed face to face, Arnold du Tilh vehemently denounced the last arrival as an impostor in the pay of Peter Guerre, and expressed himself content to be hanged if he did not yet unravel the whole mystery. Nor did he confine himself to vituperation, but cross-questioned Martin as to private family circumstances, and only received hesitating and imperfect answers to his questions. The commissioners having directed Arnold to withdraw, put several questions to Martin that were new, and his answers were very full and satisfactory; then they called for Arnold again, and questioned him as to the same points, and he answered with the same exactness, "so that some began to think there was witchcraft in the case."

It was then directed, since two claimants had appeared, that the four sisters of Martin Guerre, the husbands of two of them, Peter Guerre, the brothers of Arnold du Tilh, and those who recognised him as the real man, should be called upon and obliged to fix on the true Martin. Guerre's eldest sister was first summoned, and she, after a momentary glance, ran to the new comer and embraced him, crying, as the report goes, "Oh, my brother Martin Guerre, I acknowledge the error into which this abominable traitor drew me, and also all the inhabitants of Artigues." The rest also identified him; and his wife, who was the last of all, was as demonstrative as the others. "She had no sooner cast her eyes on Martin Guerre than, bursting into tears, and trembling like a leaf, she ran to embrace him, and begged his pardon for suffering herself to be seduced by the artifices of a wretch. She then pleaded for herself, in the most innocent and artless manner, that she had been led away by his credulous sisters, who had owned the impostor; that the strong passion she had for him, and her ardent desire to see him again, helped on the cheat, in which she was confirmed by the tokens that traitor had given, and the recital of so many peculiarities which could be known only to her husband; that as soon as her eyes were open she wished that the horrors of death might hide those of her fault, and that she would have laid violent hands on herself if the fear of God had not withheld her; that not being able to bear the dreadful thought of having lost her honour and reputation, she had recourse to vengeance, and put the impostor into the hands of justice;" and, moreover, that she was as anxious as ever that the rascal should die.

Martin, however, was not to be moved by her appeals, alleging that "a wife has more ways of knowing a husband than a father, a mother, and all his relations put together; nor is it possible she should be imposed on unless she has an inclination to be deceived;" and even the persuasions of the commissioners could not move him from his decision.

The doubts being at last dissipated, the accused Arnold du Tilh was condemned "to make amende honorable  in the market-place of Artigues in his shirt, his head and feet bare, a halter about his neck, and holding in his hands a lighted waxen torch; to demand pardon of God, the king, and the justice of the nation, of the said Martin Guerre, and De Rols, his wife; and this being done, to be delivered into the hands of the capital executioner, who, after making him pass through the streets of Artigues with a rope about his neck, at last should bring him before the house of Martin Guerre, where, on a gallows expressly set up, he should be hanged, and where his body should afterwards be burnt." It was further ordered that such property as he had should be devoted to the maintenance of the child which had been born to him by Bertrande de Rols.

At the same time, the court had very serious thoughts of punishing Martin Guerre, because his abandonment of his wife had led to the mischief, and his desertion of his country's flag seemed to merit censure. It was, however, finally decided that when he ran away he "acted rather from levity than malice;" and as he had entered the Spanish army in a roundabout way, and after considerable persuasion, that the loss of his leg in that service was sufficient punishment. The guilt of his wife, Bertrande de Rols, was thought even more apparent, and that a woman could be deceived in her husband was a proposition few could digest. Yet, as the woman's life-long character was good, and it spoke well for her that not only the population of Artigues, but also the man's four sisters, had shared her delusion, it was finally determined to discharge her.

Arnold de Tilh, the impostor, was carried back to Artigues for the execution of his sentence, and there made a full confession. He said that the crime had been accidentally suggested to his mind; that on his way home from the camp in Picardy he was constantly mistaken for Martin Guerre by Martin's friends; that from them he learned many circumstances respecting the family and the doings of the man himself; and that, having previously been an intimate and confidential comrade of Guerre in the army, he was able to maintain his imposture. His sentence was carried out in all its severity in 1560.