In the 16th century a Frenchman named Martin Guerre from the Pyrenees region of Southern France suddenly left his wife and children and disappeared. This sparked the most infamous incident of imposture, when one person tries to slip into another's life, in recorded history. The story has been retold and sensationalized in fiction since it happened, from Alexandre Dumas' stories, to "Mad Men," to "The Simpsons."


In exhaustive research on the origions of this impostor story, Natalie Zemon Davis referenced contemporary reports from relatives and locals indicating Guerre left to ultimately join the Army of Pedro de Mendoza where he participated in the attack St. Quentin during the Italian War of 1551-1559.

After the Battle of St. Quentin Guerre spent years living in a monastery before returning to his wife. Guerre did not initially accept Bertrande's apologies, because he believed she shouldn't have been with another man.

The night before his execution, Arnaud du Tilh confessed he learned about Guerre and his life after two men confused him with Guerre. He was hanged in front of the real Martin Guerre's house days later. Bertrande, Davis hypothesizes, agreed to the fraud because she needed a husband and was unable to remarry in a strictly Catholic society.