In the tradition of The Return of Martin Guerre, a dramatic tale of false identity, murder, and bigamy that riveted France during the reign of Louis XIV
From the historian Jeffrey Ravel comes a scandalous tale of imposture that sheds new light on French politics and culture in the pivotal but underexamined period leading up to the Enlightenment.
In the waning days of the seventeenth century, a French nobleman named Louis de la Pivardicre returned from the Nine Years War and, for mysterious reasons, gave up his aristocratic life to marry the daughter of an innkeeper in a remote village. But several years later, struggling financially, he returned to his first wife in search of money. She turned him away, and he disappeared under mysterious circumstances. This led to a murder investigation and the arrest of Pivardicre’s first wife and her alleged lover, a local prior. Stranger yet, Pivardicre finally did come out of hiding but was believed by many to be an impostor conjured up in order to clear the wife of murder charges.
The case became a cause célcbre across France, an obsession among everyone from the peasantry to the courts, from the Comédie-Française to Louis XIV himself. It was finally left to a brilliant young jurist, Henri-François d’Aguesseau, to separate fact from fiction and set France on a path to a new and enlightened view of justice.
Masterfully researched and vividly recounted, The Would-Be Commoner charts the monumental shift from passion to reason in the twilight years of the Sun King.
In 1697 an impecunious nobleman, Louis de la Pivardière, returned home to the wife he'd abandoned years earlier, begging for money. They argued, and the following morning Louis was gone. It was believed that his wife had murdered him with the aid of her lover, but at her trial the supposedly dead Pivardière appeared to defend her. (The case reached the highest court of the land, the Parlement of Paris, and was so popular it became the basis of a play.) Parisians puzzled over Pivardière's behavior, which to them raised, as Ravel (history, MIT; The Contested Parterre) here writes, "fundamental questions of authority and identity." Ravel argues that the interest in the case illustrates that a "literate, engaged reading public" had emerged, one whose craving for diversion mixed with self-improvement laid the grounds for the next century's Enlightenment. Perhaps inspired by-and certainly similar to, though not quite as compelling as-Natalie Zemon Davies's classic The Return of Martin Guerre, this outstanding book makes a worthy addition to the cultural and social history of the Old Regime and is warmly recommended for both academic and larger public libraries.