The Return of Martin Guerre

by

Natalie Zemon Davis

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Bertrande de Rols Character Analysis

Bertrande was the daughter of a wealthy and prominent Artigat family. Her marriage to Martin Guerre when she was only a young girl was designed to solidify the alliance between the de Rols and Guerre families, demonstrating that women in sixteenth-century rural France often had little control over their lives and destinies. Even in a society that severely limited her independence, however, Bertrande carved out significant agency for herself. In Davis’s account, Bertrande’s attitude was characterized by “shrewd realism” about how to maneuver in a patriarchal world. For example, refusing to divorce Martin during the eight-year period when they had no children gave her the freedom to enjoy a childhood with her sisters-in-law and the privileges of being a married woman. After Martin abandoned her and their son, Sanxi the younger, Bertrande had to rely on the generosity of her male relatives to support herself. For almost a decade, she was left with the ambiguous status of neither wife nor widow, since a wife could not marry again unless her husband was proven dead. Even in this difficult situation, however, Davis shows how Bertrande found a way to make a new life. She was able to live with Arnaud du Tilh as a “respectable” married woman by colluding in his impersonation of her true husband, Martin. She even had another child with him, Bernarde. When Arnaud’s deception was uncovered, however, she claimed that she had been deceived—which was almost certainly not true, but it allowed Bertrande to maintain her reputation for honor and virtue. As Davis shows, Bertrande was strong-willed, honorable, and deeply concerned for her reputation. She was savvy enough to know that her power in the village community lay in being perceived as an honorable and respectable wife and mother, a position that she successfully maintained even after the extraordinary events of her life and marriage.

Bertrande de Rols Quotes in The Return of Martin Guerre

The The Return of Martin Guerre quotes below are all either spoken by Bertrande de Rols or refer to Bertrande de Rols. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity and Property Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harvard University Press edition of The Return of Martin Guerre published in 1983.
Preface and Introduction Quotes

But we still know rather little about the peasants’ hopes and feelings; the ways in which they experienced the relation between husband and wife, parent and child; the ways in which they experienced the constraints and possibilities of their lives. We often think of peasants as not having had much in the way of choices, but is this in fact true? Did individual villagers ever try to fashion their lives in unusual and unexpected ways?

Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

[W]hen urged by her relatives to separate from Martin, she firmly refused. Here we come to certain character traits of Bertrande de Rols, which she was already displaying in her sixteenth year: a concern for her reputation as a woman, a stubborn independence, and a shrewd realism about how she could maneuver within the constraints placed upon one of her sex. Her refusal to have her marriage dissolved, which might well have been followed by another marriage at her parents’ behest, freed her temporarily from certain wifely duties. It gave her a chance to have a girlhood with Martin’s younger sisters, with whom she got on well. And she could get credit for her virtue.

Related Characters: Bertrande de Rols
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Bertrande’s status was much reduced by all these events. Neither wife nor widow, she was under the same roof with her mother again. Neither wife nor widow, she had to face the other village women at the mill, the well, the tileworks, and at the harvest. And there was no easy remedy for her in law…a wife was not free to remarry in the absence of her husband, no matter how many years had elapsed, unless she had certain proof of his death.

Related Characters: Bertrande de Rols
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

What hope might the Protestant message have offered to the new Martin and Bertrande during the years they were living together as “true married people”? That they could tell their story to God alone and need not communicate it to any human intermediary. That the life they had willfully fabricated was part of God’s providence.

Related Characters: Bertrande de Rols, Arnaud du Tilh
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

She had tried to fashion her life as best she could, using all the leeway and imagination she had as a woman. But she was also proud of her honor and her virtue and was, as she would say later in court, God-fearing. She wanted to live as a mother and family woman at the center of village society. She wanted her son to inherit.

Related Characters: Bertrande de Rols
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

If [Bertrande] had wanted to betray [Arnaud] at this point, all she had to do was tell a story he could not repeat; instead she adhered to the text they had agreed upon months before.

Related Characters: Bertrande de Rols, Arnaud du Tilh
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Even on the ladder up to the gibbet he was talking, preaching to the man who would take his place not to be harsh with Bertrande. She was a woman of honor, virtue, and constancy, he could attest to it. As soon as she suspected him, she had driven him away.

Related Characters: Bertrande de Rols, Arnaud du Tilh
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

In Coras’s “comitragic” version…one can approve the cuckolding of the once impotent and now faraway husband. Here Arnaud du Tilh becomes a kind of hero, a more real Martin Guerre than the hard-hearted man with the wooden leg. The tragedy is more in his unmasking than in his imposture.

Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
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Bertrande de Rols Character Timeline in The Return of Martin Guerre

The timeline below shows where the character Bertrande de Rols appears in The Return of Martin Guerre. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Guerres were evidently successful at integrating, because in 1538 Martin married Bertrande de Rols, the daughter of a well-off local family who brought a substantial dowry. That... (full context)
Chapter 2
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
For eight years after the wedding, the young Martin and Bertrande didn’t conceive a child. Bertrande would later claim that this was because a jealous sorceress... (full context)
Chapter 3
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
When Martin left Artigat, Bertrande was probably about twenty-two years old. Davis explains that Bertrande would have grown up learning... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...their husbands and fathers. Although they had little formal legal and political power, women like Bertrande played an important role in the economic life of the community and found a way... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...owned and leased her own land after the death of her husband. After Martin’s departure, Bertrande was left with the ambiguous status of neither wife nor widow, since, under canon law,... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...his heir in his will when he died. Still, Martin’s departure was a disaster for Bertrande. She experienced a considerable reduction in status. For instance, since she no longer had a... (full context)
Chapter 4
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Bertrande later suggested that Martin and Arnaud might have met in the army, which was how... (full context)
Chapter 5
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...arrived at a hotel near Artigat, where word spread that “Martin” had returned. At first, Bertrande, Pierre, Martin’s four sisters, and the rest of the family didn’t recognize him. But when... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...for almost a decade and had no painted portraits by which  to remember him. Although Bertrande might have been fooled at first, Davis believes that at a certain point she must... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
Davis argues that the evidence suggests that Bertrande and Arnaud fell in love, and that Bertrande became his accomplice in the deception. There... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
Bertrande and Arnaud never confessed their sin to a local Catholic priest. Davis suggests that they... (full context)
Chapter 6
Identity and Property Theme Icon
After three years of marriage with Bertrande, Arnaud was thriving: he developed the Guerre holdings and became a “rural merchant,” trading in... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
However, Bertrande continued to maintain that Arnaud was indeed the true Martin. Arnaud claimed that Pierre had... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...and found out that “Martin” was actually Arnaud. He opened a formal legal inquiry in Bertrande’s name without her permission. After Arnaud was released from prison in 1560, he was arrested... (full context)
Chapter 7
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
Bertrande moved out of Pierre’s house to live with a family in Rieux, since the court... (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...made up the whole story to discredit him and take his property. When he confronted Bertrande on the stand, he said that he would submit to any death the court chose... (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...Martin’s disappearance. After months of deliberation, the judge declared Arnaud guilty of imposture and “abusing Bertrande de Rols.” They sentenced him to be beheaded and quartered (a punishment usually reserved for... (full context)
Chapter 8
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Bertrande’s case was tried at the Parlement of Toulouse, the most powerful court in the region.... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
While the trial went on, Pierre and Bertrande were both imprisoned along with Arnaud. When the court called Bertrande to the stand, she... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
Coras increasingly leaned towards ruling in favor of the defendant. Bertrande had a reputation as an honorable woman, and she had lived with Arnaud for three... (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...leave unpunished a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.” Acquitting Arnaud would give Bertrande a husband and Sanxi a father. But just as the court was prepared to rule... (full context)
Chapter 9
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
Bertrande was then called as a witness. She had been imprisoned for several months, but she... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
...extraordinary performance. His daughter Bernarde was declared legitimate and allowed to inherit his property, since Bertrande had not been aware of the circumstances when she was conceived. The court also declared... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
Arnaud, Martin, and Bertrande were summoned before the court for the last time. The famous essayist Michel de Montaigne... (full context)
Chapter 11
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...might not have happened under a Protestant church, since a Protestant church would have allowed Bertrande to dissolve her marriage after her abandonment. (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...memory and accusing him of greater crimes (including dealings with the devil). He writes that Bertrande was easily deceived by “the weakness of her sex,” but is unsympathetic to Martin for... (full context)
Chapter 12
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...all of these other accounts of the case emphasized Arnaud as the protagonist and downplayed Bertrande’s agency, depicting her as the deceived and manipulated wife. The exception is a 1592 poem... (full context)
Epilogue
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
...contracts and in lawsuits. Although there is no record of what happened between Martin and Bertrande, Davis suggests that they had reason to make peace, as Martin needed a wife to... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Martin and Bertrande even had two more sons, who inherited the family property along with Martin’s son by... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...had never happened. She suggests that the case would not be so easily forgotten. Surely Bertrande did not forget her time with Arnaud, and the villagers would retell the story for... (full context)