Synopses & Reviews
"Ravel (History/MIT) grapples skillfully with a slippery cause cand#233;lcbre involving imposture and bigamy in the closing years of Louis XIVand#8217;s reign...A surprisingly light-footed look at fundamental questions of authority and identity." Kirkus Reviews
"this outstanding book makes a worthy addition to the cultural and social history of the Old Regime and is warmly recommended" Library Journal
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 Pivardicreand#8217;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 cand#233;lcbre across France, an obsession among everyone from the peasantry to the courts, from the Comand#233;die-Franand#231;aise to Louis XIV himself. It was finally left to a brilliant young jurist, Henri-Franand#231;ois dand#8217;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.
About the Author
Jeffrey S. Ravel is an associate professor of history at MIT and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Historical Association, among others. He is a former editor of Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture.
Table of Contents
Illustrations and Maps ix Acknowledgments xi Prologue: The Mystery of Louis de la Pivardicre xv Becoming a Gentleman 1 The Murder Narrative 30 Preliminary Judgment 64 Nobleman, Commoner, or Impostor? 93 Stage Plays 122 Judicial Doubt 146 Interrogation 164 Verdicts 189 Epilogue: Rewriting a Cause Cand#233;lcbre 214 Notes 235 Selected Bibliography 268 Index 271