The Would-be Commoner: A Tale of Deception, Murder, and Justice in Seventeenth-century France

Front Cover
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008 - History - 288 pages
6 Reviews
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.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

Review: The Would-Be Commoner: A Tale of Deception, Murder, and Justice in Seventeenth-Century France

User Review  - Larry Hostetler - Goodreads

Well-researched, as expected, and well-written, but not sufficiently engaging in its telling to maintain interest for 231 pages. By the end I found myself wondering why such an apparently arcane story ... Read full review

Review: The Would-Be Commoner: A Tale of Deception, Murder, and Justice in Seventeenth-Century France

User Review  - Suzie Diver - Goodreads

An average read. Not awful, but no surprises or fascinating prose either. Good use of archival sources without major leaps in interpretation. Read full review


One Becoming a Gentleman I
Narbonne today
am The Murder Narrative
Preliminary Judgment
Abraham Bosse La Galerie du Palais 1630s
Portrait of Marguerite Chauvelin 1698
Ahw Nobleman Commoner or Impostor?
Signature page of DubouchetPillard marriage contract
Robert Gence portrait of Florent Carton Dancourt 1704
Portrait of HenriFrançois dAguesseau 1703
ceveM Interrogation
La Grande Chambre du syndic pour la verification de la fausse
The Bailiff from a nineteenthcentury edition of
Selected Bibliography

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2008)

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.

Bibliographic information