The Man in the Iron Mask

The Man in the Iron Mask was a prisoner believed to have been held in the Bastille prison from an unknown date to his death on November 19 1703. The identity of this man has been thoroughly discussed, mainly because no one ever saw his face as it was hidden by a black velvet mask, which later re-tellings of the story have said to have been an iron mask.


The prisoner

The first surviving records of the masked prisoner are from July 1 1669, when Louis XIV's minister Louvois sent a masked prisoner to the care of governor marquis de Saint-Mars of the Pignerol prison. Saint-Mars was ordered to take a special care of this prisoner. He was to be kept incommunicado and Saint-Mars was told to threaten him with death if he ever tried to talk about anything else than his own personal affairs. The prisoner was to be treated well but he had been ordered to remain silent and masked in all times. Saint-Mars himself had been ordered to feed him.

The first rumors of the prisoner's identity (as a Marshal of France) began to circulate at this point.

Although the legend states that the prisoner wore the mask at all times, it is more probable that he was masked only during transport—such as when he was transported from prison to prison—and when there were outside guests in the prison.

Saint-Mars took the prisoner with him to his subsequent postings in l'Exiles prison and in May 1687 to the island of Sainte Marguerite.

On September 18, 1698, Saint-Mars came to take his new post as a governor of the Bastille prison, bringing the masked prisoner with him. The prisoner was placed in a solitary cell in the pre-furnished third chamber of the Bertaudiere tower. The prison's second-in-command, de Rosarges, was to feed him. Most of the details of the masked man (continuous wearing of a mask and preferential treatment) come from Lieutenant du Junca of Bastille.

The prisoner died on November 19, 1703, and was buried the next day under the name of Marchioly. All his furniture and clothing were reportedly destroyed afterwards.

The legend

The fate of the mysterious prisoner - and the extent of apparent precautions his jailers took - created much interest and many legends. Contemporary claims about his identity included that he was a Marshal of France; or Oliver Cromwell; or Francois de Vendôme, duke of Beaufort. Later ones included James, Duke of Monmouth; Armenian patriarch Avedick; Molire; and the unacknowledged older or twin brother of Louis XIV. Alexandre Dumas used the last theory in his book.

In 1801 there emerged a legend, probably created by supporters of Napoleon Bonaparte, that the mysterious prisoner was the real Louis XIV himself and that Mazarin had had him replaced by a more suitable candidate. Legend also held that he had married in prison and sired a son, who would have been taken to Corsica to become one of Napoleon's forefathers. This was most probably an intentionally spread political rumor.

The theories

In 1711 the Palatine Princess Charlotte-Elizabeth of Bavaria claimed that the man was an exiled English nobleman who had been involved with the Fenwick affair to depose William III.

Louis XV and XVI have been attributed as saying that the prisoner was Ercole Antonio Mattioli, minister of Duke of Mantua. Mattioli had been involved with Louis XIV's intrigues in Italy and betrayed his secret negotiations with Duke Charles III of Mantua, for the purchase of an important border fortress. He was registered with a prison pseudonym "Lestang".

Voltaire claimed that the prisoner was a son of Mazarin and Anne of Austria and therefore an illegitimate older half-brother of King Louis XIV. How serious he was is hard to say.

In 1801 revolutionary legislator Roux Fazaillac stated that the tale of the masked prisoner was an amalgamation of the fates of two separate prisoners, Mattioli and an imprisoned valet named Eustache Dauger.

One theory is that Eustache Dauger was a valet of imprisoned minister Nicolas Fouquet, also under the guard of Saint-Mars. (The masked man had been assigned to serve as his valet in one point.) After Fouquet's death, the king was afraid that the servant could reveal state secrets if released, so he remained in prison for the next 23 years, until his death.

Additional rumors claimed, yet again, that Dauger was in fact twin brother of Louis XIV.

Around 1900, Etienne Bazeries, a French cryptographer managed to read some messages in the Great Cypher of Louis XIV. One of them referred to this prisoner and identified him as General Vivien de Bulonde.

Andrew Lang, in his The Valet's Tragedy and Other Stories (1903), presented a theory that Eustache Dauger was a prison pseudonym of a man called Martin, valet of French Huguenot Roux de Marsilly. After his master's execution in 1669 the valet was taken to France, possibly by capture or subterfuge, and imprisoned because he might have known too much about his master's affairs. Dauger was later assigned to become one of Fouquet's valets in prison, the other being named La Riviere. Dauger was still in the same prison when Mattioli arrived and he was later transferred with Saint-Mars to his next postings. Tales about Mattioli, Dauger and some of the other prisoners would have been later merged into the story of a single one.

In The Man of the Mask (1908) Barnes presents James de la Cloche, the illegitimate but acknowledged son of Charles II, who would have been his father's secret intermediary with the Catholic court of France. Louis XIV could have imprisoned him because he knew too much about French affairs with England.

Related topics

External links

es:El hombre de la mscara de hierro fr:Masque de fer he:האיש במסכת הברזל ru:Железная маска


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