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In the popular myth developed around Napoleon was one ingenious fable which made him the descendant of the Iron Mask. According to this, the governor of the prison of Sainte-Marguerite allowed his daughter to visit the Iron Mask. Since the Iron Mask had no known name, the children of this union were given the name of their mother.

That name was de Bonpart. The children were secretly moved to Corsica to be raised, and there the difference of language transformed their name from Bonpart to Bonaparte. Napoleon Bonaparte was of this family directly descended from the Iron Mask in an unbroken line of eldest sons, and that being so he was the legitimate heir to the French throne. Someone else who took part in the conversation remarked that a genealogist had once seriously set about proving it to him, claiming that the record of a marriage between Mlle de Bonpart and the Iron Mask could be seen in the register of some parish church in Marseilles.

Meanwhile the Prince in the Iron Mask had inspired a pantomime, a tragedy, a four-volume novel and, in , a dramatic narrative by Alfred de Vigny entitled La Prison. Many years before, the old priest had heard rumours of such a prisoner: a beautiful, noble, sweet-voiced man, royally born and guilty of no crime, condemned from youth to spend his life in prison with his face concealed in a mask. Once one of his fellow monks had found a golden goblet at the foot of the prison tower and had taken it to the prison commander.

There had been a message from the masked prisoner scratched into the gold and, because the monk had read it and learned some perilous secret, he had never been seen again.

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Remembering this, this old priest falls silent. The prisoner speaks: after a life of such unmitigated and unmerited suffering, how can he believe in a just and merciful God:. The old priest has nothing to say, and the prisoner babbles on in a delirium telling of the girl he never knew and all the longings of his lost life: the sun on his face, the wind in his hair, dreams of mountains and the sea, of rivers and trees and simple love. In a final moment of clarity before he dies, he rejects the viaticum and, with a last despairing gesture, breaks his arm against the prison-wall.

The priest stays to pray beside his body throughout the night and in the morning sees it wrapped in its winding-sheet, the face still covered in its iron mask. It was in that the story of the Twin in the Iron Mask reached final form and lasting celebrity in another work of fiction, the best-selling novel of Alexandre Dumas, The Viscount of Bragelonne. This, reduced to eleven short scenes, is how Dumas told it:. Late morning. Anne of Austria, stricken by some secret grief, is talking sadly with her ladies of honour.

Enter a mysterious woman in a loo-mask, come to cure her strange complaint. The ladies of honour withdraw and the mysterious woman talks of a terrible secret kept by the Queen Mother since the day her son, the King, was born, twenty-three years ago. On that fateful day she gave birth not just to one son but to two, and in spite of the floods of bitter tears she shed that second child, for reasons of State, for the peace and safety of the realm, was taken from her and hidden away. The mysterious woman then removes her mask: it is the Duchesse de Chevreuse, the once bewitchingly beautiful favourite of the Queen Mother, now hideously old and witchlike.

After years of banishment she has returned to beg the protection of her one-time friend and mistress. The Queen Mother takes her into her arms and apparently into her confidence; the ill-fated boy, she tells her, died of consumption while still a child. A starry night sky beyond the bars of the window. Clothes discarded on a leather armchair; supper-dishes untouched on a small table; a young man sprawled disconsolately under the half-drawn curtains of a bed. A man dressed in grey has just entered with a lantern, a distinguished-looking man in late middle age, calm and confident, cold and calculating.

It is Aramis, the one-time musketeer, and he has just used the secret powers of the Jesuit Society, of which he is the Father-General, to gain entrance to this room. No one has ever been allowed to see this prisoner. Few people even know that he exists. Before he was a prisoner here, the young man lived with a nurse and tutor in the confines of a large house and walled garden lost in the country. A house without mirrors, without books of history or literature, without a portrait of the King. In the time he was there a lady of majestic bearing came to see him every month, sometimes accompanied by another lady, once by Aramis, and once by another gentleman.

Apart from his former nurse and tutor, his present turnkey and prison governor, these people are the only ones he has ever spoken to in his life. The efforts made to seclude him from the world, the care taken to educate him for that same world, and the respect shown him within the little world in which he lived, made him wonder sometimes about his origin and identity. But he was always told that he was an orphan and that no one had any interest in him. The incident that transformed his life had occurred eight years previously, soon after his fifteenth birthday.

He was sleeping in the hall one day, exhausted after a long lesson of fencing, when he heard his tutor call out in consternation to his nurse. A letter had blown out of a window and fallen down the well. In their agitation the old couple did not realize that he could hear them, and he understood from what they said that they had to retrieve the letter because it was from the Queen.

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She would want it back to burn, as she did with all the letters they received from her, and they would be in peril of their lives from Mazarin if they could not produce it when next she came. To find someone to help them, someone who would be able to recover the letter without being able to read it, they hurried off to the village, leaving the young man alone in the house. Urged on then by that impulse whch drives a man to his own destruction, he lowered the cord from the windlass and slid down it into the darkness.

Plunging into the water, he seized the letter, clambered back up to the courtyard and escaped into the garden. The paper was sodden and torn, the writing almost erased, but what he could read was enough for him to realise that the Queen herself was deeply concerned in his welfare and upbringing, and that the tutor and nurse, who treated him with such respect, were themselves of noble rank.

When later he was taken ill with a violent fever, brought on by the chill and the excitement of the discovery, these suspicions were borne out. In his delirium he revealed all that had happened. The letter was found and the Queen was informed.

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The young man was arrested and taken to the Bastille. What became of the tutor and nurse, the young man does not know, but Aramis does. They were poisoned, he says, and while the young man presses his icy fingers to his clammy brow, his trembling fingers to his beating heart, he goes on to reveal the direful secret of his birth.

He produces a mirror and a portrait of Louis XIV to prove it. The resemblance of the young man and his brother, the King, is the God-given instrument of truth and justice, Aramis declares, the weapon which will restore the balance of fate.


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It was a crime against nature to render different in happiness and fortune brothers conceived and born so much the same. In that high endeavour Aramis intends to liberate the young man from the Bastille. The horses snuffling as they nibble the young oak shoots. The driver lying silently on a slope beside them.

Two figures emerge from the carriage and stand there, black in the darkness, keeping silence too: the young man entranced, feeling the night air on his face, the ecstasy of freedom; Aramis apprehensive, watching him. The young man has a decision to make.


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Aramis has offered to give him a thousand pistoles, 19 two of his horses and the driver, as servant and guide, to take him far away to a place of safety and obscurity where no one will ever seek him; he can live out his life in ease and liberty close to nature and its honest laws among simple honourable men. Between that and a bid to substitute him for his brother, the King, with the immediate risk of failure, and the lifelong dangers in success, he is to choose.

He bows his head and, at last, with a look full of courage and pride, his brow contracted, his jaw clenched, he makes his choice: the crown. Aramis has briefed him with all the information necessary to carry off the impersonation and he is confident that he can do it.

Man in the Iron Mask

Aramis will be elevated to the rank of Cardinal and become Prime Minister. Scene Four : Vaux-le-Vicomte. The King, in sour disgruntled mood, talking with Colbert. He is the guest of Fouquet, whose palatial new home this is, and he feels humiliated by the splendour of the hospitality and entertainment provided for him.

The style and wealth of his host fills him with envy. He wants to know where Fouquet has found the money necessary for such a display and Colbert produces a letter which appears to prove that he stole it. There is a deficit in the state accounts of thirteen million francs and the letter written by Mazarin makes it clear that precisely such an amount was taken from the state coffers to be deposited with Fouquet.

Scene Five : Vaux-le-Victome. The following night. The King walking in the gardens with Colbert. Colbert bends a look of hatred upon the charming couple as they embrace behind a lime tree; when the young lady leaves, he takes a letter from his pocket and gives it to the King, pretending that she has just dropped it. The King assumes that it must be a love note meant for him, but it is an old letter of admiration and gallantry written to her by Fouquet. Scene Six : Vaux-le-Vicomte. Later that night.

The King in his chamber shuddering with loathing as Fouquet bends to kiss his hand. Through the windows the sky ablaze with fireworks which the King did not wish to see. He stamps his feet and gnaws his lips, but the order is nonetheless moderated. Fouquet is to be kept under guard pending arrest. There is to be no fuss, no show, and the King will decide in the morning what is to be done with him.

He strides about the room, knocking over the furniture, flings himself onto the bed and rolls from side to side, biting the sheets to smother his tears and groans. When finally he sleeps it is from sheer exhaustion. He dreams that the bed is descending slowly throught the floor, and wakes from his dream to find himself in a subterranean passage between the menacing silhouettes of two men, masked and cloaked.

Turns out, the Man In the Iron Mask was a real guy

As they bundle him away through the darkness, the empty bed lifts slowly back to its original place in the chamber. One of the masked men is of huge stature and vast circumference; he is Porthos: honest, mighty, innocent, gentle, magnificent Porthos. The other man is Aramis. Scene Seven : Vaux-le-Vicomte. Dawn the next morming. Fouquet alone in his bedroom. Fouquet, however, is horrified.

Never would he connive at an act of treason against the King, an act of treachery against a guest. Aramis, his eyes bloodshot, his mouth trembling, has plunged his hand into his breast, as though to grasp a dagger, but Fouquet is not intimidated: it is his sacred duty to denounce this execrable crime, he says, and he is ready to die for his honour. When Aramis draws out his hand, his fingers are covered in blood, but he has no weapon.

In the passionate anguish of his defeat, he has torn open the flesh of his own breast with his bare hand. Leaving Aramis to make good his escape, Fouquet takes horse to rescue his King from the Bastille. Scene Eight : Vaux-le-Vicomte. Later that morning. The fact that Aramis and Fouquet have not yet appeared surprises him, and while someone is sent to fetch them, he lets it be known that Aramis is now established in his confidence and Fouquet re-established in his favour.

The voice of Fouquet is heard from the secret staircase and when the door in the panelling opens, a cry of amazement and horror fills the chamber. Twin Kings, wearing by uncanny chance identical clothes, stand facing each other across the room, both pale as death and trembling, clenching their hands convulsively, their eyes bolting from their heads; then the King who has just entered leaps at one of the shutters and flings it open.

The choice is made. The triumphant King turns from his rival and sweeps from the room, taking everyone with him except the Queen Mother and Fouquet. Gently, with tragic nobility, the defeated King reproaches his mother for her cruelty. The prisoner is to be conducted to the island of Sainte-Marguerite, his face covered with an iron mask, and if he attempts to remove the mask he is to be killed. Scene Nine : The Harbour of Antibes. Athos and his son, Raoul, together on the quay. Heroic, tragic Athos, the purest and wisest of them all, with his brave, heart-broken son.

They are in Antibes to requisition fishing-boats to serve as lighters for the embarkation, and one of the fishermen they talk to has a strange tale to tell. Six days previously, a gentleman he did not know came in the night to hire his boat to go to the island of Saint-Honorat. In mid-crossing, however, he decided that the approach to Saint-Honorat was too dangerous in the dark and wanted to be landed at Sainte-Marguerite instead. The fisherman, who knew the waters well, was confident that he could make it to Saint-Honorat in safety, but when he refused to change course the stranger drew his sword.

Seizing their hatchets, the fisherman and his mate made ready to defend themselves, when the huge trunk sprang open of its own accord and the devil himself climbed out, a phantom whose head was covered in a black mask like a helmet.


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Terrified, the fisherman and his mate jumped overboard. The stranger thanked the devil and the boat drifted on. When it was found the next day, it was beached and broken on the island of Sainte-Marguerite and the devil, the trunk and the stranger had vanished into thin air. The fisherman went at once to the fortress to tell what had happened, but the governor refused to believe his story and threatened to have him flogged if he persisted in it. Scene Ten : Island of Sainte-Marguerite.

That afternoon. Athos and Raoul in a garden at the foot of the fortress wall. Someone calls out and, looking up, they see a hand at a barred window throw a silver plate towards them. French gentlemen and Christians, pray to God for the soul and the sanity of the son of your masters. They are being shot at by two of the prison guards, but with an exclamation of surprise one of their assailants knocks up the musket of the other, and the next moment they are surrounded by soldiers.

Scene Eleven : Island of Sainte-Marguerite. That evening. These servants, however, would become as much prisoners as their masters and it was thus difficult to find people willing to volunteer for such an occupation. It is an important point that the man in the mask served as a valet. Fouquet was never expected to be released; thus, meeting Dauger was no great matter, but Lauzun was expected to be set free eventually, and it would have been important not to have him spread rumours of Dauger's existence. Historians have also argued that 17th-century protocol made it unthinkable that a man of royal blood would serve as a manservant, casting some doubt on speculation that Dauger was in some way related to the king.

After Fouquet's death in , Saint-Mars discovered a secret hole between Fouquet and Lauzun's cells. He was sure that they had communicated through this hole without detection by him or his guards and thus that Lauzun must have been made aware of Dauger's existence. Lauzun was freed in It was during the journey to Sainte-Marguerite that rumours spread that the prisoner was wearing an iron mask.

Again, he was placed in a cell with multiple doors. On 18 September , Saint-Mars took up his new post as governor of the Bastille prison in Paris, bringing Dauger with him.

The unsolved mystery behind the Man in the Iron mask

The prison's second-in-command, de Rosarges, was to feed him. Lieutenant du Junca, another officer of the Bastille, noted that the prisoner wore "a mask of black velvet". The masked prisoner died on 19 November and was buried the next day under the name of "Marchioly". In , King Louis's sister-in-law, Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine , sent a letter to her aunt, Sophia, Electress of Hanover , stating that the prisoner had "two musketeers at his side to kill him if he removed his mask".

She described him as very devout, and stated that he was well treated and received everything he desired. However, the prisoner had already been dead for eight years by that point and the Princess had not necessarily seen him for herself; rather, she was quite likely reporting rumours she had heard at court. The fate of the mysterious prisoner — and the extent of the apparent precautions his jailers took — created significant interest in his story and gave birth to many legends.

Many theories exist and several books have been written about the case. Some were presented after the existence of the letters was widely known. Still later commentators have presented their own theories, possibly based on embellished versions of the original tale. Later, many people such as Voltaire and Alexandre Dumas [8] suggested other theories about the man in the mask. However, the sincerity of this claim is uncertain.

In his history essay Le Masque de fer , [9] French novelist Marcel Pagnol , supporting his theory in particular on the circumstances of King Louis XIV's birth, claims that the Man in the Iron mask was indeed a twin but born second, and hence the younger, and would have been hidden in order to avoid any dispute over the throne holder.

The historians who reject this theory including Jean-Christian Petitfils , highlight the conditions of childbirth for the queen. It took place usually in public, in front of the main court's figures. To make the context clearer, it should be remembered that there was a controversy at that time over which one of twins was the elder: the one born first or the one who, being born second, would have, as was then thought, been conceived first.

This book has served as the basis — even if loosely adapted — for many film versions of the story. The theory then suggests that the King's minister, Cardinal Richelieu , had arranged for a substitute, probably an illegitimate son or grandson of Henry IV , to become intimate with the queen and father an heir in the king's stead. If Gaston became King, Richelieu would quite likely have lost both his job as minister and his life, and so it was in his best interests to thwart Gaston's ambitions.

Supposedly the substitute father then left for the Americas but in the s returned to France with the aim of extorting money for keeping his secret, and was promptly imprisoned. This theory would explain both the secrecy surrounding the prisoner, whose true identity would have destroyed the legitimacy of Louis XIV's claim to the throne had it been revealed. He said the idea has no historical basis and is hypothetical. Williamson held that to say it is a guess with no solid historical basis is merely to say that it is like every other theory on the matter, although it makes more sense than any of the other theories.

There is no known evidence that is incompatible with it, even the age of the prisoner, which Cecil had considered a weak point; and it explains every aspect of the mystery. One of the letters written by Louvois made specific reference to de Bulonde's crime. At the Siege of Cuneo in , Bulonde was concerned about enemy troops arriving from Austria and ordered a hasty withdrawal, leaving behind his munitions and wounded men. Louis XIV was furious and in another of the letters specifically ordered him "to be conducted to the fortress at Pignerol where he will be locked in a cell and under guard at night, and permitted to walk the battlements during the day with a However, in 17th-century French avec un masque would mean "in a mask".

Some believe that the evidence of the letters means that there is now little need of an alternative explanation for the man in the mask. Other sources, however, claim that Bulonde's arrest was no secret and was actually published in a newspaper at the time and that he was released after just a few months. His death is also recorded as happening in , six years after that of the man in the mask. In , revolutionary legislator Pierre Roux-Fazillac stated that the tale of the masked prisoner was an amalgamation of the fates of two separate prisoners, Ercole Antonio Mattioli see below and an imprisoned valet named "Eustache D'auger".

After his master's execution in the valet was taken to France, possibly by capture or subterfuge. A letter from the French Foreign minister has been found rejecting an offer to arrest Martin: he was simply not important ["The Man in the Iron Mask", Harry Thompson, p. John Noone in his book "The Man behind the Mask" p. Later on St Mars played upon instructions that the prisoner should not be seen during transportation. The idea of keeping Dauger in a velvet mask was St Mars' own, to increase his self importance. What Dauger had seen or done is still a mystery. One of Charles's confirmed illegitimate sons, the Duke of Monmouth , has also been proposed as the man in the mask.

The rebellion failed and Monmouth was executed in But in , a writer named Saint-Foix claimed that another man was executed in his place and that Monmouth became the masked prisoner, it being in Louis XIV's interests to assist a fellow Catholic like James who would not necessarily want to kill his own nephew.

Saint-Foix's case was based on unsubstantiated rumours and allegations that Monmouth's execution was faked. Another candidate, much favoured in the s, was Fouquet's fellow prisoner Count Ercole Antonio Mattioli or Matthioli. He was an Italian diplomat who acted on behalf of debt-ridden Charles IV, Duke of Mantua in , in selling Casale , a strategic fortified town near the border with France.

A French occupation would be unpopular, so discretion was essential, but Mattioli leaked the details to France's Spanish enemies, after pocketing his commission once the sale had been concluded, and they made a bid of their own before the French forces could occupy the town. Mattioli was kidnapped by the French and thrown into nearby Pignerol in April The French took possession of Casale two years later. George Agar Ellis reached the conclusion that Mattioli was the state prisoner commonly called The Iron Mask when he reviewed documents extracted from French archives in the s. His book, [13] published in English in , was also translated into French and published in German historian Wilhelm Broecking came to the same conclusion independently seventy years later.

Robert Chambers ' Book of Days supports the claim and places Matthioli in the Bastille for the last 13 years of his life. Since that time, letters sent by Saint-Mars, which earlier historians missed, indicate that Mattioli was only held at Pignerol and Sainte-Marguerite and was not at Exiles or the Bastille and, therefore, it is argued that he can be discounted.