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From Legends of the Bastille by Frantz Funck-Brentano, with an Introduction by Victorien Sardou, Authorised Translation by George Maidment, London :  Downey & Co. Limited; 1899; pp. 114-146.




FOR two centuries no question has excited public opinion more than that of the Man in the Iron Mask. The books written on the subject would fill a library. People despaired of ever lifting the veil. “The story of the Iron Mask,” says Michelet, “will probably remain for ever obscure,” and Henri Martin adds :  “History has no right to pronounce judgment on what will never leave the domain of conjecture.” To-day, the doubt no longer exists. The problem is solved. Before disclosing the solution which criticism has unanimously declared correct, we propose to transcribe the scanty authentic documents that we possess on the masked man, and then to state the principal solutions which have been proposed, before arriving at the true solution.


The Register of the Bastille. — To begin with, let us quote the text which is the origin and foundation of all the works published on the question of the Iron Mask.

Etienne du Junca, king’s lieutenant at the Bastille, 115 in a journal which he began to keep on October 2, 1690, when he entered upon his office — a sort of register in which he recorded day by day the details concerning the arrival of the prisoners — writes, under date September 18, 1698, these lines,1 which the popular legend has rendered memorable:—

A black and white photograph of a copy of the Note in the Journal of Du Junca about the Man in the Iron Mask entering the Bastille.

Note in Du Junca’s Journal regarding the entrance to the Bastille (September 18, 1698) of the Man in the Iron Mask.

“Thursday, September 18 (1698), at three o’clock in the afternoon, M. de Saint-Mars, governor of the château of the Bastille, made his first appearance, coming from his governorship of the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite-Honorat, bringing with him, in his conveyance, a prisoner he had formerly at Pignerol, whom he caused to be always masked, whose name is not mentioned; directly he got out of the carriage he put him in the first room of the Bazinière tower, waiting till night for me to take him, at nine o’clock, and put him with M. de Rosarges, one of the sergeants brought by the governor, alone in the third room of the Bertaudière tower, which I had had furnished with all necessaries some days before his arrival, having received orders to that effect from M. de Saint-Mars :  the which prisoner will be looked after and waited on by M. de Rosarges, and maintained by the governor.”

In a second register, supplementary to the first, in which du Junca records details of the liberation or the death of the prisoners, we read, under date November 19, 1703 : —


A black and white photograph of a copy of the Note in the Journal of Du Junca about the death of the Man in the Iron Mask.

Notice in Du Junca’s Journal of the death of the masked prisoner in the Bastille (November 19, 1703).

“On the same day, November 19, 1703, the unknown prisoner, always masked with a mask of black velvet, whom M. de Saint-Mars, the governor, brought with him on coming from the Isles de Sainte-Marguerite, whom he had kept for a long time, the which happening to be a little ill yesterday on coming from mass, he died to-day, about ten o’clock at night, without having had a serious illness; it could not have been slighter. M. Giraut, our chaplain, confessed him yesterday, is surprised at his death. He did not receive the sacrament, and our chaplain exhorted him a moment before he died. And this unknown prisoner, kept here for so long, was buried on Tuesday at four o’clock p.m., November 20, in the graveyard of St. Paul, our parish; on the register of burial he was given a name also unknown. M. de Rosarges, major, and Arreil, surgeon, signed the register.”

And in the margin: —

“I have since learnt that they called him M. de Marchiel on the register, and that forty livres was the cost of the funeral.”

The registers of du Junca were preserved among the ancient archives of the Bastille, whence they passed to the Arsenal library, where they are now kept. They are drawn up in the clumsy handwriting of a soldier, with little skill in penmanship. The spelling is bad. But the facts are stated with precision, and have always proved accurate when checked,

The extract from the second register shows that the 117 mysterious prisoner wore, not a mask of iron, but one of black velvet.

Further, the entry on the register of St. Paul’s church has been discovered. It reads :  —

“On the 19th, Marchioly, aged 45 years or thereabouts, died in the Bastille, whose body was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul, his parish, the 20th of the present month, in the presence of M. Rosage (sic), major of the Bastille, and of M. Reglhe (sic), surgeon major of the Bastille, who signed. — (Signed) ROSARGES, REILHE.”

Such are the fundamental documents for the story of the Iron Mask; we shall see by and by that they are sufficient to establish the truth.

The Letter of the Governor of Sainte-Marguerite. — We have just seen, from the register of du Junca, that the masked man had been at the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite under the charge of Saint-Mars, who, on being appointed governor of the Bastille, had brought the prisoner with him. In the correspondence exchanged between Saint-Mars and the minister Barbezieux, occurs the following letter, dated January 6, 1696, in which Saint-Mars describes his method of dealing with the prisoners, and the masked man is referred to under the appellation “my ancient prisoner.”

“MY LORD, —  You command me to tell you what is the practice, when I am absent or ill, as to the visits made and precautions taken daily in regard to the prisoners committed to my charge. My two lieutenants 118 serve the meals at the regular hours, just as they have seen me do, and as I still do very often when I am well. The first of my lieutenants, who takes the keys of the prison of my ancient prisoner, with whom we commence, opens the three doors and enters the chamber of the prisoner, who politely hands him the plates and dishes, put one on top of another, to give them into the hands of the lieutenant, who has only to go through two doors to hand them to one of my sergeants, who takes them and places them on a table two steps away, where is the second lieutenant, who examines everything that enters and leaves the prison, and sees that there is nothing written on the plate; and after they have given him the utensil, they examine his bed inside and out, and then the gratings and windows of his room, and very often the man himself :  after having asked him very politely if he wants anything else, they lock the doors and proceed to similar business with the other prisoners.”

The Letter of M. de Palteau. — On June 19, 1768, M. de Formanoir de Palteau addressed from the château of Palteau, near Villeneuve-le-Roi, to the celebrated Fréron, editor of the Année Littéraire, a letter which was inserted in the number for June 30, 1768. The author of this letter was the grand-nephew of Saint-Mars. At the time when the latter was appointed governor of the Bastille, the château of Palteau belonged to him, and he halted there with his prisoner on the way from the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite to Paris.


“In 1698,” writes M. de Palteau, “M. de Saint-Mars passed from the governorship of the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite to that of the Bastille. On his way to take up his duties, he stayed with his prisoner on his estate at Palteau. The masked man arrived in a conveyance which preceded that of M. de Saint-Mars; they were accompanied by several horsemen. The peasants went to meet their lord :  M. de Saint-Mars ate with his prisoner, who had his back turned to the windows of the dining-hall looking on the courtyard. The peasants whom I have questioned could not see whether he ate with his mask on; but they observed very well that M. de Saint-Mars, who was opposite him at table, had two pistols beside his plate. They had only one footman to wait on them, and he fetched the dishes from an ante-room where they were brought him, carefully shutting the door of the dining-hall behind him When the prisoner crossed the courtyard, he always had his black mask over his face; the peasants noticed that his lips and teeth were not covered, that he was tall and had white hair. M. de Saint-Mars slept in a bed that was put up for him near that of the masked man.”

This account is marked throughout with the stamp of truth. M. de Palteau, the writer, makes no attempt to draw inferences from it. He declares for none of the hypotheses then under discussion in regard to the identity of the mysterious unknown. He is content to report the testimony of those of his peasants who saw the masked man when he passed through their lord’s estates. 120 The only detail in the story which we are able to check — a characteristic detail, it is true — is that of the black mask of which M. de Palteau speaks :  it corresponds exactly to the mask of black velvet mentioned in du Junca’s register.

The château of Palteau is still in existence. In his work on Superintendent Fouquet, M. Jules Lair gives a description of it. “The château of Palteau, situated on an eminence among woods and vines, presented at that time, as it does to-day, the aspect of a great lordly mansion in the style of the time of Henri IV. and Louis XIII. First there is a wide courtyard, then two wings; within, the principal building and the chapel. The lower story is supported on arches, and its lofty windows go right up into the roof, and light the place from floor to attic.” Since the eighteenth century, however, the château has undergone some modifications. The room in which Saint-Mars dined with his prisoner is now used as a kitchen.

The Notes of Major Chevalier. — In addition to the entries in du Junca’s Journal which we have transcribed, scholars are accustomed to invoke, as equally worthy of credence though later in date, the testimony of Father Griffet, chaplain of the Bastille, and that of Major Chevalier.

The extracts from du Junca quoted above were published for the first time in 1769 by Father Griffet, who added the following comments :  “The memory of the masked prisoner was still preserved among the 121 officers, soldiers, and servants of the Bastille, when M. de Launey, who has long been the governor, came to occupy a place on the staff of the garrison. Those who had seen him with his mask, when he crossed the courtyard on his way to attend mass, said that after his death the order was given to burn everything he had used, such as linen, clothes, cushions, counterpanes, &c. :  that the very walls of the room he had occupied had to be scraped and whitewashed again, and that all the tiles of the flooring were taken up and replaced by others, because they were so afraid that he had found some means to conceal some note or some mark, the discovery of which would have revealed his name.”

The testimony of Father Griffet happens to be confirmed by some notes from the pen of a major of the Bastille named Chevalier. The major was not a personage of the highest rank, in the administration of the Bastille, since above him were the governor and the king’s lieutenant :  but he was the most important personage. The whole internal administration, so afar the prisoners were concerned, was entrusted to him. Chevalier fulfilled these duties for nearly thirty-eight years, from 1749 to 1787. M. Fernand Bournon’s estimate of him is as follows :  “Chevalier is a type of the devoted hard-working official who as no ambition to rise above a rather subordinate rank. It would be impossible to say how much the administration of the Bastille owed to his zeal and to his perfect familiarity with a service of extraordinary difficulty.”


Among notes put together with a view to a history of the Bastille, Chevalier gives in condensed form the information furnished by du Junca’s register, and adds :  “This is the famous masked man whom no one has ever known. He was treated with great distinction by the governor, and was seen only by M. de Rosarges, major of the said château, who had sole charge of him; he was not ill except for a few hours, and died rather suddenly :  interred at St. Paul’s, on Tuesday, November 20, 1703, at 4 o’clock p.m., under the name of Marchiergues. He was buried in a new white shroud, given by the governor, and practically everything in his room was burnt, such as his bed, chairs, tables, and other bits of furniture, or else melted down, and the whole was thrown into the privies.”

These notes of Father Griffet and Major Chevalier have derived great force, in the eyes of historians, from their exact agreement; but a close examination shows that the testimony of Chevalier was the source of Father Griffet’s information; in fact, Chevalier was major of the Bastille when the Jesuit compiled his work and it is doubtless upon his authority that the latter depended.

Documents recently published in the Revue Bleue upset these assertions, which appeared to be based on the firmest foundations.

In the Journal of du Junca, which we have already mentioned, we read under date April 30, 1701 :  “Sunday, April 30, about 9 o’clock in the evening, M. Aumont the younger came, bringing and handing over to us a prisoner 123 named M. Maranville, alias Ricarville, who was an officer in the army, a malcontent, too free with his tongue, a worthless fellow :  whom I received in obedience to the king’s orders sent through the Count of Pontchartrain :  whom I have had put along with the man Tirmon, in the second room of the Bertaudière tower, with the ancient prisoner both being well locked in.”

The “ancient prisoner” here referred to is no other than the masked man. When he entered the Bastille, as we have seen, on September 18, 1698, he was placed in the third room of the Bertaudière tower. In 1701, the Bastille happened to be crowded with prisoners, and they had to put several together in one and the same room; so the man in the mask was placed with two companions. One of them, Jean-Alexandre de Ricarville, also called Maranville, had been denounced as a “retailer of ill speech against the State, finding fault with the policy of France and lauding that of foreigners, especially that of the Dutch.” The police reports depict him as a beggarly fellow, poorly dressed, and about sixty years old. He had formerly been, as du Junca says, an officer in the royal troops. Maranville left the Bastille on October, 19, 1708. He was transferred to Charenton, where he died in February, 1709. It must be pointed out that Charenton was then an “open” prison, where the prisoners associated with one another and had numerous relations with the outside world.

The second of the fellow-prisoners of the man in the mask Dominique-François Tirmont, was a servant. 124 When he was placed in the Bastille, on July 30, 1700, he was nineteen years old. He was accused of sorcery and of debauching young girls. He was put in the second room of the Bertaudière tower, where he was joined by Maranville and the man in the mask. On December 14, 1791, he was transferred to Bicêtre. He lost his reason in 1703 and died in 1708.

The man in the mask was taken out of the third room of the Bertaudière tower, in which he had been placed on his entrance to the Bastille, on March 6, 1701, in order to make room for a woman named Anne Randon, a “witch and fortune-teller,” who was shut up alone in it. The masked prisoner was then placed in the “second Bertaudière” with Tirmont, who had been there, as we have just seen, since July 30, 1700. Maranville joined them on April 30, 1701. Not long after, the masked man was transferred to another room, with or without Maranville. Tirmont had been taken to Bicêtre in 1701. We find that on February 26, 1703, the Abbé Gonzel, a priest of Franche-Comté, accused of being a spy, was shut up alone in the “second Bertaudière.”

These facts are of undeniable authenticity, and one sees at a glance the consequences springing from them. At the time when the masked prisoner shared the same room with fellow-captives, other prisoners at the Bastille were kept rigorously isolated, in spite of the crowded state of the prison, so much more important did the reasons for their incarceration seem! The man in the mask was associated with persons of the lowest class, 125 who were soon afterwards to leave and take their places with the ruck of prisoners at Charenton and Bicêtre. We read in a report of D’Argenson that there was even some talk of enlisting one of them, Tirmont, in the army. Such, then, was this strange personage, the repository of a terrible secret of which Madame Palatine2 was already speaking in mysterious terms, the man who puzzled kings, Louis XV., Louis XVI., who puzzled the very officers of the Bastille, and caused them to write stories as remote as possible from the reality!


If the very officers of the Bastille indulged such wild freaks of imagination, what flights into dreamland might not the thoughts of the public be expected to take? The movement is a very curious one to follow. To begin with, we have the light Venetian mask transforming itself 126 into an iron mask with steel articulations which the prisoner was never without. The consideration — imaginary, as we have seen — with which the prisoner is supposed to have been treated, and which is referred to in the notes of Major Chevalier, becomes transformed into marks of a boundless deference shown by the jailers towards their captive. The story was that Saint-Mars, the governor, a knight of St. Louis, never spoke to the prisoner except standing, with bared head, that he served him at table with his own hands and on silver plate, and that he supplied him with the most luxurious raiment his fancy could devise. Chevalier says that after his death his room at the Bastille was done up like new, to prevent his successor from discovering any tell-tale evidence in some corner. Speaking to the time when the masked man was at the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite, Voltaire relates :  “One day the prisoner wrote with a knife on a silver dish, and threw the dish out of the window towards a boat moored on the shore, almost at the foot of the tower. A fisherman, to whom the boat belonged, picked up the dish and carried it to the governor. Astonished, he asked the fisherman, ‘Have you read what is written on this dish, and has anyone seen it in your hands?’ ‘I cannot read,’ replied the fisher, ‘I have only just found it, and no one has seen it.’ The poor man was detained until the governor was assured he could not read and that no one had seen the dish. ‘Go,’ he said, ‘it is lucky for you that you can’t read!’ ”


In Father Papon’s History of Provence, linen takes the place of the dish. The upshot is more tragic :  “I found in the citadel an officer of the Free Company, aged 79 years. He told me several times that a barber of that company saw one day, under the prisoner’s window, something white floating on the water; he went and picked it up and carried it to M. de Saint-Mars. It was a shirt of fine linen, folded with no apparent care, and covered with the prisoner’s writing. M. de Saint-Mars, after unfolding it and reading a few lines, asked the barber, with an air of great embarrassment, if he had not had the curiosity to read what was on it. The barber protested over and over again that he had read nothing; but, two days after, he was found dead in his bed.”

And the fact that Saint-Mars had had the body of the prisoner buried in a white cloth struck the imagination, and was developed in its turn into an extraordinary taste on the part of the prisoner for linen of the finest quality and for costly lace — all which was taken to prove that the masked man was a son of Anne of Austria, who had a very special love, it was declared, for valuable lace and fine linen.

A Brother of Louis XIV. — We are able to fix with precision, we believe, the origin of the legend which made the Iron Mask a brother of Louis XIV. Moreover, it was due to this suggestion, which was hinted at from the first, that the story of the prisoner made so great a noise. The glory of it belongs to the most famous writer of the eighteenth century. With a boldness of imagination for 128 which to-day he would be envied by the cleverest journalistic inventor of sensational paragraphs, Voltaire started this monstrous hoax on its vigorous flight.

In 1745 there had just appeared a sort of romance entitled Notes towards the History of Persia, which was attributed, not without some reason, to Madame de Vieux-Maisons. The book contained a story within a story, in which the mysterious prisoner, who was beginning to be talked about everywhere, was identified with the Duke de Vermandois, and to this fact was due the sensation which the book caused. Voltaire immediately saw how he could turn the circumstance to account. He had himself at one time been confined in the Bastille, which was one reason for speaking of it; but he did not dare put in circulation suddenly, without some preparation, the terrible story he had just conceived, and, with a very delicate sensitiveness to public opinion, he contented himself with printing the following paragraph in the first edition of his Age of Louis XIV. :  “A few months after the death of Mazarin there occurred an event which is unexampled in history, and, what is not less strange, has been passed over in silence by all the historians. There was sent with the utmost secrecy to the château of the Isle of Sainte-Marguerite, in the Sea of Provence, an unknown prisoner, of more than ordinary height, young, and with features of rare nobility and beauty. On the way, this prisoner wore a mask the chinpiece of which was fitted with springs of steel, which allowed him to eat freely with the mask covering his face. The order had been 129 given to kill him if he uncovered. He remained in the island until an officer in whom great confidence was placed, named Saint-Mars, governor of Pignerol, having been made governor of the Bastille, came to the Isle of Sainte-Marguerite to fetch him, and conducted him to the Bastille, always masked. The Marquis de Louvois saw him in the island before his removal, and remained standing while he spoke to him, with a consideration savouring of respect.” Voltaire, however, does not say who this extraordinary prisoner was. He observed the impression produced on the public by his story. Then he ventured more boldly, and in the first edition of his Questions on the Encyclopædia insinuated that the motive for covering the prisoner’s face with a mask was fear lest some too striking likeness should be recognized. He still refrained from giving his name, but already everyone was on tip-toe with the expectation of startling news. At last, in the second edition of Questions on the Encyclopædia, Voltaire intrepidly added that the man in the mask was a uterine brother of Louis XIV., a son of Mazarin and Anne of Austria, and older than the king. We know what incomparable agitators of public opinion the Encyclopædists were.

Once hatched, the story was not long in producing a numerous progeny, which grew in their turn and became a monstrous brood.

We read in the Memoirs of the Duke of Richelieu, compiled by his secretary the Abbé Soulavie, that Mdlle. de Valois, the Regent’s daughter and at this date the 130 mistress of Richelieu, consented, at the instigation of the latter, to prostitute herself to her father — tradition has it that the Regent was enamoured of his daughter — in order to get sight of an account of the Iron Mask drawn up by Saint-Mars. According to this story, which the author of the Memoirs prints in its entirety, Louis XIV. was born at noon, and at half-past eight in the evening, while the king was at supper, the queen was brought to bed of a second son, who was put out of sight so as to avoid subsequent dissensions in the state.

The Baron de Gleichen goes still further. He is at the pains to prove that it was the true heir to the throne who was put out of sight, to the profit of a child of the queen and the cardinal. Having became masters of the situation at the death of the king, they substituted their son for the Dauphin, the substitution being facilitated by a strong likeness between the children. One sees at a glance the consequences of this theory, which nullifies the legitimacy of the last Bourbons.

But the career of imagination was not yet to be checked. The legend came into full bloom under the first empire. Pamphlets then appeared in which the version of Baron de Gleichen was revived. Louis XIV. had been only a bastard, the son of foreigners; the lawful heir had been imprisoned at the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite, where he had married the daughter of one of his keepers. Of this marriage was born a child who, as soon as he was weaned, was sent to Corsica, and entrusted to a reliable person, as a child coming of “good stock,” in Italian, Buona-parte. 131 Of that child the Emperor was the direct descendant. The right of Napoleon I. to the throne of France established by the Iron Mask! — there is a discovery which the great Dumas missed. But, incredible as it seems, there were men who actually took these fables seriously. In a Vendéan manifesto circulated among the Chouans,3 in Nivose of the year IX,4 we read :  “It is not wise for the Royalist party to rely on the assurances given by some emissaries of Napoleon, that he seized the throne only to restore the Bourbons; everything proves that he only awaits the general pacification to declare himself, and that he means to base his right on the birth of the children of the Iron Mask!”

We shall not stay to refute the hypothesis which makes the Iron Mask a brother of Louis XIV. Marius Topin has already done so in the clearest possible manner. The notion, moreover, has long been abandoned. The last writers who adhered to it date from the revolutionary period.

The Successive Incarnations of the Iron Mask. — “Never has an Indian deity,” says Paul de Saint-Victor, speaking of the Iron Mask, “undergone so many metempsychoses 132 and so many avatars.” It would take too long merely to enumerate all the individuals with whom it has been attempted to identify the Iron Mask :  even women have not escaped. We shall cite rapidly the theories which have found most credence amongst the public, or those which have been defended in the most serious works, in order to arrive finally at the identification — as will be seen, it is one of those proposed long ago — which is beyond doubt the true one.

The hypothesis which, after that of a brother of Louis XIV., has most powerfully excited public opinion, is that which made the mysterious unknown Louis, Comte de Vermandois, admiral of France, and son of the charming Louise de la Vallière. This was indeed the belief of Father Griffet, chaplain of the Bastille, and even of the officers of the staff. But the conjecture is disproved in a single line :  “The Comte de Vermandois died at Courtrai, on November 18, 1683.” A precisely similar fact refutes the theory identifying the Iron Mask with the Duke of Monmouth, the natural son of Charles II. and Lucy Walters. Monmouth perished on the scaffold in 1683. Lagrange-Chancel throws much ardour and talent into a defence of the theory which made the Iron Mask Francis of Vendôme, Duke de Beaufort, who, under the Fronde, was called “King of the Markets.” The Duke de Beaufort died at the siege of Candia, June 25, 1669.

To Lagrange-Chancel succeeds the Chevalier de Taulès. “I have discovered the Man in the Mask,” he cries, “and it is my duty to impart my discovery to 133 Europe and posterity!” This discovery brings forward one Avedick, an Armenian patriarch of Constantinople and Jerusalem, kidnapped in the East at the instigation of the Jesuits, and transported to France. Vergennes, on entering the ministry for foreign affairs, set investigations on foot. They confirmed the statement that Avedick had actually been arrested in the circumstances indicated, but after 1706; and so he could not be identified with the Iron Mask.

Such were the theories of the eighteenth century. We come now to those of our own time. Since mystery and sinister machinations were involved, the Jesuits could not be long left out of the business. We have just seen them at their tricks with the Armenian patriarch. People dreamt of an innocent youth thrown into a dungeon at their instigation for having written a couple of verses against them. But even this fancy was completely cast into the shade in a work published in 1885 under the pseudonym of “Ubalde,” the author of which was unquestionably M. Anatole Loquin. This is his conclusion :  “The more I reflect, the more I believe I recognize in the Man in the Iron Mask, without any elaborate theory, without prejudice on my part, no other than J. B. Poquelin de Molière.” The Jesuits have got their revenge for Tartufe !

Let us come now to the conjectures which have almost hit the truth and have been defended by genuine scholars.

Superintendent Fouquet is the solution of the 134 bibliophile Jacob (Paul Lacroix). M. Lair has shown that Fouquet died at Pignerol, of a sort of apoplexy, on March 23, 1680, at the very moment when there was an idea at court of sending him to the waters at Bourbon, as a first step towards his final liberation.

François Ravaisson, the learned and charming keeper of the Arsenal library, whose work in classifying the archives of the Bastille we have had the honour to continue, believed for a moment that the celebrated prisoner might have been the young Count de Kéroualze who had fought at Candia under the orders of Admiral de Beaufort. Ravaisson put forth his theory with much hesitation, and as, in the sequel, he was himself led to abandon it, we need not dwell any longer upon it.

M. Loiseleur, in the course of his brilliant controversy with Marius Topin, suggested “an obscure spy arrested by Catinat in 1681,” and his opponent refuted him in the most piquant manner by discovering Catinat in the very prisoner he was said to have arrested!

General Jung published a large volume in support of the claims of a certain Oldendorf, a native of Lorraine, a spy and poisoner, arrested on March 29, 1673, in a trap laid for him at one of the passages of the Somme. The theory was refuted by M. Loiseleur. As M. Lair pointed out, General Jung did not even succeed in proving that his nominee entered Pignerol, an essential condition to his being the Man in the Mask.

Baron Carutti urged the claims of a mad Jacobin, a prisoner at Pignerol whose name remains unknown; 135 but this Jacobin died at Pignerol towards the close of 1693.

The recent work of M. Emile Burgaud, written in collaboration with Commandant Bazeries, made a great sensation . He fixes on General Vivien Labbé de Bulonde, whom Louvois arrested for having shown dereliction of a general’s duty before Coni. M. Geoffroy de Grandmaison published in the Univers of January 9, 1895, two receipts signed by General de Bulonde, one in 1699, when the masked man was in rigorous isolation at the Bastille, the other in 1705, when he had been dead for two years.

We come at last to the hypothesis which is the most probable of all — after the true hypothesis, of course. Eustache Dauger, whom M. Lair identifies with the masked prisoner, was a valet, who had been put into jail at Pignerol on July 28, 1669. But it must be noted that the masked prisoner was kept guarded in rigorous secrecy in the early days of his detention, as long as he was at Pignerol and the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite. Now, when Dauger went to Pignerol, his case seemed of such slight importance that Saint-Mars thought of making him into a servant for the other prisoners, and in fact, in 1675, Louvois gave him as a valet to Fouquet, who for some time past had seen the rigour of his confinement sensibly mitigated, receiving visits, walking freely in the courts and purlieus of the fortress, Dauger accompanying him. Further, we know that the masked man was transferred direct from Pignerol to the Isles of 136 Sainte-Marguerite, whilst Dauger was transferred in 1681 to Exiles, whence he only went to the Isles in 1687.

We now come to the correct solution.


To Baron Heiss, once captain in the Alsace regiment, and one of the most distinguished bibliophiles of his time, belongs the honour of being the first, in a letter dated from Phalsbourg, June 28, 1770, and published by the Journal encyclopédique, to identify the masked prisoner with Count Mattioli, secretary of state to the Duke of Manta. After him, Dutens, in 1783, in his Intercepted Correspondence; Baron de Chambrier, in 1795, in a Memoir presented to the Academy of Berlin; Roux-Fazillac, member of the Legislative Assembly and the Convention, in a remarkable work printed in 1801; then successively, Reth, Delort, Ellis, Carlo Botta, Armand Baschet, Marius Topin, Paul de Saint-Victor, and M. Gallien, in a series of publications more or less important, endeavoured to prove that the Man in the Mask was the Duke of Mantua’s secretary of state. The scholars most intimate with the history of Louis XIV.’s government, Depping, Chéruel, Camille Rousset, have not hesitated to pronounce in favour of the same view; while against them, singlehanded like his D’Artagnan, Alexandre Dumas resisted the efforts of twenty scholars, and the Vicomte de Bragelonne — giving a new lease of life to the legend about the brother of Louis XIV., put in circulation by Voltaire, and reinforced by the Revolution — drove 137 back into their dust among the archives the documents which students had exhumed.

We have no longer to deal with so formidable an adversary, and we hope that the following pages will not leave the shadow of a doubt.

We know how, under the influence of Louvois, the able and insinuating policy directed first by Mazarin, then by Lionne, gave way to a military diplomacy, blunt and aggressive. Louis XIV. was master of Pignerol, acquired in 1632. He was induced by Louvois to cast covetous glances at Casal. In possession of these two places, the French armies could not but dominate Upper Italy, and hold the court of Turin directly at their mercy. The throne of Mantua was then occupied by a young duke, Charles IV. of Gonzago, frivolous, happy-go-lucky, dissipating his wealth at Venice in fêtes and pleasures. In 1677 he had pledged to the Jew the crown revenues for several years. Charles IV. was also Marquis of Montferrat, of which Casal was the capital. Noting with watchful eye the frivolity and financial straits of the young prince, the court of Versailles conceived the bold scheme of buying Casal for hard cash.

At this date, one of the principal personages in Mantua was Count Hercules Antony Mattioli. He was born at Bologna on December 1, 1640, of a distinguished family. A brilliant student, he had barely passed his twentieth year when he was elected a professor at the University of Bologna. Afterwards he established himself at Mantua, where Charles III., whose confidence 138 he had won, made him his secretary of state. Charles IV., continuing the favour of his father, not only maintained Mattioli in his office as minister of state, but appointed him an honorary senator, a dignity which was enhanced by the title of Count.

Louis XIV. was employing at the capital of the Venetian republic a keen-witted and enterprising ambassador, the Abbé d’Estrades. He saw through the ambitious and intriguing nature of Mattioli, and, towards the end of 1677, succeeded in winning over his support for the designs of the French court on Casal.

On January 12, 1678, Louis XIV. with his own hand wrote expressing his thanks to Mattioli, who by-and-by came to Paris. On December 8, the contract was signed, the Duke of Mantua receiving in exchange for Casal 100,000 crowns. In a private audience, Louis XIV. presented Mattioli with a costly diamond and paid him the sum of a hundred double louis.

Scarcely two months after Mattioli’s journey to France, the courts of Vienna, Madrid, Turin and the Venetian Republic were simultaneously informed of all that had taken place. In order to reap a double harvest of gold, Mattioli had cynically betrayed both his master Charles IV. and the King of France. Like a thunderbolt there came to Versailles the news of the arrest of Baron d’Asfeld, the envoy appointed by Louis XIV. to exchange ratifications with Mattioli. The governor of Milan had caused him to be seized and handed over to the Spaniards. The rage of Louis XIV. and of Louvois, 139 who had urged the opening of negotiations, taken an active part in them, and begun preparations for the occupation of Casal, may well be imagined. The Abbé d’Estrades, not less irritated, conceived a scheme of the most daring kind, proposing to Versailles nothing less than the abduction of the Mantuan minister. But Louis XIV. was determined to have no scandal. Catinat was charged with carrying out the scheme in person. The Abbé d’Estrades, in his dealings with Mattioli, feigned ignorance of the double game the Count was playing. He led him to believe, on the contrary, that the balance of the sums promised at Versailles was about to be paid. A meeting was fixed for May 2, 1679. On that day d’Estrades and Mattioli got into a carriage, the passing of which was awaited by Catinat accompanied by some dozen men. At two o’clock in the afternoon, Mattioli was in the fortress of Pignerol, in the hands of jailer Saint-Mars. When we remember the rank held by the Italian minister, we are confronted with one of the most audacious violations of international law of which history has preserved a record.

Early in the year 1694, Mattioli was transferred to the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite; we have seen that he entered the Bastille on September 18, 1698, and died there on November 19, 1703.

The details that we posses of the imprisonment of Mattioli at Pignerol and afterwards at the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite show that he was at the outset treated with the consideration due to his rank and to the 140 position he occupied at the time of his arrest. Eventually the respect which the prisoner had at first inspired gradually diminished :  as years went on the attentions shown him grew less and less until the day when, at the Bastille, he was given a room in common with the persons of the basest class. On the other hand, the rigour of his confinement, so far as the secrecy in which he was kept was concerned, was more and more relaxed; what it was material to conceal was the circumstances under which Mattioli had been arrested, and with the lapse of time this secret continually diminished in importance. As to the mask of black velvet which Mattioli had among his possessions when he was arrested, and which he put on, without a doubt, only for the occasion, this in reality constituted a relief to his captivity, for it permitted the prisoner to leave his room, while the other state prisoners were rigorously mewed up in theirs.

It remains to prove that the masked prisoner was really Mattioli.

1. In the despatch sent by Louis XIV. to the Abbé d’Estrades five days before the arrest, the king approves the scheme of his ambassador and authorized him to secure Mattioli, “since you believe you can get him carried off without the affair giving rise to any scandal.” The prisoner is to be conducted to Pignerol, where “instructions are being sent to receive him and keep him there without anybody having knowledge of it.” The 141 king’s orders close with these words :  “You must see to it that no one knows what becomes of this man.” The capture effected, Catinat wrote on his part to Louvois :  “It came off without any violence, and no one knows the name of the knave, not even the officers who helped to arrest him.” Finally, we have a various curious pamphlet, entitled La Prudenza triomfante di Casale, written in 1682, that is, little more than two years after the event, and — this slight detail is of capital importance — thirty years before there was any talk of the Man in the Mask. In this we read :  “The secretary (Mattioli) was surrounded by ten or twelve horsemen, who seized him, disguised him, masked him, and conducted him to Pignerol” — a fact, moreover, confirmed by a tradition which in the eighteenth century was still rife in the district, where scholars succeeded in culling it.

Is there any need to insist on the strength of the proofs afforded by these three documents, taken in connection one with another?

2. We know, from du Junca’s register, that the masked man was shut up at Pignerol under the charge of Saint-Mars. In 1681, Saint-Mars gave up the governorship of Pignerol for that of Exiles. We can determine with absolute precision the number of prisoners Saint-Mars had then in his keeping. It was exactly five. A dispatch from Louvois, dated June 9, is very clear. In the first paragraph, he orders “the two prisoners in the lower tower” to be removed; in the second, he adds :  “The rest of the prisoners in your 142 charge.” Here there is a clear indication of the “rest” :  what follows settles the number :  “The Sieur du Chamoy has orders to pay two crowns a day for the board of these three prisoners.” This account, as clear as arithmetic can make it, is further confirmed by the letter addressed by Saint-Mars to the Abbé d’Estrades on June 25, 1681, when he was setting out for Exiles :  “I received yesterday the warrant appointing me governor of Exiles :  I am to keep charge of two jailbirds I have here, who have no other name than ‘the gentlemen of the lower tower’; Mattioli will remain here with two other prisoners.”

The prisoners, then, were five in number, and the masked man is to be found, of necessity, among them. Now we know who these five were :  (1) a certain La Rivière, who died at the end of December, 1686; (2) a Jacobin, out of his mind, who died at he end of 1693; (3) a certain Dubreuil, who died at the Isles of Sainte-Marguerite about 1697. There remain Dauger and Mattioli. The Man in the Mask is, without possible dispute, the one or the other. We have explained above the reasons which lead us to discard Dauger. The mysterious prisoner, then, was Mattioli. The proof is mathematically exact.

A black and white copy of the Death Certificate of the masked prisoner.

Burial certificate of the masked prisoner (November 20, 1703), reproduced from the facsimile in the sixth edition of The Man in the Iron Mask, by Marius Topin, 1883. The original, in the city archives of Paris, was destroyed in the conflagration of 1871.

3. Opposite this page will be found a facsimile reproduction of the death certificate of the masked prisoner as inscribed on the registers of the church of St. Paul. It is the very name of the Duke of Mantua’s former secretary that is traced there :  “Marchioly.” It 143 must be remembered that “Marchioly” would be pronounced in Italian “Markioly,” and that Saint-Mars, governor of the Bastille, who furnished the information on which the certificate was drawn up, almost always wrote in his correspondence — a characteristic detail — not “Mattioli,” but “Martioly” :  that is the very name on the register, less distorted than the name of the major of the Bastille, who was called “Rosarges,” and not “Rosage,” as given on the register; and the name of the surgeon, who was called “Reilhe,” and not “Reglhe.”

It has been shown above how, as time went on, the rigorous seclusion to which the masked prisoner had been condemned was relaxed. What it had been thought necessary to conceal was the manner in which Mattioli had been captured, and with time that secret itself had lost its importance. As the Duke of Mantua had declared himself very well pleased with the arrest of the minister by whom he, no less than Louis XIV., had been deceived, there was nothing to prevent the name from being inscribed on a register of death, where, moreover, no one would ever have thought of looking for it.

Let us add that, in consequence of error or carelessness on the part of the officer who supplied the information for the register, or perhaps on the part of the parson or beadle who wrote it, the age is stated incorrectly, “forty-five years or thereabouts,” while Mattioli was sixty-three when he died. However, the register was filled up without the least care, as a formality of no importance.


4. The Duke de Choiseul pressed Louis XV. to reveal to him the clue to the enigma. The king escaped with an evasion. One day, however, he said to him :  “If you knew all about it, you would see that it has very little interest;” and some time after, when Madame de Pompadour, at de Choiseul’s instigation, pressed the king on the subject, he told her that the prisoner was “the minister of an Italian prince.”

In the Memoirs of the Private Life of Marie Antoinette by her principal lady in waiting, Madame de Campan, we read that the queen tormented Louis XVI., who did not know the secret, to have a search made among the papers of the various ministries. “I was with the queen,” said Madame de Campan, “when the king, having finished his researches, told her that he had found nothing in the secret papers which had any bearing on the existence of this prisoner; that he had spoken on the subject to M. de Maurepas, whose age brought him nearer the time when the whole story must have been known to the ministers (Maurepas had been minister of the king’s household as a very young man, in the early years of the eighteenth century, having the department of the lettres de cachet), and that M. de Maurepas had assured him that the prisoner was simply a man of a very dangerous character through his intriguing spirit, and a subject of the Duke of Mantua. He was lured to the frontier, arrested, and kept a prisoner, at first at Pignerol, then at the Bastille.”

These two pieces of evidence are of such weight that 145 they alone would be sufficient to fix the truth. When they were written, there was no talk of Mattioli, of whose very name Madame de Campan was ignorant. Supposing that Madame de Campan had amused herself by inventing a fable — an absurd and improbable supposition, for what reason could she have had for so doing? — it is impossible to admit that her imagination could have hit upon fancies so absolutely in accord with facts.5

And so the problem is solved. The legend, which had reared itself even as high as the throne of France, topples down. The satisfaction of the historian springs from his reflection that all serious historical works for more than a century, resting on far-reaching researches and eschewing all preoccupations foreign to science — such, for example, as the desire of attaining a result different from the solutions proposed by one’s predecessors — have arrived at the same conclusion, which proves to be the correct solution. Heiss, Baron de Chambrier, Reth, Roux-Fazillac, Delort, Carlo Botta, Armand Baschet, Marius Topin, Paul de Saint-Victor, Camille Rouseet, Chéruel, Depping, have not hesitated to place under the famous mask of black velvet the 146 features of Mattioli. But at each new effort made by science, legend throws itself once more into the fray, gaining new activity from the passions produced by the Revolution.

The truth, in history, sometimes suggests to our mind’s eye those white or yellow flowers which float on the water among broad flat leaves; a breeze springs up, a wave rises and submerges them, they disappear; but only for a moment :  then they come to the surface again.


1  These extracts are translated literally, in order to preserve the clumsy constructions of the unlettered official. — T.

2  Step-sister of Louis XIV. The following extracts from her correspondence show how, even in circles that might have been expected to be well informed, the legend had already seized on people’s imaginations : —

“Marly, October 10, 1711. A man remained long years in the Bastille, and has died there, masked. At his side he had two musketeers ready to kill him if he took off his mask. He ate and slept masked. No doubt there was some reason for this, otherwise he was well treated and lodged, and given everything he wished for. He went to communion masked; he was very devout and read continually. No one has ever been able to learn who he was.”

“Versailles, October 22, 1711. I have just learnt who the masked man was, who died in the Bastille. His wearing a mask was not due to cruelty. He was an English lord who had been mixed up in the affair of the Duke of Berwick (natural son of James II.) against King William. He died there so that the king might never know what became of him.”

3  The insurgents who rose for the king against the Revolutionists in Brittany :  see Balzac’s famous novel. The movement smouldered for a great many years. — T.

4  The Gregorian Calendar was abolished by the National Convention in 1793, who decreed that September 22, 1792, should be regarded as the first day of a new era. The year was divided into twelve months, with names derived from natural phenomena. Novise (snowy) was the fourth of these moths. Thus, the period mentioned in the test includes from December 21, 1800, to January 19, 1801. — T.

5  Since M. Funck-Brentano’s book was published, his conclusions have been confirmed by Vicomte Maurice Boutry in a study published in the Revue des Etudes historiques (1899, p. 172). The Vicomte furnishes an additional proof. He says that the Duchess de Créquy, in the third book of her Souvenirs, gives a résumé of a conversation on the Iron Mask between Marshal de Noailles, the Duchess de Luynes, and others, and adds :  “The most considerable and best informed persons of my time always thought that the famous story had no other foundation than the capture and captivity of the Piedmontese Mattioli.” — T.

[There was an earlier version of this chapter and the translator is not credited. Read it here :  “The Man with the Iron Mask,” by Frantz Funck-Brentano, translated from the Revue Historique for The Chautauquan, A Monthly Magazine, February, 1895. — Elf.Ed.]

[For another solution, which seems less likely, see Reuben Parson’s essay on this site :  The Man with the Iron Mask. — Elf.Ed.]

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