The Riddle of the Iron Mask

The Riddle of the Iron Mask

The Iron mask was a French prisoner who died in the Bastille in 1703, and whose identity is the subject of much speculation. Wearing a velvet mask with metal joints, he was first locked up by order of Louis XIV in 1679 in Pignerol, in Piedmont, then at the Château d'If, on the Île Sainte-Marguerite. In 1698, the Iron Mask was brought to the Bastille, where he died in 1703. He is buried in the Saint-Paul cemetery, in Paris, under the name Marchiali. The true identity of the Iron Mask has been the subject, from the outset, of many hypotheses, many of which have been abandoned.

The man in the iron mask, a mysterious prisoner

This mysterious character was imprisoned in the fortress of Pignerol in Piedmont from 1680 where he always remained under the care of M. de Saint-Mars. He then stayed at the fortress of Île Sainte-Marguerite (Lérins) from 1687 to 1698, then the Bastille, where he arrived on September 18, 1698 and died there on November 19, 1703. Until the end of his days, he was forced to wear a velvet mask with iron hinges. For the rest, he was treated very well. On his death, he was buried under the name Marchiali in the Saint Paul cemetery and all the objects he had used were immediately burned. The walls of the room he had occupied were scratched and whitewashed, the tiles removed to see if there had been some message hidden. The pages of the Bastille registers concerning him were torn off.

From the 18th century onwards, the public began to be passionate about the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask. Among the hypotheses put forward and now abandoned, let us quote: the ex-superintendent of Finances Fouquet, officially dead at the beginning of 1680; Louis de Bourbon, Count of Vermandois, natural son of Louis XIV and Madame de La Vallière, born in 1667 and legitimized in 1669, and who disappeared from the court and the world in 1683; an older half-brother of Louis XIV, born of adulterous relations with Anne of Austria (hypothesis formulated for the first time by Voltaire and taken up by Alexandre Dumas father in his novel Le Vicomte de Bragelonne); a son born of a secret marriage of Anne of Austria to Cardinal Mazarin; the Duke of Beaufort, officially died at the siege of Candia in 1669; a nephew of James II of England, the Duke of Monmouth. who would have been thus removed from the torture after his revolt; R. Father Jacques de La Cloche, natural son of Charles II of England, who had been aware of the secret treaty of Dover concluded between his father and Louis XIV; Molière, victim of revenge from the devotees following his Tartuffe ...

A more recent hypothesis has identified the Man in the Iron Mask with Marc de Jarrige de La Morelhie, the son-in-law of the doctor who performed the autopsy on Louts XIII and who realized that the king was incapable of being a father.

A diplomat ? Fouquet's valet?

More serious are the hypotheses concerning Mattioli and Dauger. According to the first, Ercole Mattioli, secretary of Ferdinand Charles, Duke of Mantua, had been entrusted, in 1678, with the negotiation of a treaty by which the Duke, pressed by money needs, abandoned to Louis XIV the fortress of Casai against compensation of 100,000 ECU; but as soon as the secret treaty was concluded, he played Louis XIV by revealing the arrangement to foreign courts. Louis XIV had him arrested by Catinat and taken in 1679 to the fortress of Pignerol. However, this Mattioli hypothesis does not explain the rigorous secrecy with which the prisoner was surrounded until his death; on the other hand, it seems that Mattioli, taken by Saint-Mars de Pignerol to Exiles then to the Île Sainte-Marguerite, died in this last fortress in April 1694, while the Man in the Iron Mask only died 'in 1703.

The other theory identifies the mysterious prisoner with Euslache Dauger, a valet by trade, who was arrested in Dunkirk in July 1669 - for what reason is unknown - and since then detained in Pignerol. Perhaps Dauger had been informed of the secret Treaty of Dover concluded in 1669 between Louis XIV and Charles II of England. At Pignerol, Governor Saint-Mars placed Dauger as a valet with Superintendent Fouquet. As soon as the latter died in March 1680, Louvois gave Saint-Mars formal orders that Dauger would henceforth be kept in absolute secrecy. It may be that, in his duties as valet, Dauger was informed of certain secrets held by Fouquet, political secrets, but perhaps even more serious secrets, concerning the birth of Louis XIV; unless Dauger was involved in poisoning the former superintendent at the instigation of Colbert or the LeTellier clan.

None of these hypotheses could not be verified to date, the mystery remains unresolved.

For further

- The Iron Mask, by Jean-Christian Petitfils. Perrin, 2011.

- The secret of the iron mask, by Marcel Pagnol. From Fallois, 2016.


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