Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The Man in the Iron Mask
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.
In spite of discrepancies in the many notices which have come down to us relative to this mysterious personage, it is impossible to doubt that a prisoner, whose face was always covered by a mask, whose identity was concealed by precautions unparalleled in the annals of tyranny, and who was, nevertheless, treated with a degree of respect and personal indulgence such as would scarcely have been accorded save to an individual of the most exalted rank, did really pass the greater part of his life in various State-prisons of France, in the immediate custody and guardianship of M. de Saint-Mars, a man of some eminence under Louis XIV., a country gentleman of Champagne, Lord of Dinon and of Palteau in Burgundy, who was one of the King’s body-guard, and filled successively the post of governor of the State-prisons of Pignerol, Sainte-Marguérite, and the Bastille.
Voltaire, Soulavie (secretary to the Marshal Duc de Richelieu), Péra, Griffet, the Abbé Papon, Desodoard, De Landine, Beth, and a host of others—French, German, English, and Spanish—have written on this subject; collecting, commenting upon, and in some instances evidently embellishing, by the efforts of their own imaginations, the traditions regarding this mysterious prisoner which have been handed down in the various places in which he was confined. But amidst the host of contradictory assertions, discrepant dates, and apocryphal anecdotes which complicate the subject, the authenticated facts at which the industry of consecutive inquirers has arrived with regard to it, are briefly as follows.
Shortly after the death of Cardinal Mazarin, about the year 1662, a prisoner, whose face was concealed by a mask, was brought with the utmost privacy by M. de Saint-Mars to the château of Pignerol, in Piedmont, a citadel built by the French, and demolished in 1696. The prisoner appeared to be young; was tall, well-made, and of noble bearing. The mask he wore was not of “iron,” as generally believed, but of black velvet, stiffened with whalebone, and furnished about its lower part with steel springs which permitted its wearer to breathe, eat, drink, and sleep, without difficulty. It covered the whole of the face, and was fastened behind the head with a padlock, of which the governor kept the key. This functionary was under orders from the King to put the masked captive immediately to death if he attempted to show his face, or to communicate a knowledge of his identity to any one.
About the year 1698, this same prisoner, was removed to the castle in the little island of Sainte-Marguérite, off the coast of Provence, where he occupied an apartment lighted by a window on the north side, pierced through a wall four feet thick, secured by three iron bars. A sentinel was always placed at the two extremities of the fortress towards the sea, with orders to fire on any vessel that should approach within a certain distance.
In 1698, M. de Saint-Mars was appointed governor of the famous fortress of the Bastille; and, on quitting Sainte-Marguérite, took the masked prisoner thither in a litter. The new governor is stated by M. de Jonca, then lieutenant of the Bastille, to have arrived at the dreaded fortress with his masked charge on Thursday, the 18th of September, 1698, at three o’clock in the afternoon. The latter on his arrival was placed in the tower of the Basinière, where he remained until nine o’clock at night, when he was conducted by M. de Jonca to an apartment in “the third tower of the Bertandière,” which he occupied until his death. This apartment was the best in the Bastille; and had been previously prepared for its new occupant by order of the governor, and furnished with everything that was deemed necessary for his use. The masked prisoner was accompanied on his installation in this apartment by an attendant named De Rosargues, said to have been a major in a Company of Free Lances, who was appointed to wait upon him, and who continued to do so until the death of the captive. As this De Rosargues had accompanied the new governor and his mysterious charge from Sainte-Marguérite, it is probable that he had previously served the latter in the same capacity. Very few of the other officials or servants employed in the Bastille were allowed to approach the prisoner, and none were ever permitted to speak with him. He was sometimes visited, when indisposed, by a medical officer attached to the prison; and also on one occasion by the surgeon Nélaton, who bled him in the arm. These gentlemen were allowed to feel his pulse, examine his tongue and other parts of his body, and to address to him a few queries respecting his health; but they were neither permitted to see his face, nor to speak with him. M. Nélaton described the masked patient as of dark complexion, possessing a voice so sweet and touching that it could not be heard without awakening sympathy; making no complaint of his position; grave and dignified in manner, and having the air of a person of distinction: a description which tallies with that which was given of him to Voltaire by the son-in-law of the physician of the Bastille.
Rigorous as was his sequestration from the world, he was uniformly treated with the utmost respect by all who approached him. Already, in the Castle of Sainte-Marguerite, he had been visited by the Duke de Louvois, whose intimacy with the king had probably gained for him a knowledge of the identity so much disputed in later times; and this nobleman, whose haughtiness was proverbial, remained uncovered and standing throughout the interview, and is even said to have addressed the prisoner as “mon Prince.” M. de Saint-Mars—a man of repulsive exterior, harsh manners, and dubious principles, but whose devotion to the king was entire and unhesitating—invariably remained standing in the presence of his captive; and, on the day when he entered the Bastille as its governor, himself waited upon him at table. The apartment occupied by the prisoner was richly furnished; his apparel was of the most sumptuous description: and he was supplied with the most luxurious viands, served up in silver plate. Of his avocations during his long confinement no record remains, except that he amused himself with playing on the guitar.
On Sunday, Nov. 18th, 1703, the masked prisoner, “on his return from mass,” was taken ill, and died on the following day. As soon as he expired, his head was severed from his body, and cut to pieces, to prevent his features from being seen. The headless trunk, registered under the designation of “Marchiali, aged forty-five,” was interred on the 20th inst. in the cemetery of the Church of St. Paul, in the presence of De Rosargues, and of M. Reihl, Surgeon-Major of the Bastille. The mutilated remains of the head were buried in different places, in order the more effectually to disappoint curiosity. Immediately after his decease, an order was given to destroy everything that had been used by him. His clothes, linen, mattresses, bedding, and furniture were burned; the plate which had been used at his table was melted down; the walls of the apartment in which he had been confined were carefully scraped and then whitewashed, its doors and windows were destroyed, and its flooring was taken up to make sure that no scrap of paper, no distinctive relic, or mark of any kind, had been hidden beneath it by its mysterious occupant.
It will be seen, from this rapid sketch of the life of the unhappy individual in question, that while little, beyond the mere fact itself, has been gleaned by the above-mentioned writers respecting his imprisonment at Pignerol, no trace whatever of his existence previous to that event has been discovered by them; and yet, as Voltaire has pertinently remarked in commenting upon this fact, no political character of sufficient importance to justify the precautions exercised with regard to the masked prisoner, and the efforts made, after his death, to blot out, if possible, his very remembrance from among the living, had disappeared in Europe at the period when he was sent to Pignerol.
Entire silence appears to have been maintained on the subject of the masked captive, by the persons to whom this singular State-secret was confided; and the successors of Louis XIV. have invariably maintained the same attitude with regard to it. M. de Chamillard seems to have been the last person, out of the royal family of France, who was entrusted with this secret. The second Marshal de la Feuillade, who married his daughter, and who had always been tormented by the desire to penetrate the mystery, conjured his father-in-law, on his knees, when M. de Chamillard was on his death-bed, to reveal to him the name of the prisoner then, as now, known by the name of “The Man in the Iron Mask.” But the expiring minister refused to satisfy his curiosity, declaring that it was a secret of State, and that he had sworn never to reveal it.
Louis XV. to whom the secret is said to have been revealed by the Regent, remarked, on one occasion, when certain courtiers had been discussing this subject in his presence: “Let them dispute; no one has yet said the truth upon this matter.”
M. de Laborde, first valet to Louis XV., and who stood high in the favour and confidence of his master, once besought him to tell him the secret of this imprisonment; when the king replied, “I am sorry that it happened; but the confinement of that unfortunate man did no wrong to any one but himself, and saved France from great calamities;” adding, “You are not to know who it was.”
Among the legends which sprang up around the prison-homes of the mysterious individual in question, is one that tells how, while at Sainte-Marguerite, the prisoner one day wrote something with the point of a knife, on one of the silver plates used at his table, and flung it out of the window towards a boat that stood near the bank, almost at the foot of the tower. A fisherman, who owned the boat, took up the plate, and carried it to the governor, when the latter, with great surprise, asked the fisherman, “Have you read what was written on this plate? Or has anybody else seen it in your hands?”
“I cannot read,” replied the fisherman, “I have but just found it, and nobody else has seen it.”
The fisherman was detained until Saint-Mars was well assured that he could not read, and that no one else had seen the plate; when he was dismissed by the governor with these words:—
“Go, then; it is lucky for you that you do not know how to read.”
A similar story is told by the Abbé Papon, who claims to have gained his information respecting the mysterious captive in the Island of Sainte-Marguerite itself. This writer was informed by an officer of la Franche Comté, that his father, who had served in the same company, and had enjoyed the confidence of Saint-Mars, had assured him that a “frater” (barber’s boy), belonging to the corps, one day perceived something white floating under the prisoner’s window; that he took it up, and carried it to Saint-Mars; that it was a very fine shirt, neatly folded up, on which something was written. That Saint-Mars, having unfolded it, asked, with a face expressive of great embarrassment—“if the boy had had the curiosity to read what was written on it?” That the boy solemnly protested he had read nothing; but that, two days afterwards, he was found dead in his bed; and that he (the officer), had often heard his father relate this incident to the chaplain of the fortress, as an undoubted fact.
The Abbé was also informed by the same officer that his father had been obliged, on the death of the woman who used to wait on the prisoner, to take the corpse on his shoulders, at midnight, to the place of burial; and that he had imagined the deceased to be the prisoner himself, until he was ordered by the governor to find another woman to take her place. That he had discovered, at a neighbouring village, a woman who seemed likely to suit, and that the governor had assured her that her acceptance of the proposed situation would be the means of making the fortune of her children; but on condition that she should never see them again, never leave the service she was invited to enter, and never again hold any intercourse with the rest of the world; and that the woman refused to allow herself to be incarcerated for life upon those terms, especially as she was informed that the least indiscretion on her part would cost her dear. The same writer tells us, in his History of Provence, that, one day, when Saint-Mars was conversing with the prisoner, as he came out of the chamber (a sort of corridor or gallery whence he could see from a distance those who came thither), the son of one of his own friends arrived, and was advancing towards the place where he stood. Hearing the noise (of some one approaching), the governor hastily shut the door, and coming up to the young man, demanded of him, with a troubled countenance, “If he had seen anybody, or had heard anything he had been saying?” Being assured that he had not, he made him return home the same day, writing to his friend “how imprudently his son had acted, and how great a danger he had run.”
It has also been asserted by M. Crange Chancel that a person named Du Buisson and some other prisoners were placed in a room under that occupied by the masked captive, and conversed with him by the tunnel of the chimney; and on Du Buisson asking him to tell him his name and condition, he replied that “to do so would cost his own life, and the lives of those to whom he should reveal the secret.” This writer does not state in which of the prisons inhabited by the mysterious captive this conversation took place; but we know that it could not have been in the Bastille, as the apartment occupied by him in that fortress was found, on the destruction of the building in 1789, to be absolutely without communication with any other. The incident of the plate has been related of many other captives; and, moreover, so closely watched and guarded as were the State-prisoners of France at that period—neither pen, ink, nor knife being left in their possession—it is difficult to believe that either that, or the incident of the shirt, could really have happened.
But without attaching much importance to these stories, enough, as we have seen, is certainly known with regard to the history of the prisoner in question to justify the conclusion, that he must have been not only a person of very high rank, but also one whose existence was a source of danger to the monarch by whom he was retained so long sequestrated from all that gives value to life: and, as already remarked, a problem so eminently calculated to stimulate inquiry as the secret of an identity which could at once inspire so much uneasiness, and command so much deference, on the part of a sovereign so proud and so unscrupulous as Louis XIV., could not fail to lead to a vast amount of research, and to prompt the formation of various hypotheses explanatory of the mystery; these hypotheses being almost as numerous as the writers who support them, and, with the exception of those advanced by the two first named, agreeing only in their obvious impossibility.
Thus, some have supposed the masked prisoner to have been the Count de Vermandois (son of Louis XIV. and the Duchesse de la Vallière), punished in this manner for having struck the Dauphin; the disgraced minister Fouquet; the Duke of Monmouth; the turbulent Duke de Beaufort, commonly known as “the King of the Markets;” the schismatic Armenian Patriarch, Arwediecks, noted for his hostility to the Catholics of the East; and Count Ercolo Antonio Matthioli, Senator of Mantua and private agent of the Duke, who, after having entered into a secret treaty with Louis XIV. for the sale of the fortress of Casale—the key of Italy—thwarted and disappointed the policy of that sovereign, and incurred his vengeance by inducing his master to break off the negotiation with the French king, and to accept the higher bribe which had been subsequently offered by the emissaries of Spain and Austria.
As for the Duke of Monmouth, who was publicly beheaded on Tower Hill, on the 6th of July, 1685, and the Duke of Beaufort, who, having escaped from the prison in which he had been confined on a charge of conspiring against the life of Cardinal Mazarin, began a civil war, made his peace with the king, was created Admiral of France, defeated the Turkish fleet near Tunis in 1665, and was killed in a sally at the siege of Candia in 1669, the pretensions put forth on their behalf are clearly inadmissible; while the other hypothetical explanations of the mystery appear to have been suggested solely by certain coincidences of dates and places in the fragmentary notices that attest the various imprisonments undergone by the masked captive, and the persons whom he has been supposed to be. None of them can stand examination; a simple comparison of other ascertained dates in the history of the captive in question with those of various authenticated incidents in the lives of these other persons, sufficing to show that no one of these could have been identical with the unfortunate prisoner in question. Nor, indeed, even were not the hypotheses alluded to thus positively disproved, would it be possible, in the case of any of the persons thus brought forward, to explain the excessive precautions employed by the government with regard to the masked prisoner, both before and after his death, the secrecy so scrupulously maintained in regard to him by Louis XIV. and his successors, or the assertion of Louis XV. that the incarceration of this captive had “saved France from great calamities.”
Voltaire, who was the first to call attention to this subject, and who declares that he gained his information from parties still living in his time, eye-witnesses of the particulars he gives, and who may possibly have gathered some information on the subject during his two imprisonments in the Bastille, was the first to suggest a logical solution of this curious problem, by supposing the masked prisoner to have been an illegitimate son of Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII. The scandalous intimacy existing between the queen and her brother-in-law, the turbulent and unprincipled Gaston of Orleans, supplied Voltaire with a not improbable hypothesis as to the possible paternity of the captive; and, undoubtedly, this hypothesis would do much towards explaining the apparent inconsistencies of the treatment he is known to have received.
It is evident that the queen, under the supposed circumstances, would naturally cause her son to be brought up carefully, but at a distance from the Court, and in ignorance of his parentage; and equally evident that a monarch like Louis XIV., jealous above all things of his rank and prerogative, utterly selfish, and shrinking from the infliction of no amount of suffering in the care of his own interests, would, on learning that he had a brother older than himself, probably resembling him in features and person, a brother who might not only cause a terrible scandal by showing himself to the world, or even endanger his crown by asserting his own legitimacy, and claiming the rights of primogeniture, would be quite capable of causing that brother to be incarcerated for life, and of blotting out his existence from the knowledge of his contemporaries, while avoiding the actual crime of fratricide. The superstitious punctiliousness of the king with regard to everything connected with the etiquette he conceived to be due to the personal treatment of persons of royal blood, would explain the ceremonious respect and the luxurious conditions of daily life, accorded to this unfortunate victim of State policy. Testimony of no slight importance, and confirming Voltaire’s views, as set forth in the “Dictionnaire Philosophique,” is adduced by M. Beuchot in the following note, which he has appended to his edition of the works of Voltaire:
“One day, at the royal levee, a short time before his death, Louis XVIII. appeared absorbed in his own thoughts, as was often the case with him, when a conversation sprang up between the Count de Pastoret, one of the chamberlains of the king, and one of his colleagues. M. de Pastoret warmly maintained the hypothesis of Voltaire. The king, as the discussion went on, seemed to rouse himself from his stupor, but said nothing. Next morning, at the levee, a fresh discussion was entered into by the same speakers on another controverted historical question, when M. de Pastoret was interrupted by the king, who remarked to him, ‘Pastoret, you were right yesterday, but you are wrong to-day.’”
But notwithstanding the many weighty arguments that have been brought forward in favour of Voltaire’s hypothesis—based, as he declares, on secret revelations made to him by persons of the highest rank—it may fairly be doubted whether it constitutes anything more than an approximation to the truth.
M. de Laborde, whose curiosity on the subject of the masked prisoner was so little successful with his royal master, is said to have discovered, at a subsequent period, among the papers of the Marshal Duke de Richelieu, an autograph letter addressed by the Duchess of Modena, daughter of the regent, to the duke, who had formerly been included in the list of her adorers. The letter, which was in cipher, commenced thus:—“Behold, at last, this famous history. It has cost me horrible . . . . . .” Towards the end of the last century, copies of this letter were privately circulated in Paris. In it the duchess states that her father had revealed to her that “the Man in the Iron Mask” was a twin-brother of Louis XIV., born a few hours after him; that the fact of this double birth had been predicted to the king by two shepherds, who declared that civil wars would result from the rival pretensions of two dauphins to the crown of France; that the birth of the first child took place in presence of all the great officers of state whose duty it was to be present on the occasion; that the birth of the second child—“handsomer and more lively than the other”—was witnessed only by the king, the chancellor, the queen’s almoner, a Lord of the Court, from Burgundy, who had come in the suite of the person who subsequently became the young Prince’s Governor, and Madame Peronnet, midwife to the queen; that the birth of this second child—the procès verbal of which was drawn up several times by the king, and at length signed by all present—was kept strictly secret, the king compelling all who were privy to it to take an oath never to divulge the fact, which, he said, must be concealed for reasons of State; that the second infant was confided to Madame Peronnet, to be by her brought up as the child of a lady of the court—the latter, between whom and her royal nursling a strong affection always existed, remaining with him until her death; that the young Prince, when old enough to need a tutor, was entrusted to the care of the Burgundian nobleman who had witnessed his birth, and who took him to his own residence near Dijon, where he kept him in the strictest privacy, maintaining an occasional correspondence on the subject of his ward with the queen-mother, the king, and the cardinal, educating the young Prince with the utmost care, and treating him with all the respect and deference due to one who might some day be his sovereign; that these marks of deference, on the part of one whom he had hitherto supposed to be his father, led the Prince, when approaching manhood, to seek to divine the mystery of his birth; that he contrived, unknown to his governor, to gain access to certain letters which the latter had received from the Court, and, having thus possessed himself in part of the secret of his parentage, contrived to procure a likeness of the king, whose close resemblance to himself sufficed to convert his suspicions into certainty, on which the king, being informed by the governor of this discovery on the part of his brother, and fearing that the latter might attempt some assertion of his claims, ordered both governor and pupil to be at once imprisoned for life.
This explanation of the mystery of the masked captive is supported by various details given in the “Memoirs of Richelieu,” published in 1790, by Soulavie; a work which contains many errors, but whose information on the subject of the famous prisoner whose identity we are endeavouring to ascertain, is strongly confirmed in other quarters. Now Soulavie expressly asserts that a portion of the details he has given were “derived from a statement drawn up by M. de Saint-Mars, governor of the captive prince, some time before his death;” and, singularly enough, after the Revolution of July, M. Auguste Billiard, formerly secretary-general of the Ministry of the Interior, recounts, in a letter addressed by him to the “Review of the Historical Institute,” that, under the First Empire, he had held in his hands a statement written by Saint-Mars himself, relative to the secret mission which had been confided to him. This manuscript, taken from the archives of the office of the Minister of the Interior, had been lent by M. de Hauterive, Guardian of the Archives, to M. de Montalivet, Minister of the Interior, to whose cabinet M. Billiard was attached. This latter gentleman affirms that no doubt can be raised as to the genuineness of this document, the paper, the writing, the style, all indicating that it really belongs to the age of Louis XIV. He gives the name of the clerk who made the copy retained by the minister, and adds that the son of M. de Montalivet was then in possession of the copy so obtained. He finishes his statement by asserting that two other persons (M. Goubault, Prefect of the Var, and M. Labiche, Chief of Division in the cabinet of the Minister of the Interior) had also read the manuscript of Saint-Mars.
A few years after this letter appeared, a copy of the statement of M. de Saint-Mars was offered to the editors of the “Memoirs of Everybody,” then in course of publication. This copy was at once submitted to M. Billiard, who declared it to be a transcript, word for word, of the document which he had read in the original. The editors, therefore, felt justified in publishing it in their work, in the third volume of which it may be read at length. The following passages are extracted from it:—
“The unfortunate Prince whom I have brought up and guarded to the end of my days, was born the 5th of December, 1638, at half-past eight o’clock, when the king was at supper. His brother, the present king, was born at noon of the same day, while the king was at dinner. But, just as the birth of the present king was brilliant and splendid, the birth of his brother was sad and secret. The king, informed by the midwife that the queen was about to give birth to a second child, had ordered the Chancellor of France, the first almoner, the queen’s confessor, and myself, as well as the midwife, to remain in her Majesty’s chamber. He told us all, in the queen’s presence, in order that she might hear the command, that we should answer with our heads for the revelation of the birth of a second Dauphin, that he willed his birth to be kept a State-secret, the Salic Law making no provision for the inheritance of the kingdom in case of the birth of two eldest sons of the monarch.
“What had been predicted by the midwife came to pass, and the queen gave birth to a second Dauphin, still prettier and better made than the one previously born; this latter prince ceased not to cry and moan, as though he foresaw the life of suffering and denial upon which he had entered. The Chancellor of France drew up the procès verbal of this marvellous birth, unique in our history; his majesty was not satisfied with this document, and caused him to re-write it several times, until he was satisfied with it, burning the first copy, although the almoner remonstrated on the subject, declaring that the king could not keep secret the birth of the Dauphin, to which the king replied, that he had reasons of State for so doing.
“The king then made us all sign an oath that we would never divulge the birth of the last-born prince; the chancellor signed first, then the almoner, then the queen’s confessor, and then I; the oath was also signed by the queen’s surgeon, and by the midwife, and the king attached this oath to the procès verbal, and carried away the document, of which I have never heard anything farther. After this the midwife took away the last-born prince, whom she was charged to bring up; and as the king feared lest she should gossip about his birth, she has often told me that he frequently threatened to put her to death if she ever divulged this secret; he also forbade the rest of us, who had witnessed his birth, to speak of this fact even between ourselves. Not one of us has hitherto broken this oath. The king had ordered us to make a thorough examination of the unfortunate prince, who had a mole above the left elbow, a yellow mark on the right side of the neck, and a still smaller mole on the thickest part of the right thigh; for his majesty intended, in case the first-born prince should die, to substitute in his place the royal infant whose guardianship he had confided to us; and for this cause he required our signature to the registration of birth, which he sealed with a small royal seal in our presence, and which, as already said, we signed according to his majesty’s order, and after him.
“As regards the childhood of the second-born prince, Dame Peronnet brought him up at first as though he were her own child; but he was thought to be the illegitimate child of some great nobleman, because it was clear from the great expense she was at for him that he was the son of some very rich man, although not acknowledged.
“When the prince grew older, Monseigneur le Cardinal Mazarin, to whom was confided the direction of his education, after Monseigneur le Cardinal de Richelieu, placed him in my care that I should educate and bring him up like a king’s son, but in secret. Dame Peronnet remained in his service until her death, being greatly attached to him, and he still more so to her. The prince was educated in my house, in Burgundy, with all the care due to a king’s son.
“I have had frequent conversations with the queen-mother during the troubles of the Fronde, and her Majesty appeared to me to fear that if ever the existence of this child should be known during the lifetime of his brother, the young king, certain mal-contents might make it a pretext for getting up a revolt, as many doctors think that the last born of two twins is, in reality, the elder, and that therefore this captive prince should be rightful king, though other doctors give a contrary opinion. This fear, however, could never induce her to destroy the written proofs of the young prince’s birth; because, if the young king had died, she intended to make the prince king in his room, although she had another son. She often told me that she preserved these written proofs in her casket.
“I gave to the unfortunate prince all the education I should have wished to receive myself, and no prince in the world ever had a better. The only thing with which I have to reproach myself is, that I made him unhappy without intending to do so; for, as he was seized, about the age of nineteen, with a strong desire to know who he was, overwhelming me with questions upon the subject, and as I showed myself more resolutely silent the more he implored me to tell him his history, he resolved thenceforth to hide his curiosity, and to make me believe that he thought himself my son.
“I often, when we were alone, and he called me his father, told him that he was mistaken; but I no longer opposed the sentiment which he affected to feel towards me, perhaps in order to induce me to speak; I allowing him to fancy himself my son, and he pretending to rest in that idea, but still seeking some means of ascertaining who he was.
“Two years had passed thus when an unfortunate piece of imprudence on my part, for which I reproached myself bitterly, revealed to him in part who he was. He knew that the king frequently sent me messengers; and one day I had the misfortune to leave unlocked the casket in which I kept the letters from the queen and cardinal. He read a part of them and guessed the contents of the rest with his usual penetration, confessing to me afterwards that he had possessed himself of the letter which was the most expressive with regard to his birth.
“I remember that about this time his behaviour to me became harsh and rude, instead of friendly and respectful as it had formerly been; but I did not at first suspect the cause of this change, for I have never been able to imagine by what means he got at my casket, and he would never tell me how he had done it. He one day committed himself so far as to ask me for the portraits of the late and the present king. I replied that all the engravings of them were so bad that I was waiting for the appearance of some better ones before having them in my house. This reply, which did not satisfy him, was followed by a request to be allowed to go to Dijon. I have since learned that his object was to see a portrait of the King which was there, and to go thence to the Court, which was then at St. Jean de Luz, on account of the king’s marriage with the Infanta, that he might compare himself with his brother, and see whether he resembled him. This project of his came to my knowledge, and from that moment I never left him.
“The young prince was exceedingly handsome; and having fallen in love with a young lady employed in my house, whose affections he had gained, he procured from her a portrait of his brother. Although the strictest orders had been given to all my household to give him nothing, she gave him an engraving of the king. The unfortunate Prince recognised the likeness—and well he might, for one portrait would have served for both, so like were the two brothers—and this sight threw him into such a fury, that he came to me, exclaiming:
“‘This is my brother’s portrait! This shows who I am!’
“He then showed me the letter of Cardinal Mazarin, which he had stolen from my casket, and avowed the discovery he had made. This scene took place in my house.
“The fear of seeing him escape, and make his appearance at the king’s marriage, compelled me to send a messenger to his Majesty to inform him of the opening of my casket, and my need of fresh instructions. The king sent his orders by M. le Cardinal, commanding that we should both be imprisoned until further orders; and that he should be informed that this severity was brought upon us both through his pretensions.
“I have suffered with him in our common prison until this time, when I believe that my sentence of recall from earth has been pronounced by my Judge on high; and I cannot refuse, for the tranquillity of my soul, and for that of my pupil, a sort of declaration which will enable him to deliver himself from the ignominious state in which he is, if the king should die without children. Can a compulsory oath force me to keep secret that which ought to be made known to posterity?—Saint-Mars.”
The authenticity of this document, notwithstanding the intrinsic evidence it contains of being a genuine production of the epoch whose date it bears, has been questioned on account of its signature; as the name of “Saint-Mars” has been supposed to be that of the Governor of the Bastille, in whose wardship the unfortunate prisoner is known to have passed so many years, and who, it is evident, could neither have acted as tutor to the captive, nor—as he survived his ward—have written a statement destined to throw light on the identity of the latter, after his own decease.
But the letter of the Duchess of Modena expressly states that the Burgundian nobleman who witnessed the birth of the second of the twins, and to whose care the ill-fated prince was confided during his boyhood, had come to Court in the train of the person who was afterwards his governor, that is to say, of the M. de Saint-Mars who held the posts of governor in the prisons of Pignerol, Sainte-Marguérite, and the Bastille; and the whole difficulty vanishes if we suppose this unnamed lord, brought to St. Germain by M. de Saint-Mars, and like him a native of Burgundy, to have been a relative of his patron, and to have borne the same name; a supposition which, considering the general aptitude of successful courtiers like Saint-Mars to introduce their kinsfolk into the sphere of royal favour, is certainly by no means improbable.
Assuming this supposition to be correct, and the first twenty years of the young prince’s existence to have been passed in retirement under the care of this first governor, the blank already noticed in the history of the masked prisoner previous to his incarceration at Pignerol is at once accounted for; while the choice of that fortress as the residence of the mysterious captive is satisfactorily explained by the fact that it was already under the command of an officer who was not only a devoted and unscrupulous agent of the king, but also a kinsman of the young prince’s first guardian; one who was probably initiated already into the secret of the prisoner’s birth, and who, moreover, on account of his relationship to the guardian whose remissness had incurred the royal displeasure, would be doubly vigilant in his custody of the captive thus confided to him.
The woman mentioned by the Abbé Papon, as having waited on the masked prisoner, and who was buried at night in the Island of Sainte-Marguérite, may probably have been Madame Peronnet; and as no second prisoner is mentioned by M. de Jonca as having been brought with the masked prisoner to the Bastille, it would seem that the death of the unfortunate tutor must also have preceded that event: the Sieur de Rosargues, who accompanied the masked captive to the last of his prison-dwellings, and to his grave, having probably been admitted to his service on the decease of his former guardian.
The editors of the “Memoirs of Everybody” affirmed, in 1835, that the original of this document still existed in the archives of the Minister of Foreign Affairs; and this statement has never been contradicted. It is natural that this document, supposing it to be authentic, should be in the archives of that department rather than of any other, as it would, in all probability, have been sent by the writer to some foreign place for safety, and would be brought back thence by some agent of the French government. It is true that the assertion of Louis XVIII. to M. de Pastoret would appear to invalidate the statement of Saint-Mars; but it is quite possible that he may have preferred to allow it to be thought that Louis XIV. sacrificed an illegitimate half-brother, rather than a prince of the blood royal, whose claims might be held to invalidate those of that monarch, and consequently of himself as his descendant. On the other hand, if we consider the confirmation which the letter of the Duchess of Modena—with the exception of the legendary addition of the prophecy of the two shepherds—the Memoirs of Richelieu and the declaration of Saint-Mars lend to each other, and the perfect explanation thus afforded of the various contradictory points in the history of the prisoner in question, we may fairly conclude, that we have at length arrived at the true explanation of an historical puzzle which has been sought in vain for the last hundred and fifty years.