The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Iron Mask, Man in the
IRON MASK, Man in the, a state prisoner of France in the reign of Louis XIV., who died in the Bastile, Nov. 19, 1703. Some critics have denied the existence of such a person, but late investigations have established it beyond question. The register kept by Dujunca, chief turnkey of the Bastile, proves that the prisoner was committed on Thursday, Sept. 18, 1698, having been brought thither from the island of Ste. Marguerite by Saint-Mars, who exchanged in that year the governorship of the state prison there for that of the Bastile. The removal was made with extraordinary precaution and secrecy. The prisoner was carried in a close litter, which preceded that of Saint-Mars, and was accompanied by a mounted guard. His face was covered with a black velvet mask, fastened with steel springs, which he was forbidden to remove on pain of instant death. He was not allowed to speak to any one except his governor, who watched him with jealous care and always kept a pair of pistols at hand to destroy him in case he made an effort to reveal himself. When in the Bastile he was attended at meals and at his toilet by Saint-Mars himself, who removed personally and examined or destroyed the linen which he had worn, lest he might make known his secret by means of some mark on it. At mass he was forbidden to speak or to show himself, and the invalides who stood by with loaded muskets had orders to shoot him if he made the attempt. After his death everything which had been used or worn by him was burned. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Paul. Since the time of Voltaire, who first gave shape to the story of the mask, numerous attempts have been made to establish his identity. Writers have advanced various theories regarding him, some of which are: that he was the fruit of an intrigue between Anne of Austria, queen of Louis XIII., and the duke of Buckingham, horn in 1626; the illegitimate son of the same queen by an unknown father, born in 1631; and a twin brother of Louis XIV., born a few hours after the king, and disposed of thus to avoid a disputed succession. But there is little evidence that any of these ever existed. Theories have also been put forth in regard to a number of real persons, among whom are the English duke of Monmouth, the reputed son of Charles II. and Lucy Walters; the count of Vermandois, an illegitimate son of Mlle. de la Vallière by Louis XIV.; the duke of Beaufort, prominent in the insurrection of the Fronde; Henry, son of Oliver Cromwell; Avedick, the Armenian patriarch, who was treacherously seized by De Ferriol, French ambassador at the Porte; Fouquet, marquis of Belle-Isle, minister of finance, and reputed rival of the king in the affections of Mlle. de la Vallière; and Ercole Mattioli, a secret agent of the duke of Mantua, who was arrested in 1679 for divulging one of the intrigues by which Louis XIV. sought to obtain possession of Casale. The claim of Mattioli to the distinction, first advanced by M. Delort, and again by Lord Dover in 1826, is ably upheld by Marius Topin in “The Man with the Iron Mask” (Paris and London, 1869); but a late book by T. Jung, a staff officer of the French army, entitled La vérité sur la masque de fer (Paris, 1873), makes it appear probable that Mattioli was never in the Bastile, but died at Ste. Marguerite in 1694. M. Jung, who has investigated the subject with minute care, shows that in 1691 the mask was spoken of as a prisoner of 20 years' standing, and then proves the following: that in October, 1681, Saint-Mars was transferred from Pignerol, a fortress on the borders of Savoy, of the donjon of which he had had command for nearly 16 years, to Exiles, a fort on the frontier of Piedmont, and that he then took with him, in a litter strictly guarded, two prisoners; that on or previous to Jan. 5, 1687, one of these prisoners died, and that in April following Saint-Mars was transferred to Ste. Marguerite, and took with him a single prisoner, who was carefully guarded and watched. By a chain of strong circumstantial evidence he connects the mask with the latter prisoner, and with the survivor of the two removed in 1681 from Pignerol to Exiles. He endeavors next to prove his identity with the chevalier de Kiffenbach, or d'Harmoises, who was arrested with others in March, 1673, at Péronne, charged with complicity in a plot to murder the king, and sent to the Bastile. In 1674 a prisoner was transferred from the Bastile to Pignerol, but the evidence is scarcely strong enough to establish his identity with the prisoner of 1673, and it is still less certain that the one of 1674 was of the pair transferred to Exiles. But if M. Jung has not fully proved his case, he has confined future research to very narrow limits.