Jamie Theakston TV - National Geographic online - Alexandre Dumas - Amanda Fulginiti -
111,959. In 1687 a man was transferred to a prison on this island here off the south coast of France, a man who had spent the previous four decades behind bars wearing an iron mask. He is without doubt the most famous prisoner in French history but who was he? Jamie Theakston, Forbidden History s3e3: The Man in the Iron Mask, Yesterday 2016
115,740. ‘The evidence becomes particularly interesting when in 1789 in the course of the French revolution the Bastille is overrun and among the mysterious things it contains is a skeleton wearing an iron mask.’ ibid. Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe
115,741. So was the prisoner kept on this island the twin brother of the king? Why was he given such elaborate conditions? ibid.
115,742. I think Alexandre Dumas got it right. ibid.
115,730. Rumors of a mysterious prisoner during the reign of King Louis XIV became legend after Alexandre Dumas wrote his famous tale. His true identity remains a subject of speculation.
In the 1680s, whispers about a mysterious prisoner began to spread through France. Details were hazy, but the tale was arresting: An anonymous man had been locked up on the express orders of the French king Louis XIV. His identity was unknown, and his face could not be seen because he was forced to wear an iron mask.
A gazette from 1687 mentions the prisoner’s transfer to the citadel of Sainte-Marguerite, a tiny Mediterranean island off the coast of Cannes in southern France, in the custody of a former musketeer, Bénigne de Saint-Mars. Both guard and his prisoner had previously lived at the fortresses of Pignerol and Exilles in the Alps …
After his death, the unknown prisoner’s story began to take on a life of its own as gossips said that his punishment stemmed directly from the French throne. From the very outset, the ‘masked man’ stories were more than just lurid tales: they played directly into anti-Louis propaganda. During the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) the Dutch, fighting to protect their republic from French expansion, exploited the rumor to undermine the legitimacy of Louis XIV. Agents of the Dutch spread claims that the masked prisoner was a former lover of the queen mother, and was the king’s real father — which would make Louis illegitimate.
In France itself, suspicions about the man’s identity fell on several members of the extensive royal family. There was speculation that he was Louis de Bourbon, Count of Vermandois, son of the Sun King himself and his mistress Louise de La Vallière. Louis de Bourbon had been banished from court after being outed as a homosexual. De Bourbon then tried to regain his father’s favor in campaigns in Flanders, where he fell ill and almost certainly died. Conspiracy theorists speculated that he had, in fact, survived and was secretly imprisoned by his father. National Geographic online article Carlos Blanco Fernandez 3rd October 2017
115,731. I am strong against everything, except against the death of those I love. He who dies gains; he who sees others die loses. Alexandre Dumas, The Man in the Iron Mask
115,732. Does the open wound in another’s breast soften the pain of the gaping wound in our own? Or does the blood which is welling from another man’s side staunch that which is pouring from our own? Does the general anguish of our fellow creatures lessen our own private and particular anguish? No, no, each suffers on his own account, each struggles with his own grief, each sheds his own tears. ibid.
115,733. Pain anguish and suffering in human life are always in proportion to the strength with which a man is endowed. (Man in the Iron Mask & Suffering) ibid.
115,734. For some, the dream of having a twin might have meant the possibility of using them to skip a class or to pull the eyes over a date. But what if having a twin actually meant the complications of an Imperial succession? The legend of the Man in the Iron Mask has stood the test of time and has aroused popular imagination up until today. But, who was he really and why does the quaint city of Pinerolo, a Medieval town and commune in north-western Italy, pay homage to such a mysterious figure each year?
The first record of a masked prisoner is from a notebook kept by Lieutenant Etienne Du Junca, an official of the Bastille from October 1690 until his death in September 1706. The entry for Thursday, September 18, 1698, records the 3 p.m. arrival of a new governor of the Bastille, Bénigne d’Auvergne de Saint-Mars, who brought with him several prisoners whom he had in custody in Pignerol, then part of France.
The town of Pinerolo was one of the main crossroads in Italy, and was therefore one of the principal fortresses of the dukes of Savoy. Its military importance was the origin of the well-known military school that still exists today. One of the prisoners, Du Junca notes, was always kept covered by a ‘black velvet mask’ and his name had not been given or recorded.
Saint-Mars was held at Pignerol from 1665 to 1681, so the Man in the Mask had been imprisoned for at least 18 years prior to his arrival at Bastille, and perhaps as long as 33 years. Five years later, on November 19, 1703, Du Junca records the death and burial of the unknown prisoner. Saint-Mars had the name ‘Marchialy’ inscribed in the parish register.
Those are the bare facts, but the legend started almost immediately after the prisoner’s arrival in Paris, each one more outrageous than the next, and from the late eighteenth century onward, various suggestions as to his identity were made. The stories were to reach new heights particularly after his death.
In the late 1700s, with revolution in the air, the growing discontent with royalty and tyranny found symbolic expression in the masked prisoner, confined for unknown reasons for 30 years, and dying masked. His prison, the Bastille, was for the French citizenry the ultimate symbol of tyranny and repression. When the Bastille was stormed during the 1789 Revolution, reports were circulated that the invaders had found the skeleton of a man, with an iron mask riveted around his head, chained to walls in one of the hidden lower prisons. He became, for some, the result of the excesses and inhumane power of the monarchy.
But, as early as 1715, authors and political authorities approached the mystery of the masked prisoner by trying to answer the main question: Why was the prisoner masked? Most people, including French Enlightenment writer Voltaire, reasoned that the mask must have been used to conceal his identity.
In those days, there were not many faces that might have been recognized by the average person on the street. Hence, many believed the prisoner must have been famous himself or strongly resembled someone famous like royalty.
The most famous story with a royal connection holds that the masked prisoner was Louis XIV’s identical twin brother, hidden at birth to avoid complications in the succession, raised secretly far away from court, and imprisoned when he discovered his true identity. The mask’s purpose, obviously, would have been to hide his resemblance to the King.
Voltaire claimed that the prisoner was a son of Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin, and therefore an illegitimate half-brother of King Louis XIV. It was also he who claimed that the prisoner wore an iron and not velvet mask. The ultimate version is The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas, published in 1850 as part of his trilogy on the Three Musketeers. Dumas used this theory in his book, but made the prisoner a twin brother. This book has served as the basis for many film versions of the story including Randall Wallace’s 1998 adaptation featuring two Leonardo Di Caprios.
Today, a festival recreating the man in the iron mask, Maschera di Ferro, takes place each year in the Piemontese town of Pinerolo the first weekend of October. The man in the mask is played by someone different each year. Street performances in the squares and streets of Pinerolo’s historic center are the highlight of La notte dei moschettieri Saturday evening. Events on Sunday include a special mass in the cathedral, and in the afternoon, after the story is acted out, the mask is removed to reveal the man wearing it. A procession with participants dressed in period clothes is often part of the historic reenactment.
Royal twin or not, the Man in the Iron Mask captures the imagination. While his identity may forever remain a mystery, it appears that his legend will continue to peak curiosity in the streets of Pinerolo and beyond. Amanda Fulginiti, article 29th March 2012 ‘The Curious Case of the Man in the Iron Mask’