Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Man in the Iron Mask

The Man in the Iron Mask – Famous Prisoner in French History 

A tomb in the Bastille’s Saint Paul Cemetery on November 19, 1703, had a corpse of a man who had spent most of the last four decades of his life in various prisons in France and was considered to be the most famous prisoner in French history.

Nobody is aware of why he had to spend more than thirty years in prison in perfect isolation and very often having his face covered. His first known record dates back to July of 1669 wherein Marquis de Louvois in a letter to the governor of Pignerol prison, Benigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars informed that a prisoner called Eustache Dauger, a valet would be arriving and this man would go on to be the `man in the iron mask’.

There is no historical evidence stating that the mask was made of anything rather than black velvet and it was only later on that the legend converted its material to iron. He was imprisoned first at Pignerol in Piedmont before 1681 and later on at other prisons before he was eventually transferred on September 18, 1698, to the Bastille in Paris. On November 19, 1703, he died and was buried the following day in the parish cemetery of Saint Paul.

Registered under the Name - `Matthioli’

He was registered under the name of `Marchioly’ and his age seemed to be around 45 years. Many of his moves during his lifetime related with the successive postings of the prison governor Benigne d’Auvergne de Saint-Mars under whose charge he was committed.

Various suggestions came up with regards to the man with the iron mask. Matthioli, a minister of Ferdinand Charles, Duke of Mantua who was entrusted with secret negotiation of the treaty of 1678 which the impoverished duke had to deliver the stronghold of Casale over to France in exchange for 100,000 ecus, nullified its effect by betraying the secret to many foreign courts, on signing of the agreement.

Louis XIV was furious for being tricked and had him quietly abducted and imprisoned at Pinerolo in 1679. It was agreed that Matthioli had died in Iles Sainte-Marguerite in April 1694 and the prisoner in the mask seemed to be Eustache Dauger. Louise XIV’s minister Louvois correspondence portrays that Dauger who was a valet was arrested for unknown reason, on his orders near Dunkirk in July 1669 and at Pinerolo, he served as a valet to another prisoner by the name of Nicolas Fouquet.

Kept in High Security Prisons

The order beside various other things mentioned that Dauger should be kept in high security prisons and was not to come in contact with anyone with the exception of a few of them.

He was warned that should he ever dare to speak of anything besides his immediate requirements, he would be executed immediately. After the demise of Fouquet in 1680, Dauger was confined with another prisoner who had also served Fouquet and from Pinerolo; Saint-Mark took him to Exilles in 1681 while Matthioli was left behind.

There could have been a possibility that Louvois, who was the enemy of Fouquet wanted these prisoners to be kept in custody should they divulge secrets about Fouquet and it could be this reason rather than his criminal crime which led to the absolute secrecy to which Dauger could have been condemned and the need of the precaution of the mask.

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