Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The Man in the Iron Mask

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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 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/251 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/252 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/253 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/254 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/255 Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/256