The Man in The Iron Mask!
The story of this man is a myth rooted in truth. There is much mystery regarding exactly who the masked prisoner was and what he looked like. For centuries following his death, many people have made up various stories and theories about the prisoner’s existence and why he was imprisoned behind a mask. Evidence suggests he might have been the twin brother of Louis XIV, but this is uncertain.
Although Alexandre Dumas created his own version of the story, it cannot be disputed that there was in fact a man that was imprisoned and who was forced to wear a mask. In the year of 1698 an important man was apparently imprisoned in the Bastille by Louis XIV. “The exact identity of the man was never revealed. In fact, great care was given to conceal his identity,” says historian Charlotte Kuchinsky. However, at that time, only those who had fallen out of favour with the king were imprisoned.
Another interesting aspect about this prisoner is that, not only was he confined in a prison cell, he is imprisoned behind a mask. Exactly what that mask was made of not known. Some scholars, including Alexandre Dumas, assert that the mask was made of iron. According to some accounts, the iron mask had a movable hinged lower jaw held in place by springs that made it possible for the prisoner to eat while wearing it. The only known evidence is that it was made of black velvet. Regardless of what it was made of, the man must have eaten and slept in the mask because he was found with it intact when he died.
The Royal Prison Sainte Marguerite Island
Two of Louis XIV’s musketeers guarded the prisoner’s cell day and night and threatened to kill the man if he removed the mask. By doing this, they were able to keep his identity anonymous.
The mysterious man’s imprisonment, though, was not kept secret. News of his imprisonment spread throughout France and dozens of theories regarding his identity were created.
The Masked Man as Louis’s Twin Brother
The philosopher Voltaire, who was himself imprisoned in the Bastille, spoke to several prisoners who knew of the man in the iron mask. According to Voltaire, the masked man was a tall and handsome nobleman who was arrested and confined in the mask in 1661. For several years he was imprisoned on the Isle of Sainte-Marguerite.
According to Voltaire and other claims, when the man died in 1703, the mask was removed to reveal a person who looked identical to Louis XIV. These accounts fuelled the theory that Louis XIV had a twin brother and that he had to dispose of him so that he would be king. Other accounts assert that King Louis XIII, fearing his sons would war over the throne, sent the eldest son away to be raised in total secrecy. There is in fact some truth to this theory in that when the prisoner died, he was about the same age as the king.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s Theory
Napoleon Bonaparte, who claimed to be a descendent of King Louis XIV, came up with his own theory that became very popular. While imprisoned, the man was allowed to marry and his wife bore him a son. When the child was young, he was sent to be raised in Corsica. “The name of the family who took in this hapless child was Bonaparte,” says Kuchinsky. While the theory served Napoleon’s needs, there is no evidence that proves this account to be true.
There are several other theories about the life and identity of the mysterious prisoner in the mask. Some people have even suggested that he was a black lover of the Queen who the jealous king arrested and imprisoned behind the mask. Some suggested he was an illegitimate son of the Queen Mother. Yet, others went as far to suggest the masked man was the playwright Moliere. None of these theories have been proven to be true. The history of the man in the iron mask remains a mystery that will never be solved.
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