Billeder på siden

closed mystery, and fixing it on the Jesuits.* But he is met by an insuperable obstacle on the very threshold of his argument. M. de Bonac states explicitly that the patriarch was carried off during the embassy of M. Feriol at Constantinople, who only succeeded M. de Chateauneuf in 1699, and as the Iron Mask was already at the Bastile in 1698, it could not possibly have been the unfortunate patriarch of the Armenians.

The theory which would sustain Fouquet as claimant to the possession of the Iron Mask, has only very recently received a powerful stimulus from an elaborate thesis, executed by the Bibliophilist Jacob, a prominent, if not an eminent writer, under the title of Histoire de VHomme au Masque de Fer, published at Paris in 1840. Fouquet was superintendent of finances in the early part of Louis XIV.'s reign, and won for himself a more than common share of the obloquy usually attracted by the finance minister under a despotic monarchy. He lived in a magnificence and luxury which aroused the jealousy even of the king, and he had the sad misfortune, moreover, to cross the monarch in the pursuit of certain mean schemes. Louis accounts for his animosity in the following manner:—" A view of the vast establishments this man had projected, and the insolent acquisitions he had made, could not fail to convince my mind of his unruly ambition, whilst the universal distress of my people cried aloud to me for justice against him. But what rendered him more culpable towards me was, that, far from profiting by the goodness I had manifested in retaining him in my counsels, he had derived therefrom fresh hopes of deceiving me, and instead of becoming wiser, thought only of showing himself more artful. But with all the artifices he could practise, I was not long in discovering his dishonesty, for he was unable to leave off his enormous expenditure, fortifying places and ornamenting palaces, forming cabals, and placing important charges in the hands of his friends, which he purchased for them at my expense, with the view of speedily rendering himself the supreme arbiter of the state."f

With this king to hate was to persecute. Without hesitation he caused Fouquet to be accused of malversation and treason, thrown into the Bastile in 1661, and arraigned before the Chamber of Justice, which, after a tedious process of three years, adjudged him guilty of the first crime, and sentenced him to banishment for life, with confiscation of his goods and chattels. The king was displeased that he had not Deen condemned to death; but judging it dangerous to allow a man acquainted with the affairs of the state to leave the kingdom, commuted the punishment to one of perpetual imprisonment.

* Two works of his are published on the* subject, both posthumous, which appeared in the year 18'25. Each is distinguished by a high-sounding title, having reference to the Iron Mask.

+ CEuvres de Louis XIV., t. i., p. 101.

Three days after judgment, Fouquet was accordingly conveyed to the prison of Pignerol, on the borders of Savoy, and SaintMars appointed to guard him with the strictest vigilance.

In 1664, therefore, Fouquet was shut up a close prisoner in the fortress of Pignerol, with M. de Saint-Mars for his jailor. In repeated letters, which are quoted by M. Jacob, the minister Louvois urges the latter to exercise the utmost rigour towards bis prisoner, in the literal fulfilment of which instructions he in fact showed himself nothing loath. After 1672, the severity of his captivity was mitigated, and he was allowed to receive a letter from his wife, and visits from the officers of the garrison. Towards the close of 1679 he fell ill, and, after some time, permission was given that he might be taken to the baths of Bourbon; but it was too late; he died of apoplexy at Pignerol on the 23d of March 1680. M. Jacob contends that he did not in fact die, but that the animosity of Louis being kindled afresh at the instigation of Madame de Maintenon, he resolved to wreak yet greater vengeance on the hapless superintendent. Consequently, causing his death to be announced, he had him immured in a lonely and inaccessible dungeon, and his face concealed with a mask.

But overlooking that much of this hypothesis rests on the merest and vaguest surmise, the death of Fouquet in 1680 appears to be as well authenticated as such an event in a state prison could be. In the first place, there is a letter from SaintMars to Louvois, dated the 23d of March 1680, intimating the occurrence; and three subsequent letters of Louvois to Saint-Mars -of the 8th, 9th, and 29th of April, speak of " the late M. Fouquet." Again, Madame Fouquet was in the town of Pignerol, lodging at the house of one Sieur Fenouil, at the time of her husband's •death, and arrangements had even been made for one of her daughters to occupy a room above, and communicating with the prisoner's, doubtless that she might tend her father in his sickness. It would likewise appear that his son, the Count de Vaux, must have been on the spot; for in his letter of the 8th of April, Louvois says to Saint-Mars, "You have done wrong to permit M. de Vaux to remove his father's papers and verses, and you ought to have locked them up in his apartment." His letter of the 9th of April, dated from St Germain, contains the following order:—" The king commands me to make known to you that his majesty is agreeable you should deliver to Madame Fouquet's servants the body of her late husband, to be transported whither she pleases." That Madame Fouquet, who was tenderly attached to her husband, and had, during all the years of his imprisonment, never ceased to importune the king for his release, availed herself of this permission, would seem both reasonable and natural; nor is there any reason to doubt she did so, the body of her husband being, as the burial register of the convent of the Filles de la Visitation-Sainte-Marie at Paris attests, deposited in the

church of that convent, in the same vault as that of his father, Francois Fouquet. But to this M. Jacob objects, first, that this interment (lid not take place for a whole year after the death, namely, on the 28th of March 1681; and secondly, that five months previously, a search being instituted in the church of the Visitation for the coffin of Andre Fremiot, erst archbishop of Bourges, to be removed to the cathedral of that city, the coffin was ultimately found in the Fouquet vault, on which occasion all the coffins in the sepulchre were examined by a municipal committee, and that professing to be of Nicholas Fouquet, the superintendent, was found empty, those of his father, wife, and sons only containing their remains. These two facts are singular, but by no means unaccountable, and are certainly wholly insufficient to invalidate the direct testimony of the death at Pignerol. But M. Jacob objects further, that Fouquet's friends were incredulous as to his demise; which can scarcely have been the case, since one of his most intimate friends, Madame de Sevigne, writes to her daughter on the 3d of April 1680 thus:—" Poor M. Fouquet is dead! I am greatly affected. Mademoiselle de Scudery is much afflicted at this event." On the 5th of the same month she again writes—" If I were to advise M. Fouquet's family, I would refrain from transporting his poor body, as it is said they are going to do. I would let it be buried there, at Pignerol; for atter a lapse of nineteen years, I would not have him brought out after such a fashion." The date of Madame de Sevigne's first letter is of great consequence in this inquiry, as there is an irresistible inference to be thence deduced that she had the information of Fouquet's death direct from his widow, son, or daughter, at Pignerol, inasmuch as Saint-Mars' letter of advice to Louvois did not reach that minister until the 8th of April, as he himself complains. Now, if the members of his family, resident on the spot, were acquainted with the circumstance of his death at the instant of its occurrence, and had free access to him previously—as is incontestable, from the arrangement as to his daughter, and a notarial procuration, executed by Madame Fouquet, in the donjon of the citadel of Pignerol, on the 27th of January 1680—it is not to be doubted they had ample opportunity of satisfying themselves that the event was real and not fictitious.

It is true that Voltaire, in one of his works, says that it was unknown where Fouquet died; and again, in the "Age of Louis XIV." (ch. 25), has the following remarkable passage :— "All historians state that Fouquet died at Pignerol in 1680; but Gourville asserts that he was liberated from prison some time before his death. The Countess de Vaux, his daughter-in-law, had already confirmed to me that fact; yet the contrary is believed in his family: thus it is that no one knows where the unfortunate man died."

This doubt on the part of Voltaire may be explained. Gourville says in his memoirs that Fouquet, having been set or put at liberty (ayant ite mis en liberti), wrote to him to thank him for the kindness he had shown to his wife. This liberty he must have meant as comparative, since it is unquestionable that Fouquet was never liberated from prison, whether he died at Pignerol or in the Bastile. The probable supposition is, that it had been made a condition with the family that it should observe a discreet silence on the subject both of the imprisonment and of the death; hence the misinformation even of his daughter-in-law. At all events, the ignorance of Voltaire, whether real or affected, has no bearing on the question, as he had not seen the correspondence between Louvois and Saint-Mars. On the whole, it is impossible to doubt that Fouquet died at Pignerol on the 23d of March 1680, and consequently that he was not the Man with the Iron Mask.

There remains the case of Matthioli to be considered. It is fortunately one in which no stubborn fact, such as a reputed death, or other untoward incident, is to be upset or even contested. In a word, Matthioli was the man.


The account of the true Man of the Iron Mask involves one of the most curious points in history. It may be troublesome to get at the whole truth of the matter, but we repeat it is worth a little patient investigation. We shall try to make the story as plain as possible.

The Abbe d'Estrades, French ambassador at Venice, knowing well the insatiable ambition of his master Louis XIV., conceived, in the year 1677, the idea of inducing the Duke of Mantua to permit the introduction of a French garrison into Casale, a strongly-fortified town, the capital of the Montferrat, and giving access to the whole of Lombardy. This scheme he proposed to effect through the medium of Count Matthioli, who had been secretary of state under the last Duke of Mantua, Charles III., and was greatly in the confidence of the present Ferdinand Charles IV.; who, however, was a complete cipher in the government, the reins of power being held by his mother, an Austrian princess. Having sent a messenger in whom he could confide to communicate with Matthioli, and finding him and the duke both agreeable to the project, in the hope of securing the aid of France against the Austrian and Spanish interests, to which the duchess-mother was devoted, he applied to Louis for leave to treat, which that potentate lost no time in cheerfully according. An active though secret negotiation was thereupon commenced between D'Estrades and Matthioli, which proceeded so favourably, that the Duke of Mantua himself repaired to Venice to have an interview with the French ambassador. At this interview, which took place at midnight on the 13th of March 1678, the duke expressed his eagerness to conclude the treaty, from the constant fear he was in of the Spaniards, and also his intention to send Matthioli to Paris, with the view of bringing the affair to a speedier issue. It suited the purpose of Louis to procrastinate, as he had no army ready to enter Italy; and hence the departure of Matthioli was delayed until November, when at length he started for Paris, and eventually concluded a treaty with M. de Pomponne, French minister, on the following terms :—

1st, That the Duke of Mantua should receive the French troops into Casale.

2d, That if the king of France sent an army into Italy, the Duke of Mantua should have the command of it.

3d, That immediately after the execution of the treaty, the sum of 100,000 crowns should be paid to the Duke of Mantua.

Matthioli, upon the occasion of this treaty, was received in a secret audience by Louis himself, who graciously presented him with a valuable ring. He also received a sum of money for his own use, and the promise of a further largess after the ratification of the treaty. He then returned to Italy, after concerting with Louvois, the minister at war, as to the mode of putting the treaty into execution.

In the whole of this affair Matthioli appears to have been actuated by venal motives. He had forsaken the Spanish interest, to embrace the French, solely from a disappointment of a pecuniary nature; and being now master of an important secret, he resolved to turn it to account. Accordingly, as he passed through Turin on his way from France, he revealed the affair to the President Turki, one of the ministers of the court of Savoy, for a sum of money, and allowed him to take copies of all the documents. After committing this act of treachery, it is not surprising he should do all he could to delay the ratification and fulfilment of the treaty. The French, on the contrary, were eager to complete the transaction, and take possession of Casale; their negotiator and their general were both ready; but Matthioli still found excuses to postpone the final act, until certain suspicions began to be entertained touching his fidelity. Nevertheless, appearances were kept up, and an appointment was eventually made to exchange the ratifications at Increa, a village near Casale, the duke repairing in person to Casale to deliver it into the hands Of the French immediately afterwards. But the French envoy charged with the ratifications was arrested as he passed through the Milanese from Venice, owing to the machinations of Matthioli, as was supposed; and although another person, Catinat, afterwards the celebrated marshal, was instantly appointed to supply his place, of which Matthioli was promptly apprised, that personage betook himself to Venice, instead of attending the appointment. Catinat, who was then simply a brigadier, actually proceeded to Increa, and narrowly escaped being seized by a detachment of cavalry sent for the purpose of capturing him. After this, little doubt could remain of Matthioli's treachery; but the French were too intent to conclude the arrangement wholly to

« ForrigeFortsæt »