« ForrigeFortsæt »
torture itself.* In everything connected with these prisoners the utmost secrecy was usually observed : they were seized in the dead of night, fictitious
names given to them, and all traces of their fate obliterated. Thus the anguish of families was increased by the very uncertainty in which they remained as to what had befallen their vanished relatives.
The course of profligacy, and of lavish expenditure on buildings, wars, and military parade, in which Louis XIV. recklessly indulged, had the effect, as is well known, of sapping the foundations of the monarchy, and of leading to that misery and discontent which broke out in the revolution of 1789.
From this short review of the character of Louis XIV., it will not be considered at all singular that a person of rank should have been kept in confinement for many years during his reign, without anything being known at the time concerning the unhappy captive. We have seen that it was not only the practice of the age for kings to imprison individuals without let or hindrance, but that Louis XIÑ., in particular, was exceedingly fond of this method of punishment for real or imaginary offences. So much for preliminary explanations. It is evident there is a groundwork for such a story as that of the Man with the Iron Mask ; and we now propose to explain to our young readers who the man was, what were his crimes, and all else that can be sub
* The Sieur Constantin de Renneville, in giving an account of his own treatment during an eleven years' sojourn in the Bastile, for having written some verses reflecting on the prowess of the French arms, presents a harrowing account of the general conduct pursued towards the prisoners. There is no doubt he writes under a lively sense of the persecution he had suffered, and many of his statements may be tinctured with exaggeration ; but, in the main, his relation is entitled to credit. The work is styled “The French Inquisition, or History of the Bastile," and was first published, in 1719, at Amsterdam. It extends to five thick closely-printed volumes, and has gone through several editions. Its attacks are principally directed against the governor and officers of the prison, whom he accuses of starving the prisoners in order to appropriate the sums allowed for their maintenance. Amongst other cases, he mentions that of a veteran Swiss officer, upwards of seventy, who had served in the army all his life, but had been betrayed into a hasty remark to Marshal Villeroi, at the battle of Ramilies, to whose denunciation he owed his incarceration, and who was kept without fire, and provided only with bread and water, although the king allowed fifteen francs a-day for his support. Renneville breaks out into the following pathetic lamentation :-“Of a truth what horrors have I not witnessed during eleven years and upwards that I have been made to endure torments beyond all expression, without having ever undergone a single interrogatory; without being able to obtain judges or commissioners to investigate my case; or without the ministers of the king deigning to acquaint me with the reason of my detention! I have been made to suffer a punishment more insupportable than the cruellest death, without learning the cause, without being granted leave during so long a time to write to my wife, my kinsinen, my friends, or even the minister who ordered my arrest. I found myself buried alive, without being able to ascertain whether I had yet a wife and children in the world, whatever prayers and submissions I lavished with that view on my inexorable per-, secutors."
stantiated respecting him. The narrative is probably not much worth; still, as it contains a mystery which goes on perplexing generation after generation, and as it throws a light on past manners, we think it may not be, on the whole, oùt of place to tell it, as truth always ought to be told.
We must commence by disposing of various ingenious
CONJECTURES AS TO WHO WAS THE IRON MASK.
Although, for a number of years after the death of Louis XIV., there were many rumours in France as to the Man with the Iron Mask, it was considered dangerous to publish any real or probable account of his sufferings. The narrative of his captivity was first printed at Amsterdam in 1745, and in the form of an allegory, the scene of which was laid in Persia. According to this romance, as it must be called, the Man with the Iron Mask was the Count de Vermandois, a son of Louis XIV., who had incurred his father's displeasure. This fiction did not attract much attention ; but it probably, along with personal pique, and the love of dramatic effect, induced Voltaire to revive the narrative in his “ Age of Louis XIV.," a work published at Berlin in 1751. Not content with asseverating the assumed facts hitherto propagated, he undertook, upon the testimony of officers of the Bastile, his informants, to describe the person of the prisoner as of good height and admirable proportions, and to represent him as possessing a voice that awakened much interest, and as evincing in his deportment an exemplary resignation. He, moreover, stated that the mask worn by the prisoner was furnished with steel springs at the chin, whereby he was enabled to eat with freedom. His captivity dated from 1661, in the fortress of the island of Sainte-Marguerite, whence he was removed in 1690 to the Bastile, under the most rigorous precautions, in which latter prison he died in 1704. The Marquis de Louvois, minister of the war department under Louis XIV., visited him, and remained standing whilst addressing him, exhibiting in his whole demeanour great respect. He was provided with everything he desired;
his taste for fine linen and laces was abundantly gratified; he was allowed the solace of music; and the governor never ventured to sit in his presence.
This is the account given by Voltaire, supported by all the weight of his own name, and corroborated by the implied authority of the Duke de Richelieu and Madame de Pompadour, the one the minister, and the other a confidant, of Louis XV., with whom he was then living on terms of the closest intimacy. It was confirmed in its main particulars by another writer, LagrangeChancel, who had been himself contined at Sainte-Marguerite, and claimed to derive his information from the governor of that fortress. He alleged that “the commandant, Saint-Mars, manifested great consideration towards his prisoner, served him him
self in silver plate, and frequently provided him with clothes as rich as he desired; but the prisoner was obliged, on pain of death, to appear only with his iron mask on in presence of the physician and surgeon, when he needed their services; and his only amusement when alone was to pluck hairs from his beard with small steel pincers, highly polished and shining:” He added, that he had himself seen one of these pincers in the hands of the Sieur de Formanoir, the nephew of Saint-Mars. Thus was all doubt dispelled from the public mind, and it became a universally admitted fact that some one had been kept in confinement by Louis XIV., with his face concealed by a mask, the most lively curiosity being excited to determine who the victim of such jealous tyranny could have been. The mere circumstance of so extraordinary a precaution seemed to prove incontestably that he must have been a prisoner of the greatest consequence, and in all probability of the highest rank-a supposition fortified by the studied respect said to be paid him. Hence, it is scarcely a matter of surprise that the great majority of the writers who have handled the subject seek some exalted personage as the hero of their various hypotheses, although Voltaire himself has remarked that no considerable individual disappeared from the European stage at the time, unless by real or apparent death.
The first supposition was that of the author of the Persian fiction, to which Voltaire himself perhaps at one time leant, there being, indeed, good grounds to suspect that the story itself was the offspring of his own fertile brain, and which, as has been stated, pointed to the Count de Vermandois. Yet this Count de Vermandois had died in the very midst of a camp, after an illness of seven days: having fallen sick on the evening of the 12th November 1683, and died on the 19th, he was buried with extraordinary pomp in the cathedral church of Arras, upon the express requisition of the king himself, Louis XIV., to the chapter, that his body might be deposited in the same vault as that in which reposed the remains of Elizabeth, Countess of Vermandois, wife of Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders, who died in 1182; and a sum of 10,000 livres was granted to the same chapter for a perpetual dirge to be chanted to his memory. There seems no good reason to suppose all this a solemn farce, enacted to conceal the imprisonment of a youth, who could never have been an object of apprehension, whether in durance or at large. The mere allegation of a rumour to that effect can be ésteemed of no weight in the absence of anything like corroborative proof. The next conjecture as to who was
the Iron Mask, was that put forward by at least two respectable writers. These affirmed that the queen, wife of Louis XIII., after giving birth to Louis XIV., was delivered at a subsequent hour of a second son, whose birth the king resolved to conceal, to avoid the danger of a disputed succession, it being the opinion of certain legal authorities that the first-born of twins has a doubtful claim to any inheritance
depending on birth. With this view, the child was confided to a nurse, and afterwards to a governor, who took him to his seat in Burgundy, where, growing to manhood, he discovered the secret of his birth, and was forthwith placed in confinement, with a mask to conceal his features, which were the exact counterpart of his brother the king's. Such was the story of these authors, which, upon careful consideration, seems utterly unworthy of credit. Nevertheless, the notion that a brother of Louis XIV., whether older, younger, or of the same age, and whether legitimate or illegitimate, was in truth the unfortunate victim of the Iron Mask, has had a host of firm believers in France and other countries, and amongst the rest our ingenious countryman Mr Quintin Crawford, who decides in favour of a son. It would seem that Napoleon, whose curiosity was keenly excited by this mystery of the Iron Mask, also inclined to the hypothesis of a royal prince.*
Meanwhile, suppositions of a less creative, though of an equally fanciful nature, challenged from day to day public acquiescence, though the only consequence of this diversity of theories was greater perplexity and doubt. First in order was the hypothesis which assigned the Iron Mask to the Duke of Beaufort, advanced by two several authors, Dufresnoy and Lagrange-Chancel, in 1759, and afterwards maintained by others. This Duke of Beaufort had been intrusted by Louis XIV, with the command of a squadron destined for the relief of Candia, then besieged by the Turks (1669). Seven days after his arrival at the island, he took part in a sally on the besiegers, and was never seen again. The Duke de Navailles, his coadjutor in the command, reported that he had been abandoned by his troops when in front of the Turks, and he knew not what had become of him. The probability is that he was slain, and his head sent to the sultan at Constantinople, according to the custom of the Turks. But as his body was not found, or at least identified, which might readily be the case if it were decapitated, a rumour prevailed that he was not dead, but had mysteriously disappeared. This was sufficient to elevate him into a candidate for the martyrdom of the Iron Mask; but his supporters signally fail, both in probability and the more decisive matter of dates. The age of the prince would incapacitate him for the part, and there appears no cause to suppose he had given any mortal offence either to the king or to his vindictive minister Colbert. He was a man of gross and vulgar habits, passing by the nickname of the King of the Markets, indicative of his low tastes. He enjoyed no consideration, and might be an object of contempt or disgust, but not of inhuman persecution.
* The memoirs of the Duchess d’Abrantes bear testimony to the interest taken in the elucidation of this question by Napoleon, who had ordered researches in the national archives without effect, which not a little fretted the imperious impatience of his mind for results.
Poullain de Saint-Foix has the merit of resuscitating anothers, illustrious deceased to perform the character of the Iron Maskani and this he does with even more boldness than any of his cond temporaries, since he selects a man who was publicly beheaded on Tower Hill, in the city of London, in the year 1685; namely, thea Duke of Monmouth, executed by his uncle James II. SaintFoix finds a substitute for the duke on the scaffold in the person of a devoted follower, who greatly resembled him, and consented to act as his proxy in the loss of his head. Setting aside this first startling difficulty, the hypothesis is otherwise utterly ungt tenable in respect of dates. Yet, strange to say, for a time this theory became the favourite one, owing principally to the bold and confident tone of its advocate, until the Père Griffet, a learned and profound historian, was provoked to take up arms against it, and by a skilful use of authentic documents effectually demolished it, although he failed to set up his own dogma in its place, for the erudite father gave his suffrage in favour of the Count de Vermandois. A furious contest ensued between these two champions in the columns of Freron's Année Litteraire, in the midst of which a third claimant came forward in behalf of Mohammed IV., the Turkish sultan deposed in 1687 : but while the conflict was still raging among these combatants, and the public excitement roused to the highest pitch, the Père Griffet suddenly departed this life (1771), and so put an end to the hot discussion.
With regard to other parties of inferior grades, who have found partisans to
their claims as the heroes of this enigma, it is sufficient to say that the spirit of paradox has been carried so far as to pitch upon Henry Cromwell, the second son of the Protector, for one of them, upon the ground, simply, that though known to be of a more lively temperament than his brother Richard, he lived and died in such obscurity, that nothing is known of his existence. But even if this were so, it is clear that Louis XIV. could have no possible interest in keeping
a son of Cromwell in such close confinement, however prone to assume the part of a jailor. More plausible arguments have been advanced in favour of three other individuals, between whom, in fact, the controversy is unquestionably narrowed. These are, the Armenian patriarch, Ardewiks; the superintendent of the French finances, Fouquet; and the minister of the Duke of. Mantua, Matthioli
. Thus the story, it must be confessed, loses much of its romantic interest, shorn as it becomes of any thrilling mystery. But the object in view is, of course, the elucidation of the truth.
Before entering upon the inquiry which of these three was the actual Man with the Iron Mask, it will be proper to detail all that is precisely known respecting the prisoner detained under such extraordinary circumstances. To do so with demonstrative effect, all that is mere hearsay or tradition ought to be