Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

The Iron Mask

As we have seen, Louis began his independent reign by proceeding to supervise everything himself, but his principal adviser was Colbert, who had served Mazarin, and was therefore well posted about all government matters. Colbert soon informed the young monarch that there was something amiss in regard to Fouquet, minister of finance, who, beginning his duties as a poor man, was at the end of a few years noted for great wealth. At first the king would not credit such tales, but before Mazarin had been in his grave many months Fouquet's stealings became too glaring to be ignored, and his fall came about in a dramatic way.

It seems that Fouquet once invited the king to his country home, where the great magnificence of his establishment eclipsed everything that had hitherto been seen at court. Louis XIV, who expected to be first in everything, gazed around him in wondering displeasure, and showed his wrath by remarking coldly, "I shall never again, sir, venture to invite you to visit me, for you would find yourself inconvenienced!" Still apparently polite and well entertained, Louis soon came to the conclusion that all this wealth could not have been obtained by honest means. It is possible, however, that Fouquet would only have been deprived of office, had not the king discovered that his dishonest minister dared to rival him in another line.

Louis had recently begun to pay court to a beautiful young lady. Mademoiselle de La Valliere, over whose graceful head he once, at a picnic, held his plumed hat to protect her from a summer shower. The king's infatuation was no secret, so no one else ventured to pay this lady attentions, for fear of arousing royal jealousy. It is said, however, that Fouquet, also smitten with this fair lady's charms, secreted her portrait in a private room, where it was closely covered by a curtain, so that the gaze of the vulgar might never rest upon it.

Louis XIV. and Mademoiselle


By some accident Louis went into this very apartment, where his attention was naturally attracted by the shrouded painting. Wishing to gratify his curiosity, the king quickly pushed aside the curtain, and so discovered the full extent of his minister's perfidy. In his wrath, the king soon after had Fouquet arrested, and confiscated all his possessions.

Nineteen years later, it was publicly reported that Fouquet had died in one of the king's fortresses. But about the same time a mysterious prisoner was first mentioned in France. This man, evidently some important personage, was treated with great respect by his jailers, but no one was ever allowed to converse privately with him, or even to catch a glimpse of his face, which was always covered by a velvet mask. As this mask was black, it was said to be of iron, and, because no name was ever given to this captive, he was popularly known as "the Iron Mask." Many stories are told about him, some of which you will like to hear.

From one fortress to another this prisoner traveled through France, each governor being obliged in turn to answer with his life for the man's safe detention. For a time the Iron Mask was locked up in a tower overlooking the sea, and one day, it is said, he managed to scratch a few words on a silver dish, which he flung through the bars out of his window. A poor fisherman, casting his nets in that neighborhood, drew up this silver vessel, which he immediately carried to the castle, in hopes of securing a rich reward. He obstinately refused, however, to give it up or even to show it to anyone save the governor, who, on catching sight of the words scratched on the smooth silver surface, turned ghastly pale. Finding, however, by close cross-questioning, that the fisherman did not know how to read, and had not shown his find to anyone, the governor congratulated the man upon his ignorance and caution, grimly declaring that to them he owed his life.

In time the Iron Mask was conveyed to the Bastille in Paris, where he died in 1703, after being, some say twenty-four, and others forty-three, years a prisoner. But even then the mystery was not revealed, for we are told that no one was permitted to see the dead man's features.

The Man in the Iron Mask is one of the great puzzles in history, because no great person is known to have disappeared at that time. There are many theories about him, but as no positive proof exists that any one of these is correct, you may think what you please. Dumas, the great French novelist, romantically asserted that the Man with the Iron Mask was a twin brother of Louis XIV, so exactly like him that they could not be told apart. He claimed that this prince was kept in prison lest trouble should arise for the state, but that if anything untoward had happened during Louis XIV's minority, his twin brother would undoubtedly have been put in his place, without anyone suspecting the substitution.

Another theory is that this man was Fouquet, who, although his death had been openly announced, was still made to suffer for having dared to raise his eyes to the king's favorite, if not for having robbed the state!

A third supposition—the least romantic, but most plausible—is that a secretary of the Duke of Mantua, trying to cheat the French government, was secretly seized and imprisoned, by Louis's orders. These are only three out of many versions of the story of the mysterious prisoner, to which you will find many allusions both in history and in fiction.