Magazine article History Today

More about the Mask: Roger Macdonald's Article 'Behind the Iron Mask' Published in Our November 2005 Issue Raised a Number of Questions. Here He Answers Some of Them, and Reveals More Extraordinary Facts

Magazine article History Today

More about the Mask: Roger Macdonald's Article 'Behind the Iron Mask' Published in Our November 2005 Issue Raised a Number of Questions. Here He Answers Some of Them, and Reveals More Extraordinary Facts

Article excerpt

WHY DID You give away the secret that d'Artagnan became the Man in the Iron Mask instead of allowing people who bought your book to find out for themselves?

Originally I just intended to write a cliff-hanger for History Today about the real Musketeers but the editor persuaded me to reveal the secret of the Iron Mask in my article. I feel sure his instinct was correct: it would have been almost impossible to keep this discovery out of reviews and interviews about my book. However, there are more surprises in the book itself. For example, I reveal the identity of Eustache Danger, hitherto the last surviving credible candidate to be the Iron Mask, and a man of whom nothing previously was known, and I explain why he could not be the solution. I also explain how there were two secret prisoners, not one, and that the second was Fouquet, Louis XIV's finance minister, whose purported death in 1680 was faked, just as d'Artagnan's had been. And, of course, what happens to d'Artagnan in the end.

You say Alexandre Dumas set his fictitious version of The Three Musketeers fifteen years earlier than their real fight with Cardinal Richelieu's Guards, but wasn't Charles d'Artagnan in fact born much earlier than you claim he was?

Historians often confuse the number and names of children produced by d'Artagnan's parents; none more so perhaps than the most recent history of the Musketeers, which states 'Bertrand and Francoise had six children: four boys and three girls [sic].' D'Artagnan had an elder brother called Charles and it was he who appeared on the Musketeers' roll in 1633. The real d'Artagnan, then aged ten, was actually Charles-Ogier: on the face of it, still an odd and confusing name for his parents to choose. However, it was common practice at the time to use a Christian name more than once among siblings, and d'Artagnan's own children would both be baptized Louis.

You say that Louis XIV plotted with his war minister Louvois to get rid of d'Artagnan by making sure he met a hero's death at the siege of Maastricht in 1673. When their plan went wrong, and d'Artagnan was only wounded, why did Louvois not simply finish the job and kill him anyway?

By ironic timing, Louvois had introduced field hospitals for that campaign and it is likely that d'Artagnan was taken to one of them. There were other wounded Musketeers who would have recognized d'Artagnan and protected him, ultimately at the cost of their own lives. To remove d'Artagnan from the hospital, Louvois had to send for someone they trusted, his former sergeant Saint-Mars, who had been made jailer of the most remote state prison, Pignerol.

So why didn't Saint-Mars kill d'Artagnan?

There was intense loyalty among the Musketeers and Saint-Mars believed he owed his promotion to d'Artagnan. As time went on, Saint-Mars received a fortune in bribes to protect the identity of his most secret prisoner. Even if Louvois had ordered him to eliminate d'Artagnan, Saint-Mars would almost certainly have refused to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.

But why keep him in an iron mask?

Saint-Mars had recruited former Musketeers as warders at Pignerol. The iron, or rather steel, mask kept d'Artagnan's identity secret from them because otherwise they might have been tempted to help their former commander to escape. It seems probable that Saint-Mars made d'Artagnan wear the mask only when he had a visit from a warder or left his cell to take exercise within the prison walls.

Who thought up the fiendish idea of the iron mask?

From Maastricht, d'Artagnan was taken to the Bastille, whose governor, Besmaux, had a score to settle with him because d'Artagnan had seduced his young wife, Marguerite de Peyroz. Besmaux had an obsession with masks: he locked Marguerite in one to keep her away from the Musketeers' prying eyes. The steel mask was probably Besmaux's idea, and he made d'Artagnan wear it permanently, a kind of Gothic nightmare. …

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