Random Quote #88 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


The author of the "Siecle de Louis XIV."[17] is the first to speak of
the man in the iron mask in an authenticated history. The reason is that
he was very well informed about the anecdote which astonishes the
present century, which will astonish posterity, and which is only too
true. He was deceived about the date of the death of this singularly
unfortunate unknown. The date of his burial at St. Paul was March 3rd,
1703, and not 1704. (Note.--According to a certificate reported by
Saint-Foix, the date was November 20th, 1703.)

He was imprisoned first of all at Pignerol before being so on St.
Margaret's Islands, and later in the Bastille; always under the same
man's guard, Saint-Mars, who saw him die. Father Griffet, Jesuit, has
communicated to the public the diary of the Bastille, which testifies to
the dates. He had this diary without difficulty, for he held the
delicate position of confessor of prisoners imprisoned in the Bastille.

The man in the iron mask is a riddle to which everyone wishes to guess
the answer. Some say that he was the Duc de Beaufort: but the Duc de
Beaufort was killed by the Turks at the defence of Candia, in 1669; and
the man in the iron mask was at Pignerol, in 1662. Besides, how would
one have arrested the Duc de Beaufort surrounded by his army? how would
one have transferred him to France without anybody knowing anything
about it? and why should he have been put in prison, and why this mask?

Others have considered the Comte de Vermandois, natural son of Louis
XIV., who died publicly of the small-pox in 1683, with the army, and was
buried in the town of Arras.

Later it was thought that the Duke of Monmouth, whose head King James
II. had cut off publicly in London in 1685, was the man in the iron
mask. It would have been necessary for him to be resuscitated, and then
for him to change the order of the times, for him to put the year 1662
in place of 1685; for King James who never pardoned anyone, and who on
that account deserved all his misfortunes, to have pardoned the Duke of
Monmouth, and to have caused the death, in his place, of a man exactly
like him. It would have been necessary to find this double who would
have been so kind as to have his neck cut off in public in order to save
the Duke of Monmouth. It would have been necessary for the whole of
England to have been under a misapprehension; for James then to have
sent his earnest entreaties to Louis XIV. to be so good as to serve as
his constable and gaoler. Then Louis XIV. having done King James this
little favour, would not have failed to have the same consideration for
King William and for Queen Anne, with whom he was at war; and he would
carefully have preserved in these two monarchs' consideration his
dignity of gaoler, with which King James had honoured him.

All these illusions being dissipated, it remains to be learned who was
this prisoner who was always masked, the age at which he died, and under
what name he was buried. It is clear that if he was not allowed to pass
into the courtyard of the Bastille, if he was not allowed to speak to
his doctor, unless covered by a mask, it was for fear that in his
features might be recognized some too striking resemblance. He might
show his tongue, and never his face. As regards his age, he himself said
to the Bastille apothecary, a few days before his death, that he thought
he was about sixty; and Master Marsolan, surgeon to the Marechal de
Richelieu, and later to the Duc d'Orleans, regent, son-in-law of this
apothecary, has repeated it to me more than once.

Finally, why give him an Italian name? he was always called Marchiali!
He who writes this article knows more about it, maybe, than Father
Griffet, and will not say more.


It is surprising to see so many scholars and so many intelligent and
sagacious writers torment themselves with guessing who can have been
the famous man in the iron mask, without the simplest, most natural,
most probable idea ever presenting itself to them. Once the fact as M.
de Voltaire reports it is admitted, with its circumstances; the
existence of a prisoner of so singular a species, put in the rank of the
best authenticated historical truths; it seems that not only is nothing
easier than to imagine who this prisoner was, but that it is even
difficult for there to be two opinions on the subject. The author of
this article would have communicated his opinion earlier, if he had not
believed that this idea must already have come to many others, and if he
were not persuaded that it was not worth while giving as a discovery
what, according to him, jumps to the eyes of all who read this anecdote.

However, as for some time past this event has divided men's minds, and
as quite recently the public has again been given a letter in which it
is claimed as proved that this celebrated prisoner was a secretary of
the Duke of Mantua (which cannot be reconciled with the great marks of
respect shown by M. de Saint-Mars to his prisoner), the author has
thought it his duty to tell at last what has been his opinion for many
years. Maybe this conjecture will put an end to all other researches,
unless the secret be revealed by those who can be its guardians, in such
a way as to remove all doubts.

He will not amuse himself with refuting those who have imagined that
this prisoner could be the Comte de Vermandois, the Duc de Beaufort, or
the Duke of Monmouth. The scholarly and very wise author of this last
opinion has well refuted the others; but he had based his own opinion
essentially merely on the impossibility of finding in Europe some other
prince whose detention it would have been of the very highest importance
should not be known. M. de Saint-Foix is right, if he means to speak
only of princes whose existence was known; but why has nobody yet
thought of supposing that the iron mask might have been an unknown
prince, brought up in secret, and whose existence it was important
should remain unknown?

The Duke of Monmouth was not for France a prince of such great
importance; and one does not see even what could have engaged this
power, at least after the death of this duke and of James II., to make
so great a secret of his detention, if indeed he was the iron mask. It
is hardly probable either that M. de Louvois and M. de Saint-Mars would
have shown the Duke of Monmouth the profound respect which M. de
Voltaire assures they showed the iron mask.

The author conjectures, from the way that M. de Voltaire has told the
facts, that this celebrated historian is as persuaded as he is of the
suspicion which he is going, he says, to bring to light; but that M. de
Voltaire, as a Frenchman, did not wish, he adds, to publish point-blank,
particularly as he had said enough for the answer to the riddle not to
be difficult to guess. Here it is, he continues, as I see it.

"The iron mask was undoubtedly a brother and an elder brother of Louis
XIV., whose mother had that taste for fine linen on which M. de Voltaire
lays stress. It was in reading the Memoirs of that time, which report
this anecdote about the queen, that, recalling this same taste in the
iron mask, I doubted no longer that he was her son: a fact of which all
the other circumstances had persuaded me already.

"It is known that Louis XIII. had not lived with the queen for a long
time; that the birth of Louis XIV. was due only to a happy chance
skilfully induced; a chance which absolutely obliged the king to sleep
in the same bed with the queen. This is how I think the thing came to

"The queen may have thought that it was her fault that no heir was born
to Louis XIII. The birth of the iron mask will have undeceived her. The
cardinal to whom she will have confided the fact will have known, for
more than one reason, how to turn the secret to account; he will have
thought of making use of this event for his own benefit and for the
benefit of the state. Persuaded by this example that the queen could
give the king children, the plan which produced the chance of one bed
for the king and the queen was arranged in consequence. But the queen
and the cardinal, equally impressed with the necessity of hiding from
Louis XIII. the iron mask's existence, will have had him brought up in
secret. This secret will have been a secret for Louis XIV. until
Cardinal Mazarin's death.

"But this monarch learning then that he had a brother, and an elder
brother whom his mother could not disacknowledge, who further bore maybe
the marked features which betrayed his origin, reflecting that this
child born during marriage could not, without great inconvenience and a
horrible scandal, be declared illegitimate after Louis XIII.'s death,
Louis XIV. will have judged that he could not use a wiser or juster
means than the one he employed in order to assure his own tranquillity
and the peace of the state; means which relieved him of committing a
cruelty which policy would have represented as necessary to a monarch
less conscientious and less magnanimous than Louis XIV.

"It seems to me, our author continues, that the more one knows of the
history of those times, the more one must be struck by these assembled
circumstances which are in favour of such a supposition."


[17] Voltaire.

[18] This note, given as a publisher's note in the 1771 edition, passes
among many men of letters as being by Voltaire himself. He knew of this
edition, and he never contradicted the opinion there advanced on the
subject of the man in the iron mask.

He was the first to speak of this man. He always combated all the
conjectures made about the mask: he always spoke as though better
informed than others on the subject, and as though unwilling to tell all
he knew.

There is a letter in circulation from Mlle. de Valois, written to the
Duke, afterward Marechal de Richelieu, where she boasts of having
learned from the Duc d'Orleans, her father, under strange conditions,
who the man in the iron mask was; this man, she says, was a twin brother
of Louis XIV., born a few hours after him.

Either this letter, which it was so useless, so indecent, so dangerous
to read, is a supposititious letter, or the regent, in giving his
daughter the reward she had so nobly acquired, thought to weaken the
danger there was in revealing a state secret, by altering the facts, so
as to make of this prince a younger son without right to the throne,
instead of the heir-apparent to the crown.

But Louis XIV., who had a brother; Louis XIV., whose soul was
magnanimous; Louis XIV., who prided himself even on a scrupulous
probity, whom history has reproached with no crime, who indeed committed
no crime apart from letting himself be too swayed by the counsels of
Louvois and the Jesuits; Louis XIV. would never have detained one of his
brothers in perpetual prison, in order to forestall the evils announced
by an astrologer, in whom he did not believe. He needed more important
motives. Eldest son of Louis XIII., acknowledged by this prince, the
throne belonged to him; but a son born of Anne of Austria, unknown to
her husband, had no rights, and could, nevertheless, try to make himself
acknowledged, rend France with a long civil war, win maybe over Louis
XIII.'s son, by alleging the right of primogeniture, and substitute a
new race for the old race of the Bourbons. These motives, if they did
not entirely justify Louis XIV.'s rigour, serve at least to excuse him;
and the prisoner, too well-informed of his fate, could be grateful to
him for not having listened to more rigorous counsels, counsels which
politics have often employed against those who had pretensions to
thrones occupied by their competitors.

From his youth Voltaire was connected with the Duc de Richelieu, who was
not discreet: if Mlle. de Valois' letter is authentic, he knew of it;
but, possessed of a just mind, he felt the error, and sought other
information. He was in a position to obtain it; he rectified the truth
altered in the letter, as he rectified so many other errors.


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