Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Death of the Man in the Iron Mask

One of the most intriguing mysteries in French history apparently reached its final act on this day in 1703. Deep within the walls of the Bastille a man breathed his last but as he passed away, he ignited centuries of speculation, conspiracy theories and a host of fanciful and fictional tales. That near-legendary prisoner, face hidden by black velvet, has found his identity in the austere title of the Man in the Iron Mask.

Anonymous, 1789
Anonymous, 1789

The masked prisoner had been incarcerated since approximately 1680, held in the more or less permanent custody of Bénigne d'Auvergne de Saint-Mars at Pignerol. When Saint-Mars found a new billet at the Bastille in 1698 he took the mysterious figure with him, where he took up residence alone in the Bertaudière tower. Treated well and clad in velvet, not iron, the unnamed prisoner passed his years in the Bastille in relative calm and died a peaceful death by all accounts on 19th November 1703.

The following day the masked man was laid to rest under the name, Marchioly, apparently aged somewhere in his mid-forties. His cell was stripped back to the bricks and all trace of him erased from the world, if not from history. Indeed, efforts to keep the prisoner anonymous fuelled the fire that raged around him and now, more than two hundred years after he breathed his last, we still remember the Man in the Iron mask. 


  1. So glad to hear it was velvet and not iron!

  2. If his grave is known, one wonders whether DNA analyses of his bones would tell a story....

  3. If he was buried in Paris, he is probably really lost to history since most of the graves were dug up in the late 1700's or so, and the bones reburied in piles under the city because cemeteries were running out of room.

    1. He was buried at the Saint-Paul cemetery in Paris.