Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, Part 2

“Vidster” Vidocq, an older gentleman, loves to crack his brain over the impossible. He likes to read about historical mysteries and unsolved homicides. He writes down his musing on the blog “Defrosting Cold Cases.”

Part 1 was posted on Gary Lee Walter’s blog Stretlaw in the weekend of April 14-15, 2012.

Case Jackets is hosting Part Two in this three part series and mini blog tour by Vidster.

Suzie Ivy will be hosting Part Three on her blog, The Bad Luck Detective

Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, Part Two:

First, consider the unknown prisoner’s transportation:

When Saint-Mars and his unknown prisoner went from Pignerolo to Exiles, they had a closed litter and an escort. From Exiles to Saint-Marguerite, they had an open sedan-chair covered with oil cloth and an escort. From Saint-Marguerite to the Bastille, they had an open litter and no escort. You see the security measures going down, right?

According to prison documents, Saint-Mars had his unknown prisoner in special high-security cells at Pignerolo, Exiles and Saint-Marguerite but in an ordinary cell at the Bastille. Saint-Mars and his unknown prisoner were clearly not top priority anymore!

So what changed? The Minister of War changed and here we see our lines materialize.

In 1691, when the unknown prisoner was at Saint-Marguerite, Francois Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois died. He was succeeded by his son as Minster of War. And here we have the crucial point where any re-investigation should start.

From 1669-1691: the Minister of War was Francois Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (further “Louvois”) and the unknown prisoner was at Pignerolo and Exiles.

From 1691-1701: the Minister of War was Louis Francois Marie le Tellier, Marquis de Barbezieux (further “Barbezieux”) and the unknown prisoner was at Saint-Marguerite and the Bastille.

After Louvois’ death, the security measures declined. Clearly, Barbezieux was less worried than his father ever was about this unknown prisoner and what he might represent or know.

This open up the possibility that the security threat was less on state level but more on a personal level. Louvois had access to blank warrants neatly signed in advance by Louis XIV. He could easily have used those to settle personal scores. 

One man played a huge role in Louvois’ decisions and that man was Nicolas Fouquet 

Nicolas Fouquet was former Superintendent General of Finance. He was arrested in September 1661 for embezzlement of state funds and conspiracy to rebellion. He was sentenced to life in December 1664. He died at Pignerolo, then governed by Saint-Mars, on April 6, 1680. Fouquet was buried on March 23, 1681.

And here it is that line 2 appears!

Pignerolo was a fort upgraded to state prison to keep exactly one man incarcerated: Fouquet and that made Saint-Mars a famous prison governor. Fouquet was involved in the power struggle between Louvois and Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance from 1665-1683.

After Fouquet, famous prisoner #2 arrived at Pignerolo: Count Ercole Antonio Matthioli on May 2, 1679. Matthioli was a one time Secretary of State and Senator for the Duke of Mantua. He was suspected of selling state secrets to the Spanish. He was involved in negotiations between the Duke of Mantua and the Republic of Venice with France serving as intermediary between the Duke and the Republic.

Saint-Mars’ fame grew even more after famous prisoner #3 arrived at Pignerolo in November 1671: Antoine Nompar de Caumont, Marquis de Puyguilhem and Duc de Lauzun. Lauzun was at Pignerolo from 1671-1681.

There are notes from Louvois to Saint-Mars in which the first demanded from the latter that another prisoner, Eustache Dauger, was not allowed to be in any room with both Fouquet and Lauzun present. Dauger was only allowed to walk outside if accompanied by Fouquet and la Riviere, a valet. 

What does this tell me? 

That Fouquet and la Riviere had to keep an eye on Dauger. 


To avoid that a memory is triggered in Lauzun. 

Why else are these men allowed to mingle during their incarceration but when Dauger is around, they cannot. So the question is: what is it that Lauzun witnessed at one time that involved Louvois?

In the meantime, Saint-Mars kept bragging about his important prisoners to the Ministry of War to get more funding and of course, a better salary for himself. However, the Ministry changed. Louvois was succeeded by his son, Barbezieux.

Barbezieux could not undo all that his father had done while he was Minister of War or else, the public would get the message that the prisoners were no longer a threat and would eventually tie that to Louvois himself. Barbezieux would be undermining his predecessor’s authority, credibility and with that make a statement about the Monarchy. So the best Barbezieux could do was to keep the unknown prisoner incarcerated, maybe extend some of his privileges or, grant request for renewals of clothing. Anything else would tarnish his father’s image!

To recap: 

Line 1: during his life, Louvois considered someone such a personal threat that he needed to be incarcerated for life.

Line 2: during his life, Saint-Mars sought fame and his status increased with each new famous prisoner. 


To be continued on Suzie Ivy’s blog The Bad Luck Detective in the weekend of April 28-29, 2012.


  1. Thank you, David, for hosting part 2.

    Let me know what you think!

    Happy weekend, V

  2. Incredibly interesting. I love how you are putting together this intriguing mystery in three short part.