Who was the real Man in the Iron Mask? You probably think that you know already, there have been many films and novels about him. Unfortunately, film makers and novelists rarely allow mere historical fact to get in the way of a good story.
There are many myths about the Man in the Iron Mask. The iconic black and white film “TheMan in the Iron Mask” followed the novelist Alexandre Dumas 1850 in suggesting that the prisoner who wore the Iron Mask was The French King, Louis XIV’s twin brother. Other stories and myths have suggested various names for the unknown prisoner.
There is little proper historical evidence that points to a definite identity. The facts are that, during the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille in Paris the prison records showed a masked prisoner number 64389000 who came to the Bastille in 1698 and died there in 1703 aged 60. Some accounts say he was buried minus his head. The name on his grave was Marchioli but why did he have to wear a mask if that truly was his name? Marchioli was an Italian diplomat who was imprisoned for revealing secret negotiations for the French purchase of a fortress. This theory does not account for his mask or why his guards always treated him with great reverence and deference. Removing their hats in his presence and treating him always with courtly politeness.
Prisoner 64389000 was originally imprisoned at Pignerol in 1662. He was transferred from St Margaret’s Island with its governor to the Bastille in 1698. It is difficult to say for certain just who he was, but there were several improbable contenders. The Turks killed the Duc de Beaufort at Candia in 1669. Prisoner 64389000 was already in prison at Pignerol in 1662. The Comte de Vermandois Louis XIV's illegitimate son, suffered smallpox and died in 1683 whilst with the military.
Voltaire in “Siecle de Louis XV” was the first to record The Man in the Iron Mask. Voltaire thought that the man was an older half brother of Louis XIV, the son of his mother, the Queen but not by King Louis XIII. It is possible that there was a strong family likeness. An older brother would have destabilized the succession and provided a figurehead for rebellion and those who wished to cause trouble. There is some collaborative evidence to support that theory. It was well known that Louis XIII and his Queen Anne of Austria were estranged for the first years of their marriage. It was 23 years before Louis XIV was born in 1638 and his brother Phillippe in 1640 during a brief reconciliation.
The Man in the Iron Mask’s true identity will remain a secret. The closest historical source is Voltaire and he was only 9 years old when prisoner 64389000 died. That he was someone important is clear. The mask was obviously to hide his looks; even his doctors never saw his face. He was kept apart from other prisoners. Voltaire’s theory would seem to be nearest to the truth, that the Man in the Iron Mask was related near enough to Louis XIV to threaten the crown. However the secret died with those that kept it for so many years; all modern people can do is to enjoy speculating about who The Man in the Iron Mask was.