The Man in the Iron Mask
The Mask of Langres - Claimed by many to be the infamous iron mask
The Theories, Conspiracies, and Candidates
Things haven't changed much over the centuries. The are scandals and conspiracies theories of all kinds and in every flavor - and not surprisingly, people cling to them and mold them to fit whatever angst they themselves, or society as a whole, feels at the time. Certainly this is exactly the type of sensation which arose from the story of the "Iron Mask" - the unidentified prisoner whose remains were purportedly discovered during the French Revolution's storming of the Bastille
Dumas did not fail to capitalize upon this most fascinating, but frustratingly unsolved, mystery.
Voltaire & the Theory of Louis XIV's Brother
The most well-known theory to most people - immortalized by Dumas, was actively promoted by the well known Voltaire. Voltiare, no stranger at all to being an enemy of French Royalty was the writer of inflammatory and revolutionary works to further incite the common people against the wealthy and the nobility. He himself spent time in the Bastille and it was there that he began to formulate and release theories about the identity of the "Iron Mask"
Unfortunately, this theory turns out very much to be faulty since Voltaire's very premise for identifying him as a twin brother to Louis XIV is practically fabricated completely. Voltaire states that no one of consequence disappeared in 1661, the year the prisoner was arrested. Firstly, there is no proof that the "Iron Mask" was arrested in 1661, and many believe the arrest came as late as 1669
The Dangers of being Envied by a King - Nicolas Fouquet
Prominent in Dumas' books as an enemy of Louis XIV - is Minster Fouquet. However, in one of the many theories to be circulated about the identity of the Iron Mask - Fouquet is placed as the actual man imprisoned in the mask.
Dumas took a great deal of fact when incorporating the historical character of Nicolas Fouquet into his books. In reality, Fouquet was indeed a wealthy individual whose Vaux-le-Vicomte would become a radiant standard of architecture and display of wealth that had influenced even Louis XIV himself. There was indeed a fabulous party thrown for the King in which the King's jealousy would be aroused to the point of fury. Also, it is true that Fouquet did make a motion towards the king's mistress, Louise de la Valliere, also documented in Dumas' tomes. Lastly, in reality, it was D'Artagnan who arrested Fouquet at the behest of the king.
Fouquet's downfalls did include embezzlement - but that hardly made him different that a majority of the nobility of the day. He was a fairly popular individual and that also drew the hatred of Cardinal Mazarin and the envious Colbert who was destined to replace the place that would be vacated.
The largest controversy over whether or not there was any validity to these theories was that Fouquet's death had supposedly been documented. However, an investigation was initiated into the location of Fouquet's coffin and even an incursion into the Fouquet family vault was to reveal that although the registration had been documented, no coffin nor remains were to be found. This does not conclusively establish anything except that Fouquet did not die when it was stated that he had. There were a number of interested parties in pardoning the formerly favored member of French society and this not only opened the doors for conjectures on who might have pardoned him - but it also allowed the opportunity for people to make him a candidate as the true identity of the Iron Mask.
Another Familiar Dumas Name - Beaufort
Monmouth - An English Candidate
Louis de Bourbon, Comte de Vermadois - Love-Child of Louis XIV and Valliere
Richard Cromwell - The Son of the Ultimate Enemy of the English Monarchy