Home > Guest Post > Guest Post: Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, Part 3

Guest Post: Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, Part 3

Today’s post is brought to you by Nicolas Henry Vidocq from Defrosting Cold Cases.

Part 1 was posted on Gary Lee Walter’s blog “Stretlaw” at http://legalacademia.wordpress.com/ onApril 14-15, 2012

Part 2 was posted on David Swanson’s blog “Case Jackets” at http://casejackets.blogspot.com/ onApril 21-22, 2012

Part 3

Saint-Mars became an army cadet at the age of fourteen. His army career progressed very slowly and he frequently complained about being skipped for promotions. At 24, he was placed in the First Company of the King’s Musketeers. At 34, he was promoted to Corporal and at age 38, promoted to Sergeant before being appointed Governor of Pignerolo.

Saint-Mars had some family assets and strove to receive letters of nobility in his obsession with prestige and fame. At age 50, he was finally promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Musketeers.

To be assigned to the run-down fortress of Exiles after having governed Pignerolo was a humiliation so when the opportunity to govern Saint-Marguerite came up, he took it. He then made the plans to renovated Saint-Marguerite in hopes that he would again be assigned famous prisoners but none ever came.

Then, tragedy hit his family. In the years between 1691 and 1693, his wife and two sons passed away. Saint-Mars fell into a deep depression. To be assigned the Bastille, would be an ego boost and a step back up on the social ladder. So Saint-Mars thought up a cunning plan.

Desperate to take his place in society, a place society owed him, he abused his powers. Alas, there were too many corrupt people around who could be used, too many uneducated people around to fool and many of them feared for their own lives.

The prestigious prison command of the Bastille would secure Saint-Mars’ status in society but he also needed to keep that status alive. And that proved to be a real problem because after Louvois, the Ministers of War were not impressed!

But the game needed to be played to the end. He could not loose face. So, Saint-Mars probably kept du Junca as far away as possible from his unknown prisoner because du Junca reported to nobody else but the King. Another concern would have been that du Junca would have found out soon enough that the unknown prisoner was not a threat to the Monarchy or the State at all. And then du Junca would probably try to find out to whom the unknown prisoner did pose a threat.


Will we ever know whether there really was an unknown prisoner who was made to wear a velvet or iron mask when in public? Not if we keep starting with Louis XIV and the obsessions with possible twin brothers.

We need to start with the Minister of War, Louvois, and his relationship with Lauzun because in the end whoever Saint-Mars used for his own fame was put there by Louvois in the first place for something Lauzun witnessed.

So, do I dismiss all the other solutions about who the unknown prisoner might have been? No, but I am tempted to dismiss them for the very simple reason that they all start from the same premise: that the prison records at Pignerolo were complete and accurate in listing who was incarcerated there. Why assume that?

Cold case re-investigations should question everything. I call it alternative puzzle piecing. A cold case is a puzzle. We try to fit the pieces together. Usually people start with the edges and then continue with the best or most recognizable part of the (perceived) image. Sometimes that works very well. However, if after decades the puzzle pieces still do not fit together then maybe it is time to think outside the box.

Maybe the bits of information that formed a single puzzle piece were never meant to be placed together. Maybe we started the puzzle with the wrong pieces or, in the wrong order. So, what would happen if we started in another order or with different pieces? 

That is exactly what I do on my blog Defrosting Cold Cases. I look at the puzzle again and try to find out whether there were alternative explanations for the facts in hopes to regroup the puzzle pieces and the timeline, to get a clearer picture. I may not start with the image and I will stray from the edge. However, if a case has not been solved for decades the least we can do now is give “alternative puzzle piecing” a shot. We just might find out that it works.

So, back to the drawing board, everyone!

Vidocq, April 2012.

Recommended reading: Of course I recommend the book by Alexandre Dumas but only if you can keep in mind that his is one of the books that started the gossip! For a more balanced and researched overview. I recommend:

John Noone “The man behind the iron mask” 1994

Nicolas-Henry “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.”

Vidocq is of course, my pen name and I wish to remain in the shadows. Those who work with me do know who I am. I thank them for keeping my privacy.

As Vidocq, I created #cclivechat (Cold Case Live Chat) on Twitter. Every Friday from noon-1pm EST you can join the chat for updates on unsolved homicides worldwide. I also host guests during “themed” chats. A schedule of the themed chats can be found on the DCC’s home page. Guests discuss issues ranging from DNA to blogging, cyber-bullying to fiction, and from postmortem toxicology to forensic arson detection.

You can follow Vidocq’s account on Twitter: @Vidocq_CC.

Categories: Guest Post
  1. April 28, 2012 at 5:21 am

    Thank you, Suzie, for hosting me! I will gladly return the favour. Have a fantastic weekend.

    • April 28, 2012 at 5:46 am

      You brought this historical mystery to life and I loved it!

  2. April 28, 2012 at 6:10 am

    This http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/294481/the-man-in-the-iron-mask represents my understanding from time many years ago when it was a set book in college exams

    • April 28, 2012 at 7:01 am

      Thank you John. Here in the US we pretty much refer to Alexandre Dumas’ fictional account as the tell all. Yes, please call me stupid 🙂

    • April 28, 2012 at 10:38 am

      Hi John,

      My issue with this is that Fouquet died but the unknown prisoner remained. How easy it would have been to get rid of him after Fouquet’s death. Also, where did Fouquet’s dead body go?

      Now that’s another mystery!

      Cheers, V

  3. April 28, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Thank you Vidocq! I so enjoyed this!

    It reminded me of one of my all time favorite historical mysteries, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time — a Scotland Yard inspector is confined to bed and decides to investigate King Richard III and the death of the princes in the tower.

    • April 28, 2012 at 10:27 am

      Linda, it was funny because I was thinking Vidocq should take on the case of the princes in the tower next. I’ve always romantically held out hope that they were rescued and hidden. Yes, I know real life doesn’t happen that way.

      • April 28, 2012 at 10:44 am

        Suzie, it could be a joined project! Do you have all the books?

      • April 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm

        Unfortunately I have none of them. If I took on another mystery besides at work, my chief would shoot me. We have a rash of burglaries driving us nuts and we are working lots of overtime trying to find the rascal(s). Your historical detective work would leave mine in the dust 🙂

    • April 28, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Thank you for the compliment, Linda! And now you have me all excited! I might jump on this one as soon as the other cases allow. It is of course, fantastic deductive reasoning from Alan Grant. Will try to find the books. Thanks for alerting me to this one. I have a thing for dungeons, towers, forts. Did you read this one: http://www.defrostingcoldcases.com/book-reviews/thelostkingoffrance about the Dauphin? Another favourite of mine.

      Cheers, V

      • April 29, 2012 at 8:05 am

        I have not read “The Lost King of France” but will now do so based on your wonderful review of it. Particularly since I’m in complete agreement with both your fondness for the movie “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and disappointment in B. Orczy’s book.

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