What was in the seventeenth century the French Pignerol is today the Italian Pinerolo, a pleasant little town of 40,000 inhabitants situated on a hill in Piedmont twenty-three miles south-west of Turin. Here the valleys of the Chisone from the west, the Lemina from the north and the Pellice from the south emerge from the Alps on to the wide open plain of the Po. When the French army was in occupation, the town was girded all around by bastions and ravelins and guarded from the north by a citadel built in the style of the time like a three-tiered mountain of terraced masonry. On the topmost platform of the citadel stood the keep, a many-towered rectangular block which, though high, was dwarfed by one enormous tower more than twice the height of the rest. Of all these buildings and fortifications, however, nothing now remains. In 1696 the French destroyed them when they were obliged to abandon the town to the Savoyards. The prisons were in the keep and so vanished with the rest, just fifteen years after the Iron Mask’s departure.

Plans and descriptions of the time make it clear that the long northern face of the keep was only a curtain-wall, and that a fortified gate gave access through this to an interior courtyard which was enclosed by buildings on its other three sides. Six towers, all different in size and structure, were incorporated into the exterior face of these buildings, one at each corner and two mid-façade on the south and west walls. All the buildings at the western end of the keep, including the great tower and two others, were occupied by the commander of the citadel and his officers. Some of the buildings on the south side were used as store-rooms and all the rest of the structure, including the remaining three towers, was taken up by the state prison. The tower at the north-east corner housed the prison chapel and the other two towers contained the prison cells. The prison guard were lodged in the interior section of the southern buildings, their rooms facing across the courtyard to the northern curtain-wall, while the prison governor had all the eastern end, excluding the towers, for himself. Both prison-towers had three floors with a prison room on each. The tower at the south-east corner, which was known as the Angle Tower, was reserved for prisoners of rank; the rooms were spacious and well-furnished with floors of wood and large windows which looked out at the mountains and on to the town. The other prison-tower, which was placed midway along the southern façade of the keep, was known as the Lower Tower and, so far as one can make out, the rooms there were much smaller than in the Angle Tower, with bare stone floors and small windows high up in the wall. Between the two prison-towers were the store-rooms of the citadel, and these included the main powder-magazine.

Fouquet left Paris under d’Artagnan’s guard a couple of days before Christmas 1664 and after a hard journey by frozen roads through snow-bound mountains reached Pignerol three weeks later. Saint-Mars, already there, had found a valet to serve him and had prepared rooms on the third floor of the Angle Tower, the best in the prison, to accommodate him. From Vaux to Pignerol: zenith to nadir. The prison regime was strict, but he was not ill-treated. He could not leave his prison apartment, was denied pen and ink and forbidden all contact with the outside world; however, he lived in spacious rooms with a view upon the mountains, had the attention and companionship of a servant, received good food and wine, wood for the fire, clean clothes and linen, was allowed to hear mass on Sundays and Holy Days, to confess five times a year and to have one book at a time to read. So much more than a bare necessity for the life of his body and soul, so much less than the bleak minimum for the survival of his spirit.

One night six months after Fouquet’s installation, the powder-magazine of the citadel was hit by lightening in a storm and blew up, destroying the surrounding buildings and causing a large part of the prison to collapse including the roof and floors of the Angle Tower. By a miracle he and his valet had been standing in the window-recess at the moment of the explosion, watching the mountains in the storm, and they were left perched in the thickness of the wall together unharmed when the ceiling came down under the weight of the roof and the floor gave way. Until the damage could be repaired they were moved to the fortress of La Pérouse nearby, and when workers began to clear the rubble, Saint-Mars discovered among the broken furniture a bunch of pens made from chicken bones, a bottle of ink made from soot and a bundle of white linen strips cut from shirts and covered in writing; all were hidden in the back of a chair. Fouquet’s valet was taken from him and soon afterwards was reported dead. The cause of death is not now known, but it is not inconceivable that he would have lived longer if he had informed Saint-Mars of Fouquet’s secret writings. Security precautions around Fouquet were increased, and when he returned to the Angle Tower a year later, all his white shirts and ribbons had been changed for black and instead of one valet he had two, presumably intended as spies as well as servants, to inform upon each other as much as upon their master.

The names of these two valets were Champagne and La Rivière. About their backgrounds nothing is known, but there is reason to believe that they were originally servants of Saint-Mars and they were young enough for Fouquet, then aged fifty-one, to think of them as boys. Whatever it was Saint-Mars offered in order to persuade them to take the job, they were almost certainly deceived, since in effect they became prisoners too, locked up with their master and never allowed out. One of them, probably Champagne, was sufficiently intelligent and amiable for Fouquet to start teaching him Latin and pharmacy. La Rivière was melancholy by nature and a chronic hypochondriac; he had a depressing effect upon Fouquet who, though fond of him, preferred the diligent and affectionate disposition of Champagne.

For the first four and a half years at Pignerol, Fouquet was the only prisoner Saint-Mars had; then on 19 July 1669 Louvois wrote telling him to prepare a cell for someone by the name of Eustache Dauger or Danger.1 Nine days after that the King wrote a letter under his private seal to Captain Alexandre de Vauroy, the garrison commander of Dunkirk, ordering him to arrest on sight a man named Eustache Dauger and take him immediately to Pignerol. Dauger’s arrest was top secret: even the governor of Dunkirk was not allowed to know about it. To explain Vauroy’s absence from Dunkirk, the governor was shown a cover-up dispatch from Louvois ordering Vauroy to hunt down officers of the Spanish army who supposedly had crossed the border from the Spanish Netherlands in pursuit of deserters.

‘I am giving you notification in advance,’ Louvois wrote to Saint-Mars on 19 July, ‘so that you can prepare a cell where you can safely put him. You must make sure that the windows are so placed that they do not give on to anywhere accessible to anyone and that there are enough doors closing one upon the other that the sentries will not be able to hear anything. You personally must take the wretch whatever he needs for the day once a day and you must never listen to anything he tries to tell you, no matter what the pretext might be. You must threaten to kill him if he ever opens his mouth to speak to you about anything except the bare necessities of his life. I am informing M. Poupart to start forthwith whatever work it is you will require done, and you will prepare the furniture necessary, taking note of the fact that, since the prisoner is only a valet, he will need nothing of any significance.’ Dauger arrived in Pignerol on 24 August and Saint-Mars informed Louvois immediately: ‘M. de Vauroy has delivered Eustache Dauger into my custody and I have locked him up in a secure place until the cell I am having prepared for him is ready. In the presence of M. de Vauroy I warned him that if he ever spoke to me or anyone else about anything other than his simple needs I would run him through with my sword. Your orders will be carried out to the letter.’

For someone who was ‘only a valet’ the security precautions were extraordinary. People in the citadel were curious about the new prisoner and, in the absence of any information at all, rumours began to circulate before the month was out that he was at least a marshal of France or a president of the Parlement. In September both he and Fouquet were ill. Louvois gave permission for Dauger to be bled whenever it was judged necessary for his health and, for his salvation, permission to receive books of piety, to make his confession four times a year and to hear the mass which was said for Fouquet on Sundays and Holy Days, so long as his attendance could be managed without him being in the same room. And so Saint-Mars and his two prisoners, Fouquet with his two valets and Dauger, who was only a valet, lived on through the autumn of 1669, cut off from the world of the living behind the walls of their prison, locked within the walls of the citadel, lost within the mountains of Piedmont. At least to all appearances cut off.

In December Saint-Mars made a shattering discovery. A plan had been mounted under his very nose to break Fouquet out of prison. Two of Fouquet’s friends had managed to get themselves inside the citadel and make contact with him. Messages and letters had been exchanged, prison guards had been bribed and an escape organized. One of the friends was Fouquet’s devoted servant La Forêt, the other was a gentleman named Valcroissant. Saint-Mars moved quickly, but before he could have them arrested, they escaped over the border to Turin. He demanded their extradition and the Savoyard authorities complied. A scaffold was erected in the prison yard in full view of Fouquet’s window and, when his two friends were brought in, La Forêt was hanged. Valcroissant was held over for trial in which, six months later, he was found guilty of carrying a letter from Fouquet to his wife, and condemned to five years in the galleys.

Meanwhile the guards were interrogated and those involved summarily executed. Champagne and La Rivière were isolated for questioning and the windows of Fouquet’s prison rooms were fitted with projecting grilles, the lower sections of which were closed so that he could see nothing out of them except the sky. Though Champagne and La Rivière were certainly implicated in the escape plan, they were not punished. Possibly they had been the ones to inform Saint-Mars, but since they were not rewarded either that seems unlikely. What is more probable is that Saint-Mars would have punished them if he could have found replacements, but since no one else could be persuaded to take such a job they were spared and allowed back into Fouquet’s service.

Louvois was very concerned about the breach of security, not only as it affected Fouquet, but also with regard to Dauger. In March he learned that, during the time Fouquet’s two friends had been working under cover in the citadel, someone had managed to speak to Dauger. So far as the minister knew, it could have been Valcroissant or La Fôret or Champagne or La Riviére. They had asked Dauger if there was something of importance he wanted to tell them but he, suspecting that they had been sent by Saint-Mars to test him, had told them to leave him alone.

Clearly the cell Saint-Mars had chosen for Dauger, until the special cell could be got ready, was not secure enough and the minister was annoyed. On 12 April, however, the special cell was finished and Dauger was safely sealed off inside. The eight months’ work needed to prepare this cell had added fuel to the rumours about Dauger’s identity and, as Saint-Mars explained to Louvois, he had felt it necessary to add some outlandish stories of his own in order ‘to make fun of them’ and render the speculation ridiculous. Finally, in August, Louvois himself came to Pignerol with the King’s chief military engineer, Vauban, to inspect the city’s fortifications and while he was there was able to make his own assessment of security measures within the prison. As a result of his visit, though for what precise reason it is not known, the entire garrison of the citadel, with the exception of Saint-Mars and his close staff, was changed.

More than a year elapsed before Saint-Mars received a third prisoner. This was Antonin-Nompar de Caumont, Comte de Lauzun, aged thirty-eight, soldier and courtier, Colonel-General of the Dragoons and Captain of the King’s Bodyguard, longtime favourite and confidant of the King, arrested and imprisoned by special order under the King’s private seal. By all accounts he was an unattractive man: sharp-faced, stocky and aggressive, being feared and disliked at court for his constant intrigues and tantrums, his envious spirit, impudent manner and savage wit. What appealed to the King was his courage and daring but, though this appeared as valour undaunted on the field and madcap nonchalence at home, it often showed as brazen insolence in high council or full court. The King was delighted and infuriated with him in turn, covering him in honours one minute and throwing him into prison the next. In 1665 he spent six months in the Bastille for quarrelling openly with the King and in 1669 he was there again, though only for a few days. That the King did not keep him there longer the second time was due only to the King’s great affection for him. Anyone else would have been locked up for good. The story of what led to his arrest in 1669, as recorded by Saint-Simon, gives a vivid picture of the man and an idea of the trouble he was to give Saint-Mars.

Lauzun had decided that he wanted the post of Grand Master of Artillery, which in 1669 came up for sale, and pestered the King to buy it for him. The King more or less promised to do so, but did nothing about it. After a time Lauzun became impatient and asked the King’s new mistress, Madame de Montespan, to put in a good word for him. She said she would, and he had every reason to believe her. Just the year before, he and Madame de Montespan had pretended to be lovers in order to cover up her affair with the King and that very year, when she had borne a child to the King, he had been the one to smuggle the baby out of the palace. Nevertheless he was suspicious and, to find out what if anything she was going to say, he hid himself under her bed that afternoon when the King came to see her. Only Lauzun would have had the nerve and affrontery to do such a thing. There, while the couple made love and talked upon the pillow, he listened and heard Madame de Montespan broach the subject, as he had asked, but only to slander and deride him. That night in the midst of the court he asked her if she had remembered to speak in his favour, and when she replied with a show of friendly concern that she had, he bent to her ear and told her she was ‘a liar, a bitch and a whore’. Word for word then he recounted what in fact she had said and she, horrified by the realization that she had been spied upon that afternoon, fainted.

The King, informed by his outraged mistress of the whole affair, chose to do nothing about it, but Lauzun was not finished. He faced the King directly, also in full court, and reminded him of his promise. The King wished to avoid the subject and was clearly trying to get out of his obligation but Lauzun, angry and defiant, was not going to let him get away with it. He drew his sword, broke it over his knee and, throwing the pieces at the King’s feet, declared that he would never devote himself to the service of a king who broke his word for a whore. The King, trembling with rage, raised his cane and then, as if holding himself in check, turned away. He would be angry with himself if he struck a gentleman, he said, and pulling open a window he flung his cane outside. High drama! Lauzun was arrested the next day, but after a couple of weeks in the Bastille was returned to favour. The King did not give him the post he wanted so much, but he gave him another by way of compensation and, in spite of Madame de Montespan’s dissatisfaction, they were soon good friends again.

Lauzun’s imprisonment in Pignerol in 1671 was the consequence of yet another piece of scandalous impropriety. In December 1670, the Grande Mademoiselle, Duchesse de Montpensier, proposed marriage to him and he accepted. She was the daughter of Gaston d’Orléans, Louis XIII’s brother, and so first cousin to the King himself. Why she was still unmarried at the age of forty-three was because of a shortage of marriageable kings. The reason she wanted to marry Lauzun was, in her own words, ‘to taste the sweetness, once in my life, of being loved by someone worth the trouble of loving’. And the reason Lauzun accepted her proposal was the prospect of marrying someone worth more than any other heiress in Europe, who in proof of her love was prepared to make over all her wealth to him: a principality, a province and four duchies.

At first the King did not object and plans for the act and contract of marriage went ahead; then, after listening to the concerted objections of his family, ministers and mistress, he forbade it. The Duchess was inconsolable, but Lauzun, it was thought, could be consoled; the King offered to make him a duke, a peer of the realm and a marshal of France. Lauzun refused. ‘Sire,’ he said, ‘you have created so many dukes that it is no longer an honour to be one, and as for the baton of marshal, Your Majesty may give that to me when I have properly earned it.’ What greater sign could the poor rich Duchess have that her hero was worth the trouble of loving. She seemed to blossom in spite of her loss, to be giddily happy in spite of her sadness. In May 1671, one of the Dutch gazettes reported that she and Lauzun had married in secret. The story was preposterous but, as everyone at the French court knew, Lauzun was certainly capable of such a thing. The story was not denied. No official statement of any kind was delivered, but in November 1671 Lauzun was arrested and, with an escort of mustketeers led by d’Artagnan, was packed off to Pignerol. No question this time of a room in the Bastille to cool his heels for a few days or weeks. He was going to the prison of a frontier fort at the furthest possible distance from Paris and Versailles. The King had cast him off, to be ignored and forgotten.

Lauzun arrived in Pignerol on the 16 December 1671 and was given rooms directly below Fouquet in the Angle Tower. Louvois, knowing Lauzun would stick at nothing to get free, advised full-time surveillance and suggested spy-holes. Saint-Mars found this impossible because of the design of the building, but was confident that with the valet he had hired to serve and spy on Lauzun he would be able to keep his prisoner firmly under control. He was wrong. ‘I thought M. Fouquet the most difficult of prisoners to guard,’ he told Louvois, ‘until I got M. de Lauzun. Now I tell you he is a lamb compared to this one.’ Lauzun overwhelmed him from the start with a lunatic onslaught of questions and protests, pleas and complaints, nagging, whining, bullying and sulking; pious and submissive one day, rebellious and demented the next; always unpredictable, contradictory, exasperating. By the middle of January, the valet-spy had to be withdrawn; Lauzun, hysterical, was refusing to eat the food he served. In March, Saint-Mars found him another valet, but not one he could trust to be a spy. Lauzun let his beard grow and neglected himself entirely; he refused to change his clothes, refused to even make his Easter duties, and allowed his rooms to become a shambles with clothes, linen, furniture and dishes scattered about in such disorder that proper security inspections were impossible. At the height of winter he ripped up the floor-boards and set the room on fire. At the height of summer he claimed to be freezing and had such great fires burning in his room that he set the place on fire again.

There was a method in Lauzun’s madness, that was evident, and after ten years as Fouquet’s gaoler, Saint-Mars realized that he was up to something. Going through his clothes one night in July 1672, he discovered a large nail in one of the pockets and, since it was far from obvious why or how Lauzun had got hold of such a thing, he decided to investigate. From the tight security controls he personally kept on Lauzun, he knew that the nail had not been in the cell to start with and could not have been smuggled in later with food or laundry. The only possible explanation was that it had arrived in the cell by way of the window. All the guards who in the previous couple of days had been on sentry-duty outside the Angle Tower were interrogated, and under threat of torture one of them confessed that he had been bribed to get a letter to Lauzun, and had done this by wrapping the letter around a nail and throwing it through the window. The man who had given him the letter was a certain Heurtaut, who had recently arrived in Pignerol from Paris with another man named Plassot. Saint-Mars sent troops to arrest the two men and Heurtaut was caught at the town gates on his way to Turin. Plassot had already gone to Turin in the company of a certain Madame Carrière, who had herself just returned from a trip to Paris with one of the officers of the citadel, a man named Mathonnet. In Heurtaut’s possession was found a letter in code from Paris written by Madame de la Motte d’Argencourt, one of the Queen’s lady-companions and one of Lauzun’s lady-friends. Saint-Mars, it seemed, had uncovered a conspiracy.

Heurtaut refused to talk and, before he could be persuaded to do so, committed suicide, but the Savoyard authorities agreed to extradite Plassot and Madame Carrière. A search set in motion for Mathonnet traced him to Lyon where he was arrested. By the beginning of September, Plassot, Mathonnet and Madame Carrière were all in prison at Pignerol undergoing interrogation. Heurtaut had been a valet in Lauzun’s household and it appeared that he had been financed by Madame d’Argencourt to set up Lauzun’s escape. With Plassot, his cousin, he had come to Pignerol to organize it. He used the seductive charms of Madame Carrière to enlist the aid of Mathonnet, who had then gone to Paris to deal directly with Madame d’Argencourt. That at least was the way things seemed to have transpired, but none of the prisoners admitted to an involvement in any plan to liberate Lauzun; since no actual evidence could be found to prove them guilty of any crime, Mathonnet and Madame Carrière were released in October. Plassot was detained for further interrogation, but was always too ill for this to be possible and eventually, in July 1673, when it seemed he was about to die, he too was allowed to go free. Only after he had been gone for some time was it realized that he had left a bag in the inn where he had been living before his arrest, and this bag was full of assorted poisons, presumably meant in Heurtaut’s original plan for the elimination, if necessary, of Saint-Mars and his staff.

Lauzun in the meantime continued to act like a madman, but it seemed he was only playing for attention, hoping to win consideration. With Louvois, for instance, who wanted him to resign and sell his various positions at court, he was doing his utmost to establish some sort of special relationship, dragging the negotiations out for as long as possible. But with Saint-Mars the game was more a method of diverting attention. Amost certainly within the first few months he had made contact with Fouquet on the floor above, exchanged messages or even talked with him, and he was already at work on two secret passages. One was an enlargement of the chimney which would allow him to visit Fouquet, the other by way of a hole under the floor-boards to the empty rooms below and the possibility of escape. How long it took him to open a passage into Fouquet’s rooms is not known, but to manage it alone without being discovered must have occupied many months. To set up an escape route took him years. Once he had opened a way to the floor below, he had to loosen bars on a window, find means to climb down the outside wall to the bottom of the dry moat below, then dig a tunnel through the side of the moat under the surrounding walls into the outer precinct of the citadel. All this under the alert eyes of his gaolers and guards without causing the slightest suspicion.

Saint-Mars continued to report that all was well and, since he believed it himself, his superiors had no reason to doubt it. Life as a prison commander had its compensations. Well paid as he was, with high-cost prisoners in his charge, he was soon rich enough to start acquiring property and so qualify for letters of nobility. Moreover, though Fouquet was always difficult to manage and Lauzun almost impossible, Dauger, apart from an occasional sickness, gave no trouble at all. In December 1673, he could write to Louvois: ‘As for the prisoner of the tower brought by M. de Vauroy, he says nothing and lives content, like a man altogether resigned to the will of God and the King.’

Heurtaut and company had not been state prisoners even though they had been held in the prison of Saint-Mars. Until 1674, Saint-Mars had only three state prisoners: Fouquet, Dauger and Lauzun. On 7 April of that year, his fourth prisoner arrived, brought from police custody in Lyon by Saint-Martin, an officer of Pignerol sent to fetch him. The name of this prisoner is not known, and Jung claimed that he was Oldendorf. However, in later correspondence between Sainte-Mars and Louvois he is referred to as ‘the monk’ or ‘the Dominican’ and from this it is possible to shed some light on his immediate background. In January 1673, a Dominican monk was arrested and imprisoned at the castle of Pierre-Encise in Lyon. His crime was not political. He was at the centre of a scandal involving the ignoble behaviour of a number of noble ladies. It was his claim to have discovered the philosopher’s stone which drew the ladies to him, but his knowledge of the ‘great work’ embraced secrets of the bedroom not proper to the disciplines of alchemist or monk and, whatever the mysteries he was adept in, they had little to do with philosophy. The Princess of Würtemberg was one of his devotees and, since the King had devoted time to her, she was expected to be devoted to no one else. The Comtesse d’Armagnac was another, but she was the daughter of the Governor of the Lyonnais and the niece of the Archbishop of Lyon. It was the Comte d’Armagnac himself who was responsible for conducting the monk to prison.

From Lyon he was moved to the Bastille and from there a year later he was transferred to Pignerol. A police officer took him back to Lyon, where Saint-Mars had him collected. On 18 April 1674, Louvois wrote to Saint-Mars: ‘I was relieved to hear of the arrival of the prisoner brought by M. de Saint-Martin. Since it is the King’s intention that he should be treated with great severity, it will not be necessary for you to provide a fire in his room, at least until the coldness of winter or an actual illness obliges you to do so, and you will give him no other nourishment but bread, wine and water. He is an out and out scoundrel who could never be treated badly enough nor made to suffer the kind of punishment he deserves. However, you may allow him to hear mass, so long as you are careful to avoid him being seen or having contact with anyone, and His Majesty sees fit that you furnish him with a breviary and books of prayer.’

In the following September, Fouquet’s valet Champagne became ill and died. He remained in Fouquet’s rooms until the end and Fouquet, watching him die, was stricken with grief and despair. For eight years of prison life his only solace and support had been that young man’s energy and optimism. Alone with La Rivière his health and spirits, low as they were, declined even more. A letter he was allowed to write to his wife five months later reveals to what dark state the Superintendent Sun had been reduced after fourteen years of imprisonment. Defeated, unwanted, forgotten in the grey limbo of the world’s indifference, he pined for human comfort and concern, for someone kind and good to care for his soul, for someone strong and sensible to care for his health. He yearned to see his wife and children. He longed to receive the sacraments more than just five times a year. His physical ailments, real and imaginery, were endless: colds and inflammations, stomach and liver troubles, gallstones, haemorrhoids, sciatica, swollen legs, failing sight, rotten teeth, headaches and buzzing in the ears. At sixty years of age, broken in health and spirit, he looked for nothing but peace of mind.

In autumn 1674, therefore, Saint-Mars was seeking another valet to replace Champagne. Two valets were in his opinion better than one because, as he had explained to Louvois earlier, ‘one alone gets too depressed, and also if either becomes sick the other one can do the nursing.’ To find another, however, was difficult. He had had the same problem trying to find valets for Lauzun. ‘None of my servants would go in there for a million,’ he had told Louvois then. ‘They have seen that those I put with M. Fouquet have never come out again.’ For Lauzun he had managed to find two, but the second only as a replacement for the first. As a result Lauzun, like Fouquet, had only one valet, so in fact two more servants were needed. On 20 February 1672, when Lauzun’s first valet had been withdrawn and the second was proving difficult to find, Saint-Mars had proposed to Louvois that he have Dauger do the job, since after all he was ‘only a valet’. ‘It is so difficult here to find valets who are prepared to be locked up with my prisoners that I would like to take the liberty of proposing an alternative. That prisoner who is in the tower, the one you sent me with the officer from Dunkirk, would it seems to me make a fine valet. I don’t think he would tell M. de Lauzun where he comes from once I warned him not to. I’m sure he would give him no information at all. And he wouldn’t just tell me to leave him alone as all the others do.’ The reasons Louvois gave for refusing this proposal are not known, but after the death of Champagne the subject was raised again.

On 30 January 1675 Louvois wrote to Saint-Mars: ‘His Majesty gives his permission for the prisoner brought by M. de Vauroy to serve as valet to M. Fouquet, but whatever happens you must refrain from putting him with M. de Lauzun, or with anyone other than M. Fouquet. That is to say, you can give the said prisoner to M. Fouquet when he does not have his valet and not otherwise.’ Six weeks later when Saint-Mars was still unable to find servants, Louvois returned to the same subject, reiterating the same concern: ‘You can give M. de Lauzun a valet if you can find one suitable, but no matter what the reason you must not give him the prisoner brought by M. de Vauroy who, as I have informed you, should serve M. Fouquet alone and only when it is necessary.

Thus one may clarify the state of affairs in the prison of Pignerol in 1675, ten years after Saint-Mars had received his appointment: Fouquet, worn out with sadness and old age, living with his valet, La Rivière, on the third floor of the Angle Tower, Lauzun, bearded and wild, living with his servant in jumbled disorder on the floor below, planning his escape and visiting Fouquet in secret by a passage he had made in the chimney; Dauger in the Lower Tower, sealed off alone in some specially constructed cell and resigned to the will of God and the King, but visiting Fouquet by special permission whenever La Rivière was indisposed; and the monk, also in the Lower Tower, isolated in some other cell, without fire or comfort of any kind, living on bread and books of prayer, his mind disintegrating as the months went by, all but ignored by Saint-Mars, already forgotten by Louvois.

In February 1676, Lauzun finished digging the underground passage that would take him clear of the prison into the outer precinct of the citadel, but when he came to make his escape he had the misfortune to reach freedom under the startled eyes of a servant-girl. Seeing the bearded phantom rise up from the ground in the dark, she gave a scream of terror which alerted the guard. Lauzun was taken immediately and all his years of patient labour were cancelled at a stroke. The news of his escape attempt spread quickly, however, and made a sensation at Versailles. He was the hero of the hour and, by his honourable failure, won more voices for himself with the King, more generous feelings and open support than any successful escape could have achieved. Saint-Mars was reprimanded, but neither Lauzun nor his valet were punished.

In May 1676, Saint-Mars received a fifth prisoner: Dubreuil, alias Samson, resident of the free city of Basel, private agent specializing in military espionage. He had been hired by the French to spy on Austrian troop movements in Germany, but was discovered to be in the pay of the Austrian and Spanish governments as well as the French. He was kidnapped by the French secret service in Switzerland or Swabia and smuggled over the border into Alsace. Louvois ordered the kidnapping on 25 February, but Dubreuil was a slippery character and was not caught until 24 April. He was taken first to Brisach, thence to Besançon and from there to Lyon. On 2 May Louvois notified Saint-Mars of his imminent arrival: ‘In the next day or so you will receive a prisoner named Dubreuil, arrested in Alsace, who will be brought to you by fifteen guards of Monsignor the Archbishop of Lyon. It is important to have him well guarded, and the King desires you to take custody of him in the dungeon of the citadel of Pignerol. Put him with the last prisoner who was sent to you and keep me informed about him.’

The ‘last prisoner’ was the Dominican monk, who after two and a half years of isolation and callous treatment had become deranged; his cell was foul, and he was violent. Dubreuil, horrified, begged to be moved, but Saint-Mars had his orders and Louvois was not interested. ‘I must warn you not to let yourself be deceived by his fine talk,’ Louvois wrote in June. ‘You must regard him as one of the biggest scoundrels in the world and the most difficult to keep under guard.’ Nonetheless Dubreuil managed to persuade Saint-Mars that he had information of such importance to communicate that on 28 July he was allowed to write directly to the minister. In this letter he made the claim that there was a plot afoot to assassinate Louvois, with Fouquet’s brother, the Bishop of Agde, as ringleader; then, having proved his concern for the minister, he expressed the hope that the minister would show some concern for him and allow him to move cells. ‘I am here,’ he wrote, ‘with a man who is completely insane and unbearable to live with. He has polluted the room so badly that one can scarcely breathe. I have not been able to eat or drink for a week and left in this wretched place I will surely die.’ From Louvois no response at all, until Saint-Mars himself confirmed that the monk was insane.

In a letter to Saint-Mars dated 3 November, Louvois showed himself baffled. ‘Who is this prisoner with M. Dubreuil whom you say has gone mad? Note down his name for me and the name of whoever it was who brought him to you and send me a copy of the order for his imprisonment so that I might better understand what the situation is.’ Louvois himself had written the order consigning the monk to Pignerol and two and a half years later he had forgotten everything about him. Not that the monk’s harsh treatment would have been ameliorated had Louvois not forgotten. Once his memory was refreshed, he recommended the bastinado as the most appropriate treatment for madness in prisoners and was delighted to learn from Saint-Mars later that the mere threat of it had rendered the monk more reasonable. ‘That man is one of the biggest scoundrels there is in the world,’ he remarked, employing his favourite expression, ‘and all the signs are that he is just pretending to be mad.’ But Saint-Mars had scruples about beating a priest and needed to be reassured. ‘It is true,’ Louvois explained, ‘that those who beat priests out of contempt for their holy office are excommunicated, but it is permissable to chastise a priest when he is malicious and you are responsible for his conduct.’ Saint-Mars had proposed moving the monk into a cell with Lauzun’s valet. Louvois did not oppose the idea, but suggested an alternative: leave the monk and Dubreuil together, but chain the monk to the wall. ‘Remember to be on your guard with M. Dubreuil,’ the Minister concluded in characteristic fashion. ‘He is one of the wiliest scroundrels one could ever meet.’

If one reviews the five prisoners of Pignerol in 1677, one can distinguish three distinct categories: two prisoners of rank, Fouquet and Lauzun, who occupied spacious rooms and had servants; two ‘scoundrels’, Dubreuil and the monk, who shared the same cell; and one top-security prisoner, Dauger, who lived alone in a cell especially constructed for him. When a prisoner of rank played the mad-man, it was tolerated, and even though he might attempt to escape he would not be punished; but a ‘scoundrel’, driven insane by years of cruel treatment, was thrashed and kept on a leash when he misbehaved. The top-security prisoner had contact with no one; he was forbidden to speak of his past even to Saint-Mars, and yet he was allowed out of his cell to act valet to one of the prisoners of rank when he was alone. He was not himself a prisoner of rank, he was ‘only a valet’, but he was not a ‘scoundrel’, he was a ‘wretch’. How he was treated when he gave trouble is not known. It seems he lived ‘altogether resigned to the will of God and the King’.

Towards the end of 1677, Lauzun received special authorization to have his brother and sister come to Pignerol to see him. His signature was needed to ratify formalities of succession following two deaths in the family, that of his eldest brother and that of a great-uncle. Meetings with a notary were held each afternoon for four days from 27 November to 1 December. They took place in the apartment of Saint-Mars, who was there in person to ensure that nothing but legal matters was discussed. Lauzun made the most of it, playing the haggard prisoner with dazed look and tangled beard, debilitated by prison fever and blinded by the light of day, smiling bravely through his tears. His sister’s heart-strings were so violently plucked by the four-day show that when on the last day he assigned to her full powers of attorney to divest him, if she wished, of all that he had inherited, she fell at his feet in an excess of emotion and had to be restrained by the guards. Lauzun blessed her, asked only for her prayers, and told her to put her trust ‘in the mercy and benevolence of God and the King’.

Kings, like God, may work in unexpected ways, for it was on that very day that Louvois wrote to Saint-Mars informing him of a special favour granted by the King to the prisoners of rank: a public and well-publicized demonstration of royal benevolence and mercy. Fouquet and Lauzun were to be allowed to walk together in the prison compound for two hours every day. To be sure, they were to be closely guarded, forbidden to speak of anything related to their lives in prison or the reasons they were there, and would be obliged to hold their conversations in high clear voices across the head of Saint-Mars, but it was a dispensation of considerable significance. From such a sign the prisoners might hope for more important concessions, and a year later these materialized.

On 23 November 1678, Louvois took the unusual step of addressing himself directly to Fouquet and asking him to make a confidential report on what if anything Dauger had revealed of himself to La Rivière. Though Louvois’ original intention had been to allow Dauger to serve Fouquet only in the absence of La Rivière, the two valets had evidently met. ‘Sir,’ Louvois wrote, ‘it is with great pleasure that I carry out the instructions which it has pleased the King to give me, in advising you that His Majesty is disposed to grant considerable ameliorations of your life in prison in the near future. However, as he desires to be informed beforehand if the man named Eustache, given to you as a servant, has not spoken in front of your other valet of how he was employed before coming to Pignerol, His Majesty has commanded me to raise that question with you and to tell you that he is waiting for you to notify me of the truth of the matter without qualification so that he might take appropriate measures regarding what Eustache may have said of his past life to his colleague. The intention of His Majesty is that you should reply in a personal manner to this letter without divulging its contents to M. de Saint-Mars.’ A letter from Louvois to Saint-Mars, written on 27 December 1678, makes it clear that Saint-Mars was also asked to make a special report on Dauger’s contact with La Rivière, but neither his nor Fouquet’s reply survives.

In January 1679, the promised ameliorations came into effect. Fouquet and Lauzun were allowed to walk together in the precincts of the citadel, to visit each other in their rooms and to have visitors. Saint-Mars and his guards were in attendance all the time and there were orders to shoot the prisoners if they tried to escape, but with such signs of increasing clemency the prisoners and their families could cherish the hope that eventually there might even be a pardon. With these new concessions, however, came a warning to Saint-Mars about the importance of security arrangements surrounding Dauger, who it seems was now allowed to see La Rivière as well as Fouquet. ‘Every time M. Fouquet goes down to M. de Lauzun’s room, or M. de Lauzun or any visitor goes up to M. Fouquet’s room, M. de Saint-Mars should take care to remove the man named Eustache, and not allow him back into M. Fouquet’s room until only M. Fouquet and his longtime valet are there. The same thing applies when M. Fouquet takes his walk in the citadel. The said Eustache must be made to stay in M. Fouquet’s room and only allowed to accompany M. Fouquet when he walks alone with his longtime valet in the place where for some time His Majesty has seen fit for M. de Saint-Mars to let him take the air.’

On 20 January Louvois wrote to Fouquet again: ‘You will learn from M. de Saint-Mars the precautions which the King wishes to be taken to prevent Eustache Dauger from communicating with anyone except yourself. His Majesty expects you to give your closest attention to the matter because you know how important it is that no one has knowledge of what he knows’. To Saint-Mars Louvois wrote on 15 February: ‘His Majesty leaves it to you to work out with M. Fouquet whatever you think best for the security of the man named Eustache Dauger, I merely remind you to ensure above all else that he does not talk to anyone in private.’

On 2 May 1679 Saint-Mars received his sixth prisoner, Count Matthioli, who was arrested in circumstances not exactly the same as those published in 1687. What in fact happened was that the Abbé d’Estrades contacted him in Turin towards the end of April and persuaded him that Catinat had been authorized by the King to pay whatever was necessary to speed along ratification of the sale of Casale. A meeting was arranged for 2 May, at six in the morning in a church on the southern outskirts of Turin. It was raining heavily, rain which had continued non-stop for three days. Matthioli joined d’Estrades in his coach and they drove through the flooded countryside to meet Catinat, who was waiting in a country house close to the border. The roads were swamped, the bridges broken, the fords too full to cross. Three miles from the house they were obliged to leave the coach and continue on foot through the pouring rain. Matthioli had every reason to turn back, but he did not; he even worked for an hour to repair a bridge with planks so that he and d’Estrades could cross a swollen river. When they reached the house, Catinat was waiting there with a squad of troops led by Villebois, one of the lieutenants of Pignerol prison. Matthioli was seized and, without more ado, was bundled over the border into France. By two o’clock that same day he was in the custody of Saint-Mars.

Two days later, on 4 May, Saint-Mars received his seventh prisoner, Matthioli’s valet. This unfortunate man had received a note, brought to him by Catinat’s agents, to the effect that his master was staying with friends in the country for a few days and would send a coach to collect his belongings. The valet, suspecting nothing, prepared the baggage and went with it in the coach to join his master. The coach was driven to Pignerol, the valet was thrown into a cell and Matthioli’s belongings were ransacked. To the great annoyance of Catinat, however, neither the documents of sale nor any papers of significance were found. Under interrogation, Matthioli explained that he had confided all the papers to his wife, who had deposited them for safekeeping in a convent in Bologna; then he claimed that they were hidden with other papers in his father’s home in Padua; finally he maintained that he had given them all to the Duke of Mantua. Agents were despatched to Bologna, Padua and Venice to acquire by any means necessary whatever papers Matthioli had hidden in each place. However, though an abundance of documents was found, the actual ratification of sale was not amongst them.

Catinat did not, so far as one can ascertain, accompany the cross-examination with torture, but Louvois had informed Saint-Mars that he wanted Matthioli treated in such a way that he would ‘have cause to repent his wrong behaviour’. Throughout the month of May, he emphasized the point repeatedly. Apart from the bare necessities of life, Matthioli was to receive nothing. Even the attentions of doctor and priest were to be denied him. As a security precaution the name Matthioli was not mentioned, and in correspondence between Pignerol and Versailles he was referred to as ‘Lestang’. This, however, was only for the first year. In that time also he was kept in solitary confinement. When eventually he was allowed to regain his name and made to share a cell with another prisoner, he had lost his sanity and the prisoner he was put with was the lunatic monk. What was happening to his valet meanwhile is not known, except that his fate in prison, though just as real as his master’s, was even less signficant in the eyes of the authorities.

In the very month that Matthioli and his valet lost their freedom behind the walls of Pignerol, Fouquet received yet another dispensation which, for him, rendered those walls less terrible. On 10 May 1679, Louvois made the following announcement to Saint-Mars: ‘Being pleased to allow Madame Fouquet, her children and M. Fouquet de Mézières to go to Pignerol to see M. Fouquet and visit him freely, His Majesty has commanded me to tell you that it is his intention that you permit Madame Fouquet to see M. Fouquet at any time she might desire, to stay in his room and even to spend the night there as often as she might wish. As for his children and his brother, His Majesty sees fit that they be allowed to talk with him and keep him company without your officers being present.’ And so at the age of sixty-four, after eighteen years of imprisonment, Fouquet had the comfort of his family around him and the almost certain prospect of eventual freedom. He was permitted to take charge of family affairs once again, and it was rumoured that as a first step to liberation he was to be allowed to take the waters at Bourbon. Lauzun, meanwhile, had shaved off his beard and was looking dapper and debonair in uniform. He had the use of four horses within the citadel and exercised them every day. Surrounded by the officers and ladies of the citadel, his wily and resourceful spirit had greater scope and manoeuvrability to further his return to favour and advantage. The Grande Mademoiselle had been given to understand that she could save him from prison if she were to surrender some of her many titles and estates to the children of Madame de Montespan and the King. That she should start bargaining in earnest was all that Lauzun desired.

In autumn Fouquet’s wife returned to Paris, but his youngest daughter, Marie-Madeleine, stayed behind and as winter approached sought permission to live with her aged father in prison so that she might look after him all the time. On 18 December, Saint-Mars was authorized to prepare a room for her on the floor above Fouquet’s apartment and to install a connecting staircase for her. It was only a week or so after this that Fouquet came to a proper appreciation of the feelings which motivated his daughter to such an act of love and devotion. She was having an affair with Lauzun who, by means of the secret passageway he had effected to Fouquet’s room and the private staircase Saint-Mars had effected to her bedroom, was prepared to exploit the situation to its best advantage. Fouquet, angry and hurt, sent his daughter away and broke off his relations with Lauzun, who for his part was not in the least put out. He could be sure that the Grande Mademoiselle would hear of the romance, and the fear that she might be replaced in his affections would spur her on to more urgent action on his behalf. Compromising Fouquet’s daughter was after all just one of the many cards he had in play.

On 27 January 1680, he played what he thought was a trump, sending a letter to Louvois to say that he had something of great personal signficance to tell him:

I protest that my impatience to leave prison is no greater than my impatience to have you informed of what I have to tell you, but it is altogether essential that it should be by word of mouth and that you alone should be informed without anyone else being able to know about it. It is in your interest that it should happen in this way, and I would like to tell you once again how I am quite sure that you have not found a servant who has proved himself to you personally and to all your family in terms so important, tangible, practical and agreeable, so suited to your taste and the state of your fortune … I ask only that I might inform you by someone in whom I have entire confidence without anyone else being able to find out. I would have entrusted my sister, de Nogent, and my brother, the Chevalier, but for this particular matter I need Barrail. He alone can do it properly. It is important for you that it should be him, and I beg you, sir, to be amicably disposed and send him to me, because in any case it is of an importance for you above anything you could imagine.

Louvois was diffident, but gave his permission anyway and Barrail arrived at Pignerol on 17 March. What the secret information was is not known for certain, but in all likelihood it was the proposal, which Lauzun certainly made through Barrail at about this time, that a marriage should be arranged between the daughter of his sister, the Comtesse de Nogent, and Barbezieux, Louvois’ son. The couple were as yet young (Barbezieux was only twelve years old) but marriages of power and position were made early, and there were immense possibilities for Louvois in such a marriage. If Lauzun were to make his niece his heir, then Barbezieux would benefit directly from Lauzun’s marriage with Mademoiselle. With a fat bait like that, Lauzun hoped to win everything: the Minister’s support, his own freedom and Mademoiselle’s hand and fortune.

What Eustache Dauger was doing through all this is not known, but presumably his visits to Fouquet, restricted as they were to times when he was alone, had become few and far between. As for the other prisoners, a letter from Saint-Mars to Louvois on 6 January 1680 reveals that the harsh treatment they had been subjected to had resulted in the same sad fate for all: ‘I should tell you, my lord, that M. de Lestang is become like the monk I have charge of, that is to say mad to the point of extravagance, from which M. Dubreuil is not exempt either.’ A fuller explanation followed on 24 February: ‘M. de Lestang, who has been in my custody for almost a year, complains that he is not treated as a man of his quality and the minister of a great prince should be. Nevertheless I follow your lordship’s commands to the letter on this matter as in everything else. I think his wits have turned from the things he tells me: that he talks every day with God and his angels, that they have informed him of the death of the Duke of Mantua and the Duc de Lorraine; and as clear proof of his madness, that he has the honour to be a close relative of the King, to whom he wishes to write and complain of the treatment he gets from me. Seeing that he is not in his right senses, I have no wish to give him paper and ink for that.’

On 23 March 1680, Saint-Mars sent off a dispatch to Louvois informing him that one of his seven prisoners had died. Two days later Barrail left Pignerol and would have reached Paris with the same news a day or so after the official report from Saint-Mars reached Versailles. On 6 April, La Gazette announced the death: ‘We are informed from Pignerol that M. Fouquet has died of apoplexy.’ The letter in which Saint-Mars reported the death to Louvois no longer exists and so there is no actual description of Fouquet’s last moments. However, a reply from Louvois to Saint-Mars, dated 8 April, suggests that Fouquet’s eldest son, Louis-Nicolas, the Comte de Vaux, was present at the time. Also on 8 April, Louvois replied to a letter he had received from the Comte de Vaux: ‘Sir, I have received the letter which you took the trouble to write to me on the twenty-ninth of last month and I have spoken to the King about Madame your mother’s request that she be allowed to take the body of M. Fouquet away from Pignerol. You can rest assured that His Majesty has given orders for that and she will have no difficulty.’ On the following day Louvois wrote to Saint-Mars authorizing him ‘to deliver the body of Fouquet to his family so that they might have it conveyed wherever they think best.’

In his letter of 8 April to Saint-Mars, Louvois showed himself concerned, but not because Fouquet had died. Saint-Mars had allowed the Comte de Vaux to take away some of his father’s papers and Louvois was annoyed about that; but what occupied him most was the fact, just discovered by Saint-Mars, that Lauzun had been using a secret passageway to visit Fouquet. All the precautions taken to avoid a meeting between Dauger and Lauzun had therefore been in vain. It was almost certain that they had seen each other, and no doubt talked together.

From the letter you wrote me on the twenty-third of last month, the King has learned of the death of M. Fouquet and of your judgement that M. de Lauzun knows most of the important things M. Fouquet was acquainted with and that the man named La Rivière knows them too, on which point His Majesty has commanded me to inform you that after you have sealed up the hole through which without your knowledge MM Fouquet and de Lauzun communicated with each other, and rebuilt it so solidly that no one could tamper in that area again, and after you have dismantled the staircase which leads from the room of the late M. Fouquet to the room you would have arranged for Mademoiselle his daughter, it is His Majesty’s intention that you lodge M. de Lauzun in the room of the late M. Fouquet … that you persuade M. de Lauzun that the man named Eustache Dauger and the said La Rivière have been set free and that you say the same thing to all those who ask you for news of them; that nevertheless you shut them both up in a room where you can assure His Majesty that they will not be able to communicate with anyone by word of mouth or by writing, and that M. de Lauzun will not be able to perceive that they are locked up there.

Officially therefore at this time, Saint-Mars lost two prisoners: Fouquet who died and Dauger who was released along with Fouquet’s valet La Rivière, who though living in prison had not been listed as a prisoner. Thus he was left with five acknowledged prisoners: Lauzun, the monk, Dubreuil, Matthioli and Matthioli’s former valet. Actually, however, he still had seven prisoners because though Fouquet was dead, his valet, La Rivière, had become a secret prisoner like Dauger and was locked up with him. After this letter the names of the two secret prisoners were suppressed, except for one more reference to Dauger made by Louvois in the postscript to a letter dated 10 July. The minister had just received a packet containing something which Saint-Mars had found in Fouquet’s clothes. ‘Tell me,’ he wrote, ‘how the man named Eustache was able to do what you sent me, and where he was able to get the drugs he needed to do it. I hardly believe that you provided him with them.’ It is usually assumed that the drugs referred to were those necessary for making invisible ink, something which Fouquet had been known to make and use in the past, and that the packet in question contained an object of some kind written upon by Dauger, something personal belonging to Fouquet by which Dauger had hoped to pass a message to the outside world. Be that as it may, in the text of the same letter appeared the first recorded use of the code name given to the Iron Mask and his companion: ‘It will be enough,’ Louvois wrote, ‘to let the prisoners of the Lower Tower make their confessions once a year.’ The only prisoners for whom at that time Saint-Mars needed a new directive were the two whose security status had just changed: Dauger and La Rivière.

In June Lauzun’s valet was liberated. Like La Rivière he had entered the prison not as a prisoner but as a valet to serve someone who was a prisoner. Unlike La Rivière, however, he had not got himself mixed up with state secrets. Once the security precautions surrounding Lauzun were relaxed, he could be paid off and sent away with the warning that if he ever came within twenty-five miles of Pignerol again, he would end his days in the galleys. In August, Matthioli ceased to be a top-security prisoner and was moved into a cell with the Dominican monk. This cell was in the Lower Tower, but these poor crazed creatures were clearly not ‘the prisoners of the Lower Tower.’ Matthioli had recovered his name, but was still as mad as a hatter and his bedlam antics with the lunatic monk were a source of amusement for Saint-Mars and his men, as witness a letter of 7 September: ‘For four or five days after your Lordship allowed me to put Matthioli with the Dominican in the Lower Tower, Matthioli thought the Dominican was a man I put with him to keep an eye on what he did. Matthioli, who is almost as mad as the Dominican, strode up and down with his cloak over his nose, saying that he was not being fooled by me and that he knew more than he would like to say. The Dominican just sat on his bed with his elbows on his knees and watched him gravely without listening. Signor Matthioli, who remained convinced that he was a spy we had planted on him, was disabused when one day the Dominican got out of bed, stark naked, and began to preach a sermon, if you could call it that, altogether without rhyme or reason. My lieutenants and I saw all their antics through a hole above the door.’

Locked up with a man whose mind had shattered, Matthioli’s own mind disintegrated even further and his gaolers were able to exploit the situation for something they valued even more than idle entertainment. When he arrived in Pignerol the Italian was wearing a ring set with the diamond which Louis XIV had given him. Saint-Mars with his usual rapacity soon managed to pocket it and then, realizing that it had been a gift to Matthioli from the King, decided to play safe. He informed Louvois that Matthioli had given a ring to Blainvilliers2 and that he was looking after it until further notice. He mentioned it only in passing and omitted to say that the ring was set with a diamond. Louvois however knew his man and asked for a full report. On 26 October Saint-Mars told his tale:

To give you, my lord, a fuller explanation than I have done so far of this diamond ring which M. Matthioli gave to Blainvilliers, I will take the liberty of saying that I believe it was as much out of fear as anything that he gave it to him. The prisoner had insulted him to his face and had even written malicious things about him in charcoal on the walls of his cell, which obliged the officer to threaten him with severe discipline unless he was more polite and better behaved in the future. When he was put into the tower with the monk, I ordered Blainvilliers to show him a cudgel and warn him that with such a thing bedlamites were transformed into reasonable men and we would know how to make him sensible if he did not become so. This warning was duly given and some days after, when Blainvilliers took him his dinner, he said to him. ‘Sir, here is a little ring which I want you to have and which I beg you to accept’. Blainvilliers told him in answer that he took nothing from prisoners and would take it only to hand it over to me. I do believe it is worth as much as fifty or sixty pistoles.

Louvois played the game. ‘You must keep the ring which M. Matthioli gave to M. Blainvilliers,’ he replied on 2 November, ‘so that you can give it back to him if ever the King orders his release.’

On 22 April 1681, Lauzun was freed, reducing the number of prisoners to six: four official and two secret. Then on 12 May Saint-Mars was promised the governorship of Exiles with instructions to take only the two secret prisoners with him. The documents confirming his appointment were dispatched from Versailles on 9 June and with them Louvois sent a letter explaining, among other things, the precautions to be taken for the transportation of the two prisoners. At the end of this letter he added: ‘With regard to the bags which you have belonging to M. Matthioli, you should take them with you to Exiles so that you can return them to him if ever His Majesty decides to set him at liberty.’ This letter was dictated to a scribe, as was the usual practice in the ministries, and Louvois added his signature at the end. For the scribe, who could put two and two together as well as the next man, it was obvious therefore that one of the two prisoners going to the Exiles was Matthioli. Also to anyone at Pignerol, who knew Matthioli’s bags and saw them loaded up with the rest of the baggage for Exiles, it would have been evident that Matthioli was being transferred. In fact we know that Louvois was being cunning; he was pleasing Saint-Mars by giving him all Matthioli’s belongings, including one might add the diamond ring, and at the same time amusing himself by giving everyone the impression that Matthioli was one of the two secret prisoners.

Since the existence of the two prisoners of the Lower Tower was not acknowledged, the existence of two new prisoners had to be invented before they could be moved. To do this, Catinat, who was still waiting in Pignerol for orders to occupy Casale, was recalled to Paris; then at the beginning of September he was sent back in secret and in disguise to take up residence with his valet in the Angle Tower. Saint-Mars pretended that they were prisoners newly arrived, and thus the number of official detainees was raised to six. On 8 September 1681, Catinat wrote to Louvois: ‘I arrived here on the third of the month, and would have got here on the second were it not for the precautions I took with M. de Saint-Mars so that I might enter in secret. I call myself Guibert and I am some sort of engineer committed by order of the King. Guibert is from Nice, and I had myself arrested byond Pignerol on the road from Pancarlier. To all appearances M. de Saint-Mars holds me prisoner here, even though with a profusion of figs of an admirable plumpness and excellence.’ In the weeks that followed, the contract with the Duke of Mantua was finalized. Catinat left his prison and appeared in the citadel as though just arrived, then on 28 September left at the head of his troops to take possession of Casale. At the same time Saint-Mars left Pignerol for Exiles with his two secret prisoners.

There is little room for doubt that the two prisoners taken to Exiles were Dauger and La Rivière. Of the four prisoners left by Saint-Mars to Lieutenant Villebois, his successor at Pignerol, the identity of three is certain. On 25 June 1681, Saint-Mars wrote to inform the Abbé d’Estrades in Turin that he had just received his warrant for the governorship of Exiles, and since d’Estrades had been responsible for the kidnapping of Matthioli he gave news of him. ‘I will have in my charge two blackbirds I have here who have no other name than the gentlemen of the Lower Tower. Matthioli will stay here with two other prisoners.’ Matthioli’s valet was considered of such little account that, though a prisoner, he was not even counted. That he was still confined is certain because of later references to him. On 1 May 1684, for instance, Louvois wrote that he was delighted to hear Villebois had punished the valet for bad behaviour, and in a letter of 27 December 1693 we find that he and Matthioli, still at Pignerol, had been caught hiding messages in the linings of their clothes. As for the ‘two other prisoners’ who stayed behind, one was certainly Dubreuil. Louvois referred to him in a letter he wrote to Villebois on 24 May 1682, displeased to learn that he had been giving Villebois trouble and recommending a sound thrashing as the best means to cure his insubordination. No specific reference to the Dominican monk exists to prove that he stayed on at Pignerol, but presumably he did: demented as he was, he certainly was not one of the two prisoners who went to Exiles. They were often described as sick, but never as mad. ‘The gentleman of the Lower Tower’ were evidently La Rivière and Eustache Dauger. Since we know that La Rivière was only a valet, we may assume that he was the prisoner who died at Exiles on 5 January 1687 and, though Eustache Dauger was described by Louvois as ‘only a valet’, we must conclude that he was the Man in the Iron Mask.


1.   Dauger or Danger: traditionally the name has been read as Dauger and that is why, for the sake of convenience, I use that reading here.

2.   Blainvilliers: Zachèe de Biot de Blainvilliers, the son of Saint-Mars’ uncle and foster-father, Gilles de Biot de Blainvilliers. He was a former musketeer who had accompanied Saint-Mars to Pignerol as one of four lieutenants in his compagnie franche. When Saint-Mars moved to Exiles, he was transferred to Metz as major of the citadel. On his death, Saint-Mars inherited the estate of Blainvilliers which on the death of Saint-Mars was inherited by Joseph de Formanior, the man referred to by Palteau as Blainvilliers.

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