“The Man In The Iron Mask” is the third part in a epic novel by the French author Alexander Dumas called “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later” (or as it is called in the original French: “Le Vicomte de Bragelonne ou Dix ans plus tard”).
The 268 chapter novel first appeared in serial form between 1847 and 1850. The Vicomte is the third and final book in the D’Artagnan Romance series, that started with “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years After”. The other two volumes in the Vicomte are called ‘The Vicomte de Bragelonne’ and ‘Louise de la Valliere’. Each volume is roughly the same length as the first ‘Three Musketeers’ book.
The book is centered, once again around the Three Musketeers. The narrative of the full volume takes place between 1660 and 1667 during the ascension of the young king Louis XIV to the throne of France. The titular character, the man in the iron mask, is supposed to be the twin brother of Louis XIV himself who was imprisoned with his identity concealed by an iron mask by his mother and father. Few people are aware of the twin, Philippe’s existence until his mother’s friend the Duchesse de Cheveruse lets the secret slip out to her former lover, Aramis, the musketeer. Aramis creates a plan to replace Louis with Philippe in order to create a more susceptible king that he can use as a puppet. But when his plan begins to backfire more than just Aramis will pay for his avarice.
The story begins with a man named Baisemeaux and another man, Aramis walking to a prison cell in the Bastille, the largest and most well known prison in all of France. We are told by Baisemeaux’s thoughts that he and Aramis used to be good friends, but since Aramis was promoted to a position above him they are no longer close.
Baisemeaux brings Aramis to a prison cell where the latter is to hear the confession of a prisoner. But the prisoner, a despairing young man, insists that he does not want to give confession. Aramis admits to the young man that the two of them have met before and that he was formerly one of the King’s musketeers. The young prisoner admits that he isn’t sure what he was imprisoned for and tells Aramis a story from when he was a boy. He says that while he was growing up he was kept under house arrest and lied to about the identity of his parents. He knows that his father is dead but that his mother is still alive. The prisoner asks Aramis if unveiling his presence to the world would unleash a great scandal. Aramis confirms that it would.
Aramis then tells him about the rulers of France. King Louis XIII was the king of France until very recently, but he was a weak ruler and allowed himself to be led around by a man named Cardinal Richelieu.
The king was married to a woman named Anne of Austria who gave birth to twins. Shortly after that Louis XIII was replaced by Louis XIV. Aramis hands the young prisoner a portrait of the current king and also a mirror, requesting that he compare his own face to the portrait. The young man is shocked by the similarities in the comparison. Aramis tells the young man that he wishes to put him on the throne of France for he is the king’s son. However, the prisoner refuses. Aramis leaves, kissing the young man’s hand as a sign of respect.
The next day, Aramis goes to visit his friend and fellow former musketeer, D’Artagnan in his home. D’Artagnan is being fitted for a suit. Aramis tells the tailor fitting him (who is also a tailor for the king) that the king’s Superintendent of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet plans to present the king with a portrait of himself on the day of the fete and he wishes to know what the king will be wearing that day so that they can match the clothes in the portrait to his actual regal dress. He asks for fabric samples from the suits. This conversation makes D’Artagnan suspicious. Aramis leaves to go and speak to Fouquet. He tells the man how the portrait idea is fairing and requesting for a letter to be given to Monsieur de Lyonne asking for the release of a man named Seldon from the Bastille.
Soon, the order comes through and Baisemeaux releases the prison named Seldon but through the clever switching of orders on the part of Aramis, the young man from the beginning of the story is the one that actually gets released. The young man is named Philippe Marchiali. Aramis offers Philippe the use of his carriage and as they drive from the prison, Aramis tells him more of the story of who he truly is and why he was imprisoned.
Aramis tells Philippe that the current king, his brother, is a poor ruler and proposes that he, as the kings twin, simply exchange places with him. Philippe is hesitant to agree, as he doesn’t know if he wants to be king. However, he finally agrees, asking Aramis what he wants in return. Aramis informs him that he wants to be elected pope or ascend to ‘the throne of St. Peter’. Philippe agrees to this as well.
Back in the city of Vaux, Fouquet is seeing to the preparations for the king’s arrival. Aramis arrives and views the portrait that is to be presented to the king. He and Fouquet agree that it is perfect. The men receive word that the king’s men are approaching and Aramis leaves to change his clothes. We learn that his rooms are directly above the kings and that Porthos, one of the other former musketeers, is staying next door to him.
The king arrives and a great party is thrown. That evening D’Artagnan visits Aramis and attempts to question him regarding his suspicions about Fouquet’s intentions in throwing the fete. D’Artagnan informs Aramis that he suspects that he is conspiring against the king but Aramis denies this, swearing on their friendship that he is not. D’Artagnan is satisfied and Aramis feels inwardly remorseful about lying to his friend. D’Artagnan leaves and this gives Philippe leave to emerge from his hiding place. Aramis tells Philippe that D’Artagnan is very loyal to the king but if he does find out about the switch later on he will keep his mouth shut because his Gascon pride will keep him from admitting he was deceived. The men then pull up one of the floorboards and look into the chamber below where the king is staying.
The king is speaking with Colbert, one of his advisers. He asks Colbert where Fouquet got the money to throw such an expensive and elaborate party. Colbert informs him that Fouquet received 13 million in government money that was never repaid. The king is shocked but decides to wait till the next day to make a decision about Fouquet. The king dismisses Colbert and Philippe starts to put the floorboard back into place before Aramis stops him. He instructs Philippe to observe the kings nightly bed rituals very closely.
The next day the king makes plans to arrest Fouquet however, he plans to do it the next morning. That night he awakes to find armed and masked men escorting him out of his room. The masked men are Aramis and Porthos They take him to the Bastille where Aramis apologizes to Baisemeaux for the confusion and says that they wrong prisoner was released. It trying to release Seldon, they accidentally released Marchiali. He says that he is bringing him back and that he may insist he is the king of France since that was his first move after escaping. The king is locked up in the cell that formerly belonged to his brother.
Back in Vaux, Philippe begins to settle into life as a king. Nearby, Aramis confesses his crime to Fouquet and the other man is horrified that such a subterfuge happened under his roof. Fouquet instructs Aramis to get out of the country and tells him that he may take Porthos and go to his fortress, Belle-Isle. Fouquet goes immediately to the Bastille to free the king, and after some resistance from the unsuspecting Baisemeaux, he is taken into the king’s cell.
The king is so unnerved and desperate that he assumes Fouquet is there to kill him. Fouquet tells him that he is there to free him and then tells the king all about the plot against him and the installation of his twin brother on his throne. The king is in disbelief that he has a brother he was unaware of. He states that he intends to execute Aramis, Porthos and his brother. Fouquet tries to dissuade him, reminding him that they cannot execute someone of royal blood. He asks the king to pardon Aramis and Porthos but the king refuses. They leave the prison together, leaving behind a very confused Baisemeaux.
Back in Vaux, Philippe is concerned when he does not hear from Aramis but he keeps up appearances, pretending to be the king throughout the day.
He finally meets his mother, Anne of Austria. His mother attempts to get him to arrest Fouquet but Philippe resists. Soon the real king, Louis comes back. Everyone in the room is shocked, save Anne who is horrified to see her two sons together like this. Louis tells D’Artagnan to arrest Philippe. As he is being arrested Philippe attempts to shame his mother and brother for what they have done to him. Colbert orders D’Artagnan to cover Philippe’s head with an iron mask and bring him to Ste. Marguerite, the island prison. Before leaving, D’Artagnan admits to Fouquet that Philippe would’ve made an equal or perhaps even better king than Louis.
Across the country, Aramis and Porthos desperately escape from Vaux, riding all day and night to get out of town. They change horses at every opportunity until eventually they reach a way station with no fresh horses. Aramis despairs until he remembers that the last former musketeer, Athos, lives nearby.
Athos lives peacefully with his son, Raoul. Aramis and Porthos show up on his doorstep and ask to speak to him. Aramis tells Athos of the plot to overthrow the king. Aramis then says that he may be able to salvage the plot through his allies in Spain. He asks Athos if he would like to come along and when the other man says no Aramis and Porthos leave on their own. Athos tells his son that he thinks it will be the last time he will ever see them.
Athos and Raoul decide to track down D’Artagnan in Ste. Marguerite. As they approach the garrison the two men hear someone yelling and a silver dinner plate is thrown out of a window to their feet. A message is etched into the plate that turns out to be from Philippe. Before they can react someone starts firing at them.
D’Artagnan appears and orders the shooters to halt. He quickly proceeds to explain to Athos and Raoul that they must pretend to be Spanish because the governor of the castle will kill them if he believes that they were capable of reading the inscription carved into the plate. D’Artagnan erases the inscription on the plate and tells the governor that the two men are Spanish naval captains. When they have a private moment, Athos tells D’Artagnan that he knows about the plot to overthrow the king. D’Artagnan is upset by this, worrying about his friends safety. As they walk around the fort, Athos get’s his first glimpse of the prisoner. Wearing a mask of iron, the prisoner yells and screams, insisting that he be called Accursed.
Soon, D’Artagnan receives a letter from the king ordering him to go back to Paris. He, Athos and Raoul leave the island together. But Athos and Raoul must return to their own lives. D’Artagnan hugs them as he bids them goodbye. D’Artagnan’s first order upon getting back to Paris is to collect the money that Fouquet owes the government. After he does this, Fouquet finds himself nearly bankrupt.
Days later D’Artagnan is instructed to arrest Fouquet as well but before he can Fouquet escapes on a white horse. D’Artagnan pursues him, pulling a pistol on him and ordering him to stop. Fouquet tells D’Artagnan to shoot him but the other man refuses. The pace of the pursuit soon becomes too much for D’Artagnan’s horse, which stumbles and collapses. D’Artagnan then begins to chase Fouquet on foot, managing to grab hold of the man’s leg even as he himself is injured from the fall off his horse. D’Artagnan, however, soon faints. He awakes to find Fouquet standing over him and is grateful for the man’s honor in not killing him while he was unconscious. The two men have to walk back to town. Fouquet has been arrested he gives the message ‘St. Mande’ for D’Artagnan to relay to either a Madame Belliere or a man named Pelisson.
Meanwhile, the king discovers where Aramis and Porthos are hiding and tells D’Artagnan to bring twenty of his best men to Belle-Isle. D’Artagnan realizes that he must find a way to mitigate this peacefully without harming two of his best friends.
On Belle-Isle, Aramis and Porthos are talking when they suddenly see a fleet of ships on the horizon. Around nightfall a small boat docks on the island and a man emerges. He hands Aramis a letter from D’Artagnan which basically states that the king ordered him to take the island and capture them.
D’Artagnan requests that the two men come out to meet him. But Aramis tells the man delivering the letter to ask that D’Artagnan come out to the island instead. D’Artagnan obliges with the company of a naval officer who has been ordered by the king to follow him. D’Artagnan tells the officer that he wishes to speak with his friends privately and when the officer objects, D’Artagnan draws his sword on him. The officer relents and backs away.
The three friends embrace and start trying to figure out how to get out of the problem they are in. Aramis wonders if they should stay and fight off the soldiers. He then suggests that D’Artagnan take Porthos back to the king and swear that he had nothing to do with the plot. This gives D’Artagnan an idea which he whispers to Aramis. Aramis approves of the plan and D’Artagnan heads back to his ship. However, when he gets back and requests that Aramis and Porthos be allowed to come onto the ship to deliberate freely, he is handed an order from the king preventing it. D’Artagnan pretends to accept the order but is inwardly furious. He tells the fleet that he intends to resign and that they must return to France. He thinks that this will raise the blockade around the island and give his friends time to escape. His men inform him that if he refuses the order and attempts to resign that they have been ordered to arrest him. D’Artagnan allows himself to be arrested and the blockade returns to France.
Back on the island, Aramis tells Porthos of D’artagnan’s plan which he doesn’t realize has already failed. He then says that if there is only time for one of them to escape it should be Porthos. Porthos refuses, saying they either escape together or not at all. Porthos then tells Aramis that he has felt weak lately and that he feels that he will die soon. Suddenly another fleet arrives. Porthos and Aramis fight and seize a prisoner whom they begin to question. It turns out that the prisoner is the son of man named Biscarrat who was one of the swordsman that attacked and fought the musketeers on the day they met D’Artagnan. Aramis and Porthos are pleased to meet the man and begin to consider him a friend. However, more shots ring through the night and Aramis realizes that there is a second wave of soldiers coming. Aramis releases Biscarrat and he and Porthos head for Locmaria in a final bid for escape. When they reach the grotto of Locmaria Porthos legs go weak. The manage to get into a canoe that Aramis prepared for their escape but are soon followed into the grotto by the soldiers. Aramis and Porthos manage to ambush the soldiers and win the fight more soldiers are sent in and all are shocked to find that only two men are defending themselves and evading capture so well.
A third wave is sent in and Aramis instructs Porthos to use a barrel of gunpowder as a bomb to kill them so that the two men can escape in the confusion of the blast. Aramis pulls the boat around while Porthos is to light the fuse on the barrel. He does so but in the last moment his legs fail him again and he gets caught in the blast. Aramis attempts to come to his aid but is too late. Porthos dies being crushed by huge granite rocks set free in the explosion. Aramis becomes so distraught that he can barely stand. Three servants help him into his boat and begin to row him to Spain. But before they get there the boat is captured and surrenders. The sailors on board the ship intend to spare the servants lives but execute Aramis. However Aramis shows them proof that he is a former musketeers and General of the Jesuits and the captain of the ship begins to follow his orders. Aramis, still grieving, spends the night staring into space and resting his head against a rail on the ship.
Back in France, D’Artagnan attempts to speak to the king but is turned away. He is stripped of his title but not arrested and finds himself relieved by this. He intends to head back to Belle-Isle to help his friends but before he can leave the king requests to speak to him. When he enters the kings chambers, he is asked what his orders were regarding Belle-Isle and why he did not see them out. D’Artagnan protests pointing out that he clearly was not told about all of the orders. The king says that he only gave all of the orders to those he saw as faithful. This offends D’Artagnan, who has always seen himself as faithful to the king. The king says that he failed to fight the kings enemies and D’Artagnan argues that this time the king’s enemies were his own two best friends. The king tells him that he failed his test of loyalty. A messanger enters and tells the king that he has lost 110 soldiers at Belle-Isle. D’Artagnan is secretly pleased that his friends seemed to have gotten away.
D’Artagnan finally relents and agrees to serve the king again if he will pardon Aramis and Porthos. The king agrees and D’Artagnan returns to Belle-Isle. He is unable to find Aramis but discovers that Porthos has been killed. He returns to the king and tells him of this only to find that the king already knew. D’Artagnan demands to know why he wasn’t told and the king confesses to reading a letter that Aramis sent to him. He gives D’Artagnan permission to bury Porthos. At the funeral, D’Artagnan finds that Porthos has willed him to have whatever he wishes from his house and that Aramis should have a pension from his money. Also that Raoul should have his man servant, Mouston.
Back on his own estate, Athos hears of Porthos’ death and faints from shock and weakness. Soon, he also finds that his son Raoul has died while fighting in Africa. Athos dies from the shock of two important people in his life passing on so close together. D’Artagnan visits soon after, finding his friend dead and collapsing into grief. When he collects himself, D’Artagnan realizes that he is at least happy that Athos and his son are together in heaven. He stays on at Athos’ estate to see to his funeral arrangements but internally wonders if he will be next to die. He bids a last farewell to his departed friend and leaves once again for Paris.
The epilogue of the book begins four years later. D’Artagnan is now a Count. Fouquet is in prison. The king is throwing a hunting party on what used to be Athos’ land. D’Artagnan is seeing to the party when he is told the Duc d’Almeda or, rather, his old friend Aramis is there. The two men hug and go off to have a private conversation. The remaining two musketeers pay their respects at Athos and Raoul’s tomb. The king has agreed to form an alliance with England so that he may start a war with Holland. D’Artagnan reveals that he will be leading the charge into Holland but that he expects to receive a marshal’s baton for his deeds. We are then taken to Holland where the English and the French are sailing into the country. Aramis has assured them of the Spain’s neutrality in the fight.
D’Artagnan commands an army that takes many fortresses. The king is pleased to hear of his success and sends a messenger to Holland to make D’Artagnan a marshal. The messenger arrives with a small, heavy chest and D’Artagnan opens it regardless of the fact that he is in the middle of an attack. He is just turning to open it when he is struck in the chest by a cannonball. His last words are: “Athos – Porthos, farewell till we meet again! Aramis, adieu forever!”
As the novel closes out, the narrator points out that only one musketeer now remains of four.
D’Artagnan – D’Artagnan is a former musketeer and current captain of the Musketeers. He is very brave and loyal as well as being an excellent fighter. D’Artagnan is introduced to the three musketeers in the original book in the series when he goes to Paris attempting to become a musketeer himself and ends up helping them in a fight. By this, the final novel, D’Artagnan is the only one of his friends that is still a musketeer and still in the king’s service. He has served the king for many decades now.
However, his loyalty to the king and France is tested in ‘The Man In The Iron Mask’ when he is asked to arrest his friends Aramis and Porthos.
D’Artagnan loves his friends and knows them well. He is the first character to suspect that Aramis is up to something in the beginning of the book and when he realizes the full extent of the plot only promises to save Aramis and not arrest him. A promise that he keeps a full thirty chapters later at Belle Isle. D’Artagnan puts his friends first no matter what and is perhaps the most unquestionably moral character in the book.
Aramis – Aramis is perhaps best summed up by this quote from the book: “Soldier, priest, and diplomat; gallant, greedy and cunning; Aramis took the good things in this life as steppingstones to rise to the bad ones. Generous in mind, if not noble in heart, he never did ill but for the sake of shining a little more brilliantly”.
Aramis is the most hard to pin down character not only in the book but in the entire series. He is an agitator, often the one to come up with the musketeers greatest schemes (both successful and unsuccessful). In “The Man In The Iron Mask”, Aramis desire for power over France does get in the way of his friendships and loyalty a bit. Aramis confesses his plot to Fouquet with little prompting and then seems to regret his heavily planned actions very quickly, coldly abandoning Philippe to the king’s mercy (or lack thereof). Because of this, it’s hard to say whether or not he was terribly invested in the plan in the first place.
However, a true musketeer till the end, Aramis does appear to love those he deems friends very much. He agrees to be arrested on Belle Isle as long as Porthos can go free and is said to cry for the first time in his life upon Porthos death.
Aramis is the only Musketeer left alive at the novel’s end.
Porthos – Porthos is one of the original musketeers and best known for being a gentle giant. Unless he is fighting and then he uses his amazing strength to decimate his enemies. Porthos is perhaps Aramis’ best friend in the series and dies trying to protect him. He is a surprisingly clever, divisively moral man who willingly goes along with Aramis’ plan to overthrow the king but has to stop and think about the moral implications at Belle Isle before agreeing to fight the soldiers.
Porthos’ death scene is the most remarkably poignant in the book and though he was a man a few words he is missed by his friends.
Athos – before the start of the novel, Athos has moved away to live with his adult son. This is why he has more of a limited role in the novel and does not interact as much with the main storyline. At some point before the start of the novel, Athos is revealed to have had a fight with king Louis XIV and, as a result has left the musketeers and retired to his estate before any of his friends.
Athos spends the majority of his storyline preparing for his son Raoul to go to battle in Africa. He seems to have almost a prescient belief that his son will be killed in battle and, when he turns out to be right, dies shortly after, believing that life is not worth living without his son.
Philippe (or the man in the iron mask) – at the beginning of the story we learn that Philippe is the twin brother of the son who was locked away as a child so as not to provide any challenge to the king’s throne. It is not revealed why he was the son chosen to be locked up. Philippe is used as a pawn in his brother’s kingly rule for the first half of his life and then is used as a pawn in Aramis’ game to gain more power over France. Only to be abandoned once again just as he was by his parents. For this reason, Philippe is a tragic character.
Despite being the title character, Philippe is seldom seen in the actual novel and only gets to be the king for a few chapters. The last we see of him is before D’Artagnan leaves his island prison where he is made to wear a mask to hide his identity and we never hear what becomes of the young prince in the intervening years.