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The Man in the Iron Mask is a name given to a mysterious prisoner in France. The identity of this prisoner
was not established, and this mysterious individual has intrigued writers and others since the early 1700s. Alexander Dumas wrote about him in one of his novels, which has been adapted into several movies. Once it was believed that the story was only a myth, a literary fiction but it is now accepted that the unknown prisoner was a historical figure. The name of the inmate was kept an official secret, and this has spawned a debate as to his real identity. The riddle of the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask is something that has fascinated writers of the stature of Voltaire. This article will examine the background to the story and narrate what is known for a fact about this mysterious prisoner. Then it will offer an overview of some of the main theories on the name of the convict and the reasons as to why he was incarcerated. [[File: Man in the Iron Mask.jpg|200px|thumb|left|A 19th-century drawing of the Man in the Iron Mask]]
==The historical background==
The Man in the Iron Mask was confined in the French penal system between 1669 and 1703, the year in which he died. At this time, France was ruled by Louis XIV (1638-1715), who is often known as the ‘Sun King’. He was monarch of France from a very young age. In his childhood, his realm was engulfed by civil wars, known as the Frondes, and they shaped the philosophy of Louis XIV. When he became king, Louis set out to become the absolute ruler of the state and he brooked no opposition. He curtailed the power of the nobility and the cities. Louis even quarrelled with the Pope and limited the influence of the Church in France. The king made his kingdom the greatest nation in Europe, and he initiated a golden age in the arts and culture. He was the monarch who built the great palace at Versailles, near Paris. However. Louis was an autocrat and he dominated the state and his word was the law. Anyone who offended his Royal Majesty or disobeyed his wishes could face banishment or imprisonment. There is evidence that suggests that Louis XIV was responsible for the imprisonment of the Man in the Iron Mask. The detention of a man without trial or any public record is typical of the authoritarianism of the Sun King.