Just a few minutes by boat from Cannes, is Sainte-Marguerite Island. You follow the marked trails that take you on a botanical and historical tour of the Fort Royal, the former residence of the Man in the Iron Mask.
The “Iron Mask” whose identity remains a mystery, was held in this cell on the order of King Louis the 14th for eleven years before being transferred to the Bastille in Paris, where he died in 1703.
The legal system under the Ancient Regime was very different from that of today. Laws were controlled by the king. The Absolute monach, whose authority came from God. He could delegate legal proceedings to judges but also exercise directly. Imprisonment in a state prison was subject to the king’s discretion. Neither trial nor verdict was necessary and it lasted an indeterminate period of time, By order of the King until further notice.
In the royal fort on Sainte-Marguerite, just as in the other prisons such as the Bastille, the most common grounds of imprisonment were a breach of security of the King or the kingdom, offences committed whilst serving the king such as diplomacy, army, at court. Religeous offences such as Protestantism or Jansenism. Publishing offence such as the circulation of unauthorised writings, a breach of the family honour or fortune like acts of folly, extravagance, debauchery, at the request of the head of the family, the king could order imprisonment. In this case the prisoner was fed and looked after at the family’s expense.
The terms of imprisonment varied greatly from one prisoner to another according to their status and fortune, reflecting the hierarchical nature of society at that time. During the Thirty Years War, the Spanish occupied the island and constructed the fort from 1635 to 1637.
After the Spanish were defeated, the French army completed the area’s fortification. A prison was added to its military function in 1637 which lasted until the twentieth century. Listed as a Historical Monument in 1927, the fort lost its military value by a downgrading in 1944. It was acquired by the City of Cannes in 1995.