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February 18, 2013 / garyalex

Diss and the Man in the Iron Mask

A recent enquiry to the museum has brought up an intriguing local connection with a romantic 18th century tale.
Alexandre Dumas based his story The Man in the Iron Mask on a mysterious prisoner in the Bastille prison.
Dumas made the prisoner the king’s brother; but historians think that he may have been Count Ercole Mattholi who was imprisoned for reneging on a political deal.
In the early 19th century the Diss parish clerk was an Italian called Michael Mattholi. How and why he came here we do not know.
But descendant Mark Praeger says that his great grandmother Harriott Hannah Mattholi said that the family had lands and servants in Italy that were taken away from them.
He suspects that Michael fled as a political refugee. He was clearly an educated man at a time when most people could not write their own name let alone converse in a different language.
Coming also from a Catholic country he must have had particular talents to be accepted in the post of parish clerk. The Manning rectors obviously recognised an exceptional person.
Mattholi was born in Italy about 1770 and died in Roydon in 1859. In 1830 he was a witness at his daughter Matilda’s wedding to Samuel Harper.
His son, Michael Mattholi, carpenter, who was married to Jane (nee Frost or Foster) had a string of children: Michael Richard (1832), Edward (1835), Mary Maria (1836), Elizabeth (1839), Henry Mark (1842), Margaret Maria (1844), Frederick (1845), George (1847).
Considering that there were several male Mattholis born at that time, it is surprising that the name is not mentioned in any 19th century directories. But they named only the professional classes. Sons of carpenters would not have qualified, unless they had gone up in the world.
We have not yet looked at the census returns; but the family could well be mentioned and may have been here into the 20th century.

Basil Abbott
Diss Museum

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