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Thursday, January 31, 2013

“The Four Musketeers: The True Story of D'Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis & Athos”, by Kari Maund and Phil Nanson

223 pages, Tempus Publishing, ISBN-13: 978-0752435039

The Four Musketeers: The True Story of D'Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis & Athos is just that, tracing as it does the life of D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers. The first chapter relates the true story of Charles de Batz-Castelmore, sieur d'Artagnan, who served as a musketeer from the 1630s until his death in June 1673. It talks about where he was raised in Gascony and how so many members of the king's musketeers came from Gascony because the leader of the musketeers was, in fact, M. de Treville, or more accurately Troisvilles, a Gascon himself, just like in the novel. Charles serves as a loyal supporter of the crown, supporting Troisvilles until he was able to transfer his loyalty to Cardinal Mazarin in the 1640s. From Mazarin, Charles learns to support the king, Louis XIV. He serves the Sun King by arresting the finance minister Nicolas Foucquet and guarding him during his two-and-a-half year trial before transporting to his imprisonment in Pignerol. Charles serves the king as a soldier, chief lieutenant of his musketeers until his death during the siege of Maastricht in 1673. The whole story is here in English rather than French as most of his biographies have been.

The next chapter relays what we know from historical evidence about Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. It turns out we know very little about Armand de Sillegue d'Athos d'Autevielle who died mysteriously in 1642 at the age of 20 or so. The authors speculate that he may have died in a duel or from a criminal assault in a highly dangerous Paris. Isaac de Porthau came from a wealthy family and returned to his family's home. Henri d'Aramitz came from a family that could trace its nobility back several centuries. He too served and returned to his family's estates.

The next chapter discusses the history of the musketeers as a military organization from its inception until its dissolution, while another chapter relates the life of Gatien Courtilz de Sandras, the writer who wrote the so-called memoirs of D'Artagnan 27 years after the latter's death. He included the names Athos, Porthos, and Aramis as well as a mention of an Englishwoman he called Miledi in these phony memoirs. Perhaps Sandras picked up these names from his conversations with two former companions of D'Artagnan's, Besmaux and Saint-Mars. The latter two were governors of the Bastille where Sandras was imprisoned during 1693-99.

Alexandre Dumas’ life is also related in a subsequent chapter along with a discussion of how he used researchers and collaborators to help draw up his story. Dumas used the memoirs of D'Artagnan among other documents and memoirs to put together the tales in the novel. It turns out most of the story is true in the sense that the events happened to someone, just not D'Artagnan or his friends.

The book closes with a survey of sequels by other authors as well as plays and movies that continue the legend of the musketeers. The book also has black-and-white and color photos of places, paintings, engravings, and items relevant to the text. It is highly readable but the authors could have taken some care proofreading the text, particularly dates in the life of D'Artagnan, i.e., 1566 instead of 1656, ninety years makes a difference.

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