The Man in the Iron Mask (French: L'Homme au Masque de Fer) (died November 1703) was a prisoner who was held in a number of jails, including the Bastille and the Chateau d'If, during the reign of Louis XIV of France. The identity of this man has been thoroughly discussed, mainly because no one ever saw his face which was hidden by a mask of black velvet cloth. Later retellings of the story have claimed that it was an iron mask.
In popular myth he is believed to have been the twin brother of Louis XIV, but there is little actual evidence for this.
What facts are known about this prisoner are based mainly on correspondence between his jailer and his superiors in Paris.
According to Louvois' letter, the man's name was Eustache Dauger. Louvois instructed Saint-Mars to prepare a cell with multiple doors which were to prevent anyone from the outside listening in. Dauger was also to be told that if he spoke of anything other than his immediate needs he would be killed. Saint-Mars was to see Dauger only once a day in order to provide food and whatever else he needed. But, according to Louvois, the prisoner should not require much since he was "only a valet".
Historians have noted that the name Eustache Dauger was written in a different handwriting to the rest of the text, suggesting that while a clerk wrote the letter under Louvois' dictation, a third party, very likely the minister himself, added the name afterwards.
The first rumours of the prisoner's identity (as a Marshal of France) began to circulate at this point. According to many versions of the legend, the prisoner wore the mask at all times. It is more probable that he was masked only during transport, such as when he was taken from prison to prison and when there were outside visitors to the jail.
Saint-Mars' other prisoners at Pignerol included Count Ercole Antonio Mattioli (or Matthioli), an Italian diplomat who had been kidnapped and jailed for double-crossing the French over the purchase of the important fortress town of Casale on the Italian border. There was also Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis of Belle-Ile, a former government minister, Surindente de Finance, who had been jailed by Louis XIV on the charge of embezzlement; and the Marquis de Lauzun, who had married the Duchess of Montpensier, a cousin of the King, without the King's consent. Fouquet's cell was above that of Lauzun.
In his letters to Louvois, Saint-Mars describes Dauger as a quiet man, giving no trouble, "disposed to the will of God and to the King", compared to his other prisoners who were either always complaining, constantly trying to escape or simply mad.
Dauger was not always isolated from the other prisoners. Wealthy and important ones usually had man-servants: Fouquet for instance was served by a man called La Riviere. These servants, however, would become as much prisoners as their masters and it was thus difficult to find men willing to volunteer for such an occupation. Since La Riviere was often ill, Saint-Mars applied for permission for Dauger to act as servant for Fouquet. In 1675 Louvois gave permission for such an arrangement on condition that he was only to serve Fouquet while La Riviere was unavailable and that he was not to meet anyone else: for instance, if Fouquet and Lauzun were to meet, Dauger was not to be present.
The fact that the man in the mask served as a valet is an important one. Fouquet was never expected to be released, thus meeting Dauger was no great matter, but Lauzun was expected to be set free eventually and it would have been important not to have him spread rumours of Dauger's existence. Historians have also argued that 17th-century protocol made it unthinkable that a man of Royal blood would serve as a manservant — thus very much discrediting those suggestions that Dauger was in any way related to the King.
After Fouquet's death in 1680, Saint-Mars discovered a secret hole between Fouquet and Lauzun's cells. He was sure that they had communicated through this hole without supervision by him or his guards and thus that Lauzun must have been made aware of Dauger's existence. Louvois instructed Saint-Mars to move Lauzun to Fouquet's cell and to tell him that Dauger and La Riviere had been released. In fact they were held in another cell in another part of the prison, their presence there being highly secret.
It was during the journey to Sainte-Marguerite that rumours spread that the prisoner was wearing an iron mask. Again, he was placed in a cell with multiple doors.
On September 18, 1698, Saint-Mars took up his new post as governor of the Bastille prison in Paris, bringing the masked prisoner with him. He was placed in a solitary cell in the pre-furnished third chamber of the Bertaudiere tower. The prison's second-in-command, de Rosarges, was to feed him. Lieutenant du Junca, another officer of the Bastille, noted that the prisoner wore "a mask of black velvet".
In 1711, King Louis' sister-in-law, the Princess Palatine, sent a letter to her aunt, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, stating that the prisoner had "two musketeers at his side to kill him if he removed his mask". She described him as very devout and that he was well treated and received everything he desired. It might be noted though that the prisoner had already been dead for eight years and that the Princess had not necessarily seen him for herself. She was quite likely reporting on rumors she had heard at court.
Theories about his identity made at the time included that he was a Marshal of France; or Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver Cromwell; or Francois de Vendôme, Duc de Beaufort. Later, many people such as Voltaire put forward other theories about the man in the mask.
It has even been suggested that he was one of the other famous contemporary prisoners being held at Pignerol at the same time as Dauger.
Hugh Ross Williamson argues that the man in the iron mask was actually the father of Louis XIV. According to this theory, the 'miraculous' birth of Louis XIV in 1638, after Louis XIII had been estranged from his wife for over twenty years, implies that Louis XIII was not the father.
The suggestion is that the King's minister, Cardinal Richelieu, had arranged for a substitute, probably an illegitimate son or grandson of Henry IV, to become intimate with the Queen, and father an heir. At the time, the heir-apparent was Louis XIII's brother Gaston d'Orléans, who was also Richelieu's enemy. If Gaston became King, Richelieu would quite likely have lost both his job as minister and his life, so it was in his interests to thwart Gaston's ambitions. Louis XIII also hated Gaston and might thus have agreed to the scheme.
Supposedly the father then left for the New World, but in the 1660s returned to France with the aim of extorting money for keeping his secret, and was promptly imprisoned. This theory would explain both the secrecy surrounding the prisoner, whose true identity would have destroyed the legitimacy of Louis XIV had it been revealed, and (because of the King's respect for his own father) the comfort of the terms of his imprisonment.
At the siege of Cuneo, Bulonde was concerned about enemy troops arriving from Austria and ordered a hasty withdrawal, leaving behind his munitions and wounded men. Louis XIV was furious and in another of the letters specifically ordered him "to be conducted to the fortress at Pignerol where he will be locked in a cell and under guard at night, and permitted to walk the battlements during the day with a mask". The dates of the letters fit the dates of the original records about the man in the mask.
Some believe that the evidence of the letters means that there is now little need of an alternative explanation for the man in the mask. Other sources, however, claim that Bulonde's arrest was no secret, was actually published in a newspaper at the time and that he was released after just a few months. His death is also recorded as happening in 1709, six years after that of the man in the mask.
Andrew Lang, in his The Valet's Tragedy and Other Stories (1903), presented a theory that "Eustache Dauger" was a prison pseudonym of a man called "Martin", valet of the Huguenot Roux de Marsilly. After his master's execution in 1669 the valet was taken to France, possibly by capture or subterfuge, and imprisoned because he might have known too much about his master's affairs.
One of Charles' confirmed illegitimate sons has also been proposed as the man in the mask. This was the Duke of Monmouth. A Protestant, he led a rebellion against his uncle, the Catholic King James II. The rebellion failed and Monmouth was executed in 1685. But in 1768 a writer called Saint-Foix claimed that another man was executed in his place and that Monmouth became the masked prisoner, it being in Louis XIV's interests to assist a fellow Catholic like James who would not necessarily want to kill his own nephew. It must be pointed out though that Saint-Foix's case was based on unsubstantiated rumours and allegations that Monmouth's execution was faked and that he was still alive in the early 18th century.
This discovery has since been discredited, however, and it is supposed that it was an attempt by the leaders of the Revolution to make up for the fact that there were no actual political prisoners in the Bastille at the time of its taking. In fact there were only a handful of men serving time for forgery and a couple of lunatics.
Since the prisoner is known to have been buried under the name "Marchioly", many believe that this is proof enough that he was the man in the mask. But letters sent by Saint-Mars indicate that he was only held at Pignerol and Sainte-Marguerite. He was never at Exiles or the Bastille and therefore can be, it is argued, discounted.
Records indicate that he was born on 30 August 1637, the son of François Dauger, a captain in Cardinal Richelieu's guards. François was married to Marie de Sérignan and they had eleven children, nine of whom survived into adulthood. When François and his two eldest sons were killed in battle, Eustache became the nominal head of the family. Like them he joined the army where he came under the command of Armand de Gramont, comte de Guiche, a brave soldier, notorious playboy and bisexual.
When news of these events became public an enquiry was held and the various perpetrators jailed or exiled. There is no record as to what happened to Dauger, but in 1665, near the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, he allegedly killed a young page boy in a drunken brawl involving the Duc de Foix. The two men claimed that they had been provoked by the boy who was drunk, but the fact that the killing took place near a castle where the King was staying meant that this was not good enough an explanation and, as a result, Dauger was forced to resign his commission.
Dauger's mother died shortly afterwards. In her will, written a year before, she passed over her eldest surviving sons, Eustache and Armand, leaving the bulk of the estate to their younger brother Louis. Eustache was restricted in how much money he had access to, having built up considerable debts, and barely being left with enough for "food and upkeep". As titular head of the family, he had come into some small estates, but gave these up to Louis, who provided him with an additional annual payment.
The records show, however, that during the enquiry, the investigators were told about a supplier of poisons, a surgeon named Auger, and Duvivier was convinced that Dauger de Cavoye, disinherited and short of money, had become Auger, the supplier of poisons, and subsequently Dauger, the man in the mask.
In a letter sent by Louvois to Saint-Mars, shortly after Fouquet's death while in prison (with Dauger acting as his valet), the minister adds a note in his own handwriting, asking how Dauger performed certain acts that Saint-Mars had mentioned in a previous correspondence (now lost) and "how he got the drugs necessary to do so". Duvivier suggested that Dauger may have poisoned Fouquet as part of a complex power struggle between Louvois and his rival Colbert.
These include a letter sent to Dauger's sister, the Marquise de Fabrègues, dated 20 June 1678, which is filled with self-pity as Eustache complains about his treatment in prison, where he has been held for 10 years, and how he was deceived by their brother Louis and Clérac, their brother-in-law and the manager of Louis' estate. A year later, he wrote another letter to the King, outlining the same complaints and making a similar request for freedom. The best the King would do, however, was to send a letter to the head of Saint-Lazare telling him that "M. de Cavoye should have communication with no one at all, not even with his sister, unless in your presence or in the presence of one of the priest of the mission". The letter was signed by the King and Colbert.
A rather dreadful poem written by the comte de Brienne, himself an inmate at the time, indicates that Eustache Dauger de Cavoye died as a result of heavy drinking in the late 1680s. Historians consider all this proof enough that he was not involved in any way with the man in the mask.
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