Shrouded in mystery for over 350 years, the story of the Man in the Iron Mask has been a focal point for many historians and served as an inspiration for numerous writers and filmmakers.
A movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and a novel by Alexandre Dumas are among the many fictional accounts of the Man in the Iron Mask.
However, it is a certainty that the Man in the Iron Mask was a real person, and over the centuries many historians and authors have tried to solve the mystery of who, exactly, was this mysterious man. It has been suggested that he might have been Louis XIV’s brother, or even his son, while others claim that he might have been an English nobleman.
It is said that during the reign of King Louis XIV, this man was held in the Bastille and other French jails for several decades until he died in 1703. For years, his identity remained unknown, as was the reason of why he was in jail. But what is more interesting is the fact that no one ever saw his face, as this enigmatic man always wore a black velvet mask over his face.
Voltaire, who was imprisoned in the Bastille in 1717, claimed that this man had been wearing a mask made of iron since 1661 and according to Voltaire’s Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, he was the illegitimate brother of Louis XIV. On the other hand, Alexandre Dumas claimed that the Man in the Iron Mask was Louis XIV’s twin brother who was the legitimate king of France as he was born minutes before Louis XIV.
There are countless unproven theories and attempts to solve the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask and there are numerous candidates proposed, including a French General, an Italian diplomat, a French playwright, and actor Molière, the father of Louis XIV, and Eustache Dauger, a valet.
However, the earliest accounts of the man can be traced back to 1669 when the Marquis de Louvois sent a letter to the governor of Pignerol prison, Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, informing him that a prisoner named Eustache Dauger was about to be transported to Pignerol prison. According to many historians, Eustache Dauger is the most popular of all candidates for being the Man in the Iron Mask.
Paul Sonnino, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, claims that Eustache Dauger is the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask.
“Serious historians have long ago discounted the legend popularized by Voltaire and Dumas that he was the twin brother of Louis XIV. They are pretty much in agreement that his name was Eustache Dauger, that he only occasionally wore the mask, and that when he did wear a mask, it was velvet, not iron,” Sonnino said in a statement. “They are also quite sure that he was a valet. What they have not been able to figure out is whose valet he was, and for what possible reason he was held under tight security for over 30 years.”
In his book, “The Search for the Man in the Iron Mask: A Historical Detective Story”, Paul Sonnino writes that Eustache Dauger worked as a valet for the treasurer of Cardinal Mazarin, the principal minister of France, who managed to accumulate a large fortune over the years and according to Sonnino, Eustache Dauger believed that Cardinal Mazarin stole some of the money.
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“Dauger must have blabbed at the wrong time. He was informed when arrested that if he revealed his identity to anyone he would immediately be killed,” Sonnino said.