Man in the Iron Mask
The Man in the Iron Mask is a name that was given to a prisoner arrested as Eustache Dauger in 1669 or 1670, and held in a number of jails, including the Bastille and the Fortress of Pignerol [today Pinerolo]. He was held in the custody of the same jailer, Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, for a period of 34 years. He died on 19 November 1703 under the name of Marchioly, during the reign of Louis XIV of France. The possible identity of this man has been thoroughly discussed and has been the subject of many books. No one ever saw his face, which was hidden by a mask of black velvet cloth.
In the second edition of his ‘Questions sur l’Encyclopédie’ [Questions on the Encyclopedia], published in 1771, writer and philosopher Voltaire claimed that the prisoner wore an iron mask and was the older, illegitimate brother of Louis XIV. In the late 1840s, the writer Alexandre Dumas elaborated on the theme in the final instalment of his Three Musketeers saga: here the prisoner is forced to wear an iron mask and is Louis XIV’s twin brother.
The known facts about this prisoner are based mainly on correspondence between his jailer and his superiors in Paris. The first surviving records of the masked prisoner are from late July 1669, when Louis XIV's minister the Marquis de Louvois sent a letter to Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, governor of the prison of Pignerol, then part of France. In his letter, Louvois informed Saint-Mars that a prisoner named Eustache Dauger was due to arrive in the next month or so. Louvois instructed Saint-Mars to prepare a cell with multiple doors, one closing upon the other, which were to prevent anyone from the outside listening in. Saint-Mars himself was to see Dauger only once a day in order to provide food and whatever else he needed. Dauger was also to be told that if he spoke of anything other than his immediate needs he would be killed, but, according to Louvois, the prisoner should not require much since he was ‘merely a valet’.
Historians have noted that the name Eustache Dauger was written in a handwriting different from the rest of the text, suggesting that, while a clerk wrote the letter under Louvois’s dictation, a third party, very likely the minister himself, added the name afterwards.
The man himself was arrested by Captain Alexandre de Vauroy, garrison commander of Dunkirk, and taken to Pignerol, where he arrived in late August. Evidence has been produced to suggest that the arrest was actually made in Calais and that not even the local governor was informed of the event – Vauroy’s absence being explained by his hunting for Spanish soldiers who had strayed into France via the Spanish Netherlands. The first rumours of the prisoner's identity (as a Marshal of France) began to circulate at this point. According to many versions of this legend, the prisoner wore the mask at all times.
See also Voltaire.
‘Man in the Iron Mask’, Wikipedia, retrieved 18 September 2013
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