The historicity of the man’s imprisonment and identity are shrouded in mystery. 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.
Fictional accounts of this prisoner of the “Sun King” include a novel by a famed author and a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. However, it is certain that the Man in the Iron Mask was a real person, and over the centuries, many historians and authors tried to solve the mystery of who was this mysterious man might have been. It has been suggested that he might have been Louis XIV’s brother, or even his son, and others claim that he might have been an English nobleman.
The legend of the Man in the Iron Mask is based on the true life story of Eustache Dauger. Over time, however, the story became legend, and the legend faded into myth, retold dozens of times in children’s books, novels, and movies throughout the world.
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, just as the reason 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 claimed that while imprisoned at the Bastille in 1717, he learned things from former servants of the masked prisoner.According to Voltaire’s writings, the Man in the Iron Mask had been wearing the mask as far back as at least 1661. He said the man was tall, handsome, and played the guitar, and he also believed the man to be about 60 when he died. This would have been the only way that he could have been Louis XIV’s twin brother, as the Sun King was in his 60s when the prisoner died. However, this would mean that the death certificate associated with the prisoner is either false or not that of the prisoner.
There are numerous unproven theories and attempts to solve the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask, and numerous candidates have been proposed, including a French General, an Italian Diplomat, a French playwright and actor, Molière, Louis XIV’s father, and Eustache Dauger, a valet.
However, the earliest accounts of the man can be traced back to 1669, when 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 the 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.
“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.”
So, in the end, who he really was, whether he was actually guilty of a legitimate crime, or even whether he truly was forced to wear an iron mask all the time, may never be known. It is possible that the Man in the Iron Mask was just an ordinary citizen named Eustache Dauger, who angered the king, but not enough to have him killed.
This poor soul could never have imagined that his dismal life of captivity would one day become an epic of intrigue or that his memory (though anonymous) would survive for many years after he passed.