|"L'Homme au Masque de Fer" by Anonymous, 1789|
I have a few favorite historical "mysteries"- from Roanoke to Jack the Ripper to The Princes in the Tower - and one of them, which I'm admittedly not as knowledgeable on is the identity of the man in the iron mask. Of course the majority of people will probably think back to the 1998 Leonardo DiCaprio flick based very loosely on the D'Artagnan stories by Alexandre Dumas in which the man is secretly Louis XIV's twin brother. Now that seems like a very far-fetched idea...but is it truly?
The earliest known records of the man in the iron mask are from 1699, in which Louis' minister the Marquis de Louvois sent a letter to the governor of the prison in Pignerol that a prisoner named "Eustache Dauger" would soon be arriving. He requested that a cell be prepared that had multiple doors, one that closed in on the other, which would make it impossible for someone on the outside to hear anything said on the inside.
The prisoner was to be visited only once daily to be given food, water, and anything else he should need. He also insisted that Dauger be told if he spoke of anything else other than his immediate needs he would be killed (Louvois said he should need very little as he was "only a valet"). Reports indicate he work his mask at all times.
Most interestingly, the fortress of Pignerol (Which is located in Pinerolo, Italy), was chiefly used for men who were considered "embarrassments to the state". The governor of the prison described Dauger as being quiet man who gave no trouble and was "disposed to the will of God and to the King".
There were two other important prisoners during his stay there - Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis of Belle-Île, a former superintendent of finances who was charged with embezzlement, and the Marquis de Lauzun who was jailed for having become engaged to the Duchess of Montpensier, a cousin of the king's, without permission. Being a wealthy man Fouquet had a manservant who was often ill, and in his place Dauger would act, on condition with Louvois that he only act when the man was ill and not meet with anyone else.
|"L'Homme au masque de fer" by Jean-Joseph Regnault-Warin, 1804|
This relationship is important as a person of royal blood would under no circumstances ever be able to act a servant, thus putting some doubt on the claims that he was a relation to the king. Later, after Fouquet's death it was discovered that there was a secret hole between Fouquet and Lauzun's cells, and that he had been made aware of Dauger. Lauzun was then moved to Fouquet's cell and was told that both the original manservant and Dauger had been released, which of course was a lie.
The governor switched prisons, taking Dauger with him and along the way rumors started circulating about a prisoner wearing an iron mask. After moving to yet another prison, the infamous Bastille, a Lieutenant du Junca claimed the prisoner wore a mask made of "black velvet".
Dauger died on the 19th of November, 1703, and was buried the next day under a different name - "Marchioly". Everything that he owned was destroyed, even the walls of his cell were scraped and whitewashed.
In 1711 King Louis' sister-in-law, Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine, wrote a letter to her aunt describing that the prisoner had had two musketeers at his side that were to kill him should he try and remove his mask. She said he was very devout and also treated well and wanted for nothing - unfortunately the prisoner had already been dead for eight years at this point, though it is thought that she was only repeating court rumours.
There are, of course, an abundance of theories surrounding this mystery. A popular one is that he is a relative of the king's. Voltaire believed he was an illegitimate son of Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin, making him the King's brother. Novelist Marcel Pagnol wrote an essay claiming that he was a twin brother, born second and hidden away to avoid throne disputes, however both of these theories are made highly unlikely as at the time royal births were public things attended by courtiers.
However Pagnol says that directly after King Louis' birth, his father, King Louis XIII, took the whole court to a chapel to have a Te Deum (a hymn of praise), which would normally be held several days before the birth. Also to keep in mind is the fact at the time it was hotly debated which twin was considered elder - the one born first or the one born second, the argument being the one born second was conceived first, so we can imagine the sort of turmoil such a thing could produce.
Twin births were not unheard of within the French royal family - from the Houses of Capetian, of Valois, of Bourbon, and of Orléans. Pagnol also states that his twin grew up on Jersey island, and was given the name James de la Cloche and would later conspire against the king alongside Roux de Marcilly.
Another theory in the family vein suggests that the man was the King's natural father. Evidence pointing to this is the fact that Louis XIII had been estranged from his wife, Anne of Austria, for nearly fourteen years when she miraculously gave birth to Louis XIV. He was also weak, old, and ill. It is suggested then that Cardinal Richelieu produced a "substitute", perhaps a illegitimate son or grandson of Henry IV.
In 1890 Étienne Bazeries, a French military cryptanalyst decoded some letters in Louis XIV's "Great Cipher" that refer to a prisoner named Vivien de Bulonde who was General. Louvois detailed his crime. At the Siege of Cuneo Bulonde ordered a withdrawl in fear of Austrian troops, and in his haste left behind not only munitions but wounded men, leaving Louis XIV furious. Louis 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 330 309." Now the 330 and 309 is part of the code. 330 is believed to mean masque and the 309 for a full stop.
Many people feel that solves the case and it would seem to if one excludes the fact that Bulonde died six years before the man in the mask did. It was also said that Bulonde's arrest was no secret and he had even been released from prison after just a few months.
Now before we move onto the final part of our theories we must also briefly list a few of the many others. There was an Italian diplomat who seemed promising, was a fellow prisoner of Fouquet's and was even buried under the name "Marchioly" - just like the man in the mask. However he was only ever held at Pignerol and Saint-Marguerite, not Exiles or the Bastille, which was where the man in the iron mask spent his last days.
James de la Cloche pops up again, though this time it's as an illegitimate son of Charles II of England. Theories conclude he was locked up for knowing too much about French affairs with England.
Our final theory talks about Eustache Dauger de Cavoye. Historians have indeed found a Eustache Dauger and he was involved in one of the most intriguing cases in history, l'Affaire des Poisons, which many high-born people and courtiers were accused of not only black masses and poisonings but witchcraft. His first disgrace took place on Easter weekend in 1659. There was quite a party at the castle of Roissy-en-Brie, which by all accounts included all sorts of sordid activities - even a black mass in which a pig was baptized as a carp thus allowing them to eat pork on Good Friday. Then in 1665, Dauger allegedly killed a young page boy in a drunken brawl.
The final straw came with the the affair of the poisons. The person who supplied the poison was cited as "Auger", and historians believe that this was in fact Dauger, who, short on money because of his mother practically leaving him out of her will, had grown desperate.
However, as with all of our theories, there is a catch. There is evidence that Eustache Dauger de Cavoye was actually a different Eustache Dauger than the man in the iron mask and Dauger de Cavoye was sent to an asylum where families sent their "black sheep" and died there.
So unfortunately it seems we may never know the true identity of the man in the iron mask, though we have plenty of theories about it. Who do you think was the most likely suspect? Could he have really been a relative of the King's?