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Eustache Dauger

The Man in the Iron Mask

Man in the iron mask

At the end of the seventeenth century, the rumor speards a mysterious story: King Louis XIV would maintain in captivity a man whom even jailers ignore the true identity. Incarcerated in the greatest secrecy, the unknown prisoner would have his face completely covered with an iron mask.

In July 1669, the Marquis de Louvois, Louis XIV's Secretary of State for War, wrote a letter to Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, governor of the Pignerol State prison, near Turin, Italy. The letter informs of the coming arrival of a named "Eustache Dauger", arrested in Dunkerque by Captain de Vauroy, commander of the garrison of the city. A visibly unusual prisoner: Louvois enjoined Saint-Mars to set up a special cell with two successive doors to prevent anyone from listening to what was going on. The only contacts of Saint-Mars with the prisoner will be limited to the only daily meal. As for possible connivance, the minister is very clear: if the governor came to speak of other things "than his necessities" with the prisoner or if he provided him with something other than the bare minimum, he would be dismissed and sentenced to death. A thick secret surrounds this prisoner: in the state’s secretary letter, the writing of the name is different from that which composes the rest of the text, as if Louvois, having dictated the text to his secretary, had added his paragraph afterward. In addition, the captain of Vauroy could not stop the man: in this year 1669, he is busy campaigning in the Netherlands. The man arrives at the fortress of Pignerol at the end of August. According to the few witnesses present that day, the prisoner wore a leather mask. The prison of Pinerolo is a confidential place by nature: only individuals considered embarrassing are imprisoned there, in very limited numbers. Among the other detainees over the same period are the account of Ercole Antonio Mattioli, an Italian diplomat sentenced for treason against France, Nicolas Fouquet, former Superintendent of Finance, and the future Duke de Lauzun, jailed for standing up to Ms. of Montespan, favorite of the king.


A prisoner under close surveillance

In his correspondence, Louvois describes Dauger as a man "subject to the will of God and the king". Unlike his fellow prisoners, whom he seldom meets, he does not express any complaint. His isolation is not total, on the contrary: he serves as Fouquet valet de chambre - a task authorized by Louvois provided that the prisoner meets no one else. This trivial requirement is interesting in many ways because the former Superintendent of Finance, stripped of his offices and privileges, is not supposed to be one day released, unlike Mattioli and Lauzun. Vain precaution: at the death of Fouquet, in 1680, is discovered a hole communicating between the cells of Dauger and Lauzun. Immediately, Dauger is moved to another wing of the building; Lauzun is made to believe that he has been released. He regained his freedom in 1681. The same year, Saint-Mars was appointed governor of Exilles Prison, Italy. He takes Dauger with him. In May 1687, it is in Sainte-Marguerite, in the Lérins archipelago, off Cannes, that they are again transferred. During journeys, the man permanently wears an iron mask - leather or black velvet according to the witnesses. On September 18, 1698, Saint-Mars is named to the Bastille. Once again, his mysterious prisoner follows him. During a stopover at Palteau Castle, the grand-nephew of Saint-Mars offers Eustache Dauger's most precise description: "When the prisoner crossed the courtyard, he still had his black iron mask on his face; the peasants noticed that his teeths and lips were visible, that he was tall and had white hair. At the Bastille, he is placed in an individual cell in the Bertaudière tower. This is where he died on November 19, 1703. He is buried under the name "Marchioly", and his belongings are destroyed.

Encrypted incarceration orders

In 1801, the lawyer and politician Pierre Roux-Fazillaz looks at the history of the man in the iron mask. His research leads to the conclusion that the rumor was born of a confusion between two prisoners, Ercole Antonio Mattioli and a valet named Eustache Dauger. According to him, the excitement provoked by Fouquet's imprisonment favored the emergence of such a legend. Mattioli is an Italian diplomat who would have acted as double agent between Spain and France. He was arrested in 1679 and sent to Pinerolo. The inscription of the skinned name "Marchioly" on the grave of the dead man at the Bastille accredits this scenario. However, the correspondence of Saint-Mars indicates that the Italian did not participate in the transfer of Sainte-Marguerite to the Bastille. And for good reason: he would have died in 1694. At the end of the 19th century, the historian Louis Gendron found encrypted correspondences of Nicolas de Catinat, marshal of Louis XIV. Supported by the cryptologist Étienne Bazeries, he manages to decipher some messages and identifies the name of "Vivien de Bulonde", general of the Royal Army. At the headquarters of Cuneo (1691), in Italy, he would have been condemned by the king for cowardice after having retreated against the Austrians and abandoning wounded and ammunition. According to one of the letters, he was "taken to the fortress of Pinerolo, locked in a cell guarded at night and allowed to go out during the day with a 330 309". The analyst assumes that the code 330 309 means "closed mask". If the dates are consistent with the first reports of the masked prisoner, however the arrest of Bulonde is not a state’s secret: it would have been mentioned in a newspaper at the time. The subject was even released a few months later. Moreover, the date of his death, attested in 1709, does not correspond.


In the footsteps of Eustache Dauger, the man in the iron mask

Eustache Dauger de Cavoye is the son of François Dauger, captain of the Richelieu Guards. He becomes a soldier known for his bravery, but also a man decried for his scandalous manners for the time. In April 1659, Dauger took part in an Easter party in the castle of Roissy-en-Brie. There, the participants engage in the greatest debauchery, assaulting Cardinal Mazarin's assistant and engaging in homosexual acts. The case makes a lot of noise, and those responsible are harshly punished. The fate reserved for Dauger is unknown. Nevertheless, we find his trace in 1665 near the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where, during a new round of debauchery, he kills a young page in a fight. Struck to resign, he sinks into poverty. In 1930, the historian Maurice Duvivier establishes a link between Eustache Dauger de Cavoye and the Poisons affair, which undermines the courtesan nobility between 1679 and 1682. The reports of the investigation of the royal police reveal the hearing of a certain Auger, a surgeon by profession who, driven by financial appetite, supplied the poisons. The trail of Eustache Dauger de Cavoye leads to the prison of Saint-Lazare, of which he is the boarder in 1679. The king in person transmits orders to the management of the establishment: "Mr. de Cavoye will have no communication with no one, nor with his sister, without the presence of one of the priests of the mission. The prison records indicate the simultaneous presence of a Dauger de Cavoye at Saint-Lazare and a Dauger at Pignerol. Historians wonder about the treatment inflicted on Eustache Dauger de Cavoye. This noble from a family close to the Court would have been raised with Louis XIV, and some contemporaries note a similarity between the two men, suggesting a kinship.

Rumors of royal descent

Louis XIII and Anne of Austria waited nearly 23 years before designing an heir. The miraculous birth of Louis, rightly named "Dieudonné", will awaken suspicions later: did the royal couple, unable to procreate, appealed to a progenitor? François Dauger de Cavoye, a loyal soldier and noble ancestry, would have been an ideal candidate. In 1771, in Questions on the "Encyclopédie", Voltaire states that the prisoner is the elder and illegitimate brother of Louis XIV, born of the adulterous union of Cardinal Mazarin and the Queen. In the 1840s, Alexandre Dumas took up the theme for the purposes of his novel The Vicomte de Bragelonne, identifying the prisoner as a twin brother of the king. In the twentieth century, the historian Hugh Ross Williamson suggests that Cardinal Richelieu appealed to a direct descendant of Henry IV to give an heir to the Crown: Gaston d'Orleans, brother of Louis XIII but also sworn enemy of the cardinal . Finally, in spite of the reason of State, Richelieu prefers to banish from the kingdom this dangerous pretender to the throne once his task is accomplished. Louis XIII himself hated his brother and would have approved Richelieu's decision. After an exile in America, Gaston reappears in 1660. He would then be blackmailed, threatening to reveal the true descent of Louis XIV. Conscious of the threat to its legitimacy, the king would have decided to imprison him. Other names have been put on the man in the iron mask: James of La Cloche, illegitimate son of Charles II of England and sent to the court of France, who was reportedly jailed for detaining sensitive information about Louis XIV; Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver Cromwell, wandering in France from 1660 to 1680 as well as the Duke of Beaufort who disappeared in the Mediterranean in 1669.