Today in History- The Man in the Iron Mask arrives at Pignerol.

One of the greatest mysteries of all time is the story of the man behind the iron mask.

No one knows who he is. No one can explain why he was imprisoned. There is no explanation for why his existence was written out of the history books.

So, what do we know?

Story spun by writers.

The story first sparked interest in 1850 with Alexandre Dumas’s publication of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, inspired by a legend that was almost two centuries old. A whisper of a rumor about a man who was arrested and imprisoned in Frace, spending decades in dark and haunted dungeons until his death in the Bastille. Guarded by trusted musketeers, he was not allowed to speak or say his name, punishable by death if he tried.

The French writer Voltaire was also intrigued by the story and surprised to learn it was not a myth. Instead, the man lived during Louis XIV’s, the Sun King’s, reign. Voltaire was one the first to suggest that the man had to be masked because he was the Sun King’s twin and a threat to national security.

Who was the imprisoned man?

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this question. However, after swimming through resources and publications, I have come to my own conclusion that it might have been Eustache Dauger. As with most mysteries, we don’t know much about his life before he was brought to his prison cell. However, historians have followed the paper trail between his jailer, Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, and his superiors in Paris.

The first record (dated 1669) was a letter from the Marquis de Louvois, the Sun King’s minister, to Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, governor of the Pignerol prison in Pinerolo, Piedmont. The letter stated that a prisoner, Eustache Dauger, was due to arrive sometime in August of that year.

What was interesting about the letter was not necessarily who. But how? The governor was instructed to prepare a cell with multiple doors, one closing after the other. This was so that no one from outside could hear the prisoner. He was allowed only one visit a day to provide food and other ‘needs’. And… if the prisoner said anything other than conveying his immediate needs, he was to be killed immediately.

The key to Eustache’s case was a letter that stated that the prisoner’s presence shouldn’t be too taxing because he was ‘only a valet.’ At the time of Eustache’s arrival, Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis of Belle-Île, a former superintendent of finances, was also there on embezzlement charges. And records show that Eustache attended the marquis when his main servant, La Rivière, was unwell.

Not necessarily a smoking gun, but enough to say- ‘maybe’.

Who else could it be?

As with most royal intrigue, lineage always plays a key part. One of the more popular legends is that the prisoner was the son of Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin. Therefore, he was an illegitimate half-brother to the Sun King. Not a twin as pop culture would like us to believe, but someone who might have had a claim to the throne. There is no actual proof of this union or the birth of a child between the two, so we will have to chalk this up as a possible nasty rumor.

In the 1800s, Count Ercole Antonio Mattioli was considered a likely prisoner candidate. He was a diplomat and minister of Ferdinand Charles, Duke of Mantua, whose task it was to quietly negotiate the treaty of 1678: surrendering the fortress of Casale in exchange for 100,000 écu. However, as soon as it was signed, he divulged its contents to several foreign courts. The Sun King became enraged and had him charged and held at Pinerolo (1679). Most sources agree that he died in the Îles Sainte-Marguerite in April 1694, so this theory is questionable.

Was there an iron mask?

Most likely not. Most historians agree that a mask was probable. But it was made of black velvet and only used when someone was in the cell. The idea of an iron mask has become popular in books and movies, but nothing points to its use.

What happened to the mysterious man?

Saint-Mars was reassigned to his newly appointed post as governor of the Bastille prison in Paris on September 18, 1698. The man in the mask was brought along for the ride. He was jailed in a pre-furnished solitary cell in the Bertaudière tower and only allowed one visitor a day- the second in charge who brought his meals.

The mysterious man died on November 19, 1703, and was buried the next day under the name of Marchioly, and his age was given as “about 45.” It is reported that all of the man’s furniture and clothing were destroyed, the walls of his cell scraped and whitewashed, and anything he possessed made of metal was melted down.

He was wiped from existence.


This is another mystery that we may never know the truth about. The Man in the Iron Mask did exist. He did live a solitary life for unknown reasons. And he died without a name.

Sad story… but one that will remain firmly in the grasp of intrigue and popularity.

What are your thoughts?

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