Most people know the story of the Man in the Iron Mask from the 1998 film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio, while bookworms will recall him as a prominent character in a novel by Three Musketeers author Alexandre Dumas.
However, not realize that this mysterious character was based upon a real person. For centuries, his identity has been shrouded in mystery… until now.
The legend of the Man in the Iron Mask—an unidentified prisoner who spent three decades behind bars, allegedly while wearing a mask of cloth or iron—has enchanted historians for nearly 350 years.
We’re talking about the other Man in the Iron Mask.
Now, there’s a chance that the man’s identity has finally been revealed. University of California history professor Paul Sonnino details his findings in his new book, The Search For The Man In The Iron Mask: A Historical Detective Story.
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We know that this masked prisoner was arrested in 1669 or 1670 and kept in several of France’s jails, including the Bastille, for about 34 years until his passing in 1703. We’re not sure why he wore a mask throughout his imprisonment, and according to Sonnino, his identity was shrouded in intrigue because of it.
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The man’s story was most popularized in the 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Randall Wallace.
Novelist Alexandre Dumas and the great philosopher Voltaire both wrote of the mystery, suggesting that the elusive figure’s true identity was that of Louis XIV’s twin brother. Still, this theory has been debunked by historians.
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“They [historians] 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,” said Sonnino 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.”
Sonnino’s research lead him to the discovery that Dauger served as a valet for the treasurer of Cardinal Mazarin, who was a principal minister of France during Louie XIV’s early life. According to Sonnino, Mazarin suddenly became rich, leading his valet to suspect that the money was stolen.
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“What I was able to determine was that Mazarin had ripped off some of his huge fortune from the previous king and queen of England,” says Sonnino. “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 says that many historians “insist on making it antiseptic, moralistic, sensible,” which is why the identity has remained a secret for so long.
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“Life does not make sense,” Sonnino says. “Humans are much more complicated than that.”
It’s fascinating that after so many years of being a mere legend, we now have the answer to this historical question. Maybe next we’ll find out just what the heck is going on with the Bermuda Triangle… oh wait, we already have!
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