L’Homme au Masque de Fer (The Man in the Iron Mask) is the name given to a prisoner arrested in c. 1669, and condemned to the cruel fate of having his head clamped within an iron mask, or so the story goes. 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.
Records of the Prisoner
Much of what we know about Eustache Dauger comes from the correspondence between his jailer, Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, and his superiors in Paris, so there is very little information about him prior to his prison time, such as the circumstances of his arrest, and how came to be wearing the mask. Incidentally, there is no historical evidence to suggest that the mask was made out of anything but black velvet. It is believed that it was only later that stories came to refer to an iron mask.
The earliest record of the masked prisoner dates to 1669 AD and was a letter sent from the Marquis de Louvois, King Louis XIV’s minister, to Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, governor of the Pignerol prison in Pinerolo, Piedmont, then part of France. In his letter, Louvois informed Saint-Mars that a prisoner named Eustache Dauger was due to arrive in the next month or so (late August of that year).