“The Man in the Iron Mask is anything but an ordinary character”

“No one knows who he is. It is forbidden to say his name and orders to kill him when he utters it”. Published in 1687, the year of his imprisonment in the royal fort on Île Sainte-Marguerite, a Jansenist gazette set the tone for a mystery that remained for centuries. Who is the Man in the Iron Mask and why does he have to undergo this treatment? Specialists are misguided in their predictions. And many theories have emerged. Christophe Roustan Delatour, art historian, deputy director of the museums of Cannes, including the sea that houses the former cell of this famous prisoner opposite the Croisette, took over the business from the beginning. And he gave his version.

This graduate of the Ecole du Louvre has just been published The Iron Mask, a state secret revealed (ed. Favre, 552 p., €27), a wonderful book investigates the traces of this man whose links with the King of the Sun are, according to him, no longer in doubt.

There are a whole bunch of stories, movies… Everything seems to have been said. How did you get the idea to write a new book on the subject?

Because of my work, I have been going to the former state prison, built especially for Iron Mask on Sainte-Marguerite Island, outside Cannes, for several years. I spent some time in his cell. It allows me to understand things, to immerse myself in places. And then, I had a revelation while preparing an exhibition on the subject [« L’homme au Masque de fer, un secret d’Etat », en 2019].

According to the dominant thesis circulating for thirty years among historians, and even the general public, that of Jean-Christian Petitfils, the Iron Mask was in fact an ordinary prisoner. A valet, no doubt imprisoned because of what he learns of a secret, used with the instrument, is turned into a fairground beast by his captor, Monsieur de Saint-Mars. In the end, it will be the personal delirium of someone who wants to attract attention by developing a legendary character. That’s the theory, a pretense. So move on, nothing to see. Everyone is trying to understand and no one is finding the key. So, in the 20th century, in the midst of postmodernism, we said to ourselves: “well, well, after all, if we don’t understand, it’s because nobody understands”. But all that doesn’t fit what I observed on the site. A prison was built at the king’s expense. There’s no point in building a royal fortress for an average character. He is quite the opposite. And by immersing myself in the documents of that time, I had confirmation: nobody supported Petitfils’ thesis. So I decided to start all the resources from scratch. I know we don’t have a written document that formally testifies to anything at the end of the story. If it existed, it was removed long ago. But as in a criminal trial, what we want is an intimate conviction.

So you thought of the book as an investigation…

Yes, and it is built in three parts. At first, we set things. We retrace the entire career of a prisoner from the beginning to his death in the Bastille. All facts, all documents are cited and referenced. The second part is a thematic treatment: the prison, the constructed prison, the mask as an object. And thirdly, I invite the reader to dive deep, like Alice in the cave, into the thesis I have developed. And I warn you that I will begin to develop a story. Who is iron mask? Who was he before he was arrested?

In the royal fort on Île Sainte-Marguerite, the 30m2 cell built for the Man in the Iron Mask is protected by an airlock equipped with two heavy doors – F. Binacchi / ANP / 20 Minutes

You bring new information. How is this possible after many years and books on the subject?

Because we are constantly looking for new sources, new archival documents. In the book, I bring 45 revelations, sometimes small details but also stronger things, that help fill the puzzle, by giving important information like connections between people for example.

One of them is about an iron mask discovered in Langres…

Yes, and who could be THE iron mask. It is in my opinion a unique piece, a true masterpiece in terms of its refinement and quality of execution. We were lucky enough to have it on loan during the 2019 exhibition and when I spoke about it to metallurgists from a professional high school in Cannes, they told me: “we don’t know how to do that.” . It was found with a small inscription, which no longer exists, but pointed directly in the direction of the Iron Mask. What I also discovered was a direct lead between this mask and the jailer, Monsieur de Saint-Mars. On his death, the latter bequeathed his property to the father of one of his children who both died. And this man and all his descendants live in Langres.

You are investigating connections to Louis XIV…

We realize that the one pulling the strings is the Sun King. Everything comes from him. And, where I am proud of the book, is because I think I was the first to reveal the false leads, the decoys sent by the latter to divert attention, to make Iron Mask look different, to confuse. .

All for a good reason, because the Iron Mask is really exceptional?

Yes, for me it is a personal affair, a family affair. I wrote from the beginning that Iron Mask is called Eustache Dauger. A document tells us. I evacuated all other possible candidates. But who is he? The question is whether this man could be the same person as another Eustache Dauger, Eustache Dauger de Cavoye. We have two names and finally a whole bundle of clues that prove it. And here we are not dealing with any provincial squire. He was a childhood friend of Louis XIV, raised by Louis XIV, whose own brother was a close friend of Louis XIV throughout his life. Finally, Eustache Dauger could be the king’s half-brother, which would then not be the son of Louis XIII and that would justify many things. The mask? Maybe there is an awkward resemblance. And more importantly, why not just delete it? It would have been easy. All you have to do is put it on hard bread for a while, and it’s done. Why are we risking keeping this man? Why wasn’t it removed from the beginning and why is it a valued treatment? This plot was finally mounted to hide the bastardy of Louis XIV.

Can we imagine, one day, obtaining a formal proof of this theory?

We can scientifically confirm this through DNA. But for that, resources will be needed. And above all look for the DNA. We know where the remains of the Iron Mask are. But it’s not easy. He’s somewhere in the catacombs, with 6 million other corpses. Now, it seems complicated. But in twenty years, we don’t know.

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