Who was the man behind the velvet mask?

The prisoner the Sun King dared not to kill.

60 years into the reign of Louis XIV’s reign, a mysterious man died in the Bastille. His face concealed from the world by a velvet mask, he had spent 34 years in prison.

For many years a man has lived, masked, in the Bastille and masked he has died. Two musketeers were always at his side to kill him if he unmasked. There must, no doubt, have been some reason for this, as otherwise he was very well treated, well lodged and given all he wanted. No one has ever been able to find out who he was.

-A letter written by a French princess to a friend at the English court, telling about the ‘ancient prisoner’.

In his book The Man in the Iron Mask, Alexandre Dumas changed the nature of the mask, and also popularized the idea that the unidentified prisoner was either King Louis himself or a twin brother!

But known facts have further stranger, more shocking implications.

The prisoner was arrested in the port city of Dunkirk in 1669. Since that moment, he was subjected to security precautions that can only be described as extraordinary. He was sent to the prison of Pigenerol, near Turin, then a part of France.

You are to threaten him with death if he ever opens his mouth to you on any subject other than his day-to-day needs.

-The instruction given to Monsieur St Mars, the governor at the time.

Whenever St Mars was transferred to another gaol (jail), his prisoner accompanied him, transported in a sedan chair sealed from curious eyes with wax paper. It has been suggested that he almost died of the heat.

In 1698, 29 years after the arrest, St Mars took over as the governor of the Bastille, and even then, was instructed to take all measures to keep the man’s face concealed to prevent recognition.

From this, it appears that the mask was a precaution, not a punishment. Yet, why would such a precaution be necessary when no one in the public eye was unaccounted for during this period. The answer to this may very well be that the prisoner bore a striking, similar resemblance to a very important person-and this could prove to be a major embarrassment.

Lord Quickswood, a statesman and scholar, put forth a statement which fits all other known facts. He claimed that the prisoner was none other than Louis XIV’s real father! And it wasn’t Louis XIII!

For 13 of their 22 years’ marriage, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria had no children. Cardinal Richelieu was at that time the effective ruler of France, and it was in his interests that the king should have an heir; who could also be controlled by Richelieu.

Cardinal Richelieu

For years the king and queen had lived apart. But Richelieu somehow managed to stage a formal reconciliation. And to the utter surprise of all France, the queen actually gave birth to a son in 1638.

But the royal couple had never had a child before, and cordially detested one another. So, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Richelieu persuaded the queen to allow some handsome young nobleman to sire the child in her husband’s stead. In Paris at the time there were many illegitimate sons of the promiscuous Henry of Navarre-all half-brothers of Louis XIII-so there would be no necessity at all to search outside the royal Bourbon blood. Richelieu might easily have found a personable and willing young Bourbon, and persuaded the queen there was no other way out of their dilemma.

During the boy’s childhood, it was said that the young Louis, active and strong, was unlike his father.

If the suggestion is true, then the real father would probably have been sent abroad-possibly to the French colony of Canada. Eventually he may have returned to France, thinking that the ordeal might have been forgotten-or at least hoping for a pension or other favors from his son, who was now the all-powerful Sun King.

The theory is that he resembled the king too closely, that his appearance would have been an embarrassment at court and could even pose a threat to the throne itself.

The obvious solution was to have him murdered, and conceal or destroy any traces or evidence. But this was out of the question for Louis, who even though not over-scrupulous, would still have balked at the sadistic prospect of killing his own father.

The alternative was totally fading into obscurity-a life that was comfortable yet utterly cut off from any human contact except that of his gaolers.

He died as he lived- faceless, nameless, and unknown. His anonymity preserved even to the grave. Like all who ended their lives in the Bastille, he was buried under a false name.

The man who may have been the Sun King’s father was listed on the records as:

Eustache Dauger, valet.

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