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The Search for the Man in the Iron MaskThe Search for the Man in the Iron Mask

A Historical Detective Story

Paul Sonnino

Narrated by Michael C. Jones

Available from Audible

Book published by Rowman & Littlefield

The Search for the Man in the Iron Mask triumphantly solves an enduring puzzle that has stumped historians for centuries and seduced novelists and filmmakers to this day. Who was the man who was rumored to have been kept in prison and treated royally during much of the reign of Louis XIV while being forced to wear an iron mask? Could he possibly have been the twin brother of the Sun King? Like every other serious scholar, intrepid historian Paul Sonnino discounts this theory, instead taking the reader along on his adventures to uncover the truth behind this ancient enigma. Exploring the hidden, squalid side of the lavish court of France, the author uncovers the full spectrum of French society, from humble servants to wealthy merchants to kings and queens. All had self-interested reasons to hold their secrets close until one humble valet named Eustache Dauger was arrested and jailed for decades, simply because he knew too much and opened his mouth at the wrong time. Presenting his dramatic solution to the mystery, Sonnino convincingly shows that no one will be able to tell the story of the man in the iron mask without taking into account the staggering array of evidence he has uncovered over the course of decades.

Paul Sonnino is professor of history at the University of California Santa Barbara. His books include Louis XIV’s View of the Papacy: 16611667, Louis XIV: Mémoires for the Instruction of the Dauphin, Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War, and Mazarin’s Quest: The Congress of Westphalia and the Coming of the Fronde.


“Spurred by a decades-long interest, Sonnino delves through well-combed and newly released documents in this attempt to identify the Bastille’s infamous prisoner: the Man in the Iron Mask. Voltaire speculated about him and Alexandre Dumas immortalized him, yet the uncertainty surrounding the identity of the man veiled in black velvet continues to enthrall conspiracy theorists and historical detectives three centuries after his death. With a conversational tone and well-chosen excerpts, Sonnino patiently suggests potential candidates and exposes the flaws in his own early theories as well as those of others, before settling on the figure of Eustache Dauger, a loose-tongued valet who was privy to substantial secrets. Sonnino’s work sheds light on the desperation of ousted English Queen Henrietta Maria and quite intentionally focuses on the influential French Cardinal Mazarin—to conceal Mazarin’s corruption and protect other powerful figures, a particular prisoner remained hidden, his identity scrubbed from documents and his face veiled for the rest of his life. Dauger retains some of his mystery because of a dearth of surviving personal information, but Sonnino’s search allows readers to participate in the fun of unmasking a legendary figure from the era of the Sun King and The Three Musketeers. ”

Publishers Weekly

“Sonnino is allergic to unsubstantiated assertions and trusts only the historical record. From an impressive range of published and, particularly, archival sources he unearths and marshals facts which point to a lesser personage, someone who moved in high society but was not of it, who would not be missed, probably a valet. He is left with Eustache Dauger, who served Cardinal Mazarin, Fouquet and other notables who had roles in political life and fingers in secret pies. Dauger has been named before, but Sonnino gives the most convincing answer yet to the obvious question: why would Louis take so much trouble to lock up a menial? His answer is that Dauger knew that much of the fortune left by Mazarin which passed to Louis consisted of jewels and paintings acquired at loan-shark prices from Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s widow. If that, together with what he had overheard of the King’s lust to acquire the Spanish Netherlands, were to be revealed, Louis’s policies abroad and good name at home would be in ruins. Sonnino commends his theory because it is backed by the best available evidence. But he also concedes with wry good humour that his man Dauger could be eliminated at any time by the discovery of a vital new piece of information. But until that diary entry or letter turns up, his careful detective work has delivered a most seductive solution to the historical mystery of the man behind the mask.”

Times Literary Supplement

“The mere mention of the man in the iron mask brings to mind Alexandre Dumas’ final installment of his Three Musketeers saga and its numerous movie adaptations. It is exciting to contemplate. Who was the Bastille’s most famous prisoner, this man with his face obscured by an iron mask, and what did he do to deserve such a fate? Sonnino’s slim but thoroughly researched book proposes an answer to this mystery. Sonnino spends a fair amount of time dispelling the long-held theories on who the prisoner might have been. All of the tantalizing suspects are out. The captive was not the son of Oliver Cromwell, nor the love child of Anne of Austria, or the twin of Louis XIV. The man turns out to be a valet named Eustache Dauger who knew too much and revealed his secrets to the wrong people. The book really picks up when Sonnino finally gets to Dauger and the conspiracy he found himself a part of. This book will appeal to scholars and researchers.”

Historical Novel Society

“In The Search for the Man in the Iron Mask, Paul Sonnino applies his consummate knowledge of the diplomatic and administrative records of the seventeenth-century French monarchy to a mystery dating from 1669: the identity of a prisoner held by the royal government in the utmost secrecy.... This is a fascinating book of great erudition that is written with considerable wit, and it will be of much interest to specialists in early modern French history. Indeed, Sonnino offers a model of careful historical research incorporating all of the major Parisian archives and libraries, a host of French departmental and municipal archives, and manuscript repositories in eight countries outside of France. Sonnino’s search for the man in the iron mask may prove to be the definitive statement on the identity of that mysterious prisoner.”

H-France Review

“Sonnino ... has used his sources to assemble a highly plausible hypothesis, one which throws down an imposing challenge to historians seeking to advance different candidates or alternative motives for the imprisonment.... Offering an impressive, detailed overview of the murky politics of the years surrounding Mazarin’s death and the arrest and trial of Fouquet, Sonnino leaves no doubt that lots of people had lots to hide, and that the man in the iron mask had stumbled into a political swamp which seeped through the government and court, reaching the crown itself. ”

French History

“I've always been a fan of the Man in the Iron Mask history and mythology. Sonnino's take is an interesting angle to take into account. One thing is for sure is that he's done some serious homework....I really enjoyed the devious history that surrounded the wealth and royalty of the time that Sonnio did well to detail and include in his story. Sonnio weaves a creative story from beginning to end with a Tudors kind of reality drama. I requested the book expecting a sort of story tale but got a history lesson instead however it didn't prevent me from enjoying it.”

Krissy's Bookshelf Reviews

“Many books have been written about the man in the iron mask, but historians have never agreed on his identity. Paul Sonnino, French historian and professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, may have solved the mystery. In this book, he thoroughly makes a case for who is and who is not the man in the iron mask....Often when I read a historical book about a period unfamiliar to me, I have trouble keeping all the characters straight. I find myself backtracking and going back to the supplemental lists and charts to remind me who is who. I did not have that difficulty with The Search for the Man in the Iron Mask. Sonnino writes very clearly and is easy to follow. He is not merely spouting facts at the reader, but he injects the narrative with humor and personality (often complaining about the heat and weather he encountered in France on his many research adventures). The writing is also very descriptive. One passage, regarding Louis XIV’s serious illness and treatment (or mistreatment) by his doctors, made me want to get down on my knees and thank God for modern medicine....[T]hose who love history and have read or seen any fictional portrayals of the man in the iron mask, will enjoy it. I recommend it to all French or European history buffs. ”

A Southern Girl Reads

“The identity behind the iron mask is one of the most thrilling and mysterious puzzles in the history of France. Who was the man imprisoned in the royal jails under the reign of Louis XIV who had to wear a mask up to the time of his death? Nearly fifty hypotheses have been proposed by historians, novelists, and filmmakers alike. Paul Sonnino, a renowned authority on the ‘Grand Siècle,’ knows virtually everything about the actors and events of the French court and government during that period, especially in the time of Cardinal Mazarin. Who better than he to solve the grand mystery?”

—Bernard Barbiche, École Nationale des Chartes, Pari

“Paul Sonnino is one of the great French historians, and the man in the iron mask is one of the great French stories. With painstaking research and the precision of a master, Sonnino cracks the mystery of the true story behind Alexandre Dumas’s famed legend and in the process tells a great story himself. It’s not only an excellent read, it’s a window into the “Great Century” of Louis XIII and XIV, how French society worked, and how a tale of kings and queens evolved into one of the most famous modern adventure stories.”

— Jacob Soll, University of Southern California

“Paul Sonnino offers an extraordinary inquiry through the lens of Louis XIV’s political world and French society of the time. By mastering a huge array of primary sources in numerous archives, this remarkable historian succeeds in combining his imaginative mind with his rigorous expertise.”

—Lucien Bély, Université Paris-Sorbonne

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