Leonardo DiCaprio as King Louis XIV in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

“Over 14,000 costume changes was done and at times DiCaprio felt insecure about the way he looked. Co-star Gabriel Bryne explains to David Letterman on Late Night, "The first day we had to get into costumes, he (DiCaprio) called me over onto the set and asked, ‘Gabriel, do I look like an idiot?’ I said, 'Leo, every woman in the entire universe is madly in love with you. Why would you look like an idiot?’ He then counters with, 'Well, I just looked at you and you look like an idiot!’”


Leonardo DiCaprio as Philippe in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

“Acting in the iron mask definitely feels claustrophobic, and within ten minutes of being in there, I could almost bash my head against the wall in frustration. It must become like part of your own body after a while. I got a sense of it. I wore it around for a while and it just becomes a part of you.”

The Man in the Iron Mask

The Man in the Iron Mask is a name given to a prisoner arrested as Eustache Dauger in 1669. He was held in the custody of the same jailer for 34 years. His identity has been thoroughly discussed because no one ever saw his face, which was hidden by a mask of either black velvet cloth or iron. What facts are known about this prisoner are based mainly on correspondence between his jailer and his superiors in Paris.

The first surviving records of the masked prisoner are from July 1669, when Louis XIV’s minister sent a letter to the governor of the prison of Pignerol informing him that a prisoner named Eustache Dauger was due to arrive in the next month or so. Historians have noted that the name Eustache Dauger was written in a different handwriting than the rest of the text, suggesting that while a clerk wrote the letter under dictation, a third party, very likely the minister himself, added the name afterwards.

The governor was instructed to prepare a cell with multiple doors, one closing upon the other, to prevent anyone from the outside listening in. The governor himself was to see Dauger only once a day in order to provide food and whatever else he needed. Dauger was also to be told that if he spoke of anything other than his immediate needs he would be killed. According to many versions of this legend, the prisoner wore the mask at all times. 

The prison at Pignerol was used for men who were considered an embarrassment to the state and usually held only a handful of prisoners at a time, some of which were important and wealthy and granted servants. One prisoner, Nicolas Fouquet’s valet was often ill and so permission was given for Dauger to serve Fouquet on the condition that he never met with anyone else. The fact that Dauger served as a valet is an important one for whilst Fouquet was never expected to be released, other prisoners were, and might have spread word of Dauger’s existence. 

In time the governor was offered positions at other prisons and each time he moved Dauger went with him until he died in 1703 and was buried under the name of Marchioly. Though she may merely have been repeating rumours In 1711, King Louis’s sister-in-law stated in a letter that the prisoner had “two musketeers at his side to kill him if he removed his mask”. 

In 1771, Voltaire claimed that the prisoner was the older, illegitimate brother of Louis XIV but other theories include that he was a Marshal of France; Richard Cromwell; or François, Duke of Beaufort; an illegitimate son of Charles II, amongst others.


July 14th 1789: Storming of the Bastille

On this day in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress in Paris. This event came towards the beginning of the French Revolution which led to the toppling of the monarchy and execution of King Louis XVI. The dramatic events at the Bastille were precipitated by the King’s refusal to approve the reorganisation of the Estates-General, a general assembly designed to represent the clergy, the nobles and the common people. In response to fears of a counter-attack by the King’s forces, revolutionaries planed to seize the weapons in the Bastille. The prison was lightly guarded and the revolutionaries were able to force their way through and the ensuing violence led to the surrender of the defenders. The Bastille was where the French monarchy held their opponents, including figures like the mysterious ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ from 1670 to 1703, and so the mob also released the seven prisoners held there. The Bastille had represented ironclad royal authority and its fall was a major turning point in the revolution. After the Bastille the revolution escalated, with the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and abolition of feudalism in August. A republic was declared in 1792 and the King was beheaded in January of the next year. For its prominent role in the French Revolution, this day is commemorated in France as a public holiday, Bastille Day.

“Is this a revolt?”
“No Majesty, this is a revolution
- supposed conversation between Louis XVI and adviser Duc de Liancourt after the storming of the Bastille