On 18 February 1639, was baptized Eustache, born on 30 August 1637, son of François Dauger, Master of Cavouet, Captain of the Musketeers of Monseigneur the Cardinal de Richelieu, and of Marie de Sérignan, living in rue des Bons Enfants.’ So reads the baptismal certificate of Eustache Dauger as it appeared in the parish register of the church of Saint-Eustache in Paris. The actual document no longer exists, but this extract was recorded in 1864 by Augustin Jal in his Dictionaire critique de biographie et d’histoire. In the orthographical disorder of the seventeenth century the name ‘Dauger’ could take on various other forms: ‘Daugier’, ‘Doger’, ‘Dogier’, ‘d’Auger’, ‘d’Augier’, ‘d’Oger’, ‘d’Ogier’, ‘Auger’, ‘Augier’, ‘Oger’, ‘Ogier’. Members of the same family, brothers and sisters as well as cousins, employed and accepted different spellings, but later documents reveal that Eustache himself preferred the form ‘Dauger’, as it appeared in his baptismal certificate. The name ‘Cavouet’ could also appear as ‘Cavois’ and ‘Cavoie’, but the only well-known member of the family, Eustache’s younger brother Louis, who was a lifelong friend of Louis XIV, came to be known under the form ‘Cavoye’, and so established that spelling over any other.

The family Dauger claimed descent from Oger the Dane, or more properly Hogier the Ardennois, whose chivalrous exploits as one of the twelve peers of Charlemagne were glorified in French medieval romance. In ancient playing cards Hogier was portrayed as the Knave of Spades; being the bad luck card and called in French the ‘Valet de Pique’, this would make a fitting ancestral portrait for the unfortunate man who lived out his life as the Iron Mask and who, though a prisoner of evident consequence, was described at the time of his arrest as ‘only a valet’. In the destiny of Eustache Dauger de Cavoye there was, it seems, as much irony as iron; by a curious turn of fate his grandfather Adrien Dauger de Cavoye was known in his lifetime as ‘Iron Arm’.

François, son of Adrien and father of Eustache, was a soldier of fortune, a swashbuckling character who came to Paris as a young man with nothing to his name except a reputation as a duellist. He had the good luck to be nominated Captain of the Cardinal’s Guard in 1630 and the glory to die a hero’s death in the King’s wars at Bapaume in 1641. His wife bore him eleven children, nine of whom survived childhood. The eldest was only fifteen when François died; Eustache was four, and there were four children younger than he was. But even with so many small children to raise, Madame de Cavoye’s situation was not desperate. She was lady-in-waiting to the Queen, Anne of Austria, and was favoured not only by her but also by Louis XIII and Richelieu. In March 1639 the King had granted her husband a monopoly on sedan-chairs, then recently introduced from England, and since the fashion for that mode of transport had caught on quickly, especially in Paris, it amounted to a significant revenue. As her children grew up, she was always able to afford the enormous sums of money necessary to furnish the boys with commissions and the girls with dowries.

There were six boys of whom Eustache was the third, but by the time he was seventeen both his older brothers had, like their father, been killed in action, and so he had become head of the family. At that stage he was already an ensign in the French guards, and four years later, when the war with Spain ended, he was a second-lieutenant. His comrades-in-arms were members of the most powerful families in the kingdom, heirs to the oldest names, the richest estates and the highest positions at court, while his field commander, the Comte de Guiche, who was one year younger than he was and his close friend, was the dazzling star of this young set: a romantic daredevil, handsome, wilful and debauched.

In April 1659, Eustache and Guiche were invited by the Duc de Vivonne to spend the Easter weekend with a small group of friends at the Château de Roissy-en-Brie. Another guest, Bertrand de Manicamp, travelled down with them from Paris and when they arrived on the evening of Maundy Thursday two other guests were already there: Mazarin’s nephew and heir, Philippe Mancini, and a young priest called Etienne Le Camus, who was one of the King’s chaplains. Seeing Guiche and his cronies arrive, Le Camus decided not to stay, retired at once to his room and left early the next morning. To take his place, Vivonne then invited Roger de Bussy-Rabutin, who though much older than the other guests could be relied upon to enjoy and enliven the party. How Eustache fitted into the group as a whole is not known. At least four of the company, Vivonne, Guiche, Mancini and Bussy-Rabutin, were intellectuals; at least three of them, Guiche, Mancini and Manicamp, were homosexuals; and at least two of them, Guiche and Bussy-Rabutin, were rakehell hooligans.

Bussy-Rabutin arrived at the gallop on Good Friday morning which, being the day of sorrow and desolation in the Church, of obligatory fasting and abstinence, was not on the face of it a very appropriate day to start a party. The company moreover was well aware of its religious duties and prepared to go to great pains to observe them, eating nothing until dinner-time and then making do with fish. Being men of wit, however, they saw no reason why they should not spend the whole day drinking and, ingenious as they were, the fish served up for dinner was actually pork, the precaution being taken beforehand of baptizing a pig and naming it ‘Carp’, thus making it ‘born again’ as fish. The party continued until Easter Sunday, and what exactly happened in that time is not known. Hearsay reports hinted at things too shocking to print and Madame de Motteville, who like Eustache’s mother was lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, maintained that ‘the profanation of Good Friday was the least of the impieties committed.’ They did things, she said, which were ‘unworthy not only of Christians but of sensible people’.

Unfortunately, the only detailed account of the events was given by Bussy-Rabutin who had every reason to tone them down. According to him, it was just an elegant debauch with nothing more to it than a little cynical fine wit and irreverent good fun. To build up an appetite for their Good Friday ‘fish’, everyone except Bussy-Rabutin spent the afternoon hunting, and Guiche accompanied by Manicamp managed to chase and bring to bay an old gentleman whom they saw riding by on the road to Paris. When their quarry explained that he was Cardinal Mazarin’s attorney, Guiche thought it excellent sport and dragged him by the scruff of his horse’s neck back to the house. Here he was made to down several bumpers of wine before being dumped back in the saddle and sent reeling on his way. Dinner was a riotous affair with everyone drunk, defaming women and the world in extempore verse sung to the tune of pascal hymns, and they were three hours at table before staggering off to bed. The next day, Holy Saturday, began with Bussy-Rabutin and Vivonne going to wake Guiche and finding Manicamp in bed with him; it continued with a morning-after change of air in the park, an afternoon-after exchange of witty persiflage in the house, and ended with a late-night dinner even wilder than the night before. The day after that, Easter Sunday, the party broke up.

In all probability it was a word from the old attorney which set Cardinal Mazarin about their ears. The King ordered an enquiry, but Mazarin chose to go ahead and make an example of his nephew Mancini. He disinherited him and in May sent the captain of his guard to arrest him and take him to the prison of Brisach in Alsace. Word got about that the party had been a veritable orgy of obscenity, blasphemy, violence and depravity. There were rumours of horrifying crimes. A man had been killed and his thigh eaten. The Holy Eucharist had been desecrated. Things had happened too terrible to talk about. In June, Bussy-Rabutin received a letter under the King’s seal commanding him to retire to his family seat in Burgundy; Vivonne was ordered to stay in Roissy; Guiche and Manicamp were banished to distant estates; and even Le Camus was deprived of his post and sent off to the provinces to do penance. Presumably Eustache was punished along with the others, but in effect there is no record of his disgrace beyond the fact that to distinguish him from his brothers he was commonly referred to thereafter as the ‘Cavoye of Roissy’. No doubt his mother’s feelings on the matter were similar to Cardinal Mazarin’s. She was certainly concerned to preserve the good name of her family and did continue on excellent terms with both the minister and with the Queen Mother. In July Mazarin wrote to assure her that ‘no one has told me the least thing that could harm you in my mind’, and in the following January the Queen Mother wrote to her personally inviting her to the South of France for the King’s wedding.

The disgrace was only temporary and none of the offenders had his future blighted by it, not even Mancini, who on the death of Mazarin in 1661 received as legacy the Duchy of Nevers which his uncle had bought in July 1659, even while he was languishing in Brisach. Eustache was allowed to become a full lieutenant in 1662, so by that time certaintly he was no longer under a cloud. Just three years after that, however, he was involved in a much more serious affair, described officially as an ‘unfortunate incident which happened to him at Saint-Germain’, as a result of which his career appears to have been wrecked. On this occasion he had only one companion with him, the young Duc de Foix, and the sole account of what happened appears in a private letter written by Foix’s friend the Duc d’Enghien on 19 June 1665. Enghien, son of the Prince de Condé, wrote regular letters full of court gossip to the Queen of Poland, to whom he was related by marriage and by whom he had been designated heir to the throne of Poland.

A rather disagreeable incident happened recently involving M. de Foix. As he was leaving the old castle of Saint-Germain, he met a drunken page who struck him with his stick as he went by M. de Foix cursed him, to which the page retorted and, it is even said, jabbed at his hand. M. de Foix lost his temper, drew his sword and gave the page five or six blow with the flat of it. A man named Cavoye also drew his sword and struck him too. The page, stung by the thrashing, hit back with his stick and even tried to throw it at Cavoye, who stabbed at him and killed him. The place where the business occurred makes it rather awkward. The King has ordered an enquiry and in the meantime has forbidden either of them to appear before him. I do not know if there will be any unpleasant consequences.

One may be sure that Enghien was merely repeating the version he got from Foix and as it is the story sounds suspiciously like a cover-up. As a page, the boy could not have been more than fourteen years old and, even supposing that he had been drunk, it is unlikely that armed with a simple stick he would have stayed to fight two full-grown men with drawn swords. Even if he had done so, however, it is unlikely that an officer of twenty-eight who was sober, defending himself against a boy with a stick who was drunk, could have unleashed that kind of sword-thrust by accident. If another version of the incident existed in which it was the officers who had been drunk and the boy who had been attacked by them, it would make more sense. In the event, Foix belonged to an influential family and the charge of murder was not brought; there remained, however, the added complication referred to by Enghien – the fact that the King was actually in the palace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye when the killing occurred. The two young men had thus desecrated a place sanctified by the King’s presence, and it was for this crime that they were eventually judged.

At the beginning of July, before Eustache’s fate had been decided, Madame de Cavoye took ill and died. The Saint-Germain affair may have contributed to her death, but it did not play a part in her last will and testament since that document had been drawn up fourteen months before. Already at that time she had made up her mind that Eustache was unworthy of the family inheritance. She left behind three sons, all officers in the Guards, and three daughters, two married and one in a convent. Eustache’s brothers were Armand, one year younger than he was, and Louis, two years younger. His married sisters were Henriette de Fabrègues, eleven years older than he was, and Anne de Clérac, three years younger. The will was read on 8 July and by it Madame de Cavoye bequeathed the family title and fortune to her youngest son, Louis. To her older sons she left 20,000 livres each, but attached to the will were 75 receipts for payments which she had made to cover debts amassed by Eustache; ‘for good reasons and considerations known to her’, she denied him access to the capital sum of his legacy, restricting his rights only to the interest. His inheritance thus amounted to ‘an annuity of 1,000 livres’ and this, it was specified, could only be used for ‘food and upkeep’.

Armand, who like Eustache had been passed over for Louis, was disposed to argue the terms of the will, but on 15 August Eustache signed his acceptance and with it an agreement whereby in return for another 1,000 livres per year, he surrendered to Louis some small estates which had come to him ten years before as titular head of the family. Grim as it was for Eustache to be disinherited and disentitled in favour of his younger brother, it was only part of his sudden ill fortune. By that time judgement had been given on the Saint-Germain affair and he had been obliged ‘by order of the King’ to resign and sell his commission in the Guards. Thus in August 1665 Eustache Dauger, the Cavoye of Roissy, was a virtual outcast with no position and no apparent future. What friends he had to turn to in his misfortune we do not know, but already in April of that year Guiche had been exiled to Holland for misbehaviour and Bussy-Rabutin had been sent to the Bastille for libel; some months later, in December of that same year, Foix died of smallpox.

In July 1666 one of the three Cavoye brothers was forbidden the King’s presence after a squabble with Lauzun, then known as the Marquis de Puyguilhem. Usually it is assumed that the Cavoye in question was Louis, though arguably it was Armand, and the fact that he had strong ties of friendship with Guiche suggests that it might even have been Eustache. The cause of the conflict was Guiche’s sister, the Princess de Monaco. Lauzun considered her to be his mistress and refused to accept that he did not have a monopoly on her favours. His jealousy even sparked a row with the King for which he spent four months in the Bastille. When he was released in December 1665 he seemed chastened, but in May 1666 he happened to be in a room where the Princess was sitting with other ladies on the floor and whether by accident or out of spite he stepped on her fingers. The Princess and her family were so sure that he had done it deliberately that the King had to intervene to protect him, even going so far as to send a personal message to Guiche in Holland, explaining that it was in his opinion a genuine accident. The Prince de Monaco, caught in a situation where there was little honour for him in any course of action, went to Holland to join Guiche; with him, he volunteered for active service with the Dutch fleet in the war against the English. While they were there, distinguishing themselves with acts of derring-do which made them the talk of the French court, their friend Cavoye harassed and baited Lauzun.

‘There was a quarrel yesterday between M. de Puyguilhem and a man named M. de Cavoye.’ So the Duc d’Enghien informed the Queen of Poland in a letter he wrote on 9 July 1666. ‘Puyguilhem is the same person whom Your Majesty heard about in the business over Madame de Monaco. I think Cavoye, who is one of her friends, wanted to make trouble with Puyguilhem in order to please her and give her revenge, so he pushed into him rather roughly. Puyguilhem was combing his hair at the time and when he felt himself being pushed he hit Cavoye in the face with his comb and knocked off his wig. All this happened very near to the King who dismissed Cavoye because he was the aggressor and also because he doesn’t have the same social rank as the other.’ Soon after this incident, we learn from another of Enghien’s letters, Cavoye, accompaned by the Chevalier de Lorraine, left France to join the Dutch fleet with Guiche and Monaco, and by August they too were distinguishing themselves with daredevil acts which filled the French court with admiration. Lorraine, like Guiche, was a brilliant and handsome young man, arrogant, dissolute and charming, made it was said ‘as one paints the angels’, a shameless womanizer and a notorious homosexual.

In August of the following year, Armand de Cavoye died, killed at the siege of Lille during the French invasion of Flanders. Ever since the death of Madame de Cavoye he had lived apart from his brothers, who whatever their differences had continued to share the same roof. The surviving brothers and sisters refused the inheritance because it seemed the dead man’s estate would not cover his debts, though as things turned out he had only two creditors, one of whom was his brother, Louis. Eustache, it soon appeared, was also in debt to Louis. The sale of his commission in 1665 would have brought him at least another 20,000 livres, which properly invested would have raised his income to 3,000 livres per year, but in all likelihood he dissipated the capital and continued to spend wildly even when that was gone. By January 1668 he owed Louis 1,400 livres and was obliged to sign over that amount from his future revenue. In financial matters within the family, Louis’ interests were always well cared for and the man he had to thank for that was his brother-in-law, Raymond de Clérac, who was the manager of his estate. According to Eustache, it was Clérac who was the author of all his woes.

In July 1668, just one year before the arrest of the Iron Mask, Louis went to prison for duelling and was kept behind bars for four years. A love affair, which he had been trying to start with a certain Sidonia de Courcelles, had turned into an affair of honour to be concluded with her husband. Louvois, who was also interested in the fair Sidonia, had then taken advantage of the quarrel to clear the field for himself. Both husband and lover were arrested and locked up in the Conciergerie. Duelling was a capital crime and so Louvois had every hope that the new situation would become permanent. However, the duellists were able to convince their judges that they had made up their differences without drawing swords, and two weeks later the Parlement ordered their release. Thwarted but not defeated, Louvois convinced the King that further investigation was necessary and continued detention advisable. Two years later the Parlement again sent an order to the Conciergerie authorizing the release of the two men, but by that time Louvois had moved them to the Bastille and the order was lost in the toils of bureaucracy. It was a further two years before Louis was released and by that time the fate of Eustache, locked up and forgotten, had long been sealed.

The writer who traced the prisoner named Eustache Dauger to Eustache Dauger de Cavoye was Maurice Duvivier, whose book on the Iron Mask was published in 1932. After searching the archives of the Cavoye family, Duvivier was able to establish that the last recorded reference to Eustache Dauger de Cavoye was January 1668, just eighteen months before the imprisonment of Eustache Dauger in Pignerol. What happened in the interval seemed anybody’s guess, but to Duvivier one thing was certain: the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Cavoye of Roissy in 1668 and the appearance of the Iron Mask in 1669 was one and the same. Duvivier was also sure that the key to this apparently insoluble mystery lay in the answer to another mystery. In his view the riddle of the Iron Mask involved two separate problems: firstly the reason why he was arrested and made a high-security prisoner in 1669; and secondly the reason why his name was suppressed and his imprisonment made top secret in 1680. To the mystery of 1680, Duvivier believed he knew the answer.

The event which caused the change in Eustache Dauger’s status as a prisoner was Fouquet’s death, reported by Saint-Mars on 23 March 1680. In the new instructions which Louvois sent on 8 April, Saint-Mars was told to clear the dead man’s room, and it was presumably while he was doing this that he discovered something of significance in the pockets of Fouquet’s clothes. What exactly it was, we do not know, but in a letter now lost which he wrote to Louvois on 4 May he gave the impression that he had found some papers. Louvois was not in Paris when the letter arrived. In his absence it was opened by one of his secretaries who informed the King and, at his command, wrote back to Saint-Mars on 16 May telling him to send the papers at once to Paris. Strange to say, Saint-Mars ignored this letter and made no further move until he received an answer from Louvois himself, written on 29 May, in which the minister naturally assumed that the papers in question were on their way. Even then Saint-Mars continued to prevaricate. Instead of obeying the order, he sent another letter and, though this too is now lost, the reply from Louvois, written on 22 June, makes it clear that there was a good deal more to the discovery than anyone in Paris had imagined. ‘With regard to the loose sheet which accompanied your letter of the 8th, you were wrong not to give me that information the very first day you knew about it. Furthermore, I beg you to send me in a packet what you found in the pockets of M. Fouquet so that I might present it to His Majesty.’ Evidently what Saint-Mars had found was not a bundle of papers at all, but an object of some kind, and he had wanted to prepare the minister for it before sending it to him.

Finally then, on 4 July, two months after his first report of the discovery and more than three months after the death of Fouquet, Saint-Mars sent what he had found in the dead man’s pockets. His accompanying letter is now lost, but not the reply from Louvois which was written on 10 July. ‘With your letter of the 4th of this month I received what was attached and I will make use of it as I should.’ Louvois then went on to speak of Dauger and La Rivière: ‘It will be enough to let the prisoners of the Lower Tower make their confessions once a year.’ Then of Matthioli: ‘As for Master Lestang I admire your patience, waiting for permission to treat a scoundrel as he deserves when he does not show you respect.’ Louvois dictated this to a clerk as was his usual practice and at this point, so far as the clerk was concerned, the letter ended. Before he signed and sealed what the clerk had written, however, Louvois added another paragraph in his own handwriting: ‘Tell me how the man named Eustache was able to do what you sent me, and where he was able to get the drugs he needed to do it. I hardly believe that you would have provided him with them.’

How to account for the odd behaviour of Saint-Mars, the strange reaction of Louvois? How to explain the cause of their secret concern, that mixture of drugs prepared by Dauger and found in the pocket of Fouquet after his death? Poison, says Duvivier. Dauger had poisoned Fouquet. Not only was Fouquet’s death unexpected, Duvivier reminds us, it was sudden. On 6 April La Gazette spoke of apoplexy, but Madame de Sévigné, writing to a friend on 3 April, was more specific; she said that he had suffered ‘convulsions and nausea without being able to vomit’. No one spoke of poison at the time, it is true, but even if his family had suspected it, there was little they could have done to prove it. Fouquet had been dead for three weeks before they were allowed to take his body away, and after that length of time an autopsy would have established nothing. At that stage, moreover, there appeared to be no motive for such a crime, and thus no suspect. It seemed that Fouquet’s one-time enemies had nothing to gain from having him killed. Indeed they had so little to gain from having him remain in prison that they were about to set him free.

To all appearances that was the situation in 1680, but in Duvivier’s view the realities of it were very different. Fouquet’s release was a political manoeuvre in a power struggle which had developed between two government factions, both formerly Fouquet’s enemies, one led by Colbert and the other by Louvois. It had been the intention of Louvois, Duvivier says, to bring Fouquet into his camp and push him to destroy Colbert just as Colbert had destroyed him; but Colbert, aware of the danger, had managed to have Fouquet assassinated before he could become a threat. The Cavoye family belonged to the Colbert faction, and it was on Colbert’s orders that Eustache killed Fouquet. Colbert had always been the protector of the Cavoyes. Madame de Cavoye towards the end of her life had even chosen to live in the rue Vivienne where Colbert and many of his relatives lived, and it was only in the character of things that Louvois should have excelled himself as the oppressor of Louis de Cavoye. As for Eustache, it is altogether possible that officially Colbert never knew that he was a prisoner at Pignerol. Indeed an examination of the papers relating to Dauger’s arrest give every reason to believe that he was deliberately kept from knowing.

These papers are three letters dated 19 July, one to Captain de Vauroy, the arresting officer, another to his superior, the governor of Dunkirk, and the other to Saint-Mars, all from Louvois, and two warrants dated 26 July, one for Dauger’s arrest addressed to Vauroy and the other for Dauger’s imprisonment addressed to Saint-Mars, both signed by the King and Michel Le Tellier, who was the father of Louvois and shared with him the post of Minister of War. It was normal procedure for all dispatches and documents to be recorded in a register which was confidential to the ministry of origin, and for all royal warrants to be recorded again in a Register of the King’s Orders, which was seen by all ministers and countersigned by at least one. The letters to Vauroy and the governor of Dunkirk were not recorded in the Ministry Register, and though the letter to Saint-Mars was recorded, the name Eustache Dauger, given in the letter, was omitted. The royal warrants were recorded in the Ministry Register, though there again Eustache Dauger’s name was omitted, but in the Register of the King’s Orders they were not recorded at all.

In all likelihood, Duvivier argues, the arrest of Eustache was concealed from Colbert and the reason for this was that he was a Cavoye. Presumably Colbert discovered the truth only because Lauzun, who also was a Colbert man, made a secret passage to Fouquet’s room and discovered Eustache there. Presumably too, it was Lauzun who, acting for Colbert, persuaded Eustache with promises of freedom and reward, to do the deed. At that date, the only human companionship Eustache had known in ten years of imprisonment had been with Fouquet, and yet he killed him. Whatever the motive, it was a monstrous act and could only have been carried out by a cold-blooded killer, who was already an expert in the use of poison. The man who was the Iron Mask, Duvivier concludes, was that kind of man.

In 1680 all Paris was talking of poison. A special tribunal, the Chambre Ardente, had been set up the year before to deal with a wave of suspected poisonings. In the course of the interrogations it had been revealed that an underworld traffic in poisons, in which people of the highest rank were implicated, had been in business for more than fifteen years. Duvivier, speculating that in the transcripts of this tribunal he might find some mention of Dauger, searched the government archives. Unfortunately the records are incomplete. Minutes were kept of 865 interrogations, but the King ordered a cover-up in the midst of the proceedings, dismissed the tribunal before its job was done and personally burned all documents which incriminated anyone intimately connected with himself. Duvivier nonetheless found something. In June 1679, during the final interrogation of a man called Belot, one of the King’s bodyguards, convicted as a poisoner and sentenced to be broken that day on the wheel, the name Auger was mentioned. The magistrate asked Belot about his relations with ‘Auger, the surgeon, who lived in the cour de Saint-Eloi’, and if it was ‘from Auger that he got the opium and other drugs he needed.’ Belot replied that he knew Auger, but had not received any drugs from him. He said that Auger’s mistress lived in the rue Soly above another convicted prisoner, La Cheron, who had been sentenced to the stake, and was the friend of yet another convicted prisoner, Duval, who was sentenced to the wheel. In the second phase of the interrogation, Belot was put to the torture and among other questions was asked ‘what he knew about Auger and what business they had together.’ In his agony he swore he knew nothing, and Auger’s name was not mentioned again.

At first sight, any possible link between Dauger, as the poisoner of Fouquet, and Auger, the surgeon suspected of trafficking in poison, appears slight. When Belot was questioned about Auger, Dauger had been in prison for ten years and there seems no reason to believe that Belot was talking about someone he had not seen for so long. Nevertheless, as Duvivier demonstrates, he was not talking about a relationship of yesterday. He was referring to a time when Auger’s mistress was living above La Cheron in the rue Soly, and yet when La Cheron was arrested in 1679 she was no longer living at that address. Duvivier also finds something of significance in the address Belot gives for Auger. La Cour de Saint-Eloi was the name of a villa in the village of Picpus on the outskirts of Paris and in the late 1660s this villa belonged to the Marquise de Brinvilliers, the most notorious poisoner of them all, brought to justice and executed three years before the tribunal was even set up. She had poisoned her father in 1666, killing him slowly over a period of eight months, having first tested the effects of her poisons upon sick people she visited in hospital. In 1670 she had gone on to poison her two brothers. If it was the late 1660s that Belot was talking about, then in addition to a possible link between Auger and Dauger, there was a definite link between Madame de Brinvilliers and Auger. Duvivier then squared his argument with evidence of a third link, one between Madame de Brinvilliers and Dauger. They were apparently related: a cousin of the Cavoye family was married to a cousin of Madame de Brinvilliers. At the time of her arrest Madame de Brinvilliers was carrying a written confession of all her crimes, including a list of sexual sins in which she specified an adulterous relationship with an unmarried cousin. The description is vague to say the least, but it would fit Dauger.

In February 1680, the interrogations of the poisoners had taken such a turn that it was necessary to enlarge the competence of the tribunal to deal with cases of sacrilege and profanation, witchcraft and devil-worship. In October, the Abbé Guiborg, sacristan of the church of Saint-Marcel, was questioned about a black mass he had said at the Palais Royal and in his reply he claimed that he had been engaged to do it by a surgeon. He did not know the name of this surgeon, but described him as ‘a tall well-made young man’, who had his practice in the Saint-Victor district and his home ‘with his brother in the suburb of Saint-Germain in a big street opposite the great gate of the Charity Hospital.’ In the following month a sorcerer named Le Sage was also asked about this particular mass. Although no record exists of what he said, La Reynie, the chief of police who conducted the interrogation, wrote to Louvois on 16 November to say that the mass had been said for ‘the late Madame and against Monsieur.’ The date of the mass was not reported, but it is possible to fix it with some certainty. By ‘the late Madame’ was meant Henrietta of England, the first wife of the King’s brother, and since she had died in June 1670 the mass had certainly taken place before that. What is more, the authorities clearly assumed that Le Sage knew all about the mass, though they were aware that he had been arrested in March 1668 and not set at liberty again until two years after Madame’s death. It may be safely assumed that the authorities would not have questioned him unless the mass had taken place before March 1668 when he was in a position to know about it, and it is known as a matter of fact that Eustache Dauger was still at large at that time.

In Duvivier’s view, of course, the unnamed surgeon who acted as go-between for Madame and Guiborg was the surgeon known to Belot as Auger and the prisoner known to us as Dauger. As evidence for this he turned once more to the address provided by the witness. The Charity Hospital was in the rue des Saints-Pères, and from early in 1668 Eustache Dauger had lived with his brother Louis in the rue de Bourbon which was a new street giving onto the rue des Saints-Pères. Neither the house-front nor the street-end was ‘opposite’ the gate of the hospital, it is true, but at that time the suburb of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was still predominantly open land with half-built streets and new mansions speading into the countryside. It is perfectly possible that a view from the house could have given the impression that it was ‘opposite’ the hospital. In support of Duvivier’s argument, it is also worth pointing out that most of the known companions of Eustache Dauger were part of the intimate circle of friends surrounding Monsieur and Madame: Guiche, Madame de Monaco, Manicamp, Foix, Mancini and, one might add, Lorraine. Monsieur had homosexual affairs with at least three of them: Guiche, Mancini and Lorraine; while Madame had a passionate heterosexual relationship with Guiche and a furtive homosexual liaison with Madame de Monaco.

When Le Sage was arrested in March 1668, it was with a partner in crime, the Abbé Mariette of the church of Saint-Severin, and they were brought to trial together at the Châtelet court on a charge of sorcery and sacrilege. Specifically they were accused of consecrating petitions and aphrodisiacs during holy mass, of making ritual conjurations and magical concoctions by the light of the moon, but both denied that they had done anything so serious. They said that a number of wealthy ladies had come to them, hoping by magic charms to increase their natural charms, and that they had exploited these women for money, giving them simple blessings or harmless powders. Among their clientèle had been several ladies of the court who had hoped with supernatural aid to win the King away from his then mistress, Louise de La Vallière, and according to Mariette these had included the Comtesse de Soissons, the Duchesse de Vivonne an the Marquise de Montespan. To allow the names of such illustrious ladies to be linked to such wretched proceedings, especially since the last-named appeared to have been successful in her endeavour, was a responsibility no judge would dare to assume, and as it was the presiding judges had even more pertinent reasons for curtailing the trial and hushing it up. The president of the Châtelet court was, by his wife, Mariette’s first cousin. He refused to delve any further into the matter or to make any pronouncement on Mariette and referred the case to the Tournelle court with the recommendation that Le Sage be condemned to the galleys.

Mariette’s cousin was not the only judge with a personal interest in the case. The president of the Tournelle court was, by a strange coincidence, the father of the Duchesse de Vivonne who, as it happens was married to the brother of the Marquise de Montespan. In the new interrogations, Mariette did not mention the names of these two distinguished ladies again, and it was presumably because he did not that he drew such a mild sentence: banishment for nine years, altered to confinement in the asylum of Saint-Lazare, from which as things turned out he was allowed to escape that same year. Unfortunately for Le Sage, the provisory sentence that he should spend the rest of his life as a galley-slave was upheld, but as later events proved he too had powerful friends behind the scenes. In May 1673, he was released from his galley at Genoa. On whose authority, no one could ever find out, not even La Reynie, who rearrested him in 1679 and ordered an investigation.

This cover-up of 1668 is all the more significant when one knows that the Comtesse de Soissons was later exposed as a poisoner and had to flee the country, and that both the Marquise de Montespan and the Duchesse de Vivonne were later proved to be Satanists. To preserve the love of the King, Madame de Montespan lay naked on an altar with a chalice on her belly while the Abbé Guiborg performed the rites of a black mass between her open legs, slitting a baby’s throat and mixing its blood with his semen. Madame de Vivonne did the same more than once in the hope of winning the King from Madame de Montespan and, when that proved ineffective, pledged her soul to the devil in a written contract. It was to hide such abominations that the King suppressed the tribunal in 1682 and burned all the incriminating documents. The truth only remains on record because, unknown to him, La Reynie kept private notes of some of the interrogations. It is difficult to establish exactly when it was that Madame de Montespan and Madame de Vivonne abandoned themselves to the horrors of the black mass. However, the fact remains that they were already involved with Le Sage before March 1668 and he was already involved with the Abbé Guiborg, who at that time was engaged by the mysterious surgeon to perform a black mass for Madame.

The final links in Duvivier’s chain of argument reach all the way back to the Roissy affair in 1659, the host of that notorious party being the Duc de Vivonne, brother of Madame de Montespan and husband of Madame de Vivonne. One might include here also the extra link that in 1673, at the time of Le Sage’s mysterious liberation at Genoa, Vivonne was Captain-General of the Galleys and acting Admiral of the Fleet. The Château de Roissy originally belonged to Madame de Vivonne’s father, the president of the Tournelle court in 1668, and it came to Vivonne in the dowry of his wife. In Duvivier’s view it was here, in the home of that woman who later sold her soul to the devil, that all Eustache Dauger’s problems originated. The house was evil and in that fateful Holy Week he too became evil. Whatever it was that horrified people about the party, ‘the profanation of Good Friday was the least of the impieties committed’, and Duvivier would have us believe that it was something much more serious than the baptism of a pig. The rôle played by Eustache in the party is not known, but that he took a key part in whatever crime was committed is demonstrated by the fact that the title of ‘Roissy’ was thereafter attached to his name. Significantly too the only other person who was unable to be rid of that title was the Abbé Le Camus, who later in life, as a prince of the Church, was called by his enemies the ‘Cardinal of Roissy’. Le Camus had not even stayed for the party and yet people assumed, for all his denials, that he had been there. From this, one might assume that, whatever the crime was, it required the participation of a priest, something which is unnecessary for the sacrament of baptism.

The priest who was there, Duvivier suggests, was very likely the parish priest of Roissy, and he was most certainly a sorcerer and a Satanist. The Abbé de Choisy, who was a contemporary of Dauger and the rest, included the following story about this priest in hisMémoires pour servir l’Historie de Louis XIV:

One of my friends, a Gascon, named Maniban de Ram … told me one day that the parish priest of Roissy had shown him visions in a glass: a young lady he knew in Toulouse who was weeping because he was far away. I laughed at his credulity, but he offered to let me witness it for myself, and I kept him to his word. He arranged a dinner-party at which the parish priest was to be the big attraction, and he invited some ladies who were curious. I arrived a quarter of an hour before dinner was served. I was announced and in I went. The sorcerer stiffened at the sight of me, I don’t know why, and said in a whisper to Maniban that he would do nothing so long as I was there. No amount of persuasion could change his mind. Maniban was finally obliged to tell me so and, not wishing to disappoint the ladies by depriving them of their entertainment, I left. The next day they assured me that they had seen the devil or something like.

And thus the last of Duvivier’s links falls into place, and his story of the Iron Mask is ready to be told.

The parish priest of Roissy is a sorcerer in league with the powers of darkness. Vivonne’s wife knows him well, and through her Vivonne comes to know him too. Vivonne is a man of reason and does not take the priest’s magic tricks seriously, but from time to time when he is staying at Roissy he invites him to entertain his friends. No doubt it is at one of these performances that Vivonne’s sister, Madame de Montespan, makes her first contact with black magic. In Holy Week 1659, Vivonne has some wild guests to amuse so he asks the priest to put on a special show. By the time the priest arrives, everyone is drunk and things get quickly out of hand. One of the guests is chosen by the priest to act a special rôle in the proceedings.

The guest chosen is one of Guiche’s homosexual friends, a young infantry officer called Eustache Dauger de Cavoye. He is already a bad lot and the experience makes him worse. In the years that follow, he gets mixed up with other Satanists, the most depraved and corrupt elements of society, and through them with the criminal underworld of Paris. His vicious life involves him in numerous crimes, but his family always manages to cover up for him, until in 1665 he surpasses himself: he and another homosexual friend rape and kill a pageboy in the grounds of the King’s palace. For this he is cashiered, and when his widowed mother dies of shame, he finds that she has disinherited him.

In his difficulties he turns to devil-worship for help and, when that fails to change his luck, to organized crime. With the contacts he has in the upper reaches of society, he is ideally placed to set up a secret traffic in magic and murder, supplying charms and potions, curses and spells, aphrodisiacs and poisons to the court. He can arrange anything from an abortion to a black mass, and among his clients he soon has several leading ladies of the court, including Madame herself. In the fashionable suburb of Saint-Germain he is Eustache Dauger de Cavoye, but in the teeming squalor of the Saint-Victor district he is Auger the surgeon, and no one suspects his double personality.

In 1668, however, someone informs on him. Two of his associates, Le Sage and Mariette, are taken in for questioning. They talk, and Madame de Vivonne is named. Her father, the judge, informs her and she passes on the word to Dauger. He decides to play safe and escapes to England. As it turns out, however, there are no more arrests. So far as he can gather, his accomplices are bribed not to speak and the investigation is closed. Knowing the two men as he does, he is nonetheless suspicious and it is more than a year before he thinks it safe to return. When he arrives in France, the police are waiting for him. His associates have betrayed him after all.

To his surprise, he is not interrogated. The King has given orders that under no circumstances is he to be allowed to talk about any dealings he may claim to have had with Madame, Louvois threatens him with death if he opens his mouth and then has him whisked off to Pignerol. His imprisonment is kept secret to avoid it becoming known to his brother, Louis, and to Colbert. It is only when Lauzun discovers him at Pignerol and passes the word secretly to some trustworthy visitor that Colbert learns the truth. By that time, with the Chambre Ardente in session, there is every reason to believe the allegations made years ago by Le Sage and Mariette about the abortions, black masses and poisonings which Dauger arranged for Madame and her friends. Colbert, realizing that Dauger is a monster, ready to commit any kind of crime, persuades him, with a promise of freedom, to murder Fouquet.

At first no one suspects that Fouquet has been poisoned. What concerns Louvois is the discovery that Lauzun has made contact with Dauger and has probably informed Colbert and the Cavoye family of his whereabouts. What concerns the King is the need to suppress all knowledge of his sister-in-law’s horrifying crimes, and his determination to do this is all the greater now that he knows, from the findings of the Chambre Ardente, that his mistress has been guilty of the same abominations. Dauger must be made to disappear without trace, and the stories he has told Lauzun made to appear without foundation. What better way to achieve this than to pretend that he has been released? It is not until three months after Fouquet’s death that Louvois realizes Dauger poisoned him. He suspects that it was at the instigation of Colbert, but there is little he can do to prove that to the King. As for Dauger, the King’s orders are formal: his identity must be kept secret so long as Lauzun and Louis de Cavoye are alive, and as events turn out they both outlive him.

Dauger’s special case as an anonymous prisoner is due to the fact that he is a Cavoye, but his fate as a prisoner for life would be the same even if he had no family trying to protect him. Riff-raff involved in the same appalling crimes, vermin like Le Sage and Guiborg, suffer no worse a fate. If the law were allowed to take its course, they would end their vile lives on the scaffold, burned alive or broken on the wheel for devil-worship and murder; but their denunciations of ladies so intimately related to the King can never be made public. Their trials are simply not allowed to take place, and to assure their silence they are, like Dauger, forbidden to speak under pain of death and locked up for the rest of their lives.

However plausible Duvivier’s story might seem, the fact that Dauger was a Cavoye is not in itself enough to explain why the King kept his imprisonment secret and forced him to wear a mask outside his prison cell. Whether or not he was all that Duvivier accuses him of being, ‘sodomite and Satanist, cut-throat and poisoner’, his family knew better than anyone that he was a reprobate who, like as not, was destined one day for the galleys or the scaffold. It is not in the least likely that Louis de Cavoye or anyone else would have questioned the King’s reasons for locking him up. On the contrary, one has the impression that Louis de Cavoye would have been only too glad to see the last of his worthless, thriftless brother, especially since it meant 2,000 livres less per year to pay out from the estate.

To explain the mask, Duvivier’s readers felt the need for another reason, and the first to propose one was Rupert Furneaux in his book The Man Behind The Mask, published in 1954. His theory was an old one, the most famous of them all, but in its application it was quite new. ‘Purely as a surmise, it may be suggested that Eustache Dauger de Cavoye was masked because he resembled Louis XIV, whether or not this was the reason why he was first sent to Pignerol,’ although the idea ‘that he may even have impersonated him and was in consequence sent to Pignerol may be put forward as a guess.’ Apart from the legend that the Iron Mask was the King’s double, there is no reason to imagine that Eustache Dauger looked like him, but ‘according to Saint-Simon,’ Furneaux claimed, ‘contemporaries remarked on the resemblance of his brother Louis to the King.’ This is an overstatement. In fact Saint-Simon made no mention of any physical resemblance. He merely remarked that Louis de Cavoye ‘had excellent taste and in that resembled the King.’ As it happens, a portrait of Louis de Cavoye, brought to light by Adrien Huguet, whose book Le Marquis de Cavoye was published in 1920, does suggest some similarity of appearance, though nothing more than one might expect to find in the portrait of a courtier who sought to ape his master. However and in any case, even if Louis de Cavoye did resemble Louis XIV, there is certainly no reason to assume that therefore his brother Eustache resembled him too.

Having hunted thus far, Furneaux abandoned the chase with a wild throw which even he recognized to be wide of the mark. He suggested that Eustache Dauger was the child of an adulterous affair between Madame de Cavoye and Louis XIII, and thus the illegitimate half-brother of Louis XIV. This of course takes no account of the fact that Madame de Cavoye was known to be the most faithful of wives and Louis XIII the most chaste of men, more likely to be suspected of impotence than of promiscuity. Nor does it take into account firstly the fact that to make sense of the resemblance, not only Eustache but also Louis de Cavoye would need to have been fathered in this way; and secondly the fact that after the example of his father, Henri IV (a precedent which Louis XIV was later to follow), Louis XIII could be confident that the illegitimate children of kings were an altogether acceptable feature of court life at the time.

In 1974, Marie-Madeleine Mast, in her book Le Masque de fer, took up the theory where Furneaux left off, arguing that the unfaithful wife was Anne of Austria and her paramour was the prolific François Dauger de Cavoye, father of eleven children by his own wife. Eustache was still the half-brother of Louis XIV, therefore, and still his spit and image, but this time it was Louis XIV who was illegitimate, the son of the Queen but not of the King.1 Mast builds her theory on the curious circumstances surrounding the conception of Louis XIV. It was François Dauger, she maintains, the father of Eustache and Louis, who in 1637 was chosen to impregnate the Queen on command; the extraordinary rise to favour of the Cavoye family, which dates from soon after the birth of Louis XIV, was due entirely to this. From 1638 onwards the fortune of the family grew unchecked, reaching an importance out of all proportion to their station or ability, and though under the influence of Mazarin the Queen cast off all her old favourites, she continued throughout her life to protect Madame de Cavoye. Louis XIV showed the same special affection all his life for Louis de Cavoye, something which courtiers of higher birth and greater talent could never understand.

In August 1637, Anne of Austria was found guilty of treason and placed under house arrest at the Louvre. A miracle was needed if she was to save herself from repudiation and this occurred when a storm obliged the King to spend one night in her bed. According to Mast no other miracle was necessary. As a consequence of that night she became pregnant, gave birth to a son and was saved, but there was nothing miraculous about the actual conception. As captain of Richelieu’s guard, François Dauger de Cavoye had access to the Louvre whenever he wished; as husband of the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, he could be persuaded to doff more than his hat in the Queen’s service; and as father already of seven children he could be counted on to serve her effectively in what it was she required of him. It was when Eustache Dauger discovered the true nature of his father’s glory and sought to use it to his own advantage that he was arrested and imprisoned. The secret which Dauger could not be allowed to disclose, Mast would have us believe, was that Louis XIV was not the son of Louis XIII and that therefore his claim to the throne was spurious. Whether anyone would have believed Dauger even if he had disclosed this secret is another matter.

From Duvivier’s apparent discovery in 1932 that the prisoner was Eustache de Cavoye to Mast’s conclusion in 1974 that François de Cavoye was the father of Louis XIV, passing by way of Furneaux’s theory in 1954 that Eustache de Cavoye and Louis XIV were look-alikes, much ground had been covered, but even before the publication of Furneaux’s book the line of investigation opened up by Duvivier had been proved wrong. Since the publication of his book no less than three documents had come to light demonstrating that Eustache Dauger and Eustache Dauger de Cavoye were not after all the same man. The coincidence of the names was extraordinary, but it was only a coincidence. At the beginning of 1668, Eustache Dauger de Cavoye had been locked up at the request of his own family in the asylum of Saint-Lazare and there, in spite of his appeals, he had been made to remain until his death sometime between 1680 and 1689.

Two of these documents were letters written by Eustache Dauger de Cavoye himself, and they were both published in 1953 in an article by Georges Mongrédien which appeared in the Revue XVIIe Si cle. The first, dated 20 June 1678, was addressed to Eustache’s eldest sister, the Marquise de Fabrègues.

My Dear Sister, If you only knew how I suffer, I have no doubt at all that you would do your utmost to get me out of the cruel persecution and captivity in which I have been kept under a pretext for more than ten years by the tyranny of my brother M. de Cavoy. He deprived me of my freedom, the sole possession I had after he tricked me into making over my estate to him, and now he would have me die insane so that he might freely enjoy the possessions he so cunningly took from me. I beseech you, dear sister, for the love of Jesus Christ, do not abandon me in this state, with the salvation of my soul in jeopardy, for I will never make my confession so long as I am here, unable as I am to forget the cruel treatment I receive every day from the most ungrateful of men who listens only to the malicious counsel of Clérac, who is the author of all my woes. Let yourself be touched, dear sister, by the prayers of a poor unfortunate who drags out a miserable existence which without your pity will soon end. If you refuse me this grace you will have to answer for the salvation of my soul before God and you will have reason to regret that you did not help a brother who had no one to turn to but you. If you have in you the goodness to help me then I beg you to do all that you judge necessary for my liberty and for my affairs even if it means approaching the King. Hoping for this favour, I am, with all my heart, yours, Eustache de Cavoy. This twentieth of June 1678.

Eustache makes no mention here of where he was imprisoned, but the second letter, a petition to the King written a year later, states quite clearly that he was in Saint-Lazare and had been there all along.

To the King. Sire, Cavoy who has been detained under a royal warrant in the prison of Saint-Lazare for eleven and a half years begs Your Majesty most humbly to do him the grace of hearing his just complaints against the Master of Cavoy, his brother. Having tricked me into making over my entire estate to him in return for a very modest pension, he made Your Majesty believe that I was leading a disreputable life in Paris and that I was causing him shame by my misconduct. This apparently was the pretext he used to impose upon Your Majesty’s good faith, if indeed he ever did address himself to Your Majesty to ask for such a warrant. I cannot believe that he did so, because fair-minded as you are, Sir, you would not without a hearing have wished to help a younger brother imprison his elder brother when he had just signed over to him all his property. Such an extraordinary proceeding will surely win the compassion of Your Majesty who has always been the refuge of oppressed innocence. I hope so and all the more so since I have no protection other than your justice to turn to. As long as my brother, who was killed at the siege of Lille, was alive, no one ever dared to restrict my liberty. His death was the beginning of my troubles and gave the opportunity to the Master of Cavoy to sell all the lands and all the property which were set aside to ensure my pension and which belonged to me by right as the eldest of the house. Do me the grace, Sire, to examine the causes of so long and so unjust a detention, and if Your Majesty does not care to look into the matter himself I beg him most humbly to refer me to my proper judges or to the heads of my family that they might decide whether I deserve so cruel a treatment. Have the kindness, Sire, to revoke the warrant against me so that I might at least enjoy freedom as the sole possession left to me. Here I am barely furnished with the necessities of life and am denied those comforts which might lessen the sorrows and the pains which I have borne for so long and which have weakened my health and exhausted my spirit to such an extent that I have scarcely more strength than I need to conjure Your Majesty in the name of Jesus Christ to make them end. Upon that hope all my faith is set, trusting in the justice of my cause and still more in the justice of Your Majesty, and continuing my wishes and prayers for the prosperity of Your Majesty in arms and for the preservation of His Sacred Person and of all the Royal Family, Cavoy.

The third document, published as early as 1938 in an article by Antoine Adam which appeared in the Revue d’Histoire de la Philosophie, was a funeral ode written for Eustache by another inmate of Saint-Lazare, the Comte de Brienne. The poem is not dated, but it was written in a notebook filled with verse which Brienne completed in February 1689. Brienne was a poor poet, but he was not a madman. During his detention at Saint-Lazare, which lasted from 1674 to 1692, the Abbé de Choisy used to visit him regularly to get material for his Mémoires pour servir à l’Histoire de Louis XIV. He was a man of exceptional gifts and education, shabbily treated by the King and his own family. As the eldest son of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, he had received his father’s charge in reversion only to have it taken from him a few months after he succeeded to the post. He was two years older than Eustache and knew the Cavoyes well. He had been present at the brawl which took place between Lauzun and one of the Cavoyes in 1666 and had lifted his cloak to hide the squabblers from the King. His elegy leaves no doubt about the fate of Eustache Dauger de Cavoye. Imprisoned by his brother and his brother-in-law, ignored by his sister and by the King, he had lived out his life with lunatics and outcasts and had drunk himself to death.

Here in this coffin at Saint-Lazare lies

Cavoye, whose saint’s name was Eustache,

An intransigent gent overcome by drink

And death, which took him by surprise.

Indolent, surly, disorderly, grim,

He was the genuine tortoise-type,

But he stuck his neck out for another drink

And apoplexy poleaxed him.

So handsome he looked in his dirty white dress.

Pity he never would listen to me.

If he had, at least he’d have lived to die

A natural death nonetheless.

Since the publication of these three documents, die-hard supporters of the Cavoye theory have done their utmost to invalidate them, claiming that Brienne’s poem must have been a forgery and that Cavoye’s letters must have been written not from Saint-Lazare but from Pignerol. However, a fourth document, as yet unpublished, which was brought to the author’s attention by Stanislas Brugnon, establishes the authenticity of the three published documents as incontrovertible. This final piece of evidence is a letter signed by Louis XIV himself which can be consulted in the register of the King’s Orders in the National Archives in Paris. The document reads as follows:

Letter from the King to the General Superior of the House of Saint-Lazare. In the name of the King. Dearly Beloved, We are writing this letter to tell you that it is our intention that M. de Cavoye should have communication with no one at all, not even with his sister, unless in your presence or in the presence of one of the priests of the mission designated by you for that purpose. Let this be done without fail. For such is our desire. Given at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the 17th day of the month of August 1678. Signed ‘Louis’ and ‘Colbert’.


1.   not the king: in 1987, thirteen years after Madame Mast’s book appeared in French, this same theory appeared in English in a book by Harry Thompson.

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