The Devils Valet


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He would have seen the face, the weapon, and the name of Hogier the Dane practically every day of his life. In French, the Knave or Jack, the third-ranking picture card in a suit of cards, is called the Valet.


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A homophonic heterograph is a pun that makes a link between two words that sound the same but are written differently, in this case, Dauger and Hogier. Before even getting that far with this particular pun though, you have to know another connection that is not a sound-alike set of words but which is a set of interchangeable words: valet and Hogier. One of the valets in a deck of cards is customarily Hogier.

There are historical precedents for the use of this word as an insult. One reads in Dr.

We have then, in the pun, three passages: Dauger is Hogier; Hogier is a Valet in a deck of cards; to be a valet of someone is humiliating. Both Saint-Mars and Louvois lived in sections of society where card playing was popular, so both men knew that Hogier le Danois was a Valet and both would enjoy having that connection turned into a laugh by Dauger being verbally dressed as valet.

Writers, poets, bon vivants , and an occasional deep thinker came together at the homes of hostesses at regular moments in the week to talk, but more than that, to talk cleverly using historical, mythological, and literary allusions to describe current society matters, preferably current amorous endeavors by members of the society in the house or outside of the house.

To belong to salon society, one was expected occasionally to launch a bon mot for the group.

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Saint-Mars knew nothing of the salons other than that they existed, but Louvois had social connections that required him to be a player in these word games:. In a highly conversational and aristocratic milieu their object was to distinguish themselves where possible by originality of thought or expression. It was given to only a few, such as Voiture, to achieve originality of thought, and the others, wisely, concentrated on the art of rendering their ideas more striking by the piquancy of their vocabulary or by the ingenious construction of their phrases Maland So let us not give credit to Louvois for originality; these plays on words were all the rage in his social circle; he was merely following fashion by inserting clever, hidden messages into communications with friends.

His play on words juggles Dauger, Hogier, and the miscreant, imaginary valet. It is a beautiful pun. Unfortunately for Louvois, it is this stunning joke which may prove to be the critical weakness in the sturdy barriers the regime built to hide Eustache Dauger that scholars need to make progress in solving the mystery of the man that Louvois was charged with keeping anonymous and hidden.

But there is more historical content in this joke. The married marquis de Louvois, in , the year previous to his 19 July letter, had been attempting to have an affair with a young, beautiful, rich, married girl named Marie Sidonie de Lenoncourt, marquise de Courcelles — His efforts to experience double adultery had not been successful, however.

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Dueling was illegal, and both duelists were arrested in the first week of July and taken to the Conciergerie to serve sentences Pougin In January , six months later, Marie Sidonie appeared to be pregnant. She was taken into custody and gave birth on 5 July to a child that soon died. Cavoye had gotten what Louvois had not, Louvois found an excuse to put him in prison, and did so.

It would not be unusual in those circumstances for Louvois to have been pleased with his consolation prizes, the incarceration of his rival and the downfall of the girl who had spurned him. These events had been taking place a few months before and even one week before 19 July , when Louvois wrote the letter to Saint-Mars in which he called the prisoner Eustache Dauger a valet.

We are grateful to previous researchers for highlighting the different spellings of Dauger. First of all, a pun like this one is impossible to understand when one does not have the requisite knowledge of the compared items. We are not accustomed to a family name being interchangeably spelled with a buffet of choices.

Our playing cards are no longer labeled with the names of knights, kings, queens, and famous royal mistresses who lived in myth, ancient history, or distant history. The design of playing cards is not where scholars would expect to find hard historical data. Seasoned Mask researchers, locked on to facts about prison cell construction and the swollen list of Mask might-have-beens, have not placed enough emphasis on interdisciplinary studies.

They have not asked art historians to join their search. Art historians have the plaintexts for these codes.

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Researchers using any language but French have been at a disadvantage. In old English, German, Spanish, and Italian playing cards that follow the tradition of using names of famous people on the picture cards, the historical figures might not be French kings, queens, and heroes, so Hogier the Dane would possibly not appear on cards in non-French card decks, again limiting the number of people who might have understood the joke. If Louvois had known how important this prisoner was to Louis XIV, he would never have dared to joke about him in a written document using a reference to his own failed lechery.

He was a young man, just taking on the weight of his position after being tutored by his father, Michel Le Tellier, his predecessor, for many years. By this bravado, we have been given information about a very mysterious prisoner for whom the official, royal directive was that we should know absolutely nothing. The larger picture becomes clear. Louvois was making a joke about someone he knew and hated, not about Eustache Dauger, a man it appears he did not know. And in the beginning there was no reason for Louvois or anyone else to spend two minutes wondering who Eustache Dauger was.

There were secret arrests of boring evildoers all the time. Louvois, at this starting line, did not foresee the long race he would run with this particular prisoner, nor the gravity of the case that would gradually be revealed to him. He had been ordered to take care of this fiddling matter by his master, and, as always, he scrambled to obey.

Louis XIV therefore gave this name to Louvois when he asked his minister to instruct the governor of Pignerol to prepare a cell. He would have given the new prisoner a false name. The joke was born out of a naturally occurring conflation of names, which was the pattern of salon jokes. The subject material had to be a real artifact picked out of the actions or names of others and then appended to another action or event that showed the opinion of the author.

Making up the root of the joke would have been cheating. He used the name the king gave him. Fourth, we see that Louis XIV had a secret that he wished to hide from everyone else, including his closest advisors.

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The solution to the valet problem intensifies that point, which has been made by many writers. It begins to appear that Louis XIV did not tell any of the operatives who captured and incarcerated Eustache Dauger anything at all about the man they arrested and supervised. If Louvois was not told who the prisoner was, or at least was not told enough to keep him from being surly and personal in an official communication, then not one of his subordinates knew. At first Saint-Mars was curious. His pride in the fables he was telling people about Dauger attests to that.

But instinctively we feel that this braggadocio came from his own lack of knowledge. Was Louvois curious? He could still have been a valet without Louvois knowing it. Previously, it was probable enough that he was a valet that all authors on the subject have examined this description at length and many of the most erudite have formed their theories based on the valet. Now we see that Eustache Dauger was as likely a valet as he was a shoemaker or a bureaucrat.

We now have no hint as to what his former occupation was and we never really did. If there is a broad lesson for historical studies in this matter, it is that an interdisciplinary approach to a tough problem is likely to lead to success. It has also required a generous amount of skepticism about previous strategies and assumptions.

They have been aware of M.


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But many who have read his July 19, letter to Saint Mars have credited him with honesty and candor in it. With that credit in place, the problem was not solved. Jean Markale comes to a conclusion that deeds were done in this matter that is unpleasant to look at:. Que de cachotteries! Markale Que de temps perdu! Que de patience! Iung Email Newsletter.

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