Claude Du Vall (or Duval) (1643 – 21 January 1670) was a French highwayman in Restoration England. He came from a family of decayed nobility, and worked in the service of exiled royalists who returned to England under King Charles II. Little else is known of his history. According to popular legend, he abhorred violence, showing courtesy to his victims and chivalry to their womenfolk, thus spawning the myth of the romantic highwayman, as taken up by many novelists and playwrights.
Claude Du Val
William Powell Frith's 1860 painting, Claude Duvall
|Died||January 21, 1670 (aged 26–27)|
|Resting place||St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, England|
|Other names||Claude Duvall|
|Known for||He was a French-born, gentleman highwayman in post-Restoration Britain|
Claude Duvall was born in Domfront, Orne, Normandy in 1643 to a noble family stripped of title and land. His origin and parentage are in dispute. He did, however, have a brother, Daniel DuVal. At the age of 14 he was sent to Paris where he worked as a domestic servant. He later became a stable boy for a group of English royalists and moved to England in the time of the English Restoration as a footman of the Duke of Richmond (possibly a relation) and rented a house in Wokingham.
The legend goes that before long, Duval became a successful highwayman who robbed the passing stagecoaches on the roads to London, especially Holloway between Highgate and Islington and, that unlike most other highwaymen, he distinguished himself with rather gentlemanly behaviour and fashionable clothes. However, there is no valid historical source for this assertion.
He reputedly never used violence. One of his victims was Squire Roper, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, whom he relieved of 50 guineas and tied to a tree.
There are many tales about Duval. A particularly famous one — placed in more than one location and later published by William Pope — claims that he took only a part of his potential loot from a gentleman, when the man's wife agreed to dance the "courante" with him in the wayside, a scene immortalised by William Powell Frith in his 1860 painting Claude Duval.
If his intention was to deter pursuit by his non-threatening behaviour, he did not totally succeed. After the authorities promised a large reward, he fled to France for some time but returned a few months later. Shortly afterwards, he is said to have been arrested in the Hole-in-the-Wall tavern in London's Chandos Street, Covent Garden. However, there is no record of this in valid historical sources.
On 17 January 1670, judge Sir William Morton found him guilty of six robberies (others remained unproven) and sentenced him to death. Despite many attempts to intercede, the king did not pardon him and he was executed on 21 January at Tyburn. When his body was cut down and exhibited in Tangier Tavern, it drew a large crowd. It is traditionally thought Du Val was buried under the centre aisle of the church of St Paul's, Covent Garden; the parish register notes the burial of a "Peter Duval" in January 1670.
A memorial at the church reads:
- Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,
- Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
- Much havoc has he made of both; for all
- Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall
- The second Conqueror of the Norman race,
- Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.
- Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,
- Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.
Recent historians have reappraised the legacy of Duval. James Sharpe in Dick Turpin regarded Duval as the most significant figure in the shaping of the highwayman myth. John and Philip Sugden's The Thief of Hearts reconstructs what is known of the historical Duval, using much fresh evidence, and shows that the traditions about the Frenchman were used by such literary luminaries as Samuel Butler (A Pindarick Ode), John Gay (The Beggar's Opera) and William Harrison Ainsworth (Rookwood and Talbot Harland) to create the iconic image of the gentleman highwayman still beloved today.
- A 2005 Travel Channel Haunted Hotels documentary on hauntings claims that Claude Duval's ghost presently haunts the tavern wherein he was arrested before being condemned to death. This same documentary also claims several people were murdered by Duval, despite scant evidence.
- A comic opera called Claude Duval was written in 1881 by Edward Solomon and Henry Pottinger Stephens and enjoyed success both in Britain and in America.
- In Mary Hooper's book The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose, Duval is said to be a friend of Nell Gwyn and is credited with saving King Charles II of England's life.
- "As he reached this spot, a man started from the obscurity, and requested with the politeness of a Claude Duval to know the time." From Mountains and Molehills; or, Recollections of a Burnt Journal, 1855, by Francis Samuel Marryat, (1826–1855).
- A public house in the town of Camberley in Surrey is named in his honour.
- He was the subject of London Dungeon exhibition in May 2015.
- Is a subject in the podcast radio-play Adventures of Sage & Savant Episode 206
- Michelle Lowe's novel, Cherished Thief, published in 2012, depicts Claude De Vall entire life story.
Sugden, John. 'The Merry Dance of the Highwayman', History Today, March 2017, vol. 67, no. 3, pp. 48–52.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Duval, Claude.|
- Indepth story of Claude Duvall's life with images
- Duval in Stand and Deliver
- Highwaymen at Historic UK
- Short radio episode Every Man A Rogue mentions "the politeness of a Claude Duval." California Legacy Project.