The Gallant Claude Duval from Episode 206

Claude Duval was a French-born, gentleman highwayman in post-Restoration Britain whose gallantry made him infamous. History suggests he is the most signiicant figure in shaping the highwayman myth. He certainly has been the role model for numerous Hollywood movies and the gallant, gentleman thief.

Historical Representation of Claude DuvalClaude was born in Domfront, Orne, Normandy in 1643 to a noble family, but stripped of title and land. He became a successful highwayman who robbed the stagecoaches along the roads to London, especially Holloway between Highgate and Islington. – Wikipedia

By 14 Claude was charming, well put together and sharp as a knife. He went to Rouen to seek his fortune and soon endeared himself to a group of English m’lords on their way to Paris for some fun. In Paris the Englishmen hired grand rooms in Faubourg St Germain. Claude was kept busy running errands to the tavern, cook shop, gaming house and to the silky apartments of a particularly welcoming sort of Parisienne lady. It was an education of sorts.

At that time Paris was full of wealthy English aristocrats avoiding tedious Oliver Cromwell and his puritan ways. When Charles II returned a monarchy to England in 1660 they all zoomed back to support him. Claude, 17 and now well practised in the courtly ways of his masters went too, as footman to Charles Stewart, 3rd Duke of Richmond. All went very well until, rumour has it, Claude made rather too good an impression on his lord’s future wife. It is certainly true he left the Duke’s employ very suddenly under something of a cloud.

So in 1667 Claude found himself in London age just 24 with nothing but some cast-off Paris clothes, quite a good horse that may not have been his, a little cash and a very sexy French accent. He was from Domfront, he could work with that. For a while some questionable gambling kept Claude going, apparently he was very good at maths which helped. But Claude was ambitious for more. So, Claude became a highwayman. – from Duvall, The Dandy Highwayman From Domfront

On 17 January 1670, judge Sir William Morton found him guilty of six robberies 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.

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. – from Wikipedia

The story of the knight and his lady told in the episode can be found at Claude Duval – The Gallant Highwayman.

Claude even has a memorial in St Paul’s, Covent Garden where he is buried.

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.

While there are no reports of using violence in his robbing of passing stagecoaches, he did tie a young Squire Roper to a tree.

More stories from Duvall, The Dandy Highwayman From Domfront

Aaah but he was lovely to the babe
Another time the gang took everything from a coachload of ladies foolish enough to travel without protection. A baby girl with them started to yell as a ruffian grabbed her silver teething ring. Gallant Claude demanded the trinket be returned and threatening to shoot his fellow rogue saying;

“Sirrah can’t you behave like a gentleman and raise a contribution without stripping people? But perhaps you had occasion for the sucking bottle yourself, for by your actions one would imagine you were hardly weaned.” Touché Claude!

The teething ring was returned and another fine tale lit up the drawing rooms of London.

Not everyone is a fan – Squire Roper is robbed
One day in Windsor forest Squire Roper, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, was robbed of 50 guineas then tied hand and foot to a tree with his horse left tethered next to him. It was some hours before the huntsmen could find their master.

Back in Windsor, Sir Stephen Fox, unaware of Squire Roper’s troubles met them and asked if he ‘had any sport’.

A livid Squire Roper replied:

“Yes, Sir, I have had sport enough from a son of a whore, who made me pay damned dear for it. He bound me neck and heels, contrary to my desire, and then took fifty guineas from me, to pay him for his labour, which I had much rather he had omitted.”

M. Claude Duvall CV and Personal Statement

Brilliant with horses. Fine shot. Good at gaming, drunkenness and general debauchery. Extensive experience with the laydeez.

Claude started out in Holloway, between Highgate and Islington on the main road out of London to the north. Pickings were rich as he used his courtly manners and intimidating gang of fellow thieves to avoid violent confrontation.

Soon something odd began to happen. Banter in ballrooms, whispers at weddings, chats at church…. noble ladies were talking about a highwayman near Highgate and they were not complaining…

They told of a well dressed Frenchman who never forgot to bow to a lady before smoothly removing shiny jewels from her pampered neck. Who kissed their hands as he removed their rings. He never bruised a cheek, just made them blush as he flattered their figures and robbed their husbands; “Those eyes of yours, madam, have undone me” … “I am captivated with that pretty good-natured smile.”…

Claude Duvall had found his calling and it made him a star.

Aaah but he was lovely to the babe
Another time the gang took everything from a coachload of ladies foolish enough to travel without protection. A baby girl with them started to yell as a ruffian grabbed her silver teething ring. Gallant Claude demanded the trinket be returned and threatening to shoot his fellow rogue saying;

“Sirrah can’t you behave like a gentleman and raise a contribution without stripping people? But perhaps you had occasion for the sucking bottle yourself, for by your actions one would imagine you were hardly weaned.” Touché Claude!

The teething ring was returned and another fine tale lit up the drawing rooms of London.

Not everyone is a fan – Squire Roper is robbed
One day in Windsor forest Squire Roper, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, was robbed of 50 guineas then tied hand and foot to a tree with his horse left tethered next to him. It was some hours before the huntsmen could find their master.

Back in Windsor, Sir Stephen Fox, unaware of Squire Roper’s troubles met them and asked if he ‘had any sport’.

A livid Squire Roper replied:

“Yes, Sir, I have had sport enough from a son of a whore, who made me pay damned dear for it. He bound me neck and heels, contrary to my desire, and then took fifty guineas from me, to pay him for his labour, which I had much rather he had omitted.”

Claude Duvall was beginning to annoy too many of the wrong people.

A huge reward was announced for the capture of this fetching but fraudulent Frenchman. The London Gazette described him as “The most wanted Highwaymen in England”. Claude decided it was time for a visit home.

Back in France, Claude flashed the cash and boasted about his own allure; apparently no English man or woman could resist him. As long as Claude was paying his Paris friends found it all very interesting. But soon Claude found himself suffering from his old disease, shortage of funds. The French custom for travelling in large groups with little money was unhelpful. He went back to England and its profitable highways.

In the end it was the drink that did for Claude Duvall from Domfront.

Someone, probably a pale Englishman cuckolded by this foreign scoundrel, told the Bailiff and his men that Claude could be found in the Mother Maberley’s tavern, the Hole in the Wall Inn in London’s Chandos Street.

They found him around Christmastime cheerfully drunk and unable to defend himself with any of his three pistols, sword and assortment of knives. Without spilling a drop of blood Claude Duvall, the gentleman highwayman, was captured and committed to Newgate prison.

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