Claude Du Vall (aka Du Val, Duval or Duvall) was a gallant and courteous rogue, probably the most dashing highwayman ever to haunt the roads of England. He was known as a “true gentleman of the road” and “an eternal feather in the cap of highway gentility.”
He was born the son of a miller in Normandy in 1643. By the age of fourteen he was working as a stable-boy in Rouen, where he was hired by a group of English royalists to tend their horses, and when Charles II was restored to the throne, Duval returned to England as a footman to a nobleman. He had evidently learned gentlemen’s manners along the way and by 1666 he was mentioned by name as a highwayman. He was fashionably dressed and gallant, loved by ladies of all classes, and never used violence on his victims. His haunts included the northern approaches to London, especially Holloway, between Islington and Highgate.
The most famous episode of Duval’s career was written by William Pope in 1670, shortly after his execution. According to Pope, Duval held up a coach with a nobleman and his lady. Seeing they were about to be captured, and determined not to appear afraid, the lady took out a flageolet and played. Duval thereupon took out one of his own and played as well. He commented to the noble that his wife played extremely well, and would, no doubt, dance just as well, and asked her to dance. They danced on the heath and when they were done Duval escorted her back to the coach. There he remarked that her husband had neglected to pay for the music, and stole four hundred pounds from him. And alternate version of the story relates simply that he stopped a woman’s coach on Hounslow Heath in which there was a booty of four hundred pounds but only took one hundred, allowing “the fair owner to ransom the rest by dancing a coranto with him on the Heath”. On another occasion, Duval robbed Squire Roper, Master of the Royal Buckhounds, of 50 guineas and tied him hand and foot to a tree.
He became the hero of legends and romance, and various biographers have described him as an alchemist, an expert card player and gambler. Certainly his short life was one of wine, women, song and thievery. He was captured at Mother Maberley’s tavern, the Hole-in-the-Wall, in Chandos Street when he was drunk and sent to Newgate, where he was tried by Judge Sir William Morton. Despite frantic efforts by the ladies of the Court, and even Charles II himself, Sir William refused to change the sentence of death. The King wished to give a reprieve, but Morton was adamant, and backed by the Judge’s threat of resignation, the King gave way. Duval was hanged at Tyburn on 21 January 1670, aged twenty-seven. He faced his end bravely. His hanging at Tyburn was the scene of much loud lamentation from the sympathetic crowd in attendance, which allegedly included several ladies of quality wearing masks.
His body was cut down and taken to the Tangier Tavern in St. Giles for a lying-in-state before a grand funeral at St. Paul’s. He is said to have been buried beneath the central aisle, with the following epitaph:
Here lies Du Vall, Reader, 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.