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Stand and Deliver!  the dandy highwayman

…He continued his highway robbery, but he made two bad blunders-not from the point of view of a thief, but from that of the gentleman in him. The first was when he stopped an opulent looking chariot, which he found to contain two ladies, their maid and their jewels… and he had hastily retired after tendering a naive apology…[1]

The dandy highwayman. Image source: Adam and the Ants, Stand and Deliver, 1981. CBS Records

Taken from the Queen of Regency romance novels, Georgette Heyer, ‘The Black Moth’, the novel tells of the English Lord Jack Carstares who is forced to become a highwayman after taking the blame for a cheating scandal a few years before in order to save the life of his younger brother, Richard. As you would expect from this type of novel which is not exactly a gritty factual account of the period (although personally I don’t care as I adore Heyer) her portrayal of a highwayman follows the romantic image. He is handsome, noble and courageous, fallen on hard times through no fault of his own and even though forced to lead a life of crime behaves gallantly towards women. Although real life highwaymen were miles away from Heyer’s Carstares, the idea of the courteous masked man of the road did have its roots in stories of real flesh and blood highwaymen.

The First Gentleman Highwayman

One of which is Claude Duval. Duval’s memoirs were written by William Pope whilst Duval was imprisoned at Newgate. It is largely thanks to Pope’s (at worst fictional and at best embellished) biographical account that Duval has been turned into a folkloric legend. Duval in turn has paved the way for all future depictions of the chivalrous highwayman.

The Early Years

Normandy in the 17th Century. Image source: public domain[?]

Duval was born in Domfront in Normandy in 1643 to a respectable but poor family. His father Pierre earned his living as a miller whilst his mother, Marguerite was the daughter of a tailor. Pope refutes an idea that must have been circling at the time that Duval was actually English and had been born in Bishopsgate, London. His reason is completely irrational but at the same time rather revealing “If he had not been a Frenchman, ‘tis absolutely impossible that he should have been so much beloved in his life, and lamented at his death by the English ladies[2]. Obviously the French were considered to be much more skilful and successful in the art of love and seduction than Englishmen! Duval’s life seems to have been the stuff of prophesy. Pope recounts a story that tells of a friar who seems to have been struck by this ability when looking at the young Duval. The friar predicted that Duval would be a traveller when he was older, would never be short of money and would be successful with women above his station[3]. His parents were as you would expect delighted with the news although the friar either did not see the whole picture or purposely held back some salient details as to how Duval would achieve his fame and fortune. Possibly for the best!

A Parisian Education

The Rakes Progress by William Hogarth.  Image source: public domain.

In his early teens Duval left Domfront to travel to Paris and make his fortune. He seems to have fallen into the employment of a group of English Cavaliers who had followed the exiled Charles II to France. Duval settled in the St Germain district of Paris and spent his time running errands for the Englishmen and working at a place called St Esprit, which was a cross between a tavern, an ale house, a cook shop and a brothel. It was here that he probably learned the ways of the world and became a connoisseur of women as well as dabbling in a little stealing on the side. On Charles II’s restoration to the British throne in 1660, Duval accompanied the returning Englishmen to England working in either the stables or as a page boy in the household of Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond[4].

A knight of the road

Claude Duval, theatrical lithograph from 1850. Image source: public domain.

Duval only worked for the Duke for a short time before he was dismissed. It was rumoured that he may have got a bit carried away with his master’s fiancée or she with him[5]. He was said to have rented a house in Wokingham and continued to live the high life, but being overly fond of women, drinking and gambling plays havoc with your finances especially if you don’t have much to start with. Duval finding himself financially embarrassed seems to have decided to turn to a life of crime. He was obviously good at it as he somehow became the leader of a gang of notorious highwaymen. As a highwayman Duval seems to have found his purpose in life, choosing a lifestyle which brought him the fame, fortune and women which he craved. He revelled in being an infamous highwayman preferring to operate on the roads to London where the richest picking could be found. In particular the area of Holloway between Highgate and Islington became his patch and despite his genteel manners he had no qualms about living a life of crime and debauchery. He was also clever enough to be in control of his own publicity carving his image as a debonair and courteous highwayman.

 “Yes Sir. I have had sport enough from a son of a whore…”[6]

He also wanted it to be known that he abhorred the use of violence. This must have been from a sense of fun and theatrics rather than from any practical reason as you would hang just the same whether you killed a man or not. An example often given is of Squire Roper, the Master of the Royal Buckhounds from whom he stole 50 guineas and left tied to a tree[7]. Squire Roper was not amused and complained bitterly about the way he had been treated. This was in sharp contrast to the well-heeled ladies who tried their hardest to be robbed by Duval!

A musical interlude involving a flute and a coranto

The most famous episode from his life and which has been romanticised to such a degree that it probably has squeezed any truth from it is the account of Duval holding up a carriage in Hampstead Heath (or possibly Bagshot Heath in Surrey according to some reports). On seeing the carriage appear he made the standard call ‘Stand and Deliver’. Inside the carriage were a beautiful young lady and her older husband. Determined not to be seen as frightened and impressed with the handsome face of the highwayman she suddenly produced a flageolet which she just happened to have on her (why springs to mind – did she expect to be held up or did she always carry musical instruments on her person in case the need might arise for a tune?) and started playing. As you would expect of a highwayman along with his pistols and sword he also carried a flute and in response started to play as well. Duval then asked the musical lady whether she could dance as well as she played. She accepted his invitation and with I guess music being played by one of Duval’s equally versatile men, the lady and the highwayman danced a coranto under a moonlit sky. Duval showed his skill and grace by out dancing all but the greatest of French dancing master despite wearing rather restrictive riding boots[8].

The lady’s husband naturally a bit miffed at this point strongly suggested that his wife get back into the carriage. As the husband started to give orders to drive off Duval politely reminded him that he had to pay for his evening’s entertainment. Now either the gentlemen only gave Duval £100 which was accepted by him in good humour and “with a flamboyant sweep of his feathered hat[9] despite knowing full well that there was a further £300 hidden under the man’s seat or Duval only accepted £100 despite being offered the full sum. According to Leigh Hunt this episode was “an eternal feather in the cap of highway gentility[10]. Even though it is hard to believe that Duval had time for a romantic musical interlude in the midst of a theft whilst avoiding arrest it is definitely an enchanting tale.

Claude Duval by William Powell Frith, 1860. Image source: public domain.

A less than chivalrous incident

Another episode which does not show Duval in such a favourable light was reported to have occurred in Blackheath. Duval and his men stopped a coach containing a number of ladies, one of whom was feeding a baby with a silver bottle. Apparently Duval on seeing the bottle grabbed it but after being admonished by a member of his gang who reminded him about the need to protect his reputation, Duval grudgingly gave it back. A slightly different version possibly circulated to counteract any negative publicity states that it was in fact one of Duval’s men who snatched the bottle and it was Duval who convinced his man to give his prize back.

Escape to France

On the 19 November 1669 a royal proclamation was issued with Duval named first in a list of notorious offenders and a reward of £20 placed on his head. The London Gazette described him as “the most wanted highwayman in England[11]. Duval was forced to leave England and return to France to wait until things had cooled down. Although back on home territory and probably trying to lie low, Duval was unable to keep out of trouble. Finding highway robbery less lucrative over that side of the Channel since carriages travelled with less money and more guns Duval decided to return to England.

Capture and trial

Unfortunately shortly after his return Duval’s luck ran out. It was reported (although no corroborating evidence exists[12]) that during a drunken night of revelry at the Hole-in-the-Wall in Chandos Street in London, early in 1670, Duval was finally arrested. Pope states that if Duval hadn’t been drunk (and considering three pistols and a sword were found on him) he would never have been taken so easily. Duval was arraigned and convicted at the Old Bailey of six counts of highway robbery (with others known of but not proved). It seems that even at this stage Duval was convinced that he would be pardoned by Charles II but in the end due to the judge, Sir William Morton threatening to resign if the conviction was overturned Charles decided to stay well out of it.

The Idle ‘Prentice executed at Tyburn. William Hogarth. Image source: public domain.


Whilst Duval was imprisoned it seems he was not short of company as a steady flow of wealthy women; some of whom might have been his victims and others simply eager to get a glance of the devilishly handsome highwayman. It seems he did not disappoint as many of them petitioned the king and other leading officials on his behalf and “…Not a few accompanied him to the gallows, under their vizards, with swollen eyes and blubbered cheeks[13]. On the 21 January 1670 at the age of twenty seven, Duval was hanged at Tyburn. According to records as well as the ladies quite a few men attended. The men were possibly relieved that the spell that Duval had cast on their wives, daughters, sisters and even mothers would finally be vanquished.

A Celebrity Hanging – Captain jerry Jackson goes to the gallows.  Image source: Michael Winner’s 1983 adaptation of The Wicked Lady.

Lying in state

After his death, Duval was cut down and brought in a mourning coach to a pub near Covent Gardens. He lay in state for several days although the name of the deceased was withheld from the pub owner so as not to cause any problems. The bed posts were covered in black drapes, candles lit and the body watched over by several men in black. He was visited by a number of veiled women who stricken with grief took their last tearful leave of Duval.

A chivalrous thank you and fitting epitaph

Duval managed his reputation or legend to the last. If true a note was found on his body when his clothes were searched which included a thank you to all the women who had visited him, tried to attain a pardon for him, comforted him and would accompany him on his final journey to the gallows. He also reassured them that he was prepared for his death and had made his peace with his maker. Duval made a last dig at the men in their lives as he states that he admits that his obligation to them is great since they have loved him “better than your own country-men, better than your own dear husbands[14]. Duval was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s (possibly under the name of Peter Duval) and his headstone bore the 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 stand,

and women he made fall.

The second Conqueror of the Norman race,                                          

Still one for the ladies

Even in death Duval’s amorous activities seem to have continued. His ghost is believed to haunt the Holt Hotel in Oxfordshire. The hotel was previously known as the Hopcroft’s Holt, a staging post on the north road to Oxford and was a favourite drinking hole and possible headquarters of Duval. Duval’s ghost is said to be particularly fond of Room 3 and many women are said to have felt they were being watched[16]. Duval’s link with the inn is commemorated in a painted carved wooden sign displayed outside the hotel.

The Holt Hotel Oxfordshire. Image source: RAF_Upper_Heyford website.

A gracious leader of thieves

Duval is considered to be the first gentlemen highwayman and for some he “brought class and dignity to the profession of highwayman[17]. Whether he really deserves the praise he has garnered is open to debate as although he fascinated women of all ages, he was when it came to it a thief, a charming one but still a thief. It should also not be forgotten that he rode with men who were hardened criminals and in all likelihood did not ascribe to the same code of conduct. He must have wielded power as he was believed to have controlled a gang of up to fifty men and robbed houses and convoys as well as carriages and coaches. They would not have followed him if they thought him to be a weak, foppish and ineffectual leader however gallant he was! He was also successful as he managed to evade capture through his own skills and cunning for ten years, outperforming most of his fellow highwaymen. None of them really expected to live a long life and die in bed.

A considerably less chivalrous highwayman – Dick Turpin. Image source public domain.

The legend of Duval

The myth of Duval life later became even more elaborate with some people claiming that he once saved the life of Charles II and that he was more than a friend to Nell Gwynne[18]. As with every legend there is no separating myth from fact. The image of the charming witty debonair and handsome highwayman galloping through the country with his pistols at his side and dressed in a curly wig, black hat and eye mask is defining appealing. In my mind I imagine him cut from the same cloth as the highwayman described by Alfred Noyes in his poem ‘The Highwayman’

…He’d a French cocked hat on his forehead,

a bunch of lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet,

and breeches of brown doe-skin;

They fitted with never a wrinkle.

His boots were up to his thigh.

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle

His pistols butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky…


The memoirs of Monsieur Du Vall: Containing the history of his life and death, William Pope, 1670

Stand and deliver: a history of highway robbery, David Brandon, 2010

Claude Duval, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Duval

Claude Duval, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Claude-Duval

Claude Duval: Gentleman highwayman, http://www.sloughhistoryonline.org.uk/ixbin/hixclient.exe?a=query&p=slough&f=generic_theme.htm&_IXFIRST_=1&_IXMAXHITS_=1&%3Dtheme_record_id=sl-sl-claudeduval&s=1MBABDA5YeF

Claude Duval (1643-1670), http://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/cduval.html

Claude Duval –  the romantic highwayman, http://www.hounslow.info/libraries/local-history-archives/claude-duval/

Claude Duval – The Gallant Highwayman, http://stand-and-deliver.org.uk/highwaymen/claude-du-vall.html

1670: Claude Duval, gentleman highwayman, http://www.executedtoday.com/2010/01/21/1670-claude-duval-duvall-gentleman-highwayman/

Highwaymen, http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Highwaymen/ The ladies love Claude Duval, http://www.roguesgalleryonline.com/the-ladies-love-claude-duval/

The Highwayman, Alfred Noyes, 1906

The Old Bailey: Eight Centuries of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption, Theresa Murphy, 2011

The thief of hearts: Claude Duval and the Gentlemen Highwayman in fact and fiction, John and Philip Sugden, 2015

Antiques at the Holt, http://www.antiques-at-the-holt.co.uk/holt.htm

Foul deeds of suspicious deaths in Hampstead Heath and St Pancras, Mark Aston, 2005

Duvall, the dandy highwayman from Domfront, http://www.normandythenandnow.com/tag/claude-duval/ The Holt Hotel, https://www.hauntedrooms.co.uk/product/holt-hotel-oxford-oxfordshire

The Black Moth, Georgette Heyer, 1921


[1] The Black Moth, Georgette Heyer, 1921

[2] The memoirs of Monsieur Du Vall: Containing the history of his life and death, William Pope, 1670

[3] ibid

[4] Stand and deliver: a history of highway robbery, David Brandon, 2010

[5] Duvall, the dandy highwayman from Domfront, http://www.normandythenandnow.com/tag/claude-duval/

[6] ibid

[7] Claude Duval, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Duval

[8] Claude Duval – The Gallant Highwayman, http://stand-and-deliver.org.uk/highwaymen/claude-du-vall.html

[9] The Old Bailey: Eight Centuries of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption, Theresa Murphy, 2011

[10] The ladies love Claude Duval, http://www.roguesgalleryonline.com/the-ladies-love-claude-duval/

[11] Duvall, the dandy highwayman from Domfront, http://www.normandythenandnow.com/tag/claude-duval/

[12] Claude Duval, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Duval

[13] The memoirs of Monsieur Du Vall: Containing the history of his life and death, William Pope, 1670

[14] ibid

[15] Stand and deliver: a history of highway robbery, David Brandon, 2010

[16] The Holt Hotel, https://www.hauntedrooms.co.uk/product/holt-hotel-oxford-oxfordshire

[17] The Old Bailey: Eight Centuries of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption, Theresa Murphy, 2011

[18] The Holt Hotel, http://www.antiques-at-the-holt.co.uk/holt.him