Du Val 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 Du Val. 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 Du Val became a successful highwayman who robbed the passing stagecoaches in the roads to London, especially Holloway between Highgate and Islington. However, unlike most other brigands, 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 Du Val. One 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 his wife agreed to dance the "courante" with him in the wayside, a scene immortalised by William Powell Frith in his 1860 painting Claude Du Val.
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. His 'life', as described here, is a typical example of entertaining stories invented for various reasons over centuries transmuting into so-called historical fact. (The 'story' of Dick Turpin is another example where the accepted story is very different from the actual historical record.)
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 and was later removed to St Paul's church, Covent Garden, where it was buried under the centre aisle. His memorial inscription 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.
- Claude Du Vall appears as a suspect in Ace Murder Mystery's 17th Century English murder mystery dinner party game 'Power Plots and Pistols' (link below).
- 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 the Mary Hooper book "The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose" Duval is stated as being a friend of Nell Gwyn and 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).
- Claude Duval is the subject of Michael Scott Smith's song "The Highwayman Waltz"; recorded by folk group The Band of Brothers in their 2006 album "Railroads, Hobos & Cowboys".
- Claude Duval owned the land on which now stands, The Rainbow Theatre (The Astoria) in Seven Sisters Road. Finsbury Park.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Duval, Claude.|
- Duval in Stand and Deliver
- Highwaymen at Historic UK
- Claude Duval as a murder mystery game suspect
- Short radio episode Every Man A Rogue mentions "the politeness of a Claude Duval." California Legacy Project.