Stand and Deliver: Dashing Hampstead highwayman Claude du Vall stars at the London Dungeon
Heartthrob highwayman was the 1600s’ One Direction
Claude du Vall, known as the true gentleman of the road, robbed men and romanced women during a 10-year reign of swashbuckling terror in the 1660s.
Now, the gallant rogue – dubbed “the One Direction of his day” and so popular the king tried to stop his execution – is now the star of the latest London Dungeon attraction.
Richard Quincy, who researched Mr du Vall for the exhibition, said: “He really was a fascinating character. He’s the personification of everything you think of when you imagine a highway robber.
“When you think of that kind of dashing thief, you think of Dick Turpin.
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“But Dick Turpin was actually a bit of a nasty b***ard, while du Vall was all gallantry.
“He had women lining up at his death bed. He really was the One Direction of his day.”
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In the 1600s, Hampstead and Highgate were prime hunting grounds for highwaymen, as the main routes into the city from the north passed through.
Mr du Vall operated, along with many highway robbers of the time, at the northern fringes of London on the Great Western Road near Highgate, while Hampstead Heath was a favoured hunting ground.
The famed Spaniard’s Inn, located on the edge of the Heath, was frequented by some of the most prolific highway robbers and it is likely that Mr du Vall was among those who took advantage of the inn’s views across north London to watch the road.
He became a household name as a gentleman thief, due to his fashionable dress, dashing good looks and well-mannered villainry. Wealthy people even deliberately travelled to Hampstead Heath and Islington hoping to be held up.
He was finally caught – whilst drunk – from a tavern and sent to Newgate jail, tried by a judge and sentenced to death.
Much to the devastation of ladies of the court, and King Charles II himself who campaigned for his reprieve, Mr du Vall was hanged at Tyburn in 1670, aged only 27.
Mr Quincy said: “We are really exaggerating his character, all that suaveness and Frenchness.
“He’s like an extreme Thierry Henry and it’s a lovely character to have in the dungeon.
“We’ve put him with Moll Cutpurse – a highwaywoman – and they give visitors a lesson in robbery from the gallows at Tyburn.”
There are many tales of the smooth criminal’s exploits that have captured the public’s imagination, said Mr Quincy.
One relates to when, while robbing a couple of their cash, the wife began to play her flute. The lovable rouge dismounted and began to play his own instrument and the pair danced, much to her husband’s dismay.
The highwayman handed her back, kissing her hand, and returned the cash to the couple – minus a fee charged to the husband for watching their performance.
The exhibition runs until May 31.