Claude Duval was a French–born highwayman. He moved to England in 1660 and pursued a successful career there until his capture, trial and execution in 1670. Most of our knowledge of his life is due to a pamphlet, entitled the “Memoirs of Monsieur Du Vall”, published anonymously shortly after his death. As with many highwaymen of the period, he became famous as much for his success at seducing his female victims as the notoriety of his crimes. Whilst awaiting execution the Memoirs inform us:
“There were a great company of ladies, and those not of the meanest degree, that visited him in prison, interceded for his pardon, and accompanied him to the gallons; a catalogue of whose names I have by me, nay, even of those who, when they visited him, durst not pull off their vizards, for fear of shewing their eyes swoln, and their cheeks blubbered with tears.”
The most famous story of his life is the one which reveals his skill on the flageolet. The author of the Memoirs tells it thus:
“[Duval], with his squadron, overtakes a coach, which they had set over night, having intelligence of a booty of four-hundred pounds in it. In the coach was a knight, his lady, and only one serving maid, who, perceiving five horse-men making up to them, presently imagined that they were beset; and they were confirmed in this apprehension, by seeing them whisper to one another, and ride backwards and forwards. The lady, to shew she was not afraid, takes a flageolet out of her pocket, and plays: Du Vall takes the hint, plays also, and excellently well, upon a flageolet of his own, and in this posture he rides up to the coach-side. ‘Sir,’ says he, to the person in the coach, ‘your lady plays excellently, and I doubt not but that she dances as well; will you please to walk out of the coach, and let me have the honour to dance one currant with her upon the heath.’ ‘Sir,’ said the person in the coach, ‘I dare not deny any thing to one of your quality and good mind; you seem a gentleman, and your request is very reasonable:’ which said, the lacquey opens the boot, out comes the knight, Du Vall leaps lightly off his horse, and hands the lady out of the coach. They danced, and here it was that Du Vall performed marvels; the best master in London, except those that are French, not being able to shew such footing as he did in his great riding French, boots. The dancing being over, he waits on the lady to her coach. As the knight was going in, says Du Vall to him, ‘Sir, you have forgot to pay the musick:’ ‘No, I have not,’ replies the knight, and, putting his hand under the seat of the coach, pulls out a hundred pounds in a bag, and delivers it to him; which Du Vall took with a very good grace, and courteously answered, ‘Sir, you are liberal, and shall have no cause to repent your being so; this liberality of yours shall excuse you the other three-hundred pounds,’ and, giving him the word, that, if he met with any more of the crew, he might pass undisturbed, he civilly takes his leave of him.”
The story has been widely retold and was the subject of a number of paintings and engravings. Although separating the truth from the legend is now impossible, its mere existence does provide a good example of the use of the flageolet by wealthy amateurs during the Restoration. Furthermore, it shows that it was not impossible to imagine the carrying around of a flageolet, as advocated by Thomas Greeting in the Pleasant Companion, which could be quickly produced on a journey to provide music when necessary.