The wind was a gust of magic over the sweet warmth of a scented night. He lay outstretched in the King of Englands stables in his native France. The hay so warm ,his mistress fair in his arms . The snort of a brood mare with her foal warmed young Claude that someone was near by and he melted away as the groom walked to see the mare was happy to spend a night in a loose box with her charge.
It was next morning as he saddled the Prince of Englands horse. Proud Charles had escaped the claws of Puritan England .Cromwell had missed him in his search to find the youth . Here in France with his retinue of followers in the house of Versailles he had nothing but charity to live on. Claude had risen form nothing to be a footman in the service of Royal England in form of Charles himself.
The Royal had promised all that when he was King he would pay all debts with English gold. Claude was his loyal servant but he had not been paid since starting service with the English Prince Charles. Like so many others he heard only promises and illusions of great grand measure passed as nothing but hunger and cast down eyes. The glory of working for Royal Charles was all it was. Some had indeed seen the light and vanished into the night. Claude had grown up in the coastal Norman town of Domfront . His mother poor his father a miller but able to feed her family any way they could . This promise of riches drove him on as nothing else seemed on the cards just then. Domfront was either fish or barter. A small coast town not known for gentility or honesty
Claude had promised his mother to send home what he could from his wages but Claude soon found Royal Charles had no money at all only debts and his name got him by in life in the French court of his relative King Louis .
Mrs Duval had brought her son Claude up as a kind nature child who loved horses and farm work at the local employment needed from time to time .He also had a charm and a roving eye for the ladies.
Cromwell had died .The news filled the palace halls .The English had heard it too. Charles now wrote to the English Ambassador to see what could be a plan.It was 1659 two weeks after Cromwells death and eventually Prince Charles was heard and by 1660 he was crowned King in Westminster Abbey with all pomp and circumstance .His dead father had been executed in 1649 as a traitor and young King Charles 11 was careful not to follow suit.
Johnny Wilmot wrote ,Here lies a great and noble King whos promise none relied upon .He never did a foolish thing nor ever did a wise one.
It was said in the Kings company but Charles laughed at the truth that Wilmot had spoken.
Meanwhile Claude was constantly at the Kings door demanding his back pay .Charles sent many messages but never saw a soul he owned before becoming King .
Claude had no cash to go home to France he had sailed with the English back to London hoping for his job back as horse master. But all he got in London was a head cold . Pushed from pillar to post he sat hungry and still he hoped for pay from the King. Like so many he was cast aside and forgotten by Charles.
Claude had no choice his English was not that great his French accent strong. His fate was to steal a horse and escape .He held up a coach that was easy money and he was gracious and gentle in his robbery that his name was to carry back to King and council. From then he dressed in the finest fashions and booted he road armed with a small gang of musical soldiers . He played a flagulet a sort of modern day recorder very well indeed and he took it with him every place. They robbed many places around the Capital roads.
Duval with his polished French accent and gentlemany advance made him so admired by the ladies that his fame raced on before him. He was said to have been good looking smart and able with a passion for good horses and fast rides.
He is said to have stopped a carriage and on seeing a beautiful lady seated ,he,asked her husband if he may dance once with his wife. He aided her down on to the heath in the moonlight and even in ridding boots danced so lightly to the music played by this fellow robbers that the fair lady on return to her seat kissed Duval so lovingly that he spared her husbands purse and asked just for the price of music to be paid . One gold coin was handed over and Duval bowed and rode off at a gallop .
This story of truth raced all around the nation and Duval was made famous for his gentle ways and graceful manors. He had tried ahrd to see the King he had served but that old adage never rely on a Princes promise came back to haunt him now.
As all highway robbers Duval liked to spend his ill gotten gains in the Hole in the Wall tavern in London . One evening he was so drunk that the tip off by the bar man brought in the army who arrested him. He was executed at Tyburn and buried in Covent Garden chapel central isles in London.
Before the funeral he was laid out in the Tangiers Tavern by his friends who had somehow stolen or paid for his remains ,for those interested to see. Some 4000 ladies filed past his body in tears.It went on daily until a judge had to stop the never ending show of sorrow.
Duval became the Robin Hood of his day and is held in memory even today if the women by coach load who pay to be near his grave today are anything to go by.
In 1970s working in London I decided to visit The Hole in the wall in Chandos street. I saw before me a dark room full of Blackjack leather tankards and chair bench and tables of the period that nothing has changed since that fateful evening in January when Claude Duval was dragged to his death out of its doorway . Claude Duval 1643-1670. On his grave stone is an inscription that helps to sum up this man. “Here lies Du Val :Reader,if male thou art,look to thy purse;if female ,to thy heart .”
Thank you for reading. Yours always Sir Kevin.
Copyright Kevin Parr Bt 2021