Along with Robin Hood, the romantic highwayman is one of the great myths of English outlawry. But the model for this most gallant of rogues was a Frenchman, who carried out audacious robberies with a touch of Parisian flair. John Sugden on Claude Duval’s life and legend.
The myth of the romantic highwayman was not wholly imagined. Like many myths, it had roots in actual events. The few historians who have searched for those roots have rightly turned to the 17th century, the golden age of the English highwayman.The Civil Wars and their aftermath left a legacy of religious and political discord. Communities had been torn apart, fortunes broken and made and lives disrupted. Repeated mobilisations had created a surfeit of men trained in arms and inured to violence and during the second half of the century large robber bands, more formidable than their Georgian successors, threatened the well-being of the realm. It was from this stormy context that the myth of the gentleman highwayman stirred.