Monday, 26 March 2012

What Is It About Highwaymen?

Why do we have a thing about highwaymen? Because we do, don't we? (And I bet you're now singing the Adam Ant song, Stand and Deliver!) The protagonist in the novel I'm currently writing is a part-time highwayman, and somehow this gives him a sort of glamour, an air of mystery, even a smidgen of romance. But, really, they weren't all that great. Nevermind 'Gentlemen of the Road', they were just thieves; and violent and aggressive ones to boot. This video, recently posted by Marie-Louise Jensen on Facebook, really made me laugh.

But the reason I decided to have a highwayman in my story was because I read about Claude du Vall. With my love of the restoration period, he had to be my highwayman of choice. He was dashing and fashionable, everything you need in such a man, and, allegedly, never resorted to violence. But what really made me warm to him was the fact that he agreed not to take everything from one of his victims if the man's wife agreed to dance with him. Here he is at that very moment. (You wonder why they didn't just shoot him while he was dancing?)

So, back to my original question - why do we love highwaymen so much? I can't think it was any fun being held up at gunpoint and being forced to hand over your valuables. And I bet most of them were not dashing and handsome and glamorous. Maybe the myth has built over time. Or maybe the women of the time revered them too. Claude du Vall was eventually arrested in a pub in Covent Garden, was tried for six robberies and hanged. I leave you with his memorial inscription, which perhaps says it all.

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.

Oh, and if anyone fancies seeing him, he haunts the Holt Hotel on the Oxford Road.


  1. The appeal, I regret to say, is the same as for vampires, werewolves, pirates etc. Women, daft creatures that we are, seem to like dark and dangerous men with a mysterious allure and a bucket load of secrets. Women love the thrill of that danger, the idea that something dire could happen to them, and equally, the frisson of excitement that maybe, just maybe, they might be the one to tame the wild beast. It's all rather primal. Some might say its romantic, I'm inclined to think it's just daft. I'll take the 'nice' guy any day :-)

    1. I'd like to think I'd take the nice guy too, but, really? Not sure I would. But, yes, daft!

    2. We do tend to have a thing about the 'bad' guy. Goodness knows why as we so often get hurt. Love the sound of your character though Sue.

  2. So, will you be perpetuating the myth in your novel? Or telling it like it is?

    1. As my protagonist is actually Ben Barnes, I guess I'm perpetuating the myth. Although I will make sure Bad Things happen to him, so maybe I'm changing things just a little bit!

  3. It's the same with pirates. Everyone loves them now, but they were dreadful people who comitted acts of wanton savagery. You can't tell that to anyone under 16 though.

    As for the dark and dangerous 'masked man' thing though, I'll have to take your word for it:-)

  4. I'm wondering if there is an equivalent today, but can't think of any armed robber who is thought of quite like that! Your novel sounds great, Sue!


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