Milady de Winter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Milady Laurence de Winter
D'Artagnan Romances character
First appearanceThe Three Musketeers
Created byAlexandre Dumas, père
In-universe information

Milady Laurence de Winter, often referred to as simply Milady, is a fictional character in the novel The Three Musketeers (1844) by Alexandre Dumas, père, set in 1625 France. She is a spy for Cardinal Richelieu and is one of the dominant antagonists of the story. Her role in the first part of the book is to seduce the English prime minister, the duke of Buckingham, who is also the secret lover of Queen Anne of France. Hoping to blackmail the queen, Richelieu orders Milady to steal two diamonds from a set of matched studs given to Buckingham by the queen, which were a gift to her from her husband, King Louis XIII. Thwarted by d'Artagnan and the other musketeers, Milady's conflict with d'Artagnan carries much of the second half of the novel.

Character overview[edit]

Described as being 22, tall, fair-haired and uncommonly beautiful, with brilliant blue eyes and black lashes and brows, Milady possesses a voice that can seduce and bewitch.[1]

A capable and intelligent French spy who effortlessly can pass as a native Englishwoman,[2] Milady's beautiful exterior hides a diabolically cunning, manipulative, ruthless and cruel interior; she is remorseless and unrepentant for her countless "misdeeds" and often described as appearing demonic and frighteningly ugly in the instant when she is thwarted in her aims. She is a classic example of a femme fatale.

Milady later is revealed to be the wife of Athos, originally the Comte de la Fère, one of the three musketeers of the novel's title.


Like Athos, who sheds his true identity as the Comte de la Fère when he joins the musketeers, Milady goes by numerous aliases, so that her identity is concealed for a good part of the novel. Athos first knows her as an adolescent Anne de Breuil, but because she already was concealing a scandalous and criminal past at that time, it was probably not her real name.

As a young Benedictine nun of 16, she seduced the convent's trusting priest. Urging him to steal the church's sacred vessels to finance a new life in another part of the country, they fled together and quickly were apprehended. Milady then seduced the jailer's son and escaped, leaving behind her first lover to be branded for theft. The executioner who had to brand the priest happened to be his brother, and blaming Milady for leading his brother astray, tracked her down on his own and branded her on the shoulder with the same fleur-de-lis symbol, marking her as a convicted criminal. The priest in turn escaped, and the lovers fled to a small town, where they posed as a country curate and his sister.

The village where they lived was part of Athos's lands, and he became captivated both by her beauty and her intellect. As seigneur of the county, he could have seduced her or taken her by force, but despite the opposition of his family and her obscure origins, he married her, giving her his wealth and title, and raising her to the nobility. While the pair were hunting in the forest one day, Milady fell from her horse and fainted. Cutting away her clothes so she could breathe, Athos discovered the convict brand on her shoulder. Dishonored, and having the right to dispense justice on his estates, Athos immediately hanged her from a tree. His wife's "brother", who had married the pair, fled before any retribution could be taken; Athos believes he only pretended to be a curate for the purpose of getting his mistress married in a secure position.[3] For most of the novel, Athos assumes his deceitful wife is dead by his own hand, not knowing she survived the hanging and that she and Milady are the same person. Because the Comte de la Fère effectively ceases to exist when he becomes Athos, Milady makes the same mistake in presuming her first husband is dead.

Active role in the novel[edit]

When d'Artagnan first spies Milady in Paris, she has married into English nobility some time previously by wedding Baron Sheffield, the younger brother of Lord de Winter. After she was made her husband's heir, he died violently and mysteriously within a matter of hours, leaving her a widow with a young child, who is Lord de Winter's only heir.[4] Discovering that Milady is infatuated with Comte des Wardes, an equally infatuated d'Artagnan forges the count's reply to a love letter from Milady and arranges a nighttime rendezvous, where he impersonates des Wardes. During the assignation, Milady gives him, as des Wardes, a sapphire and diamond ring and swears to have d'Artagnan killed because he wounded the real des Wardes in a duel. She also reveals that she detests d'Artagnan for having spared her brother-in-law's life in another duel which lost her the income from her son's potential inheritance.[5]

When d'Artagnan later reveals to Milady that the tryst has been with him, not des Wardes, she attempts to kill him. In the struggle, her nightgown is torn, revealing the fleur-de-lis brand. Knowing that her terrible secret has been revealed to her enemy, Milady becomes resolved that d'Artagnan must die. Her attempts to secure his assassination leads to her eventual downfall. D'Artagnan escapes and immediately reports to Athos that Milady has a brand on her shoulder identical to one he discovered on his wife's body. When Athos hears this and identifies the ring Milady gave to d'Artagnan as his mother's, the former Comte de la Fère realizes that his wife is not dead after all.[1]

Milady tries many methods to murder d'Artagnan; while eavesdropping on a meeting between Richelieu and Milady, the musketeers hear that, in exchange for her assassination of Buckingham, Richelieu will undertake the task. Milady bargains with the cardinal and obtains a pardon that absolves her of future (unnamed) actions. It is not until Athos confronts her and forces her at pistol to relinquish the pardon that a horrified Milady realizes that the musketeer Athos is her first husband, the Comte de la Fère.[6] Athos refrains from killing her, instead leaving her with no choice but to be escorted to England on her murderous mission, but without the cardinal's pardon.

The musketeers then warn Lord de Winter that not only has his sister-in-law made previous attempts on his life, but that her first husband is still alive, invalidating her marriage to his late brother. They also attempt to foil Milady's plot against Buckingham by having de Winter warn him. Upon arriving in England, Milady is arrested and imprisoned in a house by de Winter, who has suspected that she poisoned his younger brother. He chooses for her jailer a man he thinks will be impervious to her charms, the straitlaced Puritan John Felton. However, Milady manipulates Felton that she is actually a Puritan as well, and that Buckingham is persecuting her because she refused his advances. Felton has his own grievances against Buckingham, whom he blames for his lack of promotion in the army, and succumbs to her manipulation. He then proceeds to murder the duke (an actual historical event), but then is aghast to see Milady's ship sailing away without him. He later is hanged for the crime.

Returning to France, Milady murders d'Artagnan's lover, then flees. The musketeers and Lord de Winter hunt Milady and track her to Lille, where they try her among themselves for her numerous crimes, including the poisoning of de Winter's brother. Athos finally charges her with deceiving him, hiding the fact that she was a convicted criminal when he married her. Milady defies anyone to produce any proof that she ever was sentenced for a crime. To her horror, the executioner of Lille steps forward to reveal himself as the man who branded her.

When his priest brother escaped from jail to follow Milady, the executioner was condemned to serve his brother's sentence for him. On learning this later, the disgraced priest returned and surrendered himself, only to hang himself in his cell that same night. The executioner reveals that, rather than having schemed to marry her to a count, his brother was abandoned when Milady left him to marry Athos. (This seems to be at odds with Athos' earlier assertion that her "brother" married the pair.[6])

This final evidence condemns Milady to death, and she is beheaded by the executioner.[7]


As the true identity of the Comte de la Fère is concealed by the name Athos, Milady's true identity is hidden by various names throughout the novel:

  • Anne de Breuil (the name by which Athos knew Milady when he met her)[6]
  • Comtesse de la Fère (the title Milady assumed when she married the Comte de la Fère, later known as Athos)
  • Milady Laurence de Winter (the general name Milady is referred to throughout the story)
  • Lady Clarik/Clarick[8] (a variation on the previous name; in some English translations, this is translated as Clarisse or Clarice)[9]
  • Charlotte Backson (the fictional name Milady's brother-in-law, Lord de Winter, attempts to bestow upon her in his plan to banish her to the colonies)[10]

Her son in the sequel[edit]

In the 1845 sequel Twenty Years After, Milady's son Mordaunt, now 23, takes her role as one of the chief antagonists. As twisted and as deceitful as his mother, he sets about avenging her death, posing as a monk and murdering the executioner of Lille while taking his confession. He also murders Lord de Winter, Milady's brother-in-law, who raised him after the death of his mother.

Mordaunt later becomes involved in the English Civil War and commits regicide, executing King Charles I, in spite of the efforts of d'Artagnan and the three former musketeers to prevent it. D'Artagnan and his friends later confront Mordaunt at Cromwell's London residence, but in the course of a duel, he escapes through a secret passage.

The musketeers and their menservants leave England by ship, but Mordaunt sneaks aboard and blows it up. As the survivors escape in a rowboat, Mordaunt pleads for them to help him aboard, accusing them of killing him as they killed his mother. With the exception of Athos, they contemptuously reject his appeals. Athos insists on saving him, but as he helps him into the boat, Mordaunt deliberately drags him back into the water where they struggle, and Mordaunt is killed.

Origin of the character[edit]

Margot Grahame as Milady Laurence de Winter in the 1935 film version

The character of Milady previously appeared in the Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan (1700), a historical novel by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, which Dumas discovered during his research for his history of Louis XIV.[11] In Courtilz's novel (one of the literary sources for the more famous novel by Dumas), Milady is one of the exiled English Queen Henrietta Maria's ladies-in-waiting. Dumas changed Milady's background significantly; from another Courtilz novel (Mémoires de M. le Comte de Rochforte, 1687) Dumas partly derived the idea of the branded woman, which he applied to his version of Milady.

There appears to be a possible historical precedent for the character of Milady: The memoirs of François de La Rochefoucauld and Hubert de Brienne, Comte de Conflans as well as Volume I of Chroniques de l'Œil de Bœuf by Touchard-Lafosse describe Milady's antagonistic role in the diamond studs plot which Dumas reworked in The Three Musketeers. In La Rochefoucauld's volume, Milady is the Countess of Carlisle, in de Brienne's version she is Lady Clarick de Winter, and in Touchard-Lafosse's history she is Lady de Clarick. Milady - or rather, her historical/literary precursors - play relatively minor roles in Courtilz's novel and the other memoirs and pseudo-memoirs. While her theft of the diamond studs and other activities in the first half of The Three Musketeers are accounted for in the earlier works that Dumas borrowed, her machinations in the second half of the book are largely Dumas' invention.[12]

Others think that the character of Milady Laurence de Winter may be based on Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle (née Percy; 1599 – 5 November 1660). François de La Rochefoucauld mentioned in his Memoirs an anecdote he was told by Marie de Rohan, in which Lucy Hay stole some diamond studs (a present of the king of France to Anne of Austria) the queen had given to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham from the duke as revenge because he had loved her before he loved the queen of France. The king of France then wanted to see the studs and somehow the queen was able to recover them. Alexandre Dumas later used this entire story, and therefore he probably based Milady Laurence de Winter on Lucy Carlisle in his 1844 novel The Three Musketeers.

Transgender theory[edit]

In the introduction to his 1952 English translation of The Three Musketeers, Lord Sudley posits the following:

The fleur-de-lis on Milady's shoulder with which she was branded for having committed a felony in her extreme youth would certainly come as a shock to anyone discovering it, but it does not fully account for the terror and horror which she evoked in every man who had ever known her intimately. Only her husbands (she had two) and her lovers find out her 'secret,' and for that, she declares, they must die. And why was the Cardinal, who employed her as his chief secret agent, who had spies all over the country and who knew everything about everyone of importance in France, himself unaware of her criminal record? At the end of the story, d'Artagnan discloses this to [Richelieu], who then declares that he and his friends were perfectly justified in taking the law into their own hands and beheading her. Might not Dumas, in creating such a character, have intended to convey that Milady had that particular form of physical malformation which was regarded even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a terrifying token of divine displeasure, punishable by death - a malformation of which the fleur-de-lis was merely a symbol?[13]

Sudley goes on to suggest that Dumas might have found inspiration for Milady from the Chevalier d'Éon, a transgender spy who acted as Louis XV's secret envoy to Russia and England. D'Éon spent half of his life as a man and half as a woman, and was accused of actual physical hermaphroditism during their lifetime. One of Dumas' collaborators, F. Gaillardet, wrote the Mémoires sur la Chevaliére d'Éon, of which Dumas is known to have owned a copy. However, Sudley concedes that the idea of d'Éon being an inspiration for Milady de Winter "is, of course, pure conjecture, impossible to prove or disprove."[14]

Additionally, Dumas describes her in terms that may indicate a variance from the binary genders. Dumas attributes to her “strength apparently above that of a woman.” [15]

Film and television[edit]

Actresses who have played Milady on screen include:

In the cartoon version Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, Milady is a female cat while most of the characters are dogs. With the exception of her real name (Countess de Winter), her origins never were revealed. It was hinted that 'only one man' knows of her past.

In the movie The Return of the Musketeers, Kim Cattrall plays Milady's daughter Justine de Winter as a female version of Mordaunt.

Video Games[edit]

Milady appears in Persona 5 as the persona of Haru Okumura.


  1. ^ a b "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter XXXVIII". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  2. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter XLIX". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  3. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter XXVII". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  4. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter XXXI, Chapter LXV". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  5. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter XXXIII". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  6. ^ a b c "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter XLV". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  7. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapters XLV, XLVI". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  8. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter XXXI". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  9. ^ Dumas, Alexandre (1982). The abridged Children's Penguin Classic version of The Three Musketeers. pp. 391, 434. ISBN 9780140440256. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  10. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Chapter LIV". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  11. ^ "Les trois mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas - Free Ebook : Author's Preface". 2004-11-04. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
  12. ^ Introduction by Lord Sudley to The Three Musketeers by Alexandré Dumas, translated by Lord Sudley. (1982, Penguin Books), p.11-15
  13. ^ Introduction by Lord Sudley to The Three Musketeers by Alexandré Dumas, translated by Lord Sudley. (1982, Penguin Books), pp.23
  14. ^ Introduction by Lord Sudley to The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, translated by Lord Sudley. (1982, Penguin Books), p.23
  15. ^ Dumas, Alexander (1949). The Three Musketeers. The Fountain Press. p. 295.