Milady Clarick de Winter, often referred to as simply Milady, is a fictional character in the novel The Three Musketeers (1844) by Alexandre Dumas, pere. She acts as a spy for Cardinal Richelieu and is one of the chief antagonists of the story.
A capable and beautiful spy, Milady is an unusual example of a strong, independent woman with a tragic and checkered past, filled with the seduction and willful destruction of men who will provide her with monetary support. Milady is remorseless and unrepentant for her countless "misdeeds". Late in the novel, after the reader is already presented with numerous examples of her villainy to the crown, she is revealed to be the wife of Athos, one of the musketeers in the title of the novel. A teenager forced to enter the convent, she falls in love with a priest and escapes with stolen church property to fund their new life in another part of the country, for which both of them were branded by a legal official. She was with a man in Athos' village, and pretending to be his sister, when Athos, a nobleman (the Comte de La Fère), fell in love with her and, despite her obscure origins, married her. Out in the forest one day, he discovered the brand on her shoulder, identifying her as a convicted criminal. Thinking she had married him only for his money, and feeling dishonoured, Athos hanged her from a tree on the spot, but she survived.
Role in the novel
After being expelled by Athos, she winds up in the employ of Cardinal Richelieu, working as his spy, assassin, and messenger. She steals the jewels that Anne of Austria, wife of King Louis XIII, entrusted to her lover, the English minister Duke of Buckingham, but the intended scandal is averted.
D'Artagnan himself later meets Milady and falls under her spell, though he also pursues an affair with her maid, Kitty.
When the French troops lays siege to the Hugenot city of La Rochelle, the Duke of Buckingham leads an unsuccessful expedition to assist the besieged. In a house near La Rochelle, Athos and his friends Porthos and Aramis overhear a conversation between the Cardinal and Milady, plotting to kill Buckingham before he can make another attempt.
Even if he is the enemy of France, the musketeers regard Buckingham, the man, as a friend. They commit treason to the crown, and thus warn him of the threat and upon arriving in England, Milady is arrested and imprisoned in a house by her hostile brother-in-law, the new Lord de Winter. She seduces her jailer, John Felton, persuading him that she is a Puritan at heart 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. He thus proceeds to murder the Duke (a historical event), but after carrying out the murder he is aghast to see Milady's ship sailing away without him. He is later hanged.
Returning to France, Milady murders d'Artagnan's lover, Constance Bonacieux, when the two happen upon one another in a convent. The musketeers and Lord de Winter hunt Milady and track her at Lille, where she is beheaded after a mock trial.
She uses or is referred to by the following names throughout the novel:
Charlotte Backson (the name Milady's brother-in-law, Lord de Winter, attempts to bestow upon her in his plan to banish her to the colonies)
Anne de Breuil (the name by which Athos knew Milady when he met her)
Comtesse de La Fère (the title and name Milady assumed when she married Athos, who was Comte de La Fère at the time)
Milady de Winter, Baroness of Sheffield (the general name Milady is referred to throughout the story)
Lady Clarick (a variation on the previous name; in some English translations, this is translated as Clarisse or Clarice)
Her son in the sequel
In the sequel Twenty Years After, Milady's son Mordaunt reprises her role as one of the chief antagonists. As twisted and as deceitful as his mother, he sets about avenging her death, murdering the executioner while posing as a monk taking his confession. He also murders Lord de Winter, Milady's brother-in-law, who raised him after the death of both his parents.
Mordaunt later gets involved in the English Civil War and executes King Charles I after d'Artagnan and the three former Musketeers have kidnapped the real executioner in order to prevent this.
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 Frenchmen and their menservants leave England by ship, but Mordaunt gets aboard and blows it up. As the survivors leave in a rowing boat, Mordaunt pleads for them to let him aboard. With the exception of Athos, they contemptuously reject his appeals. Athos insists on saving him however, but as he helps him into the boat, Mordaunt deliberately drags him back into the water where they struggle and Mordaunt is killed.
Athos rejoins the others claiming that "I had a son... I wanted to live". They assume of course that he means Raoul de Bragelonne, his adopted son (though in fact the product of a one-night stand). Athos further states that "It was not me who killed him... It was fate" (which can be read to imply that Mordaunt was, in fact, Athos' son).
Origin of the character
The character of Milady previously appeared in the Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan (1700), a historical novel by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras. 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 she is "Lady Clarick de Winter," and in Touchard-Lafosse, she is "Lady de Clarick." Milady - or rather, her historical/literary precursors - play relatively minor roles in Courtilz's novel and the aforementioned memoirs and pseudo-memoirs. Her activities in the first half of The Three Musketeers (being a source of d'Artagnan's infatuation and her role in the diamond studs plot) are accounted for in the earlier works Dumas borrowed from. Milady's activities in the second half of the book (in which she is arguably the narrative's most dominant character) are largely the result of Dumas' own imagination.
Film and television
Actresses who have played Milady on screen include:
Barbara La Marr, in The Three Musketeers (1921)
Lana Turner, in The Three Musketeers (1948)
Mylène Demongeot, in Les trois mousquetaires: Premiere époque-Les ferrets de la reine and Les trois mousquetaires: La vengeance de Milady (aka “The Fighting Musketeers” and “The Vengeance of the Musketeers”) (both 1961)
Faye Dunaway, in The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974)
Margarita Terekhova in D'Artagnan and Three Musketeers (1978 miniseries)
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 were never revealed. It was hinted that 'only one man' knows of her past.
In the movie The Return of the Musketeers, Kim Catrall plays Milady's daughter Justine de Winter as a female version of Mordaunt.