6. Cardinal Richelieu – The Three Musketeers

Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers

Strictly speaking, Cardinal Richelieu is much more than a movie villain. He’s the primary antagonist of The Three Musketeers, the novel by Alexandre Dumas, and therefore appears in the many movie adaptations of the tale. In the story, he primarily acts against the Musketeers and hopes to spark a war between England and France, attempting to curry more power among the French aristocracy.

As Cardinal Richelieu has been a prominent figure in fiction for over 150 years, it’s easy to forget that he was a real man. Born in 1585, Armand Jean du Plessis, the Duke of Richelieu, was a French clergyman. He served as the chief minister to King Louis XIII of France, serving as a prominent member of both the Catholic Church and the French government.

Though he’s most often portrayed as a villain, Cardinal Richelieu was a far more complex figure than The Three Musketeers lets on. He certainly did seek to consolidate royal power in France and he was guilty of various nefarious acts of censorship and other similar moral crimes, although all were supposedly carried out in service to France as a nation. Though Cardinal Richelieu was indeed a real man, he’s considered no more a villain than any modern politician. Maybe he was actually pretty bad, after all.