Dangerous, Depraved, and Despicable: Heyer’s Most Villainous Villains

Duel DrawingNo matter how dashing the hero or fashionable the heroine, no matter how stylish the carriage or adorable the pet dog, a Georgette Heyer novel simply does not work without a villain.  Whether that villain is an out and out criminal or a spoiled young society miss, their presence in the story provides much needed conflict and, on occasion, even a bit of mystery and danger.

Heyer wrote the full range of villains – from truly depraved characters intent on murder and mayhem to the everyday variety of despicable human being.  Speaking of which, who can forget the awful Mrs. Scorrier from Venetia?  Possessed of a managing disposition and “an uncontrollable desire to show everyone, from Venetia down to the gardener’s boy, a better way of performing any given task,” our impression of her is fixed from the moment she arrives at Undershaw and introduces herself.

“Miss Venetia Lanyon?  But I need not ask!  And the poor little lame boy?  I am Mrs. Scorrier, which you have perhaps guessed.”

Ackermann's Regency Fashion Plate (1810).jpgMiss Eugenia Wraxton from The Grand Sophy is a bit more subtle in her methods.  Indeed, many view her as a “most superior girl.”  However, we soon learn that beneath her “air of grave reflection” lies an interfering, officious, and overbearing young lady who disapproves of anything that brings the other characters pleasure.  Sophy’s “want of conduct” is of particular concern to the meddling Miss Wraxton and she spends the greater part of the novel attempting to turn Charles Rivenhall against his vivacious cousin.

“It is a pity that men will laugh when her liveliness betrays her into saying what cannot be thought becoming,” she whispers slyly into his ear.  “It brings her too much into notice, and that, I fancy, is the root of the evil.”

Cousin Kate’s Lady Minerva Broome is a darker sort of villainess.  She extends an invitation to her niece to come to Staplewood – an ominous estate with bars on the windows, mysterious screams in the night, and rabbits brutally torn to pieces in the woods.  Lady Broome is no society dragon attempting to assert her rank, she is a menacing Gothic figure determined to secure the Broome family line by any means necessary.

“Kate, if you feel that you owe me anything – if you feel a particle of affection for me! – marry Torquil, before it becomes known all over the county that he’s insane!”

In Regency Buck, we meet Bernard Taverner.  Soft-spoken, gentlemanly, and sorely in need of funds, he quickly gains the trust of his cousin, heiress Judith Taverner.  After failing in several attempts at murdering Judith’s brother, Perry (first through a duel, then through various “accidents,” and finally through poison), the calculating Mr. Taverner kidnaps Judith in order to ruin her reputation and force her into marriage.  As he says himself:

“Money can drive a man to measures more desperate than you have any notion of.”

I Shall Conquer This by Rowlandson (1787)Last, but certainly not least, we have the Comte de Saint-Vire from These Old Shades.  Surely one of the most reprehensible of Georgette Heyer’s villains, he is so intent on assuring that his title does not pass to his brother, Armand, that he swaps his legitimate baby daughter for the male child of a farm laborer.  Years later, when his daughter, Léonie, reappears under the patronage of the Duke of Avon, Saint-Vire first drugs and kidnaps her, then later tells her that she is only his baseborn child.  He threatens to expose her to the world as illegitimate, completing his vile blackmail by saying:

“There need be no scandal if you disappear from Society…”

Cast your vote for Georgette Heyer’s Most Villainous Villain!  There are no limits on how many times you can vote and, as always, if you have a preference for another contemptible character (Theodore Frant from The Quiet Gentleman, perhaps, or Lord Lethbridge from The Convenient Marriage), I encourage you to write in your choice below.

The Poll is Now Closed.

The Results:

1st Place: The Comte de Saint-Vire from These Old Shades with 55% of the vote.

2nd Place: A tie between Lady Minerva Broome from Cousin Kate and Bernard Taverner from Regency Buck with 10% of the vote each.

3rd Place: A three-way tie between Mrs. Scorrier from Venetia Miss Eugenia Wraxton from The Grand Sophy, and Lord Lethbridge from The Convenient Marriage (by write-in).

Honorable Mention: Nathaniel Coate from The Toll-Gate with 1 vote by write-in.

Thank you for voting!

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017).  She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. 

© 2015-2017 Mimi Matthews

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7 thoughts on “Dangerous, Depraved, and Despicable: Heyer’s Most Villainous Villains

  1. Sarah Waldock says:

    I have to vote for the Comte de Saint-Vire, but there are some other memorable ones, first to mind being Robert, Baron Lethbridge in Convenient Marriage, and Marcus’ villianous and foppish cousin in the same book, the rather ambiguous Francis Cheviot in Reluctant Widow, and Theo Frant in The Quiet Gentleman. Heyer’s genius is in the depth of all her characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi Matthews says:

      There were far too many to choose from. I tried to provide a mix – the hated non-violent characters as well as the attempted murderers – but like you, I really didn’t care for Lethbridge and Frant, which is why I mention them in the article as alternates. So many despicable characters! Thanks for the comment, Sarah 🙂


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