Milady de Winter, a.k.a. Charlotte Backson, is the female antagonist of Alexander Dumas Pere's LE TROIS MOUSQUETAIRES/THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844). Her opposition to D'Artagnan carries much of the second half of the novel. Beautiful and intelligent, but cruel, ruthless, and cunning, Milady is the Cardinal Richelieu's spy. Her major role in the first part is to romance the Duke of Buckingham in England and steal two studs from his diamond collection, a gift from his lover the Queen of France.
In the second half, her allure comes to the attention of D'Artagnan. He rescues her from her brother-in-law Lord de Winter, who blames Milady for the death of his brother. Thus begins a relationship where D'Artagnan and Milady use each other: D'Artagnan at one point disguises himself as another of Milady's lovers, the Count de Wardes (he also sleeps with her maid Kitty). Milady intends to set up D'Artagnan for one of her future schemes. One sensual night, D'Artagnan reveals the truth of his deceit. Milady angrily attacks him, the scuffle revealing her shoulder baring the brand of the fluer-de-lis, a mark of criminality. This mark also reveals Milady to have once been the wife of D'Artagnan's friend Athos; a marriage also ruined by the marks discovery.
From then on, Milady tries her best to destroy D'Artagnan for discovering her secret. When Cardinal Richelieu orders Milady to travel back to England to murder the Duke of Buckingham, Milady agrees only if he signs a warrant allowing her to kill D'Artagnan and his lover Constance Bonocieux. By coincidence, the agreement is witnessed by Athos, who confronts his old wife, takes the document, and swears vengeance if she continues in her vendetta. Milady goes to England, only to be imprisoned by the wiser Buckingham. But the cunning Milady toys with her puritan jailer Felton. Preying on his religious beliefs, Milady convinces Felton that the Duke is a heinous blasphemer who branded her for refused advances. Felton frees Milady and kills the Duke. Returning to France, Milady learns the whereabouts of D'Artagnan's lover Constance. She meets the woman and has her drink poisoned wine. Shortly after, Milady is captured by the vengeful Four Musketeers, Lord de Winter, and an Executioner from Lille who had originally branded her (for seducing a priest- his brother- and stealing church vestments). A trial is made and Milady is sentenced to death. The resistant woman is beheaded by the Executioner. Her document is used by D'Artagnan to gain acquittal from a vengeful Cardinal. The sequel VINGT ANS APRES/TWENTY YEARS AFTER has Milady's son Mordaunt (John Frances de Winter) attempt revenge on the Musketeers for their role in his mothers murder.
In the 1921 United Artists/Douglas Fairbanks version, Milady's actions are minimized to stealing the diamonds from the Duke (this time a full brooch), only to have D'Artagnan retrieve it while on her ship to France. In the sequel THE IRON MASK, Milady meets with Constance and tries to pry from her important information concerning the infant Dauphin. Constance's resistance causes the reveal of her branded shoulder. Milady stabs Constance to death. The Three Musketeers apprehend Milady, see her mark, and take her to an executioner.
The 1935 RKO Radio Pictures version restores her past with Athos (though her branding comes after their marriage, as punishment for murdering Athos' brother). Here, Milady is solely Rochefort's agent, meeting with Buckingham to negotitate an alliance to war against the King and Cardinal. In England, she gets a message from Rochefort to seduce the Duke into giving her the diamonds (again a brooch). Returning to France with the brooch, she meets with D'Artagnan, who tries to trick her into joining her company. Milady does accept D'Artagnan, but as her prisoner in travel. Fortunately, she stops at an Inn where Athos of the Three Musketeers recognizes her as his wife, and rescues D'Artagnan. Her secret brand exposed by Athos, an escaping Milady jumps off a bridge to her death.
The 1939 20th Century Fox/Ritz Brothers version follows the previous film's plot of Milady capturing D'Artagnan, but has Milady suffer under the hands of the Three Lackeys. At one point, the Lackeys shake her upside down in order to force out an important letter inside her bosom!
The 1948 MGM version gives full scope to Milady's storyline, albeit with several changes. It is she, not Rochefort, who orders D'Artagnan's beating in their first meeting. Her brother-in-law Lord de Winter is omitted. Her negotiations with Richelieu require the promise of a Chateau in Lille as well as the head of D'Artagnan. Traveling to England, she is denounced by Constance and Planchet before Buckingham. She is imprisoned with Constance as her jailer. Milady feigns great illness, convincing Constance to secretly give her a knife to allow for a merciful release from life. Granted this courtesy, Milady uses the knife on Constance, Felton the guard, and finally Buckingham. She returns to France and to her promised estate (which just happened to be the house she once shared with Athos). The Four Musketeers track her down and bring the Executioner of Lille. Athos refuses her pleads of repentance, saying they cant dare to forgive her. After a moving kiss from her former husband, Milady accepts her fate and walks bravely to her execution.
The 1966 BBC TV serial is probably the most faithful adaptation, with Lord de Winter and Felton restored, as well as much of Milady's past actions mentioned.
The 1974 Richard Lester version has Milady involved in a romance with Comte Rochefort. In THE THREE MUSKETEERS: THE QUEENS DIAMONDS, Milady attends the King's Ball. She almost reclaims the Diamond studs from D'Artagnan, but enters a fight with Constance (leading to D'Artagnan accidentally kicking her in the rear). Defeated, she asks the Cardinal for revenge, but is refused. In THE FOUR MUSKETEERS: THE REVENGE OF MILADY, Milady's relationship with D'Artagnan is a set-up for future punishment for him and the kidnapped Constance. D'Artagnan's attempt to learn the truth leads to him learning her dark truth. In the climax, she and Rochefort intercept the Four Musketeers into battle at the Convent where the rescued Constance is safely hidden. Milady dresses up as a nun, goes to Constance, convinces her to pray for her lover, and then strangles her with a rosary. Getting to her carriage, Milady is stopped by a pistol-totting Athos. The Four Musketeers sentence Milady to death by beheading by the Headsman of Lille (who in this version has no past with his victim). Michael Hardwicks novelization of THE FOUR MUSKETEERS removes the execution and just has Athos shooting the woman to death.
The 1987 Japanese animated series gives Milady her most positive portrayal. Although she is still a vengeful villainess, her origin is given a sympathetic light. A scullery maid at a church, the woman attracts the attention of a priest. Together they fall in love and run away, but are apprehended and the woman severely punished with a brand. This unjust punishment sends Milady down her treacherous road. This Milady is skilled with a dagger and sword. She also has a pet marmoset named Pepe, who helps her use hypnotism to get information from people. She too plans revenge, succeeding in stabbing the Duke of Buckingham by herself and severely injuring Constance (who survives in this version). The Musketeers apprehend Milady, but leave the job of killing to D'Artagnan (Milady and Athos share no past in this version). However, when Milady reveals her story and the brand, D'Artagnan is overcome with sympathy that he spares her. He cuts a strand of her hair to convince his friends of her beheading. Later, Milady joins forces with the Man in the Iron Mask and his plan to overthrow Louis XIII. The failure of their plan sees them besieged at an island fortress. Milady is given a chance to shoot D'Artagnan, but spares him. She has decided to repent for her crimes by dying in the fort, where explosives have been charged. Milady and the Iron Mask are presumed to be killed in the forts destruction. However, the sequel ARAMIS NO BOKEN reveals Milady had survived and is back to her old tricks in dishonoring the Queen.
The 1993 Disney version, despite its loose fidelity to the novel, is faithful to Milady, here called Sabine. Her fluer-de-lis is now a brand for execution. Rather than kill her himself, her husband Athos betrays her to the authorities. Unknown to him, she escaped and married Count de Winter, later killing the man. She is ordered by Cardinal Richelieu to travel to England to engineer an alliance with the Duke of Buckingham. On her way she kidnaps DArtagnan, but is confronted by the Three Musketeers. Her treachery revealed, she is jailed by the musketeers and her brother-in-law Lord de Winter. Athos tries to gain information from the woman but is refused. That morning, the party and a swordsman take her to her a cliff for her execution. In a dramatic change from the novel's source, it is Athos who saves Milady from beheading, begging forgiveness for betrayal. Moved by this, Sabine forgives Athos, tells all the Cardinal's plans and then commits suicide by walking off a cliff.