The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers

I had high hopes for this book, being from the author of Count of Monte Cristo, which I adored and is one of my favourite books. Musketeers didn't grab me as much as Monte Cristo though and I did struggle with it (and it is a huge book too to struggle through!) but I ultimately did enjoy it in the end.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas available on Amazon
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I had high hopes for this book, being from the author of Count of Monte Cristo, which I adored and is one of my favourite books. Musketeers didn’t grab me as much as Monte Cristo though and I did struggle with it (and it is a huge book too to struggle through!) but I ultimately did enjoy it in the end.

I mostly struggled with all the sword-fighting which just seemed so pointless and futile, I know the book is obviously of a very different time to today but there seems such a disregard for human life, little niggles escalate so quickly into sword fights where someone is wounded or killed. This is particularly so with D’Artagnan who seems to react so dramatically to just the slightest look from someone, but surely to be a Musketeer/of the King’s troops (as he wished to be) then a degree of self-control and an ability to calmly analyse the situation is required! Porthos and Athos and Aramis aren’t much better. And the Musketeers as a whole just seem to always be involved in skirmishes with the Cardinal’s troops and to be deliberately provoking each other. I found all the bravado around this uncomfortable, and how quick they are to take offence and then sail into battle. I also didn’t particularly connect with any of the characters (probably because of their bravado and disregard for life) so found it difficult to care for them or be interested in what happens to them. There also seemed, in the first half of the book at least, to be no clever twists and surprises, whereas there are lots in the Monte Cristo book, which I kept comparing it with. It all just seems a lot of pointless sword-fights. And it’s supposed to be ‘all for one, and one for all’, and yet when on the mission to get the Queen’s brooch back, they leave each other in peril so as to continue the mission when they could have checked on each other quickly, I feel, and even after D’Artagnan returns successfully from this mission he doesn’t immediately go back to look for his friends. But all this ‘honour’ and ‘valour’ – maybe I just don’t understand the rules and importance of that in those times, but I can’t help feeling they seem foolish and foolhardy and overly dramatic to me. I was struggling with the book that much, I ended up putting it down for a few weeks and then trying it again, and it did improve as I got further into it.

When I picked it up again and got further into the book, I found Athos had become more interesting with an intriguing back story and a withdrawn side to him and a great twist with his ex-wife. And then totally gripped by Milady! She really dominated the whole book for me in the end, she was a proper old-fashioned femme fatale! Oooh, she was unscrupulous and wicked and such a schemer, and left a trail of devastation and dead bodies in her wake!! I also found it interesting that the men also acted very similarly to her but this is seen as acceptably brave and manly, whereas she’s a devil figure because she’s a female and not supposed to act like that. But I guess, again, that was the time the book was written in, and she wasn’t behaving as an expected typically demure female but instead showing guts and independence and self-will – although obviously you can’t escape the fact she did also kill people so clearly isn’t a nice character, tee hee! I also liked the mix of true historical characters alongside the fictional ones too, and it prompted me to read up about Lord Buckingham and Felton and Cardinal Richelieu, and about French history at the time and the Battle of Rochelle. There were some good twists in the latter half of the book too, although the plot was quite convoluted and complicated!

The story begins in 1625, when D’Artagnan, at the age of 18, leaves his home town hoping to join the Musketeers, he has a letter of recommendation from his father to Treville who is captain of the Musketeers, however on the way he gets into a fight (of course!) with a tall pale stranger with a scar on his cheek (we later find out this is Rochefort, also called the Red Duke, who is a servant of the Cardinal) who steals this letter from him. When he meets Treville and the Musketeers, he is told he has to prove himself before joining the Musketeers by doing guard duty first. He impresses 3 of the Musketeers, Porthos and Aramis and Athos, with his bravery and loyalty, and his impulsiveness and quarrelsome spirit (of course!), having firstly offended each one and been challenged by them all individually to a duel (naturally!). They are constant companions thereafter sharing funds and fights, even though duels are supposed to be banned at that time. Treville’s Musketeers are loyal to the King of France, Louis 13th, whereas the Guards of the Cardinal are loyal to the Cardinal, the Duc de Richelieu, who dominates the King, so there are often battles between these two groups of soldiers. D’Artagnan becomes privy to a plot by the Cardinal to discredit the King’s wife, Queen Anne of Austria – she is in love with the Duke of Buckingham of England and has given him her brooch studded with diamonds, but the Cardinal has discovered this and hopes to use it to bring about her downfall by arranging for 2 of these diamonds to be stolen from the brooch by his co-conspirator Milady Clarik, also called the Comtesse de Winter, while the brooch is in the Duke’s possession in England and then to suggest the Queen wears the brooch at a party with the missing diamonds which he plans to then produce as proof she gave the brooch to the Duke and is disloyal to the King. D’Artagnan falls in love with the Queen’s seamstress Madame Bonacieux, who was briefly abducted by Rochefort but escaped, who tells him of this plot and he vows to do all he can to help her, however she is also his landlord’s wife. 

He and the Musketeers journey to England to get the Queen’s brooch, they are attacked several times on the way (presumably by the Cardinal’s men) but they’ve agreed between them that if a Musketeer is injured on the mission then they will be left behind so the mission can continue. D’Artagnan makes it to England, after being challenged by and badly wounding a Comte de Wardes on the way, and gets to the Duke, who then has the two diamonds from the brooch replaced, he vows gratefulness to D’Artagnan who heads back to France and restores the brooch to the Queen in time for the party, and the Queen displays her gratitude to him and Madame Bonacieux displays her love to him. Madame Bonacieux’s husband, who is D’Artagnan’s landlord, was briefly imprisoned in the Bastille and then released by Rochefort, putting him now in the power of Rochefort. D’Artagnan receives a note, seemingly from Madame Bonacieux, arranging to meet him at a lonely cottage at night, but she has been abducted (again!) by Rochefort and his men when D’Artagnan gets there. D’Artagnan begins to suspect that Mr Bonacieux has been complicit in the abduction of his wife. D’Artagnan pleads with Treville that Madame Bonacieux be searched for, which Treville vows to alert the Queen to, Treville also advises D’Artagnan to flee before the Cardinal’s men come for him so D’Artagnan decides to seek Porthos and Athos and Aramis (at last!) in whatever state they may be, alive or dead, on the road they took to England. Porthos’ lackey is Mousqueton, and his mistress is Duchess Coquenard. D’Artagnan’s lackey is Planchet, and his mistress is Madame Bonacieux (although he seems to fall in love/lust fairly frequently, and also later has relationships with Milady, and her maid Kitty!). Athos’ lackey is Grimaud. Aramis’ lackey is Bazin, and his mistress is Madame de Chevreuse’s chambermaid who advises the Queen. 

D’Artagnan finds Porthos who is recovering well from his injuries, though has gambled all his money away. He also finds Aramis who has also recovered from his injuries and is about to become a monk due to the supposed rejection from his mistress but this aim is abandoned when he realises his mistress still loves him. He also finds Athos who has also recovered from his injuries and has barricaded himself in the cellar of the bar he was left in, drinking all the wine and eating all the hams. Athos gets very low in mood fairly regularly, yet never explains what saddens him, and then gets drunker and sadder. After being in the wine cellar for several weeks and being extremely drunk, Athos tells D’Artagnan his history of discovering his beautiful wife had a fleur-de-lis brand on her shoulder which meant she had stolen from a church, he then guessed her brother was really her lover that she’d escaped with, and Athos hanged her! But the following morning, Athos tells D’Artagnan this was a story about someone else. D’Artagnan sees Milady Clarik a few times in passing and is intrigued by her after remembering she is the Cardinal’s conspirator and was sent by him to steal the diamonds from the brooch in order to frame the Queen. He takes part in a duel with her brother-in-law, who is de Winter, Baron of Sheffield, he is impressed with D’Artagnan’s gentlemanly behaviour in sparing his life and introduces him to Milady, she recognises him and tries to get information from him about if he’s recently been to England etc, but D’Artagnan is cautious with the information he gives, although he admires her greatly. When duelling with de Winter, Athos and Porthos and Aramis are required to whisper their real names to him to convince him of their equal rank to him, Athos says under his true identity he is believed to be dead (very intriguing!). 

D’Artagnan becomes fascinated and falls in love with Milady, Athos warns him against becoming involved with her but D’Artagnan says it is because he believes she has information on the whereabouts of Madame Bonacieux (although he seems to forget Madame Bonacieux pretty quickly with his love for Milady!), Milady seems to encourage him but he then realises she is playing him along and is still in love with Comte de Wardes, who was the man D’Artagnan almost killed on his mission to England, and also that she is plotting vengeance against D’Artagnan for foiling the Cardinal’s plans with the Queen’s brooch and causing the Cardinal to be angry at her. D’Artagnan seduces Milady’s maid, Kitty, in order to get his vengeance on Milady by writing her letters pretending to be from De Wardes and then unceremoniously rejecting her, as De Wardes. He leads Kitty on by this and puts her position at risk by involving her in his scheme. Milady then, not realising the scheme D’Artagnan has played, asks D’Artagnan to kill De Wardes, and gives D’Artagnan a sapphire ring which Athos recognises he gave to another woman (oooh, is Milady actually Athos’ wife that he thought he’d hanged?!). D’Artagnan forgets his fears and suspicions of Milady in his madness of being in love with her and her allowing him to sleep with her, he then confesses to her that he pretended to write as De Wardes, she then tries to kill him and in their struggle the fleur-de-lis is revealed on her shoulder (eeek, she is Athos’ wife!). D’Artagnan flees to Athos and tells him all this. Athos warns D’Artagnan to be careful and not to go out alone. 

They sell Milady’s ring for funds to equip themselves in the Battle of Rochelle which they must go to as soldiers of the Musketeers in a few days’ time, and ensure Kitty’s safety by finding her a job with a lady of Aramis’ acquaintance. Before the forthcoming Battle of Rochelle, D’Artagnan is brought 2 notes. One summons him alone to a deserted path where a carriage passes him that seems to contain Madame Bonacieux, but he was instructed not to attempt to follow the carriage otherwise this would bring harm to those he loves. The second note summons him to the Cardinal’s presence who says he has heard of his bravery but also there have been many complaints made about him from which the Cardinal has protected him, he offers D’Artagnan a place in his guards, D’Artagnan politely refuses this, saying he has friends in the Musketeers and enemies in the guards, the Cardinal accepts this refusal but says this means he can no longer protect him, and D’Artagnan takes this as a warning. When they set off for the battle, and they travel separately as D’Artagnan is not yet of the Musketeers, Milady points out D’Artagnan to 2 men who follow. These 2 men attempt to kill D’Artagnan when he is walking alone a distance from camp before the battle. They then volunteer to support him in a fact-finding mission he is given against the English enemy and then attempt to kill him again, one is killed by the English, the other confesses to him that they were put up to this by Milady and that she also employed them to steal Madame Bonacieux when she was being transported from her prison to the convent and that this move from the prison to the safety of the convent was brought about by the Queen, and Milady told them to bring Madame Bonacieux to her but that Madame Bonacieux escaped the men. 

The Battle of Rochelle between England and France then proceeds, the Huguenots of France are Protestants, whereas the rest of France are Catholic, and it was agreed by Henry 4th of France in 1598 that the Huguenots could continue with their religion and live safely in La Rochelle which became independent of the rest of France and self-governed, but Louis 13th and the Cardinal are now seeking to reverse this privilege. La Rochelle is therefore under siege, being well defended and impregnable and with good sea access and is supported by Buckingham and England. The King and the Cardinal also built a sea wall around La Rochelle preventing supplies to the town being brought by ships. However the battle is also due to Buckingham and the Cardinal trying to destroy the other as they both love the Queen. The other Musketeers aren’t yet at the battleground as they are with the King who is unwell, D’Artagnan is sent some wine apparently from the Musketeers, however when they arrive shortly afterwards they deny sending this wine, and when a servant dies after drinking it they realise it has been poisoned and suspect Milady of doing this. Athos now seems uncertain that this is his ex-wife as he was certain he hanged her. D’Artagnan is advised by the Musketeers to speak to Milady to threaten to expose her as a branded woman or to kill her. They also determine to find out which convent Madame Bonacieux is in and to rescue her. 

The 3 Musketeers are out drinking one evening after the Battle of Rochelle has been successfully won, D’Artagnan is not with them as he’s in the separate division. They bump into the Cardinal who asks them to accompany him back to the pub they have just left in order to provide him with security, he is meeting Milady there and the Musketeers overhear him charge her with a task to threaten the Duke of Buckingham in order to halt his plans to join with the Spanish and Austrians with Rochelle against France, as the Cardinal can produce evidence, found at Buckingham’s camp when he had to leave quickly when defeated, that the Duke and Queen met and are in love, and if these threats fail then to find someone to kill Buckingham. Milady asks in return that the Cardinal ensures Madame Bonacieux and D’Artagnan are killed, for which he immediately writes an order to send them to the Bastille where they will be killed. Athos sneaks back to the pub after the Cardinal has left and goes to Milady’s room, where he recognises her as his ex-wife Anne de Breuil and reveals himself to her as her husband, the Comte de la Fere. He tells her he knows of all her actions regarding Madame Bonacieux and D’Artagnan and the Comte de la Wardes, and her part with the Cardinal and the Queen’s brooch, and her attempts to kill D’Artagnan, and that the Cardinal has instructed her to ensure Buckingham’s assassination. He demands she give him the Cardinal’s written order regarding D’Artagnan and Madame Bonacieux’s fate. She angrily hands this over, and is then collected by the Cardinal’s men to take her by boat to England, as arranged in the Cardinal’s plan. Athos shares all this with the others, they send a letter to Lord de Winter in England, Milady’s brother-in-law, warning him of Milady’s treachery, and the fact her first husband lives so the marriage to his brother is false, and the branding on her shoulder, and they recommend he meet her on her arrival and imprison her. He duly does this and tells her all he knows about her, saying she will be kept prisoner in his castle for 15 days then be sent to one of the colonies. The Musketeers also send a letter to Aramis’ mistress to warn the Queen of the assassination plot against Buckingham. Both these letters are carefully phrased so if they fall into the wrong hands the writers are not exposed as traitors, and their lackeys deliver these letters successfully. The Cardinal is unsuspicious of all that has been secretly done, he is very impressed by the Musketeers and makes D’Artagnan officially one of them. 

Milady manages to charm one of Lord de Winter’s men, Felton, telling him a tale of her being abducted and raped by Buckingham when a young girl who, when she threatened to expose him, branded her as a prostitute so she would not be believed. Felton helps her escape and he kills Buckingham. He realises when he is being dragged off to prison though, that she has conned him. Milady reaches France and heads to the convent where Madame Bonacieux is, she befriends Madame Bonacieux who shows her a note from Aramis’ mistress saying that D’Artagnan is coming to rescue her. Rochefort, the Cardinal’s servant, comes to meet Milady at the convent and she tells him of her success with Buckingham’s death so he can pass this to the Cardinal, and tells him she will wait at the next village for his return and for any new orders from the Cardinal. The 4 Musketeers arrive at the convent to rescue Madame Bonacieux, Milady tries to persuade Madame Bonacieux that these are instead enemies and to escape with her but Madame Bonacieux is too scared to follow. Milady poisons Madame Bonacieux, and she dies in D’Artagnan’s arms. Lord de Winter also arrives at the convent, having followed Milady from England, he had lost trace of her but saw the Musketeers on the road so followed them instead. The 5 turn up at the village where Milady is, they know the name of the village as they found a note Rochefort dropped with the village’s name on. Athos has also sought out and brought a sixth man to the meeting with Milady. They all accuse Milady of her crimes, killing Madame Bonacieux, trying to poison D’Artagnan, trying to get D’Artagnan to kill de Wardes, killing de Winter’s brother, causing Buckingham’s death, causing Felton’s death, falsely marrying Athos and taking his wealth (she is a master criminal!), and the sixth man then reveals himself as an executioner by trade and stated he is also the brother of a priest that Milady as a young nun seduced and convinced to steal the church’s vases, she and the priest were both imprisoned for this crime but escaped prison as she seduced a jailor, they then tried to begin life again as a curate and ‘sister’ on Comte de Fere’s/Athos’ estate and Athos then married Milady, and the priest became disgusted at all he had done at Milady’s bidding and returned to prison and hanged himself (even more crimes and plotting to her name!). They all pass the sentence of death on Milady, and the executioner beheads her. Phew, quite a dramatic ending!

I’m glad I stuck with the book and finished it, it did end up a great tale with an amazingly memorable baddie in Milady. And now I have finished it, even though I did struggle with it, I find myself quite tempted to read the others in the series.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas available on Amazon
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