The evil queen protagonist of the short story A Woman's Work by Tanya Huff qualifies. She has a plan for everything that could happen ... for example, when an assassin's horse looks at her with intelligent eyes, she shoots it, and says "Horses don't have intelligent eyes", implying that it was not a mere horse, but the enemy's backup plan.
In Masques, the spymaster to whom Aralorn reports. When she comes back from her mission to spy on the ae'Magi, she is flabberghasted to find that he talks fondly of the ae'Magi, and seems to have forgotten everything about trying to spy on him, now instead claming that her mission was all about finding out whether there is a conspiracy to assassinate the ae'Magi. Aralorn fears that he's under a magic spell. Turns out, he isn't, he faked it ... because everyone else is under a spell to love and admire the ae'Magi, and he wants Aralorn to be careful - and what better way to frighten her than to pretend that even he is under the influence of that spell? The walls have ears, so he can't talk openly, but he does make her think. He later sends her on a mission which seems useless, but turns out to bring her into the middle of the main plot. She wonders whether this was intentional and he knew what she would do all along. (He writes about her that "she doesn't obey orders, just listen to suggestions", so he knew she might act of her own accord if something interesting happened)
The Duke of Avon in These Old Shades. There is a reason everyone calls him Satanis. Everyone knows him, everyone respects him, and everyone is at least a little afraid of him, even the Crown Prince of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world has a degree of fear for him. He started out life with a title, a horrible family reputation, a Big, Screwed-Up Family, a title, and a huge load of debt. He won his entire huge fortune at gambling, it is strongly implied that he spent years as a super spy, and he has managed to the point where no-one would dare to not invite him. He is only redeamed by falling in love, and even that doesn't change his Magnificent Bastardry. He still manipulates her, (although in some ways she manipulates him,) he still get his revenge, and the fact that his True Love is the illegitimate daughter of his worst enemy just makes it better. He utterly destroys the man, and manipulates him into taking his own life, and uses that to set up his love with money, name, and reputation. He comes out with everything, and the only one who ever bests him in any way, (and that only where he allows her,) is Leonie. His biggest problem is that he won't pursue her, thinks he is much too old for her, and is frustrated when she refuses his Matchmaking. In later books they're happily married, but he's still a (semi-retired) Magnificent Bastard. This is made very clear in Devil's Cub where he makes it very clear to his son that, because his actions have the potential to hurt Leonie, he will leave the country and reform, (for an Avon definition, of course,) whether he likes it or not, and that if he causes her any more problems he will never be seen again.
Father Rodin is a villain from the book The Wandering Jew by Eugene Sue; he is a Jesuit priest and the secretary of Father D'Aigrigny, who has charged him with the mission to get hold of The Rennepont Heritage, which is actually The Wandering Jew's treasure. During the course of the book, Rodin puts various obstacles in the way of The Wandering Jew's true heirs, in order to claim the treasure for The Jesuit Order.
Gaspard de Chalons (The Masked Empire) is superior in Game no doubt about that: He used the feather duel between Teagan and Michel against her to gain support from important nobles, he helps the city elves knowing he'll look better to them than Celene when she puts down their rebellion, and he's the one that sets her up to march on Halamshiral in the first place with his theater stunt. And the theater trip was soooo publicly embarrassing for Celene, and there's nothing she can do about it
Henri De Belcamp in John Devil (1862) by Paul Féval. He a master of disguise with Napoleonic Ambitions and incredible charisma who ingeniously uses his nemesis Temple's own methods against, culminating in a brilliant Batman Gambit. He's able to gain the blind loyalty of people who have every reason to hate him and lies as easily as he tells the truth. He is sometimes considered the first Super Villain and with good reason.
Steerpike of the Gormenghast novels. Mr Machiavelli and one of the greatest Magnificent Bastards ever. Rises from a kitchen boy to the unofficial ruler of the castle, very nearly manages to pervert the Groan line and install himself as lord of all, spies on everyone through an ingenious mirror system he's created, single-handedly torches part of the building, does away with more than one Groan and is never, ever, ever short of a comeback. And, in case that wasn't enough, manages to make damn near every girl that looks at him fall in love with him, despite the fact that he's pretty weird-looking (later deformed), if not downright ugly. All of this at the age of SEVENTEEN.
Lord Vetinari, Patrician and supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, is described as being such a Magnificent Bastard, he makes Machiavelli look like an amateur. (Which, it should be said, the Real Life Machiavelli actually was; he just wrote books about being a Magnificent Bastard. Or rather, tried to show why dictators are bad, and gave an example of how evil even a "good" dictator should be.) He plots against everyone, plays people against each other, and he manipulates people into doing exactly what he wants, and always gets away with it. He is the Trope Namer for Vetinari Job Security because as much as everyone else in the city personally resents his power, they have to admit that things would be ten times worse without him as no-one else could manage his balancing act. Vetinari is almost a subversion in that we meet him when he is already quite-contentedly in power, and his Magnificent Bastardry is dedicated entirely to maintaining the mundane bureaucratic affairs of the city. It is Ankh-Morpork as a whole that he's loyal to, not any single power within it, and he appears in the books almost as the embodiment of the city. Vetinari leads a scandal-less, Spartan private life and almost always appears as a peripheral character, never protagonist or antagonist.
Samuel Vimes from the City Watch is one on a smaller scale, but is still no less treacherous. He is just a common copper, but he has an unparalleled understanding of criminal psychology, and uses every trick in the book to win against aristocrats, politicians, and monsters.
Vimes' protege, Carrot, is probably a bigger bastard than Vimes, what with getting everybody to do what he wants by simply being nice. Carrot (possibly) keeps his magnificence hidden under a guise of innocence and lawfulness, and annoys people (and the readers) closest to him because they can't figure out if he's actively manipulating them.
Going Postal contrasts Vetinari with Reacher Gilt, who fits the classic version of this trope to a T; Moist, the protagonist mentioned below, describes him as the greatest conman he's ever met. He secretly has people killed, he's the toast of the upper classes, and he admits freely that he's a pirate, but no-one listens. He buys the clacks with its own money, makes money running it into the ground, will make money selling its remains to himself for a pittance, profit as it's built back up... he might even make a profit running the damn thing, though that's more gravy than anything. And he gets away with it because he's so bald-faced about it, as well as amazingly charming, that no-one believes he's serious.
Moist von Lipwig also falls here by sheer Refuge in Audacity, while less inclined to actual villainy than Gilt. Forced into the highly dangerous position of Postmaster, which has already killed the four previous incumbents, he manages to hold on to dear life with enormous amounts of charisma, convincing first the older, retired postmen and later all of Ankh-Morpork that the Post Office is returning to life. When Gilt arranges for the Post Office arson, he comes up with a way to revitalize the Post - unearth all the cash he made as a conman and passing it as a gift from the gods, putting the money to good use and beginning the path to true redemption. He goes against Gilt and suckers him into an unwinnable wager with a broom. When his criminal past catches up with him in the next book, he sucker punches everyone trying to take advantage of it by confessing it all, robbing them of any actual ammunition and gaining the full trust of the city in the bargain.
Sergeant Jackrum from Monstrous Regiment, asides from being a major badass, may not appear to have high rank, but this is deceptive. Jackrum knows how to play "ruperts" — slang for officers — like a fiddle, "anticipating their orders" so that he is basically in command, and if that fails making damn sure that things swing his way anyway.
He was a sergeant major in a roomful of confused ruperts, and he was happier than a terrier in a barrel of rats.
Granny Weatherwax, now that she's largely forfeited centre stage to Tiffany Aching, has the competition for the Magnificent Bitch title all sewn up. She is the greatest witch in the world, but prefers to use psychology and cunning to win the day (as using power outright would likely corrupt her into a bad witch). But when she unleashes her power and outplays her enemies, she does so with... theatrics.
Many of the greatest witches qualify for this trope. There's Nanny Ogg, who is rumoured to be more powerful than Granny, but prefers to gossip and befriend the heroes who will 'save' the day. There's also Granny Aching, Tiffany Aching's grandmother, who denied she was ever a witch, but could bring mostly-dead lambs back to life.
Sauron, though much of his magnificent bastardy takes place before The Lord of the Rings — see this essay. Sauron is a cunning manipulator who has plans going all over Middle-Earth. When force fails he can sweet-talk and when sweet-talk fails he has force and when that fails he has schemes within schemes within schemes. He can manipulate even his enemies into serving his goals. He engineered the Fall of Númenor through manipulation of the Númenóreans' desire for immortality and he was the one that was responsible for many of the Foul Things that inhabit Middle-Earth. And the Nazgûl were his own idea. And so on. Basically, he was a Magnificent Bastard all the way till the fall of Númenor. Afterwards, he became the archetypal Evil Overlord, though if you read between the lines, there's still some good planning going on there.
Fëanor from The Silmarillion. He does some very despicable stuff but is so charismatic that most of his people, many of them otherwise fairly decent, follow him for a while.
Melkor/Morgoth, the original Dark Lord, once qualified before he squandered his power and knowledge. In the beginning he was the second most powerful being in existence other than Eru Ilúvatar. After he disrupted the song of creation in an attempt to glorify himself, he seduced many lesser spirits to his side. He was able to fight off the other Valar for years after entering the world, taking a colossal, majestic, and terrifying form. When he was finally captured, he feigned repentance in order to be let out. When he was, he went among the Noldor Elves spreading lies and dissent while appearing beautiful and friendly. By the time he was caught, he corrupted and divided the Elves so far that a centuries-long Hopeless War followed. Even afterwards many characters, even elves, still fell for his tricks.
The Twelve Chairs: This page would not be complete without mentioning Ostap Bender of Eastern descent, although with very uncanny mind for such a guy. For instance, he uses the "comrades" of old Soviet Russia by ponding money from these by: creating fake organizations with a brilliant concept, saying he's a far victim's relative, collecting taxes for charity (or, once, for the "repairs of Proval")... all that complete with unbelieveably sharp and quirky diction and also sharp and quirky look. Sadly, his epic campaigns usually resulted in Bittersweet Ending, when the overall target seemed to be very, very close...
Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, which tell an alternate history of WWII in which the former enemies in the war team up to fight alien invaders, plays SS Officer Otto Skorzeny in this role out the yazoo. Of course, in the end, since he is a dedicated, genocidal Nazi, he eventually becomes the prime villain and is confronted and killed.
Belisarius, the eponymous character of The Belisarius Series. He's portrayed as the most capable Roman general even before the Great Ones and the New Gods begin their machinations. With the help of Aide, a crystal sent from the future to advise him in his war against Link and it's Malwa followers, he reaches epic proportions. For example, he journeys to India, where he ingratiates himself with Vendanakatra the Vile and studies the Malwa's weaknesses, convincing the Malwa that he is planing to turn traitor while he regales Vendanakatra with tales of Kushan lasciviousness. Vendanakatra promptly replaces the elite Kushans guarding his prize, the Andhra princess Shakunlata, with eunuch torturer guards. This allows Shakunlata's mentor, the assassin Raghunath Rao, to rescue her. Belisarius disguises her as a camp follower in his own entourage, before handing over the fantastically huge Malwa bribe to help her and Rao finance the Andhra rebellion against Malwa. Even after he is exposed by Link and separated from his men, he manages to escape. Rana Sanga, the most (read: only) capable general on the Malwa side, eventually tracks Belisarius down only to find a decoy and a message explaining Pythagoras's Theorem to the enraged Rajput general while Belisarius himself escapes into the desert on camelback. Belisarius is noted for approaching all problems at an angle, which he explains is more useful than attempting to calculate odds. Towards the end of the series, the Malwa are terrified of him, with only the elite army of Damodara and Rana Sanga managing to ever match him.
Lord Petyr Baelish of A Song of Ice and Fire, also known as "Littlefinger". Even though his title has little standing, Lord Petyr is nonetheless one of the most deceptively powerful men in Westeros. He was so adept at finance that he managed to gain a seat as the Master of Coin on the king's council, and has replaced many officials with servants who are loyal to him. He was responsible for the assassination of the King's Hand, Jon Arryn. He easily duped Eddard Stark into believing he was an ally and was ultimately responsible for his execution. He murdered the only woman who seems to have loved him, Lysa Arryn, after we learn the entire civil war was set in motion at Littlefinger's behest (not that he likely planned for it to be so big, but still. And to demonstrate he tolerates no bastards of the less-magnificent variety, he took a hand in King Joffrey's assassination, facilitating Margaery's marriage to a sane king at House Tyrell's request. Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the smartest characters in the series, doubts whether he is a match for Littlefinger. His only weakness is a love he once held for Eddard's wife Catelyn Stark, which seems to have transferred to a twisted affection for her daughter Sansa, whom he's "training" to follow on his manipulative steps. By the end of the fourth book, he is the Lord Protector of the Vale, is Lord of Harrenhal/the Lannisters' duly chosen new Lord of the Trident, and has set in motion events through marrying off his protegee Sansa to Robert Arryn's heir to put himself in a position of power with the North as well.
Honorable mention also goes to Tywin and Tyrion Lannister. While they are both dragged under by the weight of Gambits and grudges in the series, Tywin manages to stay at the top of the pile through three kings and two major civil wars first, and Tyrion catches up quickly when given the opportunity. Had the two of them been able to work together, the series might be over by now. They spend most of their time at each other's throats due to each mutually despising the other.
Lady Olenna Redwyne-Tyrell aka "The Queen of Thorns" has been playing the game of thrones quietly for decades, and very, very few seem the wiser as to her status... that's how good she is. In short, she's the quiet power behind practically everything House Tyrell has achieved since she joined it in marriage. There are strong hints that she's on a par with both Littlefinger and Varys when it comes to schemes and even has planned a well-trained Bastard Understudy (or, possibly, several likely lasses) to replace her, for when she does finally kick the bucket, making her one of the few in Westeros to not only use contingency plans, but insurance as well. (One could actually feel some sympathy for the Stranger when that time comes...)
The villain of L.A. Confidential: Captain Dudley Smith. The audience knows from the prologue he's evil, but you don't realize exactly how evil until Exley, White, and Vincennes unravel how everything from Patchett's hooker ring to the Nite Owl killings to Mickey Cohen's mobsters, to the smut books, to even Preston Exley, Ray Dieterling, and the Loren Atherton case is connected to him. Either he's got the best luck in the world, or he's put together one of the biggest Plans ever.
Capa Vencarlo Barsarvi of the first book deserves an honorable mention, despite the fact he is ultimately defeated by an even greater Magnificent Bastard, namely the Grey King. Barsavi was just a professor of Rhetoric, for God's sake; moves to Camorr and in a few short years he had eliminated all the rival Capas, resulting in a total monopoly on the city's criminal enterprises with several thousand men and over a hundred gangs at his disposal. Not only that but through a shrewd alliance with the Duke's spymaster he promises not to go after the nobility and in exchange punishments are relaxed for his men and he physically rules several of the less desirable parts of the city. He kept this up for 20 years. Not a bad run.
Hell, what about Locke Lamora himself? He started running games when he was *six*, and for all the Magnificent Bastardry of both the Grey King and Capa Barsavi, he ran rings around both of them- in the case of the latter, for over a decade! He conned dozens of nobles, including the Spider herself, and got away from it all without a scratch.
In the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies: The owner of the high class gambling ring Sinspire at first seems to be the classic 'early story mark' in his ego and position as decadent nobility, serving to lead Locke Lamora into the main plot. He shows quite nicely how this isn't the case as the end of book however, when as part of the Downer Ending he totally outsmarts even Locke. He had already worked out that they were trying to screw him over and what they were after, allowing them to do his dirty work to earn his 'trust' while replacing the target paintings with fakes.
Bastard Operator from Hell. Over the course of hundreds of short stories, he has almost exclusively come out on top with all of his complex gambits, quickly turning every event in his favor. He can walk into a convention with no preparation and manipulate total strangers into giving him their money. He had a Wonderful Life sequence and instead of coming to a realization of how bad he is, the only thing he gets out of it was the password to a competitor's computer system. This is the man that could take over the world if he only cared about more than just making more money by doing less work.
Gentleman Johnnie Marcone from Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files series. He's constantly putting himself in a position where it's absolutely necessary for people who hate him to cooperate with him, whether because he's the lesser of several evils or simply the only option. He has single-handedly brought all of Chicago's organized crime under his direct control and even managed to be the first normal human to sign on to the magical equivalent of the Geneva Convention known as the Unseelie Accords. Harry says it all: "Say what you want about Marcone, but he's got balls that drag the ground when he walks."
Another Dresden Files example: Lara Raith, who single-handedly cripples the White King (her own father) just so she can assert herself as the power behind the throne, and then proceeds to manipulate the rival families of the White Court into attacking female magic users too weak for the White Council to notice, betting on the fact that Harry will get involved and wipe out all of the challengers for leadership of the White Court. Even if it hadn't worked, she still would have come out on top for the same reasons that she used to convince her dupes in the first place.
Nicodemus. Over 2000 years old, head of the order of the blackened Denarius, instigator and magnifier of multiple wars and plagues, slaughterer of hundreds of Knights of the Cross and perfectly plans and executes (until Harry throws a spanner in the works) a scheme to capture both Marcone, chief crime lord in the entire US, and the Archive, essentially everything ever written down in the head of a little girl who is stronger than the Summer and Winter Ladies. Also, uses when he throws Lasciel's coin at little Harry. Either Harry Dresden or Carpenter is going to take it, and either would be perfect for his purposes.
He is later out-gambitted by Mab and Marcone (again!) in Skin Game
Troy Phelan from John Grisham's novel The Testament. A rich businessman with over 11 billion dollars in assets as well as three ex-wives and six children he hates with a passion, he cooks up an ingenious plan to totally screw them when he dies. He first fools his heirs into thinking he signed a will that divided the money equally among them. Then, while they're not looking, he signs the real will. In it, he gives his entire fortune to an illegitimate daughter. He only gives enough money to his heirs to cover all of their debts up to the date of his death, orders his lawyer to keep the will from being publicly read for a month, and then commits suicide. The lawyer then realizes that thinking they're going to inherit a fortune, all of Phelan's heirs will go on a spending spree for the next month and incur even greater debts. Suffice to say, when the will was finally read, everybody realized how much of a Magnificent Bastard Troy Phelan really was. The icing on this cake? Shortly before committing suicide, he manipulates his family into getting a team of doctors to declare him mentally competent, knowing that they'll try to backpedal furiously when the real will is read.
Speaking of Grisham works, The Appeal definitely qualifies. A legendary corporate predator Carl Trudeau with three billion of his own in assets, Carl Trudeau is blindsided by the verdict handed down against a chemical company in which he is the main stockholder. So he devises a simple yet brilliant plan to get back at the small-town lawyers who were willing to take it on. One component is when he buys out the bank from which the trial lawyers get their loans, which will then get called and so force them to declare bankruptcy and turn away other clients. When the case finally reaches state Supreme Court, the senator whose fun he is funding goes in to work the justice whose campaign the case is the basis for. The icing on the cake? The little Mississippi town has no clue it is the shareholder, not the firm, that destroyed them. All because he was driven off the Forbes list of richest Americans.
Jarlaxle Baenre—brother of Quenthel and Gromph, no less—, founder and leader of the mercenary band Bregan D'aerthe, which he left in the hands of a deputy (he found a drow who will not try to depose him but is powerful and resourceful enough to keep it) to go adventuring for fun. Living in a society where the precise cut of hair corresponds to one's status, he shaves his head to show he's not in the system. Other drow of Menzoberranzan try to master the controlled chaos that is the City of the Spider Queen. Jarlaxle tries to add chaos, because he thrives in it. In early products he was assigned Neutral Evil, in the latest edition campaign setting he's Chaotic Neutral, which is probably more accurate: he's not malevolent but a mercenary acting for fun, or profit... or just for the hell of it.
The Sellswords pretty much amplifies his Magnificent Bastardry to truly epic levels, where he ends up manipulating the entire Kingdom of Bloodstone and its paladin king, Gareth Dragonsbane, the Citadel of Assassins, two ancient dragons, the remnants of the lich-king Zenghyi's artificial magical constructs, Artemis Entreri, and his own drow mercenary band that he is no longer in direct control of to his own benefit and for the hilarity of it all, and he does it with such flair and ease that it looks like child's play. Truly, Jarlaxle is one of the greatest Magnificent Bastards in all of fiction.
Elaith "The Serpent" Craulnober appears in books of Elaine Cunningham and Ed Greenwood. Stylish, fearless, merciless and almost shameless crimelord of explosive temper. He easily flips between Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain, usually intervening when something offends him. Or protects Status Quo when things can get worse — he wrecks an attempt to establish a thieves and assassins guild in his city "because it's not in his best interests" or saves a hero as an "enemy of my enemy" — he prospers, why let anyone to rock the boat?
Lauzoril, extremely charismatic Zulkir of Enchantment. Became leader of Imperialist party despite demonstratively breaking Red Wizards' tradition. Dodged Villain Decay despite being defeated in military campaigns, then tired of wars, steered further into Affably Evil and beyond, jumping into dangerous adventure to save a complete stranger just because his daughter happened to show a compassion to this guy during a scrying lesson. Witch Queen is the most dangerous mage in his world and not only wrecked all Red Wizards' plans she knew of, but simply killed them at sight, and is known as a bit crazy — not a typical Friendly Enemy. So what? First, long years of leading attacks on her land and underground war on her Harpers agents, up to an assassination attempt on her sister. Then he got a cheek and skill to scry upon her while apparently disabling the wards preventing her from far-seeing his real face at will. Then they met and... parted as friends. He managed to make sort of separate peace with her, extolling the future trade rivalries on the same breath.
Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance is definitely an example of this. His cunning plan? Go back in time, study under the most powerful dark wizard ever (also Magnificent in his own right), then kill him and steal the rest of his secrets, organize an army and attack one fortress in order to get close to another which contains a gate to the Abyss, manipulate a cleric of good into falling in love with him helping him open it, lure out the supreme goddess of darkness, kill her, and take her place. The only thing more insane is how close he came to succeeding. This is made more interesting by how many times Raistlin came close to failing; sure, he's a supreme Bastard, master manipulator, and ends up the series's most powerful dark wizard, but let's not forget that he started with absolutely nothing, and gambled everything with every step - this is a man so physically frail he coughs blood after casting even the most basic spells, and constantly wrestling with his own amorality, bitterness, and the shreds of actual love he felt for his brother and even Crysania. All of this only combines to make him more Magnificent; no wonder he's a Draco in Leather Pants to many fans of the books.
Nyarlathotep from H.P. Lovecraft's writings: Not only is he a monster, he's the only one of Lovecraft's pantheon that seems to take real interest in actions of humans, which is not a very good thing for humanity. Prime examples include his appearance in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, where he gives a three-page-long speech about how he was never trying to kill the protagonist (his minions just misunderstood him) and, in fact, needs him to go get the Dreamland's gods back to their rightful place in Kadath. He then proceeds to give the protagonist a flying creature that would take him to the Sunset City where the gods now dwell and explicitly warns him from flying too high with it. However, it turns out that the protagonist has no control over the beast and it is taking him to the court of the great daemon sultan Azathoth (the Mad God that spawned the entire universe, and the most powerful of all the Mythos' entities). He barely escapes with his life.
Dracula in the eponymous novel by Bram Stoker; a soulless, eerily polite Manipulative Bastard whose nocturnal predations turn Victorian morality on its head, transforming demure and innocent young maidens into voluptuous, demonic temptresses right under the noses of their impotent menfolk, all while remaining mockingly out of reach. He plots and nearly executes the conquest of England that is only derailed due to a Contrived Coincidence involving his first victim in England's connections. His massive effect on pop culture, almost singlehandedly inventing the modern image of the suave, aristocratic vampire, is largely derived from the personality created in Stoker's original novel - repulsively evil yet undeniably magnetic.
Hannibal Lecter, before Badass Decay set in. (There's a reason why Hannibal and Hannibal Rising are commonly considered Fanon Discontinuity.) Even in Hannibal,in the event that such a novel exists, he has his Magnificent moments: he convinces his captor's sister to kill her brother (however much the brother deserved death, that still counts for something); he brainwashes Clarice to become his sister/girlfriend/embodiment of utter Squick; and manages to kill an opponent and simultaneously recreate the death scene of said opponent's Renaissance ancestor, right down to using the original Renaissance palace, while quoting a scene from Dante that perfectly describes the murder. That's got to win him at least a couple of Magnificent points.
Rupert of Hentzau from The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel is a textbook—nay, an entire course in Magnificent Bastard-ness. Starting out as The Dragon for the book's villain, Rupert is a womanising, treacherous, amoral, totally fearless young man who will kidnap your king, try to stab you in a public place, seduce or rape any young, pretty woman (not drawing a line at the future Queen or his own master's mistress), and do it all with the utmost good-natured charm, despite having caused his mother to die of grief. Also, the following line:
... the man Johann, whom I was compelled to... send back to Zenda, where, by the way, Rupert Hentzau had him soundly flogged for daring to smirch the morals of Zenda by staying out all night in the pursuits of love.
Mr. Wednesday from American Gods. Early on in the story, the protagonist's wife died in a car accident she inadvertently caused by... um... distracting the driver, which was later revealed to have been arranged by Mr. Wednesday so he could hire the protagonist for a dangerous job. This may seem impressive until you realize the thirty-something protagonist was born to be an integral part of Mr. Wednesday's Gambit Roulette. And that's without before we even get to his master plan in which he intends to screw over every other god in America (except, possibly, his partner) to replenish his power. And you kind of want him to get away with it.
Grand Admiral Thrawn of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels counts. He can deduce the mindset of enemies merely by observing their art, achitecture, and actions and adjust his tactics accordingly. His strategic skills were so great that he managed to keep pressure on the New Republic with only a relatively small fraction of the now-fractured Empire and managed to lock down Coruscant for the duration of his siege. His greatest act of magnificent bastardry, however, was in the prequel novel Outbound Flight wherein—as a young Commander of a very small Chiss task force—he managed to set up a plan of epic proportions by predicting the actions of a human guest/prisoner, his superiors, an agent of Darth Sidious and his Trade Federation comrades, a group of nomadic alien raiders, and a colony ship full of Jedi (the eponymous Outbound Flight) in such a manner that everything he wanted to deal with all convened in one area while those that he didn't were out of the way. He then counted on the Jedi on Outbound Flight to use the Force to disable the gunnery crews on the nomadic raider's fleet (which he wanted to destroy earlier, but couldn't under Chiss Rules of Engagement) while he used captured Trade Federation droids to destroy most of the now disabled fleet, his own ships then swooped in and disabled the weaponry of Outbound Flight.
Corran: The man's incredible. I'd like to meet him, shake his hand. And then kill him, of course.
Rebecca of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. She manipulates her husband into keeping quiet about some sort of trouble she's gotten into by promising to bring life into Manderley, his childhood home. She keeps him under her control with this promise for years and years while she goes off and has sex with several "friends in London", including her own cousin. In the meantime, the two of them keep up the charade that they are the perfect happy couple, and Rebecca makes fanatic friends of all the servants and townspeople, particularly Mrs. Danvers, who loved her because of her manipulativeness. When she discovers that she has a fatal cancer, she makes her husband believe that she is pregnant with another man's child, causing him to lose control, shoot her dead, and sink her body in her boat. And then, even after she's dead, she still manipulates the second Mrs. de Winter into thinking (more than she already did) that she is worthless and her husband doesn't love her, by way of mementos, Mrs. Danvers, and a string of misunderstandings.
Honor Harrington has the Mesa Alignment. It's implicated that they not only started the current war between Manticore and Haven, but that they caused the revolution in Haven. 'The first one 200 years ago.' All part of the plan feeding their true plans. Not only that, but the Audubon Ballroom, a terrorist organization that kills Mesan leaders, is completely compromised and only kills deadweight in the cover organizations that don't know the Alignment exists, despite being nominal heads of Mesa.
Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22. Although a mere mess officer, he has connections all over the world and is - among other titles - mayor of an Italian city and imam of a Middle-Eastern country. Due to mastery of international import and export (including goods from Germany) and blatant pinching of various army supplies (he even leaves stylish notes!) he makes himself ludicrously rich, and becomes gradually even more of a capitalist wonder by turning his eye to private contracting with both the Allies and Axis. He eventually pulls off the amazing feat of bombing the regiment's own airfield for the Germans but easily avoids getting court-martialed due to his seemingly-unlimited funds. His only mistake is buying too much cotton from Egypt, but he takes care of that by convincing General Cathcart that the troops should be fine eating his excess cotton, provided they cover the cotton in chocolate sauce first.
Lawrence John Wargrave, aka U. N. Owen from And Then There Were None. Manages to craft the ultimate Locked Room Mystery and only his desire that someone appreciate his genius allowed the mystery to be solved. He even manages to fake his own death, and gets the last two victims to, respectively, try and kill one another, with the survivor committing suicide.
Stephen Norton/Mr. X in Curtain is modeled on Iago of Othello infamy, and uses his deep understanding of human psychology in order to convince otherwise harmless people to commit murders. He almost succeeds in getting Hastings to kill a man who was showing an interest in his daughter and in the end Poirot has to murder him because it will never be possible to try him.
In Elantris by the same author, one of the three main viewpoint characters is one- Hrathen, a high priest of the theocratic Fjordell empire whose specialty lies in bringing nations to their knees so they can be converted. Things don't always go his way (as the other two main characters are both Magnificent in their own right, though neither are Bastards), but he never loses his cool and always finds a way to turn even defeat to his advantage. Hrathen's mostly unseen boss, Wyrn, is implied to be one as well (or at least a straight Chessmaster).
Toranaga in Shogun is a quintessential Magnificent Bastard, and if the book were more widely known, it is quite possible he would be considered the Trope Codifier rather than J.R. Ewing or Lionel Luthor. Toranaga combines The Chessmaster and Manipulative Bastard gloriously, and plays an awesome game of Xanatos Speed Chess when his plans get derailed. The latter detail is one of the best aspects of the way he has been written; he is not omniscient, and does make mistakes, and has occasionally been faced with a situation that puts him at a potentially fatal disadvantage, but he is very good at improvising his way out. It is impossible not to hope Toranaga ends up at the top of the Gambit Pileup that forms the book's backdrop, even though he is the black in the Black and Grey Morality; both Toranaga and his nemesis Ishido had sworn to their late master that they would protect his young son until he was old enough to rule, but Ishido believes Toranaga intends to supplant the boy and become Shogun himself, and he's absolutely right. If any doubts about his Magnificent Bastard credentials remain towards the end of the book, the reveal in the final chapter of the insanely elaborate Kansas City Shuffle he's been playing through the entire second half, ending with his brutal To the Pain revenge on his nemesis Ishido, puts him firmly in this category: "It wasn't an Act of God. It was an Act of Toranaga."
Marquise Isabella de Merteuil of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons). She sets in motion a plot which results in multiple deaths and ruins the lives of several people, largely for the sake of boredom and petty revenge on a former lover.
Glenin Feiran of The Exiles trilogy by Melanie Rawn. Cunning, beautiful (and aware of it), she once remarks that the main difference between her and her major rival is that when she becomes the most powerful woman in the world, she'll look the part. She wants to control the world and order it to her vision, part of which involves using her sisters as breeders and later having his son sleep with his cousin for the magical offspring they'll produce. She also permanently maims her sister and shows no remorse. She's very popular with the fanbase for her intelligence.
Saint Dane from The Pendragon Adventure series. Most of the time he disguises as two different people. One he allows Bobby to know about to taunt him, and the other is somebody who isn't revealed until around the end of the book. Usually the second disguise is what he is using to manipulate everybody to their doom, with the exception of The Rivers of Zadaa where he convinces the Rokador to flood everything as himself and The Quillan Games where he reveals his new secret weapon Nevva Winter. To top things off, as of Raven Rise, he's arguably winning, having destroyed all the barriers of Halla. The fact he also is capable of holding his own in actual combat, is more or less unkillable and was responsible for the deaths of Press, Alder, Patrick and Kasha (though they all got better) makes it no surprise that an unusually large portion of the fanbase wants him to win in the last book.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms' Zhuge Liang, single-handedly responsible for half the Crowning Moments of Awesome in the novel. At the battle of Bo Wan, the first military exercise he planned, the Wei (enemy) forces ended up splintered, isolated, completely surrounded by an army less than half their number, ambushed from all sides, and on fire. His forces were barely scratched.
In Enemy Mine by Barry Longyear, Drac skilled in Talma (peculiar teachings of philosophy and logic) who apply it to political needs tend to achieve this effect. Like having a proper prisoner of war accidentally blinded, taught Talma and nearly adopted by one's clan as a way to stop the war. There's also the whole species whose survival model starts with "when running from a predator, run to another, make them fight over their prey, then slip away while they're busy". And when they started to mess with the big politics, they managed to confuse even Dracs into following their plans.
Achilles in the Ender's Shadow series. Sabotaging India's war in Indochina to allow China to sweep in and conquer both India Proper and its new conquests, and thenplaying both the Chinese and Peter Wiggin like a violin until Bean stops him makes him the epitome of a Magnificent Bastard. And all before his thirtieth (hell, maybe even his twentieth) birthday.
John Scalzi's protagonist from the Old Man's War series is just a lovable roguish character up until the third book where he leads a fleet of former enemy ships to Earth to circumvent the tyrannical extra-solar human government who had been keeping Earth in the dark about anything beyond Pluto. By doing so, he managed to prevent the extermination of the human race, free the Earth from the amoral splinter government and bring humanity into an interstellar alliance. He does all of it while navigating the judicial bureaucracy of a government that wants him to hang, framing himself as a war hero in the interplanetary politics, leading an entire planet and negotiating peace. At the same time, his daughter assists his plan in her own story which might qualify her as well.
1632: Cardinal Richelieu gets even more chances to demonstrate his magnificent bastardy than he did in Real Life, thanks to getting a preview of the flow of history from uptimer history books, as discussed in 1633.
Though he's not as magnificent as some examples on this list, and his plans do fail about half the time (though considering the sheer amount of schemes he has going at once, that's still a large number of successes) one has to give props to Nom Anor. Merely the fact that he can survive as a Dirty Coward in a culture of Proud Warrior Race GuyScary Dogmatic AlienKnight Templars is quite a feat - and when his superiors finally do get tired of him, his response is to assume a fake identity and launch a rebellion that nearly brings their government to its knees. Plus, his knowledge of how "infidels" think and continuous work as a political destablizer was responsible for most of the victories the Yuuzhan Vong won against the New Republic period.
One of the best examples of this trope is Kees van Loo-Macklin in The Man Who Used The Universe by Alan Dean Foster. Starting as a homely and abused orphan and using nothing but determination and brainpower, he becomes one of the most powerful criminal figures in human space. Then he sells out almost all his old cronies, convincing everyone that he was really an undercover law enforcement agent. From there, he manipulates the human dominated empire and its chief rival by becoming a double agent for both sides against the other in order to trick them into forming an alliance in order to attack a race that knows nothing about either side. He uses this con in order to become the president of the combined alliance. Along the way are littered the bodies of many rivals and innocent victims who were simply more useful to him dead than alive. And why does he do all of this? To fulfill a lifelong desire never to feel vulnerable again.
Sol. He is pretty much the embodiment of the Manipulative Bastard. Upon his first formal appearance, the main character gets Mind Raped as he proceeds to talk about absolutely nothing and still freak everybody out. His voice actually seems to be able to control other cats minds, and the main characters are constantly struggling to not fall under his influence. And he never panics. He always stays cool, and never puts up any resistance (When suspected of murder, he not only immediatly guesses that that is why they are after him, but he calmly goes with them). Also he knows everything about the plot, which is quiet impressive, because the main characters don't. In fact, nobody does, that's the point of the plot. He somehow extracted this information from Midnight, and uses it to terrorize the Clans by doing... nothing. So far, he has taken control of ShadowClan, pretty much overnight, almost forced the main characters completely under his control, and, before his first appearance, started his own Clan of loners and kittypets, who he eventually led into battle against some dogs that were terrorizing them. Of course, he doesn't participate in the battle, and most of them were killed, at which point he comes in and tells them it's their fault for wanting to fight and asks them to get him some food. And finally, it's seems likely that he's never had to feed himself. Ever. He always gets other cats to do it for him, because they are either his servants, or he knows they aren't cruel enough to let him starve. Put quiet simply, as said several times throughout Sunrise, he doesn't like to get his paws dirty, so he gets other cats to do his dirty work. Really, he just screws with everyone's head just because. Word of God has also stated that he's a psychopath.
Hawkfrost. He spends the majority of the second series trying to become Clan leader by any means necessary, mostly through building up his popularity so he can manipulate his Clanmates to turn against anyone who stands in his way (he actually manages to get Stormfur banished this way through a plan that even the protagonist thought was impressive), Blackmailinghis own sister and using her position of power to elevate his status as well as forcing her to interpret false omens in ways that benefit him, staging a failed coup d'état in another Clan which he gets off scott-free from after blaming his dead co-conspirator and saying he thought he was doing the right thing, but realised he was wrong in the end, etc. He was also manipulating Brambleclaw for the majority of the second half of the series, and him and Tigerstar almost bring Brambleclaw over to the Dark Side.
Hawkfrost got his magnificent bastardy straight from his dad. Tigerstar spent the first three books (he was still Tigerclaw then) as the traitor on the inside, rising to a position of power in the clan because of his immense battle strength. No one but the main protagonist and his best friend know he's evil (no one else even suspects it), and this cat's so utterly manipulative that for a few chapters, he's even got the protagonist (who's suspicious of him almost to the point of paranoia) believing that maybe he really is good. And this considering that Tigerstar isn't even all that charismatic (Not yet, anyway). The only reason he was found out was because he pulled a coup that ultimately failed, and nearly killed the clan leader (an extremely formidable she-cat) but didn't quite manage it. His parting lines to Fireheart (later known as Firestar, and the series protagonist) are thus:
Tigerclaw: Keep your eyes open, Fireheart. Keep your ears pricked. Keep looking behind you. Because one day I'll find you, and then you'll be crowfood.
Sang-drax of The Death Gate Cycle is one when he first appears in the fifth book, in which he manipulates an entire world war for the whole purpose of messing with Haplo and distracting him from his true work, while all the while being annoyingly (to Haplo) cheery and upbeat about the whole thing. Unfortunately, his overconfidence led him to suffer Villain Decay in the sixth and seventh books, downgrading him to a (literal) Smug Snake.
Duke Roger of Conte, from the Song of the Lioness quartet. He's handsome, charismatic, talented, a snappy dresser— oh yeah, and determined to get the throne at any cost. So much so that the heroine has to kill him twice.
Lord Aquitainus Attis of Codex Alera morphs into one of these (he was already The Chessmaster) after learning his backstory. He was the best friend of Princeps Gaius Septimus, who was assassinated during a major battle by a hostile faction within court. When Septimus's father, First Lord Gaius Sextus, did nothing to solve the murder, Aquitaine took matters into his own hands, deciding to destroy the conspirators himself and take the throne from a man too weak to save his own son. How does he do this? By marrying the only conspirator he knows the identity of and using her formidable skills to help track down the others and angle for the throne. Now he's finally managed to get rid of the wife, kill everyone else suspected of being involved in Septimus's murder, and taken control of the throne as regent. Too bad for him that he can't enjoy his success, as there's a very hostile Horde of Alien Locusts running around making a mess of things...
And he's got nothing on First Lord Gaius Sextus. The reason Attis was just regent? It's because Sextus adopted him as Octavian's younger brother. He also placed one of his most talented Cursors at Attis's disposal, ensuring that not only was the Realm in the most competent hands possibly until Tavi returned, but there was someone around to fix the problem if said hands didn't want to let go.
A female example being The Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales. She is able to control her first three rich husbands who are old and gets them to give her their money. She comes across as more sympathetic than say the Pardoner, since she never tries to take from the poor. She tames her fifth husband Jankyn, by burning his misogynistic books and they both end up living peacefully until he dies. Making this trope as old as paper.
Tulo'Stenaloor from the Legacy of the Aldenata nearly manages to pierce the United States' defenses where all other Posleen generals had bashed their heads against them, forcing the American government to pull out all the stops, including nuking their own soil multiple times to stop him and dropping an antimatter bomb on Georgia. He does this by gathering the most brilliant Posleen tribes together in one place, using Lost Technology from the Neglectful Precursors in creative ways no Posleen had used before, and treating his Mooks with enough kindness to make him love them and increase their efficiency.
Henry, a brilliant college student from The Secret History, who his teacher says would have made a great doctor, soldier, scientist, or spy. He plans the perfect crime, the murder of one of his friends, and keeps the rest of the central clique from getting found out through an elegant series of lies, schemes, and secrecy. He is also a master of playing people against each other, which nearly gets him killed by another former friend. He kills himself at the end of the book—he's in control even of his own death. He arguably ruins the lives of the remaining main characters—but up until the end, most of them continue to do exactly as he says.
Don Quixote: Gines de Pasamonte: An ungrateful galley slave whom Don Quixote frees, and a great conman. In Part I, Gines is convicted for more crimes that all the other galley slaves, and carries many more chains because he is such a great villain. Gines is a vain, cynicalbandit, thief, swindler, and picaresque writer who doesn't appreciate being called names like ''Ginesillo de Parapilla''. After Don Quixote frees him and his companions, Gines repays him by attacking him and stealing his sword. Later, he steals Sancho's donkey while Sancho is sleeping over it (and when Sancho wakes up, he falls spectacularly). Then we discover in Part II that Gines is a Master of Disguise, first when Gines disguises himself as a romany when Sancho recognizes his donkey, and then when the narrator told us that a character that we knew as "Maese Pedro" really was Gines, practicing a con that fooled entire towns -and our two protagonists- again. Gines is so important to the book, that is the only character of the novel to appear in both parts who is not from Don Quixote's town.
His Dark Materials: It's not exactly difficult to understand what it is Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter saw in each other — when the series begins, she's running a secret, powerful, and extraordinarily unethical scientific foundation/political faction within the Church, and he's about to go into Luxury Exile, the better to brood over his plans to declare war on God. And it builds from there — by the time you see them both in action at once, in the third book, you can't help but wonder what might have been if they'd ever agreed on anything before it was too late.
Nahuseresh from The Queen of Attolia is an ambassador from the Mede Empire across the middle sea, which wants to expand to the continent the eponymous queen's country is on. But since the Greater Powers of the Continent will slam the Medes if they invade, they have to be sneaky about it and be invited across the sea. To accomplish this Nahuseresh goads the Attolian queen into cutting off The Hero's hand, sparking a war between Attolia and Eddis and eventually leading to a three-way war between Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis. He smoothly performs in an advisory capacity to the queen of Attolia, bribing, blackmailing, and threatening her barons to support him and killing the ones he can't corrupt, all while underestimating her vast intelligence on the basis of her sex.
The Jackal, Villain Protagonist of The Day of the Jackal, manages to get his plan to assassinate Charles De Gaulle some way down before an OAS member in the wrong place at the wrong time blurts out his codename under Electric Torture. He still remains ahead of the Hero Antagonist's attempts to pin him down, with only a few mistakes and slip-ups allowing the authorities to close the gap. Even then, he actually manages to get a shot off at De Gaulle before Lebel finally catches up to and kills him.
The Minds of Iain M. Banks's Culture novels. Plans are their hobby, but the Interesting Times Gang of Excession and the GCU Sleeper Service are worth particular mention, as well as the Special Circumstances plots of The Player of Games — crashing a interstellar empire bound together by a complex game — and sheer degree to which the Chelgrians were outmanoeuvred in Look to Windward.
Melisande Shahrizai will play you to your face and you both know it and she still wins. She is a very skilled & dangerous player in the game of thrones & always has backup plans, so even if her schemes fail she can still escape punishment. She's charming, charismatic, cunning, and utterly lacking in a conscience.
Barquiel L'Envers as well. He acts as both antagonist and reluctant ally, and his methods are immoral but very effective. He mostly sticks to Machiavellian plotting, but is also a feared warrior and general, and he even (charges out of a besieged fortress to daringly rescue Phedre, whom he doesn't even like that much.) L'Envers is charismatic, imposing, and knows how to dish out a good quip. He's one of very few people Melisande views as a threat to her plans.
Parvis from Andrey Lazarchuk's Tranquilium. The head of the Soviet intelligence network in Tranquilium, he was to some extent or another behind every Soviet scheme, including the many successful ones like the socialist revolution in one of the two great powers sharing that world. He has built for himself a capable and loyal team of advisors and assistants. He has shown himself time and again to be very good at recruiting people that were his natural enemies to serve his plans. And his back-up plan for when everything goes wrong is... truly something else: he pulled a Heel–Face Turn, overthrew the increasingly discredited Merryland revolutionary government, made himself president with popular support, set up a government secretly made up of his old team and then repeatedly ingratiated the good guys to himself by helping them out against common enemies, knowing full well that they had no choice but to work with him unless they wanted a war with a Merryland government that is actually popular and competent.
Kronos from Percy Jackson and the Olympians. He manages to be magnificent even as pieces in Tartarus. There's a reason he's known as "The Crooked One". Best seen through his plan in book 2: he tries to recover the Golden Fleece to use its healing powers to restore himself. Percy and the others from Camp Half-Blood chase after him, not only to stop him from recuperating with the Fleece's power, but also to use its magic to revitalize the pine tree protecting the camp's border, which is also Annabeth's transmogrified friend Thalia. In the end Percy recovers the Fleece and uses it to heal the tree... but it purges Thalia from the tree in the process. It turns out that Thalia is a powerful half-blood who is a possible subject of a prophecy whom Kronos intends to manipulate into destroying the gods. And while getting the Fleece himself and recuperating would have been nice, restoring Thalia to manipulate her was Kronos's end goal the entire time. There was almost no way for him to not walk away from that adventure and not come out on top in some manner.
Gerald Tarrant from C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy is a very classic Magnificent Bastard: handsome, educated, hypercompetent, suave, and utterly and totally amoral. In the course of his nine hundred year lifespan, he reshaped human society in his image multiple times, and the planet at least twice. It would take two lists side by side to compare the 'magnificent' parts with the 'bastard' parts, but let's just say that by the end of the trilogy he goes from being the single most evil, reviled, feared, and dangerous monster on the face of the planet to the man who saves the world.
Hasan ibn Sabbah from Vladimir Bartol's Alamut. He cheerfully builds himself the new Prophet to his followers with the power to send people to Paradise at will with a bunch of elaborate parlor tricks. Yet he is a man of good humour who claims to do this because the people are happier to have something to believe in, and if they weren't given a chance to die for their faith, they'd just come up with far more brutal, base reasons to slaughter each other. And for his defense, he tried hard for decades to share his true wisdom with people, only to be rejected at every turn. In the end he decided that if people want some unknowable and divine to believe in, he would provide them just that. And for his political skills, he got an empire to fall apart with a couple of well-chosen assassinations. He probably fit the trope even in Real Life (yes, he was a real person), though his actual motivations are much less clear.
The Star Trek: Mirror UniverseSpock in The Sorrows of Empire proves to be a truly great one. After killing Kirk and assuming command of the ISS Enterprise, he embarks on a 26 year career which ends up with him as Emperor. We are told in the Deep Space Nine Mirror Universe episodes that his weakness allowed the Empire to fall and its population be enslaved. What the story reveals is that he planned for this to happen. Realizing that the Empire was doomed to fail and millenia of civilization would be lost if nothing changed, and yet freedom and democracy could not be introduced into such a corrupt system, he intentionally weakened the Empire prematurely while hiding away information and people who would form a resistance and protect knowledge and culture, turned the Vulcan population into a secret spy network which would be in place when they were conquered, all so that the humans, Vulcans, and their allies would appreciate freedom because they would have to fight for it, and in doing so bring down all the empires. Even being executed by the conquerors is part of his plan.
German philosopher Oswald Spengler was fascinated by them (like so many), and stated in his non-fiction book The Decline of the West that there's barely if anything comparable to the satisfaction than that you feel if all the pieces of a great combination fall into place, Just as Planned.
The Chathrand Voyages has Sandor Ott, Spymaster of The Empire Arqual. An extraodinarily skilled fighter in multiple weapons, and leader of various hidden agents who ensure he has the proper dirt on anyone he needs to manipulate. When every one of your lines can easily be imagined in Ian McShane's voice, you know you're one of these.
Vampire Academy gives us Victor Dashkov, who is extremely close to the main characters (to the point where one regularly calls him uncle), and yet zaps one with a compulsion charm that might have ended up with her being expelled and her mentor fired, and kidnaps the other, torturing her and ultimately forcing her into something that drives her closer to insanity. And then, for the rest of the series, continually screws with the protagonists - despite the fact he's in jail for most of that time. He only stops because he's killed in a burst of insanity on Rose's part.
Alan Ryves of The Demon's Lexicon, despite initially bearing all the signs of being a classic selfless Hero, turns out to be a master manipulator who has no compunction about hurting people and even endangering their lives in order to protect his brother.
Waleran Bigod from The Pillars of the Earth, a thoroughly corrupt priest who has long since convinced himself that furthering his own ambition no matter the cost is completely as God wishes. As such, he ruthlessly seizes power time and again with numerous elaborate political ploys, and is also very good at thinking on his feet whenever he's outwitted. It's to the point where pretty much no one was surprised when today's consummate Magnificent Bastard actor Ian McShane was picked to play him in the miniseries adaptation.
Thomas Cromwell as portrayed in Wolf Hall is as close to this as you could expect from the main character. He is charismatic, likeble, quite nice at times, and goes from being the son of a blacksmith to the King's closest adviser. He also plays a large part in enabling the king to divorce Katherine of Aragon, sends Thomas More to his death, and talks Henry Percy out of insisting he's married to Anne Boleyn and forces him to go back to the North to be ruined. His character in real life is debatable. Most other media portray him as a monster who helped destroy the ideals of the medieval age.
China Sorrows is the Magnificent Bitch of the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. She's so beautiful she's able to make people fall in love with her the instant they see her. Skulduggery states that the effect wears away over time but China points out that it never quite goes away. China is a Deadpan Snarker, Femme Fatale and Chessmaster who owns a library containing pretty much everything in existence, she has a mastery of magical symbols that are carved all over her library, her glamorous apartment and even her own body. She's also a former worshipper of the Faceless Ones but was the only member of her cult smart enough to break free of her teachings and join the good guys. She still doesn't consider herself "a good guy" however and continually states that she has no need of friends and is on nobody's side but her own. We don't know how much of this is true however as she is shown to have a slightly softer side and a somewhat protective, maternal instinct towards Valkyrie. She's also the person who led Skulduggery's wife and child into the trap that killed them, a secret she's protected ever since.
Skulduggery himself is something of a Magnificent Bastard at times. He's an anti-hero, a Deadpan Snarker, a brilliant detective with astonishing powers of observation, brought himself back from the dead as a living skeleton by means of satanic magic, has a gift for plans and has fought evil sorcerers with unstoppable MacGuffins at their disposal, mutants, evil gods, dark spirits, WMDs and lived to tell the tale.
Nefarian Serpine, the Wicked CulturedCard-Carrying Villain who killed Skulduggery's family is definitely this trope. He was the second-in-command of an Evil Overlord who wanted to bring back Eldritch Abominations, murdered Skulduggery's family in front of him, blinding him with rage so much that he fell into an elaborate trap that Serpine had set for him after which he tortured him to death and burned his body for all to see. When Skulduggery came back from the dead and the war started turning sour for Serpine's side, he turned mole for the good guys, gained immunity for his past crimes, managed to pass himself off as a respectable member of society and obtained a superpowerful McGuffin that enabled him to kill the Council of Elders so that he could get the Book of Names which would enable him to take over the world. He did all this with a sinister smirk and a gift for a gift for Reason You Suck Speeches. He only lost because he was Drunk on the Dark Side and Axe-Crazy!
The Deaf Man from Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series. His evil crime schemes are so perfect, that he loses only because they are too perfect for this sinful world. The author publicly stated at one point that the reason he didn't do more Deaf Man books was that the character was smarter than he was.
Though a true Smug Snake at his core, Lord Voldemort took this to almost Villain Sue proportions before his Villain Decay. He displays mastery of the plan in books one, two and four and even manages to infiltrate the Ministry in book five. By Deathly Hallows he's even able to take over the Ministry and rule the Wizarding World as the power behind the throne but things just go downhill from there. It's possible that the destruction of his horcruxes is having a shrinking effect on his sanity, causing him to act more impulsively and irrationally than before or alternatively that when he was a powerless spirit, he had to rely more on his intelligence but once his body and power are restored, he retains his former cockiness and starts making the same mistakes as before. He still nearly manages to kill Harry and destroy Hogwarts though. Voldemort would have won if it weren't for his mammoth ego, marriage to the Villain Ball and of course, The Power of Love and his lack of comprehension thereof.
The title for THE Magnificent Bastard of the Harry Potter series however doesn't go to Voldemort, it belongs to none other than Albus Dumbledore himself. Jo once called him a Machiavellian figure - a Huge Understatement. Directly and indirectly, intentionally or otherwise, this one man, in some way or the other has been responsible for everything, everything, that has driven his time and beyond in the history of the Potter Universe.
Montresor from "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe is an aristocrat who lures Fortunato, a drunken buffoon who has insulted him down the catacombs underneath his ancestral manor by promising him a cask of the vintage Sherry, Amontillado. He then buries him alive and sarcastically brags about it fifty years later. This troper is sure Montresor must be related to Iago from Othello!
The beast AKA Tobias Venitar and James Aiden and the old man AKA Francis Blake from 'The Last of the Venitars' both arguably qualified. Both managed to seize positions of power starting from nothing. Both managed to manipulate almost every character they met to their own ends. The final confrontation between them though showed just which one was truly magnificent Tobias, who in the end also made a noble sacrifice, perhaps taking away some of the 'bastard'.
Though it takes her a while, Egwene from The Wheel of Time series gets there rather quickly once she sets her mind to it. After fooling everyone into thinking that she's a harmless little Accepted that can be pushed around so she gets chosen as the Amyrlin seat, she then convinces a small majority to fully commit to rebelling against Elaida. She then turns around and uses a little known law of the White Tower to force the rest to go along with it. But she isn't done yet, after outright stealing the Tower from Elaida practically she then manipulates a group of Sitters to give her unlimited power to deal with Rand as she wishes. Massive bonus victory points for doing it at a meeting that she wasn't even invited to or even supposed to know about and just showing up anyway and acting as if she was the one running it in the first place.
Matrim Cauthon, full stop. Gambler, drinker, knife nut, irreverent prankster with not a care in the world ... until you threaten him or the Band of the Red Hand, Tuon, someone he promised to protect, or if you damage his Cool Hat, at which point you're facing the general with several hundred years of combat experience, Ta'veren probability warping, perfect luck, cannons in the medieval setting, repeating crossbows, an anti-magic amulet, his Ashandarei, and in case it wasn't mentioned, the Dark One's own luck. He wooed the Daughter of the Nine Moons with no less than hell and combat, the Old Tongue, the absolute loyalty of his men, and a killcount several times as large as his army. He personally slew the leader of the Shaido Aiel, politely threatened the White Tower, humiliated and saved Aes Sedai repeatedly, defeated an indestructible weapon, has faced the Eelfin and Aelfin no less than three times (it's believed that it's not possible to survive twice, and recurring heroes have died trying once), and gave his own flaming eyeto save his friend's lover. He funds armies with games of chance and uses fireworks as grenades.
If people of Secret City read this wiki, Commissar Santiaga would be a trope poster boy for them. Despite being a physically overhelming nearly-immortal Lightning Bruiser and the commander of a whole Badass Army, he prefers stiletto to a big stick and diplomacy and plans (which he has been pulling for several millenia) to violence, while never being afraid to step into the action himself if needed. One of his gambits, pulled after the discovery of other formations growing enough strong to confront his people, lasts for two books and involves three his enemies being manipulated into clashing and badly battering each other. Combine this with his polite, cultured, snarky and charismatic personality, his trait of domesticating defeated Worthy Opponents instead of killing them and willingness to do everything for the sake of his people, and you get a pretty magnificent character.
Samuel Westing in The Westing Game. He disguises himself as a real estate agent and brings people to an apartment he built, including blood relatives and his ex-wife. He even tricks the judge into re-paying her college debts by claiming he was fired.
Marc Remillard in the four-volume Saga of the Exiles by Julian May. Marc Remillard, exiled from the future into the six-million-year past of the Pliocene era, is the quintessential Magnificent Bastard, enthusiastically meeting each of the four criteria for Magnificent Bastardy. In addition to great intelligence, Remillard is a metapsychic operant, which among other things allows him not only to understand people but to control them. Until pushed beyond his limits, Remillard is imperturbably calm, deflecting all attempts to irritate him into making a mistake. He is handsome and shockingly charismatic, attracting numerous operants to his side in the Metapsychic Rebellion in the future and earning the respect of his opponents in the past. Finally, Remillard most emphatically has a goal, and has directed every moment, every mental power, and every bit of Pliocene-era technology toward the attainment of that goal. Even banishment from the Paradise Lost of the future to the Hell of six million years ago is not enough to dim his certainty of his fitness to rule.
Honsou of Graham McNeill's Ultramarines series and the novel Storm of Iron is definitely a Magnificent Bastard. He is a genius at siegecraft, even by the standards of his Legion who are all experts at it; has a knack for predicting how people will react to something based on their personalities; knows how to play his own guys against each other so they are too busy to scheme against him; and he refuses to compromise who he is for anybody, not even the Chaos Gods. He did lose his cool once, when he was beating a rival Iron Warriors Warsmith to death who had always called him a half-breed, and after a lengthy duel with the enemy Warsmith. So it's acceptable.
From Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff, who manages to gain ownership of both the Heights and the Grange despite being neither an Earnshaw nor a Linton, or even a member of the gentry, through a combination of seduction (of Isabella and indirectly of Cathy Linton) and manipulation of the legal system.
Nadreck the Palanian from the Lensman series. At one point he devises, and executes, a plan to have an entire fortress of baddies kill each other. Nadreck is so embarrassed that three of them were still alive at the end and he was forced to personally finish the job that he orders the records of the event sealed permanently.
The Baron, from Dune. His first scene is him explaining exactly how he's going to take down the Duke Leto. Too bad he didn't count on Yueh planting poison gas on the Duke in exchange for his family's lives. Paul also shows shades of this, but it shines most in the end when he uses his control of the spice on Arrakis to pretty much become the Emperor - of the Universe.
Even more so Leto II, for whom the book God-Emperor of Dune is named. If his title (which is at most only a slight exaggeration) isn't proof enough, consider that he has full access to his "ancestral memories", and that his ancestry includes Vladimir Harkonnen and Paul Atreides, in addition to any number of Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers who were no slouches themselves.
The God of The Bible. Mostly how he planned for humanity to be saved was through his son Jesus. Or in the Exodus, when he caused the ten plagues of Egypt, to get the Pharoah to let the Israelites go, and to show that the Egyptians' gods didn't have any power over nature.
There's a good reason that Sherlock Holmesholds Professor Moriarty in such high esteem. Mathematical genius, chessmaster extraordinaire, villain with very good publicity, he's so ruthlessly competent at his job that it takes Holmes years to find any evidence against him, and so suavely charismatic that he's got Scotland Yard inspectors (even ones that Holmes respects) eating out of his hand minutes after meeting him.
Inspector MacDonald: He seems a very respectable, learned, and talented sort of man... when he put his hand on my shoulder as we were parting, it was like a father's blessing before you go out into the cold, cruel world.
Kim Newman's The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, a collection of short stories centered around the misadventures of Moriarty as told from the perspective of right-hand gunman Colonel Sebastian "Basher" Moran, offers a most worthy depiction of the Napoleon of Crime that delights and dazzles in his increasingly impressive capers. To whit, Moriarty outwits just about everyone he comes into contact with, manipulating Holmes, breaking Mabuse, suborning lesser criminals like Raffles and Mad Margie Trelawny, and organizing a huge brawl between underworld forces that puts him out on top.
Alianne from Daughter of the Lioness is undoubtedly a good guy on the side of La Résistance and for at least 75% of the book she's in for her cause purely to save the oppressed slaves, but she is undeniably this rather than Guile Hero. Throughout the course of the series, she makes herself into The Mole for the other side just so she can feed them false information, trains her own fleet of spies, captures moles from other houses and turns them to her side, manipulates the luarin royalty to keep useful people alive, and manages to get the other side's spymaster executed by his own rulers. At the end, when her father visits, she tells him she's so happy to see him... and then reminds him that he knows of the Tortallan spies in her new country's court and that she'll deport them if he doesn't do it first.
Captain Kennit from the Liveship Traders trilogy. He is a handsome pirate captain, sharpwitted, crazily manipulative and achieves being loved by almost anyone revolving around him, including smart characters such as Wintrow or Etta. And there's almost anything he won't do to become the King of Pirates.
Amy Elliot Dunne in Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl finds out her husband Nick is having an affair, so on their fifth anniversary she goes into hiding, leaving behind a series of clues for their traditional anniversary "treasure hunt" specifically so he'll inadvertently follow them to evidence and locations that incriminate him; she also spends months forging a diary full of completely invented incidents of Domestic Abuse to make it seem like she was afraid of him killing her, and orders hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expensive stuff in his name, even going so far as to take his fingerprints and smear them on all the merchandise. But it doesn't stop there- when she decides against letting him take the fall, she kills the Dogged Nice Guy school friend she'd been hiding with and tells the police she escaped after he kidnapped her.
Urfin Jus, the recurring Big Bad of Tales of the Magic Land, starts as a man of sharp mind and immense willpower (he's a Munchkin who completely lacks the characteristic funny cowardness of his people and broke his munching habit at will). Former apprentice of the wicked witch Gingema, he takes Dragon AscendantUp to Eleven, becoming the only vilain in the series to actually conquer the Magic Land - twice. In the books featuring him, he's shown as the master of manipulation, deception and improvisation, and being much deeper character than others in general - he's basically an adult character surrounded by childish allies and foes, often Only Sane Man. Heavy And Then What? syndrome during his second rule and subsequent exile eventually turned him to Villainous B.S.O.D., but he became too interesting to be thrown off, so he rethought his life over and over again before finally being brought to good by hearted hospitality and forgiveness of his people - only to be tempted almost immediately after by several more opportunities of coming back to power and adamantly refuse them (him delivering Being Evil Sucks speech to Arahna, a gigantic, powerful evil sorceress, is definitely a CMOA). He ends living in the inner peace on a quiet farm and growing delicious magical hybrid vegetables, but still retains his cunning, providing invaluable help to the good guys several times.
Mika Waltari's historical novels:
In The Wanderer and The Adventurer by Mika Waltari, there's a multitude of them, some very detailed and others in the background. To name just a few: Mustapha ben Nakir (geomailer who claims to do nothing but what his whims tell him, but his "whims" put him pretty much in a position to rule Tunis by screwing over everyone), Suleiman (whose very epithet should tell you this), and his vizier Ibdrahim (though the latter is a little more sincere than most characters in the books and therefore not necessarily a bastard).
Sultan Muhammed in The Dark Angel. A very definitive moment of his character is when he has conquered Constantinople partly aided by Byzantine nobles betraying the emperor, and as a reward has them executed, but not before tricking them into sentencing themselves.
Winston Niles Rumfoord in The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. A very important aspect of his character is his ability to see both the future and past perfectly. Additionally, he possesses a regal personality and carries out all of his business with class and dignity.
Archie Costello in The Chocolate War. He runs Trinity High School from behind the scenes, using the Vigils and Janza to humiliate or destroy, in Jerry's case anyone who opposes him. The only check on his power, the box of marbles from which a black marble drawn forces him to personally carry out any prank he assigns someone else, turns out to be pretty much useless, as he sometimes uses sleight-of-hand to "draw" a white marble from his sleeve instead of picking one out of the box; the only reason he pulls one in the end of the sequel is because he knew the box had been rigged against him, and just decided to play along. When he finally has to play along with one of his pranks, which makes him the whipping boy at a school carnival, he has built up such a reputation at this point that no one is willing to do anything to him. Oh yeah, and he sleeps like a baby while doing all of this because he alone realizes that no one ever actually had to do anything he ever suggested; it was simply tradition that you always did whatever the Vigils told you to do. The only other person to figure this out was Jerry, whose life Archie ruined. And when he leaves the school at the end of the sequel, he appoints a psychopath to be the Assigner in his place, ensuring that people will think that he was a reasonable person in what he had everyone do.
Erich Von Stalhein from the Biggles series. A member of the old Prussian military caste and Worthy Opponent to the titular hero, Von Stalhein was introduced as a proud, honourable puppet-master playing both sides of the First World War in the Middle East, and his exploits only got more brilliant from there. Biggles usually only managed to defeat him by a combination of dumb luck and Stalhein's incompetent superiors. He even manages to remain one of these when openly working for the Nazi regime, mostly due to being presented as essentially the intelligence service's answer to Erwin Rommel.
King Leck, from Graceling. Being a Magnificant Bastard is basically his grace. Specifically, he can convince people of anything with his words. If his words are just passed down by others, anyone those people talk to will be convinced as well. Even people who know the truth about him are completely powerless against him and his powers. Using this power, he managed to take over as King of Monsea and get everyone to believe he was just a nice, kind old man.
Zabulon in Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch, a Dark Other whose power level is Beyond Categorization, is very old and extremely crafty. All Others are able to calculate probability lines, but Zabulon is extremely adept at it. Plus, he has the strength of the entire Moscow Day Watch. He is able to think 1000 moves ahead in any scheme. The only check on him is Geser, his counterpart in the Moscow Night Watch, a Light Other of the same rank who is just as crafty and devious (if less callous and willing to sacrifice his own people).
Oscar Diggs, the titular Wizard of Oz, is a third-rate con man from Omaha who comes to Oz when his balloon goes off course. Within weeks, he has used a combination of fast talk and theater tricks to successfully bluff four Archmages ("Witches") into standing down from all out civil war, and into a state of Enforced Cold War, established himself as king, and sold the real heir to the throne into slavery in the backwoods, disguised as the opposite gender, so no one knows to look for her! How much of his behavior is "Magnificent" and how much is "Bastard" varies with the author.
The Power of Five: The world's magnificent bastards are working for the Nexus: Shang Tsung, a ruthless Asian crime lord, a DGSE spy and a not-so-subtle Rupert Murdoch analogue, are both the villains of another story, but here are vital warriors on the side of good.
Ulric Kerensky, from Michael Stackpole's "BattleTech: Blood of Kerensky" series, applies. During his tenure as Khan of the Wolves, and later ilKhan of the Clans, he outwits multiple rivals both within and outside of the clans. While directing the entire military effort of his clan against the Inner Sphere, resulting in greater military successes than any other leader, he is elected ilKhan to reduce his political sway. In turn, he manipulates the forerunner to take his position as Khan to humbly state he is not worthy of the position during a trial, and thus passes him over for the position as justification to award it to his supporter instead. He then manipulates an enemy commander, Anastasius Focht, into goading the clans into a major battle with serious stipulations...which he knows the clans will lose, but plans for Clan Wolf to come out ahead and gain further prowess in doing so. While he is eventually killed after the series ended, he manages to execute an assault of Magnificent Bastardry along the way.
Chamberlain Yanagisawa of the Sano Ichiro mysteries. The Evil Chancellor of Shogun Tokugawa, Yanigisawa is a master of manipulation, pulling the strings of everyone in the court and secretly exorcizing far more control over Japan than the shogun ever has. Sano and his retinue, samurai who are actually honorable, seem to be the only one routinely immune to his machinations, but even they have been controlled and unwittingly used as pawns in his vast schemes. Only once has Yanagisawa ever gotten caught, because an ally he thought he could fully trust stabbed him in the back; even then, he not only managed to come back and regain the blessing of the shogun, but accumulated more power than before. Sano may solve the crime in the end, but he'll never be rid of Yanagisawa and his schemes.
Ian Ludlow, from the Monk novel, "Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants", who serves as a detective consultant for the Los Angeles Police Department - much the way Adrian Monk consults for the San Francisco Police Department - as well as an acclaimed mystery fiction book author. While Monk's friends think he is simply jealous of Ian Ludlow, it is later revealed that Ludlow is actually a psychopath who writes about his very own murder sprees: He picks out a victim at random, kills them, finds out who the people are in their life, then "volunteers" to serve as consultant for the murder case, where he feeds his own incriminating evidence under the guise of being a brilliant intellect, then makes up his own ending by framing the least likely suspect for the crime. At Natalie's house, while being ransacked by the police, Ludlow arrogantly accuses Sharona and Natalie for two murders Ludlow himself committed, capping off theatrics with a series of twisted, false "Here's What Happened" summations, that ultimately lead to both women's arrest. (Monk ultimately frees Sharona and Natalie once he concludes that Ludlow stole Natalie's credit card to purchase a tool used for one of the murders, and that he had pried into Monk's life and career by doing online research on his various cases throughout the years.)