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.
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 Villian and with good reason.
In The Black Coats by the same author both Colonel Bozzo-Corona and Lecoq also qualify.
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 from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, 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.) 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. Interestingly enough, he 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 the mundane bureaucratic affairs of quietly running his city, leading a quite Spartan existence himself and almost always acting as a side-character to the main action, never protagonist or antagonist.
Vetinari's Magnificent Bastardry flips between genius level intelligence to nigh omniscient knowledge of all factors. Oddly, the former is more prevalent in earlier books where he manipulates events through adept manipulation of psychology and on extremely good intelligence received (through his clerks and spy network). Later books have him seemingly leaving everything up to other characters, only to later have their seemingly impossible to predict actions... all going to plan.
This is underscored in Thud! when Vimes, after going through a fairly complicated analysis of the political ramification of suggested actions, wonders if Vetinari "thinks like this all the time."
Going Postal however has Reacher Gilt, who fits this trope to a T; the protagonist even 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.
Granny Weatherwax, now that she's largely forfeited centre stage to Tiffany Aching, has the competition for the Magnificent Bitch title all sewn up. Although there are a lot of witches who qualify for this trope.
It's quite common for major Big Bad villains of Discworld — Vorbis, Lord Hong, Prince Cadram — to display traits of this trope as well, at least until they meet up with someone who's either too sincere to be suckered (Brutha, Twoflower, Carrot), or already being steered by Havelock Vetinari.
Sauron, though much of his magnificent bastardy takes place before 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.
He might have kept a few of his Magnificent Bastard traits even then. After all, he corrupted both Saruman and Denethor simply by preying on their base desires and fears in a plot to cripple the defense of Minas Tirith before the battle even began. It would have worked, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling hobbits had Gandalf (a Chess Master in his own right) not intervened.
He arguably retains his Magnificent Bastardry even after the fall of Númenor. Think on this: He somehow arranged for the only way to destroy his Ring of Power, and thus prevent him from conquering the world, is to bring it right to his doorstep. To prevent him from becoming nigh invincible, they had to bring the artifact through which he would regain his power in the very heart of his empire. As events ultimately proved at the climax, no-one has the strength of will necessary to destroy the One Ring - it only happened by sheer chance (or Providence). The entire War/Quest of the Ring was a desperate, improbable, last-ditch attempt to defeat Sauron, the ultimate success of which was arguably down to divine intervention (this is hinted at occasionally).
Word Of God from Tolkien during The Silmarillion is that Sauron was actually more intelligent and more cunning than his master Morgoth...the original Satan-figure of Middle-earth! Within the bad guy hierarchy at the time, Morgoth was the great, malice-filled big bad, with greater raw power and wrath than Sauron, but his anger often clouded his judgement for long-term goals. Sauron was always his chief lieutenant, the master-administrator of his evil empire. Morgoth's other big lieutenant was Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, who was Morgoth's great champion and field commander, leading his armies into battle. There seems to have been some internal jockeying between Sauron and Gothmog, but Gothmog was never presented as particularly clever, while Sauron relied more on spells and plots. This was rendered moot when Gothmog died leading the assault on Gondolin, or as Sauron might be in a position to say, that's why the pawns go first.
Proabably Glaurung too, though it is hard to tell whether he is a Chessmaster in his machinations against Túrin, or merely the instrument of Morgoth's curse
Feanor from The Silmarillion should probably qualify. 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.
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...
Then there's Turtledove's Southern Victory series, which depicts the C.S. surviving all the way to World War II, where they have their fourth and final rematch with the US. One such US General is Irving Morrell, who as one can guess is the stand in for Rommel (if not an Americanized Rommel himself), right down to his "writing the book". For further irony, he's matched by C.S. General George S. Patton, who not only read up on Morrell's tactics, but had him marked for assassination, which in turn backfired spectacularly (convinced the US General Staff of Morrell's worth, such that he was immediately promoted to General).
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.
Narses has a few claims to this. He dodges between sides, ending up manipulating Damadara into overthrowing Link, all apparently for the fun of it. In the process he even manages to stand in front of Link and fool 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 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.
To sum up, Littlefinger is one of two characters (out of the cast of thousands) who has so far managed to end each book better off than he started. The other is Bronn.
Particularly when we learn in book 5 that he was able to save the life of Aegon Targaryen VI, finally giving readers some clue about his endgame. This coincides with him starting to take an active role in eliminating people who endanger that plan. This gives him an opportunity for anotherHannibal Lecture, this time delivered to Kevan Lannister. There are, however, some hints that Aegon is not who Varys claims he is, making his final objective even more confusing now.
The Prince of Dorne has been keeping plans to marry his children into the Targaryens to exact vengeance for his sister's death. He's been patiently waiting for over a decade now.
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.
Wyman Manderly ascends to the position in "A Dance with Dragons." He's able to put up a perfect act of believing all the crap the Freys give him about how the Red Wedding was all the Starks' fault, until the time comes for his Shakespearian revenge of killing the Freys at his home, baking them into a pie, and serving them to their relatives. If his speech to the Onion Knight is to be believed,the Frey Pie was merely the start of what promises to be a deliciously long,bloody and utterly ruthless campaign of retribution against the Freys!
Lady Olenna Redwyne-Tyrell aka "The Queen of Thorns" has be 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.
The Lies Of Locke Lamora has tons of them. The most notable of course include the Gray King, and the protagonist Anti-Villain Locke Lamora himself, leader of the fittingly named "Gentlemen Bastards".
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 gods 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.
Speaking of the Duke's spymaster, the Spider aka Dona Vorchenza deserves a mention as well, for using a pair of Locke's marks against him to manipulate him into being captured.
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.
Alternately, he genuinely fell for the con, he was just genre-savvy enough not to have hung his valuable property unguarded in the open in the first place.
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.
Technically, she didn't cripple Daddy Raith, she just took advantage of what Margaret LeFay Dresden had already done, proceeding to dominate him because he couldn't Feed to fill up his psychic battery. Their family dynamics is exactly as bad as it sounds.
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.
Harry himself, (which may have something to do with Lasciel's influence on him when she was in his head) who manages to Out Gambit everyone previously mentioned save Marcone, manipulating Lara into thinking he is her catspaw while serving his interests. He also outmanoeuvres the Merlin, most powerful wizard on the planet and a Magnificent Bastard in his own right, to save Molly's life, and is easily the most powerful wizard of his generation, a number of whom respect him a great deal. And he is The Dreaded to the entire Supernatural world.
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.
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.
Road of the Patriarch 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' 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.
Not to mention also, that he is the most intelligent person on all Krynn, even outwitting the gods with some plans here and there. He originally succeeded in defeating them all until his time travelling brother guilt tripped him into abandoning his plan.
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 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 biggest monster there is). He barely escapes with his life.
In The Shadow from the Steeple, which was written by Robert Bloch in response to a story written by HPL in response to a story written by Bloch, he possesses a medical doctor and turns him into * gasp* a nuclear physicist. He then helps mankind develop nuclear power (and bombs) from behind the scenes. Seems rather nice of him until you realise he only does it so we would have a weapon powerful enough to wipe ourselves from the face of the Earth. In a war he no doubt starts.
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.
And 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.
Weirdly enough, his Magnificent Bastard status is probably unintentional. Stephen King is a big fan of Hannah Arendt's ideas about the banality of evil and tries to show evil as essentialy pathetic. It's just that while Flagg has pathetic moments, for the most part he's so cool and competent at what he does that people forget about those, or file them under Fanon Discontinuity.
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.
You could easily argue that Rupert is several sandwiches short of a picnic.
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.
There are several in The Wayfarer Redemption. For starters WolfStar, who pretty much rigs destiny in favor of Axis. And in the second trilogy, it comes to light that the Star Dance itself is responsible for setting the playing millennia ago, with a stop on Earth that can be found to be unnecessarily horrific imagery...
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.
Oh, and there's the matter of how he captured those Trade Federation droids. The first time he ever saw anything from the Trade Federation, it was the large task force sent to wait for and destroy Outbound Flight. Two Lucrehulk-class battleships, six Hardcell-class transports, seven escort cruisers, and three thousand vulture droid starfighters. Thrawn asked them to identify themselves and explain what they were doing so close to Chiss space. They attacked him. Thrawn had a tiny picket force of three small cruisers and nine heavy starfighters. He routed the task force, nullifying its starfighters by jamming the droid control signal and aiming right above the fuel cells of the larger ships, and spared only the flagship to capture.
The incredibly devious, underhanded Chiss plan to destroy the Vagaari in Survivor's Quest was, Mara Jade believes, rife with Thrawn's fingerprints. But he's been dead for a long time, and she and Luke killed the clone in the Hand Of Thrawn duology. Does this mean there's another? Just because he hasn't made his presence known doesn't mean he can't have come back...
Corran: The man's incredible. I'd like to meet him, shake his hand. And then kill him, of course.
There is book written by the great Timothy Zahn titled Choices Of One. Thrawn demonstrates his Magnificent Bastard status once again. You know how he had a long-term goal that was never revealed? Well, in this book, it is strongly hinted that Thrawn is trying to build his own Empire. One that is much better than Palpatine's Empire could ever hope to be. One that would be able to fight off the Yuuzhan Vong that would one day invade the galaxy. Really, when you think about it, Palpatine (or should we say Darth Sidious?) was a Sith Lord driven by 1000 year-old revenge against the Jedi and the Dark Side. Sure, maybe he had a goal to set up an Empire that could fight off the Yuuzhan Vong...maybe. However, that goal was lost from a combination of The Dark Side Will Make You Forget, Motive Decay, growing insanity, and by Palpatine simply being pure evil to begin with. Thrawn undoubtedly could see this, and so he decided to handle the situation his own way. Unfortunately, this means that the actions of the heroes killing off Thrawn and wrecking his plans ultimately amounted to Nice Job Breaking It, Hero when the Yuuzhan Vong finally came calling. It also gives a feeling of "we could have avoided this by being more open with with one another" in at least one Star Wars fan.
Rebecca of Daphne duMaurier'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 Twenty Two. 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.
He buys eggs at 7 cents apiece to sell them at 5 cents apiece. For a profit. Which he gets.
By the same author, The Secret Adversary and N or M? deal with the investigation of dangerous spies seeking to subvert the British government from within — and who would have succeeded had it not been for the investigative skills of Tommy and Tuppence.
Stephen Norton in Curtain definitely counts — he can, with cumulative suggestion, manipulate ordinary, decent people into committing murder. He's addicted to the thrill of power he gets from doing this.
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 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."
His magnificent bastardry is taken Up to Eleven in the live-action version, where Toshiro Mifune manages to convey his character perfectly.
Dirk Lochlin Struan from Tai Pan qualifies as well, going from a simple Scottish cabin boy to the founder of a massive overseas empire.
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 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.
Cao Cao, who also gets moments of great Magnificent Bastardry when he's not pitted against Shu (in which case he gets smacked in the face with the Idiot Ball), though in the end his philosophy of taking in whoever was the most capable regardless of personal ethics bit him in the butt with Sima Yi, whose son and grandson out Magnificent Bastarded all three kingdoms (though by then the heroes had been replaced by their significantly less heroic offspring).
It was Cao Pi, Cao Cao's son, who empowered Sima Yi with the authority to both stop Zhuge Liang's northern campaigns and usurp the throne after his father died. Mao Zongang's excellent commentary on the novel would later describe this as 'Letting the wolf in the back to deal with the tiger in the front.'
In fairness, the Sima clan only really seized power when Magnificent Bastard Cao Cao and reasonably competent Cao Pi and Cao Rui had been replaced by the significantly less able Cao Fang and his even more incompetent regent Cao Shuang. If you'd had another few generations of Cao Caos on the throne, it'd be a lot less likely that Sima Yi and his progeny would've overthrown the Cao clan.
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 Shadow series of sequels to Ender's Game. Sabotaging India's war in Indochina to allow China to sweep in and conquer both India Proper and its new conquests, and then playing 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.
Practically half the named characters in the Shadow series count. Peter's manipulating world events to become Hegemon and Virlomi's one woman invasion come to mind, but Graff, Peter's parents, Bean, and many others have their Magnificent Bastard moments as well.
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.
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.
By 1635: The Eastern Front, Michael Stearns secretly fears that he is edging from a Guile Hero into this category.
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.
What's noteworthy about him is that he's one of the very few example, if not the only example, of a Magnificent Coward. Most dirty cowards are too short-sighted and concerned with their own hide to be impressive in the slightest. Nom Amor may run, but his plans before and after running definitely are impressive.
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.
Also notable: He obviously knew about Tavi's heritage and Fade's identity from the beginning, so the various rewards he handed out at the end of the first book have an incredible number of ulterior motives. He appointed Bernard Count to show Lord Riva who's in charge and improve relations with the Marat; made Isana a steadholder to change the balance of power in the Dianic League, splitting his enemies in half along political lines; brought Tavi to the Academy to get himself a capable and loyal subordinate, keep Isana from acting on her dislike of the First Lord, and make sure the Princeps was well-prepared in case he was ever able to claim the title; and brought Fade with Tavi to keep Tavi safe and potentially gain himself the service of one of the most dangerous warriors in the country. And all under the guise of straightforwardly rewarding them for heroism and service to the Realm.
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.
In Tricky Business, by Dave Barry, Lou Tarant. And, to a lesser extenet, Bobby Kenp.
The eponymous 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' The 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.
Barquiel L'Envers, of Jacqueline Carey's Kusheline Saga. 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.
The Marquis de Carabas in Neverwhere. He even got himself killed because people talk freely around a corpse, and, having arranged to be brought back to life, promptly used that information for his own ends.
Burke from Andrew Vachss's books. While he is a hard man with no compunctions against violence, victory always comes not from uninhibited use of violent power but only after cunning plans to con the marks are put into play.
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.
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' 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.
Also, the Ho Yay between him and Damien Vryce, man of the church (the church which Tarrant created) make this series worth reading in its own right despite its other issues.
Walker from Simon Green's Nightside Series. A perfect London gentleman until he posts your head on a fence.
At least until he tries to replace Tailor with himself...
Almost all James H. Schmitz's milieus, but especially the Federation Of The Hub, are populated solely by magnificent bastards. The Magnificents win; the Bastards lose. The best example might be Ticos Cay of the Hub novel The Demon Breed, an aging scientist who, when captured by sadistic, warlike Starfish Aliens, manages to win their respect by his ability to shrug off Cold-Blooded Torture, and proceeds to play on their fears and uncertainties to convince them of the reality of an Übermensch secret ruling society that would effortlessly repel their invasion. By the time the Action Girl protagonist shows up, the aliens are basically only waiting for an excuse to leave town.
Opal Koboi from Artemis Fowl, or she's at the very least much more competent and dangerous than the usual Smug Snake.
Artemis Fowl himself during the first book and he shows some magnificent planning skills in the later books.
Azrael de Gray's introduction from War of the Dreaming involves talking the Kid Hero into jumping off a cliff—and he was hanging in a cage made of hooks as punishment for being an untrustworthy murderer at the time.
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. He probably fit the trope even in Real Life (yes, he was a real person), though his actual motivations are much less clear.
The 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.
Any character from the House of the Yendi in Steven Brust's Dragaera books, though Pel is probably the apex of the breed.
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, likeable, 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 Mc Guffins 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 at 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, actually 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. And he did all this with a sinister smirk and a gift for Hannibal Lectures and Reason You Suck Speeches. He probably only lost because he was Drunk on the Dark Side and Axe Crazy!
The Deaf Man from Ed Mc Bain'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.
The title for THE Magnificent Bastard of the Harry Potter series 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.
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. Like Adolf Hitler upon whom he was based, 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.
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 rebeling 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.
Many of the Aes Sedai think they're this. In truth, there's only a handful. Suian, Egwene, and Verin.
Rand himself qualifies.
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.
Ishamael in the backstory; by the time he enters the present storyline, though, he's too insane to really pull it off. After his rebirth as Moridin, he might have gotten the title back- we'll need to wait and see the payoff of his schemes to tell for sure.
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.
Dr. Lehrl in The Pale King. Claude also qualifies, if the events of the annual corporate picnic are anything to go by.
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 The Saga of Pliocene 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.
Sultan Mehmed in Count and Countess. Possibly to be expected when the two main characters are Vlad Dracula and Elizabeth Bathory.
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.
Eugenides from The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. The works page describes him, among other things, as a walking Crowning Moment of Awesome, and he is. To elaborate would be to add a heckuva lot of spoiler tags.
Friedrich "Freddy" von Baldur from Star Risk Ltd typically acts as The Face for the eponymous PMC partly because of this trope. He also comes up with many of the team's plans (which tend toward both devious and wacky).
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.
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 Durbervilles, 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.
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 BSOD, 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.
Horemheb is a great general but can't help dabbling in politics as well, becoming the pharaoh later on through some manipulation and ruthless strategising. And, of course, betrays Sinuhe who thought him a friend.
Eje is effectively the ruler of Egypt for the most part and manages to keep it that way through political scheming and of course assassinations.
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).
Dorieus in The Etruscan.
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.
Even more awesome is his backstory: He was brought to the fifth preserve, the one nobody's been able to find, as a slave, and then rose to dominance with sheer cunning (and some demonic assistance). So while the good guys are desperately searching for the location of the last secret MacGuffin, he's using it as his base of operations.
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.