A lot of tropes have origins way back when media was still forming; this is one of them.
It might have been an early way to appeal to the masses, or just due to the way aristocrats tended to look down on the general public. But it was then and is now really popular to cast aristocrats as villains. A variety of Meaningful Titles exist - people with feudal titles are very commonly evil. Popular titles are Countnote in Britain, they're guaranteed to be foreign, since the equivalent local rank is "Earl- probably because in the Medieval Accent it sounded kind of unfortunate", and Baron — two titles which are rarely seen on a good guy. (Oddly enough, a Countess has a better-than-even chance of being a decent woman.) And though it doesn't show up a great deal, you should break out in a cold sweat when you meet a Viscount. Unless it's Viscount Horatio Nelson. Interestingly, both counts and barons are fairly common titles among Continental Europeans, but rare among the English, which may suggest a regional bias in which aristocrats are cast as villains.
Needless to say, Barons fare the worst in popular fiction, with one notable exception when used as a badass nickname.
One major exception: Dukesare usually relatively nice. This may be due to the fact the title was awarded to those who rose to aristocracy as war leaders. Thus, the Duke has a "grass roots" feel to it, and a Badass quality; as well, much like The Good Captain, military titles are generally for good guys, with the possible exception of Major. Dukes (and especially Grand Dukes) can be evil if the Hero is a Royal. Often a Duke is scheming to take over the throne himself.
Other titles generally have a more neutral feel to them - Earls tend to be good but quite elderly and senile, while it is rare to see a Marquess in anything other than a particularly faithful historical adaptation. Baronets were quite often villains in both Victorian Melodrama and Wodehousian comedy (not to mention the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Ruddigore). Queens/Kings may be either good or evil. And, of course, Everything's Better with Princesses(or is it?).
The title Siris the best of the lot, being martial, unprepossessing, and upwardly mobile. Even actors like to be called Sir.
The title Lord is somewhat problematic as strictly speaking any British or Irish Peer (other than a Duke or Duchess) would be addressed as such. For instance a character named 'Lord Bloggs', might be the Earl of Bloggs, or the Marquess of Bloggs or so on. The title 'Lord -' is also a favorite of a certain type of supernatural villain (Lords Vader and Voldemort, most famously), but are really a separate trope - normally not real aristocrats, and normally not powerful simply because of their titles.
The Prince will almost always be charming, even in the rare cases where that is not actually his name. However, there are two uses of the term. The Prince may be the son of a King, or it may be used to refer to any ruler or leader (re: Machiavelli). If an evil prince ever appears in fiction, be sure to check that it is not in fact the latter. And of course, the Evil Prince may be out to kill the good one.
If it's an Action Adventure story, you can bet anyone with the title Lady will be a Lady of War.
If there's a High Queen, then God Save Us from the Queen!. They may be nice enough people Behind The Queenly Mask. Conversely, a Prince is much more likely to be The Wise Prince; compare Fisher King.
Don't even get us started on Emperors, Chancellors, and Grand Viziers. Good luck finding a Marquis, though.
Several of these kinds of aristocrats together form a Deadly Decadent Court.
See also The Baroness and The Caligula. A young aristocrat may fall under Royal Brat.
Aristocrats are often willing to be polite and even with people of their own rank. Moral Myopia, however, often limits it to fellow aristocrats. Commoners are just out of luck — especially servants.
If they're not actively in charge, expect them to be part of the Omniscient Council of Vagueness. A Regent for Life will pick any one of these titles, especially if they run the People's Republic of Tyranny. In that case, only when the Rightful King Returns will harmonious social order be restored to the realm.
For the modern version of this trope, see Corrupt Corporate Executive, and to a lesser extent, Nouveau Riche.
Very prone to Screw the Rules, I Have Money!, Screw the Rules, I Make Them!, and Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!.
Morally Ambiguous Doctorate is also related, insofar as the title of Doctor gives the Mad Scientist some implied legitimacy.
For more information on the British title system, see Knight Fever. Not to be confused with The Aristocrats, a "stock joke" based on this premise.
This trope often goes hand in hand with Slobs Versus Snobs.
The Emperor of Dune is only good in comparison to Baron Harkonnen. The Emperors throughout the series fall under this trope, even the Necessary Evil ones — God Emperor Leto made himself the most reviled being in history, distrusted and despised even by his closest supporters.
In 1632, nobles tend to come off particularly poorly more often than not, especially in the first volume.
Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland, or at least her Alternate History persona in the second Blackadder series, was also very fond of ordering people's execution at the slightest whim. To call her "evil" may be a little strong, however. She was more of a Royal Brat taken to a slightly sadistic extreme.
Most of the Cavaliers in the English Civil War drama The Devil's Whore are portrayed as this, especially Prince Rupert. An exception is Angelica's husband, a clearly good-hearted Royalist who is executed by Charles I at the end of the first episode for surrendering his manor to Parliamentary forces.
Can be said of King Uther in Merlin, who concerns himself mostly with the nobility and royalty and looks down on peasants and servants as expendable.
There have also been a number of guest stars that invoked and subvert this trope. King Odin, King Caerleon and King Alined have been antagonistic, whilst King Godwyn, King Olaf and King Bayard have been anything from benevolent to neutral. As of the end of series 4, King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are subversions. Queen Annis proves herself an ally to Camelot, whilst Queen Morgana (whenever she manages to seize the crown) is a definite case of God Save Us from the Queen!.
Subverted in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation when a maid is found dead in the hotel room of a Saudi prince who's on a gambling trip in Las Vegas. CSI Riley Adams suspects that the prince killed the maid for refusing his advances, and thought that he'd be able to buy his way out of any trouble he got into. It turns out that the maid was killed by another maid who she caught trying to steal the jewelry the prince was keeping in his hotel room's safe. When he finds out that the maid was murdered for trying to protect his property, the prince donates an amount of money to the maid's family equal to what the jewelry was worth, as a way of expressing his condolences and gratitude.
Some of the viruses from ReBoot. Megabyte's title is the "King of Control", Hexadecimal's is the "Queen of Chaos" and Daemon's is the "Monarch of Order".
Fire Lord Ozai is the king of the Fire Nation. He and the last two generations of Fire Lords were all pretty evil, but the next Fire Lord is a nice guy. His daughter Azula is no less evil than him, and probably quite a bit more crazy.
Duke Niccolo di Chimici in the Stravaganza series is the main villain of the first three books. On the other hand, the Duchessa of Bellezza is good.
The Duke in James Thurber's The 13 Clocks has killed time, so that his thirteen clocks do not move, and sets Impossible Tasks to the princes who want to marry his niece. Finally he reveals that she is not his real niece but a princess he kidnapped and intends to marry; he let the princes try their luck because he was under a curse.
The Duc de Blangis and his companions in The 120 Days of Sodom are guilty of almost anything you can think of, and some things you probably can't.
Dukes in P. G. Wodehouse's work tend to be people you have to be on your guard against; the overbearing Duke of Dunstable from the Blandings stories is a good example.
Duke Felmet from Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters is the murderer of King Verence I and scarily insane. But compared to his Duchess, he is warm and fuzzy.
Another evil Pratchett example is the Duke of Sto Helit from Mort. However, his title is inherited by Mort and, ultimately, Susan.
Notable subversion: Samuel Vimes becomes Duke of Ankh in Jingo. He's unmistakeably Lawful Good and, for that matter, absolutely hates his title.
The Duchess from the Torchwood radio play Golden Age. Whimsical and old-fashioned, so much so that she was ready to kill thousands to keep things the way they were in 1924, having taken the end of the British empire and India's independence very, very badly.
Richard III was the Duke of Gloucester before becoming king. Whether his evilness was Truth in Television or a product of Shakespeare is left for the reader to decide.
The incorrigibly lecherous Duke of Mantua in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto also had the habit of executing people who complained too much about his seducing their wives/sisters/daughters.
Being an Italian city state, this particular 'Duke' was probably a Royal Duke and ruler of the state- he certainly has the power of a monach (in the original play, he was actually a king- this was changed because Italy had recently attained a king of the whole nation, and an evil king was felt to be too politically sensitive)
It is implied that he and his son, Sydney, orchestrated the destruction of Lea Monde to permanently drive the power of the Dark from the world, and thus keep it from the Cardinal's power-hungry hands —even if it meant Sydney's death and the sacrifice of everyone in the Cult of M?nkamp. Which would make him somewhat of a Neutral GoodMagnificent Bastard.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn presents Vice-Minister Lekain, Duke of Gaddos who is a monster. Some of Lekain's crimes include causing a massacre, regicide, false imprisonment, rebellion, slave dealing, and extortion of two foreign nations through threats of massacring their peoples via arcane magic.
Duke Farthington Roenall of Baldur's Gate II. To be fair, his trafficking in slaves, smuggling gems, and hiring pirates don't make him any worse than most nobles in Amn, but orchestrating an assault on the De'Arnise Keep to kill Lord De'Arnise, then attempting to force De'Arnise's only daughter into a marriage with Roenall's son so the Roenalls can claim the De'Arnise wealth and lands does push it a little.
The three Dukes of Ivalice in Final Fantasy Tactics, of which Dukes Gerrith Barrington of Riovanes and Bestrald Larg of Gallionne are downright evil, and the remaining Duke Druksmald Goltanna is only a notch or two above them. The war of succession between Duke Larg and Duke Goltanna for the throne of Ivalice is known as the War of the Lions, serves as the backdrop for much of the game, and creates enough bloodshed to precipitate the Big Bad's true plot.
In The Gamer's Alliance, Duke Koschei Dravaris is very much evil, constantly plotting behind the scenes to discredit the Grand Alliance and even leads his superior Belial to an ambush. The four demonic dukes and duchesses are ambitious and ruthless each in their own way, willing to fight among themselves but also against the other races whom they see as lesser beings.
Marquis Janus from Great Mazinger. A Two-Faced witch, conniving, manipulative and treacherous. In one of the manga versions she tore a girl in half to get back at The Hero Tetsuya for an earlier humiliation.
The Marquess of Rosseley in Montmorency is one of the nicest characters in the series, looking after a man he doesn't know at the request of his brother, being an excellent parent, and uniting with the other main characters in their cause.
The Marquis from A Tale of Two Cities is a classic example of the evil marquis. His carriage runs a child down and not only does he give the grieving family a single coin as compensation, but also is more worried about the health of the horse who trampled him than the boy himself.
The Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr in Scaramouche is a ruthless, manipulative killer.
Marquis de Carabas from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. A good guy, and a scheming Magnificent Bastard. Though technically, he's not even really an aristocrat, as he is said to have taken his title from "a lie in a fairy tale". He's also only technically a good guy. More on the 'helping the heroes because there's a lot in it for him' side.
The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett makes references to a "Marquis of Fantailler", who got into a lot of fights (mostly by way of being called the Marquis of Fantailler), and felt this entitled him to write a book. This book was called "The Noble Art of Fisticuffs" and was mostly a list of places where people weren't allowed to hit him. Whether he was particularly good or bad is never brought up, but it's implied that he was kind of an idiot because, as Vimes notes when Carrot tries to fight according to Marquis of Fantailler rules against an opponent who would have to back off a bit to qualify as dangerous, it only works when both people think so.
This is of course a parody of the real life 9th Marquess of Queensberry, whose name was given to rules for boxing codified in the 1860's, i.e. the Marquess of Queensberry rules. The real life Marquess was the father of Lord Alfred Douglas ('Bosie'), outspoken (or reckless, considering the times and who his father was) lover of Oscar Wilde. Angered by his son's relationship with Wilde, he was central to the trial and prison sentence which led to Wilde's early death. If you're a fan of Oscar Wilde, it makes this Marquess pretty evil.
From the Carrera's Legions series, the Marchioness of Amnesty (as in Amnesty International), as part of a future UN that's become a true world government, and over the centuries became a Feudal Future government. The original Marquis of Amnestynote who basically bought the title and position with gold from Terra Nova, paid by Carrera's ancestor to buy arms to fight the proto-United Earth forces and the two marchionesses who have been shown to hold the title prior to Captain Wallenstein being made Marchioness of Amnesty in The Lotus Eaters resemble the stereotypical depiction of the Marquis de Sade.
The Marquis de Sade may or may not have embodied this trope while alive, but over the years his name has become virtually synonymous with perversion and evil. Since he's one of the best-known historical Marquises, most fictional characters with the title will evoke his reputation.
Anne Boleyn was awarded the title of Marquess (the English equivalent of Marquis) of Pembroke during her affair with Henry VIII. After Henry obtained his divorce from Katherine of Aragon and married Anne, his daughter Mary - to whom Anne was the Evil Stepmother - refused to acknowledge that she was queen and referred to Anne as "Madame de Pembroke." YMMV on just how evil Anne actually was, however.
Interesting side note: Anne was given the title of Marquess, which was a male title, rather than its female counterpart of Marchioness. This was because she held the title in her own right rather than by marriage.
What's especially hilarious is that Christopher Guest, who played Rugen, is a real-life baron since 1996.
Count De Monet from History of the World Part I. (Quite literally) walks all over poor people and slaps servants around if they address him as the Count De Money. More small-minded and petty than outright evil, but also a typical aristocrat in pre-Revolutionary France, so probably more in the bad column.
Count Adhemar from A Knight's Tale (played to vile perfection by Rufus Sewell) oozes smarmy malevolence. The movie does subvert this trope with Prince Edward though - he's a good guy through and through.
Vlad the Impaler, on whom Dracula was based, was actually a "voievod" or "domn" (meaning "lord" or "ruler"). Romanians didn't have the title of "prince" until World War One, and then it was just because a foreign house of noble kin came to rule. The "voievod" was initially a military title, sort of like the Duke — in the beginning, the ruler was actually ruling only during times of war, the rest of the time, he was just a simple nobleman. Things had changed by the time Vlad the Impaler came to rule, though. "Count" was a title more commonly used by the neighbouring Hungarian Empire, where Bram Stoker got most of his information from.
Whatever translation one puts on Vlad the Impaler's rank...it was considerably higher than Count. Or, to put it another way...calling him "Count Dracula" would have all but guaranteed your impalement.
Another vampire: Carmilla, Countess of Karnstein, from Sheridan Le Fanu's novella.
Count Hannibal Lecter VIII - You heard me, this count eats people. His title is only added in the books, however.
Discworld also had Count de Magpyr and his family, who are most definitely evil.
Count Rive Montesq and Count Macob in Martha Well's novel The Death of the Necromancer - evil.
Montesq orchestrated the execution of Nicholas Valiarde's godfather Edouard Viller, a scholar and inventor of mechanical devices able to store magical spells, on false charges of necromancy. Interestingly, the main protagonist Nicholas Valiarde himself is a nobleman (and distantly related to the current Queen) but he is from a noble family that was disgraced due to treason perpetrated by one of its members some generations before; Nicholas lives under a variety of pseudonyms as he has become a conman and a thief in his quest for revenge on Montesq.
Count Macob is a cold and vicious undead necromancer, who during his lifetime became infamous for gory human sacrifices and curse spells. Even after his execution and decapitation he still clung to life, as it were.
Count Ugo Carifex from the Young Bond novel Blood Fever.
Viscount Hundro Moritani in the Dune prequels. As much, if not more, of a bastard than Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (see below). Most of his subjects take after him. His ambassador shoots a rival at a state dinner. He orders the bombing of civilian targets despite the declaration of Kanli, a war limited to military targets. He has his rival's son and daughter kidnapped and publicly executed. When another House condemns these actions, he orders the assault on their planet to steal their most holy relic. An ally of the viscount's assassinated the rival's second daughter at her wedding to Duke Leto Atreides (the ally was himself a Duke, by the way). He gets what's coming to him, though.
Count Iblis. "Iblis" is actually the Arabic name for the devil.
Countess Marguerite Isobel Theroux from Smallville - Evil witch.
Count von Count from Sesame Street - Good or benign, depending on how generous you are. Despite some numerical obsessions, he is a really decent fellow. The constant counting might get on one's nerves. It might also put you off math forever.
Given his uncontrollable condition though, he would arguably be considered more desperate and crazy for a cure than downright malevolent, as his reluctancy to use all his strength ends up demonstrating to himself once the second game rolls around.
In The Gamer's Alliance, the four demonic Dreadlords/ladies of Yamato hold the rank of count/countess, and they are very cruel and ambitious while serving their masters' needs. Counts Belial and Antigonus of Maar Sul are a bit of a mixed bag, though: on the one hand they are very ruthless in politics and tend to use people for their own ends, but they also have a code of honour.
Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560 - 1614), the "Blood Countess," was said by her enemies to have tortured and murdered many young women, 600 according to one witness. Legend has it she bathed in their blood to retain her youth. How much of that was true though is up for debate.
Earl Fengbald, also of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, was a total ass. He tortured his own people by boiling them alive when they couldn't make him enough money. He also led the army of the Evil King against the good guys. Also Earl Aspitis Preves (who was promoted from Count) was also quite a villain
Dragon Age has several Arls (the equivalent of an Earl). Dragon Age: Origins features the machinations of Arl Rendon Howe, who - among his other sterling achievements - arranges the brutal murder of his best friend/liege lord and his entire noble household, then lays claim to his lands.
Though not yet Arl himself, another upstanding citizen is Bann Vaughan, son and heir to the Arl of Denerim, who kidnaps an elven bridal party with the intent of raping the women.
Baron Karza from the Marvel Universe - Nemesis of the Micronauts as well as being an expy from the toyline of that same name. Given that the title baron is at the low end of the hierarchy, one has to wonder why Karza didn't promote himself when he gained control of the Microverse. It should be noted that in the toyline, Karza was but one of several characters (along with Force Commander) below an underboss called Red Hawk and an Emperor called Magus.
In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction Jericho, Jericho discusses this trope on his way to meet the Baron of Sleepy Oaks: So, a baron, eh? Ten Equestrian Bits says that he’s evil—all barons are. It’s the rule.
And then oddly subverted by the Baron of Sleepy Oaks himself, who appears to just be another victim of the Government Conspiracy. Make no mistake, he's a cowardly, elitist jerk, but he is at least trying to do the best for his “peasants”.
Baron Samedi (see Religion, below) appeared in Live and Let Die, and he was clearly evil in this version, although whether he was truly an incarnation of the real Baron Samedi or simply just another henchman of Mr. Big who knew a lot of convincing parlor tricks is uncertain.
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from Dune - Evil; contrast his rival, Duke Leto Atreides.
Baron and Baroness von Uberwald - Angua's parents and morally myopic werewolves in the Discworld novels. Their son and Angua's brother, Wolfgang von Uberwald was truly evil though.
Baron Harparin in The Elenium trilogy by David Eddings — evil. Allies himself to the evil churchman and the evil prince, and is a noted pederast besides.
In Vorkosigan Saga, all of the barons of Jackson's Whole are evil: the worst is Baron Ryoval, who is in the sexual slavery business and is an enthusiastic practitioner of Cold-Blooded Torture, employing a number of technicians to aid his hobby; his brother, Baron Fell, is a notorious arms dealer specializing in biological weapons, and Baron Bharaputra has a genetics clinic specializing in a procedure for the wealthy but aged, in which a young clone of them is produced, and then the clone's brain is ripped out and the original person's implanted instead).
Baron Bela Stoke from Mithgar- very evil. Think "expy of Vlad the Impaler if Vlad was also a shapeshifting necromancer" evil.
In 1066 and All That, though both Good Kings and Bad Kings are recognized, all Barons in history are wicked, with the sole exception of Simon de Montfort.
Baron Karl Heironymus Frederick von Munchausen is one of the few non-evil barons out there, helping out European powers maintain order around the world. Also appears in several film adaptions; technically he was a real person as well, but the real Baron Munchausen wasn't fond of the way Rudolph Raspe got him nicknamed "The Baron of Lies".
In The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Friedrich von Schoenvorts, the German lieutenant in command of the U-Boat, is also a baron. He commits war crimes and is a Bad Boss to his crew (whipping them for minor offenses). Author Burroughs uses him as an example of what Bowen Tyler describes as being "the Kaiser Breed," expressing contempt for German nobility.
"The Baron" (no real name given) is a recurring enemy in the Dutch Bassie & Adriaan - television series (although it's unknown if he actually is a baron or simply gave himself this title because he considers himself to be a criminal mastermind)
In Haitian Voodoo, Baron Samedi is the Loa (or god) of death. (He also has many other incarnations with that title, including Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix, and Baron Kriminel.) Seeing as he's supposedly one of the most powerful and wisest of the Loa, it's unclear why he's "only" a Baron or even why he needs a title at all. While most myths about him don't truly depict him as evil, they do tend to depict him as a trickster, who is noted for disruption, obscenity, and debauchery, often at the expense of mortals.
Tosca: Baron Scarpia, the chief of Roman police and villain of the story. Not only he is a venal, cruel and evil man - it is also heavily implied that he is a sexual sadist who apparently does not care much for consent.
The eponymous character in the Interactive Fiction game The Baron - Evil incarnation of the protagonist's incestuous desire for his daughter.
World of Warcraft features a boss named Baron Rivendare, who appears in the dungeons Stratholme and Naxxramas. Before he was raised into a Death Knight, he was a wealthy land owner who fell under the sway of the lich Kel'Thuzad and helped him structure the Cult of the Damned.
Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening has the Baroness, an Orlesian noblewoman who demanded tribute from her peasants in the form of their children. When they got fed up and torched her house, she cast a spell that dragged them all into death with her.
Norbert from The Angry Beavers once had a supervillain persona as Baron Bad Beaver. In a later episode, the Baron has a Heel-Face Turn into Baron Once Bad Now Good Beaver, only to make a Face-Heel Turn into Baron Once Bad Then Good Then Bad Again Beaver.
The episode of Batman: The Animated Series "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy" featured a would-be crime boss named Baron Wacklaw Jozek; he was really more selfish than he was evil, but he was an associate of Wormwood, a criminal whom Batman needed to catch, leading the hero to track Jozek down and question him (rather harshly) making Jozek pretty upset. Jozek later hired Wormwood to steal Batman's cape and cowl. Or so it seemed. Jozak actually left town to go to Europe after the confrontation with Batman, and Wormwood had been dealing with Batman himself, in disguise, using the strategy named after him.
Gilles de Rais, Baron of Retz (1404-1440) - Gives Elizabeth Bathory a run for her money as the most evil person to grace this page. His hobbies included molesting dozens of children, murdering them, playing with their intestines, and dismembering them. This guy was the stuff nightmares are made of.
In the early Deryni timeline, Manfred Colquhoun Festil Tarquin MacInnis, Baron of Marlor, is trouble. He's part of the corrupt council, and with his colleagues launches a coup against King Javan Haldane. That third name of his doesn't bode well.
Spoofed in P. G. Wodehouse's short humor piece "The Baronet's Redemption", wherein one Sir Jasper Murgleshaw, at heart a philanthropist, feels obliged to kidnap, rob and poison people simply because he's a baronet. Then it's discovered that he has no legal claim to the title, and he promptly becomes a Sunday School teacher.
In Wolf's Rain Lord Darcia has some sympathetic traits to begin with, but after his comatose lover Hamona is killed he turns increasingly evil. His adversary Lady Jagara is pretty evil to begin with, though.
In the first book of the Knight and Rogue Series Michael is sent by his father, a baron, to capture a woman suspected of killing an important noble's brother. Early in his search for the woman he learns that if she's killed the port town she governs will go to this brother, and thus be part of Lord Dorian's territory, meaning Dorian won't have to pay any taxes there, and Dorian ships a lot. Also, his father was aware of all of this. Michael is less than pleased.
"A Lord-man!" she groaned despairingly. "A Lord-man! Bet my hoecake's scorched! Here I've gone and pledged my word to Freckles I'd find him some decent relatives, that he could be proud of, and now there isn't a chance out of a dozen that he'll have to be ashamed of them after all. It's too mean!"
In Gene Stratton Porter's Michael O'Halloran, Leslie blames a woman's behavior on aping nobility, but Douglas corrects that only some of them are like that.
''"I don't pity him half so much as I do her," he answered. "What must a woman have suffered or been through, to warp, twist, and harden her like that?" "Society life," answered Leslie, "as it is lived by people of wealth who are aping royalty and the titled classes." "A branch of them—possibly," conceded Douglas. "I know some titled and wealthy people who would be dumbfounded over that woman's ideas."
Lord Ruthven, of course, the titular character from The Vampyre.
Lord Dycedarg Beoulve is a real piece of work. He slowly fed poison to his father to kill him without suspicion and take hold of the Beoulve estate, orchestrated the kidnapping of Marquis Elmdore with Corpse Brigade commander Gustav to use as a bargaining chip, orders Gaffgarion to kill Ramza in cold blood, sets up a plot with Duke Larg to kill the Princess, murdered Larg to gain his power as regent, gave his soul to the Lucavi Adrammelech, and killed Zalbaag. He's far from successful in the end, but he's arguably the most monstrous character in the game.
Subverted by MediEvil 2's Lord Palethorn. He's a working class cockney who tried to buy his way into high society.
Tsukumogami, being set towards the end of the Heian Period, is lousy with corrupt, inept and selfish nobles. The only one who actually gets a TITLE to his name, though, is the Shogun - who turns out to be a fairly OK dude who means well even if things don't always work out as planned.
In One Piece, the World Nobles, also known as the Celestial Dragons (Tenryuubito in Japanese), are the descendants of the Kings of twenty different kingdoms who later created the World Government. Unfortunately, the World Government is heavily corrupt, and not surprisingly, the World Nobles think they can do whatever the hell they like because they have "the blood of this world's creators", and by that definition, they are practically divine by nature. They even have slaves who they continuously mistreat, and put collar bombs around their necks. For that matter, they are allowed to take any person of the street to become their slave or another spouse. If you offend them in any way, an Admiral will be sent to deal with you.
Not so much as think they can do whatever they want, as they actually can do whatever they want.
It does not help that the Big Bad of the Dressrosa arc, the Warlord of the Sea Donquixote Doflamingo, has just revealed that he's a World Noble.
Recent flashbacks show us the nobility of Luffy's homeland, Goa Kingdom. They routinely sent out all their trash out of the city and let it pile up to the point that it became a small town unto itself, the Grey Terminal. When an inspection team with Celestial Dragons was scheduled to arrive, the nobles arranged to have the trash heap burned to the ground, people and all, in order to appeal to the Dragons. On top of this, they seemed incapable of understanding why a protagonist who discovered this was distraught.
Significantly earlier, there was Wapol, who had all doctors who did not work for him murdered so he could charge ridiculous sums of money for medical treatment, and beat up small children (which would have possibly sparked an international incident) simply because they were in his way.
The most prominent is the Britannian Empire, entirely managed by nobility and aristocracy of various levels. That may be cause or consequence of the practice of racism and social darwinism in the Britannian Empire, this is not only evidenced in the nobility truly believing that they are superior due to their blood but also lead to the discrimination and oppression of the numbers (people of countries conquered by Britannia) who are forced to live in ghettoes.
And the other example are the eunuchs of the Chinese Federation, who are corrupt aristocrats who see the people of the Chinese Federation as ants and are willing to sacrifice all of them just for their personal gain.
Where to start in Black Butler? Pretty much all the nobles (which is a lot, considering that the entire series is filled with them) are reeeally messed up - Ciel included. And despite the Gaussian Girl memories shown of Ciel's parents, it's pretty obvious that they had... problems. (Most notably his father, who shows that he definitely isn't quite as nice as was believed before.)
Mobile Suit Gundam F91 features an uprising by the aristocratic Ronah family, who attempt to establish an empire in space called "Cosmo Babylonia" because they believe firmly that humanity should be ruled by the upper class. The family actually both plays the trope straight and averts it: "Iron Mask" Carozzo believes that humanity needs to be purged from Earth altogether. His father-in-law Meitzer Ronah is the one ordering the invasion, but is unaware of this plan, and at the very least seems to be a good family man who genuinely has the best intentions. Also, Carozzo's wife and daughter both believe in equality among human beings, and are major factors in the eventual downfall of Cosmo Babylonia.
In fact, most of the second Universal Century in Gundam is spent with Evil Aristocrats as the enemy. Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam reveals that the Ronah family was sponsored heavily by the Jupiter Empire, who had similar ideals and wanted to soften up the Federation in preparation for their own attack on the Earth Sphere. Even after they are defeated, some members of the Jovian aristocracy head to Earth and start up the Zanscare Empire in Mobile Suit Victory Gundam as yet another attempt to establish aristocratic rule (this time blended with Newtype supremacy).
Berserk: Counts, barons, queens, kings, lords, emperors, what have you. No matter the title, they all tend to have ill-intent for their fellow man (or are at least big jerks). If that's not enough, just wait until they turn into Apostles...
There are a couple exceptions in the manga: not counting Serpico (who was not really born a noble) or Farnese (whose Heel-Face Turn coincided with her abandoning her status), Roderick is pretty nice, while Laban and Owen actually give a crap about protecting commoners.
In A Brief History of Equestria, the phrase "Unicorn Nobility" may as well be a four-letter word, as up until the post-Warming generation, they're all so petty and corrupt that all they care about is their own power, at the expense of their commoners and the other tribes. Is it any wonder that Princess Platinum dedicated her life (and death) to systematically removing their power?
The Lunaverse: Luna's refusal to be a fully assertive ruler (for fear of becoming a tyrant) has allowed the Night Court to become hopelessly corrupt. Even the nicest members scheme for position and power, and can be petty and cruel when crossed — Night Light actually delays relief funds to Ponyville and tries to block Trixie's ascension through the Court's ranks in order to punish her for his daughter becoming a fugitive (which really was more Twilight's own fault than Trixie's).
Meta Example in The Seven Samurai: the writer said he was motivated in part by desire to atone for what his Samurai ancestors had done to the people of Japan. That of course means that he was an aristocrat who was not personally evil.
Lampshaded in the same movie when one of the seven of humble birth gives an angry speech about the behavior of Samurai.
In Chronicles of the Kencyrath the system in the Kencyr is evil, even if not all the aristocrats really are. Jame, and her twin brother Torisen to a lesser extent, are both frequently disgusted by the behavior of their own Highborn caste.
Captain Wentworth, with five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, was no longer nobody. He was now esteemed quite worthy to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him, and who could give his daughter at present but a small part of the share of ten thousand pounds which must be hers hereafter.
In Northanger Abbey, the narrator comments on how Mrs. Morland knew so little of lords and baronets that she did not warn Catherine against the danger of them.
The Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons — a pair of licentious Magnificent Bastards who take great pleasure in screwing others over (in every possible sense of the term). Amoral at the very least.
House of the Scorpion: Matt, while he is not privileged in any way because of his status as a clone in the society, is referred to as an aristocrat (a dirty word in the society he is in) because of where he came from, and because he can play the piano.
The Secret Texts by Holly Lisle has the Sabirs and their rivaling house. Anwyn, Andrew, and Crispin Sabir, in particular, are nasty, nasty individuals, including the brutal murder of one of their own guards while raping one of the daughters of their rivals. You know, until Crispin hits woobie status with the realization that the love of his life is dead, his brother is a traitorous snake, and the only woman he can ever love is his daughter.
With a few exceptions, most aristocrats Richard Sharpe spends any time with tend to suck.
The patroon system of 18th century New York is portrayed as very unjust in Dragonwyck, by Anya Seton. At the head of this is Affably Evil Nicholas Van Ryn, patroon (naturally) of Dragonwyck. However, the rest of the aristocracy is portrayed as mostly mean, unjust, thoughtless, or at least clueless.
Practically every aristocrat (and no shortage of the common-but-rich) in the world of the Gentleman Bastard series is a spoiled, myopic monster who lives in luxury to put Versailles to shame, while the cities they rule over are dystopian affairs with enormous poor populations. Only three noble characters are portrayed sympathetically. Particularly monstrous is the so-called Amusement War in the demi-city of Salon Corbeau, a sort of living chess game played for galleries of rich merchants and nobles using impoverished and desperate peasants who volunteer in exchange for a pittance of money and room and board. Whenever a "piece" is captured, he or she is subjected to whatever ghastly punishments the players desire- torture, beatings, stoning, rape, anything short of killing them deliberately - and none of the aristocrats see anything wrong about this.
There's also mention of a noblewoman who Gentled (reduced to mindless husks wholly devoid of their own volition who have to be prodded to eat, excrete, or move) kittens so her sons could torture them with knives, because they were bored.
Most of The Talisman's aristocrats in the Territories are either evil or cowed into submission. The worst is Morgan of Orris and those working directly for him.
The United States in Trail of Glory does not have titled aristocracy given the setting, but many plantation owners with slaves in the antebellum south demonstrate just about all the features related to this trope.
The Kingkiller Chronicle books play with this somewhat. Ambrose Jakis is the son of a rich baron and uses his birth and wealth as an excuse to be a colossal douchebag to everyone and especially Kvothe. On the other hand, Willem and Simmon are both sons of minor nobility and Kvothe's best friends, while Count Threpe is a Cool Old Guy who occasionally helps Kvothe and serves as a patron to a number of musicians and entertainers.
A Song of Ice and Fire brings us "great lords" and "bannermen", who can be absolutely horrifying. Some examples: Tywin Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Stannis Baratheon, Randyll Tarly, the Boltons in general.
Aristocrats in Vorkosigan Saga are an aversion, often coming across as Reasonable Authority Figures. The ones in the Time of Isolation and during the reigns of previous emperors were often bloodthirsty folks though.
In the 1632 series aristocrats or at least aristocracy tends to come off as evil at first but more complications come later. Even in the first volume Gustavus Adolphus is generally good.
In Belisarius Series, aristocrats are neither worse nor better then others. There is criticism of it as a system however and the main bad guy, the Malwa is devoted to an ideology of inherited power, and usually has not the balancing virtues of aristocrats from other empires.
Sheikhs used to be romantic, but since the 1970s oil embargo they're almost universally bad news in fiction: typically depicted as corrupt, greedy, lecherous, fat, and smug.
Squires tend to be Quintessential British Gentlemen. They are likely to be rather gruff but good natured under all that. They tend to either be a retired military officer, or a father obsessed with marrying off his daughters or with a wife with the same obsession.
The entire Scarlet Dynasty in Exalted is profoundly corrupt, continually scheming and backstabbing one another for the sake of power, wealth, and prestige. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between. Furthermore, the Scarlet Empress set things up this way deliberately, to ensure that her empire could never function without her.
Mishima is the worst offender, following a particularly harsh brand of Tokugawa-style bushido. Intrigue, assassination and constant competition are everyday occurences, and commoner lives are cheap. Mishima is not particularly afflicted by The Corruption, but the Big Bad doesn't really it need to be, things being what they are.
Bauhaus nobility are better, since they are raised with a strong sense of noblesse obligé and Bauhaus has some measure of social mobility. There are always exceptions, though. Erwin Stahler and Max Steiner's former commanding officer are prime examples.
Imperial nobility are better still, but much given to Honor Before Reason, and will gladly kill each other and drive their clansmen into meat grinder battles over slights hundreds of years old. Again, there are exceptions, and some Imperial nobles sign on with the Big Bad.
Lunar Knights has two evil viscounts (most likely twins to boot), an Ax-Crazy human-hunting Margrave, an evil scientist baron, and an earl who became a Necessarily Evil duke. Interestingly enough, in the earl's case, his ascension to dukehood was the capper of his career as an earl, bagging vampire hunters and Guild gunslingers alike and instilling fear in said opposition from all that rep.
Nobles in Dwarf Fortress aren't really evil, but they are nearly useless, expensive, demanding, obnoxious, oppressive to other dwarfs, and generally hated (and often killed) by the players. In other words, they provide a good example of the origin of this trope.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood features the Real Life evil Pazzi family, as well as Rodrigo Borgia. It also adds the rest of the Borgia family, as well as fictional Silvestro "The Noble" Sabbatini who engaged in human trafficking.
Embric of Wulfhammer's Castle has several nobles, some good, some bad, some minor characters not worth talking about. The Duchess of Elstwhere is a perfectly nice and helpful aristocrat, despite her childhood, even willing to milk a cow as part of relieving the fears of the peasants. Her uncle, meanwhile, Bad King Greyghast the Terrible, well, managed to get himself called Bad King Greyghast the Terrible. And Duke Theremin is basically a bit of an entitled snot.
The aristocracy of Valkyria Chronicles is comprised of nothing but evil assholes, including the mostly-noble army which is destroyed in a nuclear holocaust, and not a single fuck is given for the thousands of lives lost and the prime minister. The only exception is Princess Cordelia.
The throne of The Order of the Stick's Asian-themed Azure City is threatened by an evil scheming aristocrat with the title of Daimyo, named Kubota who makes a deal with a (minor) devil in exchange for aid in assassinating the rightful heir Hinjo after he's ascended to the throne just in time to have a war to defend the city fall into his lap and makes several attempts while the battered fleet that evacuated the city seeks to find a safe harbor.
The previous lord of the city kept all of the backstabbing, ninja-assassin-happy aristocracy from killing him by pretending to be senile so that they instead played an elaborate game to attempt to influence the old man into ruling in their favor.
The King and Blue Princes of Winters In Lavelle aren't well liked. Ashton, unfortunately, happens to share the biggest identifying traits of Princes (almost inhumanly bright blue eyes). They've haunted the poor kid his whole life- his mother was even shown calling him a monster in a flashback, back when he looked to be around ten years old. And of course, nowadays, if any of the Retainers of Wistar- a group aiming to overthrow the king and assassinate the Princes along the way- see him wandering around...
Hell's hierarchy in The Salvation War included Barons, Counts, Dukes and Grand Dukes topped by His Infernal Majesty Satan. All of them evil, of course, although prone to a Heel-Face Turn if the circumstances press.
A common belief among the Russian Old Believer population in the early 1700's was the Tsar Peter the Great was none other than the Antichrist.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, when the concepts of democracy and liberalism were beginning to catch on in the United States and Europe, the aristocratic families of Europe were, for the most part, opposed to liberalism because it meant giving the common people a say in government, and if that was allowed, then they would no longer have absolute power.
In a sense. All governments justify themselves at least in part by providing internal and external defense; it is not a condemnation of aristocracy specifically.
What is true is that aristocrats often had an extensive amount of privileges from law and custom and could easily get away with a shocking amount of tyranny both spectacular things like atrocities and "minor" things like sexually harassing servants, or simple day-to-day bullying and disdain. A given aristocrat was not necessarily evil but he often found it way easier to do evil things then he would have in a modern state should he be inclined. As well many of them were raised in a moral structure that often sounds rather like Blue and Orange Morality.
This has been speculated to be one reason people of the past were less uncomfortable with the doctrine of Hell. That's where they wanted their Feudal Overlord to end up!
Most aristocratic titles began as non-hereditary offices, which were usurped by the people holding them, via power and wealth often amassed through corruption. Hence the hereditary aristocracy originated in acts of evil. That said, most modern aristocrats descend from families which either bought their position or were raised to that position in the last 5 or 6 centuries.