If your story is set in the medieval or early modern period, and if its geographical scope is closer to a town or county than a kingdom or empire, then the villain of choice for you is the Feudal Overlord
. This sinister noble
rules over villagers and peasants with an iron fist
, being surrounded by a guard of armed Mooks
that enforce his oppressive taxes and get hold of beautiful maidens
that have caught the lord's eye. He may have to answer for his acts to a higher authority such as a King, but either the king will also be evil
, or he will be distant and unaware of the sufferings of the commoners. Therefore the Feudal Overlord
will have effectively unchecked authority over the region, and will of course use it for his benefit and pleasure.
At least, unless he goes too far, and La Résistance
Historical examples of this trope are a main reason why Aristocrats Are Evil
. See also Corrupt Hick
, which is a modern Deep South
equivalent. Can also feature in the Feudal Future
, if travel is limited.
See also I Own This Town
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Film - Animated
- Lord Farquaad in Shrek, who, on top of everything, wants to make the transition to full-blown king.
Film - Live Action
- The Sheriff of Nottingham in almost every single film version of Robin Hood is a textbook example.
- The 1991 film version, starring Patrick Bergin, replaced the sheriff with an anti villain Norman baron, who was also an example.
- Governor Gesler in the William Tell legend, who forces the hero to shoot at the apple on his son's head after Tell is disrespectful; his abuses of power end up inciting the Swiss to rebellion.
- The villains that Zorro fights against are of this kind as well.
- Honor Harrington: While not all of them are evil, more than a few of Steadholders of Grayson that are given any significant screen time live up to this trope.
- In Vorkosigan Saga, while not all of the Vors fit as far as evilness goes, many of them do. It's a coin toss as to whether the first appearance of a Vor lord is or isn't this trope.
- Baron Trutzdrachan in Otto of the Silver Hand.
- Baron Front de Boeuf in Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, who imprisons and tortures a rich Jew, trying to get hold of his money.
- Norman Arminger in S. M. Stirling's first three books of the Emberverse series. Feudalism is the standard M.O. of most post-Change societies, to some degree, but only Arminger breaks out the iron collars.
- Another S. M. Stirling example: Draka Landholders are basically this in all but name.
- Duke Rastar in Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight is a minor villain who's collaborating with the Big Bad.
- The Harkonnens in Dune.
- William Hamleigh in The Pillars of the Earth. He provides Stephen with armed soldiers and is left alone because of Stephen's weakness as a ruler. He uses this position to tax his serfs to death and rape any woman he sees fit.
- The nobility of Perquaine in The Redemption of Althalus seemed to consist entirely of examples of this.
- Seen in Malevil, a French post-World War III novel were the survivors live in an old castle that survived the nuclear holocaust.
- Subverted by Emmanuel. He owned the property before the war, but despite the new desperate world order and the castle returning to its original function, he does everything in his power to share authority with this friends, making Malevil a tiny democratic survivalist society rather then his old-fashioned kingdom.
- This is later invoked in a pissing contest over power with Fulbert. Fulbert keeps assigning himself increased power over Malevil from his Corrupt Church in La Roque. Emmanuel attempts to answer to his ridiculous claims with one of his own; claiming that 600 year old documents from the Hundred Years War give the Lord of Malevil power over the fief of La Roque and that by owning the property he is the new Lord of Malevil. What was meant as sarcasm and satire is taken as actual legal authority by his friends.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire most characters are part of the feudal nobility and the entirety of Westeros is one massive feudal realm. Not all the noble families embody this trope, however; the Boltons are perhaps the ones who fit most closely.
- The various High Lords of Codex Alera have a wide range of personalities and morals, but Kalarus Brencis most definitely fits this trope, being an egomaniacal slaver whose only goal is to increase his own power. Like all other High Lords, he is technically subservient to the First Lord, but is too powerful to be overruled easily, and much of the First Lord's time is spent trying to limit the damage the various lords do when they become this trope.
- Aquitaine Attis turns out to be a subversion; while extremely ambitious, manipulative and casual about killing, and first introduced in the positon of The Chessmaster who will gladly get hundreds of peasants killed for the sake of increasing his power, his criticisms of the First Lord are shown to be well-founded, and he is a battle-commander of great personal courage. When he (briefly) becomes the First Lord, he shows himself to be a good ruler, and a much better man than anyone thought.
Live Action TV
- Quite a few planetary leaders in Firefly act like this, especially Rance Burgess in "Heart of Gold". Canton's Magistrate Higgins, in "Jaynestown", had actual serfs.
- In the Crusader Kings series of games, you are the Feudal Overlord, as are your neighbors. Exactly how much any given character plays the stereotype straight depends on playstyle, character traits, and random events.
- Most rulers in Real Life lived in a system like this. Historically even the largest empires were composed of states within states within states in a complicated matrix, rulers of each domain being capable of making war on their own behalf. Whether or not these local authorities were recognized as constitutional varied, but the system remained similar in many places. To this day this arrangement seems to be the case in a number of states which often causes political difficulties for those from countries unused to the system.
- The Shoguns in Japan were like this, as they wielded more power than the Emperor. This all ended in the Meiji Era when the Shogunate was abolished and replaced with a more centralized government.