If your story is set in the pre-industrial era, 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 takes arms...
Historical examples of this trope are a main reason why Aristocrats Are Evil. See also Corrupt Hick, a modern equivalent who shows up in rural areas such as the Deep South. Can also feature in the Feudal Future, if travel is limited.
See also I Own This Town.
- Berserk: Aristocrats Are Evil is in full effect, and because rulers above the local level are often absent or otherwise occupied, some lords practice inhuman depravities on their subjects with impunity. It doesn't help that some of them are out-and-out demons:
- The Baron of Koka Castle dominates the town around his fortress with the help of his thugs, has the mayor under his thumb, and opresses the people with no fear of outside interference. He demands tribute in gold and prisoners, whom he eats because he is a flesh-hungry Apostle in human form, but when Guts shows up and kills some of his men, he retaliates by riding out to Rape, Pillage, and Burn the town just For the Evulz.
- Another apostle called The Count, pictured above, arrests subjects on fabricated charges of heresy and has them beheaded in public at a rate of up to five a month, while keeping others alive in his dungeons so he can torture them and eat their flesh. Nobody can resist because of his swarms of heavily armed guards, and apparently there's no higher authority to appeal to. His henchman Dahl is concerned that this will attract the censure of the pope, but the Count is unconcerned. Before he sold his soul to the God Hand he was a Knight Templar who hunted real heretics out of genuine fervor, but since he became an Apostle he's used heresy as a mere excuse to persecute anyone regardless of guilt or innocence.
- Baron Luthor in the medieval Elseworld comic Superman: Kal.
- Lady Death had her own father as a textbook example. A vicious nobleman hated by his subjects that forcibly conscripted them to fight in the Crusades, while behind closed doors, practiced witchcraft and worshiped the Devil. Eventually his cruelty triggered a peasant uprising and stormed his castle, only to witness him being carried away by demons and leaving his daughter behind. The townsfolk condemned the girl as a witch and burned her at the stake.
- Black Moon Chronicles: The Empire of Lynn is swarming with unscrupulous nobles like this. The upper hierarchy of the Empire has no time to deal with them since they're far more occupied with keeping the realm from collapsing completely due to constant threats from within and without. For example, the tyrannical duke who imprisoned Ghorghor Bey's circus troupe after refusing to pay them for their services and incited his development into a barbaric warlord.
- Lord Farquaad in Shrek, who, on top of everything, wants to make the transition to full-blown king.
- The Sheriff of Nottingham in almost every single film version of Robin Hood is a textbook example. He keeps his power mainly because of Prince John, who either supports him or is too weak to stop him. The 1991 film version, starring Patrick Bergin, replaced the sheriff with an Anti-Villain Norman baron, who was also an example.
- Carnegie in The Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic version of this trope. He rules over his ramshackle of a town with his army of thugs and takes whatever he wants when he pleases.
- 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.
- Vultsi Pasha in the Nora of Kelmendi legend is an Ottoman governor stationed in Albania that tries to add the heroine to his harem and also ends up provoking a war with the local Albanian Highlanders.
- 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 attempts to torture 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 where 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 his 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.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe has this with the New Sith Wars time period. As the Galactic Republic began to weaken entire regions of the galaxy were controlled by high-ranking Jedi, who were bestowed titles and privileges by the citizens. Eventually they took the title of Jedi Lords.
- The Silerian Trilogy: Sileria has suffered through a series of these, starting with the Moorlanders, then the Kints, and finally the Valdani. It's the impetus for the rebellion, to finally be rid of them. Unfortunately then the water lords try to take their place...
- 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.
- Queen of Swords: Colonel Montoya, the evil governor and ultimate political power in the province. Several episodes have the local Dons threatening to report him to the King (or at least the Viceroy), but it never lasts.
- Comendador Guzman in Lope de Vega's play Fuente Ovejuna; eventually the whole town, tired of his abuses, murders him and assumes the guilt collectively.
- 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.
- Likewise in Mount & Blade, where you can start out as a landless aspiring knight and later gain a fief of your own. You aren't given quite as many opportunities to be really evil as this trope would suggest, as M&B focuses more on the martial side of things, but you can still raze villages with impunity.
- 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.
- Historically feudalism wasn't (especially in Western Europe) as bad as it is often depicted. If the overlord was overtly harsh, the serfs would desert him and escape to towns, woods or in the service of other lords. A serf who had lived in a town one year and one day was considered to have relinquished his duty on his overlord and become a freeman. In extreme cases a revolt could well ensue, which would always be a bad thing.
- It should also be noted that the common cliche of the feudal lord being completely uncaring toward his peasants was a rarity in Western Europe at the time: feudalism being a system based entirely on personal loyalties and relationships, the great majority of lords (as in, those rarely spoken about due to being rather low on the medieval scale of power and importance, such as landed knights) knew the people working their land personally, and it was in fact quite common for the nobility to invite (or be invited by) their peasants for a meal. The (pragmatic) reason for this being that people in general are much more likely to be willing to die in battle for someone they know, care about and who treats them well than a tyrannical lord no one ever met. A feudal estate was called a "family", and this could truly be the case for many.