70 pages 2 hours read

Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1844

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Summary and Study Guide


The Three Musketeers (1844), by French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas, is a novel that borrows tropes from the swashbuckling genre, historical fiction, and romance to recount the adventures of a group of king’s guard who face off against the machinations of nefarious political factions set on destabilizing the monarchy. It was first published through serialization in 1844 to great popularity. Though set in the mid-1600s, the novel connected with the philosophical underpinnings of the French Revolution of 1848. Since then, the novel has remained a classic. It has been adapted into several films, television shows, and video games.

Dumas was a celebrated figure in his time and his literature continues to be lauded for his integration of different genre tropes, the action-packed nature of his prose, and the subtle societal critiques that inform his stories. His most famous works today are The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo (1846). He remains a French icon, with everything from train stations to libraries named after him. This guide refers to the Apple Books edition published in 2010.

Plot Summary

In the 1620s, d’Artagnan, a provincial young man from Gascony, makes his way to Paris to achieve his dream of becoming a Musketeer. The Musketeers are an elite unit of King Louis XIII’s personal military, so called because they carry muskets, which are sophisticated pieces of equipment at the time. D’Artagnan carries an important letter of introduction to Monsieur de Treville, the head of the Musketeers.

D’Artagnan comes into conflict immediately with Count Rochefort, who works for the malevolent Cardinal Richelieu, one of the king’s most powerful advisers—Rochefort is on his way to meet with Richelieu’s spy, Milady de Winter. Rochefort steals d’Artagnan’s letter of introduction and money, setting the stage for a novel-long feud.

De Treville helps d’Artagnan enroll in a less sophisticated military unit, so he can train and prove himself worthy of the Musketeers. D’Artagnan accidentally picks a fight with Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, three Musketeers with a tight-knit friendship. When they meet to duel, they’re interrupted by the Cardinal’s Guards. D’Artagnan teams up with the Musketeers. The foursome fights off the Cardinal’s Guards and becomes fast friends.

Although he’s not yet a Musketeer, d’Artagnan quickly finds himself on a top-secret mission for the French Queen Anne. Queen Anne has been having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham, a powerful Englishman and enemy of her husband, the King of France. D’Artagnan is sent to England to retrieve the Queen’s diamond studs, gifts she had given to the Duke. D’Artagnan’s mission to England is successful, and Queen Anne refutes the cardinal’s accusations of her affair by wearing the diamond studs to a ball. She gives d’Artagnan a diamond ring as a token of her gratitude.

Through this mission, he meets Constance Bonacieux, who works for Queen Anne. D’Artagnan falls in love with Constance because he sees her as a damsel in distress. Constance is kidnapped by the cardinal, and d’Artagnan vows to find her. First, he must reunite all three Musketeers. When he does so, a drunken Athos tells d’Artagnan a disturbing story: Athos once married a woman he loved, but discovered that she was a criminal when he saw that she was branded with a fleur-de-lis on her shoulder. He figured out that his wife had stolen from the Catholic Church, so he tried to murder her.

D’Artagnan finds himself in yet another duel, this time with an Englishman named Lord de Winter. He spares Lord de Winter, so Lord de Winter introduces him to his sister-in-law, Milady. Milady married Lord de Winter’s brother, who is dead. D’Artagnan is captivated by Milady. She is beautiful and mysterious, and he falls in love with her, forgetting completely about Constance. He visits with Milady each night, but is discouraged by her apparent apathy toward him. Meanwhile, Milady’s maid Kitty falls in love with d’Artagnan. D’Artagnan discovers that Milady is interested in a man named Comte de Wardes, yet another one of d’Artagnan’s dueling foes. This angers d’Artagnan so much that he starts a secret relationship with Kitty to gain access to Milady. D’Artagnan forges letters to Milady as Comte de Wardes to trick her into believing that the Comte feels for her too, before quickly breaking up with her. D’Artagnan is there to pick up the pieces of Milady’s heartbreak. They sleep together, even though he suspects that Milady doesn’t like him. Milady asks him to kill the Comte de Wardes for her, proving that she’s using him for revenge. D’Artagnan admits to his scheme, which makes Milady predictably angry. In their argument, he sees the branding of a fleur-de-lis on her shoulder—Milady is Athos’s ex-wife.

D’Artagnan escapes Milady’s wrath and finds Athos. He reports the fleur-de-lis and shows Athos a sapphire ring Milady gave him, which Athos recognizes as his own family heirloom. But the danger of Milady is put aside as the Musketeers gear up for war. The cardinal has planned a takeover of La Rochelle, a city in France that has long been a sacred space for the Huguenots, or French Protestants.

D’Artagnan is a successful soldier, celebrated for his victories on the battlefield, and eventually promoted to Musketeer. However, several times, Milady tries to assassinate him: First, she pays two men in his unit to try to kill him; later, he receives a box of wine ostensibly from his three Musketeer friends that turns out to be poisoned. The Musketeers and d’Artagnan reconnect and decide that Milady must be stopped. They write to her brother-in-law, Lord de Winter, warning him that Milady wants him dead so she can inherit his money. They also investigate where Constance might be hiding, as it is believed she has escaped the cardinal.

Lord de Winter receives the letter just in time to arrest Milady, who arrives in England for a mission on behalf of the cardinal. She is supposed to find a religious fanatic who will assassinate the Duke of Buckingham. Lord de Winter imprisons Milady in his castle and puts John Felton, a trusted soldier, in charge of overseeing her imprisonment. Lord de Winter warns Felton not to fall for Milady’s seductive ways, but when Milady figures out that Felton is a Puritan, she pretends to be an ardent Puritan herself to win him over. She threatens to die by suicide. Felton falls for her deception and frees her. Together, they escape the castle. Milady has also lied to Felton that the Duke of Buckingham drugged her and raped her. Felton has arranged for a boat to France for himself and Milady. Felton goes to the duke’s castle, gains entry because of his connection to the powerful and influential Lord de Winter, and kills the duke. However, when Milady sails away without him, Felton realizes he’s been tricked.

Milady hides in a convent in Bethune, where she meets Constance, who falls for Milady’s gestures of sisterhood and friendship. Constance tells Milady about d’Artagnan, not realizing Milady’s own connection to d’Artagnan. Rochefort arrives to the convent to help Milady. She asks for a carriage. Just as d’Artagnan arrives to rescue Constance, Milady kills Constance with poisoned wine and makes her escape.

Lord de Winter and the Musketeers meet up to track Milady down. D’Artagnan’s servant finds her in the remote town. In the meantime, Athos is joined by a masked man in a red cloak who is also searching for justice against Milady because Milady seduced his brother, a priest, into stealing from churches. This priest was found guilty and imprisoned, then later died by suicide, while Milady escaped accountability. They encircle Milady’s hideout, capture her, and hold a trial for her long list of crimes, including murder and conspiracy to kill. They sentence her to death. Milady is brought across a river and beheaded. Although the Musketeers are victorious, the situation devastates them, except for Athos, who is thrilled to have finally killed Milady. D’Artagnan is heartbroken over Constance’s death.

D’Artagnan is summoned by Rochefort to meet with the cardinal, who has an arrest warrant for d’Artagnan for his part in the affair between Duke of Buckingham and Queen Anne. D’Artagnan threatens the cardinal with exposure: He has proof that the cardinal was working with Milady. However, the cardinal is surprisingly relieved to be rid of Milady, who was unpredictable and dangerous. Rather than arrest d’Artagnan, the cardinal offers him a promotion to lieutenant of the Musketeers.

D’Artagnan doesn’t feel worthy of this promotion, so he tries to give it to one of his friends. Athos rejects it because now that Milady is dead, he has no further ambitions. Porthos rejects it because his mistress’s husband has died, setting Porthos up for a wealthy marriage. Aramis rejects it because he is joining a religious order.

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