The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires) is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, père. It recounts the adventures of a young man named d'Artagnan after he leaves home to become a musketeer. D'Artagnan is not one of the musketeers of the title; those are his friends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis - inseparable men who chant the motto "One for all, and all for one".
The story of d'Artagnan is continued in Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Those three novels by Dumas are together known as the d'Artagnan Romances.
The Three Musketeers was first published in serial form in the magazine Le Siècle between March and July 1844. Dumas claimed it was based on manuscripts he had discovered in the Bibliothèque Nationale. It was later proven that Dumas had based his work on the book Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan, capitaine lieutenant de la première compagnie des Mousquetaires du Roi (Memoirs of Mister d'Artagnan, Lieutenant Captain of the first company of the King's Musketeers) by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (Cologne, 1700). The book was borrowed from the Marseille public library, and the card-index remains to this day; Dumas kept the book when he went back to Paris.
Dumas' version of the story covers the adventures of d'Artagnan and his friends from 1626 to 1628, as they are involved in intrigues involving the weak King Louis XIII of France, his powerful and cunning advisor Cardinal Richelieu, the beautiful Queen Anne of Austria, her English lover, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, and the Siege of La Rochelle. Adding to the intrigue are the mysterious Milady de Winter, and Richelieu's right-hand man, the Comte de Rochefort.
The main character, d'Artagnan, comes from a noble but impoverished family from Gascony. In April 1625, he leaves home in order to get to Paris and fulfill his greatest dream: to become a musketeer. On his way, after his particularly strange horse is ridiculed by a passing gentleman, he has an argument with a mysterious man with a black cape and a scar on his face. Assaulted by the servants of the inn where the argument took place, the inn's owner feeling that it would be better to support the well-dressed gentleman rather than the impudent youth, d'Artagnan is left broken and bleeding while the mysterious stranger calmly leaves without bothering to conclude the affair. Unfortunately, before he left the gentleman learned that d'Artagnan was carrying a letter addressed to M. de Treville (Captain of the Kings Musketeers, d'Artagnan's father had known M. de Treville in childhood and had sent his son off with a letter of introduction). When d'Artagnan regained consciousness, he realized that the man had stolen his letter, the mysterious man fearing that perhaps the brash youth was an assassin or similar threat.
In Paris, d'Artagnan goes to visit M. de Treville, but without the letter he is received somewhat coldly. The same day, due to both his pride and an urge to ingratiate himself with those he wished to join, d'Artagnan is challenged to a duel by three musketeers: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, who happen to be very close friends and who encounter d'Artagnan one after the other. The four men meet and, after a brief period of confusion when Aramis and Porthos see the same man they themselves were to duel later in the day, d'Artagnan begins to fight Athos (the first challenger). They are interrupted by some of the Cardinal's guards, who threaten to arrest them because duels are forbidden, and the three musketeers and d'Artagnan unite to fight the guards. In this manner, the young Gascon earns the grace of M. de Treville and the friendship of Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and becomes a soldier in the Royal Guard in the company of M. Des Essart.
Some time later, he meets his landlord's wife, Constance Bonacieux, with whom he falls in love. She is very close to the Queen, Anne of Austria. Unhappy in her marriage with Louis XIII, the Queen is in love with the English Prime-Minister, the Duke of Buckingham. Constance and d'Artagnan help them meet, and the Queen gives her lover some diamond jewels originally given to her by her husband the King. However Cardinal de Richelieu, informed by his spies of the gift, persuades the King to invite the Queen to a ball where she would be expected to wear the diamonds.
D'Artagnan and his friends leave for London to get the diamonds back from Buckingham. The voyage is full of dangers set by the Cardinal. Athos, Porthos and Aramis are wounded on the way and forced to stop; only d'Artagnan arrives in England. He retrieves the jewels and returns them to Queen Anne, just in time to save her honour.
The Cardinal's revenge comes swiftly: the next evening, Constance is kidnapped. D'Artagnan brings his friends back to Paris and tries to find her, but fails. Meanwhile, he befriends the Count of Winter, an English nobleman who introduces him to his sister-in-law, Milady de Winter. Despite his love for Constance and his suspicions that Milady is the Cardinal's spy, he finds it very hard to resist her charms. He almost falls into the trap, believing the Countess of Winter is in love with him, when he accidentally finds a letter of hers to the one she really loves, the Count de Vardes. Helped by Milady's chambermaid Kitty, who is in love with him, d'Artagnan has his revenge: he spends a night with Milady, pretending to be M. de Vardes. He then tells her the truth, and she tries to kill him with a dagger. In the struggle, d'Artagnan discovers that Milady has a fleur-de-lis marked on her shoulder, the sign of a great crime she had once committed. Remembering a story that Athos had once told him, d'Artagnan suddenly realizes with horror that Milady is not, as he thought, an English noble lady, but in fact Athos' wife, whom everyone thought dead. He now knows that Milady will never forgive him for having insulted her so dearly, and is relieved to go to La Rochelle where the siege has started, and fight together with his friends.
D'Artagnan thinks that, being far from Paris, he will also be far from Milady's revenge, but he is wrong: she tries to kill him three times. At the same time, d'Artagnan finds out that the Queen has managed to save Constance from the prison where the Cardinal and Milady had thrown her, and that his beloved is now hidden somewhere in a safe place.
Meanwhile, in an inn near La Rochelle, Athos, Porthos and Aramis accidentally overhear a conversation between the Cardinal and Milady: Richelieu orders the Countess to go to England and assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, and in exchange, she asks him to "take care" of d'Artagnan. Richelieu then writes a pardon for Milady and gives it to her to protect her from all matters concerning a future death of d'Artagnan. Once the Cardinal leaves the inn, Athos confronts Milady and threatens her to give up the pardon to him. Milady gives it up, knowing that while another man would hesitate in killing her, Athos would not.
When the four friends are reunited, Athos presents d'Artagnan the pardon issued by the Cardinal to Milady and convinces the young man to keep it for his own use. Because France and England were at war, any attempt by the musketeers to travel to England and warn the Duke of Buckingham would be considered treason. The four then decide to attempt to save the Duke, so they write to their friend the Count of Winter (who had returned to England after the war started) and ask him to stop his sister-in-law. The Count listens to their advice and apprehends Milady, holding her prisoner in one of his castles under the guard of a soldier named Felton.
In the meantime, at La Rochelle, the Cardinal himself admires D'Artagnan's courage in the fights and suggests that M. de Treville admit him among the musketeers. Thus, d'Artagnan's greatest dream comes true and he is extremely happy, for, in addition, the Queen has finally agreed to tell him where Constance is hiding: she is in a monastery near Bethune, in northern France. D'Artagnan and his friends leave for Bethune to find Constance.
However, meanwhile in England: Milady has seduced Felton and convinced him not only to help her escape, but also to assassinate the Duke of Buckingham. While the naive Felton is committing the crime, Milady returns to France. She writes to the Cardinal to announce that his orders have been fulfilled and she looks for a safe place where she could stay until she received her payment for the crime. As Fate would have it, Milady hides in the same monastery where Constance had been sent by the Queen. Not knowing who this stranger really was, the honest Constance opened her soul to Milady. Thus, the Countess finds out that d'Artagnan is expected to arrive at the monastery at any moment. She flees just before his arrival, but not before taking her revenge on d'Artagnan: she poisons Constance, who dies several minutes later in the arms of her beloved d'Artagnan.
The Count of Winter arrives to give the quartet the news of the Duke's assassination. The five of them arrange to track down the whereabouts of Milady and have her punished. Athos leaves and returns to fetch a man in a red cloak. The party track down the Countess' location: an isolated house on the banks of the Lys river. The six men try the Countess on numerous charges: the poisoning of Madame Bonacieux, the attempted assassination attempts on D'Artagnan, the arrangement of the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham, the corruption of the Lord of Winter's servent Felton, and the assassination of the Count of Winter (the brother of the Lord of Winter). The most damning charge came when Athos stated that Milady, his wife, was a marked criminal with a brand on her shoulder. When the Countess demands that Athos present the one who branded her, the man in the red cloak approaches her. She immediately recognizes him as the executioner of Lille. The executioner then recounts Milady's grisly history.
She was a beautiful nun who seduced the priest of her church, who also happened to be the executioner's brother. Desperate for money to flee to another part of the country, the priest stole sacred vessels and sold them, but the two were arrested and held in jail. She seduced the gaoler's son to escape. The executioner of Lille had the duty to brand both his brother and the woman who seduced him. While tracking her and branding her, his brother escaped prison and rejoins her as they flee to the provice that the Count of la Fère (Athos' real name) lived at, passing as brother and sister. She abandoned him to become Athos' wife. The executioner's brother, ruined and abandoned by the future Milady, learns that his brother was being held in his own prison. He surrendered himself to free his brother and hanged himself.
The party then arrange to execute Milady for her crimes. Athos offers payment for the executioner, who promptly tosses the money into the river before ferrying Milady across for the execution.
After Milady's death, the musketeers return to La Rochelle. On their way, they meet the Count of Rochefort, the Cardinal's close advisor, who was going to Milady to pay her, not yet aware that she is dead. Rochefort, who is none other than the man in the black cape, who stole d'Artagnan's letter near the beginning, also has an order to arrest d'Artagnan if he happens to find him. As they are near La Rochelle, he decides to postpone his voyage to Milady in order to take d'Artagnan to the Cardinal. When d'Artagnan is presented before him, the Cardinal tells the young man his charges: mostly trumped-up ones intended to provide an excuse for Milady's desire to see d'Artagnan dead. The young musketeer tells the whole truth to Richelieu and recounts the whole story about Milady, her assassination attempts against him, her poisoning of Madame Bonacieux, and her trial and execution. The Cardinal prepares to have d'Artagnan condemned for he and his friends acting as judges, but d'Artagnan presents him the pardon that Athos forced from Milady. The Cardinal, impressed by d'Artagnan's bravery and relieved of the elimination of a dangerous accomplice such as Milady, offers the young man a lieutenant's commission in the Musketeers. The Cardinal then presents Rochefort and asks both men to be at good terms.
D'Artagnan offers each of his friends the commission, but all three refuse, both due to their personal reasons and for their belief that d'Artagnan was the most worthy of the commission. He is the only one of the four friends that remains in the army: Athos retires to his estates, Porthos marries a rich widow and establishes himself somewhere in the countryside, and Aramis becomes a priest. Their lives, however, would cross once again, in Twenty Years After.
Les Trois Mousquetaires was translated into three English versions by 1846. One of these, by William Barrow, is still in print and fairly faithful to the original, available in the Oxford World's Classics 1999 edition. However all of the explicit and many of the implicit references to sexuality had been removed to conform to 19th century English standards, thus making the scenes between d'Aragnan and Milady, for example, confusing and strange. The most recent and new standard English translation is by award-winning translator Richard Pevear (2006). Pevear says in his translation notes that most of the modern translations available today are "textbook examples of bad translation practices" which "give their readers an extremely distorted notion of Dumas's writing."
The original name Dumas planned for the character d'Artagnan, was in fact Nathaniel d'Artagnan. A preliminary draft was submitted to Le Siècle magazine, to which Dumas was requesting suggestion for the name, as he was not yet satisfied with "Nathaniel d'Artagnan." Jacques-Henri Lartigue of Le Siècle made the suggestion to Dumas of dropping "Nathaniel" leaving simply, d'Artagnan.
Although Milady de Winter's meeting with John Felton is fiction, the murder of the Duke of Buckingham by Felton is historical fact.