The Discerning Evil-Doer’s Guide to Gothic Villainy

Too many young villains today fall into error as soon as they begin their path, like an awkward child belly-flopping enthusiastically into a puddle. They believe that villainy is a simple case of evil-doing (ha!). A swift and effortless choice of wrong over right via the medium of a bullet or blade. A career path open to all who choose to grab with greedy little hands what they have no wish to earn. Wrong!

True villainy, Gothic villainy, is a work of art. It is the accumulation of years, if not decades, of preparation. It is a finely orchestrated masterpiece of Machiavellian intent and long, torturous, intricate execution. Those who choose to ignore this are fated to meet nothing more dignified than a precipitate and ignominious end at the hands of some second-class hero. There will be nothing to mark their passing but said hero’s overweening and misplaced sense of their own prowess. If you wish to survive long enough to enjoy your ill-gotten gains, make your name ring through the ages, poison the world with the waters of your own well of infinite bitterness, and meet a nemesis worthy of the name – read on.

Montoni by Sebastian Crane @Mr_S_Crane
  1. The first step in becoming a truly Gothic villain is, of course, acquiring a suitable residence. It should be acquired in as dastardly a way as humanly possible (or inhumanly possible – we make no distinctions here, our undead siblings are welcome to join our ranks. They do add a certain éclat). Acquiring a suitable residence will not happen overnight. It will require several cunning plans, power grabs or nefarious deals. It most emphatically will not involve scanning ‘for sale’ listings unless you are using the opportunity to hoodwink and/or seduce a particularly delectable or corruptible lawyer or real estate agent.

The most time-honoured method is, of course, usurpation. Ideally, you should lay the groundwork in advance by arranging the ‘disappearance’ of inconvenient family members and holding the property in trust for their repulsive offspring. These are, of course, fated to meet an untimely end. During the interim period, you should amass wealth and power, drain the estate, and prepare for the joyful persecution of these young scions of an ill-omened house. It should be noted, of course, that to go to such lengths for any old dwelling – a bungalow, a terraced cottage, a tenement dwelling – is absolutely out of the question. Aim for a castle, abbey or (if you must) a mansion or sprawling villa. They should preferably be in some state of imposing disrepair. If you do not have a relative whose property meets the requisite specifications, you may still choose to go on a murderous spree but should file this under ‘murderous backstory’ rather than ‘acquisition of fortune’ in your villainous to-do list. It is worth noting that it can be exceedingly rewarding in villainous terms to look back along your family tree for possibilities of inheritance. It takes an impressive amount of dedication to obtain a property which you are currently fifteenth in line to inherit. It is a fast-track to the villain’s hall of fame.

If there is no suitable inheritance connected to any branch of your family, our commiserations. However, there is absolutely no need to despair. To acquire a crumbling mountain-top fortress, decadent Venetian villa or rook-haunted abbey can be as simple as a well-chosen marriage. Now, it goes without saying that you should not have connubial happiness at the forefront of your mind. You should rather choose the individual based on wealth, lack of knowledge of property law, gullibility and a distinct absence of pesky relatives who can ride to the rescue. The most efficient method of gaining control over the property of your chosen spouse is, of course, their ‘disappearance’. A string of such ‘disappearances’ can result in a wealth of both riches and castles. Other options, of course, include a forced sign-over of ownership papers, exile, imprisonment in the highest tower, or, for the soft at heart, fake burial with a mutual agreement to part for ever more (or permanent imprisonment in the catacombs – you’re only human, after all). Another option, of course, is to find your villainous equal (or equals) and engage in a mutually beneficial relationship – cutting a swathe through the world, bathing in blood and infamy.

Another option for the martially inclined villain is to wrest property from the weak and/or tediously honourable by force. We recommend betraying hospitality; sneak attacks; challenging the owner for the property and cheating in the resulting joust or duel; taking the property while the owner is absent; a terrifying show of arms (extra points if it is a successful bluff); corrupting one of the enemy’s servants to allow midnight access; or seducing a key member of their family onto your side before punishing their traitorous heart by throwing them off the battlements. Dramatic. Sets the appropriate tone for your occupation.

The ultimate aim is to own several properties, each of which forms the perfect backdrop for a different flavour of Gothic villainy. You wish to gather an army with which to attack the state? A castle perched upon the highest peaks is recommended. You wish to head a band of murderous robbers and notorious thieves who terrify the local populace via the medium of supernatural trickery? A deserted monastery is the perfect place. You need to hold an heiress or heir to random? You will require a ruinous property with at least two of the following accoutrements: underground access to a series of dungeons; hidden passages; a teetering tower; an abandoned wing; a single locked oak door at the end of a shadowed corridor; a connection to a subterranean cave system. You wish to plot against the government or local hierarchy while indulging in a decadent lifestyle of gambling, lasciviousness and heady liquors? You’ll need an opulently set up villa or mansion. Make sure it’s far enough away from other habitations that no-one will hear any fruitless calls for aid or agonised shrieks of despair.

2) Acquiring a residence will often tangentially involve the accumulation of money through associated inheritances, land benefits and spoils. However, if this is not the case (if, for example, the family, whose inheritance you have wrested into your hands, is land rich and money poor) you must develop a strategy to maintain a certain level of wealth. A true Gothic villain will inevitably teeter between ruin and riches as expenditures are high. Gold trim, fully equipped personal armies and grounds maintenance don’t come cheap. A certain lifestyle must be maintained which requires a generous minimum income. Tried and true methods include: swindling the heroic; forming robber bands to terrorise the countryside; gambling (cheating); the liquidation of political and social rivals for rewards; and mercenary activities. You can make extra cash early in your career by hiring yourself out to do the menial tasks (kidnap, body disposal, the procuration and utilisation of personal and state secrets) which more successful and well-established villains farm out to young bloods. It also offers valuable experience.

3. The lifestyle of a villain is not something that one can haphazardly fall into. It is not enough to simply ‘want to rob people’ with no plan for how to deploy that wealth. While we have no wish to dictate, the following are a range of commonly adopted lifestyles which can act as a guide for those seeking their own villainous identity.

a) Decadent Dandy – this villain school is wedded to the multitudinous pleasures of the flesh, delights in the aesthetic (while often achieving terribly gaudy effects) and prefers comfort to austerity. The decadent dandy is to be found largely in more convenient settings, pays a fortune for the latest fashions, delights in interior design (particularly that which involves suggestive murals) and keeps an overflowing table of choice viands.

b) The Zealot – this villain school is marked by their exterior adherence or allegiance to a religion of wrath and rigour. This will inevitably be a cloak for libidinous excess, a taste for treacherous sophistry, a sadistic streak a monastery wide and an unholy joy in crushing one’s own enemies as enemies of God. This villain school is marked by its exorbitant delight in the rigorous and unyielding application of the castigation prescribed by their faith. Watch out for whips. The zealot is usually to be found in black, living in relative austerity and often adhering to a programme of penance with a distinctly masochistic flavour. The religious theme of their dwelling will usually lead to the incorporation of terrifying and bloody histories of faith in the form of tapestries, triptychs and friezes. Demons, souls in hell, the most sanguine chapters of the bible and the punishments of God will be the keynotes of these pieces. There may also be an abundance of gold but this will be limited to religious objects and is not applicable to those villains who identify as Puritan. While this villain school may choose abstinence from alcoholic beverages as a mark of faith, they are usually to be found with an extensive wine cellar and a high-minded disdain for delicacies and fancy cookery.

c) The Warmonger – this villain school is dedicated to martial villainy and therefore keeps a large company of warriors/armed robbers on hand. Decorations will be warlike in nature and you should aim, if you choose this school, to develop a significant collection of barbarous weapons, assorted heraldry and, ideally, a range of increasingly intimidating armour. The more unnecessary spikes, the better. The residence of choice will usually be decorated sparsely but will be expected to maintain what amounts to a standing army. Meals will involve a lot of meat and extra decoration will be provided by the carpet of bones gnawed through by the hounds who prowl the halls.

4) The Wild Card – this villain school is, of all of them, the least prescriptive. The key note here is surprise. Make sure that every residence tells a completely different story. Move from the decadent to the martial to the religious to the man about town. Political intriguer to mercenary to seducer of all and sundry. Develop a thousand faces – each to suit a particular need. But maintain some signature look or element. It helps your nemesis to recognise you or slowly lose their minds as they see your sign everywhere, in every vicissitude, but recognise you not! Why do they keep seeing that mark? Why is it everywhere!? They’re sure they recognise that gimlet eye…

4) There is no correct way to eat as a villain although there are certainly some foods to avoid where possible: jelly, ice-cream sandwiches, spaghetti, hot-dogs, peeps, vanilla slices, petit filous, bananas (except in the interests of what I can only consider to be sadly unskilled seductions), candy floss, and, of course, toffee. There are also a number of practices which are de rigueur within villainous circles and which we cannot but recommend. The first of these is the provision of far too much food at any meal. You should present an opulent table at all times regardless of the nature of the food. You do not want the world to think you incapable of providing such a spread. The second is to drink only from Venetian glass. Whether or not it cracks at the touch of poison, it has become a recognisable staple of Gothic villainy and we do not recommend innovations. Tradition has its own value.

5.) A Gothic villain will always be both instantly recognisable as a villain and completely proficient at deceiving heroic types as to their nature and identity. In terms of physical appearance, there are, of course, no set rules. Villainy is open to all. However, we do recommend developing the habit of either piercing through to people’s souls with the flash of a gimlet eye or, in contrast, practising the illusion of a dead eye which reflects nothing but the incipient emptiness of your heart and the terrified face of your victim. We also recommend practising a mocking sneer and dismissive sniff. Ideally, you should also perfect an evil chuckle, derisive laugh or maniacal cackle. Start small and easy with a two note ‘hmm, hmm’. Lower the tone on the second hmm (ha is also acceptable) and smile into it. Chills.

As to wardrobe, we suggest developing a range of clothing options. For the dandy, of course, an exquisite wardrobe is requisite, combining luxurious fabrics with sartorial artistry and a colour palette perfectly suited to your face and colouring. Other villains may take a useful hint from the dandy, an embroidered waistcoat or suitably embroidered coat rarely goes amiss. For those who prefer a dress, lushly embroidered dresses in a range of bold colours are always a striking move. As well as an eye-catching ‘public’ wardrobe (for those to whom it appeals), we recommend a range of black, plain clothes for sneaking for all villains. We also insist that all members of the Gothic villains’ league own at least one cape or cloak and prove, to the satisfaction of an instructor, their facility with its manipulation.

6.) The most important thing perhaps in becoming a truly Gothic villain is a back story. Unlike the Gothic hero or anti-hero (whose foolish and vomit-inducing paths you have rightly shunned), there is no need to meticulously construct a tragic past. However, we do recommend that each villain has a narrative of ‘motivation’. Perhaps loss in war or betrayal has led to a blood-thirsty misanthropy. Perhaps a childhood raised in neglect and isolation has engendered a distance from the world you seek only to exploit. Perhaps thwarted love has turned your heart to stone and you are determined to wring everything from a bleak and meaningless world. Perhaps a minor slight has set you on a path to bring down not only the community who wronged you but the state to which they belong. Perhaps you crave power after a life time of deference and are willing to take it with your own hands.

Some of you may be pitifully stuck on the simple fact that you wish to acquire wealth. There are some villains who never attain to the dignity of imagination. If you can’t wrestle up the emotional depth of anything more more notable than a putrefying tomato, at least make it a vast tomato. Add instant significance to your villainous designs by enlarging their scope. If you wish to attain riches, seek to drain the country’s wealth into your coffers. If you desire status, aim for a crown and build your throne on the bones of your enemies.

7) No true villain is complete without their nemesis. This may lead to your defeat. It may not. But either way, you will find in time, that villainy is worth very little if there is no hero to stand in opposition. Endless wealth, success and power grow wearisome. A challenge, and your relish in it, is the real key to Gothic villainy.

There are multiple modes of enmity which have remained popular from the institution of evil. Below you will find a short list of options.

a) Erotically charged enmity – This mode requires a nemesis who is roughly your equal in power, status, experience, age and/or strength. Traditionally, these confrontations are homoerotic but to each their own. Your confrontations will inevitably span decades involve periods of imprisonment (ideally, by the period of the climax of your antagonism, your opponent will be so much in your thrall that your shared will, rather than irons and keys, will hold them there); vicious hand-to-hand combat; a variety of challenges involving both defeats and victories; and the destruction of much of what they love leaving you as the only linchpin in the lives. The focus of all their hate and desire.

b) The Virtuous Weeble – Traditionally, it is common for the latter years of villainy to involve the persecution of youth. These youths should, ideally, oppose you in every sense and morally and ideologically represent your antithesis. To make them into a nemesis, you will have to give them a running start rather than killing them immediately as efficiency and common-sense dictate. They appear at first to provide poor sport but give them a little rope to hang themselves and they might lead you a merry chase.

c) The Friend Betrayed – This is a particularly cruel, and therefore delicious, example of villainy. It involves procuring a friend, developing the friendship over months or even years, and proceeding to systematically betray them. Before they realise what you’ve done, you should have been able to steal their inheritance, alienate their family, ruin their reputation and, hopefully, leave them imprisoned, at least temporarily, in the Inquisition or in some other penal system. Then begins the riveting cat and mouse which can span decades…with you just one step ahead.

d) The Rival – Truly, the only one who can appreciate a villain is another villain. Why waste time on combating the virtuous, who have little to no idea of the effort and artistry involved in your craft, when you could claim enmity with another villain whose aims directly oppose yours. We can’t all rule the world after all. If you’d like me to make any introductions, I’d be more than happy to.

If you are lucky enough to survive your confrontation with your nemesis, there are multiple ways to successfully and suitably dispose of them. A timeless classic involves precipitating a fall from battlements or cliffs but equally possible are a fatal wound in a long drawn out duel; perpetual imprisonment; the judicious application of poison; pretending reconciliation and stabbing them in the back (literally); leaving them to perish in snow-swept or wind-blown heights or expanses; or arranging for their court martial or other legal preceding against them promising a swift execution. The exception to this rule is possibly the nemesis connected to you by erotically charged enmity. You may be able to help them embrace the darkness and achieve a demonic partnership for the ages.

8) You are almost ready to embark on your villainous path but first, a name check. Not all names are commensurate with Gothic villainy. Bob, Reg, Sandy, Maisy… none of these are names which induce a quaking heart and an in-drawn breath. You may wish to consider the possibility of choosing your own villainous name. ‘

Lord’, ‘Lady’, ‘Sir’, ‘Rev’, ‘Dr’, ‘Her Grace’ etc. are all good titles and we recommend adopting some form of honorific. There are two common errors in picking and a name and we do beg you to avoid them. First, avoid crashingly obvious names. No-one is going to be fooled into thinking the Lady Bloodlust or Sir Boneguzzler the Terrible are anything but villains. Second, eschew overly elaborate or fanciful names. A villain’s name should make an impact. Lord Florizel TFitzwilliam Trelawian Morganeth Visolin of Saxhaven and Third of His Line has no impact beyond engendering a strong desire to throw you off a convenient cliff.

Tamara by Sebastian Crane

Thank you for perusing our introductory guide. As you have hopefully become aware, villainy is far more than a simple matter of wrong-doing. To be a truly Gothic villain, you must invest both time and effort. If you wish to be nothing more than a petty brigand whose fate is on the gallows… go ahead but don’t say we didn’t warn you. If you would like to consider membership or official accreditation, please contact us by hawk or other bird of prey. We don’t accept pigeons. Our own messengers will rip them from the sky.

Published by SamHirst

This started off as a story blog to share the little fictions that I like to write but it's turned into something a bit more Goth! I'm Dr Sam Hirst and I research the Gothic, theology and romance and at the moment I'm doing free Gothic classes online! We also have readalongs, watchalongs and reading groups. And I post fun little Gothic bits when I have the chance. Find me on twitter @RomGothSam

2 thoughts on “The Discerning Evil-Doer’s Guide to Gothic Villainy

  1. I would like to propose Villanelle from Killing Eve . She looks terrific inspires love and terror in equal measure. She has a serious shopping habit and a sad back story.


    1. All villains are welcome here. (These guides are largely based, of course, on 18th and 19th century examples but we don’t anyone from the gates of Gothic villainy!)


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