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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

Lord Havelock Vetinari - Patrician of Ankh-Morpork

The Patrician was a pragmatist. He’d never tried to fix things that worked. Things that didn’t work, however, got broken.

Soul Music, Terry Pratchett

Havelock Vetinari is another Discworld character you'll find on most of the top ten favourites lists. He is the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and is introduced in the very first book, The Colour of Magic. However, I'd say what we come to know and love him for doesn't take shape until the book Guards! Guards!

Vetinari is an ex-assassin, highly manipulative and extremely intelligent. You'd have to be to keep a city like Ankh-Morpork together with its varying factions and guilds. Particularly as the city is almost weekly on the verge of destruction from a hell dimension or from the citizen's own creative stupidity.


While in the later books, it's not as frequently referred to, there's no doubt of the somewhat extreme methods he'll use against his enemies. He is, after all, a tyrant. Vetinari is known to despite mimes, having them hung upside down over a scorpion pit opposite a sign reading "Learn The Words." He was instrumental in allowing the Guild of Thieves to form, reasoning that, as there would always be crime in Ankh-Morpork, it might as well be organised.

If he could be said to have a catchphrase, it would be 'don't let me detain you' which is a phrase with no many ominous possibilities.

When all is said and done, there is a lot about Vetinari that seems scarily inhuman (in a good way). Including the fact he prefers to read sheet music than listen to it. We also see him as a young man in Night Watch where he is already the man we know, suggesting he just spent a lifetime honing what came naturally.

A secret soft side

As is true of all of Pratchett's characters, Vetinari is far more complex than simply a 'scheming tyrant.' He has a beloved dog called Waffles, an old terrier breed with bad breath. He has an obsession with the daily crossword in the Ankh-Morpork Times. He's also engaged in a long-distance game of Thud with Lady Margolotta of Überwald.

It's also suggested that he's in a relationship with the vampire Lady Margolotta, having met her as a young man on the Grand Sneer (a parody of the Victorian Grand Tour).

Lord Vetinari has appeared in two page-to-screen adaptations: The Colour of Magic, by Jeremy Irons and Going Postal, played by Christopher Dance. My personal opinion, Charles Dance was closer to the mark, but neither particularly did it for me.


'Even tyrants have to obey the law.’ He paused, looking thoughtful, and continued: ‘No, I tell a lie, tyrants do not have to obey the law, obviously, but they do have to observe the niceties.'

Making Money, Terry Pratchett

Vetinari's inspiration is pretty clear. From his political nous to complex scheming, he's largely based on the real-world figure of Niccolò Machiavelli. Or rather, the popular view of Machiavelli. I wholeheartedly recommend this video from Overly Sarcastic Productions on the subject.

I've always agreed with Churchill's belief that "democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms." I've listened to enough Today in Parliament to know our system isn't perfect. But if you were to offer me our current system or Lord Vetinari, I'd have quite a hard decision to make.

Vetinari is a tyrant, yes, but he gets things done, dammit!

Through the lens of others

Taxation, gentlemen, is very much like dairy farming. The task is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum of moo. And I am afraid to say that these days all I get is moo.

Jingo, Terry Pratchett

Christopher Dance as Lord Vetinari in Going Postal

As is often the case with secretive and manipulative characters, you often get the best view of them by examining how they interact with other people. He's a gracious and dutiful boss to Rugus Drumknott, his chief clerk and secretary. As a boss, he's usually perceived as the terrifying but fair variety.

Vetinari's most contentious yet productive and respectful relationship is with Commander Vimes of the City Watch. The two share a common goal - to keep Ankh-Morpork on the rails. However, their ideologies differ in such extremes they often butt heads over the fine details. However, Vetinari has learnt how to weaponize Vimes. Rather than simply asking Vimes for his help, Vetinari will often ensure Vimes comes across the situation and allows him to do his thing. We see this is directly in Jingo, The Fifth Elephant and Snuff.

The interactions between Vetinari and Vimes (also known to the citizens of Ankh-Morpork as Vetinari's Terrier) highlight the way Vetinari's mind works.

And if the Patrician was anything, he was the political equivalent of the old lady who saves bits of string because you never know when they might come in handy.

Jingo, Terry Pratchett

Moist von Lipwig is the Discworld's foremost conman and the subject of an upcoming post. So I won't say too much now, but Vetinari's confidence in giving Moist massively important civic jobs is telling. Both of his faith in the doctrine of 'right man for the right job', but also in his own understanding of his victims. I mean, willing employees.

‘And these are your reasons, my Lord?’ ‘Do you think I have others?’ said Lord Vetinari. ‘My motives, as ever, are entirely transparent.’ Hughnon reflected that ‘entirely transparent’ meant either that you could see right through them or that you couldn’t see them at all.

The Truth, Terry Pratchett


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