Lord Havelock Vetinari is the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, the head of the fictional city state of Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. He is sometimes said to have been based on the Italian statesman and diplomat, Niccolò Machiavelli, but in fact favours a subtly different (though equally pragmatic) form of statecraft.
Lord Vetinari was born into the extremely powerful Vetinari family (a word play on the real-life family of the Medici and on the word "veterinary") and raised by his aunt, Lady Roberta Meserole.
As a youth, he enrolled in the Assassins' Guild which, apart from teaching its students how to kill other people for money, also gives them an excellent education. Lord Vetinari was particularly interested in the classical arts and (in flagrant defiance of the Guild's conventions of style) camouflage, though he was failed in his stealth examination (due to the examiner's belief that he had used trickery and his apparent absence in classes). Because of the similarity his name bore to "veterinary", he endured the nickname of Dog-botherer. Vetinari graduated from the Guild with exceptional marks, scoring disconcertingly high in attention to detail.
In his late teens, Vetinari was involved in the "Glorious 25th of May" (Night Watch), to which his most notable contribution was the non-assassination of the then-Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Homicidal Lord Winder, at a crowded party. Vetinari was present at Winder's death, but although he certainly intended to assassinate Winder, his mere arrival was enough to frighten Winder to death. Vetinari was able to drop his weapon beside Winder's corpse unused, and leave - all seemingly unobserved by anyone in the room, save Winder (though it was hinted that the party was arranged for the very occasion of Winder's assassination). Vetinari appeared in full Assassin regalia, which Winder regarded as something out of a nightmare. Later, he fought alongside the remnants of Samuel Vimes' (then known as John Keel) Night Watch against the remnants of the Cable Street Particulars (colloquially known as the Unmentionables), the late Lord Winder's secret police. The effect Keel has on Vetinari and the events of the 25th of May clearly shape Vetinari's views on the effective way of running the city.
Vetinari later journeyed to Überwald on what is known as the Grand Sneer (a parody of the Grand Tour of the European cultural centers taken by the youth of the British elite); travels of the younger members of rich families to backward areas to see at first hand how inferior they are. There he met the vampire Lady Margolotta. It is implied that the two had some kind of relationship, and stated more clearly that he taught her a lot of what she knows, and vice versa. In Making Money it is implied that he in fact may be a vampire as well.
Rise to power
Lord Vetinari succeeded Mad Lord Snapcase, who had been as mad as the name suggests. One of Vetinari's earliest actions and a sample of his way of running the city was to legalize Guilds such as those of the Thieves and the "Seamstresses", which had been active but outlawed for years. Their leaders became esteemed members of society and their members insured and licensed. Vetinari also made it clear to them that he knew everything about them, right down to where their wives had their hair done and their children played. Therefore, the Guilds did what he asked of them, and eventually, lawlessness was not so much eliminated as organized. Nowadays, for a modest fee, an Ankh-Morpork citizen may walk the streets confident that he will not be mugged more than a few times per year and will always receive a receipt.
Vetinari's golden rule
Lord Vetinari's genius political thinking and his running of the city can be summed up by his belief that what people wish for most is not good government, or even justice, but merely for things to stay the same; the Vetinari family motto is, after all, Si non confectus, non reficiat (If it ain't broke, don't fix it). This does not mean that there are absolutely no changes, however; things that don't work are fixed very quickly, even if it does not look like they are at first. In Soul Music, Mr. Clete expresses a belief that "things that didn't work ... got broken." Perhaps in conjunction with this, Vetinari has an interest in keeping things in smooth, simple working order. This has led to one particular mandate against baseless metaphor. Knowing the literal-mindedness of the average Ankh-Morporkian, he has directed that anything mentioned in literature, advertising, business, etc. must have a basis in reality. This along with the Disc's unique hold on reality has resulted in a few oddities, such as the "pork futures" warehouse described in Men At Arms.
Despite being technically a dictator, Lord Vetinari does not exercise the despotic rule that characterised some of his predecessors. He is, in fact, the archetype of a benevolent dictator, in a chilly, inscrutable way. In The Truth, he permits the emergence of a free press, and has rarely, if ever, been known to drag innocent people off to dungeons without trial. The notable exception to this rule are mimes, whom Vetinari despises. Vetinari banned all mime performances from Ankh-Morpork shortly after taking power. Mimes who violate the ban usually find themselves trying to climb invisible ladders out of Vetinari's scorpion pit whilst reading a sign saying 'learn the words.'
Morporkians are, however, in no doubt that Vetinari is firmly in charge of the city; the political system of Ankh-Morpork is described as "One Man, One Vote", in which Vetinari is the Man, and he has the Vote. In Going Postal, he first appears to avoid meddling in the affairs of private business, but suddenly exercises his executive power in closing several prominent banks for audit at the end of the novel. While Vetinari could have ordered an investigation of the Clacks company and their financial endeavours at any time, it is worth noting that he did not do so until public opinion allowed it – only then did he proclaim his right as a "tyrant" to launch such an inquiry. Vetinari is broadly tolerant of individual rights, but highly intolerant of people who place their own interests above those of the city.
Staying in power
While he is just as unpopular as those that came before him, Lord Vetinari is disturbingly sane and still alive - unlike his predecessors. He has achieved this by ensuring that even though all power-wielding groups in the city dislike him, they dislike each other more. He also carefully arranges matters so that a reality which includes him as Patrician is slightly better than one which does not, with the result being that the only two people who would actually benefit from his death are Samuel Vimes and Carrot Ironfoundersson - members of the City Watch and hence used to keeping Vetinari alive - on the grounds that they would be 'on top of the pile' if the city collapsed. The Assassins' Guild no longer accepts contracts on the Patrician – he is the only person besides Samuel Vimes to have been taken off the register. He had the highest "official" price for a living being ever: 1 Million Ankh-Morpork Dollars (Feet of Clay).
In Thud!, his rule of the city is likened to a room full of tension, with people bickering and shouting at one another, and "in the middle of it all, one man quietly doing his own thing".
Other reasons for the Patrician's continued rule include his mastery of diplomacy and manipulation of human nature, his distant and menacing air, his ever-present calmness and composure which make other people ill at ease, his abilities as a listener (often people tell him things simply to fill his silence) and of course his very, very good skills as an Assassin ("Mr. Slant had failed to tell the New Firm about a number of things, and one of them was that Vetinari moved like a snake" (The Truth)).
Vetinari has created (or at least continued) the use of a team of clerks who bring him information on just about everything; they serve, among other functions, as accountants, forensic auditors, and a domestic intelligence service. The apparent head (or at least one of those seen to most frequently liaise with Vetinari) of this team is Drumknott.
Vetinari's rule over the city seems to be cemented by the general acknowledgement that very little goes on in the city that Vetinari does not know about. Thus, when a visitor stands in audience with the Patrician, they can be assured that Vetinari knows exactly why they're there, even if the visitor does not.
Lord Vetinari has written an unpublished manuscript known as The Servant, on the particulars of running a city-state such as Ankh-Morpork (a parody of The Prince).
Deposition and restoration
Several attempts have been made on Vetinari's life or position (strangely enough, he seems to be involved in most of these). Shortly after his ascent to office, he was briefly turned into a lizard by a wizard under the influence of a Sourcerer. He was deposed for a time in favour of a summoned dragon and locked up in his own dungeons, from which he escaped at his leisure (Guards! Guards!) – the door to his cell was very large and heavy, and was absolutely covered in bars, bolts and locks. On the inside. All that was on the outside was a single lock, the key to which Vetinari had hidden in the cell (he has two mottoes a ruler should remember when building dungeons: "never build a dungeon you wouldn't want to spend the night in yourself" and "never build a dungeon you can't get out of"). The collection of intelligent rats (thanks to the unintentional influence of the Unseen University) with access to the dungeons provided a well-secured backup escape plan.
He was shot in the leg with a gonne and now walks with an ebony cane, though only in public (Men at Arms). It was rumoured that the cane held a sword that was made of iron from the blood of a thousand men but this was revealed to be false (Making Money). A year later, he was poisoned with arsenic, which he inhaled from the smoke of poisoned candles (Feet of Clay). Characteristically, he knew how, but continued to fake both the symptoms and the evidence of it until the City Watch found out, thus exposing the conspiracy behind the method while allowing Vimes to be, in his own words, Vimes.
During the brief war with Klatch, Vetinari surrendered unconditionally, resulting in his near-exile. However, when the island which was both the cause of controversy and the location set for the signing of the surrender treaty sank into the ocean (again), all the terms of surrender were off and the Klatchian leader lost face (and his throne), which was Vetinari's plan all along. He ended up being congratulated instead of being deposed and exiled (Jingo).
Some time later, Vetinari was framed for assault and theft from the city treasury. Again he came a hair's breadth from being deposed (The Truth). He was arrested by his own Commander of the Watch (Samuel Vimes) for attempted murder, and spent part of the book incarcerated.
None of these events – even poisoning – seem to have fazed him at all. There have also been numerous attempts on his life by Assassins retained by other parties; the universal failure of these attempts led to the Guild's refusal to accept further bounties on Vetinari's death.
Notable events during Vetinari's rule
Vetinari has seen Ankh-Morpork through many unusual events, including the appearance of a Sourcerer (Sourcery), a dragon (Guards! Guards!), a war (Jingo) plus one near-civil war (Men at Arms), and an attempt to destroy the Discworld (The Last Hero), as well as the metaphysical crises of Moving Pictures, Music With Rocks In (Soul Music), superfluous life force and belief (Reaper Man, Hogfather), and one major temporal shatter (Thief of Time); it is unclear whether even the well-informed Vetinari was aware of the last, however.
Vetinari has encouraged the growth of the Guilds and public services. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch in particular has flourished, and is an excellent example of the adaptability which has kept Vetinari in office. When he rose to power, the Night Watch were a bunch of incompetents led by a drunk, and that was just how he wanted it. Now, it is a large, efficient, well-oiled anti-crime machine, and that appears now to be just how he wants it. Ankh-Morpork has given birth to the first newspaper, the Ankh-Morpork Times (The Truth), while the AM-based Grand Trunk Clacks Company established the first efficient international communication service (The Fifth Elephant); more recently, he has put into place Moist von Lipwig, who revamped the postal service without costing the taxpayers anything (Going Postal), in the process inventing stamps, which were the closest thing Ankh-Morpork had to banknotes until said form of currency made their debut in Making Money.
At some point between Thud! and Making Money, Vetinari has begun plans for a phenomenal redevelopment project of Ankh Morpork titled 'The Undertaking' - this seems to have been inspired by the discovery in 'Thud!' of an ancient perpetual motion engine - a twin of one which according to Carrot Ironfoundersson powers all of the machinery in one of the largest mines in Uberwald. Rumours around the Undertaking include mention of 'underground streets', 'waterproof tunnels' and 'new docks'.
Appearance, habits and miscellaneous
Being currently in his fifties, Lord Vetinari is tall, thin and dresses all in dusty black. His appearance has been likened to that of a predatory flamingo, if one existed. His family coat of arms is a plain sable shield, black on black, upon which Moist von Lipwig in Going Postal comments that "you had to admit that the bastard had style". Lord Vetinari lives and works in the Patrician's Palace, which used to be the Royal Winter Palace. He sits on a plain wooden chair at the feet of the Golden Throne of Ankh (much like the Steward of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings). However, in this case, it is because the throne is not gold at all, but actually several pieces of rotten, worm-ridden wood covered in gold foil. He accepts interviews in the Oblong Office (a reference to the White House's Oval Office). Notably he does not request, or even demand the presence of any of his citizens, but merely has them informed that they "have an appointment with him," and they are promptly escorted to said appointment.
He holds meetings in the Rats Chamber, so named because of its fresco of dancing rats on the ceiling (a play on the Star Chamber and the German Ratskammer, which literally means 'council chamber'). Occupants report that spending any time in the room makes one want to leave and go have a good long bath.
His bedroom is Spartan, containing little more than a narrow bed and a few battered cupboards. He apparently requires so little sleep and gets up so early that going to bed is merely an excuse to change his clothes ("He has a bedroom. He presumably sleeps" The New Discworld Companion). He is known to always be in his office at very late (or perhaps early) hours, apparently just coinciding with when someone wishes to see him and he wishes to see them. He is not often described as sleeping (exceptions are in Jingo and The Truth), although he has been unconscious several times. He has one known relative (Lady Roberta "Bobbi" Meserole, his aunt) who may come from Genua and now lives in Pseudopolis. She appears to share his forte for subtle politics. His father apparently died while Havelock was still young, and took things much less seriously than his son.
Strangely enough, Vetinari has no lust for power. The sole reason for his ruling the city is that he is fiercely loyal to it. (Although it is also at times implied that he does it because it Amuses him to do so, in the sense that he enjoys outwitting all the people who try to oppose him.) He also has no exploitable vices, barring his intense dislike of mime to the extent of outlawing all practice of it within the city walls, as well as, in some of the earliest novels, a strange fondness for candied jellyfish – though it is believed that this person is another Patrician by some parties (see Bibliography).
He did keep a pet, a sixteen-year old wire-haired terrier called Wuffles. It is said that Wuffles is the only living creature Lord Vetinari actually cares about (unless Ankh-Morpork is considered a living creature). Wuffles has been described as very elderly in two books that take place many years apart. In the novel Making Money, where it is shown that Wuffles has at some recent point, passed away. Reinforcing Vetinari's affection for the dog is the rumour that every week he makes a short (and via a different path) walk to Wuffles' small grave in the palace grounds, every time leaving a dog biscuit.
As of Making Money he is now caring for another dog - 'Mr Fusspot', the former pet of the late Topsy Lavish nee Turvy, Chairwoman of the Royal Bank and Mint. Thanks to an unusual will and Topsy's contempt for the rest of the Lavish family, Mr Fusspot is formally and legally the current Chairman. This leads to the debate whether this gives Vetinari control of the bank and mint, since Topsy's will states the person caring for Mr. Fusspot is also the executor of 'the chairman's' wishes for both concerns. The authority rested in Moist Von Lipwig, the current Master Of The Mint and temporary caretaker of Mr Fusspot before Vetinari adopted/seized/confiscated the dog. There has been concern over Vetinari's caring of the dog, though no one wishes to risk raising the issue with him.
It was established in Guards!, Guards! that Vetinari can communicate with the palace rats. These rats have sentience because of the magic from the Unseen University. The rats are now loyal to him because he provided them military advice that allowed them to become dominant vermin of the palace. Some theories point to these being the same rats in The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.
Vetinari also enjoys reading written music rather than listening to it performed, because the idea of it being performed by people, with all the sweat and saliva involved, strikes him as distasteful.
Though he excels at the Discworld's equivalent of sudoku; 'Jikan no Muda' (Literally, "Waste of Time" in Japanese) and can solve them after glancing at any grid for a few seconds, he finds them unsatisfying, as numbers are too easy to outwit. He enjoys crosswords far more, as one needs to comprehend how another person's mind works when actively trying to mislead. A well known feud with the Ankh-Morpork Times crossword compiler is ongoing. He has found no small pleasure in the work of 'The Blind Letter Office' at the Post Office, deciphering the nigh-illegible gibberish that some of Ankh-Morpork's less educated citizenry address their letters with - for example working out casually that 'Duzbuns Hopsit pfarmarrsc' equals 'K. Whistler, Baker, 3 Pigsty Hill' (Does Buns Opposite the Pharmacy). The men employed for this job are successful in 'translating' five addresses out of every six.
Lord Vetinari also has a strange clock in his waiting-room. While it does keep time accurately enough, it sometimes ticks and tocks out of sync (example: "tick, tock... ticktocktick, tock...") and occasionally misses a tick or tock altogether, which has the net effect of turning one's brain "into a sort of porridge". (Feet of Clay, Going Postal).
It has been suggested that Vetinari may not be entirely human, though this is primarily because of his methods and personality, as opposed to any sort of physical proof. He certainly gives the impression of having no sense of humour and accepting any comment literally at face value. When Moist Van Lipwig makes the sarcastic comment in Going Postal, that if they shove a broom up his ass he could sweep the floor as well, Vetinari sends his clerk to get a broom and then, when told it was a joke, says, "Oh, I'm sorry, I hadn't realized. Do tell me if you feel obliged to make another one...". This could, of course, be an example of a very dry sense of humour, rather than none at all.
Lord Vetinari has been used in several cases as a component of the Stealth philosophy delivery of the series. An example would be when he outlines his opinion on the nature of freedom for Moist von Lipwig as including the freedom to accept the consequences of one's actions in Going Postal (this is also an example of Hobson's choice, a recurring theme as well as a character in the Discworld series).
Lord Vetinari makes featured appearances in the Discworld novels The Color of Magic Sourcery, Guards! Guards!, Moving Pictures, Reaper Man, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Interesting Times, Soul Music, The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, The Last Hero, Going Postal, Thud!, Making Money and is mentioned in The Shepherd's Crown after the death of Granny Weatherwax. He shows here that the Nac Mac Feegle are possibly one of the few things that worry him. Night Watch features him in his youth. In The Colour of Magic Rincewind is brought before "the Patrician" but it is not clear whether this Patrician is Vetinari or his predecessor, Mad Lord Snapcase, or possibly even Homicidal Lord Winder, although the description of this Patrician does not seem to tally with that of Vetinari, as the Patrician in question is, for example, described as obese - a trait his two predecessors did possess, but which he lacks.
Pratchett has stated on Usenet that the Patrician in this case is indeed Vetinari, and that he simply lost weight due to the stress of his job. Upon being pressed, he admitted that the only real difference is that he has become a better writer since that time. It is also a reflection of the fact that the Discworld timeline is extremely uncertain.
Lord Vetinari was played by Crawford Logan in the 1992 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Guards! Guards!. To many fans of the books, however, the character is firmly associated with Stephen Briggs, who has portrayed him on the amateur stage and at numerous Discworld Events. Another favourite is Alan Rickman, Pratchett's own choice - although specified as 'the bad guy from Die Hard'. In the Colour of Magic TV film, the Patrician was portrayed as Vetinari by Jeremy Irons, 'the bad guy from the other Die Hard (with a Vengeance).' He was played by Charles Dance in the TV adaptation of Going Postal. A Havelock Vetinari appears as a character in the BBC America series The Watch.
- A Special Kind of Person, a web site concerning Lord Vetinari.