The Three Musketeers, a historical novel, is arranged in five parts. In the first, the introduction, the reader meets the heroes: the cadet, d’Artagnan, and the king’s musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. They become the Inseparables. In the second part, the reader discovers that there is considerable intrigue going on in the court of Louis XIII. There is rivalry between the king and Cardinal de Richelieu, which is reflected in a rivalry between the king’s guards and the cardinal’s guards. What is more, scandal follows the king’s consort, Queen Anne of Austria, and the duke of Buckingham, who are in a liaison. In the third part, there is a religious war between the Catholics and Protestants of France. There is a siege at La Rochelle (an actual event). In the fourth part, a beautiful femme fatale causes the assassination of the duke of Buckingham, tries without success to poison d’Artagnan, and successfully poisons another character. In the last part, she gets her retribution. Her executioner is the brother of a priest whom she seduced and ruined. D’Artagnan is rewarded with a promotion.
The principal characters have their prototypes in real people. The king, queen, cardinal, and other important members of the court all existed in fact. D’Artagnan is based on a real person.
The king’s guards, an elite force whose job was to protect the king, were gentlemen trained from an early age in horsemanship and the use of arms. They were armed with muskets and rapiers. When guarding the king, they rode horseback and used their rapiers, but in war they fought on foot, with their muskets. When Cardinal de Richelieu saw this impressive military unit, he formed his own guard of musketeers. Both corps wore scarlet uniforms. They were distinguished from each other by whether they rode gray or black horses. Not surprisingly, the two corps were rivals.
Dumas tells a simple yet stirring tale. Aside from the dashing swordplay, the novel relies upon, and communicates to the reader, a complex set of social codes. The text supports the institution of absolute monarchy and the aristocratic values of France before 1789. The aristocratic conception of honor, for example, is promulgated in the actions and discussions of the characters.