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.
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 un-used, 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 Grand Tour); 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 (a popular theory in Ankh-Morpork, although Vetinari has been seen in broad daylight numerous times).
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.
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 everpresent 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.
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 (as well as the insight that the city ruled by him is slightly better than it is without him) led to the Guild's refusal to accept further contracts on Vetinari.
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 (again by von Lipwig).
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. Rumors around the Undertaking include mention of 'underground streets', 'waterproof tunnels' and 'new docks'.
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, it is shown that Wuffles has, at some recent point, passed away, reinforcing Vetinari's affection for the dog is the rumor 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.
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. He has found great pleasure in the work of 'The Blind Letter Office' at the Post Office, helping to decipher 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 completely accurate time overall, 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.
It has been theorized that he may be grooming Moist von Lipwig to be the next Patrician after he has died/retired.
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.
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