Countdown Of The Cads

They’re the charming rogues, the sly seducers, the bad boys in breeches. We count down the top 5 Jane Austen cads.

Austen Cads - Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill


Some might be surprised to find Frank Churchill (played by Rupert Evans in Emma, above) on this list. After all, this very friendly and agreeable chap is definitely the least "villainous" of the whole lot. In fact, some unkind souls might even suggest that the person in Emma who causes the most mischief is Emma Woodhouse herself, with all her meddling matchmaking and the emotional mayhem that results.

But Frank still earns his place at number five because of his casually manipulative ways. We're not saying he's deliberately out to hurt anyone, it's more that he's thoughtless. Frank Churchill is so busy having a good time dancing, flirting and charming everyone he meets that he doesn't really consider the effect he may have on certain impressionable women. And of course there's the minor matter of being engaged to Jane Fairfax on the sly. That's the kind of dirty secret that would put anyone on the cad-list.

Robert Burbage as Henry Crawford.

Robert Burbage as Henry Crawford.


Here's the question about Henry Crawford - can a "player" truly become an ex-player? In other words, can a rogue be redeemed? When he first arrives at Mansfield Park with his similarly charismatic sister, Henry is every inch the dapper man about town: oozing London glamour and armed with sly wit. No wonder the local girls go a little loopy over him, and he laps up the attention of sisters Maria and Julia.

But his real cad credentials are proven when he casually decides to make Fanny fall in love with him - only because she's the one girl who seems immune to his charms. It's nothing but a game to Henry, but he finds himself losing badly when it's Henry himself who ends up falling for Fanny. This genuinely emotional side to Henry is what makes him much more sympathetic than others on this list, and he's so charming that you almost wish Fanny WOULD return his feelings. But then he goes off with the married Maria and you realise he's an old dog who won't learn new tricks...

Dominic Cooper as John Willoughby.

Dominic Cooper as John Willoughby.


Oh, Mr. Willoughby. He's the closest thing to an actual, fairy tale romantic suitor in all of Austen. In Sense and Sensibility, he literally whisks Marianna Dashwood off her feet when she's injured while walking, before overwhelming her with his good looks, passion for poetry, and Byronic charisma. Add to that his mysterious, elusive nature and he's exactly the sort of boy that a teenage girl like Marianne dreams of meeting.

Trouble is, she's not the only teen to have been beguiled by Mr Willoughby. He has a past record of loving them and leaving them, making a young girl called Eliza pregnant. Plus, he wastes no time in coldly ditching Marianna and marrying another woman for money. His only saving grace is that, much later on, he seems genuinely remorseful about hurting Marianne's feelings. But the only sensible response to this would be: boo hoo.


He's a funny one, John Thorpe. Not funny ha-ha, though he clearly fancies himself as a wit and a charmer. No, it's more that he's a funny category of cad, because he's rather unsuccessful at it in Northanger Abbey. Coming on strong with heavy-handed flirtation, the vain and self-centred Thorpe would annoy and alienate almost any woman he bumped into at a ball. But he earns his number two position on this list due to his sheer odiousness.

He's also rather villainous, actively working to scupper the chances of Catherine Morland making her way in society. So not only is Thorpe an obnoxious try-hard, but he's also a conniving liar who is totally scruple-free when it comes to meddling with people's reputations. Enough said.

Adrian Lukis as Mr Wickham.

Adrian Lukis as Mr Wickham.


And so we come to the man with the dubious distinction of being Jane Austen's top rogue. The one and only Mr George Wickham, whose military swagger and fair countenance manages to win over the usually sharp Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. He wastes no time in telling her an utterly false yarn about being wronged by Mr Darcy, neglecting to mention the fact that he's a selfish spendthrift who squandered his fortune and tried to make another one by seducing Darcy's sister.

Later on, after being unmasked as a liar, he makes off with Lydia Bennet too. And the thing about Wickham - what really sets him apart from the likes of Willoughby and Crawford - is that he just doesn't care. His sheer gall is a badge of pride. Take a bow, the ultimate bad boy.