Vimes Family Motto: PROTEGO ET SERVIO
I protect and serve
His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, Ankh-Morpork City Watch.
|Name||Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh|
|Age||b. 1941? UC|
|Occupation||Commander of the City Watch (Badge No.177)|
|Physical appearance||Skinny, balding and unshaven|
|Residence||Ramkin Residence, Scoone Avenue, Ankh|
|Parents||Thomas Vimes (father)|
Mrs. Vimes (mother)
|Relatives||Gwilliam Vimes (paternal grandfather)|
Grandma Clamp (maternal grandmother).
"Old Stoneface" Vimes (AKA "Suffer Not Injustice" Vimes)
|Children||Young Sam Vimes|
|Marital Status||Married to Lady Sybil Ramkin. A previous girlfriend, alluded to in passing in Thud!, is Mavis Trouncer.|
Men at Arms
Feet of Clay
The Fifth Elephant
Where's My Cow?
I Shall Wear Midnight
Samuel "Sam" Vimes is the Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. He is the central character of the Watch Series, in which his rises from being a poor and often-drunk policeman to being the leader of a modern police force.
During his first appearance in Guards! Guards!, he is the Captain of the (useless) Night Watch. He is promoted to being the Commander of a reunified City Watch at the end of its sequel Men at Arms, and presides over the Watch's transformation into a modern police force. Through his detective work and adventures he saves the city and many people's lives on multiple occasions. He is often referred to as the second-most powerful man in the city after Lord Vetinari. As a result of his reputation, the word Sammies has become a nickname for watchmen trained in Ankh-Morpork.
Despite his distaste for nobility, he becomes a Duke and an ambassador. His current full title is His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. He is married to Lady Sybil Ramkin, the wealthiest woman in the city, and they have a son Samuel "Young Sam" Vimes II.
Samuel Vimes was born in Cockbill Street, the Shades, Ankh-Morpork into a poor family. Through his father Thomas, he is a descendant of Suffer-Not-Injustice "Stoneface" Vimes, who overthrow the monarchy in Ankh-Morpork centuries earlier, killed its last king, and ruled the city briefly before being overthrown himself. The Vimes family, until then a noble family, were disgraced and lived in poverty for many generations after. In his later life Sam is often compared to his ancestor, in both his personality and his appearance.
He went to the local school, where he was taught by Dame Slightly for 9 months and became blackboard monitor. After that, he spent some time in street gangs, including the Cockbill Street Roaring Lads. At the age of 16, he enlisted in the Night Watch, because his mate, Iffy Scurrick, had joined the year before and told him that there was "free food and a uniform and you could pick up the extra dollar here and there". Vimes joined the Night Watch shortly before the birth of the Glorious People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road during the Glorious Revolution. In the original timeline, Vimes was mentored by Sergeant John Keel. Keel taught Vimes several important lessons, such stopping him from taking bribes at a time when such behaviour was widespread in the Watch. Keel took charge of the rebellion and was killed. In Night Watch, the timeline was altered and his future self ended up impersonating John Keel for the duration of the Revolution, teaching him the same lessons instead.
Little is known about what happens between then and Guards! Guards!. Vimes became more street-smart, particularly after learning to fight with any means necessary by Gussie Two-Grins. However, the Watch declined in importance during this time, particularly after Lord Vetinari legalised the Thieves Guild. The Guild proved to be a better regulator of crime than the Watch. The Night Watch were reduced to patrolling the streets, ringing their bells at night and half-heartedly chasing criminals. During this time, Vimes became an alcohoic (although as he was poor, he considered himself to be "a drunk", not an alcoholic).
By the start of Guards! Guards!, Vimes has become a Captain of a Night Watch that had dwindled to just four people: himself, Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobbs and the new recruit Carrot Ironfoundersson. Around this time, Colon claims that Vimes never advanced further because he was "Brung Low by a Woman", (if so than her name is Ankh Morporkia), although Vimes himself attributes it to his irreverent habit of speaking his mind to authority figures. But the events of this novel mark the turning point for the Watch and Vimes's career. The Watch showed their worth by stopping a dragon from taking over the city. Vimes also began a romantic relationship with Lady Sybil Ramkin, one of the wealthiest women in the city.
From then on, the Watch began to grow again. In Men at Arms, Vimes and the Watch thwart another attempt to take over the city. As a reward, the Night Watch and Day Watch are merged into a unified City Watch and Vimes is promoted to the post of Commander, as well as being given the somewhat unwanted title of Knight. He also marries Sybil and kicks his drinking habit.
Vimes and the City Watch go on to save the city and multiple lives, including a plot by golems and a vampire in Feet of Clay and a threat of war with Klatch in Jingo. For this, Vimes is awarded with yet another unwanted nobility title: Duke of Ankh. Later adventures include a journey to Überwald in The Fifth Elephant, a journey back to the days of the Glorious Revolution in Night Watch, making peace between dwarfs and trolls in Thud! and busting a goblin slavery network in Snuff. His son Samuel "Young Sam" Vimes II was born at the end of Night Watch.
Ranks and titles
Vimes's ranks and titles rise over the course of the series:
- Lance-Constable Samuel Vimes (Night Watch, his younger self)
- Captain Samuel Vimes of the Night Watch (Guards! Guards! until the end of Men at Arms)
- Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch (the end of Men at Arms until the end of Jingo)
- His Grace, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch (the end of Jingo until The Fifth Elephant)
- His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch (The Fifth Elephant to present)
This is not the full list; he almost certainly had others during his early Watch career, and he had none prior to joining the Watch.
Sam Vimes is by nature an extremely cynical person. He has few good opinions on people in general, and even fewer on the nobility, the guilds, Vetinari, vampires, the city of Ankh-Morpork, monarchy, democracy, newspapers...and the list goes on. In short, nearly everyone and everything is subject to his distrust. His first impression upon meeting someone is that they're guilty of some crime - 'the possibility that they were not guilty of anything he didn't think worthy of consideration' (Jingo) - though in a city such as Ankh-Morpork, this is more or less true.
Equally, he is known to be an angry person. His sheer, incandescent rage is barely suppressed by his desire to be lawful and administer justice properly (and also in a way, to not follow in Stoneface's steps). Due to his authority in Men at Arms, when he finds himself in possession of the Gonne, he struggles between his sense of justice and the Gonne's twisted desire to use him to kill in the name of justice. He can barely restrain himself from the Gonne's temptations. In Thud!, he nearly gives in entirely to those of the Summoning Dark. In the latter case, you have to consider that a dwarf stirs deliberately his anger, and the Dark Guards attempt later to assassinate not only Vimes, but also his wife and his fourteen-months-old son, using flamethrowers. On one side, there is Vimes, however rough and pessimistic he may seem, defender of law and order, and the other side is a Vimes who would kill for revenge and make his own law.
In Thud!, after years of nighttime patrols, Vimes's mindscape is described as the city of Ankh-Morpork, streets and all, in the dead of night, with the rains bucketing down over your head. When Vimes is angry, doors of some of the houses (the more angry he is, the more doors) will open. When the Summoning Dark trespasses into his mind, needing a host in order to track down the Deep-Downers, it tries to enter through one of the doors that opens when Vimes becomes angry, only to be pulled away at every time. It is later revealed that the force preventing the Summoning Dark from making any progress in possessing Vimes is Vimes's own 'inner guardsman'.
His chronic alcoholism may be partially due to his natural state of extreme sobriety, known as being knurd. According to Vimes's long-time close friend and fellow officer Fred Colon, it is because that every other normal person is naturally slightly drunk to some extent to conceal the true horrors of reality from them. However Vimes lacks the ability to produce his 'own alcohol', as it were. Vimes used to attempt to cure this by drinking heavily; unfortunately he often over-dosed himself, and became an alcoholic. After marrying Lady Sybil Ramkin, he quit drinking and smoked cigars instead. In Feet of Clay, he still has the habit to reach in stress situations for the bottom desk drawer, where his bottle used to be. But he'd never bought a bottle since he got married, and Carrot and Fred Colon keep an eye on him, as well. As of Snuff, even his smoking has been barred from the house (likely for Young Sam's sake), and he sates his cravings with non-alcoholic mixers whipped up by Willikins.
Another reason for Vimes's past alcoholism may be his history; Vimes has been on the Watch since his late teens. He has lived through the successive regimes of Homicidal Lord Winder and Mad Lord Snapcase, two patricians whose sobriquets more than adequately describe their tenures, as well as several wars, and the legalization of the Guilds under Vetinari, which more or less broke his spirit. His participation as a young copper in handing people to the Unmentionables has surely left him also with a deep feeling of guilt and shame, after witnessing the results in their headquarters.
Vimes is a firm believer in the institution of law. He has a soft spot for the poor and those otherwise unable to fend for themselves, as although he views them as equally able to commit crimes as any other demographic; he sees law as a great equalizer, regardless of race (however despite his acceptance of just about any species into the Watch, until he was forced to in Thud! he refused to have a vampire.)
As Vimes's long-time close friend Sgt. Colon puts it, Vimes could get drunk in better style, Vimes could be baffled about a case with better vocabulary, and Vimes could deal with the paperwork. To himself, Samuel Vimes is a not very intelligent man with a sordid personal history that he'd rather forget. To many others he is, somehow, the person to look up to. Captain Carrot quotes Vimes's ideas about social justice, and tries to make them a reality. Lady Sybil Ramkin, Vimes's wife, thinks that he can sort out anything. The new policemen trained in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and then hired elsewhere, though they haven't seen Vimes in person much, are called Sammies (perhaps a nod to the "bobbies," so-called because of Sir Robert Peel).
Vimes is far from being perfect, and he knows the fact better than anyone. In addition to former alcoholism, Vimes has many prejudices. He hates many kinds of people and many things, and he has quite good reasons to. He hates the upper class because they look down on the rest of the society while exploiting it (e.g. charging high rent from the poor people living in slum properties).
He hates dwarfs and trolls, but he has stated that he doesn't care that much for humans either so he can't be blamed. He hates zombies, werewolves and vampires; for unashamedly discriminative reasons, among them being that they cannot be killed if police duty necessitates that Vimes should fight them, and he believes that vampires naturally or reflexively prey upon people, as well as often being rich and snobby.
He hates dishonest policemen. He accepts that a publican may offer a free pint or a meal to an officer just because having an officer on the premises at rush hour makes things go more smoothly is just a way of doing business, but draws the line at an officer taking money to look the other way. He also sacks, and may even prosecute, officers who abuse prisoners or participate in crimes. In his view, the law must apply to everyone, or it applies to noone. That was why, in Jingo, he reluctantly agreed to arrest Lord Vetinari.
He hates Assassins and Thieves because their crimes are legalized and he cannot arrest them, and their leaders are even city dignitaries now. He hates Alchemists because they blow things up.
Just about the only kind of people that he doesn't hate are gargoyles, who never commit crimes that anybody finds out about, and the wizards; they may mess up the space-time continuum and destroy the universe, but such offenses seldom fall within Vimes's jurisdiction. Vimes hates the city of Ankh-Morpork, too. It has been said that he protects the city just as he protects the dwarfs and trolls, so that he can go on hating them. In truth, Vimes has seen too many bad things in his line of work, and now finds it difficult to have a good opinion of anything in general; he is far too cynical (and yet depressingly sometimes not cynical enough). He doesn't have too much animosity for the Seamstresses Guild, since the Agony Aunts handle any excesses by customers, and the Houses themselves make sure that a customer will not end up beaten, naked, and penniless in the streets, "unless his tastes run that way."
In Jingo, Vimes finds himself in a difficult and tense situation where he is holding the Klatchian Prince Cadram at bowpoint, and is prepared to kill him because (tenuous) evidence links him to a conspiracy to kill Prince Khufurah, but there is no court which would try the case. He is saved by the arrival of Vetinari, who defuses the situation.
According to Detritus, when Vimes found a child-killer who has kept a "memento" of his deed, it was all the troll could do to prevent him from killing the perpetrator. This all comes to light during the events of Thud! where Vimes' internal Watchman - which describes itself as existing to keep the darkness in rather than keeping it out- battles with the Summoning Dark for supremacy of his soul and is ultimately victorious in dispelling the evil entity from its attempts to use Vimes to kill for it. This can be illustrated by the fact that when asked 'quis custodies ipsos custodes' ('Who watches the watchmen?') Vimes's immediate reaction is 'Me'. When asked who guards him, he replies, 'I do that too.'
He is capable of accepting specific individuals. He has married Lady Sybil and certainly loves her. He accepts members of ethnic minorities in his Watch, has personally trained some of them, and is quite proud of them. He promotes Watch officers according to merit and ability, regardless of gender, species, or seniority. He also has a soft spot for the poor, the working class, or the young. When he finds younger Assassins failing their attempts on him, for example, he lets them go with only minor wounds; older Assassins, on the other hand, have been known to be painted and tied up left in public, or even chained up and sent on a sea voyage all the way to the other end of Klatch. To put it very simply, he tries to look after those who have nobody else looking after them.
In attempting to carry out justice, Vimes has arrested sons of Ankh-Morpork nobles as well as city dignitaries, all the way up to Lord Vetinari. This has put Vimes high on the hit list of the Assassins at a price of $AM20,000 in Feet of Clay rising to $AM600,000 after 9 failed attempts at the time of The Fifth Elephant; recently, however, he has been taken off the register, and the Guild of Assassins no longer accepts contracts on his life. This may be because he is somehow vital to the running of the city, as Lord Vetinari is, or it may be because no sensible Assassin will volunteer for the task anyway. Vimes has personally designed and installed many traps and deadfalls all around the Ramkin family home and the Watch headquarters at Pseudopolis Yard. So far, Vimes hasn't been even injured by any Assassin. The Assassins Guild now has some of its trainees conduct "dry run" assassination attempts on Vimes as a matter of testing the trainee's skills - particularly if they feel the need to bring the trainee's ego back down to the Disc (see Night Watch).
He is also fiercely anti-authority, possibly a facet of his character which he inherited from Old Stoneface. That he manages this whilst actually being authority is, as Lord Vetinari put it, "practically zen." He regards being the Duke of Ankh as a job title and always prefers "Commander" or "sir" to any of his other titles, which include "His Grace," "His Excellency" and "his blackboard-monitorship" (The Fifth Elephant and Thud!). Continuing to call him by any of these titles after he's explained his preferences is an excellent way to get in His Grace His Excellency's bad graces.
Sam Vimes's full title of record is "His Grace, His Excellency, the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes." His "Blackboard Monitor" epithet is used like a title in Snuff, implying it may actually have been accorded some official weight by the Low King of the dwarfs. Ironically, the one title Vimes holds with genuine pride (as of Snuff), aside from Commander, is "King" .. as in, "King of the River", an honorarium awarded in recognition of his role in saving the riverboat Wonderful Fanny from piracy and flood.
Members of the Watch earn the privilege, and it is a privilege, of calling him "Mister Vimes" only after very long association (i.e. Nobby Nobbs or Fred Colon), or after watching his back in a street fight to the extent that they have demonstrably saved his life (A.E. Pessimal). He does not tolerate the "Mister" from outsiders. Fred Colon sometimes calls him by his first name when he's worried. He has inherited his ancestor's nickname "Old Stoneface," but this is never said to his face.
Activities and Duties
As other noblemen might ride horses, wear laces, ruffles, and plumes, Sam Vimes walks the city on endless patrols and wears his old battered Watch armor and leather shirt and jerkin, with the standard sword and truncheon.
Since becoming the Commander of the Watch and as such a popular target with the clients of the Assassins' Guild, Vimes also started the exercise of personally engineering pitfalls and death traps around his house and outside of his office at the police headquarters.
As Commander and top officer of the Watch, Vimes' job is to oversee its operations and has to deal with a lot of paperwork, a job which he hates but accomplishes adequately. He still tries to go on patrol whenever he has a chance; to him, walking the quiet streets in the dark is a calming, almost relaxing activity. When there is an important occasion on which crime is anticipated, for example, that a foreign dignitary may be attacked during a public appearance (in Jingo), Vimes likes to personally check suspicious places such as an abandoned building that an assassin might use.
Deduction is not Vimes' favorite activity; he distrusts clues and loathes mysteries ("mysteries get you killed"), and he now has the Cable Street Particulars to deal with peculiar crimes, but sometimes Vimes still personally investigates a case. When he witnesses a crime occurring, he abandons everything and chases the miscreant. It is possible that he uses police work to escape the social life of "Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh".
As both urged by Lady Sybil and ordered by Lord Vetinari, Vimes now often has to appear at dinners and parties. Most of the nobles and government officials that he sees at such social occasions, he considers stupid or obnoxious. Should he be accosted by one of these people, he does not hesitate to make clear how and why he loathes them. Vetinari likes to use Vimes as a diplomat, and while more often than not Vimes is the cause of diplomatic incidents, these seem often the intention of Vetinari.
The former Lord Ramkin, Lady Sybil's late father, had always had servants to shave him, to lay out his bath, to scrub his back, to lay out his clothes, to clean his shiny boots, and so on. Vimes now allows the butler to lay out his clothes, but that is about all. He insists on shaving himself as he dislikes other people putting a razor blade, (or indeed any sort of sharp edge) to his throat, and attempts to wear cheap boots with cardboard soles. He has been walking the city in such boots for decades, and he likes being able to feel the different types of cobblestones so that he can tell which street he is on. Besides watch armour, Vimes has some gentleman's suits, a dress uniform of the Watch Commander, and a dress uniform of the Duke. He is often required to wear the ducal dress uniform, which has ruby tights ("you wouldn't wear tights to battle if you thought you would be taken prisoner"), a spiky coronet, a gilt armour ("toy armour"), and no place to hang his sword ("you got made a duke for fighting and then they gave you no sword to fight with"). Vimes compromises by wearing the Watch Commander dress uniform.
Nowadays, Vimes has to eat fancy food as cooked in the Ramkins' house. Personally, he prefers simple, greasy food with burnt crunchy bits, and so he is happier when he eats things that Lady Sybil has personally cooked by a dragon's fire.
Upon becoming a father, Vimes swore to faithfully get home by 6 p.m. every evening to read a certain picture book called Where's My Cow? to his son, Young Sam. This has become such a point of pride that he now has nightmares about not being home by 6 p.m. There is absolutely nothing that takes precedence over this; Vimes believes that if he misses it even once for a good reason, the next time he might miss it for a bad one, and eventually this attitude might spill over into the rest of his life. By the time of Snuff, Young Sam has become the reader and Vimes Senior, the listener, but their 6 p.m. reading sessions continue like clockwork.
His son's welfare is one of the few things Vimes is willing to cross even his wife about, such that he insisted that they hire a nursemaid, Purity, to attend to Young Sam over Sybil's objections. Presumably this is also why the protective flame-baffles between the Vimes residence and Sybil's dragon stables are much, much sturdier in Thud! than in previous books.
Philip Jackson from the British Robin of Sherwood TV series provides the voice for Vimes in the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Night Watch.
- Samuel Vimes's Entry on Wikipedia
- The Watch reading order - A guide to Sam Vimes's story arc.