The fleur-de-lis is a brand given to criminals that represents their removal from polite society. In The Three Musketeers, Milady has a brand on her shoulder as a result of her criminal actions. Because of its implication, Milady does everything she can to hide it. She even manages to marry Athos, a nobleman and one of the story’s heroes, without revealing the fleur-de-lis. Despite her efforts, Athos eventually finds out about the brand and attempts to kill her for it. The symbol is so volatile in French society that Athos knows it would ruin him if someone discovered it on his wife’s body. Because others know Milady’s secret, the fleur-de-lis is a constant burden that other people constantly use as leverage against her, which is, for instance, why Milady attempts to kill d’Artagnan when he learns about it.
It is only at the end of the novel that Milady is able to use the fleur-de-lis to her advantage. While seducing John Felton, Milady makes up a story about how she received the brand. In the story, Milady endures barbaric treatment, and she receives the brand as an act of cruelty rather than because of her personal wrongdoing. Here, Milady alters the brand’s meaning to suggest that it represents an abuse of power. Still, she ultimately finds that it’s impossible to escape the fleur-de-lis’s true meaning, and Milady is executed for her own abuses of power, many of which were connected to her attempts to obscure the fleur-de-lis from others.