In the town of Rederring, in Cornwall, a chorus of professional bridesmaids frets that there have been no weddings for the last six months. All of the eligible young men are hopeful of a union with Rose Maybud, the prettiest maiden in the village, yet they are too timid to approach her.
The desperate bridesmaids ask Rose's aunt, Dame Hannah, if she would consider marrying,
but she has vowed to remain eternally single. Many years previously, she had been
betrothed to "a god-
Dame Hannah tells the bridesmaids about the curse of Ruddigore. Centuries ago, Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first Baronet of Ruddigore, had persecuted witches. One of his victims, as she was burnt at the stake, cursed all future Baronets of Ruddigore to commit a crime every day, or perish in inconceivable agonies. Every Baronet of Ruddigore since then had fallen under the curse's influence, and died in agony once he could no longer bring himself to continue a life of crime.
After the horrified bridesmaids exit, Dame Hannah greets her niece, Rose, and inquires whether there is any young man in the village whom she could love. Rose, who takes her ideas of Right and Wrong from a book of etiquette, replies that all of the young men she meets are either too rude or too shy. Dame Hannah asks particularly about Robin Oakapple, a virtuous farmer, but Rose replies that he is too diffident to approach her, and the rules of etiquette forbid her from speaking until she is spoken to. Robin enters, claiming to seek advice from Rose about "a friend" who is in love. Rose says that she has such a friend too, but Robin is too shy to take the hint. Rose's devotion to etiquette prevents her from taking the first step, and so they part.
Old Adam, Robin's faithful servant arrives, and Robin cautions him never to reveal
that Robin is, in actuality, Sir Ruthven (pronounced "Rivven") Murgatroyd, but that
he fled his home twenty years previously to avoid inheriting the Baronetcy of Ruddigore
and its attendant curse. Now Richard Dauntless, Robin's foster-
Mad Margaret appears, dishevelled and crazed. She has been driven to madness by her
love for Sir Despard, the "Bad Baronet." She is jealously seeking Rose Maybud, having
heard that Sir Despard intends to carry Rose off as one of his daily "crimes." Rose
tells her, however, that she need not fear, as she is pledged to another. They leave
just in time to avoid the arrival of Sir Despard, who muses that although he must
commit a heinous crime every day, for the rest of the day, he does good works. He
then proceeds to frighten the village girls and the Bucks and Blades who have come
to court the girls. Despard explains that he is baronet only because of the death
of his elder brother, Ruthven. Richard approaches him, and under a poor guise of
The village gathers to celebrate the nuptials of Rose and Robin. Sir Despard interrupts,
revealing that Robin is his elder brother and must accept his rightful title as the
Bad Baronet. Rose, horrified at Robin's true identity, resolves to marry Despard
– who refuses her: now free of the curse, the ex-
At Ruddigore Castle, Robin (now Sir Ruthven) tries to come to grips with being a bad baronet, a task at which he proves to be spectacularly lacking. His loyal retainer, Old Adam, suggests various evil crimes, but Robin prefers minor acts that are not criminal, but "merely rude". Richard and Rose enter to ask Robin's consent to their marriage, which he gives grudgingly.
Robin's weak crimes stir his ancestral ghosts from their usual haunt of the castle's
portrait gallery. The curse requires them to ensure that their successors are duly
committing a crime every day, and to torture them to death if they fail. They inquire
as to Robin's compliance with this requirement. They are not pleased to learn that
Despard has atoned for his previous ten years of evil acts and has married Mad Margaret.
The two of them now live a life of moderately-
Meanwhile, Adam has complied with Robin's orders but has unfortunately chosen to abduct Dame Hannah. The dame proves formidable indeed, and Robin cries out for his uncle's protection. Sir Roderic duly appears, recognises his former love, and, angered that his former fiancée has been abducted, dismisses Robin. Left alone, he and Dame Hannah enjoy a brief reunion. Robin interrupts them, accompanied by Rose, Richard, and the bridesmaids. He quibbles that, under the terms of the curse, a Baronet of Ruddigore can die only by refusing to commit a daily crime, that to so refuse is "tantamount" to suicide, and that suicide is, itself, a crime. Thus, he reasons, his predecessors "ought never to have died at all."* Roderic follows this logic and agrees, stating that he is "practically" alive.
Now that Robin is free of the curse, Rose once again drops Richard and happily resumes her engagement to Robin. Roderic and Dame Hannah embrace, while Richard settles for the First Bridesmaid, Zorah.
* Note: In the original ending, all of the ghosts came back to life at the end. In the revised ending substituted by Gilbert after the premiere, only Sir Roderic comes back to life.