From Anglo-Norman English, the OED gives as its original definition of villian as:
- Originally, a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a
man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved
in the commission of disgraceful crimes:
It should not, however be confused with the word villein (no longer in use) - the name of a rank within the English feudal system.
- One of the class of serfs in the feudal system; spec. a peasant occupier or cultivator entirely subject to a lord ( villein in gross gross n.4 2e) or attached to a manor ( villein regardant regardant adj. 1); a tenant in villeinage; also applied to a person regarded as holding a similar position in other communities, a bondsman. †Hence formerly in general use, a peasant, country labourer, or low-born rustic.
It is difficult to imagine that the two words are unconnected, however the series of examples given by the OED are quite distinct in following their respective meanings.
Examples of villain from 1303.
a. Used as a term of opprobrious address.
1303 R. Mannyng Handlyng Synne 11557 Goddys treytour, and ryȝt
vyleyn! Hast þou no mynde of Marye Maudeleyn.
1320–30 Horn Ch. (Ritson) 857 The begger answered in that tide,
Vilaine, cunestow nought ride?
c1380 Sir Ferumbras (1879) l. 5471 Þanne he cryde and gan to sayn:
‘Whar art þow, Charlis, þow vylayn?’
?1553 (▸c1501) G. Douglas Palice of Honour (London) i. l. 645 in
Shorter Poems (1967) 46 Ane me fand quhilk said in greif disdenȝeit
Auant velane [1579 Edinb. veillane] thou reclus imperfyte. a1593 C.
Marlowe Tragicall Hist. Faustus (1604) sig. C3v Villaine, haue I not
bound thee to tel me any thing?
a1616 W. Shakespeare Taming of Shrew (1623) i. ii. 19 Now knocke
when I bid you: sirrah villaine .
1622 T. Dekker & P. Massinger Virgin Martir iv. sig. K2v Theoph.
It matters not, We can discharge this worke without his helpe... Sap.
1663 A. Cowley Cutter of Coleman-St. v. xii. 67 Villain, Rebel,
Traitor, out o' my sight.
1764 H. Walpole Castle of Otranto i Presumptuous villain! cried
Manfred, dost thou provoke my wrath?
1821 W. Scott Kenilworth III. xvi. 325 Drunken villain,..thy
idleness and debauched folly will stretch a halter ere it be long.
1855 C. Kingsley Westward Ho! v ‘Villain! give me your papers!’
Other modern senses of villain.
b. In descriptive use. (Common from c1590.) Examples from c1400 but
a1842 T. Arnold Hist. Later Rom. Commonw. (1845) II. 56 The
soldiers..told him that..if he played the villain he might win the
throne. 1869 J. Ruskin Queen of Air §128 They are not made
villains by the commission of a crime, but were villains before they
c. Used playfully, or without serious imputation of bad qualities. Also
applied to a woman. Examples from 1609. 1908 R. Bagot Anthony
Cuthbert xxiii. 300 If this afternoon's post does not bring me a
letter from Jim,..I shall telegraph to the young villain.
d. (Usually with the.) The character in a play, novel, etc., whose
evil motives or actions form an important element in the plot. Also
transferred, esp. in villain of the piece. Examples from 1822:
1978 P. Sutcliffe Oxf. Univ. Press v. i. 173 Ernest Barker and others
took on Nietzsche and Treitschke, who could be regarded as the
ultimate villains of the piece.
e. A criminal (slang) From 1960: 1977 L. Meynell Hooky gets Wooden
Spoon xiii. 156 There'll be a getaway car..waiting close to the
house with a villain in it... I don't like thieving villains.
An altogether sense - 2 - relates to a bird - now obsolete.
In summation, yes - it is clear that a connotation of evil is implied in all, other than playful senses of the word - both in medieval as well as modern interpretation.