Series / Cadfael

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A 13-episode British series based on the Brother Cadfael murder mystery novels of Ellis Peters. It's rather unorthodox in its choice of setting: a 12th-century town somewhere near the Welsh border — a time of civil war, disease and strife, where Death is a frequent visitor. Many are those who would take advantage of this fact to conceal a murder. After all, who would notice one suspicious corpse amongst so many?

Brother Cadfael... that's who.

Cadfael is a middle aged monk who took up the cowl after abandoning the violent, passionate life of a soldier. It was in the Crusades that he learned how to fight with a sword, which he often wears under his robes during dangerous missions. Yes, he may have sworn off violence, but he knows enough about the world to know that his vocation alone will not protect him from dangerous men. Cadfael's keen senses, ability to communicate with people, and Encyclopaedic Knowledge of herbs and plants make him the perfect forensic expert — a fact which has not gone unnoticed by the local sheriff, Hugh Beringar, who often sends for Brother Cadfael whenever a mysterious corpse turns up in the town.

Sometimes Cadfael will just stumble onto a mystery by himself, but either way, once he gets put onto the scent, there's little anyone can do to shake him off. Derek Jacobi gives an excellent portrayal of the competent and compassionate monk in what is probably his best role since I, Claudius. Fans of history and/or mystery would do well to check this series out.

This show provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • The Aurifabers as a whole—not just the father—are quite unkind to the eldest daughter Susannah. Despite their wealth (Aurifaber literally means goldsmith and it's the family trade) and the big feast they throw for the eldest son, the father claims he can't afford to waste a dowry on Susannah and they use her as a housekeeper. Then, when the new wife insists on her right to manage the household, they take away that and leave her with no purpose. Her father doesn't even show remorse when she's killed.
    • The Picards abuse their niece Iveta, who is due to inherit a large amount of property, and sell her off to a husband known to be a Jerk Ass and a bully. Although it's not shown onscreen, they're said to have beaten her, and during the episode they attempt to blackmail her with Joscelin's safety so that when the abbot and Cadfael ask if she needs protection, she says no. Which is why her grandfather kills her uncle.
  • Actually, I Am Him - Cadfael has a son who never knew him. They meet.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The conflict between Stephen and Maud is phased out in all but two of the episodes, and Hugh is less Cadfael's True Companion, and more The Lestrade to his Amateur Sleuth.
  • Always Murder: Although sometimes it is attempted murder instead.
    • One of the TV adaptations has Cadfael have doubts about a suicide being a possible murder, but it turned out to be a suicide after all.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Cadfael, especially considering the actual detective profession wouldn't be established for centuries.
    • Technically subverted when the abbot (a legitimate authority) sends him to investigate crimes that will be prosecuted solely under canon law, involving abbey personnel on the monastery's own grounds.
  • Asshole Victim
    • The entire Aurifaber family (except the unwed spinster sister and her lover) in The Sanctuary Sparrow.
    • Baron Huon de Domville is feared by his bride-to-be, hated by his squire, and beats a leper. His mistress does remember him fondly, but she's the only person who seems to have liked him as a person.
    • Brother Jerome, though he lives.
    • Nobody cries over Father Ailnoth.
    • Peter Clemence's singular scene shows him insulting his country cousins, sleeping with his cousin's betrothed, and (unlike the clergy at Shrewsbury abbey) is a monk solely for personal and political gain.
  • Ax-Crazy: le Gaucher, a former crusader who betrayed his liege so he could Rape, Pillage, and Burn across the Shrewsbury farmlands. He doesn't bother to cover his track and clearly delights in the violence he inflicts.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Father Heribert is replaced as Abbot. Prior Robert and Brother Jerome are delighted (although not as much as if the Prior had been promoted, which he was hoping for) because they think the new guy will be on their side versus Cadfael. But Father Radulfus proves to have just as much regard for Cadfael as his predecessor.
  • Benevolent Boss: Both of the abbots Cadfael served under were pretty nice guys who recognized his detective talents.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: In "The Leper of St Giles," Simon Aguilon killed his uncle, hoping to marry Iveta in his stead, and allowed Joscelin to fall under suspicion for the murder while pretending to help him hide and pursue his own love for Iveta.
  • British Series
  • Butt Monkey: Brother Oswin, Cadfael's clumsy assistant who always had some sort of trouble befall him. (It all culminates in one episode where he gets simultaneously stabbed and framed for murder. Poor guy.) Most of this is due to him being a Composite Character of several of Cadfael's assistants and other monks from the abbey who didn't appear in other books.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Susannah in The Sanctuary Sparrow, not that it makes much of an impact.
  • Cassandra Truth: Most every episode, Cadfael proves that the murderer was not who the Law thought it was. Despite his track record, though, no one believes him the next time around when he says that, yet again, they've arrested the wrong man.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A really blatant example in "Monk's Hood" when some monkshood oil is spilled in basil and Cadfael explains its use as a topical analgesic and toxicity if ingested. In short order, someone is murdered by it. (But we also see someone getting a massage with it, too.)
  • Chekhov's Skill: As the abbey apothecary, Cadfael has an encyclopaedic knowledge of local flora. This enables him to trace many a clue, starting from the first episode.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Cadfael's beloved novice Brother Oswin disappears without a trace in the final season, whereupon he's replaced by Suspiciously Similar Substitute Brother Adam.
  • Clear My Name: A central part of each episode. Cadfael always seems to take a shine to the person with the most obvious motive for murder.
  • Confessional: Subverted multiple times. Several characters want to confess to Cadfael, but as he keeps explaining, they can't: he isn't a priest. This becomes important for plot purposes in both The Devil's Novice and The Raven in the Foregate.
  • Control Freak: The prissy, toadyish busybody, Brother Jerome, who acts as Cadfael's main nemesis. Very few people in the Abbey like him, once when strangled nearly to death, even the usually polite Abbot Radulfus comments that they'll be spared his singing voice at Mass.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Brother Cadfael himself. He borders on Badass Grandpa, especially in the episode where he karate-chops a soldier for mistreating a homeless guy, and he can always be counted on to do the right thing even when the church itself tells him not to.
    • Both Abbots qualify. Watching Abbot Heribert push back an angry mob with Torches and Pitchforks with nothing but his voice is sheer awesome.
  • The Coroner: This is Cadfael's role at the abbey (along with being the closest thing it has to a doctor).
  • Corrupt Church: With a caveat, in that the church itself wasn't portrayed as any more corrupt than any other organization of that age, but many of its members did abuse their power, often doing more harm to their communities than good.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Brother Oswin occasionally gets a few CMOAs.
  • Dead Man's Chest: Played with in A Morbid Taste for Bones. The monks successfully dig up St. Winifred and house her bones in the reliquary. Then, after Brother Columbanus is killed, Cadfael conspires with the locals to sneak her bones back into her original grave, and stows Columbanus' corpse in the reliquary instead.
  • Dirty Coward: From "The Virgin In the Ice," Evrard Boterel. Early on Hugh is disdainful of his failure to protect the people on his lands from bandits. Turns out he actually fled; when Ermina left him for it, he took out his rage on poor Sister Hilaria.
  • Duel to the Death: In "The Leper of St. Giles" Cadfael and Hugh decide that Lazarus—aka Guimar de Massard—can go uncharged for Picard's death because they met in "single combat" with Lazarus unarmed, and not a murder.
  • Double Meaning: After Olivier asks if Cadfael knew his mother Miriam, Cadfael turns away says that if he did, "he would have remembered her all his life." While seeing him off he also says "Go with God, my son." A standard monkish expression, but much more literal in this case.
  • Eureka Moment: Cadfael has several of these, usually prompted by someone else's random comment, and once after cutting his hand.
  • Evidence Scavenger Hunt: Often of a botanical nature, as Cadfael retraces the path of a suspect or site of a murder by identifying the plant fragments found at the scene.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: An Excellent Mystery
  • Exact Words: One episode opens with Brother Jerome and Prior Robert trying to punish a novice for singing a Bawdy Song he learned from his soldiering grandfather, about a soldier who misses My Girl Back Home. Cadfael (who knows the song from his crusader days) points out that the song doesn't say the woman isn't the soldier's wife, and isn't encouraging love within wedlock something the Church should approve? The Abbot decides that (tenuous though it is) this is a good enough explanation and lets the young man go unpunished.
  • The Exotic Detective: A classic example of this.
  • Fix Fic: One Corpse Too Many attempts to explain a Real Life Out of Character moment for King Stephen.
  • Friend on the Force: Hugh Beringar.
  • The Fundamentalist:
    • Father Ailnoth in The Raven in the Foregate.
    • Luke in The Pilgrim of Hate.
  • Get Out: Hugh orders Prestcote to get out and have no further part in the investigation after Prestcote recklessly shoots an innocent man, mistaking him for a murder suspect.
  • A Glass in the Hand: Cadfael manages to shatter a clay beaker in his own hand while arguing over Brother Oswin's possible guilt. Snapping at Jerome about which hand is cut and which is bloody leads to his Eureka Moment.
  • Go and Sin No More: The murderer of "Monk's Hood" is exposed in public and moreover stabs Hugh in a panic when he flees. However, he is so cut up with guilt over his crime that he begs Cadfael to help him be ready to be killed by the law, and would have gone back had Cadfael told him to. Cadfael decides not to and instead tells him to repent of his crime by committing himself to love and generosity for the rest of his life.
  • Gossipy Hens: Pesh is a male version in "Sanctuary Sparrow." His snooping, and attempting to profit on his knowledge, get him killed.
  • Heroic Bastard: Olivier speaks a little of being caught between faiths because he's the bastard of a Crusader father and Muslim mother. He's also the most chivalrous character in "The Virgin in the Ice."
  • Hey, You!: In "Sanctuary Sparrow." When Liliwen escorts his sweetheart home under a hood to disguise himself, someone calls out "hey!" behind him. They ignore it and continue at a normal pace—quite wisely, because the person who shouted was hailing a different man to say a friendly hello.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Cadfael tells Edwin his stepfather was 'cut down' and Edwin disclaims drawing a blade against him. That he didn't correct Cadfael, combined with trustingly putting his lips to a beaker of monkshood oil, combines to convince Cadfael of his innocence.
  • Inspector Lestrade: Hugh Beringar and the previous sheriff, Gilbert Prescotte, represent both sides of the Lestrade coin. Hugh is compelled to suspect and investigate the most obvious killer, but he is always willing to listen to Cadfael and gives him leeway to investigate. Gilbert is the kind who declares a case open-and-shut, resents Cadfael, and once wounds an unrelated person after mistaking him for the suspect.
  • It's All My Fault: Brother Oswin loudly proclaims that he is guilty of mortal sin and "was [Sister Hilaria's] death" in "The Virgin in the Ice," leading the other monks to wonder if he was the one who raped and murdered her. What he felt guilty for was not protecting her and also being attracted to her when a blizzard forced them to huddle together.
  • It Gets Easier: Cadfael at one point says that after killing once, the next deaths don't hurt as much, and that he's stood on a battlefield drenched in blood and felt nothing.
  • It's Personal: In "Monk's Hood," Cadfael is particularly driven to solve the case despite being strictly ordered away because the murder was done with a medicinal oil that he made with his own hands.
  • Jurisdiction Friction:
    • Hugh Beringar argues with the Abbot when Joscelin flees onto the Abbey grounds, and therefore into the Abbey's authority.
    • Prestcote gets cranky whenever Cadfael tries to give him advice or contradict his suspicions.
  • Karma Houdini: Prior Herluin is never punished by either human authority or the narrative for constantly impeding Cadfael.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Father Ailnoth's cruelty towards Elured. Even though having a baby out of wedlock was a serious matter, everyone liked her, and were outraged at his treatment of her.
    • Lord Cassale from The Raven in the Foregate and Le Gaucher from The Virgin in the Ice both delight in killing hapless peasants.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Brother Jerome deserves everything he gets.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Olivier de Bretagne, the half-Syrian, half-English knight who refuses to go along with the other knights' turn to banditry and helps Ermina and Yves escape bandits.
  • Like a Son to Me: Oswin. Cadfael would rather suffer any number of broken pots than lose him.
  • The Low Middle Ages
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Inverted. When Cadfael realizes that Olivier de Bretagne is his son, he decides not to tell him, and later wonders if it was the right decision.
  • Mauve Shirt: Gilbert Prestcote.
  • Mystery of the Week: Shrewsbury is a Mystery Magnet as well, naturally. It makes a bit more sense than some examples, though: Shrewsbury is located very near the Welsh border, so new people are often passing through, and medieval attitudes towards death and killing makes it easier for aspiring murderers to justify themselves.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Olivier draws a sword on him, Cadfael points out that he's got his own dagger to his stomach and warns Olivier to "always beware the unexpected stroke." When le Gaucher has his sword at Olivier's throat, Olivier stabs him in the same manner and repeats Cadfael's words as a Bond One-Liner.
  • Mysterious Past: More alluded to than secret; Cadfael is a former crusader with prodigious fighting skills. It's certainly not a secret in the Abbey and Cadfael is not shy from telling people his past. More often then not it makes the bullies back down and impresses anyone of a more militaristic mind.
  • Never Suicide: Averted in "The Raven in the Foregate". Cadfael insists that they should treat Eluned's drowning as suspicious, but she really did do it herself after Ailnoth drove her out of the church. Cadfael wanted to prove otherwise mainly out of pity for her, as suicide was considered to deny you a place in Heaven (and the church graveyard) back then.
  • New Old Flame: Richildis, in "Monk's Hood."
  • Nightmare Face: This is why the legendary knight Guimar de Massard travels with the lepers as "Lazarus" even though the disease is no longer active in him. He briefly lifts his mask to Cadfael to show why he doesn't want to return to his family.
  • Not Helping Your Case: Liliwen lies about the events at the wedding and later sneaks out of the abbey to walk his sweetheart home after she visits, but it happens to be at the same time Pesh was murdered.
  • Not Quite Dead: Rumors of Julian Cruce's death are greatly exaggerated.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Walter in The Pilgrim of Hate.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Cadfael isn't a cop per se, but he is a detective (for all intents and purposes) and Hugh Berringar definitely qualifies as the Young Cop part of the duo.
  • Papa Wolf: In "The Leper of St Giles," the second murder is done by Lazarus, aka Guimar de Massard. He kills Picard in revenge for Picard's ill-treatment of Iveta, Lazarus' granddaughter.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Godith as a male novice. Cadfael does see through it immediately, but it's implied that it's due to his experience in the world. It takes an armsman accidentally grabbing her chest for anyone else to figure it out.
  • Perp Sweating: In this unenlightened age, prisoners were usually tortured into confessions in ways that would make the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique look like Sunday Brunch, although Cadfael himself disdained such methods.
  • Politically Correct History: True to some extent, but not always in the ways viewers assume.
    • Cadfael's view of the world is not anachronistic but neo-Aristotelian. Neo-Aristotelianism was a school of thought that arose in the Arabic-speaking world in the late 11th century; it stressed the use of logic and reasoning as opposed to the blind acceptance of authority demanded by orthodox Augustinianism. Anyone who spent years in the Middle East studying medicine as Cadfael did would have been exposed to the new belief system and might have adopted it.
    • People tend to seem cleaner in the show than we would assume. This is sometimes politically correct history, especially in episodes where the poor are seen wearing sharply tailored clothing and with perfect straight white teethnote . The rich, however, are generally portrayed accurately - even if the immersion bath was uncommon (and known to be dangerous!) in Real Life, the rich did wash themselves every day.
    • Very few children die in early childhood in the show. This is insanely anachronistic, possibly the most anachronistic thing about the show, but it comes from the books themselves.
    • Some critics have pointed out that most lovers in the show (and in the books) marry in their early 20s, which is supposedly very late by pre-modern standards. This is utter rot. The average age at marriage has not changed in England for centuries.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Sister Hilaria's case in "The Virgin in the Ice." Boterel raped and suffocated her while pursuing Ermina, who stabbed him when he tried to attack her for leaving him.
  • Red Shirt: Brother Eluric.
  • Retired Badass: Cadfael as stated above in Cool Old Guy and Mysterious Past. His Establishing Character Moment is defending a homeless man from an armed soldier and easily disarming said soldier when he pulls a sword on him, despite the soldier being half his age if even that. Obviously as a monk Cadfael has sworn against committing violence, but that doesn't stop him from facing down anyone trying to harm an innocent and putting himself in harm's way without a thought. Later he grabs a noble's riding crop to stop him from beating a leper.
  • Right Under Their Noses: Joscelin Lucy tries hiding in the town in "The Leper of Saint Giles," at the instigation of Simon, but his hiding place is betrayed. He has better luck when the leper Lazarus shelters him under one of their cloaks, because people avoid looking at them.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Prior Robert argues with Hugh Beringar over whether or not Cadfael should be turned out of the abbey, not very long after Cadfael has solved a murder and treated Berigar's stab wound. The new Abbot Radulfus immediately scolds Robert for speaking rudely to a guest.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: After it's proven that Eluned did commit suicide and thus would not be allowed a Christian reburial, Cadfael visits to her unmarked grave and leaves a small cross there anyway.
  • Secret Test of Character: Cadfael does this to suspects sometimes.
    • In "One Corpse Too Many," he puts a murder victim's clothing in with a pack Beringer will open to see if he recognizes it.
    • He offers aconite as a refreshing drink to the first murder suspect in "Monk's Hood." When the man displays his ignorance by putting it to his lips, Cadfael snatches the cup away and says that he just proved his innocence to the poisoning.
  • Seeking Sanctuary: Of course. In "The Sanctuary Sparrow," Liliwen the minstrel claims sanctuary by putting his hand on the altar cloth, which entitles him to forty days of safety.
  • So Proud of You: Cadfael doesn't say it to Olivier, but he gives a thankful prayer to God for allowing him to learn he and Miriam fathered such a worthy child. When Hugh asks about Ermina's guardian, Cadfael describes him as "a son any father would be proud of."
  • That Old-Time Prescription: Cadfael is the abbey's apothecary and there are many scenes in his workroom where he prepares or distributes medicine which may or may not become relevant to the plot.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Cadfael has to make this call a few times.
    • Monk's Hood. Cadfael does catch the murderer and expose him in public. That done, though, he lets the man go, on the grounds that he is a Sympathetic Murderer who clearly repents of his sin.
    • The Raven in the Foregate. Technically, nobody murdered Father Ailnoth: one man was defending himself and the other refused to help Father Ailnoth when he fell into the river. However, Cadfael lets one escape back to Wales and helps the other craft a story that suits Beringar and Lord Casale.
    • The Rose Rent. The murderer is dying and, as in Monk's Hood, repentant.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Liliwen the bard is chased to the abbey by the Aurifabers and all their wedding guests when they accuse him of murdering the family patriarch.
  • Trial by Combat: An acceptable and legal recourse. Hugh Beringar gets his job this way.
  • Turn in Your Badge: The Prior threatens Cadfael with this, more or less (not that monks have badges, but he threatens to kick him out of the abbey).
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: When the Abbot leaves for a church council in "Monk's Hood" he leaves the Prior in charge, who immediately starts interfering in Cadfael's attempt to solve the latest murder and even attempts to have him removed from the abbey.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In The Raven in the Foregate, both Eluned's sister Katherine and, to a lesser extent, Cynric chew Cadfael out for sending Eluned away when she came to him for help. An ashamed Cadfael admits he behaved badly.
  • Worst Aid: In "The Monk's Hood," Cadfael gives an emetic to a man who was poisoned, but he admits that it may do as much harm coming up as going down. Prior Robert also says that he "rid himself" of his own dinner on Oswin's advice (having been eaten from the same brace of partridge, although his was not tainted).


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/Cadfael