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Recap / Blackadder S 1 E 5 Witchsmeller Pursuivant

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The Black Plague is ravaging Europe, leaving millions dead on its wake and rendering King Richard IV even crazier than usual. Being the educated, logical, reasonable bunch of fellows they are, the Privy Council concludes that the plague is the work of a witch. And when you're in the Middle Ages and have witch problems, who you gonna call?

THE WITCHSMELLER PURSUIVANT!

Sure enough, the Witchsmeller turns out to be an insane, gibbering maniac. He proposes an investigation to find the witch hidden among the royal family and staff. The method is simple. Two objects are placed on the Witchsmeller's palms: a crucifix and a dagger. If the person takes the crucifix, then he is a god-fearing Christian. But if he takes the dagger, then he's a WIIIIIIITCH!!

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After a little dirty trick by the Witchsmeller, Edmund is accused of being a witch. However, he is granted a trial, with Percy and Baldrick as defenders. As it turns out, the trial is constructed to prevent Edmund from escaping. The Witchsmeller Pursuivant prevents Baldrick and Percy from defending Edmund by condemning them as witches before the trial, tries to question Edmund's horse Satin, Quote Mine the hell out of Edmund's words , and hires a random woman to show a poodle which is supposedly her love child with Edmund. With no hope of escaping the trial legally, the trio resorts to their cunning plan: jump off a balcony and take refuge inside the King's chamber. Unfortunately for them, the crazier-than-usual King kicks them out to their doom at the stake.

Edmund, Baldrick and Percy are left to mourn their fate in the dungeon when Edmund's underage bride Princess Leia comes to visit them, bringing something from the Queen. Is it a dagger? A lock picker? Instructions for a cunning plan?

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"No, silly! It's a dolly!" note 

The next morning, the three are tied to stakes and set fire upon. However, during the ordeal, Edmund inadvertently drops the doll into the fire.

At the end, the King gets better, the three survives, and everybody is happy. Except the Witchsmeller.


  • Amoral Attorney: The Witchsmeller Pursuivant has no qualms using obviously ludicrous evidence and arguments to get the verdict he wants.
  • Burn the Witch!: The titular "witch-hunter" convicts Edmund and his associates of witchcraft in an absurd Kangaroo Court, and they are sentenced to be burned alive. However, the Queen provides them a doll that resembles the Witchsmeller, who catches fire himself while they're unharmed. The episode implies that the Queen is the real witch.
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  • Chewing the Scenery: The Witchsmeller managed to rival King Richard IV, which is no small feat.
  • Cruel Mercy: Edmund is sentenced to be burned at the stake, but Harry decides to honour his supposed goodness by having him... burned alive.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Witchsmeller overhears Edmund making some obviously empty threats against him, and so gets Edmund, along with Baldrick and Percy, all sentenced to burn at the stake.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: The titular witch hunter.
  • Evil Is Petty: It is heavily implied what trials the Witchsmeller doesn't order out of pure lunacy are intentional frame ups to take revenge on people for making slights or insults against him.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The Witchsmeller's accusation that Edmund and his horse have been partaking in "frenzied, naked and obscene Satanic orgies" would have had a somewhat more benign meaning — essentially a highly ritualised, decadent way of worshipping the devil — at the time the episode was set, compared to the implications that most modern viewers would come away with.
  • Hot Witch: It is heavily implied that the Queen is the real witch.
  • Inferred Holocaust: In-universe; the Witchsmeller is implied to have had the entire population of Taunton burned at the stake for having an affair with the same duck.
  • Insane Troll Logic: You could fill a book with the amount of insane troll logic the Witchsmeller Pursuivant uses to accuse Edmund, Baldrick, and Percy of being witches. It would include ducks, carrots, cats, horses and poodles.
  • Kangaroo Court: Edmund's trial by the Witchsmeller Pursuivant is this Up to Eleven. Where to begin: Edmund's entire case is thrown out when the Witchsmeller convinces Prince Harry that they should ignore the testimony of a witch pleading for his life, Percy — who is defending Edmund — is accused of being a witch and is also ignored, and when Baldrick counters the Witchsmeller's assertion that carrots grow on trees, the Witchsmeller uses his knowledge of carrots to 'prove' Baldrick is a witch as well. He then produces a signed confession by a horse, an old woman Edmund has never met and an obvious poodle that he claims is Edmund's son. It is almost fitting to the ridiculousness of the situation that our heroes apparently escape with hitherto unused and never mentioned again magical powers of teleportation.
    • The ending reveals that this was the work of the Queen, actually being a real witch.
    • It is implied that the Witchsmeller Pursuivant was really a witch himself, as when he is killed the king recovers from his illness and everything goes back to normal (for them) — or possibly Edmund's mother, who likely ended the spell to keep Edmund from being thought guilty still.
  • Karmic Death: The Witchsmeller is burned to death, as he did to so many (likely innocent) people before him, by what is implied to be the one real witch that he ironically never suspected.
  • Kick the Dog: The Witchsmeller not only burnt an old lady, but her cat as well, as Percy repeatedly notes. He also tortures Black Satin to death. He also interrogates Edmund's horse to death in order to obtain a signed confession that Edmund is the servant of Satan.
  • Large Ham: The Witchsmeller Pursuivant as a legitimate claim to being the largest ham in the entire Blackadder series, rivalling even the likes of Richard IV and General Melchett.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Witchsmeller Pursuivant is depicted as a sadistic maniac who falsely accuses and burns people for witchcraft in droves, intentionally out of personal spite using pure lunacy. He ends up burned alive by what is heavily implied to be real witchcraft he overlooked.
  • Make the Dog Testify: Black Satin is called up to the witness stand. His silence is taken as implication of guilt.
    Prince Harry: Was that a yay or nay?
    Witchsmeller: I believe it was a neigh, my lord, but I don't believe a word of it.
  • Missing the Good Stuff: The King is bedridden for most of the episode.
  • Morton's Fork: The "ordeal by axe" that is one of the Witchsmeller's favourite methods of finding potential witches. If the person undergoing the trial is a witch, then the axe will bounce off their necks harmlessly, and they'll be burned at the stake... and if they're not a witch, the axe just beheads and kills them.
  • Noodle Incident: The "Swiss Invasion", which is mentioned in passing by one of the lords at the start of the episode, but never elaborated on.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The disguises worn by Edmund, Percy and Baldrick early in the episode, not least because Edmund can't decide whether his alias is supposed to be Clever Jake, Clever Pete or Clever Tom.
  • Precision F-Strike: Edmund gives one to Baldrick when they're about to be burned at the stake. Though in some versions the swear is apparently censored by a cough.
    Baldrick: My Lord, I have a cunning plan.
    Edmund: Oh, fuck off, Baldrick!
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: In the Witchsmeller Pursuivant's first appearance, he is cloaked in a crowd of peasants with glowing red eyes the only part of his face visible.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Exaggerated, as when Baldrick is telling Percy and Black Adder his cunning plan in the cell, two guards suddenly step into shot and discuss mundane things until he is done talking. Of course, this plan succeeds, briefly. Even when it's executed, we never get to see how it worked, though.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • During the trial, the Witchsmeller asks if anyone can see the son of Satan in the courtroom. This is followed by a pan across the viewing gallery, which just happens to contain a horned, red-skinned man among the crowd, yet no-one acts as if there's anything unusual about him. It's then that the Witchsmeller produces the actual "son" (a poodle).
    • Prince Harry somehow completely fails to notice that the Witchsmeller Pursuivant is on fire, until the flames cover about 100% of his body and his screaming has risen to a fairly loud volume.
  • Witch Hunt: Sadly, the Witchsmeller's methods as depicted in this episode are only a slight exaggeration of those employed by real-life Witchfinders (such as Matthew Hopkins, who the Witchsmeller is loosely based on), as was the "kill any suspected witch, and if they're innocent, no big deal because they'll go to heaven anyway" attitude espoused by the Witchsmeller and others. The clearest (and even then debatable) drift from standard real accounts is the Witchsmeller deliberately framing at least some of his accused out of petty spite.
  • The Witch Hunter: Although this job appears to consist of convicting people he doesn't like on farcical evidence. He manages to completely miss the only confirmed witch in the kingdom, to his cost.
  • World of Ham: Granted, the first series in general is super-hammy compared to the ones which would follow, but as the episode with the largest guest cast it's taken Up to Eleven in this one, especially in the trial scene. Sadly, the King and the Witchsmeller don't appear together, which would have brought the ham to ridiculous levels.
    • That maybe why they kept them apart in the first place.

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