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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?


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!!


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?


"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.

  • Burn the Witch!
  • 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.
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  • 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: The Witchsmeller's questioning of Edmund is chock-full of preposterous arguments and inferences designed to provide "evidence" of his guilt.
  • Kangaroo Court: Played ridiculously straight.
  • Karmic Death: The Witchsmeller is burned to death, as he did to so many (likely innocent) people before him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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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