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A 13-episode British series, based on the Brother Cadfael murder mystery novels of Ellis Peters, which aired from 1994 to 1998. It's rather unorthodox in its choice of setting: 12th-century Shrewsbury, in Shropshire 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?
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Brother Cadfael... that's who.

Cadfael (Derek Jacobi) 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.

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Sean Pertwee played Hugh Beringer in the first four episodes only. Future stars who appeared in this series include Toby Jones, Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Moyer, Anna Friel, Jonny Lee Miller, and Natasha Mc Elhone. Julian Glover also pops up in one episode.


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 Jerkass 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. This behavior is why her grandfather kills her uncle.
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  • Actually, I Am Him: Cadfael has a son who never knew him. They meet.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The conflict between Stephen and Maude 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.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Hugh Beringer gets this treatment in the latter seasons. In the books he was on much better terms with Cadfael (even having him named his son's godfather) and was willing to "live and let live" with regards to those loyal to the Empress Maude so long as they keep the peace. In the show though he tends towards being "Lawful" over "Good" and arrests some that he was willing to let be free in the books.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Although generally keeping to the original, very medieval names, a few are changed to be a little more familiar to modern viewers.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • The Holy Thief: Earl Robert Beaumont in the novel is a relatively upstanding figure whose claim on Saint Winifred is mainly made in jest to demonstrate the ludicrous nature of Herluin's claim. In the show he is shown to be rather vicious when hunting the supporters of Empress Maude and openly lusts after Daalny. He is later revealed to have paid Alfred to abduct Daalny to make his mistress and killed him when the plan failed.
    • The Pilgrim of Hate: Rhun, instead of being genuinely cured and taking the cowl in gratitude, has been faking his condition for an unknown amount of time and leeches off those who give him money after the "miracle". The second occurrence is the murder of an old man with his sons taking the place of Matthew and Ciaran. Instead of Matthew seeking to enforce Ciaran's penance for the murder of his master, he murdered their father in a fit of zealous rage.
  • All-Natural Snake Oil: In "St. Peter's Fair", an old lady sells charms, amulets, and potions—including a flask of lotion that will "sustain a man from dusk till dawn" which Oswin innocently takes to mean it will prevent sleepiness. Cadfael gets a whiff of it and informs him that it's made of belladonna and monkshood.
    Oswin: Will it keep you awake all night?
    Old crone: Oh, it'll keep you up all right.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • In episode 1 Cadfael refers to opium poppy by its Latin classification, Papaver somniferum. The Linnaean taxonomy system was not invented for centuries after the show's setting.
    • In episode 2 the peasant children splashing in the river wear pants, necessary for the TV censor, but ridiculous for the period.
    • This website goes through some other historical liberties the series takes, like the existence of inns (not really a thing in King Stephen's time) and Cadfael's anachronistic knowledge of anatomy (he is able to reassemble a disarticulated skeleton in "The Pilgrim of Hate").
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: At the end of "A Morbid Taste for Bones", Cadfael lays out Columbanus' robe on the ground and surrounds it with petals to make the other monks believe that this has happened.
  • 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.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Prior Robert is put in charge of the mission to obtain Saint Winifred's bones from a Welsh village. He opens with an insult towards the whole town for neglecting her grave, then offends Rhrisiart, the local landowner, by a graceless attempt to bribe him. He refuses all of Cadfael's counsel in spite of the fact that Radulfus sent Cadfael along specifically to help him understand the Welsh. Cadfael has to wince and cringe his way through Robert's high-handed behavior until he finally puts his foot down to keep Robert from angering a growing mob of angry Welshmen to violence.
  • 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.
  • Berate and Switch: Brother Oswin is passing along some things he's overheard about the current mystery, prompting Cadfael to scold that his vows surely don't include listening to gossip—and then adding "but don't let that stop you."
  • 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.
    • Miles Coliar in "The Rose Rent" seems initially like a decent man, but he starts showing his true colors when an idler employee at the wool business is murdered and he snaps at the man's widow to stop blubbing over someone so worthless.
  • Break Them by Talking: Cadfael does this in "The Holy Thief" after the revealed murderer starts pointing his sword at everyone. Cadfael points out that Beaumont's purchase of Daalny has gained him neither her love nor her gratitude. This coupled with the fact that he's been exposed before the law drives Beaumont to run himself through.
  • 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.
    • Cadfael does this on behalf of Meriet in "The Devil's Novice", severely chastising Leoric for refusing to see any worth in his younger son to the point of instantly believing him a murderer. Although it doesn't sink in until the whole truth comes out, Leoric is genuinely guiltstricken and apologizes to Meriet at the end.
  • 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".
  • Conflict Ball: Beringar is extremely testy in "St Peter's Fair", snapping at Cadfael for questioning his choice in the civil war and being almost as dismissive as Prescotte.
  • 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, 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.
  • Could Say It, But...: At times Cadfael has to hint for people to take actions which would technically violate his oaths if he said them straightforwardly. Sometimes he has to be very firm with these hints.
    • In "The Holy Thief", Tutilo is in jail, due to be hanged the next morning for a murder he didn't commit. Cadfael gives some "poppy juice" (opium) to his lover Daalny, to give to Tutilo to calm him down...but not to give him the whole bottle because it will knock him out cold, and not to put it in wine so he won't even taste it. Once Daalny catches on, she gives the poppy juice to the jailer in wine, and once he's unconscious, she sets Tutilo free.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Brother Oswin.
  • Dead Guy on Display: In the first scene of "The Raven in the Foregate" the monks ride past a severed head, presumably of a Maud partisan captured by Stephen's men, set out on a pike.
  • 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:
    • One takes place in the first episode between Hugh and Sheriff Corcelle to determine if the accused is guilty, as King Stephan's war plans will not allow him to stay in Shrewsbury long enough to preside over the trial of one of his officials.
    • In "The Leper of St. Giles", Cadfael and Hugh decide that Lazarus—aka Guimar de Massard—did kill Picard, but that they "met in single combat". Lazarus, fighting with his bare hands against the armed and prepared Picard, does not count as 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.
  • During the War:
    • The series is set against the backdrop of the English civil wars known as The Anarchy.
    • For Cadfael and many others, The Crusades are a source of these stories, much in the fashion of a Great Offscreen War. Cadfael fought in the First Crusade, and the Second Crusade was gathering at that time.
  • The Dung Ages: Generally averted, but the town and people of Gwytherin are notably more primitive-looking and dirty than Shrewsbury.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Cadfael has several of these, usually prompted by someone else's random comment, and once after cutting his hand.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Cadfael knocks a sword from an aggressive soldier's hand in the first episode, showing that while he may now be a peaceful monk, he was once a badass.
  • Everyone Has Standards: For all that he's an asshole Brother Jerome is horrified that he might have caused Rhisart's death; in addition even he considers Brother Columbanus's piety to be over the top.
  • 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: “Monk’s Hood” 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.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: How Cadfael determines that the stains in the snow are red wine, not blood ("The Virgin in the Ice").
  • Fix Fic: "One Corpse Too Many" attempts to explain a Real Life Out of Character moment for King Stephen.
  • Fortune Telling: In The Holy Thief, the sortes Biblicae is ultimately used to determine what should be done with "Saint Winifred's" bones. This leads to some very apt verses being associated with the characters who perform it.
  • 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 ("The Virgin in the Ice"). 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.
  • Hanging Judge: For a holy man, Canon Eluard is quite insistent on having someone to hang for Clemence's murder, even if it's a forest vagabond whose only crime was having picked up Clemence's dagger. When the real murderer is found, Eluard says that his neck will "stretch better" and then tells the other conspirators that they'd better hope King Steven is more forgiving than he himself is.
  • 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."
  • Heroic Bystander: Brother Oswin puts up a pretty decent effort against the fleeing murderer in "The Devil's Novice" and though he eventually gets half-strangled it buys the time needed for Cadfael and Prescotte to take over.
  • 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.
  • The High Middle Ages: The series takes place during the Anarchy, a civil war fought between King Stephen and Empress Maude (also known as Matilda) in the 12th century.
  • Historical Domain Character: Abbots Heribert and Radulfus really were abbots of Shrewsbury Abbey in the 1130s and 1140s, and Radulfus's appointment really was the result of a legatine council convoked by Alberic of Ostia in 1138. Prior Robert Pennant also existed and eventually succeeded Radulfus. Their characterization is fictional, however.
  • Holier Than Thou: Jerome gets fed up with Columbanus' piety, particularly after Columbanus brings him food but insists on fasting himself.
  • How We Got Here: "The Potter's Field" opens with the monks finding a body buried in said field. Then the action jumps back a year to show how Brother Ruald, once a potter, abandoned his wife to become a monk. The body is suspected to be that of his wife.
  • 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.
    • One of the murder suspects in "Raven in the Foregate" admits that he left Ailnoth "stone-dead on the bridge" after Ailnoth attacked him and he defended himself. Cadfael realizes that the investigation isn't over yet, because Ailnoth drowned, meaning that a second person must have finished him off. (This turns out to only be partly true.)
  • In Name Only: Series finale "The Pilgrim of Hate" is ostensibly an adaptation of the Ellis Peters novel of the same name, but bears little resemblance to the book other than a couple of character names. The 12 previous episodes were much more faithful adaptations of Peters novels.
  • 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.
    • For once, Brother Jerome feels guilt over his pettiness when he wishes Rhisiart dead for refusing the monks and insulting the Prior, believing that his spiteful prayer brought on the murder. Cadfael tells him that just having a spiteful wish can't kill a man.
    • Brother Jerome has another confession to make in "The Holy Thief" for striking Alfred over the head in anger. Although the blow wasn't fatal as he'd thought, it did stun him enough to make him vulnaerable to the real killer, and Radulfus is furious that a holy brother even contemplated doing such a thing.
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Prior Robert is haughty, a stickler for the rules and often opposes Cadfael's unorthodox methods. At the same time he has shown to genuinely want the best for the abbey and others, give people the benefit of the doubt, is willing to truly apologize when he is wrong, and even he finds Brother Jerome's attidue and nature at times to be too much.
  • 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.
    • Cassale makes a point of calling Beringar "Undersheriff" when hunting for enemies of King Stephen around Shrewsbury.
  • Juxtaposition Of Birth And Death: Done with an animal birth in "Sanctuary Sparrow." Cadfael, aglow in the satisfaction of delivering a newborn foal, washes up in the river and spots Pesh's floating corpse.
  • 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 Eleanor. He refuses to hear her confession and instead drives her out of the church for being pregnant out of wedlock; an opinion not shared by the villagers, all of whom liked her and were outraged at her death.
    • 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.
  • The Killer Was Left-Handed: A series of these deductions form the solution to "The Virgin in the Ice". Cadfael deduces that Brother Oswin could not have killed Sister Hilaria because his wound was on the left side and would not have stained the left side of Hilaria's shift if he had smothered her. He then realizes that Lord Boterel was wounded on the right side, and further was in the company of a person who had a knife and was left-handed, namely Lady Ermina. So after Boterel tried to rape Ermina and she stabbed him, he then raped and murdered Hilaria.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Olivier de Bretagne, the half-Syrian, half-Welsh knight who refuses to go along with the other knights' turn to banditry and helps Ermina and Yves escape bandits.
  • Kubrick Stare: From a deranged Brother Columbanus, kneeling at an altar in "A Morbid Taste for Bones", as he describes how he murdered Lord Rhysart in order to get St. Winifred's ashes.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: In "The Raven in the Foregate", Cynric had been in love with Eleanor, but she didn't reciprocate. One night she took pity on him and gave in to his advances. You can guess what happened.
  • Like a Son to Me: Oswin. Cadfael would rather suffer any number of broken pots than lose him.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: Who killed Ailnoth? His manservant was secretly in service to Maud, and Ralph was enraged by Ailnoth's decision to seize Foregate lands from the villagers who'd been farming it, and the whole Foregate blamed him for Eleanor's death. Ralph does admit that he intended to kill Ailnoth but couldn't find him. His manservant was attacked by Ailnoth, a Stephen fanatic, and believes he killed him but claims self-defense. In the end, it turns out that no one actually gave Ailnoth the fatal push into the river, only that Cyrnic refrained from pulling him out.
  • 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.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Jerome asks Columbanus leading questions about his visions so that Columbanus will believe that St. Winifred is calling him to retrieve her.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Godfrey Fuller's proposal to Judith Pearle is based mostly on this. Her business is wool and his is dye, so joining them would benefit them both.
  • 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.
  • Mercy Kill: At the prelude of "The Rose Rent", Cadfael warns Judith Perle that too much of the pain medicine he made will kill her husband, who is in constant, agonizing pain from a terminal illness. Their conversation after his funeral makes it clear that she deliberately gave him an overdose to release him from his suffering, and Cadfael tells her not to feel guilt over it.
  • Moment Killer: In "St. Peter's Fair", Corbiere is tenderly wiping Emma's face after rescuing her from being raped, and it seems like a kiss is imminent. Then clueless Brother Oswin blunders in and kills the moment.
  • Murder by Inaction: "The Raven in the Foregate" ends with the reveal that Cynric saw Father Ailnoth stuck in the bridge, did nothing to help him, and then watched Ailnoth fall through and drown. Of course, Ailnoth the Asshole Victim deserved it.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The killer in "Monk's Hood" is, at the end, horrified that he's killed his own father.
  • 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.
  • Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: Brother Columbanus has epileptic fits, during which the has visions of a bright, sweet-smelling lady. Many other monks believe that these visions are blessings from Saint Winifred. Cadfael is less than assured of this, and believes that the association comes from leading questions on the part of Jerome.
  • Never Suicide: Averted in "The Raven in the Foregate". Cadfael insists that they should treat Eleanor'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 and guilt, 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." It turns out that long ago she was engaged to Cadfael before he went off on crusade. After eight years of waiting for him to return she got married to the nobleman who is murdered in this episode.
  • 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 show Cadfael why he doesn't want to return to his family.
  • No Dead Body Poops: The end of "A Morbid Taste for Bones" has Cadfael and his companions stash Columbanus' body in the reliquary for St. Winifred. No mention is made of the fact that his body would soon rot and need to be moved again to avoid discovery. As a smaller reliquary of her bones is seen in a later series, one wonders what happened when "the saint" was reinterred.
  • The Nose Knows: Thanks to his long experience with herbs and other plants, Cadfael is easily able to identify most by smell, which comes in handy quite often.
  • 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 Now, Kiddo: Eleanor attempts to make a confession to Cadfael, but he assumes she's been arguing with her sister as usual and sends her to Ailnoth, rather impatiently. He's deeply ashamed of himself when she's found dead the next day.
  • Not Quite Dead: Rumors of Julian Cruce's death are greatly exaggerated.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Walter in "The Pilgrim of Hate". He pretends to be a cripple in order to bind his sister Melangell to him, but he's just faking it.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Cadfael isn't afraid to play the role of a chatty, naive brother from the cloister to make the people he's questioning let their guard down.
  • Oblivious to Love: In "The Raven in the Foregate", Cynric had pined after the uninterested Eleanor, little knowing that her sister had fallen for him.
  • 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.
  • Orphaned Etymology: In one episode, an archer threatens to "fire" centuries before the introduction of gunpowder weapons.
  • 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.
    "He was ruining her life, so I ended his."
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Godith as a male novice. She doesn't even bother to cut her hair. 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.
  • Parental Favoritism: Leoric Apsley openly favors his older son and heir Tristan over his younger son Meriet, though it doesn't make the brothers resentful against each other. In the end, Leoric realizes that he's been horribly unjust to Meriet and resolves to be a better father.
  • 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.
  • Plagued by Nightmares: In "The Devil's Novice", Meriet has screaming nightmares that disrupt the abbey and lead Oswin to ask if he's possessed by demons. It's guilt over his family's involvement in Clemence's death.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: A mutually-agreed and fair one between a wife and her husband's lover takes place before the events of The Potter's Field. There was a fifty-fifty chance that one of them would die. The lover ends up having taken the poison one, but as a chronically ill woman whose condition has prevented her from being able to share a bed with husband and only promises to get worse, the wife feels that she has lost the wager.
  • 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.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Abbot Radulfus will not have himself or the authority of the abbey disrespected, and admonishes Cadfael at a few points, but he is also intelligent enough to recognize Cadfael's skills and give him free reign except when his hands are tied by politics or directives from higher up. He also abhors violence and takes things like Sacred Hospitality very seriously.
  • Red Right Hand: There is a folk belief in Gwytherin that the blood of a murdered corpse will rise if their killer lays a hand on it. Despite decrying this as a pagan ritual, Jerome refuses to do it, and Godwin later confesses to a different crime at Rhisiart's funeral.
  • 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.
    • When Hynde abducts Judith in an attempt to coerce her into marriage, he imprisons her in a disused warehouse in her own wool business. (This also fails because an employee of hers does, in fact, figure out where she's being kept.)
  • Romancing the Widow: "The Rose Rent" has Judith Perle being pursued by several men after her husband's death, even at the poor man's funeral - including Thomas Hynde and Godfrey Fuller. Needless to say, she is not particularly impressed with either. Niall Bronzesmith, the abbey's tenant who moves into her old house, has better luck. Her cousin, Miles Coliar, does not.
  • Run for the Border: Attempting to escape into Wales, where English authorities have no jurisdiction, comes up multiple times over the series.
  • 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 Beringar's stab wound. The new Abbot Radulfus immediately scolds Robert for speaking rudely to a guest.
    • The Apsleys are imposed on by their second cousin twice removed Clemence. Afterwards, Leoric says "God forgive me" for being relieved at a guest's departure.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Brother Eluric from "The Rose Rent".
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: After it's proven that Eleanor did commit suicide and thus would not be allowed a Christian reburial, Cadfael visits to her unmarked grave and plants her crucifix necklace in the mound as a consecration.
  • 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.
  • Secret-Keeper: It's implied that Brother Jerome realized that Columbanus didn't ascend to heaven and that it's his bones in the container, but he keeps his mouth shut
  • 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.
    • Daalny and Brother Tutilo also claim sanctuary when pursued there during an attempt to escape Shrewsbury.
  • Simple Staff: Cadfael is forced to use a quarterstaff to defend someone at one point, showing that while violence is against his code, his skills haven't slipped.
  • Sinister Minister:
    • Father Ailnoth has no interest in carrying out the actual office of minister. His main concerns are extracting profit from the fields that his predecessor had allowed the villagers to use, saving his own soul, and most of all pursuing the enemies of King Stephen. He treats his parish with impatience and disdain and his refusal to accept Eleanor's confession makes an enemy of the entire Foregate.
    • Prior Herluin isn't evil, but he is a Holier Than Thou Jerkass with an incredibly rigid view of morality who routinely flogs his monks and equates "disagrees with me" to "unholy." When Brother Tutilo falls under suspicion for murder, Herluin takes the first opportunity to throw him under the bus and claim his vision of St. Winifred was sent by Satan. He's rude to Daalny and calls her a whore, sneers at Cadfael at finding his vocation late in life, and treats everyone around him with contempt. When Tutilo leaves the Order at the end, Herluin remarks that some people just shouldn't be in the Church, and Cadfael agrees completely.
  • 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."
  • Smug Snake: Thomas Hynde in "The Rose Rent" believes he ought to be irresistible to Judith despite his debts and slimy attitude, kidnaps her and threatens to rape her into marriage, and then turns into jelly once he realizes he might actually get caught and face punishment... which gives her control back, because he'll do anything to buy her silence.
  • Taking the Bullet: Susanna takes an arrow for her lover Iestyn at the climax of episode 2, "The Sanctuary Sparrow", and is killed.
  • Taking the Heat: When the authorities imprison an innocent vagabond on suspicion of killing Clemence, Meriet Apsley loudly confesses to the murder. He thinks it was his beloved older brother, Tristan. Though unwilling to point the finger at Tristan, he was also unwilling to let a wholly uninvolved person die for it. (In the end, the killer turns out to have been Janyn, Tristan's best friend and future brother-in-law.)
  • A Taste of the Lash: Brother Meriet, a novice who is pretty darn ill-suited to being a monk, is whipped in "The Devil's Novice" after he assaults Brother Jerome.
  • 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.
    • In "Monk's Hood", Cadfael does catch the murderer and exposes 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.
    • In "A Morbid Taste for Bones", Cadfael had arranged circumstances to out the truth of Rhisiart's murder, but a Spanner in the Works forces him to elaborately deceive the monks and hide Columbanus' body, because otherwise Godwin would certainly be convicted of Columbanus' accidental death.
    • In "St Peter's Fair" he defies Beringar's demand for the list of barons willing to declare for Maude and puts the paper in a flame right there, because he's unwilling to do something that will bring about more deaths. He counsels Beringar to make the same choice rather than hang the person who carried it.
    • "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.
    • In "The Potter's Field", 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.
    • Ailnoth's parish pursues him to the abbey at a march, chanting his name, after they find that Eleanor drowned herself.
    • A mob of angry villagers wielding torches march into town in "St. Peter's Fair". They resent the fair, which forces them to close their shops for three days and which requires them to pay a tax.
  • Trial by Combat: An acceptable and legal recourse. Hugh Beringar gets his job this way.
  • Turn in Your Badge: The Prior throws Cadfael out of the abbey for ignoring instructions to leave the murder investigation to Sergeant Warden. Radulfus declines to finalize the decision after taking charge, however.
  • 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.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: Cynric says that he could do nothing to save Ailnoth, as he had been struck in the head during his fall from the bridge and this he took him for dead. The audience, however, is shown that he saw Ailnoth struggling to keep from falling to his death and refused to help.
  • Whatevermancy: In "The Holy Thief" the monks of Shrewsbury resort to bibliomancy to determine who should have the bones of St. Winifred. The three claimants each are blindfolded and point to a random phrase in the Bible, and this is said to be a way of determining which claim is just, by interpreting the Bible verses.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In "The Raven in the Foregate", both Eleanor's sister Katherine and, to a lesser extent, Cynric chew Cadfael out for sending Eleanor away when she came to him for help. An ashamed Cadfael admits he behaved badly. They also critcize Abbot Radulfus for not preventing the Church from making a purely political appointment of a man so clearly unfit to be a parish priest.
  • 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).
  • You Killed My Father: Sioned breaks out of hiding and attacks Columbanus when he tells Cadfael that he was the one who killed Lord Rhishart.


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