The Archbishop

The Archbishop

Infobox Television episode
Title = The Archbishop
Series = Blackadder

Caption = Archbishop Edmund the Unwilling
Airdate = 29/6/1983
Writer = Rowan Atkinson
Richard Curtis
Director =
Guests =
Episode list = List of Blackadder episodes
Season = 1
Episode = 3
Prev = "Born to be King"
Next = "The Queen of Spain's Beard"
"The Archbishop" is the third episode in of the first season of the BBC sitcom "Blackadder" ("The Black Adder").


The murder of an Archbishop

November, 1487 started a new chapter in the conflicts between The Crown and Church of England. The Duke of Winchester, greatest landowner in England, was dying, presumably without heir. (Historically the Peers of Winchester were known as the Earl of Winchester or Marquess of Winchester. The title was at the time held by Lewis de Bruges, 1st Earl of Winchester, who would not die until 1492). Both King Richard IV and Godfrey, Archbishop of Canterbury were attempting to convince the dying man to leave his lands to the authorities represented by them. (Historically the Archbishop of the time was John Morton).

The former was urging him to leave them to his "beloved" King. The latter threatening his "filthy soul"with "Hell ! Where Satan belches fire, and enormous devils break wind both night and day! Hell! Where the mind is never free from the torments of remorse, and your bottom never free from the pricking of little forks! Hell! Where the softest bits of your nether regions are everybody else's favourite lunch!". Not surprisingly the latter arguments had a stronger effect on the Duke who signed his last will moments before leaving his last breath. The gloating Archbishop would not however enjoy his victory. The King had Sir Tavish Mortimer, his hired killer, rush toward him with his head bowed while wearing a spiked helmet. The death was reported as an accident.

Godfrey was reportedly the third Archbishop to have died during the year. Archbishop Bertram had been crushed by a falling gargoyle while swimming off Beachy Head. And Archbishop Wilfred had been reported to have slipped, "falling backwards onto the spire of Norwich Cathedral".

A shrewd prince

Edmund was already interested in the fate of the Duke and his lands. His informant Baldrick, however, had news only on the Duchess of Gloucester giving birth to twin goblins. (Historically the position was left vacant at the time. The last Duke was Richard III. The last Duchess was his consort Anne Neville, deceased since March 16, 1485). Messengers soon informed both Princes that the Duke had died along with the Archbishop. The surprisingly naive Harry was convinced of its status as an accident. The shrewd Edmund however made sarcastic remarks, revealing knowledge of it being a murder and deducing the method and motivation. The remarks naturally went unnoticed by Harry.

The night found Prince Edmund, Lord Percy and Baldrick discussing who would be likely to take over. Edmund imagined it would be one of "the bishop fellows"since they "tend to go for religious types". A better informed Baldrick reported of a rumour suggesting the King wants to choose Prince Harry. His source was the reliable Jane Smart, who had also informed him of the Duchess of Kent having a chocolate chastity belt. (Historically the current title was Earl of Kent, held at the time by Edmund Grey, 1st Earl of Kent. His Countess was Katherine Percy).

Edmund saw this as a chance for Harry to die early as had his predecessors. This would make Edmund the Next King. However, Baldrick had been misinformed. The following day Richard IV announced that "following careful consultation with the Lord God; His Son, Jesus Christ; and His Insubstantial Friend, the Holy Ghost" the choice fell on "Edwin, Duke of Edinburgh". This caused Edmund to fear for his own life (and to suffer acute embarrassment on receiving the homage of the assembled clergy, as at the time he was wearing a somewhat exaggerated codpiece).

Archbishop of Canterbury

Edmund decided to discuss the appointment with his father. Richard informed him, "Do not be mistaken about this appointment, Edward. I have always despised you. You, compared to your beloved brother Harry, are as excrement as compared to cream! So now, my boy, when I have at last found a use for you, do not try to get out of it!". Edmund did suggest choosing another man "equally weak-willed and feeble". His father countered that there is no such man. Edmund suggested choosing "someone who believed in God" unlike himself. Richard explained that "If I needed someone who believed in God, I'd have chosen Harry - not an embarrassing little weed like you". He finished by kindly advising Edmund: "if you cross me now, or ever, I shall do unto you what God did unto the Sodomites".

Edmund pretended to obey, but actually prepared to flee to France. His escape was prevented by the King himself. Edmund was escorted to Canterbury by Harry, who was actually interested in discussing questions of theology with his rather uninterested brother. According to the following narration, "His investiture over, Archbishop Edmund the Unwilling swiftly adopted the ways of the cloth. But ever the shadow of his father's threat hung over him". However Edmund was unaware of the exact content of this threat. Asking Baldrick, who had become a monk, to enlighten him on what did God do to Sodomites, Edmund only received the answer "I do not know, My Lord, but I can't imagine it was worse than what they used to do to each other". Meanwhile Percy had been appointed Bishop of Ramsgate by his friend.

Edmund struggled to avoid the wrath of his father. This was exemplified by the end of Lord Graveney, another presumably heirless peer, whose lands were coveted by King and Church alike. William, Bishop of London, brother of the dead Archbishop Godfrey (to whom he bore a strong resemblance) had already been attempting to convince the dying Lord to sign a will favouring the Church by using the typical threats of Hell. (Historically the current Bishop was Thomas Kempe; the next "William" to hold the title was William Warham in 1502). Edmund instead tried to convince the dying man that the Church had no need of his lands. He accepted the confession of Lord Graveney who admitted to having committed many sins, including patricide, more than a thousand cases of adultery and a sexual affair with his own mother. The latter case of apparent incest surprised even Edmund, Percy and King Richard.

Edmund proceeded however to kindly explain: "The thing about Heaven, is that Heaven is for people who like the sort of things that go on in Heaven, like, uh, well, singing, talking to God, watering pot plants. Whereas Hell, on the other hand, is for people who like the other sorts of things: adultery, pillage, torture--those areas. Give your lands to the Crown, and once you're dead, you will have the time of your life!". Convinced of the possibility of an eternity of adultery and pillage, Lord Graveney gladly signed his estate to the Crown, his last statement being, "I leave my lands to the Crown, and my soul in the hands of the Lord. May He treat me like the piece of refuse that I am and send me to Hell!" Edmund had finally gained the gratitude of his father.

Assassination attempt

However this gratitude did not secure his life. Edmund was the subject of a discussion between Richard IV and Gertrude. The latter was almost unable to believe that "the naughty little boy, whose bottom I had to smack for relieving himself in the font... last Thursday" was also the Archbishop of Canterbury. Richard was for the first time pleased with Edmund. He toasted to "A long and healthy life to him! I thank God that in my lifetime never again shall I have to say, 'Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?'". (This phrase is attributed to Henry II of England, who reigned between 1154 and 1189, in reference to Archbishop Thomas Becket, whose term lasted from 1162 until his assassination on December 29, 1170).

The last sentence was overheard by two knights who took it literally as instructions to murder the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Meanwhile Edmund and Baldrick were considering ways to profit from their new position. According to Baldrick, "There appear to be four major profit areas: Curses, pardons, relics and selling the sexual favours of nuns". Edmund was curious of the latter, unsure that there were people who would pay for them. Baldrick assured his Lord that there were foreign businessmen and other nuns.

They then focused on pardons. The cheapest was a pardon for talking with your mouth full, signed by an apprentice curate and costing two pebbles. The most expensive was a pardon of "anything whatsoever, including murder, adultery, or dismemberment of a friend or relative", signed by both Popes. The latter is a pun concerning the often concurrent existence of a Pope and one or more Antipopes all claiming the same authority. However historically the last antipope, Felix V, had abdicated on April 7, 1449. Pope Innocent VIII was unopposed at the time.

Edmund and Baldrick then discussed profiting from curses, ranging from "may slightly unfortunate and annoying events occur such as an onion falling on top of your head" to "may God hate you and all your kind, may you turn orange in hue, and your head fall off at an awkward moment", though none of these really work. Edmund then got to his explaining their stock of relics, including Shrouds from Turin, wine from the marriage at Cana, s from the True Cross and artifacts created by Jesus as a carpenter. Bishop Percy complained that all of these were obviously fake and would not allow people to tell them apart from real relics. Archbishop Edmund stated that this was the point.

Bishop Percy revealed his own relic, a finger of Jesus, which he asserted to be genuine until Baldrick proceeded to explain to him that those were on sale in boxes of ten. Also available were the noses of Jesus, Saint Peter, and Saint Francis of Assisi, and the breasts of Joan of Arc. (Joan was not canonised by the Roman Catholic Church in real history until May 16, 1920).

The discussion was interrupted by the arrival of the two assassins. Introducing themselves as recently returning Crusaders George de Boeuf and Justin de Boinod, they proceeded to hunt down Edmund, Percy and Baldrick. The trio eventually escaped by crossdressing as nuns but the incident apparently put an end to their careers with the Church, much to the joy of Edmund.


*Harry and Edmund discuss the "accidental deaths" of several recent archbishops of Canterbury. Apart from Thomas Becket's famous 1170 murder, most archbishops (even between 1485 and 1498) led prosperous lives.

*The two knights who come to kill Edmund are wearing the mantles of the Knights Templar. This can be considered historically inaccurate, as the Knights Templar were disbanded in A.D.1312 which is 175 years before A.D.1487, the year in which this episode is set.

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