The Blackadder Wiki
The Archbishop
'The Archbishop' Title Card
The Black Adder, Episode 3
Written by Richard Curtis & Rowan Atkinson
Directed by Martin Shardlow
Original airdate 29th June 1983
Episode chronology
← Previous Next →
"Born to be King" "The Queen of Spain's Beard"
List of episodes

"The Archbishop" is the third episode in of the first series of The Black Adder.


In November 1487, the Duke of Winchester (William Russell), credited as Russell Enoch) leaves his lands to the Catholic Church, prompting King Richard to have Godfrey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered, the third in a year to suffer such a fate. (While the murders are absurdly obvious, the royal court-save for Edmund- believes the Archbishops' deaths to be "tragic accidents".) Edmund then overhears court gossip that Harry will be appointed Archbishop; Edmund is overjoyed, confident that his brother will be murdered and leave him next in line for the throne.

The following day, however, King Richard announces that Edmund will be the new Archbishop. Fearing for his life, Edmund tries to grovel his way out of the job, but Richard refuses, declaring that he has always despised Edmund and that "when I've finally found a use for you, don't try to get out of it," before threatening to do to him "what God did unto the Sodomites" should he fail.

After Richard and Harry catch him trying to escape, Edmund becomes Archbishop (taking on Baldrick as a monk and Percy as Bishop of Ramsgate). When news arrives that the wealthy Lord Graveney is on his deathbed, Edmund rushes to his castle to convince him to leave his lands to the Crown. However, the Bishop of London is already there, attempting to convince Graveney to sign a will favouring the Church. Graveney tells Edmund that he fears damnation for his many sins, including killing his father so he could have an affair with his mother. Edmund persuades him that Hell is "not as bad as it's cracked up to be", and would be far more enjoyable for someone who enjoyed murder, pillage and adultery; excited by the idea of eternal sin, Graveney deeds his lands to the Crown just before dying, and Edmund finally obtains a measure of respect from his father.

That night, Richard and Queen Gertrude drink a toast to Edmund, and Richard says he is grateful that he will never again have to say "who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" The last sentence is overheard by two knights who take it literally as instructions to murder the current Archbishop of Canterbury. The two assassins surprise Edmund, Baldrick and Percy — who are in the middle of discussing ways to sell papal pardons, curses and phony relics — and attempt to kill them. The trio escape by disguising themselves as nuns, for which they are caught by the Mother Superior. Edmund is promptly excommunicated, and walks away into a bright, holy light — revealed to be the glow from the fire he set in the nunnery.

In the epilogue, the Mother Superior laments the corruption of the world, and informs another nun that she won't be needing the unicorn that evening.


William Russell, best remembered as Doctor Who companion Ian Chesterton, was a last minute replacement for actor Wilfrid Brambell in the role of the Duke of Winchester. Brambell walked off set after becoming impatient with delays in shooting the scene. Russell was credited as Russell Enoch.

Historical inaccuracies[]

  • 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 1499) led prosperous lives.
  • The two knights who come to kill Edmund are wearing the mantles of the Knights Templar. The Templars were disbanded in 1312, 175 years before 1487. As well as this, they refer to themselves as "freshly returned from The Crusades". The Crusades ended in 1291, almost two centuries before the episode.
  • As Edmund reads a curse that Baldrick provided him with, he says "May you be turned orange in hue!" However, the first recorded use of orange as a colour name in English was in 1512, in the court of King Henry VIII, 25 years after this episode takes place.
  • Baldrick makes reference to a "chocolate chastity belt". The episode is set in 1487, 5 years before Columbus' journey to the Americas, and chocolate was unknown in Europe at the time. Solid chocolate was not produced until the 18th century: until then, it was only known as a liquid.