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Witchsmeller Pursuivant
Witchsmeller Pursuivant

Title Card
The Black Adder, Episode 5
Written by Richard Curtis & Rowan Atkinson
additional dialogue by William Shakespeare
Directed by Martin Shardlow
Original airdate 13th July 1983
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"The Queen of Spain's Beard" "The Black Seal"
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Witchsmeller Pursuivant is the fifth episode of The Black Adder, the first series of Blackadder.


The episode opens in August, 1495, with a peasant family eating dinner. They discuss the plague ravaging Europe and the father declares them safe as they know the secret of plague: rats. He believes eating them is a cure. His theory is soon proven wrong when he, and all but his daughter drop dead from plague.

Meanwhile at the castle, Edmund is busy trying to steal a painting and is met by Harry (who fails to notice the attempted theft). The king has come down with plague and Harry asks Edmund to pay him a visit, expressing it would do the king some good. However when Edmund opens the bedroom door, Richard tries to lop Edmund's head off with a sword, prompting Edmund to meekly declare "well he's up" to his watching mother.

The Privy Council is convened with Harry declaring the plague to be the greatest issue the country has faced since the Roman invasion, to the council's approval. As he is about to explain his plan however, he is interrupted by a messenger who informs him that the king has summoned him. Harry is understandably fearful for his life, even more so since the messenger is carrying a sword and helmet. Edmund is left in charge as Harry leaves, and reads verbatim from Harry's notes (and somehow earning the council's disapproval). The council quickly declare the king's illness a result of sorcery and cite various supernatural sightings in the kingdom as proof (a man with four heads drinking tea, a cow reciting Chaucer, and Chaucer himself mooing like a cow). Edmund tries to restore order, but the rest of the council (even Percy) vote to send for the Witchsmeller Pursuivant to deal with the matter. Edmund rounds on Percy for siding against him (Percy claimed to have seen a horse with two heads and bodies, or rather, two horses standing next to each other). After settling that small matter, Edmund angrily rants about The Witchsmeller Pursuivant and Baldrick suggests they see Mistress Scott to learn more about the Witchsmeller. Percy is afraid to do so as they would have to go into the plague ridden village, but Edmund laughs off the plague as being the villagers way of getting out of working.

Edmund's theory proves incorrect as the signs of death and illness are all around them as they enter the village. Baldrick suggests Edmund disguise himself lest someone intentionally infect him (which he does with a thin cloth around his face that fools no one). The three soon find Mistress Scott's house empty, and interrogate the villagers who inadvertently reveal that the Witchsmeller Pursuivant burned her to death (her cat too, to Percy's dismay). Edmund (with faith in his disguise and none in black magic) declares the Witchsmeller a fool and labels him "Old Big Nose" among other things (not realising that the Witchsmeller is standing next to him). As the three leave, the Witchsmeller stares at Edmund, revenge brewing in his mind.

The Witchsmeller meets with the royal court later that day and explains his function as being "to protect the good and crush the evil." He demonstrates this by crushing a "good" and "bad" egg, and explains that sometimes the good turn out to be evil when Harry asks why he crushed the good egg. Baldrick arrives and announces Edmund's arrival who asks if "Old Big Nose is back" when he hears the Witchsmeller has arrived. Edmund soon however recognises the Witchsmeller from the village and tries to pass off his "Old Big Nose is back" statement as "Old Big Nose's back" and claiming Old Big Nose is a person whose back is in pain (confusing Percy who has no idea who Old Big Nose is). Edmund changes the subject to the case of the Duck of Thornton, whom was engaged with affairs with every single Thornton resident (whom were all killed on the Witchsmeller's orders). The Witchsmeller soon turns his attention to the matters at hand and declares he is close to finding the one responsible for the troubles of the kingdom (staring at Edmund while he does so). Harry asks how the Witchsmeller proves someone guilty of witchcraft, to which the Witchsmeller explains two methods of trials. The trial by axe, where the suspect is struck with an axe and is guilty of witchcraft if they aren't killed (which Edmund sarcastically declares "a very fair test"). The second trial (which the Witchsmeller sets up before Edmund) involves a crucifix and dagger placed upon a table, the suspect blindfolded and asked to grab one. If the dagger is grabbed, the suspect is guilty. Harry encourages Edmund to partake the second trial to eliminate himself as a suspect, and Edmund reluctantly agrees. Edmund quickly slips the blindfold up for a second to take note of the two items, but the Witchsmeller distracts the court and switches the two, and thus Edmund grabs the dagger. The Witchsmeller immediately rounds on Edmund and declares him to be a witch. Edmund tries to deny the accusation by declaring the Witchsmeller to be "a quack" but the Witchsmeller leaps on this and insists the Duck of Thornton lives within Edmund. This is enough to convince Harry to imprison Edmund pending a trial tomorrow morning.

Edmund's trial begins with the hostile crowd booing him the moment he steps forward (the daughter of the family at the start of the episode is in attendance and also the most vocal). His defence counsellor (Percy) is dismissed immediately after the Witchsmeller declares him to be a witch too. The Witchsmeller's outrageously ludicrous case begins with him asking if Edmund can recite the Lord's Prayer, and accusing him of confessing guilt when Edmund insists he could say it backwards. He then brings forward the testimony of Edmund's chambermaid who overheard Edmund asking his cat Bubbles (or Beelzebubbles as the Witchsmeller puts it) if he'd like some milk. Edmund admits this, but gets frustrated when the Witchsmeller asks what he meant by "milk" and thus Edmund replies "milk! Bloody milk!" The Witchsmeller insists Edmund is speaking literally and means milk and blood, using it to incite the crowd. He then moves on to an occasion when Edmund offered his horse Black Satin a carrot, declaring carrots to be a work of the devil. When Percy argues that there is no biblical reference to the supposed sinfulness of carrots. The Witchsmeller produces a bible and recites that "thou shall not eat from the carrot tree" is a commandment featured in "the appendix to the apocrypha." Baldrick points out that carrots do not grow on trees, and is accused of being a witch as a result. The Witchsmeller's first witness is called forth, and it is none other than Black Satin. Satin is asked whether he participated in sexual acts with Edmund (or "The Great Grumbledook" as the Witchsmeller has labelled him). Satin naturally is silent, causing the Witchsmeller to declare the horse to be hiding something, and then accuses him of being a servant of Satan and receives a neigh in response. The Witchsmeller asks Harry (who is judging the case) for a recess to interrogate Satin for a confession, which Harry allows.

That night in the dungeons, Edmund is visited by his mother who chides him for being a witch and recalls him as being "a bit of a fibber" to support the charge. Edmund begs her to use her authority to help him, but the queen points out that she hasn't had any power for years. Edmund fearfully points out that he will be burned if found guilty, and the queen simply offers to see if she can "sort out something" before leaving. Percy quickly speaks up and informs Edmund that he has contacted the country's greatest lawyers for aid. Edmund's hopes are raised when he hears that Percy has the replies, and then dashed when he hears no one is interested in saving him. Baldrick soon declares he has a "cunning plan that cannot fail!" (The audience humorously cannot hear the plan as the scene cuts to the dungeon guards having a conversation throughout). Edmund then happily declares that he shall not be so meek during the trial.

The next day, a far more confident Edmund takes the stand and faces the Witchsmeller who informs the court that Black Satin died overnight, but left a "signed confession." According to the confession, Satin admits that Edmund is a servant of Satan and the matter was discussed was discussed over a gallon of blood. The Witchsmeller calls his final witness; Jane, an upper middle-aged villager who confesses to having "wild animal" intercourse with Edmund (who seems to recall this occurrence). She goes on to claim that she bore him a son (despite being past child-bearing age). The Witchsmeller produces "John Grumbledook" aka a poodle (whom Edmund points out looks nothing like him). The Witchsmeller sums up his case by reiterating his "proofs" and moves for sentencing after rallying the hostile crowd. Harry calls for silence and then declares that instead of the three being burned to death, due to their good behaviour they shall be burned alive! The grinning Edmund asks to be allowed to speak, and then shouts "now!" The entire court is amazed as the three enact Baldrick's plan by seemingly jumping through the roof and making their escape (Edmund declares that he will never know how they managed to do this). The three quickly run through the only unlocked door near them, and are attacked by the delirious King Richard (as it was his bedroom door they went through). They manage to escape the mad king, but walk right into the clutches of the guards and are thrown into the dungeons.

The next day, as the stake is being prepared, the three condemned (and now bald) men try and fail to bribe the guards into freeing them just as the queen and Edmund's child-wife Leia arrives. Leia quickly dashes Edmund's hope of a reprieve, and childishly complains that she will not be able to watch the execution in person, but remarks that she will watch it from the window instead. She then gives Edmund a small bag which contains a doll (instead of escape equipment as Edmund was expecting). Leia and the queen rather nonchalantly farewell the three before leaving.

The three are dragged out for their execution just as Baldrick declares he has another cunning plan. The irate Edmund actually swears at Baldrick (censored by a cough) and insists he himself knows how to delay the execution. At the Witchsmeller's prompting, Edmund begins a rather poorly worded "confession" but quickly bores the Witchsmeller who lights the stake ablaze personally. As the fire grows, Edmund complains that he isn't comfortable and tries to squirm to a better position. As he does this, he accidentally drops the doll into the fire (and we see that it resembles the Witchsmeller). The Witchsmeller quickly gasps and howls in pain as he bursts into flames (with Harry only noticing at the last second). As the Witchsmeller burns, the stake flames disappear and the trio's bonds break free, prompting Edmund and Percy to heap praise unto Baldrick, thinking it was his "cunning plan" that saved them, with the confused Baldrick shrugging in response.

The king regains his sanity shortly thereafter and greets his wife and daughter-in-law fondly. Seeing the commotion in the village, he asks what is happening. Leia begins to answer, but the queen gently cuts her off and insists everything is fine, before sparkles fly from her eyes (and we learn that the queen is the real witch). Leia spots this and opens her mouth to scream (just as the credits roll in).

In the post-credits scene, the three enter the castle grounds and Edmund slaps Percy after the latter states "I said he shouldn't have burned that cat."


  • In terms of fan reaction, this is the only first series episode remembered as a "classic".