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Edmund Blackadder is the single name given to a collection of fictional characters who appear in the BBC mock-historical comedy series Blackadder, each played by Rowan Atkinson. Although each series is set within a different period of British history, each character is part of the same familial dynasty and is usually called Edmund Blackadder. Each character also shares notable personality traits and characteristics throughout each incarnation. In a 2001 poll conducted by Channel 4, Edmund Blackadder was ranked third on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.
Each Blackadder is positioned in a different place in British society over each series, with the character mostly falling in social rank through history. He moves from a prince (The Black Adder) to a lord (Blackadder II), a knight (Blackadder: The Cavalier Years), a royal attendant (Blackadder III), a shopkeeper (Blackadder's Christmas Carol), to an army captain (Blackadder Goes Forth). Throughout each series, Blackadder is a self-serving, cynical opportunist concerned solely with increasing his own influence, status and wealth. His character is symbolized by the adder, the United Kingdom's only native venomous snake, which sometimes appears in the series as a visual motif.
With the exception of the first Blackadder incarnation, Prince Edmund, each is generally cynical, charismatic and intelligent. While he is haunted by bad luck, he is usually very capable of manipulating his way out of a crisis and in securing for himself some degree of prestige and fortune. Blackadder is also usually one of the few intelligent people present at any given time and is usually surrounded by incompetent, slow-witted servants, equals and superiors. As a result, he possesses an acerbic wit and is usually prepared with numerous quick put-downs, which are often wasted on those at whom they are directed.
He is frequently present at some of the defining moments of British history, but usually views his contemporaries with unbridled contempt, regardless of their historical importance or interest. He is also generally dismissive of the contemporary arts and culture in the various eras in which he lives, such as medieval folk pageants, Shakespeare, Romanticist poetry, and Charlie Chaplin films.
Each Blackadder is also surrounded by various other figures who reappear over the series. Most, such as his manservant Baldrick and the various imbecilic aristocrats with whose company he is lumbered (such as Lord Percy Percy or George), are usually hindrances to him.
In this section, brief descriptions of the various Edmund Blackadders who have appeared in their own series or in another notable Blackadder production are provided.
Prince Edmund (1461-1498) is the first man in the dynasty to refer to himself as 'The Black Adder'. He appears in the first series, set shortly after The Wars of the Roses. He is the second son of the fictional King Richard IV of England, who, we are told at the beginning, was cast from all historical references by his successor, Henry Tudor. Prince Edmund is a very different character from his descendants: he is slow-witted, cowardly, and the butt of the other characters' jokes. While he is as devious and amoral as his descendants, his Machiavellian schemes are usually spurred on by other characters. The Prince does show wit on occasion and is creatively insulting, although, with the exception of Baldrick and Percy, it is usually once his target is out of sight. He can be cunning and devious himself, but usually needs more help than his descendants--occasionally claiming Baldrick's plans as his own after dismissing them moments before. For all this he is determined and driven to power: his primary concern is to seize the English throne and become king. After the death of Richard IV and Edmund's older brother Harry, he is briefly King of England; a lyric one of the closing credits for Black Adder II describes him as "a king / Although for only thirty seconds". Prince Edmund is one of the many Blackadders to be killed on screen: he dies after accidentally drinking poisoned wine, although he had already been severely mutilated by his childhood nemesis, the Duke of Burgundy.
Edmund, Lord Blackadder is the next-seen member of the dynasty, appearing in Elizabethan England. He is the central character of Black Adder II, and is a nobleman in the court of Elizabeth I of England. Although his 'great-grandfather' was Prince Edmund, he is much more intelligent, charismatic, acerbic, handsome and respected than his ancestor. Despite that fact, Edmund's aristocratic title has lowered; he is now simply a lord, rather than a Prince. His main concerns are pleasing his Queen, depicted here as a childish, spoiled tyrant, and in outwitting his various contemporary rivals, usually in the form of Lord Melchett, for her favour. At the end of his series, this Edmund was murdered by Prince Ludwig the Indestructible of Germany. Blackadder thought he had murdered Ludwig but at the end of the credits, Ludwig came back and murdered Edmund, Queenie and the rest of the court. He then posed as Queenie after the assassination.
The character shift from Prince Edmund in the first series to Lord Blackadder in the second is credited to the involvement of Ben Elton, who joined as the show's co-writer alongside Richard Curtis. The latter Edmund became the de facto archetype; nearly all subsequent Blackadders in the series were modelled after Edmund, Lord Blackadder - the exception being Ebenezer Blackadder, who initially began as the nicest man in England to the point of naivete but who gradually fell back into the standard persona after being abused by almost everyone around him.
Sir Edmund Blackadder appears in the Comic Relief special Blackadder: The Cavalier Years. Set after the English Civil War, Sir Edmund is (apparently) a loyal royalist and friend of Charles I of England, played by Stephen Fry. This Blackadder also appeared in an introductory sequence for Charles, Prince of Wales' fiftieth birthday Gala Performance, in which he was supposedly organising a birthday show for Charles II (also Fry).
Edmund Blackadder, Esq., is the Blackadder appearing in the Regency period of British history. His family having fallen on hard times, he is reduced to a life of servitude, a fall made even more insufferable by his position as butler to the oafish and uncouth George, the Prince Regent. Despite this, he remains keenly intelligent (by far sharper than most of the people he associates with), and is usually found stealing from his employer. This is the only one of the main four incarnations not to be killed onscreen (the first two are murdered, whilst the fourth dies in battle); while history records this version of Blackadder as having been shot dead by the Duke of Wellington, in actuality Prince George is masquerading as Blackadder and vice versa, which results in Blackadder assuming his identity and later becoming King George IV.
Ebenezer Blackadder, the Victorian Blackadder, appears in Blackadder's Christmas Carol. Unlike his ungenerous, cynical ancestors, he is by repute the nicest man in Victorian England. Unfortunately, this only serves to make him a target for the cynical crooks and cheats he is surrounded by, and a Christmas Carol-like encounter with the "Ghost of Christmas" sees him greatly inspired by his snide-yet-triumphant ancestors; he learns that if he reverts to their ways his descendants will rule the universe, if not they will end up as Baldrick's slaves in the same time period. Upon the departure of the Ghost, Blackadder renounces his compassion and reverts to type on the spot.
Captain Edmund Blackadder appears in Blackadder Goes Forth, set during World War I. A long-time soldier, early in his career Blackadder was "The Hero of Umboto Gorge", a (fictional) battle that took place in Upper Volta in 1892, during which he saved the life of Douglas Haig. He also served in the 1898 Sudan War, and makes reference to having spent most of his career away from Britain.
Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Blackadder found life in the British Army agreeable, as he had enjoyed a relatively danger-free existence fighting natives who were usually "two feet tall and armed with dried grass." Now an officer in the British Army during World War I, Blackadder is acutely aware of the slaughter that awaits those going into battle. Characteristically reluctant to meet his end in the mud of the trenches of the Western Front, this Blackadder's sole goal is to escape his inevitable fate. Blackadder's attempts to escape are thwarted by General Melchett, who does not realize the futility of the war, and Melchett's assistant Captain Darling, his sycophantic right-hand man.
In the series finale, "Goodbyeee", Captain Blackadder and his company go over the top in 1917 to their implied deaths.
In the series, Captain Blackadder is seen wearing the following ribbons:
Lord Edmund Blackadder is the modern representative of the Blackadder family. He intends to play a turn-of-the-millennium-prank on his friends by claiming that he has a time machine - only to be unpleasantly surprised that the device that Baldrick has actually built (following Leonardo da Vinci's instructions to the letter, except for marking values on the instrument display) actually is a working time machine. He manages to alter time by:
He restores history but then has the idea of changing history in his favour. In the present day, a news report shows the popular King Edmund III and his queen, Marion of Sherwood, being greeted by the prime minister, Baldrick. With Baldrick working as his prime minister and Parliament dissolved, the Blackadder and Baldrick families have finally triumphed and become rulers of the UK.
Although not appearing within their own series or one-off special, various other Blackadders have appeared or been alluded to over the course of the series.
Several relatives of the Blackadder family include the Puritan Whiteadders, and the Highlander clan of MacAdder. Various one-off specials have introduced other Blackadders throughout history, from the Roman Centurion Blaccadicus, to a Grand Admiral Blackadder in the distant future who becomes ruler of the universe.
At the 2000 Royal Variety Performance, Atkinson performed a short monologue called "Blackadder: The Army Years" as Captain Lord Edmund Blackadder of Her Royal Highness's Regiment of Shirkers. It is possible that Captain Lord Blackadder is the same modern day Lord Blackadder seen in "Back and Forth", although no mention of military rank is made there.
In 2002, during the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II trailers for the Party at the Palace featured the Keeper of Her Majesty's Lawn Sprinklers, Sir Osmond Darling-Blackadder, who was against the idea. Sir Osmond also co-hosted the light-hearted documentary on the celebrations Jubilee Girl. He is notable for being one of the few members of the family not to be named Edmund, and also for his double barrelled name, suggesting a family connection to Kevin Darling.
In the Blackadder script book The Whole Damn Dynasty, a number of Blackadders are mentioned, beginning with a Druid by the name of Edmun, who is later succeeded by the Duc d'Blackadder, who is believed to have been the man who shot Harold II at The Battle of Hastings.
Blackadder is a genuine surname, its usage in the UK currently documented back to the 15th century, which may explain the choice of the name, with the first series being set in this time period. The name is thought to be mostly Scottish in origin, which is not contradicted in the series, as the first Blackadder begins as the Duke of Edinburgh. In the third series it is revealed that a branch of the Blackadder family is a significant clan in Scotland, although they have become known by the name MacAdder. There is a Clan Blackadder in reality. Dr Eric Blackadder, Chief Medical Officer at the BBC at the time of the first programme, claims that the series is named after him.
Among historical members of the Clan, in 1502 Robert Blackadder Archbishop of Glasgow presided over a botched ceremony where James IV of Scotland swore to keep perpetual peace with England. At the first attempt the King read his oath from a paper where "France" was written instead of "England."
George Buchanan introduced a real Edmund Blackadder in his Rerum Scoticarum Historia, writing that Mary, Queen of Scots embarked on a boat at Leith to sail to Alloa Tower in June 1566, crewed by "William and Edmond Blackadder, Edward Robertson and Thomas Dickson, all Bothwell's vassals and notorious pirates." In 1567 her husband Lord Darnley was assassinated in mysterious circumstances after an explosion in Edinburgh. This Captain William Blackadder was one of the first upon the scene and taken to be one of the conspirators. He was accused, scapegoated for the murder, and executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered, with each of his four limbs being sent to a different Scottish city to be put on display. Later it was said that he had only appeared on the street after hearing the explosion while drinking in a tavern at the Tron on the Royal Mile. Edmund Blackadder was at the battle of Carberry Hill in June 1567, and was one of the first to abandon the Queen and ride away.
A Major General Charles Blackader served in the British army during the First World War, commanding an Indian colonial brigade and the 38th (Welsh) Division on the Western Front, and a territorial brigade in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916.