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Born to be King

"Born to be King" is the second episode of the The Black Adder, the first series of the BBC sitcom Blackadder.


Service under a regent

In 1486, the second year of his reign, and reportedly "the year in which the egg replaced the worm as the lowest form of currency", King Richard IV departs to join a new Crusade against the Ottoman Empire. Prince Harry is appointed Regent for the duration of his absence, and Prince Edmund sees the event as his "chance for some real power".

However, 12 months later, in the autumn of 1487, Edmund is seen flocking sheep. Harry informs him that their father will return by St. Leonard's Day on November 6 and that there will be a celebration for both events. Harry will handle the visiting Royals, the guards of honour, and the Papal legate, and delegates to Edmund the organisation of the festivities and attending to the storm drains. Harry looks forward to the Morris dancers, eunuchs and bearded women he feels sure will be part of the entertainment, and Edmund pretends to be honoured by his appointment.

Edmund soon finds difficulties with his new duties: he hates Morris dancers, and the only available bearded woman had recently shaved her beard. He is not particularly impressed when Lord Percy Percy suggests hiring "The Jumping Jews of Jerusalem", but is more in favor of the play The Death of the Pharaoh. Baldrick suggests hiring Jerry Meriwether and His Four Chickens, to which Edmund consents out of desperation, as the eunuchs also turn down his offer.

Harry is displeased to learn that there will be no eunuchs in a feast honouring a eunuch Saint. He also regrets the loss on behalf of Dougal McAngus, Marquess of Kintyre and Lorne, Supreme Commander of the King's Army, who is expected at the feast, and who has a preference for eunuchs (Harry believes this to be due to the great warrior being Scottish). Edmund later complains to Lord Percy and Baldrick about this "Scottish orangutan". Nevertheless, Edmund declares he will find suitable entertainers for him. He orders Baldrick to get a nice dress and perform as a bearded lady, and is not surprised to find Baldrick excited with the idea. He also sends Lord Percy to hire Bernard the Bear Baiter and to make sure that this year he comes with a bear.(We hear later that Bernard brings a rabbit.)

Encounter with Dougal McAngus

Dougal McAngus soon arrives with recently-won Turkish treasures and news from the crusaders. He also gives the regards of his father to the Queen consort, being unaware that during his journey to England his father has died and that he is now Fourth Duke of Argyll. Harry then attempts to introduce Dougal to Edmund, and Dougal mistakes Edmund for a eunuch. When Edmund introduces himself as the Duke of Edinburgh, McAngus complains about the Duke being as Scottish as "as the Queen of England's tits ".

Harry attempts to defuse the situation by informing McAngus that his heroic efforts in battle have won the favour of the King, and his latest correspondence instructed Harry to offer McAngus whatever he desires. Edmund is not pleased when Dougal asked "fair Selkirk, and the noble shire of Roxburgh", as these lands in fact belong to him. When he complains that this would only leave him with Peebles, McAngus is reminded to ask for Peebles as well. At first angry that: "Well! What an absurd idea, giving away half of Scotland to a kilted maniac for slaughtering a couple of syphilitic Turks!", a little persuasion at swordpoint by McAngus is enough for Edmund to change his mind and give McAngus all the land he asks for.

Soon, Edmund started planning to attack McAngus "in the Great Hall, and in the bladder". Percy expresses his concern that doing the deed "in front of everyone" will possibly cause them to "suspect something". Baldrick suggests a plan to get McAngus to stick his own head down a cannon and then blow it off, which marks Baldrick's first "cunning plan" of many through the four Blackadder series. Edmund dismisses this plan when his eye is caught by the advertisement for the Egyptian play, and he develops a more "subtle" plan. He then, however, catches sight of McAngus going out on a hunting trip, and decides to follow the Scotsman hoping for an opportunity to expeditiously finish him off. Soon enough, Edmund is literally caught in the snare of his rival.

Quick at improvising, Edmund initiates his subtle plan, offering McAngus the eponymous role in the performance of the Mystery play The Death of the Scotsman (the above-mentioned The Death of the Pharaoh with a telling change of title). He assures McAngus there won't be much acting, and McAngus happily accepts, saying he can certainly act dead, and Blackadder mutters "I said there won't be much acting". This play within a play scheme is reminiscent of Hamlet, continuing the Shakespearian theme from the previous episode.

On the night of the fateful performance, McAngus approaches Edmund to reveal that the Third Duke of Argyll and the Queen were former lovers, claiming to have letters proving the affair, thus disputing the parentage of Harry. Seeing a chance of removing Harry from the line of succession, Edmund prevents the assassination.

Claiming the throne

Later, Edmund has the chance to examine the letters himself. They are dated 1460, his brother's year of birth. McAngus even suggests to Edmund that: "If you played your cards right, you could become King." He claims Richard IV was last seen entering Constantinople alone, armed with only a fruit knife and facing 10,000 Turks armed with scimitars.

Soon enough, an excited Edmund reveals the letters to the Royal court, claiming Harry to be illegitimate and the King (probably) deceased. Lord Percy is the first to shout "The King is dead! Long live the King!" But at that moment Richard IV makes a grand entrance, claiming to have survived "thanks to my trusty fruit knife!".

Edmund is surprised but does try to show the letters to his father, and it is found that the letters date from November-December 1460, nine months after Harry was born, and nine months before Edmund was born. Edmund was quick to claim the letters to be forgeries and burns them out of feigned disgust. In the heat of the moment, Edmund also challenges McAngus (his possible half-brother) to a duel. Dougal is quick to accept, and Richard looks forward to the entertainment.

The duel is a short-lived one. McAngus disarms Edmund with a single blow of the sword, and with a sword to his neck, Edmund begs for his life, offering everything he had to Dougal:

I'm, I'm hardly a rich man. But, but my horse must be worth a thousand ducats. I can sell my wardrobe - the pride of my life - my swords, my curtains, my socks, and my fighting cocks. My servants I can live without, except perhaps he who oils my rack. And then my most intimate treasures: my collection of antique codpieces, my wigs for state occasions, my wigs for private occasions, and my wigs - heh - for humorous occasions; my collection of pokers, autographed miniature of Judas Iscariot.
McAngus prentends at first to be about to strike but then reveals his interest in the wigs, showing no hard feelings. Soon afterwards, Harry sees Edmund and Dougal keeping company, and believes them to have become firm friends. However, it is shown that Edmund goes through with Baldrick's plan and McAngus dies in an "accident" involving a cannon.

The Pilot

The second episode, "Born to be King" is a remake of the original unaired pilot, with the following differences:

  • The King is not at the crusades, but at home.
  • McAngus discovers that Edmund's parentage is in doubt at the same time as the rest of the court, rather than knowingly setting him up to reveal it.
  • Edmund's plot to kill McAngus involves a hanging with a fake rope, not a staged stabbing with a real dagger, although the plan backfires in much the same way.
  • The King, Prince Henry, and Baldrick are played by different actors, respectively John Savident, Robert Bathurst and Philip Fox.
  • Edmund's character is much more like that of his descendants in the other seasons: more sarcastic and intelligent.

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