The Queen of Spain's Beard

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"The Queen of Spain's Beard"
Blackadder episode
"Prince Edmund cowers with a look of terror as the ugly Spanish Infanta tries to kiss him"
Prince Edmund (Rowan Atkinson) meets the Spanish Infanta Maria Escalosa (Miriam Margolyes) for the first time
Episode no. Series 1
(The Black Adder)

Episode 4
Written by Rowan Atkinson
Richard Curtis
Original air date 6 July 1983
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"The Queen of Spain's Beard" was the fourth episode of the BBC historical sitcom The Black Adder, the first serial in the Blackadder series. Set in late 15th-century England, the episode parodies the ruthless practice of political marriages between the royal houses of Europe which characterised European politics during the Middle Ages.[1] Its bawdy humour also deals with taboos surrounding premarital sex, gay stereotypes and the practice of child marriage.

The title of the episode is a play on the words attributed to Sir Francis Drake who "singed the beard of the King of Spain" when he attacked the country in 1587.[2]

As with other episodes in this series, the end credits include an acknowledgement of "additional dialogue by William Shakespeare".[3] One scene includes a parody of Richard III in which the third messenger announces in deadpan style the death of Lord Wessex. The fictitious King Richard IV retorts, "I like not this news! Bring me some other news!" echoing Richard III's rebuke to a messenger, "There, take thou that till thou bring better news." (Act 4, scene 4)[4]

The episode introduces a recurring guest star to the Blackadder series, Miriam Margolyes, who plays the part of the Spanish Infanta betrothed to Prince Edmund. Margolyes would later return to play Edmund's Puritan aunt, Lady Whiteadder, in the 1986 episode "Beer" and the part of Queen Victoria in Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988).[1] Margolyes's Infanta is accompanied in "The Queen of Spain's Beard" by an interpreter, played by Jim Broadbent, who would go on to play Albert, Prince Consort opposite her in Blackadder's Christmas Carol. Broadbent was also intended to play Lord Whiteadder in "Beer", but was unavailable for recording. .[5]

Although "The Queen of Spain's Beard" was originally broadcast as episode 4 of the series, on later broadcasts and DVD releases it has been switched with episode 2, "Born to Be King".[6]

Plot[edit]

The year is 1492 and Europe is in disarray as nations go to war and kingdoms rise and fall. In England, Richard IV's court throbs with activity as he and his noblemen plan for war. The King must secure Spain's allegiance in a war with France, and commands his son, Harry, Prince of Wales, to marry the Spanish Infanta.[3] Harry reveals that he is already engaged to a long list of European princesses (and, it is revealed, Jeremey of Estonia and Bernard of Saxe-Coburg), and so the duty falls to Richard's forgotten son, Edmund, Duke of Edinburgh.

Edmund, meanwhile, has been trying unsuccessfully to woo the ladies of the court. After a woman pushes him off the castle ramparts in revulsion because she was expecting Harry, Edmund renounces women. His resolve is weakened when he learns that his father has arranged his marriage to the Infanta Maria Escalosa of Spain and he grows excited when he imagines her as a beautiful princess. The Infanta arrives at court and Edmund is horrified to discover that she is ugly and overweight. Facilitated by her ever-present interpreter, Don Speekingleesh, she declares undying love for Edmund. Terrified by her sexually voracious advances, Edmund retreats to work out a way of getting out of the marriage, which is to take place the following day.

Baldrick hatches a plan: if Edmund can convince the Infanta that he "prefers the intimate company of men", she will not be willing to marry him. Following the example of the Earl of Doncaster, Edmund puts on flamboyant clothes and makeup, adopts stereotypically camp mannerisms and minces into court. Unfortunately, the Infanta misunderstands Edmund's appearance as an attempt to wear traditional Spanish dress to delight her, and her passion is kindled further.

Edmund's next strategy is to get out of the marriage by marrying someone else. He sends Percy to find a suitable fiancée while Baldrick to abducts a priest to perform the ceremony. Edmund – still wearing his flamboyant outfit – attempts to marry a giggling peasant girl, Tally Applebottom, in a clandestine wedding. The ceremony is abruptly halted by Tally's enraged husband, who ejects Edmund by threatening him with a scythe, assuming him to be the Earl of Doncaster.

One the eve of the wedding, Edmund's last hope is to make the Infanta lose her virginity, thus making her ineligible for marriage. He sends Baldrick into the Infanta's bedchamber to "deflower" her. In total darkness, Baldrick is heard struggling desperately, while the Infanta's amorous exclamations are helpfully translated by her interpreter, also present in the tryst. Edmund, feigning sorrow, informs the King Richard that the Infanta is not a virgin. The King brushes the revelation aside – only one of them has to be a virgin (that one, of course, being Edmund).

The following day, the marriage ceremony begins and the Infanta is impatient. A traumatised Baldrick is seen covered in bruises from the previous night's failed mission. Unexpectedly, and to Edmund's great relief, the wedding is suddenly halted when news arrives that Spain and France have joined forces. Realising the only country in Europe England can ally with now is Hungary, the King ejects the Infanta from the court, and declares that Edmund must now marry a Hungarian princess. Edmund is disappointed once again — Princess Leia of Hungary turns out to be an eight-year-old girl. The wedding goes ahead, and Edmund spends his entire wedding night wearily reading fairy tales to his child bride.

Cast[edit]

Important characters are in bold.

Production[edit]

Miriam Margolyes spoke of her enjoyment during the production of "The Queen of Spain's Beard", and was happy to take on role of a fat, hideously ugly Infanta as she held the cast and production team in such affection. It was her first collaboration with Rowan Atkinson, and she expressed admiration that he was able to overcome his stammer and perform as an actor.[7]

Jim Broadbent, who was cast in the role of the Spanish interpreter, had previously worked with Atkinson on Not the Nine O'Clock News. His performance was singled out by writer Richard Curtis as particularly memorable. Broadbent later confessed that he had no idea at the time what a Spanish accent should sound like, and improvised with "a very bad cod Italian accent" — which turned out in the end to be a very successful comedic strategy. Curtis remarked that it was an "astonishing technical feat, to get the rhythms of the English language so completely wrong."[8]

Natasha King (Princess Leia of Hungary) has remarked on the kindness of the cast and crew to her as a child actor and recalled that, at the end of filming, Rowan Atkinson presented her with a bouquet of flowers.[9]

Historical context[edit]

Real-life European Princesses, 1492 and later

Spanish Infanta, Maria of Aragon and Castile (1482–1517)

Anne of Hungary and Bohemia (1503–1547)

The custom of political marriage was widespread amongst the royal families of Europe during the Middle Ages. The episode is set at a time before Spain was fully united; during this period, England was on friendly terms with the Catholic Monarchs Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Among the children of Isabella and Ferdinand was the Infanta Maria of Aragon and Castile (1482–1517). The Kingdom of Hungary was also a predominantly Catholic country, ruled at the time by King Vladislaus II. Although his first two marriages were childless, Vladislaus had a daughter, Princess Anne, who was born in 1503, several year later than the fictional Leia in The Black Adder.[10][11] In 1496, the Archbishop of Glasgow Robert Blackadder led an embassy to Spain to try and win an infanta to marry James IV of Scotland, in an attempt to avert war between Scotland and England. An ambassador from Spain, Don Pedro de Ayala, noted for his fluency in many languages, returned to Scotland with Bishop Blackadder.[12]

Critical assessment[edit]

In her assessment of The Black Adder series, the critic Katharine J. Lewis has examined its comedy genre. She cites several aspects of this episode in particular as elements of traditional situation comedy: the use of scheming, plotting and disguises; and the creation of exaggerated, stereotypical characters (such as the sexually voracious Infanta) for comedic effect. However, Lewis points to its connections with the alternative comedy scene which was growing in the 1980s – Rowan Atkinson, Richard Curtis and John Lloyd had all collaborated on Not the Nine O'Clock News and several actors from the alternative comedy circuit had cameos throughout the series. The Black Adder is said to draw on the controversial and irreverent material of previous alternative comedy productions to lampoon the customs and practices of the mediaeval world.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Roberts, p.118
  2. ^ Lewis, p. 123
  3. ^ a b Rowan Atkinson & Richard Curtis (writers) (6 July 1983). "The Queen of Spain's Beard". The Black Adder. Series 1. Episode 4. BBC. BBC One. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p006cxk2.
  4. ^ "the InfantaThe Queen of Spain's Beard". BBC Comedy. May 2003. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Roberts, p.201
  6. ^ Lewis, p. 124
  7. ^ Roberts, pp.118–9
  8. ^ Roberts, pp.118–120
  9. ^ Roberts, p.120
  10. ^ Coke, Roger (1719). A detection of the court and state of England during the four last reigns and the inter-regnum. p. 100. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Ted Byfield, ed. (2010). The Christians, their first two thousand years Voume 8: Renaissance: God in Man, A.D. 1300 to 1500: But Amid Its Splendors, Night Falls on Medieval Christianity. Edmonton: SEARCH, the Society to Explore and Record Christian History. p. 178. ISBN 9780968987384. 
  12. ^ Ross,, Ian Simpson (1981). William Dunbar. Leiden: E. J. Brill. pp. 47–8. ISBN 9789004062160. 
  13. ^ Lewis, p.116

External links[edit]