Elizabeth(s) the Phoenix
The centrality of Elizabethan imagery in Troubled Blood is hard to miss. The Faerie Queene epigraphs and structuring, already well documented on this site, show the basis of the connection. That this work is meant to parallel Order of the Phoenix is also well documented. I want to suggest that Rowling has clarified much of the meaning of Order of the Phoenix using this imagery, which in turn continues and strengthens a long-running undercurrent in Rowling’s writing: a extensive set of references to 15th through 17th century English ecclesiastical, political, and philosophical history (earlier work directly touching this set of associations in Rowling’s work can be found in this 2009 post).
My core thought here is this: it is not just the one Elizabeth, Elizabeth I, who we are meant to consider. Instead, I think we are meant to focus on the societal and literary impact of four closely intertwined Elizabeths and their associations with the development of English Christianity and esotericism in its many forms. These four are Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth Stuart, and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia.
I’ll grant that this is a fairly large claim, and I may be hunting Crumple Horned Snorkacks (if I am, please let me know), but I think there is this strong thread here worth tracing.
My first suggestion: Fawkes the Phoenix, even if just in name, was always meant to direct our focus to these associated Elizabeths, hiding behind the obvious joke of naming a bird that catches fire after the Guy burned in effigy on Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes is known for his attempt to blow up the Parliament building along with King James I of House Stuart. (Allan Moore’s V for Vendetta and associated film and merchandise have made him recently popular as a symbol of revolt in the spirit of Blake’s reading of Milton’s Satan, which is a terribly ironic fate for a radical Catholic like Fawkes.) A less frequently noted part of Fawkes’s plan was to establish the very young Elizabeth Stuart as a new Catholic monarch of England. The name “Fawkes” was thus already associated with this second Elizabeth.
However, the image of the phoenix has a strong connection to Elizabeth I. In one of the more notable portraits of Elizabeth I, she is depicted alongside a phoenix. Further, a lesser-known narrative poem by Shakespeare, The Phoenix and the Turtle, has been read as a poem in honor of a secret relationship of Elizabeth I and John Salisbury, in which Elizabeth is represented by the phoenix and John Salisbury by the turtledove. They are described as having a love such that they are in “essence but in one; two distincts, division none”. For many years the language of this poem here has reminded me of Dumbledore’s moment of recognition or near-recognition that Harry was a Horcrux in Order of the Phoenix: “In essence divided.” (OotP, Chapter 22). (A personal note, this connection was my earliest fan-theory, one I was investigating while waiting for the release of Half-Blood Prince). That this moment occurs in the very same chapter as the Everard reference that was central to this blog’s earlier investigation into Rowling’s use of ecclesiastical English history (linked above) I do not believe to be coincidental.
Shakespeare’s poem centers on the uniting love between the Phoenix and the Turtle, but depicts it as a tragic love that leaves only a spiritual posterity. That a funeral pyre should be as fatal to a phoenix as Shakespeare seems to depict is odd, given the nature of phoenixes. This uniting of opposites in death that brings about a spiritual rebirth, with the hope of resurrection, is a very common theme in Shakespeare. Those familiar with Alchemical symbolism will also recognize it as the image of the Alchemical Wedding that yields the Philosophical Orphan, the Philosopher’s Stone. Shakespeare has placed Elizabeth I as the white queen or philosophical quicksilver of the Alchemical Wedding, in the image of a resurrection bird. My suggestion: we should look for a long-running poetic identification of multiple Elizabeths as ever returning phoenixes with alchemical associations.
In Fawkes the Phoenix, the one who would have elevated the one Elizabeth to the throne made into the representation of the former Elizabeth, we have our first hint at Rowling directing us to attend to these figures. The question going forward is how this association plays out historically and in Rowling’s writings.
Shanker in (the) Shakespeare’s Head: A Brief Look at Tudor Propaganda
Troubled Blood’s cover image of the Astrological clock is in reference to the scene in the book where they meet Cynthia, playing the role of Anne Boleyn. This leads up to the chapter of the work in which we meet Roy (“king”), who is depicted as a Henry VIII figure. This is also the chapter that includes the series’ only inclusion of the name Hermes. As has been noted, with request for me to notice, the new Hermetic/Aesclepian Zodiac sign of Ophiuchus has also been given to Roy. In my initial reading, having seen Hermetic signs as the decisive subtle indicator of who the potential murderer would be in all previous Strike books, I jumped to Roy as my chief suspect. (The Hermes-reference as sign for the murderer did continue in this book but was very subtle compared to a large number of Hermetic red herrings.) However, that pointers to Roy deserved as glaring a sign as the first series mention of the name Hermes needs explaining.
I maintain my running theory that Shanker plays the series-wide role as Hermes figure, hiding in the underground world and emerging like Agatha Christie’s Mr. Harley Quin to reveal much needed facts to the main detective when needed. Here he appears in a pub called The Shakespeare’s Head, and warns about the Riccis. The chief figure in the book that accuses the Riccis of Margot’s murder is Uncle Tudor.
Tying these threads together, the central Hermetic character and the central Hermes reference both point to Henry VIII of the House of Tudor, notable for his establishment of the Anglican church in separation off from the Roman Catholic Church (represented, however unfairly and potentially problematically, by the Riccis). The relevant question here is this: what did the Hermetic/Alchemical tradition, i.e. “Hermes”, have to say about Henry VIII and the Tudors in “Shakespeare’s Head”?
Shakespeare, particularly in his historical plays, presented an account that was very biased in favor of the Tudors. However, as Shakespeare, he presented it in fine alchemical detail. Consider the account we get from Shakespeare of the Wars of the Roses.
His account goes something like this: war has raged in England for decades between two quarrelling houses, The House of York and the House of Lancaster. These two houses battling for control of the English throne have chosen two roses to represent them: the white rose of the House of York and the red rose of the House of Lancaster. The English throne is now held by the villainous and deformed King Richard III. A climactic battle between the two houses begins at Bosworth Field. The Lancastrian side is led by Henry Tudor against the Yorkist side led by Richard. A horseshoe nail is insufficiently fitted, leading to a horse that is not prepared for battle, leading to Richard losing the battle and the kingdom of England. (Insert poem here…) Henry Tudor, now victorious, claims the throne of England and marries the heiress of the Yorkist house, Elizabeth of York, uniting the two warring houses. Henry takes as his new sigil a double rose, a White Yorkist Rose centered within the Red Lancastrian Rose, the Tudor Rose. A providentially gained victory in a battle between a quarrelling couple of houses has allowed the rebirth of peace by the great Wedding of the White Queen and Red King.
It makes for a great story, not great history. There is almost no evidence that the house of York had taken the White Rose as its sigil at any time during the war. The double rose as indicative of two united houses seems to have been an invention of Henry VII. Shakespeare, noticing the Alchemical usefulness of this image, seems to have constructed his histories as accounts of history in which providence directs history to the good, recognized as providential by its use of alchemical signs. We may thus credit Shakespeare with not only the development of literary alchemy, but also with the development of an early theory of history that understands providence as performing alchemically structured changes in world events to bring about an ever-improving world.
Alchemy, especially in Shakespeare’s mind, was thus one of two core aspects of pro-Tudor propaganda leading up to and following (and attempting to justify) the English reformation. The other aspect was a strong association with the Arthurian mythos. The Tudors claimed that, as they originated from the south-west of Britain (Wales and Cornwall!), they could claim descent and heirship to Arthur. This association and claim of Arthurian kingship was so strong that Henry VIII’s elder brother (who would have become king had he not died very young) was named Arthur. Arthur’s funeral notably featured the sigil of Brutus, the legendary grandson of Aeneas who supposedly founded the line of Arthur. (Cormoran’s strong association with Cornwall may be setting his narrative up to center on him as an Arthur figure, the “bear of Cornwall”. Charlotte as Mordred?) This Arthurian association of the Tudors is central to Spencer’s Faerie Queene, which takes the Matter of Britain as the backdrop for poetry in praise of Elizabeth I.
A Very Rosicrucian Wedding, and The War that Followed
By the Hermetic pointer to Tudor propaganda in Shakespeare, we saw the first of our Elizabeths, Elizabeth of York, depicted as playing the role of white queen in an Alchemical wedding, bringing about the fruits of a restored Arthurian monarchy and consequent English church, all supposedly justified by the alchemical-historical workings of providence that we learned from Shakespeare. For Elizabeth I, we saw the continued associations with the Arthurian mythos and alchemical imagery in Spencer’s The Faerie Queene and Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle. So, after Guy Fawkes failure to bend this providential arc towards a Catholic monarchy in Britain, does this pattern continue with Elizabeth Stuart? Yes, and it was the work of the Rosicrucians.
During the early 1600s, amid the conflicts emerging from the Reformation, three pamphlets were issued: the Fama Fraternitatis, the Confessio Fraternitatis, and The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz. These described a secret society, the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, also known as the Rosicrucians, that had supposedly been working secretly for a century to bring about a new age of strongly Hermetic scientific and social progress under enlightened Protestant government. Whether such a secret society actually existed or not, the effect of these manifestos on European society at the time was immense. Numerous organizations claiming to be Rosicrucians emerged and have continued to emerge since.
Around this time, Elizabeth Stuart was married to Frederick V, Elector Palatinate (Later King of Bohemia). This marriage was aimed at forming an alliance between Protestant Britain and one of the chief strongholds of Protestant Germany. The wedding and surrounding celebrations, arranged by Francis Bacon (the notable philosopher often attributed with founding modern empiricism), featured the now familiar alchemical color scheme for the main couple, along with a presentation of the finale of Shakespeare’s Tempest in celebration of the couple.
Shortly thereafter, Frederick, relying upon anticipated British support, declared himself king of Bohemia, challenging the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor. This attempt to bring about a strongly Protestant Europe was the spark of the Thirty Years War. Lacking British support, Frederick and his forces were defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in November of 1920.
According to The Rosicrucian Enlightenment by Francis Yates, a history of the Rosicrucian order, this marriage alliance was seen as central by, and was perhaps even orchestrated by, the Roscicrucians, who viewed such a strongly alchemically tinted wedding as providentially destined to bring about their Hermetic-scientific enlightenment in a grand Protestant alliance. Many of the details of the wedding from The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreuz had their root in the wedding of Elizabeth and Frederick (including an strong association of the Order of the Garter, itself an organization with strong Arthurian overtones, with the Rosicrucian order). The idea: we have seen providence move in Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth I to bring about Protestantism and enlightenment in Britain, let us set up a providential alchemical manipulation of historical events by arranging this new alchemical wedding of Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick. Their hopes of such providential manipulation failed at the Battle of White Mountain. The remnant of the Rosicrucians afterword no longer played as central or as political a role, but instead centered themselves around the advancement of Hermetic science, chiefly mathematics.
This is notable for interpretation of Rowling’s work primarily in this: we have a historical secret society dedicated to improving society through the actions of Elizabeth Stuart. Such a society could be very well renamed the Order of the Phoenix. The same Phoenix that Fawkes had tried to set in power.
Francis Bacon and the Department of Mysteries
Francis Bacon, the philosopher commonly known for starting empiricism as a primary school of thought, played a minor role in the above events as previously mentioned. It is unclear whether he was part of the Rosicrucians or not, particularly in the distance he kept from them. However, part of this may have been a desire to keep his place in English political life following the strong anti-magic backlash in England following John Dee. However, some of his work, particularly a story he wrote of an ideal scientific society called The New Atlantis feature elements obviously borrowed from the Rosicrucian Fama Fraternitatis.
In The New Atlantis Bacon describes a very scientifically advanced society that is directed by an organization called Salomon’s House, dedicated to advanced scientific experiments. The list of their experiments include one in which they have substances “tinted upon vitriol” (p. 100). (They have the Philosopher’s Stone! They have found the Green Lion!) Other experiments, many of which we would now think of as magical or focused on the very principles of nature, are accomplished here. One of the divisions of workers in this experimental laboratory are called “Mystery Men”, and all the activities of this society are kept secret until they can release a useful piece of technology to the outside world.
It has always seemed odd to me that the Department of Mysteries and the unspeakables who work there should operate so experimentally (the room dedicated to love has them testing the effects of love potions?). Why do metaphysics by experiment? However, this reservation to experiment is in part due to seeing the naturalistic tendencies that have emerged in the ensuing centuries out of Bacon’s thought. S.T. Coleridge instead interpreted Bacon as advocating, not the reductive empiricism we have come to associate with Bacon, but instead a scientific methodology designed to allow “the pure light” to properly illuminate the intellect with the natures of things. It starts to sound as though the Department of Mysteries is full of Coleridgean natural philosophers, inspired by the near-Rosicrucianism of Francis Bacon.
The Fourth Elizabeth, Descartes, and the Quakers
Following their defeat at the Battle of White Mountain, Elizabeth and Frederick fled with their family to Holland. Their daughter, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, became known throughout Europe as a great philosopher (whose work has only recently entered mainstream philosophical discussion due to efforts to highlight the work of too often forgotten women philosophers). She was notable for at least two extended sets of correspondences with major thinkers of the age.
Rene Descartes is popularly known for introducing a strong tradition of rationalism in philosophy, clear reasoning from certain foundations. He is also known for expressing the idea that the soul and body are two separate but united substances. Less well known are his fairly strong ties to the Rosicrucian order, particularly in his mathematical work. Mathematics had at this time become popularly understood as a strongly magical discipline, enough that in Bacon’s work there is a clear implication that magic is synonymous with applied mathematics (also explaining Bacon’s aversion to any public affirmation of the value of mathematics). Many of the advances in mathematics made by Descartes rely upon an understanding of the value of direct intuition of natures aided by the imagination toward the illumination by the “natural light”. (Descartes favors the imagination and direct intuition more than his rigorously logical popular reputation would lead one to believe.) For much of his career as mathematician and philosopher he lived in Holland, attempting to receive patronage from Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick (how much of this was due to his Rosicrucian associations is largely speculative). He had a long friendship and correspondence with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia. She is notable for being one of the first to provide a firm challenge to his views of mind-body dualism. The account of soul in the Harry Potter books is strongly Cartesian, in which the soul is capable of being separated from the body without the death of the body. Here we see a first attempt within the move towards modern science to defend the immortality of the soul, a core theme in Rowling. The strong influence of Descartes upon the Cambridge Platonists and thence to Coleridge will need discussion elsewhere.
The second notable correspondence maintained by Elisabeth of Bohemia was with William Penn and other central Quaker thinkers, a fact noted in the philosopher Voltaire’s account of the Quakers in Britain. The Christian-magus and Rosicrucian influenced side of the Quaker tradition (“inner light”!) and their relation to Rowling’s work has been discussed and detailed elsewhere on this site, so I will not go into detail here.
This fourth Elisabeth, while not associated with large scale attempts at political-historical-alchemy, in these correspondences helped set the stage for the development of philosophy that led to the Cambridge Platonists and S.T. Coleridge.
Areas to Build
I have presented a simultaneously rushed and perhaps over-long explanation of my theory here. In sum, I think Rowling has, throughout her work but particularly in the fifth book of each series, been pointing to the narrative of the influence of alchemical and hermetic thought as it had centered itself on four women named Elizabeth in the 15th through 17th century. More detail, more rigorous citation, and deeper research will eventually be necessary to elaborate this, but I think the above is a sound foundation on which to build. Feel free, however, to let me know if you think I am hunting up all the wrong trees for terribly elaborate red herrings.
Further questions to continue:
1. I suggest it may be worth looking at Rowling’s treatment of prophecy as Hermetic in relation to Shakespeare’s alchemical-providential theory of history. What dangers arise from prophesying or trying to influence events by interpreting the alchemical “signs of the times”?
2. A close reread of Order of the Phoenix may be in order, given the direction and emphasis Troubled Blood has given to its associated history.
Some Works Referenced:
The Rosicrucian Enlightenment-Francis Yates
New Atlantis and the Great Instauration- Francis Bacon (ed. Weinberger)
Descartes’ Secret Notebook– Amri Aczel
The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz
General histories of the Wars of the Roses and the Thirty Years War