Trouble in Faerie Land – Part 2: Shipping Robin and Strike in the Epigraphs of “Troubled Blood”

by Dr. Beatrice Groves



There they her sought, and euery where inquired,
Where they might tydings get of her estate;
Yet found they none. But by what haplesse fate,
Or hard misfortune she was thence conuayd,
And stolne away from her beloued mate,
Were long to tell.”
(Troubled Blood, epigraph; Faerie Queene, Book 4, Canto 6, stanza 47)

The opening epigraph of Robert Galbraith’s Troubled Blood tells of how Amoret is sought by Britomart and her beloved Scudamour, and it implicitly connects Margot – one of the many lost and mistreated women of Galbraith/Rowling’s story – with Amoret, one of the many lost and mistreated women of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590/6). Amoret, however, has another significance within Troubled Blood, for her pairing with Scudamour is a perfect example of the way in which Spenser uses a form of nominative determinism (or cratylic naming) to tell us who will end up together. Long before Brangelina (or, indeed, Dramione), The Faerie Queene signaled that characters were born for each other by giving them names that were knit seamlessly together. In the original publication of The Faerie Queene (the first half was published in 1590 when Spenser had only completed the first three books), Scudamour and Amoret are reunited at the end of Book 3, and they enjoy a reunion so complete that “had ye them seene, ye would haue surely thought,/ That they had beene that faire Hermaphrodite,…/ So seemd those two, as growne together quite” (3.12.46). The interlocking nature of their “nominal” marriage is expressed bodily at their reunion. Britomart cannot help envying the bliss she witnesses, but her own name promises just such a union for herself, for she is also in love with someone whose name likewise meshes with her own: Artegall.

Robin and Strike are identified as Britomart and Artegall continuously throughout Troubled Blood. Indeed, Robin-as-Britomart (a link made at least nine times in the epigraphs) is the most thoroughgoing connection drawn between Galbraith/Rowling’s novel and The Faerie Queene. This is good news for the Strike/Robin shippers out there, for the melding of Britomart and Artegall’s names is evidence of their future seamless union. (And it is fitting for both Britomart’s importance with The Faerie Queene – and perhaps for Robin’s increased importance in Troubled Blood – that in the knitting together of Britomart and Artegall’s names it is the woman who comes out on top.)

Artegall is established as the epigraphical stand-in for Strike in the opening chapter: “and such was he, of whom I haue to tell,/ The Champion of true Iustice Artegall” (chapter 1; Faerie Queene, 5.1.3). This is likewise the opening of the fifth book of The Faerie Queene – the Book of Justice. (In a neat touch, Rowling places Spenser’s Book 5 front and center in the fifth book of the Strike series). Each book of The Faerie Queene has a governing virtue along with a central knight who is the “patron” of that virtue. Often, however, these knights seek after this virtue rather than embodying it. For example, Redcrosse, Guyon, and Calidore – the knights of holiness (Book 1), temperance (Book 2), and courtesy (Book 6) – have moments when they fall seriously short of the virtues they claim to espouse. Artegall, likewise, is on a steep learning curve throughout his adventures about the nice distinction between justice and implacable resentment.

Artegall is a particularly satisfying parallel for Strike because Cormoran – although a true knight of justice in his work – has precisely the same issues as Artegall in tempering justice with mercy in his personal life. As we might expect, given the parallels with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Strike is noticeably angrier in this book than in the preceding novels. We have a caps lock Cormoran to parallel emo Harry. Strike’s unacceptable outbursts in Troubled Blood fit with Artegall’s implacability: Just because you truly think your sister’s children are pots of poison does not mean you should tell her so. Just because you have a more in-depth knowledge of the issues than your best friend’s brother does not make it acceptable to derail her dinner party. Just because you hate your biological father does not mean you should ignore the home-truths he has to impart (the reader may suspect the fact that he is not your biological father after all). Strike learns something important when he apologizes to Robin but, like Artegall, we see him throughout this book failing to distinguish between righteous anger and “rigour pittilesse” (Faerie Queene, 2.12.83).

Unlike Artegall (and, indeed, all the male knights of the poem), Britomart perfectly embodies the virtue of her book. Britomart is the knight of chastity, and from the beginning of her book, she exemplifies this pure but open-hearted love (the meaning of the word “chastity” has changed rather sharply…). Rowling has called Robin “the most purely loveable character I’ve written,” and this makes Britomart a perfect fit for her. Chastity, to Spenser, means a generous and unwavering devotion – because Britomart is “chaste,” she will not be side-tracked from her love for Artegall. At the beginning of Book 3, Britomart looks into a magical mirror – or “charmed looking glas” (Faerie Queene, 3.3.24) – and as with the Mirror of Erised, she sees within it her heart’s desire: Artegall. She falls in love with him and sets out on a quest to find the man she has set her heart on, freeing maidens and toppling tyrants along the way.

One reason that Spenser has made his female knight superior to all his male knights is to praise his patron and queen – Elizabeth I. Elizabeth is invited to read herself within The Faerie Queene “in mirrors more than one” (3.proem.5), and some of these mirrors carry an implicit critique of the queen – Mercilla is too merciful, Belphoebe too pitiless, the character of Britomart flatters Spenser’s monarch by being practically perfect in every way. Britomart is not only pure and faithful of heart but she also beats every man she meets in single combat. Through her martial excellence, Spenser implicitly praises Elizabeth for succeeding in a role traditionally gendered as masculine: Elizabeth, he quite rightly implies, was as matchless at governing as Britomart was at fighting.

Rowling uses an epigraph for Britomart beating one of her many challengers as the epigraph to Chapter 42:

…his late fight
With Britomart, so sore did him offend,
That ryde he could not, till his hurts he did amend.” (Faerie Queene. 3.10.1)

This chapter is about Strike and Robin’s row and – by aligning Robin with Britomart – marks Robin as being in the right. But these parallels also emphasize Robin’s physical courage. It is not precisely that Robin is newly bold in Troubled Blood but that her inherent boldness meets with new success. She places herself in danger in defiance of Strike (just as she did in Career of Evil – this book’s pair within the Strike series, but unlike in Career of Evil, she comes away unscathed. Robin’s decision to investigate “Mucky” Ricci is paralleled with Britomart’s entrance into the evil enchanter Busirane’s lair: “in went/ Bold Britomart” (Faerie Queene, 3.12.29; epigraph to chapter 61). Both Britomart and Robin encounter danger in these episodes but return safely having achieved what they set out to do. Likewise, Robin’s solo (and successful) interview of Satchwell is compared by the epigraph to Britomart’s martial defeat of Marinell:

…the sacred Oxe, that carelesse stands,
With gilden hornes, and flowry girlonds crownd…
Doth groueling fall…
The martiall Mayd stayd not him to lament,
But forward rode, and kept her ready way…”
(Faerie Queene, 3.4.17-18; epigraph to chapter 47)

Robin’s victory over Satchwell, like Britomart’s over Marinell, is also a triumph over their opponent’s misogyny. Marinell is an early modern version of an incel who attacks Britomart unprovoked, while Satchwell calls Robin “a nasty little bitch” as she closes her successful interview with him (563). Britomart is “ythrild with deepe disdaine of his proud threat” (Faerie Queene, 3.4.15) and – having bested Marinell – coolly rides on her way, while Robin, similarly unruffled, calmly finishes off Satchwell’s chips.

The epigraph to Chapter 16 is one of Troubled Blood’s most telling epigraphs, signaling – as it does – that Robin and Strike’s future lies along the same path. But this crucial plot information is – characteristically for Rowling – occluded by a joke. (See my Literary Allusion in Harry Potter for more on the way in which Rowling uses this device.) The epigraph reads simply like a flippant comment on Robin noticing afresh Strike’s size as she meets him for breakfast:

Behold the man, and tell me Britomart,
If ay more goodly creature thou didst see;
How like a Gyaunt in each manly part
Beares he himselfe with portly maiestee…” (chapter 16; Faerie Queene, 3.3.32)

But as suggested by the resonant biblical opening (Behold the man” [John 19:5] – Pilate’s famous Ecce Homo”), something more is going on here. This chapter is peppered with knowing comments about Strike and Robin’s reciprocal affection: “‘Oh, that’d be wonderful,’ said Robin, with such genuine pleasure that Strike felt a little less tired” (166). And the epigraph is taken from a crucial Canto in Book 3, in which Merlin tells Britomart of her future. This Canto opens with a celebration of Britomart’s guiding virtue:

Most sacred fire, that burnest mightily
In liuing brests, ykindled first aboue,
Emongst th’eternall spheres and lamping sky,
And thence pourd into men, which men call Loue.” (Faerie Queene, 3.3.1)

What Merlin foretells for Britomart is that she will indeed find and marry the man after whom her heart longs. It is Artegall whom Merlin shows her in a vision as he says “Behold the man” and tells her that this is the man she is going to marry: “The man whom heauens haue ordaynd to bee/ The spouse of Britomart, is Arthegall” (Faerie Queene, 3.3.26).

One of the main functions of The Faerie Queene epigraphs in Troubled Blood, therefore, is to promise us that Robin and Strike will finally get together. The epigraphs, however, do not guarantee that this will happen anytime soon. In sharp contrast to the relatively self-contained narratives of the opening books of the poem, Books 3 and 5 (the two books which are quoted most often in Troubled Blood) are noticeably open-ended. Book 5 ends with Artegall being attacked by the Blatant Beast and the promise (never fulfilled) that the reader will hear more about him later. At the end of Book 3, likewise, the narratives of its three central women – Florimell, Amoret, and Britomart – are all left unresolved. This lack of resolution is something of a leitmotif of the poem in which knights are continually wandering away from their quests and numerous couples are united, only to be parted. Una and Redcrosse are betrothed but separated; Britomart and Artegall are engaged but then go off on their separate adventures; Scudamour and Amoret meld in conjugal bliss at the conclusion of the 1590 Faerie Queene but are torn asunder by Spenser’s rewrite for the final version of the poem. A refusal of neat endings is baked into the form of Spenser’s epic. For as Colin Burrow writes, “A dynastic epic for a maiden Queen is a curious thing: virginity, the chief virtue of Spenser’s Queen and dedicatee, was antipathetic to the whole governing design of his poem. And the great power of The Faerie Queene is that its wistfulness, its teasingly idealizing spirit, is partly the product of an effort to write such an impossible work.”1 Spenser’s unresolved epic does not, therefore, form the most auspicious analog for those who want Strike and Robin to couple up without delay.

But we do know that Britomart and Artegall (and therefore Robin and Strike) will end up together. The epigraph to Chapter 43 promises as much. It is taken from a stanza in which Glauce (the nurse) tells Artegall and Britomart in no uncertain terms that it is high time they stopped fighting and admitted that they are in love with each other:

And you faire Ladie knight, my dearest Dame,
Relent the rigour of your wrathfull will,
Whose fire were better turn’d to other flame;
And wiping out remembrance of all ill,
Graunt him your grace…” (chapter 43; Faerie Queene, 4.6.32)

Glauce suggests that the flames of anger would be put to better use stoking the fires of passion (and we might think of the many quarreling couples throughout literature – Beatrice and Benedict, Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, Ron and Hermione – who fulfill her prescription). The stanza ends with the conscious responses of Britomart and Artegall to her suggestion:

And you faire Ladie knight, my dearest Dame,
Relent the rigour of your wrathfull will,
Whose fire were better turn’d to other flame;
And wiping out remembrance of all ill,
Graunt him your grace, but so that he fulfill
The penance, which ye shall to him empart:
For louers heauen must passe by sorrowes hell.
Thereat full inly blushed Britomart;
But Artegall close smyling ioy’d in secret hart.”

Nurses in early modern literature are famous for being unembarrassed by sex (think of Juliet’s nurse), and Glauce’s words may be rather more innuendo-laden than they at first appear (“hell” was early modern slang for female genitalia). The blushing and inward joy with which the stanza ends proves that the fires of love are very much already burning.

The epigraphs of Troubled Blood – by pairing Robin/Britomart and Strike/Artegall – promise (just as did the epigraphs of Lethal White) that the protagonists will end up together. But these epigraphs also drop significant clues (and red herrings) as to who the murderer might be. My final blog concerning The Faerie Queen will look at how Troubled Blood uses the most famous “love triangle” of Spenser’s poem – Una, Duessa, and Redcrosse – to illustrate Strike’s relationship with Charlotte as well as Robin and to reveal the murderer.

1Colin Burrow, Edmund Spenser: Writers and their Work (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996), 34.

Dr. Beatrice Groves teaches Renaissance English at Trinity College, Oxford and is the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, which is available now. Don’t miss her earlier posts for MuggleNet – such as “Solve et Coagula: Part 1 – Rowling’s Alchemical Tattoo” – all of which can be found at Bathilda’s Notebook. She is also a regular contributor to the MuggleNet podcast Reading, Writing, Rowling.


Writing with cutting-edge literary analysis of the series, Bathilda's Notebook explores the literature and ideas that have most inspired Rowling, from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes.
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