Troubled Blood: The Secret of Rowntree

Rattenbury, the yapping terrier in Lethal White, had a name that turned out to be a hidden key to the novel’s murder mystery. In brief, there was a historical real-world murder case featuring a Rattenbury on which the patricide of Strike4 could have been modelled. See Louise Freeman’s Rattenbury the Wonder Dog: The Secret of Lethal White’s Yapping Terrier for that fascinating story.

It turns out that Rowntree, the Ellacott’s aging chocolate Labrador retriever, also has a name with significant meaning. To English men and women, especially those in Yorkshire, the name ‘Rowntree’ has the same association that ‘Hershey’ or ‘Nestle’ has for Americans and non-Brits; it is the name of the largest chocolate confectionery concern in their area.  Here are my three quick-thoughts on this subject:

(1) Chocolate is the Background Flavor and Food of Rowling’s Work, Bar None: See Troubled Blood: Poisoned Chocolates’ for the lengthy run-down of almost every mention of chocolate in Strike 5 — I left out the cries of Lucy’s children for “Coco Pops” in the book’s opening chapters (36) — and many of those in Harry Potter. Outside of crosses, water, and ‘coincidences,’ chocolate saturates the atmosphere of Troubled Blood. The Rowntree chocolate-name is just another sweet echo, one tied to the Strike series’ biggest cocoa-lover, Robin Ellacott.

I noted in that post that Robin’s brother brings her chocolates on his Valentine’s Day visit to her London flat with college friends either because either it is the reflex present of clueless males who believe like Strike that “Everybody likes chocolates” and therefore no more thought is necessary in gift-giving or he knows that Robin loves chocolates. That the Rowling family dog is a chocolate Labrador retriever and is named for a chocolate company and Robin spends much of Christmas time unwrapping chocolates for her sister-in-law, nursing mum, not to mention it is her default choice for snacking in the series, suggests the brother knows she would like them.

(2) Rowntree Chocolates Have Strong Ties to Quaker-ism: As Jon Martin explains in ‘A Quick History of Chocolate and Quakerism,’ the Rowntrees of York were after more than money in their confectionery factories.

Besides oats, the food Quakers are possibly most associated with is chocolate. In the 18th and early 19th centuries British Quakers founded a whole range of businesses, manufacturing everything from shoes to biscuits. But it was the success of the Quaker confectionery companies – Cadbury of Birmingham, Rowntree’s of York, and Fry’s of Bristol – that left the strongest impression on the public. Unlike the oats, which are Quaker only in name and have no link to Quakers, these businesses were rooted in Quakerism in their early years.

Part of the reason that Quakers chose the confectionery business was due to matters of conscience. Cocoa and sugar appeared to be ethical alternatives to alcohol, seen as a cause of great moral evil to Quakers of the time. The companies were primed to succeed as Quakers had already built up a reputation for business integrity, thanks to their faith-inspired insistence on fair pricing and paying off debts.

The ‘Chocolate Makers’ article at explains how the Cadbury and Rowntree families in the Robber Baron era of Victorian England did what they could to foster worker health and happiness:

In 1869 Joseph Rowntree (1836 – 1925) left his father’s grocery business in York to enter a cocoa and chocolate partnership with his brother John.    Rowntrees grew into a highly successful concern, developing many new chocolate products.  

The Cadburys and Rowntrees showed an enlightened concern for their workforce. One hundred and forty four cottages were built for the Cadbury workers near their factory at Bournville.  Infant mortality and death rates in the village in 1915 were half those of Birmingham as a whole.  George’s wife, Elizabeth Cadbury, played a crucial part in this work.  Rowntree founded the village of New Earswick for low income families in 1902.  Education was provided for both children and adults.  Rowntree is particularly remembered for his Adult Schools.  

Cadburys was the first firm to grant its workers a 5-day working week and to provide medical facilities, a canteen, leisure activities and community gardens.  Rowntrees also took a keen interest in the wellbeing of their employees and the wider community (Joseph’s son Seebohm Rowntree undertook a seminal study of poverty in York) and the family played an important part in the establishment of the public library in York..

None of the Quaker chocolatiers exist today, though many of their products do.  Frys merged with Cadburys in 1919; Rowntrees was finally taken over by Nestlé in 1988 and Cadburys by Kraft in 2010.  The Quaker influence in these businesses had either declined or disappeared by the time these takeovers and mergers took place.

(3) The Quaker-Chocolate Connection in Rowling’s Novels: Deathly Hallows‘s second epigraph is from renowned Quaker William Penn’s More Fruits of Solitude, and as Rowling commented in 2007, “[These epigraphs] say it all to me. They really do.”

“Deathly Hallows” itself begins with two religiously themed epigraphs, one from “The Libation Bearers” by Aeschylus, which calls on the gods to “bless the children”; and one from William Penn’s “More Fruits of Solitude,” which speaks of death as but “crossing the world, as friends do the seas.” No other book in the series begins with epigraphs — a curious fact, perhaps, but one that Rowling insists served as a guiding light.

“I really enjoyed choosing those two quotations because one is pagan, of course, and one is from a Christian tradition,” Rowling said of their inclusion. “I’d known it was going to be those two passages since ‘Chamber’ was published. I always knew [that] if I could use them at the beginning of book seven then I’d cued up the ending perfectly. If they were relevant, then I went where I needed to go.

“They just say it all to me, they really do,” she added.

I explained in Deathly Hallows and Penn’s Fruits of Solitude why Penn’s quotation is a key to the Hogwarts Saga finale, how, in brief, the “inner light” doctrines of the Quakers and of non-conformist esoteric Christianity in general inform the story of Harry’s ultimate victory in Dobby’s grave over doubt and his subsequent ‘win’ in his battle against death and the Dark Lord. I urge you to read that long post, one of the most important, I think, ever posted at HogwartsProfessor, for an idea of how central to Rowling’s Christian faith the tenets of Quakerism really are as well as how this shows itself in Deathly Hallows.

What makes the historical chocolate connection with the Quakers, one strongly affirmed in naming the Ellacott dog ‘Rowntree,’ that much more interesting then is the easy segue from the “inner light” beliefs of the Christian non-conformists to the effect of chocolate on characters in Rowling and Galbraith novels. The conscience of man per the Quakers are our logos within that is continuous with the Logos fabric of reality, the Word that brings all things into existence and the light that is in every man (cf., the Prologue to St John’s Gospel). Our inner peace and fellowship, in this view, depend on our identification with this transpersonal “inner light” rather than our ephemeral ego concerns.

What is the sure way to recover from a Dementor attack, in which your worst nightmares are revisited? How does Robin deal with stress and the blues? Eat some chocolate, preferably a huge bar from Honeydukes or a chocolate brownie if you cannot get to Hogsmead.

Access, in other words, the Quaker spiritual magic, the “inner light” peace of communion with what is Absolute and transcendent, a psychological effect exteriorized in story form by Rowling as the good feeling we have in eating chocolate. Or in the companionship and unconditional love of a beloved Labrador, preferably a chocolate Lab.

Your comments and correction, of course, are coveted.


  1. Brian Basore says

    Harry, in PS, knew about the effect of chocolate:
    Ch. 17 The Man With Two Faces
    Hagrid was shaking with grief and remorse, tears pouring down his face…”VOLDEMORT!” Harry yelled, and Hagrid was so shocked, he stopped crying. “Please cheer up, Hagrid…Have a Chocolate Frog….”

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