On this Sunday afternoon coming, myself & my partner (in crime & in storytelling adventures) Vanessa Woolf will be in Mortlake leading a story walk about famous local John Dee. You can see the event on this page link. Some of you may not know who this fine gentleman was. This may help to enlighten.
John Dee was born at 4.02pm on the 13th July 1527, 51 degrees & 32 seconds north of the Equator (about the latitude of London.)
We know this from his birth chart. There is no official record of his birth. No longitude is recorded as the Greenwich Meridian was only established in 1851. The position of the sun & the date on the chart point to Dee being born in or around the City of London.
He was the first & only surviving child of Roland & Jane Dee. Roland was a textile merchant, a mercer. He also occupied a position in Henry VIII’s court in Greenwich Palace as a gentleman sewer. Henry was born in Greenwich & it was his main residence.
Roland Dee was a Welshman & John in later years would claim to be a descendant of Rhodri The Great, a 9th century Welsh Monarch.
John Dee attended Chelmsford Chantry School until the age of 15
Dee went to study at St John’s College Cambridge in 1542, gaining a BA in 1546 or so. In 1547, at the age of 19, he became an original fellow of Trinity College.
He said that when he was at Trinity, his enthusiasm was so great, he worked for 18 hours a day, allowing 4 hours for sleep & 2 for meals.
His great passion was mathematics, a subject considered suspicious in some quarters.
Mathematics was popularly associated with the magical black arts, the term ‘calculating’ was synonymous with conjuration.
Pythagoras, one of the founding figures of mathematics, was considered to be a magician. Pythagoras believed that numbers had inherent powers, because mathematical concepts were easier to regulate & classify than physical ones, they had greater actuality, greater truth.
Pythagorus pointed out that the first 4 integers 1,2,3,&4 expressed not only the most basic elements of geometry (the point, the line, the triangle, the solid) but also the harmonic ratios underlying both music & cosmic proportions.
Ideas like this inspired other thinkers to search for other significant numbers, construct numerical hierarchies, assess the meaning of the number of elements & planets, count the number of angels on a pinhead & so on.
Dee loved all this numerological cosmology & undertook an experiment to demonstrate the power of number.
Dee mounted a production of a play called “Peace” by the Greek playwright, Aristophenes, first produced in 421BC. The opening scene concerns the hero Trigaeus’s attempts to reach Zeus’s heavenly palace. He tries ladders but they keep toppling. He finally ascends on the back of a giant dung beetle, a scarab, a ride so scary the hero nearly “forms food” for the hero!
Dee wanted this moment to be as realistic as possible & turned to mathematics for a solution. Dee probably invented the term “Thaumatology” the study of miracles. He thought mathematics, not magic, was the key. He constructed an illusion with a scarab which leapt from the stage in the main hall of Trinity & lifted the hero to the eaves. Like a member of the magic circle he didn’t reveal how he made the creature fly around the stage, however in one of his writings on the subject of Thaumatology he did allude to using pneumatics, mirrors & springs.
Many did not believe it was an illusion & that the scarab actually levitated & that Dee was assisted by “wicked powers.”
Dee’s fascination with astronomy first flourished in 1547 too & he would spend many an evening from then on until the end of his life under the stars making observations & measurements.
Dee’s appetite for knowledge of the secrets of the universe was insatiable & he felt that England did not provide the best intellectual viewpoint to study this. He decided to head for the Low Countries, where the Renaissance was in full flower.
Termed “Low” because much of the land was below sea level, comprising what is now Belgium, Luxembourg & the Netherlands, they were rich commercial centres, prone to foreign influences. Dee called this “the intertraffique of the mind”; protestantism from Germany, Renaissance science & art from Italy, navigational innovations from Portugal & imperial forces from Spain whose king, Charles V, ruled the Low Countries.
Dee arrived at the University of Louvain, near Brussels, on the 24th June 1548. He enrolled in a law course “for leisure” but spent the majority of his time with the mathematicians, particularly Gemma Fresius, the university’s professor of medicine & mathematics.
Frisius pioneered the use of triangulation in land surveying, which enabled the position of a landmark to be measured from 2 points a known distance apart. This method relied on the new technique of trigonometry, which was almost unknown in England.
Under Frisius’s influence, Louvain was caught up with scientific measurement. There were workshops making precision measuring instruments: cross staffs, astrolabes & the like.
In one of these workshops Dee met the cartographer, Gerard Mercator, who was working on a series of globes & maps incorporating the discoveries of Columbus.
This new geography was revolutionary. Medieval charts showed the earth as a disc or semicircle comprising 3 continents often including religious features like the Tower of Babel & the Garden of Eden. Mercator’s maps showed a world of 4 continents with a curved surface “projected” onto a rectangular map using a mathematical method to enable more accurate navigation.
It was in Louvain that Dee’s “whole system of philosophising in the foreign manner laid down it’s first & deepest roots”. He became great friends with Mercator who gave him a globe of the heavens & a globe of the earth: princely gifts, which were stolen from Dee later in his life.
Dee dedicated his astronomical work, “Propaeduemata Aphoristica” 1558 to Mercator.
Compernicus’s heretical concept that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the universe was seeping into the scientific community since his publication of “De Revolutionibus” in 1543. Dee & Mercator may have discussed this & were certainly experimenting with concepts of the universe.
The standard view of the universe had 8 spheres with 7 planets, including the sun & moon, & an outer shell carrying the stars. Mercator & Dee came up with a brass “Theorick” comprising of 10 concentric circles. Nothing more is known about this object as it was stolen from Dee later in his life.
Dee was friends with many trailblazing European scientists & philosophers, but did not mix with many English while abroad, with the exception of Sir William Pickering who was ambassador to the court of King Charles V in Brussels. Dee would eat at William’s house & tutored him in the new mathematical & astronomical techniques.
Dee & Pickering would have a long friendship with his fellow Cambridge alumnus; Pickering would send him books from his foreign postings & also bequeathed Dee a black mirror.
Dee was making his mark in the Low Countries: he was at the centre of the political & intellectual world. Charles V offered him a position at court, the first of 5 such offers from “Christian Emperors”. Dee would turn them all down. Maybe he feared exile from an increasingly Protestant England if he joined a Catholic court, maybe he was hoping for an offer from the English court…
By 1551 he was lecturing in Paris to packed houses on Euclidian Geometry, work offers were coming from monarchs & he was starting to build a goodly collection of books. He then returned to England aged 24.
England was a different place to the one he had left. Henry VIII’s son Edward VI was 9: protestant fervour was demonstrated with destruction of statues & crucifixes in churches. Also there was a spirit of progressive academic reform receptive to Dee’s continental learnings.
Dee’s former tutor John Cheke introduced him to the Edwardian court, he was introduced to Edward & given a pension of 100 crowns, which he exchanged for an income from a rectory in Upton-upon-Severn.
Dee became the tutor to the sons of The Earl of Pembroke, with whom he got on very well, casting horoscopes for the family members.
He was then recommended to the service of the Duke of Northumberland (Edward’s protector) as a tutor to his sons.
Dee was an established intellectual of some standing in the new Protestant order, poised to become a favourite of the king, destined for rank & wealth.
What could possibly go wrong?
King Edward fell ill in 1552. The Duke of Northumberland called on the Italian physician & astrologer, Girolamo Cardano, to treat him. Before seeing the King, Girolamo cast his horoscope, discovering “omens of great calamity”. Upon examination of the king he diagnosed consumption. He did not mention the horoscope as unrequested horoscopes were considered to be a form of magical spying.
By the end of 1552 Edward was coughing up blood & it was rumoured that he was being poisoned. Northumberland planted the rumour that Princess Mary had given him the evil eye, implying she was a witch. Mary was Henry VIII’s child from his first marriage, considered by Catholics to be the only true heir to the throne. Northumberland feared Mary. He persuaded Edward to disinherit her in favour of Henry VII’s great granddaughter. He then married one of his sons to Lady Jane & one of Pembroke’s sons to her sister. Both Northumberland & Pembroke were Dee’s patrons.
Edward died in July 1553, as people do, & Northumberland attempted to put Lady Jane on the throne, but Mary was favoured by many aristocrats & by popular sentiment. These included Pembroke who celebrated Mary’s accession by getting his son’s marriage to Grey 2 annulled & by throwing coins to peasants from his castle wall.
Within a month of Edward’s death, Northumberland found himself in front of a crowd of 10,000 Londoners on Tower Hill. He publicly renounced his Protestant beliefs & was beheaded. Mary’s Privy council were purging the court.
Roland Dee, John’s dad was on a list. Under Henry & Edward he prospered. In August 1553 he was identified as a Protestant activist & taken for interview by the Privy Council. He was released after 10 days, ruined. This had a knock on effect for John Dee who now could no longer rely on an inheritance & possible promotion to nobility which would have provided the security he craved to continue his studies.
In 1555 Mary’s supporters started to burn Protestants. The church could not legally execute heretics so Mary’s state took on this responsibility. Enthusiastically. Hundreds were burned.
On 28th May 1555 the Privy Council ordered to “make search for John Dee, dwelling in London, & to apprehend him & seize him hither.” His house was sealed, & his papers & books impounded as evidence. His living from Upton-upon-Severn was confiscated.
Dee was arrested with a group of people closely associated with Princess Elizabeth. It is likely that he was suspected of being part of a secret Protestant cell clustered around Elizabeth. Elizabeth herself was arrested & was brought to Hampton Court, where Mary was approaching term of what turned out to be a phantom pregnancy. (Mary was married to the Spanish Charles V’s son Philip)
Elizabeth was considered to be a threat to the English re-establishment of Catholicism, & was in danger of being bumped off. Mary’s advisers were trying to implicate her so she could be safely executed.
Dee’s accusations were focussed not on his religious beliefs, rather on his links with mathematics & magic. He was charged with “Calculating, conjuring & witchcraft” on the grounds that he had drawn up horoscopes for Mary, her husband Philip & Elizabeth.
It’s quite likely he did. The remnant of his diary for that time shows the date & time of Mary & Philip’s wedding, noting that the rising sign at the moment of the wedding was Libra, a good omen for marriage.
Horoscopes on their own was not enough to take Dee down. 2 informers were said to have evidence that Dee had “endeavoured by enchantments to destroy Queen Mary”
One of the informers, a man identified by Dee as “Prideaux” may have have been a Catholic spy that later fled to Spain under the protection of King Philip.
The other informer was a certain George Ferrers, Lawyer, MP & convicted debtor. Ferrers accused Dee of using “enchantments” to blind one of his children & to kill another.
Dee was brought before the council to be examined on his “lewd & vain practices of calculing & conjuring” No charges could be substantiated.
He was released after 3 months, permanently deprived of his revenue from Upton & handed over to further religious investigation for heresy by “Bloody Bonner” the Bishop of London. He disappeared into St Paul’s Cathedral a suspected heretic & presumably by some persuasion & threat of being burned to death at Smithfield. survived & emerged an obedient chaplain.
Dee actually became a member of Bishop Bonner’s household & a friend of the bishop, remaining a friend even in the late 1560s when Bonner lay disgraced & dying in Marshalsea prison, stripped of his honours by Elizabeth’s Protestant government.
Dee may even have been ordained by Bonner. Dee acquired his Doctor title around this time, referring to his knowledge of divinity & religious subjects.
Throughout his life Dee tiptoed a line between Catholicism & Protestantism,a priest ordained in Catholic England,a priest marrying in Protestant England. Dee believed that neither doctrines nor even the Pope or Bible had a monopoly on God’s truth.
In 1556 Dee had transformed from outsider to being at home with the new English Catholic order. In 1556 he petitioned Queen Mary “for the recovery & preservation of ancient writers & monuments”. Dee was concerned that much of England’s ancient & medieval manuscripts were being lost to pilferage & action needed to be taken to preserve England’s intellectual heritage post haste.
Dee wanted agents to collect works from across the country for a new “Library Royal”, a great national archive, a resource for “learned men”. The scheme did not get official backing, but the idea had captured Dee & he pursued the endeavour himself with frantic enthusiasm. He scoured the land for texts, sometimes “borrowing” manuscripts & failing to return them, sometimes acquiring books from gentlemen who had found themselves arrested by Mary’s regime.
He was particularly interested in scientific publications. It is about this time that Dee started work on one of his own.
“Propaemanda Aphoristica”; Preliminary Aphoristic Teachings was a series of maxims explaining astrological processes by rational processes. Dee wanted to discover the “true virtues of nature”, how celestial events, the movements of the Sun, Moon & planets against the stars influenced the sublunar terrestrial events.
In early 16th century England, astrology was in decline. Not because folk didn’t believe in astrology, it was a widespread belief that the planets influenced earthly events. It was more that English science & mathematics was in a state: few practiced it & ephemerides, tables showing the position of celestial objects at particular dates & times, had to be imported. Without ephemerides it was harder to calculate charts & make almanacs. Dee wanted to change this situation & his book was an opening salvo.
Dee’s book theorised that every object in the universe emitted “rays” which influenced other objects when the rays struck them. He believed that the forces of repulsion & attraction shown by lodestones (magnetised iron ore) were a miniature demonstration of what happened at a cosmic level. Dee believed these rays could be studied scientifically & he really needed more detailed astronomical surveys so the true sizes & distances, therefore influence of the heavenly bodies could be established.
Dee’s natural philosophy, a scientific view of the universe, may be seen as an antecedent to Newton’s up to a point. Dee wrote papers on perspective, on astronomical instruments & on properties of circular motions. As early as 1553 he wrote a work on the ebb & flow of tides, a subject directly related to gravity, also an interest of Newton.
Dee endorsed the observation that 2 objects of different weight fall to the ground at the same speed. This is a discovery attributed to Galileo Galilei. Dee knew of this & observed that others had observed it before Galileo!
Where Dee’s published work differs from Newton’s Principia Mathmatica is that the forces at the heart of Dee’s rays were as much magical as physical.
You can see it in the book’s title page which shows the qualities of heat & humidity, the sun & the moon, the elements of earth & water & firev all connected to a mystical symbol slap bang in the frontispiece. This Monad was an astrological sign Dee invented.
He saw it as the key to understanding the cosmos. Having this on front of your book on physics may show your idea of physics strays way beyond the limits of physical reality. He believed these rays emanating from physical objects could affect the human soul as well as the body. This is astrological thinking.
Dee believed that optical tools could manipulate these rays as well as light, even making the magical emanations visible. Dee was circumspect about whether a crystal ball focussed these invisible rays into the seeing world, presumably so as not to be accused of conjuration.
So Dee was a pioneer of the concept of Natural Magic. Dee believed that God’s creation of the universe let loose a divine force which causes planets to turn, the Sun to rise, the Moon to wax & wane. Magic would be the human ability to tap into this force. Dee’s Magic is technology; the more we understand how it drives the universe the more powerful it gets.
Propaemanda was to be Dee’s magnum opus, but he only managed a rushed summary. There were 2 devastating flu epidemics in 1557 & 1558 & Dee fell seriously ill. Thinking he was going to die he set his affairs in order & sent the rushed book with the rest of his literary affairs to his executor.
Influenza gets it’s name from the belief that it was caused by malign astrological influences. The etymology is from the Italian, meaning influence, or visitation from the stars.
At the end of 1557 things were changing at the top of English society. King Philip, Mary’s husband, left for Spain. Mary had another phantom pregnancy then died in May 1558. Anyone associated with Mary & Catholicism was in the firing line.
Elizabeth was informed of Mary’s death by the flip-flopping Earl of Pembroke who switched allegiance to Elizabeth & was given a position on her council
Elizabeth arrived in London less than a week after Mary’s death. The Bishop Of London waited in line to welcome her with other dignitaries. She offered her hand to the Mayor & aldermen to be kissed but withdrew it when Bonner approached & walked on. Bonner ended up dying in Marshalsea Prison.
She appointed the son of the Duke of Northumberland, Robert Dudley, to organise the coronation. Dudley wanted a scholar to aid him in choosing the most auspicious date. He chose Dee above returning Protestant exiles.
Dee was well qualified. His book, Propaedeumata, had established him as one of the country’s leading natural philosophers & revived interest in mathematical based astrology (as opposed to divination, a notable practitioner being Nostradamus).
His frenetic library building during Mary’s reign had put a sizeable array of ancient texts at his disposal from which to cite precedents & authorities.
While many members of Mary’s regime were shamed & cast out, Dee was brought into the fold. He was even awarded the living at Leadenham to replace the loss of income from the confiscated rectorship of Upton. Perhaps Dee’s presence in the Bishop of London’s household was of benefit to Elizabeth’s circle during Mary’s reign. Dee is quite likely to have been an”intellegencer”, not only a seeker of hidden philosophies & scientific discoveries but also a spy.
During the Christmas revelries of 1558, Dee wrote a long & detailed analysis of the historical augers for her reign. He chose 15th January as the start date. Jupiter would be in Aquarius, suggesting impartiality, independence & tolerance. Mars would be in Scorpio suggesting passion & commitment.
Having set the day, Dee was invited by Robert Dudley for an audience with the Queen at Whitehall Palace & was presented to her by Dudley & the Earl Of Pembroke. She said to Dee “Where my brother hath given him a crown, I will give him a noble.” A noble was a gold coin worth 2 silver crowns. Dee was a favoured member of the court.
Soon after Elizabeth’s coronation, Dee vanished. For nearly 5 years he is absent from all historical records. It is thought that he spent much of this time abroad, collecting books & learning about the Cabala. The Cabala was a combination of language, mathematics & mysticism based around Hebrew. Dee taught himself Hebrew & started getting Hebrew texts around this time. For Cabalists, Hebrew was more than just a language, they believed it had the secrets of the universe encoded within it.
St John’s gospel starts “In the beginning was the Word”. Dee believed that this word would have been in Hebrew. Thus an analysis of Hebrew was a way of finding the underlying structure of God’s creation. The laws of nature were were it’s grammar, matter it’s nouns.
Cabala originated in 1st century Palestine. By the 16th century it was treated with the same suspicion as mathematics. A lot of Cabala seems to have been numerological or cryptological. One branch of Cabala, Gematria, searched for numbers which could be substituted for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Then you could perform arithmetic on combinations of words to find a mathematical relationship underlying language.
The Cabala was preoccupied with the numerology of Angels. One of the functions of Gematria was to calculate how many there were (301,655,172 apparently). The Cabala provided a means for working out the names & relationships of Angels.
It identified the 72 Angels who provided a route to understanding the “Sephiroth”; the 10 names most common to God which together make his 1 great name.
Angels live at the top, divine level of the Cabala’s 3 level universe. Below Angels lie the celestial realm of the stars & at the bottom, the elemental layer of the physical world. This structure is thought to be represented in the Hebrew language itself & in the Hebrew alphabet.
Cabala had a magical side: since language was tied to the formation of the universe, words had the potential to change it. Cabalism provided a magical technology for making incantations to summon spirits & influence events which would act as prayers which would always work.
Dee had an interest in another practical use of Cabala which is the creation of secret codes & ciphers.
Dee resurfaced in February 1563 in the busy merchant town of Antwerp. He heard rumours of a book “Steganographia” having turned up there. This was written by Johannes Trithemius in the first decade of the 1500s.
Trithemius was one of the pioneers of cryptography. He was an abbot & fascinated by the Cabala. He drew a sharp division between magic & superstition. Magic was science, witchcraft diabolical.
His book “Polygraphia”was about specifically about codes.
Steganographia had a load of hidden language systems, methods of transmitting messages over great distances using fire, a method of teaching Latin in 2 hours & silent communication without movement. Trithemius was often accused of being a magician. He died in 1516. There were thought to be 3 surviving books.
Dee was very excited & went to great efforts to find the manuscript. Through an intermediary, “a mysterious nobleman of Hungary”, Dee was able to secure the manuscript for 10 days. This coast him all of his funds, £20. He worked around the clock to transcribe it.
Dee then wrote a letter to William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s key minister reporting the discovery of “the most precious jewel that I have yet of other men’s travails recovered”. He asked for reimbursement for his spending.
While the book “Polygraphia” was specifically about secret codes, “Steganographia” went one further. It proposed a method of communication between 2 people across long distances using incantations. One system involves the message giver writing out the message, then speaking a special formula to summon one of the many spirits identified in the book, then giving the message for the sprit. The message is taken to the recipient who has to perform an incantation to receive it.
So on first look it would appear that “Steganographia” was a purely occult collection of 3 chapter, the last of which was lists of tables of the motions of the planet Saturn.
In fact the tables in the final chapter provided keys to the “incantations” in the first 2 chapters which were not in fact spells but encoded messages.
In the 1990s a German linguist called Thomas Ernst & an American cryptographer called Jim Reeds independently of each other both looked at the tables in the 3rd chapter & a table in the 1st chapter & were able to decode the “incantations”.
So when Dee was writing back to Elizabeth’s man, Cecil, he was not celebrating an occult breakthrough but a coding one.
Cecil was in the process of putting together an international espionage network which, under his successor, Francis Walsingham, would become one of the best in Europe. The network relied heavily on codes.
Dee saw the “Steganographia” as a way of deciphering encoded occult texts like “The Book of Soyga”, which supposedly contained an ancient message in the language originally spoken by Adam: the true unspoiled word of God. Another was “The Voynich Manuscript” a notorious work a yet undeciphered.
Dee pointed out to Cecil that the “Steganographia” was an example of the intellectual treasure that the Continent had & England lacked.
Dee returned to England in 1564 with a book he had written in 12 days called Monas Hieroglyphica, which he presented to Queen Elizabeth. This was a risky move as the book was full of controversial magical ideas, numerology, Cabala, cosmology & mathematics. He may have been testing the waters to see if his brand of science would be welcome in England.
Elizabeth was intrigued & encouraging, promising to become Dee’s scholar if he explained the secrets of the book. Monas was different to his previous work which was a collection of theories from observations & experimentation. Monas is a collection of theories from intuitions & pure thought.
The central theme of Monas Heiroglyphica was that the common astronomical symbols of the planets were relics of a lost universal language that transcended national & religious barriers. Dee claimed to have discovered that the all the symbols could be combined into one symbol, exemplifying the unity of the universe.
Dee described some of the theories in the book as “Cosmopolitical”, referring to a universal perspective on political affairs. Dee is recorded as referring to himself as a “Cosmopolites”, a “citizen & member of the whole & one Mystical City Universe”.
It’s possible these theories related to Dee’s ideas on imperialism, a vision of world government run according to universal Christian principles.
Elizabeth loved all this stuff, English academia less so. Dee had turned down an academic post teaching Mathematical Sciences at Oxford 10 years before, in 1554, & his continental mathematical & philosophical ideas were not popular with the more conservative English Universities now.
So although he had intellectual freedom, he could not count on an academic income & with his father’s catastrophic fall from grace in Mary’s reign meant he had no funds to fall back on. His only way of making money was at court.
If you were in favour with the Queen you were rewarded with money, influence & prospects. It did not serve you to fall out of favour.
Dee was one of the few commoners to be honoured with personal visits by the Queen & he was frequently summoned to court to talk about various matters.
One commentator noticed that he had become “Her Philosipher”
The Queen sometimes visited at less than ideal times: on one occasion 4 hours after the death of his second wife the Queen & the entire privy council turned up on his doorstep. He entertained them with a magic mirror on his doorstep.
Elizabeth believed that her powers as a monarch were magical. She was an enthusiastic practitioner of the “Royal Touch”, a rite dating back to the reign of Henry II (12c). The monarch would touch the neck of a sufferer of epilepsy or of scrofula (also known as “King’s Evil, an inflammation of the lymph glands), curing them. It is recorded that Elizabeth was very effective as this; this was cited as a vindication of her claim to throne.
Dee endeavoured to help the queen make the most of her powers & become an adept at the magical practices of monarchy.
While Dee was called on for many matters, like when “A blazing star fell from the sky”, or when a wax effigy of Elizabeth stuck with pig bristles was found under a tree at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, or on the subject of trade or naval maintenance, he was called on as a loyal subject, not a paid professional.
Dee had no patrons as such, being unaffiliated to either Catholic or Protestant factions in court & apart from the Queen seemed incapable of making friends with the nobility.
Out of financial necessity Dee lived with his mother in Mortlake, 8 miles upstream from London from the mid 1560’s on. Dee brought his second wife to Mortlake, Katherine Constable, who died there.
Dee’s main focus at this time appears to have been his Library. He bought neighbouring buildings & made an “Externa Biblioteca”, a chief & open library, a reading room for scholars & copyists to consult the main body of his collection.
Among other subjects, his library covered magic, mathematics, botany, chastity, demonology, dreams, earthquakes, falconry, games, horticulture, Islam, logic, marriage, mythology, the nobility, oils, pharmacology, rhetoric, saints, surveying, tides, veterinary science, weather, women, zoology & the Armenian Church.
While there was no discernible order to the books on the shelves Dee knew his way around the library.
Dee also had laboratories leading off from the library with alchemical stills
Dee had a private study with his magical equipment & his most precious magical texts.
Dee financed this by private consultations: tuition, astrological readings, dream interpretations, medical consultations, forensic advice.
He also accepted government contracts. In January 1570, James Stewart, the 1st Earl of Moray, Protestant Regent of Scotland, was assassinated. Mary, Queen Of Scots, was currently imprisoned in England & there was concern about plots to overthrow Elizabeth.
On June 2 Pope Pius V issued a papal bull, Regnans In Excelsis, which was nailed to the door of the Bishop Of London’s palace. It was basically a fatwa against Elizabeth, talking of her damnation & absolving her subjects from loyalty to her with promise of eternal reward for her death.
In this context, Dee was commissioned to write an analysis of the state of the nation. “Brytannicae Republicae Synopsis”, a synopsis of the British Republic was a snapshot of the nation’s economy, political institutions & defences. It identified economical problems, debasement of currency & unemployment. His reference to a republic emphasised the concept of the state being a commonwealth, Dee was against privateers & “enclosers of commons” believing that every man was born to encourage public prosperity rather than private gain.
In 1571 Dee went on a trip to The duchy of Lorraine to buy alchemical equipment.
There was growing government interest in alchemy & Dee was close the backers of the government project to turn iron into copper.
Dee, being Dee, was less interested in the practical devices of alchemy, more in the theory. The transmutation of soul rather than substance.
Dee’s alchemical studied was interrupted by serious illness, quite likely to be poisoning from the chemicals he was using. The Queen sent her own physicians to treat him.
Dee was very good at spending money & not very talented at making it. By 1574 he resorted to writing to William Cecil again asking for two or three hundred pounds a year to keep him going. In return he promised a cost free method for finding buried treasure.
Dee may have come across treasure maps on his travels around Britain looking for books. Treasure maps were usually in code but that would not have been a problem for Dee. Dee was an expert in surveying & geology with extensive book collections on mining.
Dee believed that the Earth & the Stars were linked, signs from the heavens delineate what lies under the soil & rock. Celestial & terrestrial correspondence was one of the principles underlying alchemy. The sign for the metal Mercury is the same as for the planet & both were thought to share similar “Mercurial” characteristics.
Venus was copper, the Moon, silver. The Sun was gold. It was believed that where one was plentiful so was the other, the heat of the Sun promoted the formation of gold seams in the soil. It was thus assumed that the biggest concentration of gold was in the tropics.
Dee believed that as lenses & mirrors were used to pick up astral forces, there were tools that could be used to pick up emanations from buried treasure.
Divining rods were the best known of these tools.
Dee would have known that there had been an Act of Parliament in 1563 which prohibited the discovery of treasure or recovery of stolen goods by magical means. 1st offence got a year in prison & 4 trips to the pillory, 2nd offence was a capital offence. Dee would also have known that, according to ancient law, any treasure found was automatically the property of the Queen.
Dee believed his natural magic was not the same as the forbidden by Deuteronomy & the state but was a science. He proposed in his letter that in return for 50% of any treasure he be granted a licence to hunt on the Queen’s behalf.
Cecil said no.
Dee became involved as a navigational consultant in the Cathay Company, an exploratory venture to determine the existence of the Northwest Passage, the fabled route to Cathay across the northern coast of America. He trained navigators & put some money into the venture. The expedition did not find the Northwest Passage, but did hit Greenland & then Baffin Island
For a while it was believed that the explorers had found gold, silver & precious stones, but the rocks they brought back from several increasingly pricey expeditions turned out to be worthless.
In November 1577 Dee went to Windsor for audience with the Queen. On one meeting he proposed that England should challenge Spain’s imperial claim to the New World. After Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492 Pope Alexander VI had issued a bull dividing the New World between Portugal & Spain. Dee proposed that, seeing as some of the New World lands were already being colonised by the English that the claim was invalid.
Dee was probably the first person to envisage the concept & coin the term of British Empire. He brought these ideas of reshaping English foreign policy into an expansionist mode in a 4 volume work called “General & Rare Memorials Pertaining To The Perfect Art Of Navigation”
On the frontispiece Elizabeth sits at the helm of the ship of imperial monarchy, watched over by St Michael, drawn by the figure of Lady Occasion. Above hang the Sun, Moon & stars & a glowing sphere containing a cabalistic formula, the tetragammaton all shining down their blessings on the endeavour.
Volume I focused on the building & financing of a large navy, the “Master Key” of the whole scheme. The Elizabethan navy was small, Dee proposed the building of 60 “tall ships” of 160-200tons & 20 smaller boats crewed by 6600 men. This was to be financed by extra taxation on the grounds that the nation’s wealth would benefit under the investment.
Volume II was navigational charts & tables
Volume III was secret & has been lost.
Volume IV “Of Famous & Rich Discoveries” was burnt.
He wrote a smaller book aimed exclusively at the Queen called “Brytanici Imperi Limites”; The Limits Of The British Empire which summarised Dee’s contention that Britain could lay claim to foreign lands way beyond the borders of the British Isles.
These daring ideas were popular with the Queen, however her chief minister, Cecil was less convinced, concerned about antagonising the Spanish. Cecil said no.
Much of what Dee had written in Brytanici Imperi came true in some form or another. The Navy did become the “Master Key”, England did challenge the Spanish (Defeating the Armada in 1558), North America was colonised & a British Empire emerged.
Dee married for the third time in 1578 to Jane Fromonds, Lady in Waiting to Lady Howard of Effingham. Dee was 50, Jane 22.
In 1579 the Duke Of Anjou visited Queen Elizabeth with a bag of jewels intent on reviving marriage negotiations between the Queen. 8 years before Elizabeth had thought him too young, too small & too ugly.
Queen Elizabeth’s marital status was a sensitive issue. For many her virginity emphasised the divine aspects of her rule. Merlin supposedly prophesied “Then shall a Royal Virgin reign, which shall stretch her white rod over the Belgic shore and the great Castile smite so sore that it shall make him shake & fall.” Elizabeth was the Virgin & the great Castile, her catholic enemy, Philip of Spain. However, her virginity also meant she could not have a child which was a denial of her dynastic duties.
The French ambassador’s approach was probably her last chance of marriage, as she was in her mid 40s. The Queen was quite keen & the Duke made quite a few secret visits which Dee noted in his diary. The Protestant elements of the court & country were not happy & pamphlets were distributed claiming she was surrendering the throne to a “pox ridden Catholic foreigner.”
Elizabeth consulted Dee on what to do. His predictions were gloomy. On one occasion she called in on him before meeting with his neighbour Francis Walsingham. She asked him his assessment of the Duke’d prospects. Dee said the Duke would die & die he did, of Typhoid, a year later.
On Thursday 8th March 1682 a gentleman called Mr Clerkson, an agent for itinerant spirit mediums, otherwise known a s scryers, introduced Dee to a young gentleman called Edward Talbot. That wasn’t his real name. His real name was Edward Kelley.
Walking with aid of a staff, he wore a monkish cowl which concealed his ears, or lack of, as it was commonly supposed he had had his ears lopped for forgery. He is reputed to have been a notary in London specialising in the forgery of title deeds. He is also reputed to have been found guilty of “coining”, forging coins.
Kelley was also reputed to be a necromancer, able to speak with the dead by means of conjuration & incantations.
A Berkshire Alchemist called William Backhouse told his friend Elias Ashmole that Kelley was a conman who had stolen jewels from a lady & had arrived at Dee’s house in Mortlake under an assumed name to lay low.
Dee himself wrote in his diary 3 months after meeting Kelley “I have confirmed that Talbot was a cosener”, a fraud. Kelley wrote “this is a horrible & slanderous lie” besides this entry in Dee’s private diary.
Dee is thought to have been using scryers, spirit mediums, since at least 1568. Dee believed in the concept of Natural Magic, magic as technology, but often faced accusations of being a Conjurer or caller of Devils. In 1577 he published a “Necessary Advertisement” refuting these. He was engaged in “Optical Science” & also “Archemastry”. For Dee Crystal gazing had the same validity as star gazing.
The difference was that Dee could observe the stars himself but could not see visions in crystals & required outside assistance.
Kelley was not Dee’s first scryer. He had used crystal gazers recommended by Elizabethan courtiers in the late 1570s & had his own resident scryer, Barnabus Saul, for the 5 months preceding Kelley’s arrival.
Barnabus had seen the Angel Anael, one of the 7 angels of creation, in one of Dee’s scrying stones. Dee was excited but suspicious that Barnabus had mis-spelt the name of the angel, as the Cabala took spelling very seriously. Barnabus also revealed that another scrying stone was assigned to the Archangel Michael, which was impressive.
Barnabus disappeared from the household the day after Dee’s first meeting with “Talbot”. “Talbot” told Dee that a spiritual creature had revealed that Barnabus was a cozener, had engaged in “Naughty Dealing” & had spoken against Dee behind his back.
“Talbot” told Dee in private that he could show Dee how to talk to the Fairies & further his knowledge in magic, which horrified Dee as Kelley had insinuated that Dee was a Conjuror. Dee noted this “monstrous & horrible lie” in his diary. This was also scribbled out by Kelley.
Dee warned “Talbot” that he only wanted to communicate with the blessed angels of God.
On this understanding they had a taster session. “Talbot” was taken to Dee’s study & fell to his knees before a scrying stone. Dee prayed in a neighbouring room.
The scryer claimed to see the Archangel, Uriel. Uriel is identified as the angel who warned Noah of the flood, who buried Adam’s body with the angel Michael. Uriel also revealed the secrets of the stars & planets to Enoch.
Enoch was 7 generations down from Adam, was Methuselah’s Dad & had prophesied the “Day Of Judgement”. He was also rumoured to have written a record of the language God had taught to Adam, which he had used to name all the beasts & birds.
Dee was impressed. He immediately asked Uriel, through “Talbot”, about “The Book Of Soyga”. This was a precious book in Dee’s library, so precious that he had it fumigated the year before to prevent mildew. It is a book of lists, tables, spirit names & invocations: Cabalistic codes.
“Is my Book of Soyga” of any excellency”
“It was revealed to Adam in paradise by the good Angels of God”, Uriel replied.
“Will you give me instructions, how may I read these tables of Soyga?”
“I can, but only Michael can interpret the book.”
Apparently the stone Kelley was using was the stone that the previous scryer Barnabus had said was associated with Michael.
“What may I, or must I do, to have the sight & presence of Michael, that blessed angel?”
“Michael is the angel who lights your way & these things are revealed in virtue & truth, not by force.”
At this point Kelley reported a vision in the stone of a vision of a triangular talisman engraved in gold. Uriel promised that if it was worn on the chest it would protect the bearer at every time place & occasion.
After a pause of a few hours, “Talbot” & Dee resumed. Uriel was summoned again & provided helpful & detailed instructions on how to summon Michael. Dee & “Talbot” were to work closely together in prayerful conjunction with God to learn the secrets together. Uriel explicitly blamed the failure to contact Michael before on Dee’s previous scryer Barnabus. Uriel provided Dee with detailed specifications for the equipment needed to contact Michael including this table.
The tone of the communication changed at this point when Uriel revealed that Dee’s house was haunted by an evil spirit called “Lundrumguffa”, who had previously maimed Dee in the shoulder & wished ill of Dee’s wife & daughter. Brimstone (Sulphur) was needed to exorcise the demon.
The next day, at the time of prayers, Dee ignited Brimstone to smoke out Lumdrumguffa. “Talbot” stared into the stone & beheld Uriel, who fought with Lumdrumguffa & banished him. Then the Archangel Michael appeared to “Talbot” & said
“ Go forward: God hath blessed thee. I will be thy guide. Thou shalt attain to thy seeking. The world begins with thy doings. Praise God. The Angels under my power will be at thy commandment. Lo, I will do this much for thee. Lo, God will do this much for thee. Thou shalt see me: & I will be seen of thee & I will direct thy living & conversation. Those that sought thy life, are vanished away. Put up thy pen.”
Dee put up his pen for 3 days. At the next seance “Talbot” saw Michael enter the stone accompanied by a figure in a black cloak & hood. Uriel removed the cloak from the figure & placed laurels on his head. The figure knelt in front of Michael who dubbed him on the shoulders with a sword. The figure turned around & “Talbot” saw that it was Dee!
Dee had a list of instructions of how to behave before consorting with the spirits. For 3 days before a seance the participants should abstain from “coitus & gluttony” & on the day should wash hands & face, cut nails, shave beard. Just before a session invocations would be made 5 times to the compass points. The spirits could only be called at certain phases of the moon, under the influence of a good planet in the sunshine.
At 8.15pm on the 29th April 1582, breaking one of these rules, Michael appeared to “Talbot” announcing the names of the 49 angels. This was numerological significant, being the square of 7, the number of heavenly bodies in the cosmos (Sun, Moon , Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) “Talbot” dictated tables for 3 hours, relating to subjects including wit & wisdom, quality of earth & waters, motion of the air & divine government. The angelic revelations seemed to be about a new world order based upon godly principles.
At 11.30 “Talbot” revealed that Michael had ordered him to marry “contrary to my vow & profession”, the inference is that “Talbot” was a Catholic priest.
It was risky having a Catholic priest around in such turbulent times in England & this would have worried Dee.
A few days later Dee’s wife Jane flew into a rage over “Talbot” because she believed that Dee had been deceived once again by a cozener. “Talbot” left in July & returned in November as Edward Kelley & was welcomed with open arms. He must have been a very good medium.
In November Kelley summoned up a spirit called “King Camara”. Dee was finding difficult to understand the tables that had been made earlier in the year. King Camara explained that a new scrying crystal was needed & provided it. Kelley saw an angel offering it to Dee & found a crystal in the room which Dee had never seen before. The most powerful magical lens, apparently.
Kelley left for a few months, travelling to London & an Oxfordshire village called Blockley. He returned in March 1583 with a book & a scroll which he had been directed to find by a spiritual creature. The scroll was a map in an unidentified alphabet. The book was written by St Dunstan. Kelley also claimed to have found a portion of the “Philosopher’s Stone”, which could turn base metal into gold, dead matter into living.
Kelley & Dee had a scrying session where Kelley had a vision of the Archangel Raphael eating fruit from a tree under the label “Medecina Dei”, the medicine of God.
It lighteth the hearts of those that are chosen, Raphael told Kelley, & said it would be the same for Dee. Raphael appeared the next day, lying down being licked in the face by a lamb. Raphael rose saying “Man’s memory is dull” & that he had a medicine to cure it: “Understanding & reason.” Raphael then produced a book with leaves of gold covered in text written in blood. There were 48 pages. Dee asked Raphael about the scroll but Raphael said it was nothing to do with him.
A few days later Raphael appeared again. Dee wanted to know about the medicine, Raphael replied that the medicine was truth. Raphael got his book out again & dictated the 21 characters of the celestial alphabet, the written language handed down by God to Adam, apparently.
Around about this time Dee had been acting as a navigational consultant to the explorer Adrian Gilbert who was preparing to explore the New World. Without Dee’s knowledge Gilbert applied for & was awarded sole & exclusive rights on all royalties the expedition might yield. Dee was furious.
Also around this time Dee was involved in a secret report for the government about calendar reform. In 1583 Pope GregoryXIII had issued a papal bull removing 10 days from the calendar of the Catholic world. The Julian calendar was based on bad measurements of solar & lunar cycles & holy & feast days & solstices & equinoxes were drifting out of alignment. Walsingham asked Dee on his thoughts & Dee came up with a 62 page illuminated document which was delivered to William Cecil.It proposed a removal of 11 days. Dee was concerned that the Gregorian Calendar was drawn up from the wrong starting date; that of the Council of Nicosia, the first ecumenical council of the church (in 325AD) as opposed to being drawn up from the date of the birth of Christ.
Walsingham & Cecil loved the idea but the Archbishop of Canterbury torpedoed the idea in March saying that the very idea of reforming the calendar was Papist. As a consequence England remained on the Julian calendar for another 170 years.
On Good Friday as Dee & Kelley prepared for another scrying session, Kelley saw a sword emerge from the crystal which struck him on the head & complained of feeling something creeping in his head.
On Easter Sunday Kelley reported hearing music in his head.
A week later Uriel reappeared to Kelley & commanded that daily scrying was to take place in order that “the book of the secrets & key of this world be written”.
Over the next few days lines from this book were dictated to Kelley.
While this was happening, Dee was puzzling over the scroll Kelley had brought back & realised that the language was some kind of coded Latin & he cracked the code & found it to be some kind of treasure map showing where the effects of the Danish warrior king Menabon & others were hid.
That April Elizabeth dropped by on the suggestion of Sir Walter Raleigh, who had become a close ally of Dee. She promised to find him a more secure position & living.
On the same day that Elizabeth visited, a new spirit visited Kelley called “El” & told Dee that the Book Of Enoch would be his within a month. El said that in the meantime Dee & Kelley should use the treasure map to find the booty.
Dee was a bit nervous about this: without a royal license digging for treasure was dangerous. El had a solution. Simply collect soil from each of the locations & the spirits would recover the treasure for them.
This was all very confusing. Dictation of Adamic language daily without time to transcribe it, all the other crazy revelations, the strange alphabet, the Danish treasure.
Kelley was unstable discontented & quarrelsome. He was now unhappily married to Joanna Cooper: he had been paid to marry her to legitimise the children she had had with an aristocratic lover. He did not get on well with Jane Dee who sided with Joanna. Prior to Kelley’s arrival the Dee household was calmer.
Dee was concerned that they would not meet the spiritual deadlines that Kelleys visions had set, also some of the spirits Kelley was channeling were saying rather worrying things like “How pitiful a thing is it, when the wise are deluded” & “All is done in lies.”
Kelley left on May 9th to get the earth from the locations on the scrolls.
On the 19th May a Polish prince, Lord Albert Laski came to visit Dee at Mortlake in secret . Laski knew of Dee’s spiritual adventures & wanted to ask the spirits how long the present king of Poland would live, whether Laski was to be the successor & whether Laski would gain possession over the kingdom of Moldavia.
Kelley arrived back in Mortlake on the 23rd May with the soil samples. Dee focused his inquiry to the angels on Laski. The Angel Raphael said he would help. A girl spirit called Madimi intimated that there was a link between the English royal family & Laski. Other spirits consented to allow Laski to join in the seances. Laski was due to have an official visit to Mortlake onto 15th of June.
On the 5th June Kelley’s brother Thomas arrived at Mortlake to tell him that a n arrest warrant had been issued accusing him of coining money, forging coins.
Dee & Kelley consulted the Angels on this. They advised that if Kelley was arrested, Dee should contact his relative Richard Young, a member of the judiciary but not to worry unduly. They also advised Dee that in the face of all obstacles he should persist.
The charges against Kelley evaporated. It is speculated that the charges may have been brought by the Elizabethan spymaster Walsingham to coerce Kelley into the secret service to spy on the Polish prince Laski.
After the Prince came on his official visit Kelley reported that the female spirit Galvah had confirmed that he would become a king of Poland & Moldavia. At the next seance Galvah explained that not all revelations from scrying could be taken as truth. Some angels were fallen & could be demons in disguise. Galvah then communicated the 49th page of the angelic revelations that had been revealed to Dee & Kelley over the past few months.
As Galvah began to recite the 21 words that would make up the final page Kelley saw visions of all the animals of the world especially serpents, dragons, toads & ugly beasts. Kelley proclaimed that he did not trust Galvah.
Dee was concerned about Kelley’s state of mind.
The Prince came for a seance. Dee was worried that the Prince would think that demons were being summoned.
When Laksi came into the study, Kelley summoned up his guardian angel Jubanladeach who was dressed in white with a bloody cross in his right hand.
Jubanladeach told Laksi that “The Jews in his time shall taste the cross: & with this cross shall he overcome the Saracens… for I will establish one faith”, significant as Moldavia, the country Laksi wanted to claim, was part of the Ottoman Empire.
The spirit Madimi returned to warn Laksi about Walsingham & Cecil, & also warned Dee that they were going to search his house. Dee considered an expedition to Poland.
At the end of June Dee received a message from a spirit about Kelley. Dictated in Greek so Kelley could not understand the message he was relaying it warned that Kelley had packed his bags & was going to make a run.
A week later Dee returned to Mortlake from a trip to court to see the prince to find Kelley getting ready to leave on a horse. “If I tarry here I will be hanged & if I go with this Prince he will cut off my head” he said, then “I cannot abide my wife, I love her not, nay, I abhor her.” Then he went.
Kelley returned 3 hours later.
In July the Queen came to visit Dee, no record is made of what they discussed, but the next day she sent him a gift of money, 40 Angels. Sir Walter Raleigh sent a letter to Dee telling him of Elizabeth’s good dispositions towards him.
In September Dee made a catalogue of all the books he owned. It was 170 pages long.
On the 21st September Dee, Kelley, Laski & the wives & children went to Gravesend & boarded ships for the continent. The house & the library were entrusted to Dee’s brother in law, Nicholas Fromonds.
Dee may have left tempted by a good wage in Laski’s employ. This is unlikely as Dee himself knew that Laski was skint. Dee hinted that he was on a private mission on behalf of the Queen, maybe himself & Kelley were “intelligencers” using their position in Laski’s entourage to gather sensitive foreign information.
Maybe he was concerned about hostility from certain members of court or by chaps like Henry Howard who had written “Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies”, a criticism of astrology & scrying.
By Christmas they were in Poland. In February 1584 they finally reached their destination; Lasko. Throughout the journey, Dee & Kelley made their actions, contacting the Angels. The Angels told Dee about the land he had left behind, that he was considered a renegade in England, that Laski’s brother in law was in London, that Dee’s brother in law had been imprisoned.
The Angels continued to communicate Cabalistic tables at an almost untranscribable rate.
In March 1584 Dee & Kelley set up in Krakow & got down to more actions.
Kelley was unsettled & wanted to return to England. He produced evidence that some of the information from the spirits he had actually copied from books in Dee’s library. He was careful to claim that this was spiritual mischief not actual fraud.
Laski was out of favour with the King of Poland & very cash strapped & Dee was worried that association with Laski might put his family in danger.
Through Kelley the spirits were continually telling Dee that he should go to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph, in Prague.
On August 1st Dee & Kelley parted company with Laski & made their way to Prague.
Rudolph had dominion over Austria, Germany, Hungary & Bohemia. He was not interested in the practicalities of running an empire, preferring cerebral pursuits such as science, art, spiritualism, Hermeticism & alchemy. Prague was an arcane centre.
Dee & Kelley found lodgings in the house of Rudolph’s Physician, a gentleman called Thaddeus Hajek, who was also one of Europe’s foremost astronomers & a Protestant.
Dee had corresponded with Hajek for over 10 years on astronomical matters, & was warmly welcomed. Hajek gave Dee access to his Imperial contacts.
Dee & Kelley made their first scrying action in Prague on 15th August. Kelley had a terrible vision that Satan was going to destroy Dee’s family unless they were brought to Prague & Dee was commanded to write to Emperor Rudolph telling him that “the Angel of the Lord hath appeared unto thee & rebuketh him for his sins.”
Dee made an obsequious letter of approach to the Emperor which made no reference to the angelic rebuke & surprisingly got the Spanish Ambassador to deliver it to the Emperor. Despite being told that Dee was a conjuror & bankrupt alchemist & possibly a spy, the ambassador really liked Dee, even becoming godfather to Dee’s son born in Prague that next year.
The Emperor received the message & an audience was arranged.
Dee met the Emperor in his luxurious palace full of curiosities & priceless works of art & a great arcane library. The Emperor was aware of Dee & his works, possessing several of his books. After some preamble Dee passed the Angel’s message directly to the Emperor. The Emperor believed him & was contrite. Dee reported back to the spirits & Uriel was pleased.
A week later the Emperor’s chamberlain sent a letter to Dee telling him to report to Jakob Kurz, one of the Emperors most trusted courtiers. Dee went to Kurz’s house & was received most courteously. Dee told Kurz the nature of his mission: showing Kurz his books of actions & a crystal. Dee had filled 18 books with Adamic language.
After a few weeks Kurz came to visit Dee & Kelley & Kelley hid. Kurz asked to take the books to the Emperor, Dee refused but promised to make copies.
At their next meeting Dee was dismissed, Dee being told that Emperor Rudolph’s sins were a matter between him & his confessor.
Dee’s welcome in Prague was wearing thin. He intercepted a private report from one of Rudolph’s secretaries summarising that the Catholic ambassador to Bohemia. The ambassador had heard rumours of Dee summoning spirits with the aid of certain magical characters”. The ambassador pointed out that according to Catholic orthodoxy “good spirits are not enchanted & moved to appear” so Dee must be acting on the behalf of evil spirits. Also, Dee was married thus lacking the essential purity that enabled the celibate Catholic priesthood to mediate between God & his flock.
Dee was considered to be extremely learned & a threat to the Catholic mission to bring Prague into the Catholic fold.
By the summer of 1585 Dee managed to bring his family from Krakow to Prague. Soon after they had arrived, Kelley received a message from Madimi that Dee & Kelley must immediately go to Krakow. They performed actions in front of the Polish King, the Angels rebuked the king in a manner strikingly similar to that of the Emperor.
Back in Krakow Dee & Kelley began attending Catholic masses. Dee believed any form of religious observance was better than none & worried for the soul of Kelley. Dee & Kelley fell into the company of a dissident Catholic philosopher called Francesco Pucci.
In Pucci’s company they contacted the Angels. Uriel gave an Angelic assessment of the reformation. Uriel intimated that the Church was an important bridge between God & man. He also, however, said that the Church did not have a monopoly on the truth & that “Partakers of the heavenly visions & celestial comforts”, people like Dee, had a role too.
Uriel agreed that the Pope may be capable of evil, but wasn’t the Antichrist, that there were varying levels of truth in different Protestant orders.
Dee & Kelley were straying into a heretical place.
Dee & Kelley & Pucci returned to Prague in the spring of 1586. The new Catholic Ambassador wanted a meeting with Dee. Dee stalled, scared that a trap was being laid for him. The Ambassador was persistent, sending different emissaries until Pucci met the Ambassador & got Dee & Kelley to agree to a meeting.
The Ambassador engaged in a civil but probing conversation with Dee with the aim of getting Dee to talk about his recent conversations with Angels about the Catholic Church. Dee told the Ambassador that it was not for Dee to offer counsel or solutions, evading a trap. The meeting was concluding.
Then Kelley waded in with a speech about how the Catholic Church needed reformation & that there was hypocrisy amongst some of the priesthood which needed to be addressed.
The Ambassador was less impressed with Kelley than with Dee.
The Pope was warned that Dee had managed to infiltrate the Imperial Court where he was spreading a “new superstition” There was growing imperial suspicion that Dee was a spy.
In May 1586 Dee sent a message to Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. “I am forced to be brief. That which England suspected was also here.”
At the end of May, Dee was accused of necromancy & other prohibited arts. The Emperor himself signed a decree banishing Dee & Kelley from Bohemia.
They wandered for 3 months before a Bohemian alchemist Prince by the name of Rozmberk secured permission for Dee & Kelley to return to Bohemia & set them up in his castle at Trebon in southern Bohemia. Rozmberk was having problems getting an heir & his alchemical interests were driven by that as much as the usual promises of unlimited wealth. Dee & Kelley were on a quest for the Philosopher’s Stone.
They engaged in a systematic attempt to explore Alchemy under guidance from the Angels. Alchemy was a hot technology at the time. Dee was offered a £2000 annual salary by Ivan the Terrible’s successor to be philosopher of the Russian Court.
At this point Kelley appeared to have become a master alchemist. He produced a piece of Philosopher’s Stone the size of a grain of sand which transmuted an ounce of Mercury into Gold.
The English Court heard of this & were increasingly fascinated with Kelley. Less so with Dee.
As Kelley’s alchemical exploits continued he became wealthier. In early 1587 he was given a gold necklace by Rozmberk which he gave to Dee’s wife.
Dee was devoted to Jane. Also being an astrologer, he was fastidious in noting the dates & heaviness of her periods & the dates & times they had sex.
Throughout this alchemical adventure, Dee & Kelley continued to scry.
In April 1587 the Angel that appeared cursed those who loved their families over God.
“Be obedient, be full of humility & abandon pride.”
The Angel told Kelley that his inability to father a child was because of his lack of humility & obedience. His scrying power was diminished for the same reason.
Then the Angel told Kelley that the spiritual mission of transcribing the Angelic holy books was going to pass to Dee’s 7 year old son, Arthur.
Arthur had to do 3 sessions a day with little success.
2 weeks later, to Dee’s relief, Kelley was ordained by the spirits to resume his role & turned up in the presence of Dee & Arthur.
Kelley had a vision of a message written on the side of a distant globe “All sins committed in me are forgiven. He who goes mad on my account, let hime be wise. He who commits adultery because of me, let him be blessed for eternity & receive the eternal prize.”
The next day the female spirit, Madimi, appeared naked & “showeth her shame”. Dee told her to go.
“In the name of God, why do you find fault with me?” asked Madimi
“Because your yesterday’s doings & words are provocations to sin” replied Dee.
At this point Dee’s son, Arthur, fainted.
Then Kelley had a vision of 4 heads on a pillar, the heads of Dee & Kelley & of their wives Jane & Joanna. Madimi produced a heavenly half moon inscribed with “Nothing is unlawful which is lawful unto God” She then went into an Orchard & grafted the branches of one tree onto another.
Kelley had an interpretation, one he claimed to hate & must have come from the spirits. Dee & Kelley were to share wives, both in the sense of spiritual love & unity of mind & carnally.
On the 21st of May Dee wrote 2 words in his diary “Pactum Factum”. Pact Fulfilled.
On the 23rd May Kelley & Dee performed their last recorded spiritual action together. A spirit horseman appeared & asked “Kelly, was thy brother’s wife obedient & humble to thee?”
“Dee, was thy brother’s wife obedient unto thee?”
The horseman rode off into a field. The spirit Madimi appeared & questioned Dee’s honesty.
Dee said that Joanna wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the state of affairs but had been obedient.
Then Kelley had a somewhat pornographic vision of a Golden Woman, simultaneously virgin & harlot standing naked in the green field.
& that was that.
A rift formed between the Kelleys & the Dees, which Dee tried to bridge but to no avail.
40 weeks after the wife swap Jane gave birth to another child, most likely Dee’s
On 20 July 1588 Dee’s old friend Edward Dyer, Athur Dee’s Godfather arrived at Trebon. He walked straight past Dee into the arms of Kelley. England was impressed with Kelley’s alchemical skills & wanted him back. Dee was forgotten.
By the winter of 1588 Dee was no longer welcome in Trebon & Kelley had been made a baron of Bohemia with extensive estates including a castle, 9 villages & a house in Prague. The Emperor Rudolph sought Kelley’s services.
Kelley & Dee never saw each other again.
Dee returned to Mortlake in December 1589, 6 years after leaving to find it in ruins. The house had been ransacked. The furniture was gone, most of his scientific instruments too, including the globes he had been given by his cartographer friend Mercator many years before.
Dee estimated that 500 hundred volumes had gone from his library. Many of the books were stolen by acquaintances, associates & former pupils.
One gentleman, a Nicholas Saunder seems to have come into possession of a suspiciously large number of Dee’s books. Often Dee’s signature was bleached out & replaced with Saunder’s.
Dee was 62, many of his friends & associates were dead.
In the spring of 1590 Jane gave birth to a daughter, their 5th child. They named her Madimi.
Dee was in debt & on his uppers, relying on donations from friends & patrons. He got money from the Archbishop of Canterbury, assorted alchemists & explorers & Queen Elizabeth.
He worked as a freelance astrologer & advisor to help make ends meet, performing horary astrology & riskily astrology to aid the recovery of stolen objects.
From the age of 69 to 79 he was a warden of a college in Manchester far from the court of Elizabeth. 5 of his 8 children had died as had his wife Jane.
He died in London sometime between December 1608 & March 1609.
What an interesting comment. I will be looking into those references. Cheers
have you read the book, The Queen’s Conjuror?
Certainly: it is an excellent book. I used it as my primary research text for this blog in fact!
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I enjoyed it too
Great read. Can you provide the reference to Sir William Pickering giving the black mirror to Dee? I keep seeing this mentioned but without any reference. I know that there is some debate concerning the black mirror which is reputed to have belonged to Dee, and that may never actually be cleared up, but it is almost certainly an object of the Aztecs, which was used ritually for scrying/comunicating with a deity associated with sorcery. I’m just trying to research it as thoroughly as possible. Thanks!
The main source for the article is The Queen’s Conjurer by Benjamin Wooley. You can pick it up from Amazon for buttons secondhand & is still pretty up to date. There may be a new revised edition in fact. He provides extensive references