Early lifeDee was born in Tower (ward)">Tower Ward, London, to Rowland Dee, of Welsh descent, and Johanna, daughter of William Wild. His surname "Dee" reflects the Welsh language">Welsh ''du'' (). His grandfather was Bedo Ddu of Nant-y-groes, Pilleth, Radnorshire; John retained his connection with the locality. His father Roland was a Mercery, mercer and gentleman courtier to Henry VIII. John Dee claimed descent from Rhodri the Great, King of Wales, and constructed a pedigree accordingly. His family had arrived in London with Henry Tudor's coronation as Henry VII. Dee attended Chantry School (now King Edward VI Grammar School) from 1535 to 1542. He entered in November 1542, aged 15, graduating BA in 1545 or early 1546. His abilities recognised, he became an original fellow of on its foundation by Henry VIII in 1546. At Trinity, the clever stage effects he produced for a production of ' ''Peace'' earned him lasting repute as a magician. In the late 1540s and early 1550s, he travelled in Europe, studying at (1548) and and lecturing in Paris on . He studied under and became friends with the and . Dee also met, worked and learnt from other continental mathematicians, such as in . He returned to England with a major collection of mathematical and astronomical instruments. In 1552, he met in London, with whom he investigated a purported and a supposed to have magical properties. Rector at from 1553, Dee was offered a readership in mathematics at in 1554, which he declined, citing as offensive English universities' emphasis on and (which, together with , formed the '' '') over philosophy and science (the more advanced '' '', composed of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). He was busy with writing and perhaps hoped for a better position at court. In 1555, Dee joined the , as his father had, through its system of . In that same year Dee was arrested and charged with the crime of "calculating", because he had cast s of and . The charges were raised to against Mary. Dee appeared in the and exonerated himself, but was turned over to the Catholic for religious examination. His strong, lifelong penchant for secrecy may have worsened matters. The episode was the most dramatic in a series of attacks and slanders that dogged Dee throughout his life. Clearing his name yet again, he soon became a close associate of Bonner. Dee presented Queen Mary in 1556 with a visionary plan for preserving old books, manuscripts and records and founding a national library, but it was not taken up. Instead, he expanded his personal library in , acquiring books and manuscripts in England and on the Continent. Dee's library, a centre of learning outside the universities, became the greatest in England and attracted many scholars. When Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in 1558, Dee became her astrological and scientific advisor, even choosing her coronation date. From the 1550s to the 1570s, he served as an advisor to England's voyages of discovery, providing technical aid in navigation and political support to create a " ", a term he was the first to use. Dee wrote in October 1574 to seeking patronage. He claimed to have occult knowledge of treasure in the and of valuable manuscripts kept at , knowing that the 's ancestors came from the area. In 1564, Dee wrote the Hermetic work '' '' ("The Hieroglyphic "), an exhaustive interpretation of a of his own design, meant to express the mystical unity of all creation. Having dedicated it to in an effort to gain patronage, Dee attempted to present it to him at the time of his ascension to the throne of . The work was esteemed by many of Dee's contemporaries, but cannot be interpreted today in the absence of the secret oral tradition of that era. His 1570 "Mathematical Preface" to 's English translation of Euclid's '' Elements'' argued for the importance of mathematics as an influence on the other arts and sciences. Intended for an audience outside the universities, it proved to be Dee's most widely influential and frequently reprinted work. In 1577, Dee published , a work setting out his vision of a maritime empire and asserting English territorial claims on the . Dee was acquainted with Humphrey Gilbert">6c: from ...
Later lifeBy the early 1580s, Dee was discontented with his progress in learning the secrets of nature and his diminishing influence and recognition in court circles. Failure of his ideas concerning a proposed calendar revision, colonial establishment and ambivalent results for voyages of exploration in had nearly brought his hopes of political patronage to an end. He subsequently began to turn energetically towards the as a means to acquire knowledge. He sought to contact spirits through the use of a " " or , which he thought would act as an intermediary between himself and the angels. Dee's first attempts with several scryers were unsatisfactory, but in 1582 he met (then calling himself Edward Talbot to disguise his conviction for "coining" or ), who impressed him greatly with his abilities. Dee took Kelley into his service and began to devote all his energies to his supernatural pursuits. These "spiritual conferences" or "actions" were conducted with intense Christian piety, always after periods of purification, prayer and . Dee was convinced of the benefits they could bring to mankind. The character of Kelley is harder to assess: some conclude that he acted with cynicism, but delusion or self-deception cannot be ruled out. Kelley's "output" is remarkable for its volume, intricacy and vividness. Dee claimed that angels laboriously dictated several books to him this way, through Kelley, some in a special angelic or Enochian language. In 1583, Dee met the impoverished yet popular Polish nobleman Albert Łaski, who, after overstaying his welcome at court, invited Dee to accompany him back to . With some prompting by the "angels" (again through Kelley) and by dint of his worsening status at court, Dee decided to do so. He, Kelley, and their families left in September 1583, but Łaski proved to be bankrupt and out of favour in his own country. Dee and Kelley began a ic life in Central Europe, meanwhile continuing their spiritual conferences, which Dee detailed in his diaries and almanacs. They had audiences with in and King Stephen Bathory of Poland, whom they attempted to convince of the importance of angelic communication. The Bathory meeting took place at the Niepołomice Castle (near , then capital of Poland) and was later analysed by Polish historians (Ryszard Zieliński, Roman Żelewski, Roman Bugaj) and writers (Waldemar Łysiak). While Dee was generally seen as a man of deep knowledge, he was mistrusted for his connection with the English monarch, Elizabeth I, for whom some thought (and still do) that Dee was a spy. The Polish king, a devout Catholic and cautious of supernatural mediators, began their meeting(s) by affirming that prophetic revelations must match the teachings of Christ, the mission of the Holy Catholic Church, and the approval of the Pope. In 1587, at a spiritual conference in , Kelley told Dee that the angel had ordered the men to share all their possessions, including their wives. By this time, Kelley had gained some renown as an alchemist and was more sought-after than Dee in this regard: it was a line of work that had prospects for serious and long-term financial gain, especially among the royal families of central Europe. Dee, however, was more interested in communicating with angels, who he believed would help him solve the mysteries of the heavens through mathematics, optics, astrology, science and navigation. Perhaps Kelley in fact wished to end Dee's dependence on him as a diviner at their increasingly lengthy, frequent spiritual conferences. The order for wife-sharing caused Dee anguish, but he apparently did not doubt it was genuine and they apparently shared wives. However, Dee broke off the conferences immediately afterwards. He returned to England in 1589, while Kelley went on to be the alchemist to Emperor Rudolf II. Nine months later, on 28 February 1588, a son was born to Dee's wife, whom Dee baptised Theodorus Trebonianus Dee and raised as his own.
Final yearsDee returned to after six years abroad to find his home vandalised, his library ruined and many of his prized books and instruments stolen. Furthermore, he found that increasing criticism of practices had made England still less hospitable to his magical practices and natural philosophy. He sought support from Elizabeth, who hoped he could persuade Kelley to return and ease England's economic burdens through alchemy. She finally appointed Dee Warden of Christ's College, Manchester, in 1595. This former College of Priests had been re-established as a Protestant institution by Royal Charter in 1578. However, he could not exert much control over its fellows, who despised or cheated him. Early in his tenure, he was consulted on the demonic possession of seven children, but took little interest in the case, although he allowed those involved to consult his still extensive library. Dee left Manchester in 1605 to return to London, but remained Warden until his death. By that time, Elizabeth was dead and gave him no support. Dee spent his final years in poverty at Mortlake, forced to sell off various possessions to support himself and his daughter, Katherine, who cared for him until his death in Mortlake late in 1608 or early in 1609 aged 81. (Both the parish registers and Dee's gravestone are missing.) In 2013 a memorial plaque to Dee was placed on the south wall of the present church.
Personal lifeDee was married three times and had eight children. He married his first wife, Katherine Constable (died 1574), in 1565, without issue. He married his second wife, whose name is unknown, in 1575. However she died in 1576, without issue. In 1578, when he was 51, he married thirdly the 23-year-old Jane Fromond (1555–1604), who had her own connection with the Elizabethan court as a lady-in-waiting to until she married Dee. They had 7 or 8 children, namely: (1579–1651), Michael Dee (died 1594), Rowland Dee, Katherine Dee, Madinia Dee, Frances Dee, Margaret Dee and, possibly, Theodore Dee (1588–1601). From 1577 to 1601, Dee kept a sporadic diary (also referred to as his almanac), from which most of what we know of his life in that time has been gleaned. In 1587, Kelley informed Dee of the angel's wish that they share wives. Theodore Dee, born nine months later, could have been fathered by Kelley, and not Dee. Jane died in Manchester of and was buried in the burial grounds in March 1604. Michael, born in Prague, died on his father's birthday in 1594. Theodore, born in Třeboň, died in Manchester in 1601. His sons Arthur and Rowland survived him, as did his daughter Katherine, "his companion to the end". No records exist for his youngest daughters Madinia (sometimes Madima), Frances and Margaret after 1604, so it is widely assumed they died in the epidemic that took their mother. (Dee had by this time ceased to keep a diary.) While Arthur was a student at the , Dee wrote to his headmaster echoing the normal worries of boarding-school parents. Arthur was an apprentice in much of his father's alchemical and scientific work and in fact often his diviner until Kelley appeared. He went on to become an alchemist and Hermetic author, whose works were published by . The antiquary describes Dee as "tall and slender. He wore a gown like an artist's gown, with hanging sleeves, and a slit.... A very fair, clear sanguine complexion... a long beard as white as milk. A very handsome man."
ThoughtDee was an intense Christian, but his religiosity was influenced by Hermetic and nic- doctrines pervasive in the . He believed that were the basis of all things and key to knowledge. From he drew a belief that man had the potential for divine power that could be exercised through mathematics. His goal was to help bring forth a unified world religion through the healing of the breach of the and churches and the recapture of the pure of the ancients.
Advocating the establishment of coloniesFrom 1570 Dee advocated a policy of political and economic strengthening of England and establishment of colonies in the New World. His manuscript ''Brytannicae reipublicae synopsis'' (1570) outlined the state of the Elizabethan Realm and was concerned with trade, ethics and national strength. His 1576 was the first volume in an unfinished series planned to advocate for the establishment of English colonies abroad. In a symbolic frontispiece, Dee included a figure of kneeling by the shore beseeching Elizabeth I to protect her nation by strengthening her navy. Dee used Geoffrey's inclusion of in 's conquests to argue that Arthur had established a "British empire" abroad. He argued that the establishment of new colonies would benefit England economically, with said colonies being protected by a strong navy. Dee has been credited with coining the term '' '', but Humphrey Llwyd has also been credited with the first use in his ''Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum'', published eight years earlier in 1568. Dee posited a formal claim to North America on the back of a map drawn in 1577–1580; he noted that "circa 1494 Mr. Robert Thorn his father, and Mr. Eliot of Bristow, discovered Newfound Land." In his ''Title Royal'' of 1580, he invented a claim that Madog ab Owain Gwynedd had discovered America, intending thereby to boost England's claim to the New World over that of 's. He also asserted that and King Arthur, as well as Madog, had conquered lands in the Americas, so that their heir, Elizabeth I of England, had a prior claim there.
Reputation and significanceSome ten years after Dee's death, the antiquarian Robert Cotton bought land round Dee's house and began digging for papers and artifacts. He found several manuscripts, mainly records of Dee's angelic communications. Cotton's son gave these to the scholar Méric Casaubon, who published them in 1659, with a long introduction critical of their author, as ''A True & Faithful Relation of What passed for many Yeers between Dr. John Dee (A Mathematician of Great Fame in Q. Eliz. and King James their Reignes) and some spirits''. As the first public revelation of Dee's spiritual conferences, the book was popular. Casaubon, who believed in the reality of spirits, argued in his introduction that Dee was acting as the unwitting tool of evil spirits when he believed he was communicating with angels. This book is mainly responsible for the image, prevalent for the next two-and-a-half centuries, of Dee as a dupe and deluded fanatic. About the time the ''True and Faithful Relation'' was published, members of the movement claimed Dee as one of their number. There is doubt, however, that an organized Rosicrucian movement existed in Dee's lifetime, and no evidence he ever belonged to any secret fraternity. His reputation as a magician and the vivid story of his association with have made him a seemingly irresistible figure to s, writers of horror stories and latter-day . The accretion of fanciful information about Dee often obscures the facts of his life, remarkable as they were. It also does nothing to promote his Christian leanings: Dee looked to the angels to tell him how he might heal the deep and serious rifts between the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformed Church of England and the Protestant movement in England. Queen Elizabeth I used him several times as her court astronomer, not solely because he practised Hermetic arts, but as a deeply religious and learned, trustworthy man. A revaluation of Dee's character and significance came in the 20th century, largely through the work of the historians Charlotte Fell Smith and Dame . Both brought into focus the parallel roles of magic, science and religion in the Elizabethan . Fell Smith writes: "There is perhaps no learned author in history who has been so persistently misjudged, nay, even slandered, by his posterity, and not a voice in all the three centuries uplifted even to claim for him a fair hearing. Surely it is time that the cause of all this universal condemnation should be examined in the light of reason and science; and perhaps it will be found to exist mainly in the fact that he was too far advanced in speculative thought for his own age to understand." Through this and subsequent re-evaluation, Dee is now viewed as a serious scholar and book collector, a devoted Christian (albeit at a confusing time for that faith), an able scientist and one of the most learned men of his day. His Mortlake library was the largest in the country before it was vandalised, and created at enormous, sometimes ruinous personal expense; it was seen as one of the finest in Europe, perhaps second only to that of . As well as being an astrological and scientific advisor to Elizabeth and her court, he was an early advocate of colonisation of North America, envisioning a British Empire stretching across the North Atlantic. Dee promoted the sciences of navigation and . He studied closely with and owned an important collection of maps, s and astronomical instruments. He developed new instruments and special navigational techniques for use in . Dee served as an advisor to English voyages of discovery, and personally selected pilots and trained them in navigation. He believed that mathematics (which he understood mystically) was central to human learning. The centrality of mathematics to Dee's vision makes him to that extent more modern than , though some scholars believe Bacon purposely downplayed mathematics in the anti-occult atmosphere of the reign of James I. Although Dee's understanding of the role of mathematics differs much from ours, its promotion outside the universities was an enduring achievement. For most of his writings, Dee chose English, rather than Latin, to make them accessible to the public. His "Mathematical Preface" to Euclid was meant to promote the study and application of mathematics by those without a university education, and was popular and influential among the "mechanicians": a growing class of technical craftsmen and artisans. Dee's preface includes demonstrations of mathematical principles that readers could perform themselves without special education or training. In the 20th century, the Municipal Borough of Richmond (now the ) honoured John Dee by naming a street near Mortlake "Dee Road".
CalendarDee was a friend of and familiar with the work (translated into English by his ward and assistant, ) of . Many of his astronomical calculations were based on Copernican assumptions, although he never openly espoused the theory. Dee applied Copernican theory to the problem of reform. In 1583, he was asked to advise the Queen on the new promulgated by from October 1582. He advised that England accept it, albeit with seven specific amendments. The first was that the adjustment should not be the ten days that would restore the calendar to the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, but by eleven, which would restore it to the birth of Christ. Another proposal of Dee's was to align the civil and liturgical years and have them both start on 1 January. Perhaps predictably, England chose to spurn suggestions that had papist origins, despite any merit they may have had.
Voynich manuscriptDee has often been associated with the Voynich manuscript. , who bought the manuscript in 1912, suggested that Dee may have owned it and sold it to . Dee's contacts with Rudolph were less extensive than had been thought, however, and Dee's diaries show no evidence of a sale. However, he was known to have owned a copy of the '' '', another enciphered book.
ArtefactsThe holds several items once allegedly owned by Dee and associated with the spiritual conferences: * Dee's Speculum or (an cult object in the shape of a hand-mirror, brought to Europe in the late 1520s), which was subsequently owned by . This was first attributed to Dee by Walpole. had brought "a round piece of shining black marble in a leathern case" to Walpole in an attempt to ascertain its provenance. Walpole said he responded saying, "Oh, Lord, I am the only man in England that can tell you! It is Dr. Dee's black stone". However, there is no explicit reference to the mirror in any of Dee's surviving writings. * The small wax seals used to support the legs of Dee's "table of practice" (the table at which the was performed) * The large, elaborately decorated wax "Seal of God", used to support the "shew-stone", the used for scrying * A gold engraved with a representation of one of Kelley's visions * A crystal globe, 6 cm in diameter. This item remained unnoticed for many years in the mineral collection; it is possibly the one owned by Dee, but the provenance is less certain than for the others. In December 2004, both a shew stone (used for divining) formerly belonging to Dee and a mid-17th-century explanation of its use written by were stolen from the in London, but recovered shortly afterwards.
Science and sorceryTo 21st-century eyes, Dee's activities straddle and modern , but the distinction would have meant nothing to him. He was invited to lecture on at the while still in his early twenties. He was an ardent promoter of mathematics, a respected astronomer and a leading expert in , who trained many who would conduct England's voyages of discovery. Meanwhile, he immersed himself in Magic (supernatural), sorcery, astrology and . Much effort in his last 30 years went into trying to commune with angels, so as to learn the universal language of creation and achieve a pre-apocalyptic unity of mankind. A student of the Renaissance Neo-Platonism of Marsilio Ficino, he drew no distinctions between his mathematical research and his investigations of Hermetic magic, angel summoning and divination: all his activities were part of his quest for a transcendent understanding of divine forms underlying the visible world: Dee's "pure verities". Dee amassed one of England's biggest libraries. His scholarly status also took him into Elizabethan era, Elizabethan politics as an adviser and tutor to Elizabeth I and through relations with her ministers Francis Walsingham and William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, William Cecil. He tutored and patronised Sir Philip Sidney; his uncle Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester; Edward Dyer; and Sir Christopher Hatton.
Literary and cultural referencesDee was a popular figure in literary works by his contemporaries and he has continued to feature in popular culture, particularly in fiction or fantasy set during his lifetime or dealing with magic or the occult.
16th and 17th centuriesEdmund Spenser may be referring to Dee in ''The Faerie Queene'' (1596). William Shakespeare may have modelled the character of Prospero in ''The Tempest'' (1610–1611) on Dee.
19th centuryDee is the subject of Henry Gillard Glindoni's painting ''John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I''.
20th centuryDee is a major character in John Crowley (author), John Crowley's four-volume novel, ''Ægypt'', the first volume of which, ''The Solitudes (novel), The Solitudes'', was published in 1987.
21st centuryPhil Rickman casts Dee as the main detective, investigating the disappearance of the bones of during the reign of in the historical mystery ''The Bones of Avalon'' (2010). The play ''Burn Your Bookes'' (2010) by Richard Byrne examines the relations between Dee, Edward Kelley, and Edward Dyer. The opera ''Dr Dee, Dr Dee: An English Opera'' (2011) by Damon Albarn, explores Dee's life and work.
Works* , 1564 * Preface to Billingsley's Euclid (Billingsley's translation of Euclid's Elements, Euclid's ''Elements''), 1570 * * ''De Heptarchia Mystica, On the Mystical Rule of the Seven Planets'', 1582–1583 * * * from the collected works known as ''Mysteriorum libri quinque'' * John Dee, ''The Mathematicall Praeface to the Elements of Geometrie of Euclid of Megara (1570).'' New York: Science History Publications (1975) * John Dee, ''John Dee on Astronomy: Propaedeumata Aphoristica (1558 & 1568)'' edited by Wayne Shumaker, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley: University of California Press * John Dee, ''Autobiographical tracts of John Dee, Warden of the College of Manchester'', ed. James Crossley. Chetham Society Publications, Vol XXIV. Manchester, 1851 * John Dee, ''Diary for the years 1595–1601'', ed. John E. Bailey. Privately printed, 1880 *
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