Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dee, John
DEE, JOHN (1527–1608), a mathematician and astrologer, was born in London, according to his own account, on 13 July 1527 (Compendious Rehearsal of John Dee, ch. i.) Dr. John David Rhys says that he was descended from the ancient family of the Dees of Nant-y-groes, Radnorshire (Cambrobrytannicæ Cymræcæve Linguæ Institutiones, 1592, p. 60), and he himself drew up an elaborate scheme of his genealogy, which he pretended to deduce from Roderick the Great, Prince of Wales. The Rev. Jonathan Williams asserts that Dee was a native of the parish of Bugaildu, near Knighton, Radnorshire, but cites no authority (Archæologia Cambrensis, 3rd ser. iv. 472). According to Wood he was the son of Rowland Dee, a vintner in London, but Strype (Annals, ii. 353, folio), probably with truth, describes the father as gentleman sewer to Henry VIII, adding that he had been indifferently treated at court—a circumstance which recommended his family to the king's descendants. Dee's mother was Johanna, daughter of William Wild. After some time spent in learning Latin in London and at Chelmsford, Essex, he was sent in November 1542 to St. John's College, Cambridge. He proceeded B.A. in 1544–5, and was admitted a foundation fellow of his college about 1545–6 (Baker, Hist. of St. John's, ed. Mayor, i. 284; Cooper, Athenæ Cantab. ii. 497). He says that in 1543, 1544, and 1545 he studied for eighteen hours daily, only allowing four hours for sleep and two for meals and recreation.
When Trinity College, Cambridge, was founded by Henry VIII, by patent dated 19 Dec. 1546, Dee was nominated one of the original fellows (Rymer, Fœdera, ed. 1713, xv. 107). He says that he was also ‘assigned there to be the under-reader of the Greek tongue. … Hereupon I did sett forth … a Greek comedy of Aristophanes, named in Greek Εἰρήνη, in Latin Pax; with the performance of the Scarabæus, his flying up to Jupiter's palace, with a man and his basket of victuals on her back: whereat was great wondring, and many vain reports spread abroad of the means how that was effected.’ This clever stage effect, in fact, procured for Dee an evil reputation as a conjuror and magician. The suspicion attached to him throughout the remainder of his life, in spite of his repeated excuses, apologies, and solemn obtestations.
In May 1547 he went into the Low Countries to confer with learned men. On his return home at the end of a few months he brought with him the first astronomer's staff of brass, devised by Gemma Frisius, the two great globes constructed by Gerard Mercator, and the astronomer's ring of brass, as Gemma Frisius had newly framed it. All these instruments he subsequently gave to Trinity College, on his departure from the university. He commenced M.A. in 1548. At midsummer that year he went beyond the seas again, taking with him letters testimonial under the seal of the university. He became a student at Louvain at midsummer 1548, and resided there till 15 July 1550, engaged in investigating the ‘original and fountain of arts and sciences’ On his arrival at Louvain he contracted an intimate friendship with Gerard Mercator (Dee, Dedication prefixed to his ‘Προπαιδεύματα ἀφοριστικά’). In the autobiographical fragment entitled a ‘Compendious Rehearsal’ he says that while he was in the Low Countries many foreign noblemen from the court of Charles V, and from Denmark and Bohemia, came to him, and that he instructed ‘Sir William Pykering’ in logic, arithmetic, and the use of astronomical instruments. While at Louvain he studied the civil law, and it has been conjectured that he took the degree of LL.D there. It is true that he was often called ‘Doctor’ Dee, but in reality the highest degree he ever took was that of M.A. (Smith, Vita Joannis Dee, p. 44). As late as 1595, when he was appointed warden of Manchester, he is simply styled M.A., and so he invariably signed his name in the college register (Lansd. MS. 983, f. 73).
On 15 July 1550 he left Louvain, and on the 20th of that month arrived at Paris. There in the College of Rheims he read, freely and publicly, lectures on Euclid's elements, mathematicè, physicè, et Pythagoricè. This had never been done before in any university of Christendom. His auditory was so large that many had to look in at the windows. He refused a tempting offer of one of the regius professorships of mathematics in the university of Paris with a stipend of two hundred crowns.
In 1551 he returned to England, and at the close of that year Sir John Cheke introduced him to Secretary Cecil and Edward VI. The king granted him an annual pension of a hundred crowns, which was afterwards exchanged for the rectory of Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, to which he was presented on 19 May 1553 (Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, ii. 531, folio). In 1554 several of the principal doctors of divinity and masters of arts of Oxford offered him a good annual stipend to lecture on the mathematical sciences in that university. The offer was declined.
On the accession of Queen Mary Dee entered into correspondence with several of the Princess Elizabeth's principal servants while she was at Woodstock and at Milton. Two informers, Ferrys and Prideaux, accused him of an attempt to take away the queen's life by poison or magic. He was accordingly seized at Hampton Court just before the Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned there, and his lodgings in London were searched and sealed up. After having been in confinement for some time he was examined by Sir John Bourne, secretary of state, afterwards before the privy council, and finally before the Lord-chief-justice Brooke of the common pleas. Being at length brought before the court of Star-chamber he was, after a trial, discharged of all suspicion of treason, but was transferred to the custody of Bishop Bonner for examination respecting matters of religion. In the Bishop of London's prison he had for his bedfellow Barthlet Green, who was burnt for heresy. At last on 29 Aug. 1555 he was by an order of council, issued by the special favour of Philip and Mary, restored to his liberty, on entering into recognisance for his good behaviour (Smith, Vita Joannis Dee, p. 8). Foxe relates that Dee's sympathy with Barthlet Green brought him under the surveillance of Bonner on a suspicion of heresy. Consequently he appeared afterwards at the examination of John Philpot, where his enemies tried to test his soundness in the catholic faith (Acts and Monuments, ed. Townsend, vii. 638–41 n., 681, 756). ‘Master Dee,’ however, who was present at the examinations of Robert Smith and John Philpot, is described as chaplain to Bonner and a bachelor of divinity (cf. Examination and Writings of J. Philpot, ed. Eden, pp. 69, 80). It is also observable that in the ‘Acts and Monuments,’ after the Latin edition of 1559 and the English edition of 1563, Foxe has, for whatever reason, suppressed the name of Dee in every instance.
On 15 Jan. 1555–6 he presented to Queen Mary a supplication for the recovery and preservation of ancient writers and monuments. In this remarkable document he dwelt upon the dispersion of old manuscripts at the dissolution of monastic establishments, and prayed the queen to take the opportunity of forming at a trifling cost a magnificent royal library. He proposed that a commission should be appointed to report before the synod of the province of Canterbury. He also undertook to procure copies of famous manuscripts at the Vatican in Rome, St. Mark's in Venice, and at Bologna, Florence, and Vienna.
On the accession of Elizabeth, Dee was taken into the queen's service, being introduced to the royal presence at Whitehall by William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, and Lord Robert Dudley, afterwards Earl of Leicester, the queen saying: ‘Where my brother hath given him a crown, I will give him a noble.’ At Dudley's command he wrote an astrological calculation respecting the choice of a fit day for the coronation. This appears to have recommended him to Elizabeth. She promised him the mastership of the hospital of St. Katharine-by-the-Tower, upon the removal or death of Dr. Mallet; but when the vacancy occurred the post was conferred on Thomas Wilson, LL.D. After waiting a long time in vain for the fulfilment of the queen's promises, he went to Antwerp about December 1562 to make arrangements for the publication of some of his works. Writing on 16 Feb. 1562–3 he asks Cecil whether he is to return to England or to remain to print his works in Germany and make further researches among Dutch scholars and books. Dee states that already he had purchased one book for which a thousand crowns had been vainly offered by other persons. This was the ‘Steganographia’ of the abbot John Trithemius. It is the earliest elaborate treatise on writing in cipher, an interesting subject to Cecil. Dee had evidently acquired a manuscript copy, the first printed edition being probably that which appeared at Frankfort in 1606. Cecil, in a certificate dated 28 May 1563, testified that Dee's time beyond the seas had been well bestowed (Philobiblon Society's Miscellanies, vol. i. No. 18; J. E. Bailey, John Dee and the Steganographia of Trithemius, 1879). In 1563 Dee visited Venice, where he became acquainted with Thomas Ravenna, author of ‘De Vita Hominis ultra 120 annos protrahenda.’ At some period of his life Dee visited St. Helena, and wrote an account of his voyage (Ayscough, Cat. of MSS. p. 873; Cotton MS., Appendix xlvi, 2 parts).
In September 1563 he again travelled to Presburg in Hungary in order to present his work entitled ‘Monas Hieroglyphica’ to the Emperor Maximilian II, to whom he had dedicated it. On his return to England Elizabeth deigned to become his pupil, and he disclosed to her at Greenwich in June 1564 some of the secrets of his mysterious book. In the course of his journey from Hungary he had rendered important services to the Marchioness of Northampton, at whose request the queen on 8 Dec. 1564 granted to Dee the deanery of Gloucester, and a caveat was entered on his behalf, but John Man, warden of Merton College, Oxford, obtained the preferment. Not long after this Dee's friends made suit at court for the provostship of Eton College. Favourable answers were given, but no vacancy in that office occurred for many years. About 1566 Archbishop Parker granted him a dispensation to hold for ten years the rectories of Upton and Long Leadenham, with any other benefice which he might acquire within that period. On 11 Jan. 1567–8, by the advice of Sir William Cecil, he engaged the Earl of Pembroke to present to the queen his ‘Propædeumata Aphoristica,’ which was graciously received, and the earl himself on being presented with a copy of the work gave the author 20l. On 16 Feb. 1567–8 the queen had very gracious talk with him in her gallery at Westminster concerning the ‘great secret’ to be disclosed for his sake to her majesty by Nicholas Grudius Nicolai, sometime one of the secretaries to the Emperor Charles V. Dee was most persistent in his endeavours to obtain a substantial pecuniary reward for his studies, but he was usually put off with fair promises that were never fulfilled. At one period the queen made him an offer of any ecclesiastical dignity, such as a deanery or a bishopric, that might become vacant. He replied that he was terrified at the idea of accepting any preferment with the cure of souls annexed to it.
In 1570 Henry Billingsley [q. v.] brought out his English translation of Euclid, with a long and learned preface by Dee. Dee refers to the popular belief that he was a conjuror, and asks whether a modest christian philosopher ought, on account of marvellous feats naturally wrought and contrived, to be condemned as ‘a companion of the helhounds, and a caller, and a conjuror of wicked and damned spirits.’ This preface is dated on 9 Feb. 1569–70, from his house on the bank of the Thames at Mortlake, Surrey, where he studied diligently for many years and collected a noble library of the most curious books in all sciences, and a large number of valuable manuscripts.
After returning from a journey to the duchy of Lorraine in 1571 he was attacked by a dangerous illness. The queen sent to him from Hampton Court Dr. Edward Atslowe [q. v.] and Mr. Balthorp, two of her physicians. She also sent Lord Sidney with messages about his health and ‘divers rarities to eat’ The appearance of a new star in November 1572 gave Dee an excellent opportunity of displaying his skill in astronomy, and Camden in noticing the phenomenon speaks of Dee's performance with great respect (Annales, ed. Hearn, ii. 272). On 3 Oct. 1574 Dee addressed to Lord Burghley a remarkable letter, complaining that he had not gained the rewards to which twenty years of hard study entitled him. He declares that ‘in zeale to the best lerning and knowledg, and in incredible toyle of body and mynde, very many yeres, therfore onely endured, I know most assuredly that this land never bred any man, whose account therein can evidently be proved greater than myne;’ and he proceeds to offer that he will discover a mine of gold or silver in the queen's dominions, which is to belong to her on condition of his having a right to all treasure-trove in her dominions. He offers Burghley half the proceeds (Lansd. MS. 19, art. 38; Ellis, Letters of Eminent Literary Men, pp. 32–40).
On 10 March 1574–5 the queen, attended by many of her courtiers, visited Mortlake to examine Dee's library, but hearing that his wife had been buried only four hours previously, she would not enter the house, but requested Dee to bring out his famous magic glass and describe its properties, which he accordingly did to her majesty's satisfaction. In 1576 the queen signified to Archbishop Grindal her desire that Dee should have a dispensation to hold for life the two rectories of Upton and Long Leadenham. The archbishop affixed his seal to the document in 1582, but Dee, being at that time busily engaged with his scheme for the reformation of the calendar, neglected to get the great seal attached, and consequently at a later period sustained a pecuniary loss, which he estimated at 1,000l.
In 1577 the courtiers were greatly alarmed by the appearance of a comet, and the queen sent for Dee to Windsor, where she listened for three days to his discourse and speculations on the subject. On one occasion, apparently about this time, his services were hurriedly demanded in order to prevent the mischief to her majesty's person apprehended from a waxen image of her, with a pin stuck in its breast, that had been found in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
In October 1578 he, by the queen's command, held a conference with Dr. Bayly concerning her majesty's grievous pangs and pains caused by toothache and the rheum. In the following month the Earl of Leicester and Secretary Walsingham sent him to Germany to consult the most learned physicians there on the state of the queen's health. He left England on 9 Nov., and arrived at Frankfort-on-the-Oder on 11 Dec. It has been conjectured that on this and other occasions he was entrusted with a secret political mission.
On 17 Sept. 1580 he was honoured with another royal visit. The queen having desired to know her title to countries discovered in different parts of the world, Dee drew up a hydrographical and geographical description of such countries on two large rolls, which he delivered to her majesty at Richmond on 3 Oct. 1580. Burghley seemed at first to doubt the value of the work, but after examining the rolls, at the queen's wish, returned them to Dee a week later, when the queen also called upon him and told him that Burghley highly approved his labour.
In 1584–5 the government made an unsuccessful attempt to adopt the changes introduced into the calendar by Pope Gregory XIII, and promulgated in 1582. Soon after the papal bull had come into operation in Roman catholic countries, Dee was directed to make calculations for the adoption of the new calendar in England. The book which he compiled in consequence was delivered by him to Lord Burghley on 26 Feb. 1582–3 (Dee, Diary, ed. Halliwell, p. 19). The Roman church had amended the calendar on the assumption that all that was done at the council of Nice with regard to chronology was strictly correct. Dee, however, desired to ascertain the actual position of the earth in relation to the sun at the birth of Christ, and to rectify the calendar on that basis. The result would have been the omission of eleven instead of ten days. Dee, however, agreed to compromise for the sake of uniformity, only proposing that the facts should be publicly announced (Strype, Annals, ii. 355, folio ed.). Dee's calculations were submitted to, and approved by, Thomas Digges, Henry (afterwards Sir Henry) Savile, and Mr. Chambers. The government next consulted Archbishop Grindal, and Bishops Aylmer, Piers, and Young. They unanimously recommended the rejection of the scheme, chiefly on the ground that it emanated originally from the see of Rome, and their opposition delayed a great public reform for 170 years (Gent. Mag. new ser. xxxvi. 451; Addit. MS. 14291, ff. 89–92).
Dee now devoted all his attention to alchemical experiments, and to a pretended intercourse with angels or evil spirits. He possessed a crystal globe which he believed had the quality, when intently surveyed, of presenting apparitions and even emitting sounds. The spirits appeared, after due manipulation of the globe, either on its surface or in the room. Only one person, having been named as seer, could see the spirits and hear the voices, concentrating all his faculties on the crystal. Dee assumed the humble part of amanuensis, and solemnly consecrated Barnabas Saul as his seer or ‘skryer.’ The first of their recorded ‘actions with spirits’ took place at Mortlake on 22 Dec. 1581. After due prayers the angel Anael was summoned, soon made his appearance to the ‘skryer,’ and answered various questions. Unluckily Dee soon afterwards became acquainted with Edward Kelly, alias Talbot, a native of Worcestershire and a reputed adept in the occult sciences. Kelly, who was twenty-eight years younger than Dee, had been convicted of forgery, and had lost his ears in the pillory at Lancaster. To hide this mutilation he constantly wore a black skull cap, which also gave him a very solemn and oracular appearance. Dee, with whom he lived many years, seems never to have discovered his secret. On 10 March 1581–2 Kelly called on Dee at Mortlake, and expressed a wish to see or show something in spiritual practice. Dee disclaimed all skill in what was vulgarly accounted magic, but finally produced his crystal, to which aliqui angeli boni were said to be ‘answerable.’ After prayers from both, a spirit called Uriel appeared, who gave directions for invoking other angels, and insisted that Dee and Kelly should co-operate in their researches. He also gave minute instructions for constructing the ‘holy table’ and the ‘seal of God,’ which is delineated in Sloane MS. 3188, f. 30; and advised that a spirit named Lundrumguffa, who sought Dee's destruction, should be discharged. Kelly afterwards admitted that he had been sent to Mortlake in order to entrap Dee into an admission that he had dealings with the devil, but he perceived that it would be more advantageous to him to work on the old scholar's credulity, and he therefore agreed to be installed as ‘skryer,’ with an annual salary of 50l. At the ‘action’ of 21 Nov. 1582 Dee obtained from an angel another stone or crystal which had even more miraculous qualities than the other. These mystical conferences were continued, at intervals, for more than a quarter of a century. Dee believed in all the revelations made by his ‘skryer,’ and when Kelly threatened to leave was ready to make any offer to retain him.
Albert Laski, palatine of Siradz in Bohemia, visited England in 1583. He hoped to restore his ruined fortunes by the discovery of the philosopher's stone. On 31 July 1583 the Earl of Leicester informed Dee that he and Laski intended to dine with him on the next day. Dee pleading poverty, the queen sent him a present of forty angels. The dinner took place. Laski's curiosity was excited, and after some affectation of reluctance Dee and Kelly allowed him to join them in their researches. Money was required for the purchase of drugs and other materials, and in a short time the affairs of the alchemists became very embarrassed. Laski therefore proposed to provide for them in his own country. On 21 Sept. 1583 they left Mortlake privately, in order to embark for Holland. Immediately after Dee's departure the mob, who execrated him as a magician, broke into his house and destroyed a great part of his furniture and books, also his chemical apparatus, which had cost him 200l., and a fine quadrant of Chancellor's which cost him 30l. They likewise took away a magnet for which he gave 33l. (Compendious Rehearsal, ch. vii.)
Dee and his friends arrived on 3 Feb. 1583–4 at Laskoe, the palatine's principal castle, near Cracow. After some time the palatine, wearied with the delusions of Dee and Kelly, induced them to visit the Emperor Rodolph II. They arrived at Prague 9 Aug. (N.S.) 1584, and obtained an audience of the emperor, but Dee's extravagant stories only disgusted Rodolph, who declined to grant a second interview. After this Dee, who had gone to Poland to fetch his wife and children, prevailed on his former patron to introduce him to Stephen, king of Poland, on 17 April 1585. Stephen attended one of the actions with spirits, but detected the imposture. About this period they admitted into their secret society Francis Pucci, a Florentine, a man of education and talent, but about a year later he was ejected from their company, as he was suspected of bad faith.
After their repulse at Cracow Dee and Kelly returned to Prague, but the Bishop of Piacenza, apostolic nuncio at the emperor's court, protested against their presence so effectively that on 29 May 1586 a decree was signed commanding them to quit the emperor's dominions within six days. They hastened to Erfurt in Thuringia, but although they had letters from William Ursinus, count Rosenberg, a knight of the Golden Fleece and chief burgrave of Bohemia, whom they had flattered by predicting that he would become king of that country, the municipal authorities refused them permission to dwell in the city. They found a temporary asylum at Hesse-Cassel. On 8 Aug. Count Rosenberg obtained a partial revocation of the decree of banishment, the magicians being permitted to remain in any of his lordship's towns, cities, and castles. Accordingly they repaired in September to the castle of Tribau or Trebone in Bohemia, Rosenberg's principal residence, where they resumed their pretended intercourse with spirits, which had been interrupted for some time.
On 18 Sept. 1586 Edward Garland informed Dee that the emperor of Russia wished to receive him. The emperor promised to give him 2,000l. a year and to treat him as one of his chief men, while the lord protector offered to give him a thousand roubles out of his own purse besides (State Papers, Dom. Eliz. cxcvi. 143; printed in Hakluyt, i. 573; Dee, Diary, ed. Halliwell, p. 22). This munificent offer was declined. Dee was indefatigable in his search for the philosopher's stone. It was reported that he and Kelly had found a very large quantity of the elixir among the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. During their stay at Tribau Kelly made projection with one small grain of the powder upon an ounce and a quarter of mercury, and it produced nearly an ounce of gold. He also transmuted into gold a piece of metal cut out of a warming-pan, and sent it to Queen Elizabeth, together with a warming-pan having a hole, into which it exactly fitted (Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum, p. 481). Wood relates that Arthur Dee, who was about eight years old, played at quoits with pieces of gold made by projection, as the young Count Rosenberg did with pieces of silver.
As Kelly sometimes refused to act, Dee resolved to initiate his son Arthur in the use of the magic stone. After a great deal of prayer and preparation, the boy made his first experiment on 15 April 1587, but was unable to perceive anything. Kelly accordingly returned to his post, when Dee's old angelic friends immediately reappeared. The crowning part of the imposture was reached on 18 April, when Kelly represented the angels to say it was the divine pleasure that he and Dee should for the future have their wives in common. Dee was exceedingly distressed in mind, but yielded after fresh appeals to the spirits. In his own handwriting he has recorded ‘that on Sunday, the third of May, Ann. 1587 (by the new account), I, John Dee, Edward Kelley, and our two wives, covenanted with God, and subscribed the same, for indissoluble and inviolable unities, charity, and friendship keeping between us four; and all things between us to be common, as God by sundry means willed us to do’ (Casaubon, True and Faithfull Relation, pt. ii. p. 21*; Smith, Vita, p. 53).
Frequent and violent quarrels followed, which led to the final separation of the partners. On 4 Jan. 1588–9 Dee delivered up to Kelly the ‘powder, the bokes, the glas, and the bone, for the Lord Rosenberg,’ and on the 16th Kelly left Tribau for Prague. He and his dupe never met again, but they maintained a regular correspondence for some time.
On 10 Nov. 1588 Dee wrote a letter from Tribau to Queen Elizabeth, accepting a previous invitation to return (Ellis, Letters of Eminent Literary Men, p. 45). On 1 March (O.S.) 1588–9 he set out from Tribau on his way to England. On 9 April 1589 he arrived at Bremen, where he received a letter of compliment from the landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, to whom in return he made a present of twelve Hungarian horses. Dee states that he was attended by a guard of horse, and, besides wagons for his goods, had three coaches for the use of his family; so that the whole cost of his removal from Tribau was no less than 796l. (Compendious Rehearsal, ch. ix.) On 2 Dec. he landed at Gravesend, and on the 19th was very favourably received by the queen at Richmond. On Christmas day he retired to his own house at Mortlake, and began to collect the scattered remains of his library and museum. He succeeded in regaining about three-fourths of his books. His whole loss by the depredations of the mob he estimated at under 400l.
His evil reputation as a sorcerer caused him to be shunned by all classes of society. The queen, however, held him in high esteem, and made him many promises of preferment. She promised him in 1580 a Christmas gift of 100l., but only half that amount came into his hands. On his return to England he had discovered that he was cut off from all receipt of rents from the rectories of Upton and Long Leadenham, while the large annual allowance promised to him from Bohemia remained unpaid. He appealed to his old friends to save him and his family from starvation, and from them, in the space of about three years, he received upwards of 500l., but he was obliged to raise 333l. more by pawning his plate and jewellery, and by borrowing sums of money at interest. On 9 Nov. 1592 he addressed to the queen a petition, in compliance with which Sir John Wolley, the queen's secretary for the Latin tongue, and Sir Thomas Gorges, gentleman of her majesty's wardrobe, went to Mortlake to examine his affairs. Dee exhibited a book entitled ‘A Compendious Rehearsal,’ containing an account of his life down to his last journey abroad, produced confirmatory documents, and named living witnesses. He desired a grant of the mastership of the hospital of St. Cross, near Winchester, when Dr. Bennet, its then holder, should be raised to a bishopric. The queen ordered Lady Howard to comfort Mrs. Dee by a letter and present of a hundred marks, a promise that Dee should have the desired preferment upon a vacancy, and a pension of 200l. a year out of the revenues of the see of Oxford in the interval. In 1594 Dee made another unsuccessful attempt to obtain the deanery of Gloucester. He had an offer in December of the chancellorship of St. Paul's, and eventually obtained a grant of the wardenship of Manchester College. His patent passed the great seal on 25 May 1595. On 14 Feb. 1595–6 he arrived at Manchester with his wife and family, and on the 20th was installed in his new office with great pomp. He lived on very ill terms with the fellows of his college, owing either to his bad management and haughty behaviour, or to their turbulent disposition. He refused to exorcise certain demons by which seven persons were possessed, ordered them to apply to a godly minister, and severely rebuked one Hartley, a conjuror, for his unlawful art (Hibbert-Ware, Hist. of the Foundations in Manchester, i. 129–35).
On 5 June 1604 he presented to James I, at Greenwich, a petition praying that he might be tried and cleared of the horrible slander that he was, or had been, a ‘conjurer, or caller, or invocator of divels,’ offering to submit to death if the charge could be proved. The king, having received information from the Earl of Salisbury as to the nature of Dee's studies, refused to grant the prayer of the petition.
In November 1604 Dee, being in a very weak state of health, quitted Manchester, and returned with his family to Mortlake, where he had recourse to his former invocations, with the assistance of Bartholomew Hickman, who acted as seer. John Pontoys, who had been associated with him in Poland, was also admitted into his confidence. The last record of these ‘actions with spirits’ is dated 7 Oct. 1607.
At the close of his life he was so miserably poor that he was obliged from time to time to dispose of his books to procure subsistence. He was preparing for a new journey to Germany when, worn out by age and infirmities, he died in December 1608, and was buried in the chancel of Mortlake Church.
Dee's first wife died on 16 March 1574–5. By his second wife, Jane, daughter of Bartholomew Fromond, whom he married 5 Feb. 1577–8, he had a son, Arthur Dee [q. v.], and ten other children.
Aubrey says: ‘He had a very fair, clear, sanguine complexion, a long beard as white as milke. A very handsome man. … He was a great peacemaker; if any of the neighbours fell out, he would never lett them alone till he had made them friends. He was tall and slender. He wore a gowne like an artist's gowne, with hanging sleeves, and a slitt. A mighty good man he was. … He kept a great many stilles goeing,’ and ‘the children dreaded him because he was accounted a conjurer’ (Letters by Eminent Persons, vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 310–15).
The magic mirror into which Dee used to call his spirits is a disc of highly polished cannel coal. It was preserved in a leathern case, and was successively in the hands of the Mordaunts, earls of Peterborough, Lady Elizabeth Germaine, John, duke of Argyll, Lord Frederick Campbell, and Mr. Strong of Bristol, who purchased it at the Strawberry Hill sale in 1842, though another account states that it was then acquired by Mr. Smythe Pigott, at the sale of whose library in 1853 it passed into the possession of Lord Londesborough (Journal of British Archæological Assoc. v. 52; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 155). Dee's shew stone, or holy stone, which he asserted was given to him by an angel, is in the British Museum. It is a beautiful globe of polished crystal of the variety known as smoky quartz (Archæological Journal, xiii. 372; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. iv. 306). The consecrated cakes of wax used in Dee's mystical ceremonies, and marked with hieroglyphical and mathematical figures, are also in the British Museum.
No fewer than seventy-nine works by him, most of them never printed, are enumerated in ‘Athenæ Cantabrigienses.’ Among them are: 1. ‘A Supplication to Queen Mary for the Recovery and Preservation of ancient Writers and Monuments,’ 1555–6. In Hearne's ‘Johannes Glastoniensis,’ p. 490; reprinted in ‘Chetham Miscellanies,’ i. 46. Cf. Addit. MS. 4630, art. 1. 2. ‘Προπαιδεύματα ἀφοριστικά, de Præstantioribus quibusdam Naturæ virtutibus, ad Gerardum Mercatorem Rupelmondanum.’ Annexed to ‘Brevis et Perspicua Ratio Judicandi Genituras ex Physicis Causis, Cypriano Leonitio à Leonicia excellente Mathematico authore,’ London, 1558, 4to; also, separately, London, 1568, 4to. 3. ‘Monas Hieroglyphica, Mathematicè, Magicè, Cabalisticè, Anagogicèque explicata, ad Sapientissimum Romanorum, Bohemiæ, et Hungariæ regem, Maximilianum,’ Antwerp, 1564, 1584, 4to; Frankfort, 1591, 8vo and 12mo; reprinted in ‘Theatrum Chemicum,’ Strasburg, 1659, ii. 178. An English translation was made by Thomas Tymme, M.D. 4. ‘De Trigono, circinoque analogico, Opusculum mathematicum et mechanicum,’ lib. 4, 1565, Cotton. MS. Vitell. C. vii. 4. 5. ‘Testamentum Johannis Dee Philosophi Summi ad Johannem Gwynn transmissum,’ 1568. Printed in Ashmole's ‘Theatrum Chemicum,’ p. 334. 6. ‘Epistola ad eximium Ducis Urbini Mathematicum Fredericum Commandinum.’ Prefixed to ‘Machometi Bagdedini de superficierum divisionibus,’ Pisani, 1570. Dee was concerned in editing this work. 7. ‘A fruitfull Preface, specifying the chiefe Mathematicall Sciences, what they are, and whereto commodious; where also are disclosed certaine new Secrets Mathematicall and Mechanicall, vntill these our daies greatly missed.’ Before H. Billingsley's translation of Euclid's Elements, 1570. After the tenth book of this edition of Euclid many of Dee's annotations and inventions are inserted. In 1651 Captain Thomas Rudd, chief engineer to Charles I, published the first six books of Euclid, with Dee's preface. 8. ‘Parallaticæ Commentationis Praxeosq. Nucleus quidam,’ London, 1573, 4to. 9. ‘An account of the manner in which a certayn Copper-smith in the land of Moores, and a certayn Moore transmuted silver into gold,’ 1576, Ashmol. MS. 1394, iii. 1. 10. ‘The British Complement of the perfect Art of Navigation,’ 1576, manuscript. 11. ‘General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the perfect Arte of Navigation: annexed to the Paradoxal Cumpas in Playne: now first published: 24 years after ye first Invention thereof,’ London, 1577 (anon.). Dedicated to Christopher Hatton, captain of her majesty's guard, and gentleman of the privy chamber. See Ashmol. MS. 1789, iv. The running title is ‘The British Monarchie.’ The advertisement and introduction are reprinted in Beloe's ‘Anecdotes,’ ii. 264–92, and in ‘Chetham Miscellanies,’ vol. i. 12. ‘Her Majesties title Royal to many foreign countreys, kingdomes, and provinces,’ 1578. Cf. Cotton. MS. Vitell. C. vii. 3. 13. Tract on the rules of exchange of moneys, 1578. Among the manuscripts of Captain Hervey G. St. John Mildmay, R.N., of Hazelgrove House, Somersetshire. 14. ‘Navigationis ad Cathayam per septentrionalia Scythiæ et Tartariæ littora delineatio Hydrographica,’ 1580, Lansd. MS. 122, art. 5. Cf. Cotton. MS. Otho E. viii. 77. 15. ‘A playne discourse and humble advise, for our gratious Queene Elizabeth … to peruse and consider: as concerning the needfull Reformation of the Vulgar Kalender, for the civile yeres and daies accompting or verifyeing according to the tyme truely spent,’ Ashmol. MS. 179, vii. 1789, i. This, his ablest work, though never published, has passed through the hands of several eminent mathematicians, and been frequently referred to in later times, particularly when the new style was introduced in this country. 16. ‘Calendar for the Annus Reformationis, 1583 (May–December), showing how the eleven days of excess should be cut off, the principal feasts, the places of the ☉ and ☽, the Roman reckoning,’ &c., Ashmol. MS. 1789, iii. 17. ‘The Compendious Rehearsal of John Dee his dutifull declaration, and proofe of the course and race of his studious life, for the space of halfe an hundred years, now (by God's favour and help) fully spent, and of the very great injuries, damages, and indignities which for these last nine years he hath in England sustained (contrary to her Majestie's very gracious will and expresse commandment) made unto the two honourable Commissioners, by her most excellent Majestie thereto assigned, according to the intent of the most humble supplication of the said John, exhibited to her most gracious Majestie at Hampton Court. A. 1592. Novr 9.’ Printed by Hearne in the appendix to ‘Johannis Glastoniensis Chronicon’ (pp. 497–551), from a transcript made by Dr. Thomas Smith previous to the fire in the Cottonian Library; reprinted in the ‘Chetham Miscellanies,’ vol. i. (1851), with other ‘Autobiographical Tracts’ by Dee, edited by James Crossley. The original is in Cotton. MS. Vitell. C. vii. 1; and a transcript by Ashmole in Ashmol. MS. 1788. 18. ‘Θαλαττοκρατία Bρεττανική: sive De Brytanico Maris Imperio, Collectanea Extemporanea: 4 dierum Spacio, celeri conscripta calamo. Mancestriæ, 20 Sept. 1597,’ Harl. MS. 249, art. 13; Royal MS. 7 C. xvi. 17. 19. ‘Dr. Dee's Apology, sent to the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury 1594/5. Or, a Letter containing a most brief Discourse Apologiticall, with a plain Demonstration, and fervent Protestation for the lawfull, sincere, very faithfull and Christian course of the Philosophicall Studies and Exercises, of a certaine studious Gentleman: an ancient Servant to Her most Excellent Majesty Royall,’ 1599; 1604, 4to. 20. ‘Treatise of the Rosie Crucian Secrets.’ Harl. MS. 6485. 21. ‘Alchemical Collections,’ Ashmol. MS. 1486, v.; Addit. MSS. 2128, 2325, art. 1–8 and 2327. 22. His own pedigree, Cotton. Cart. Antiq. xiv. 1. 23. ‘Petition to the kings most excellent Maiestie, exhibited: Anno 1604, Junii 5 at Greenewich,’ broadside in British Museum. Reprinted in ‘European Mag.’ xxxiv. 297, and in Ellis's ‘Letters of Eminent Literary Men,’ p. 47. 24. ‘A True & Faithful Relation of what passed for many Yeers between Dr. John Dee … and Some Spirits,’ edited by Meric Casaubon, D.D., ‘with a Preface confirming the Reality (as to the Point of Spirits) of this Relation: and shewing the several good Uses that a Sober Christian may make of All,’ London, 1659, fol. The original manuscript from which this book was printed is preserved in the Cottonian collection in the British Museum, Append. xlv. 2 parts, formerly marked Addit. MS. 5007. In the printed book department of the Museum there is a copy of Casaubon's work which has been carefully collated with the manuscript, the marginal collations being in the handwriting of the Rev. William Shippen of Stockport, 1683. There is a manuscript note in this copy stating that the government thought of suppressing the book, but that it was bought up too quickly. A copy of the book with Ashmole's notes is in Ashmol. MS. 580. Another copy with manuscript notes is in Addit. MS. 3190. Aubrey, in his biographical jottings, has this memorandum: ‘Meredith Lloyd sayes that John Dee's printed booke of Spirits is not above the third part of what was writt, which were in Sir Rob. Cotton's library; many whereof were much perished by being buryed, and Sir Rob. Cotton bought the field to digge after it.’ The ‘Actions with Spirits,’ as Dee calls them, began on 22 Dec. 1581. They are minutely described in five books of ‘Mysteries’ hitherto unprinted (Sloane MS. 3188). There is an appendix in which the history is continued to 23 May 1583, and as the sixth book, printed by Casaubon, commences with the 28th of the same month, it is evident that the entire history of what passed between Dee and Kelly is still in existence. The first five parts are in the Ashmolean MS. 1790. The Addit. MS. 3677, art. 1, contains a transcript of Dee's conferences with angels from 22 Dec. 1581 to May 1583. See also Addit. MSS. 663, art. 10; 2575, 3189, 3191. These conferences are such a tissue of blasphemy and absurdity that they might suggest insanity, which, however, there is no other ground to suspect. Robert Hooke tried to explain them on the theory that they embodied a cipher for political secrets (Hooke, Posthumous Works, 1705, p. 206). 25. ‘The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee, and the Catalogue of his Library of Manuscripts in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and Trinity College Library, Cambridge. Edited by James Orchard Halliwell, F.R.S.,’ London, printed for the Camden Society, 1842, 4to. This diary was very carelessly edited. The Manchester portion of it, from 1595 to 1601, taken from Dee's autograph manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, was accurately printed (twenty copies only) at London, 1880, 4to, under the editorial supervision of John Eglinton Bailey, F.S.A.
At the bottom of Dee's own pedigree there is a small full-length portrait of him in a furred gown. In the Ashmolean Museum is his portrait, taken at the age of sixty-seven. A copy of this, engraved by Clamp, is in Lilly's ‘Life and Times,’ and another, engraved by Schencker, in Lysons's ‘Environs.’ A portrait of Dee on wood is at the end of Billingsley's Euclid.[The principal authorities are the Libri Mysteriorum in Sloane MS. 3188; Dee's Compendious Rehearsal; his Private Diary; the True and Faithful Relation, edited by Meric Casaubon, of what passed between Dee and some Spirits; the Latin Life by Dr. Thomas Smith, in his Vitæ quorundam Eruditissimorum et Illustrium Virorum (London, 1707, 4to), and elaborate articles in Biog. Brit. (Kippis) and Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigienses, ii. 497, 556. Consult also Addit. MS. 5867, p. 23; Adelung's Geschichte der menschlichen Narrheit, No. 68 (vii. 1–80); Ames's Typogr. Antiq. (Herbert), pp. 610, 647, 656, 661, 843, 844, 1107, 1156, 1609, 1717, 1738; Ayscough's Cat. of MSS.; Bibliographer, i. 72; Blackwood's Edinb. Mag. li. 626; Brayley and Britton's Surrey, iii. 470; Cotton. MSS.; D'Israeli's Amenities of Literature (1841), iii. 189; Ellis's Letters of Eminent Literary Men, p. 87; Foxe's Acts and Monuments (Townsend), vii. 77, 85, 349 n., 638, 641, 642, 681, 734, 756, 783, 784; Godwin's Lives of the Necromancers, p. 373; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, 1824, i. 323; Halliwell's Letters illustrative of the Progress of Science, pp. 13, 20, 30; Hibbert-Ware's Hist. of the Foundations in Manchester, i. 129, 135; Historical MSS. Commission, Rep. i. 132, iv. 594, 595, 598, v. 383, vii. 632, viii. 20; Lansd. MSS.; Lives of Ashmole and Lilly, p. 146; Lysons's Environs, i. 376–85, iv. 602, 603, vi. 53; Mackay's Memoirs of Popular Delusions, 1869, i. 152; Manning and Bray's Surrey, iii. 304; Niceron's Mémoires, i. 349; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. i. 142, 187, 216, 284, ii. 151, x. 444, 2nd ser. iii. 292, 3rd ser. iv. 108, 155, 160, 4th ser. i. 391, iv. 69, ix. 533, x. 176, 5th ser. ii. 86, 136, 218, 376, xi. 401, 422, 7th ser. 127, 192; Sloane MSS.; Calendars of State Papers, Dom. (1581–90), 114, 354 (Addenda, 1580–1625), 187, 212, 277; Strype's Works (general index); Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Taylor's Romantic Biog. i. 379; Williams's Radnorshire, p. 164; Wilson's Merchant Taylors' School, pp. 1165–76; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss) i. 639, 640; Fasti, i. 143.]