The Rosicrucians

Dr John Dee

13/06/2020
Central to the themes around which my novel, The Rosicrucian Prophecy, evolved, Dr John Dee was a historical character who came to prominence in the reign of Elizabeth I. Born around July 1527, a stone’s throw from the Tower of London, Dee was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge before becoming a founding fellow at nearby Trinity. It was here as a reader in Greek he began to make waves with his academic talents. So excellent was his reputation as a young mathematician, he was invited to lecture on the geometry of Euclid at the University of Paris, aged just twenty-four.

Rarely swayed by offers of advancement, Dee devoted much of his life to the study of mathematics and the developing sciences, travelling regularly and spending his time among like-minded individuals. On reaching saturation point, his interests evolved to those of magic, astrology and Hermetic philosophy, inspired by hopes his new approach might one day prove the gateway to unifying the war-torn continent. As his career advanced, Dee became highly thought of by Queen Elizabeth I, whose religious beliefs were of apparent similarity, Elizabeth once stating: ‘there is only one Jesus Christ . . . the rest is a dispute over trifles.’

A few years earlier, however, Dee had endured far more strained relations with Elizabeth’s elder half-sister, Mary. Following a time travelling the continent, during which time the fires of heresy began to cast their awful glow over Marian England, come 1555 the Privy Council initiated their own witch hunt against Dee, accusing him of ‘calculating’, ‘conjuring’ and ‘witchcraft’, predominantly in connection for his casting of horoscopes concerning Mary, Philip II and Elizabeth.

Reputedly the one for Mary was so bad, Dee had been reluctant to reveal it.

A year after successfully exonerating himself before the Star Chamber, Dee’s frustrations with Mary reached a new height when his request to create a library royal as mentioned in the novel was not taken up. Instead, he endeavoured to complete the task himself, turning his Mortlake cottage into arguably the most excellent private collection in Europe.

With Elizabeth succeeding Mary to the throne, Dee’s fortunes showed signs of improving. After disappearing for five years, he made contact with William Cecil in 1563 to confirm he had obtained a copy of Steganographia in Antwerp, and pleaded with him for funds, as he had acquired the title in service of the nation. A year after his return, and no doubt inspired by his trip, Dee wrote his famed book The Monas Hieroglyphica, a detailed explanation of his glyph of the same name, which combined not only magical ideas and things both major branches of Christianity considered Pagan, but joined with elements of astrology, numerology, mathematics and the kabbalah. The exact meaning of the symbol, which originally appeared on the title page of Dee’s Propaedeumata Aphoristica, is now unknown thanks to the loss of the book. Apparently the design was inspired by Dee’s belief that every symbol could be combined into one, a variant of mercury, thus implying the unity of the cosmos. Not for the first time in his career, it would arouse the intrigue of Elizabeth I, who would later become a ‘sacred witness’ of the mystery.

While Dee usually found himself in Elizabeth’s favour, even to the point he was appointed her astrologer, he wasn’t without enemies at court. As a student of the stars, Dee considered himself a Copernican, still a somewhat controversial matter at that time. Intriguingly, Dee’s other theories have more than a little in common with that of his famous successors. His belief that everything in the universe possessed the ability to repel or attract remains relevant in modern physics, while his work on the ebb and flow of tides was comparable in many ways to that later practised by Kepler and Newton. Reputedly the work of Galileo, the premise that two bodies of unequal weight would fall to the ground at equal speeds was also known to Dee.

Much of that mentioned of Dee in my novel was based on fact. When in England, he spent much of his life in Mortlake, surrounded by his magnificent assembly of books and keepsakes. On turning his attentions to the supernatural, he had been absorbed by the greater mysteries for at least fourteen years when on 8 March 1582 the sky above Mortlake was said to have turned the colour of blood.

It was only a few hours earlier he had met a man whose questionable activities sadly tarnished his reputation ever since.