The Rosicrucians

Edward Kelley

13/06/2020
Exactly who Edward Kelley was, if indeed that was his real name, remains a matter of controversy. Born around 1555 in Worcester – at least that was Dee’s conclusion on composing Kelley’s horoscope – Kelley was well versed in Greek and Latin and may have attended Oxford. He also seems to have understood Hebrew, which was rare for an Englishman. Like many of his time, he left university without obtaining a degree.

Of his activities up to the point he met Dee, little is known for sure. Certain accounts suggest he left Oxford abruptly, possibly for some form of misdoing, and was later pilloried in Lancaster on charges of coin counterfeiting. He was also reputedly found guilty of forging title deeds, which tallies with reports he had worked as a notary in London. It’s possible both crimes made their mark on his appearance, as one witness claimed at least one of his ears had been lopped, while he also relied on the use of a walking stick. Added to his regular appearance of wearing a cowl, it’s not difficult to see why the arrival of such a figure on a day when the sky should burn blood-red should have been regarded as somewhat foreboding.

Regardless of his exact crimes, accusations of a dodgy nature would follow Kelley throughout his life. Entering Mortlake under the name Edward Talbot, Kelley was already aware of Dee’s attempts at contacting angels and spirits through the help of a medium or scryer and was initially accepted into the Dee household. Evidence from Dee’s diary suggests he was particularly excited by recent developments. During this time, Kelley apparently made contact with the archangel Uriel, who was mentioned in the Pseudepigrapha – formerly part of the Bible. The suggestion in the novel that Uriel and Michael buried Adam’s body is based on the real legend, and Uriel is also credited in the book of Enoch as the angel who forewarned Noah of the Flood and for earlier revealing the secrets of the ‘heavenly luminaries’ to Enoch. Incidentally, mention in the novel of the existence of the book of Enoch by Guillaume Postel is also based on fact.

From these early exchanges came the sequence of events that would forever colour both Dee’s and Kelley’s reputations. The suggestion in the novel that they conducted their experiments in an attempt to learn the celestial language is known fact, as is their belief its discovery would bestow on them divine knowledge. On learning of Uriel’s alleged presence, one of Dee’s first questions was to enquire of the Book of Soyga, which intriguingly went missing from Dee’s library a year later. Two copies have since turned up and survive in the British Library and the Bodleian.

Despite their initial success, by July the endeavour came to an end, Dee recording in his diary that Talbot was not to be trusted. Yet, come November all seemed to have been forgiven and Talbot, now Kelley, returned to Mortlake, at which point they resumed their ‘spiritual conferences’. From this point onwards, Dee recorded everything in the Book of Mysteries. Within a year, Kelley’s activities further whetted Dee’s appetite after bringing before him a strange book and scroll in addition to a red substance believed to be a sample of the philosopher’s stone.

Over the coming months, the conferences between Kelley and Uriel continued, during which Dee was apparently promised a dictated copy of the book of Enoch, in addition to an ongoing search to get to the bottom of the apparent treasure map concealed in the scroll. Come June 1583, Dee became introduced to one Polish prince, Lord Albert Laski, which would lead to Dee and Kelley upping sticks and embarking on a long journey to Krakow. It was around the time Dee became acquainted with Laski a ‘new spirit’ came to the party, a young girl of around nine named Madimi, whose mischievous ways would further cloud Dee’s later reputation.

Dee arrived in Krakow in March 1584, followed a few weeks later by Kelley. Whereas delivery of the celestial language had been stop-start in England, since arriving on the Continent, the ‘conferences’ had been far smoother. This, however, came to a stuttering, and potentially dangerous, halt as the supernatural occurrences threatened to become violent, and by the middle of August Dee and Kelley had arrived in Prague, now the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Not for the first time, the visions brought significant developments, notably the reappearance of Madimi, now far from the sweet child she had first appeared. Worse still, darker portents from Uriel concerned the wider reformation.

Just as back in England, news of Dee’s endeavours was not without scepticism. While certain figures plotted Dee and Kelley’s end, in a bid to counteract the new opposition, Dee was persuaded by the apparent spirits to destroy all he had recorded since Kelley’s arrival, followed by the book and powder Kelley had discovered back in England. Intriguingly, three weeks later Dee reputedly found three books beneath a tree, having been led there by a supposed spirit posing as a gardener. Among them was the book of Enoch.

Following that, so reappeared everything Dee had willingly burned.

Irrespective of the strange tale, stories at court continued to spread that Dee was both a conjurer and a spy. Banished from Prague for a time, Dee and Kelley spent a two-year sojourn in Trebon – approximately midway between the Czech and Austrian capitals – during which time their experiments became more alchemical. Dogged by accusations of being a charlatan back in England, news of Kelley’s talents were now far-reaching, even prompting attempts by William Cecil to lure the reputed alchemist back to England.

Dee, curiously, shared none of Kelley’s abilities, despite a clear interest in the subject.

It was also at this time the angel conferences took a disturbing turn. Whereas up to this point proceedings had predominantly involved their bid for spiritual knowledge, the return of Madimi culminated in the bizarre command for Dee and Kelley to wife swap. Despite Dee’s initial concern and his wife’s objections, it was recorded in his diary the act was done.

It would prove the end of their partnership.