John Dee (July 13, 1527 - December, 1608) was a noted British mathematician, astronomer, geographer and consultant to Elizabeth I. He was also interested in alchemy, astrology, divination and Rosicrucianism.
He wrote "Monas Hieroglyphica" (The Heiroglyphic Monad) in 1564 (about Kabbala alchemy) and the preface to the first English translation of Euclid's works.
Dee's Speculum or mirror, a piece of solid, pink-tinted glass, about the size of an orange, is preserved in the British Museum.
Dee was born in London of a Welsh family, the surname deriving from the Welsh "Du" ("black"). He graduated from St. John's College, Cambridge aged eighteen. He lectured briefly at Cambridge before he left England to study in continental Europe and lecture in Paris and Louvain. He returned to England in the 1540s. In 1553, during the reign of Mary I, he faced a Star Chamber prosecution, accused of black magic, but he was only briefly jailed. When he was released, he became a scientific advisor to Elizabeth I, even deciding on the auspicious date for her coronation in 1558.
Travelling widely abroad with a pension from Elizabeth I, and possibly acting as a spy, Dee strove to increase his knowledge and add to his library. His main published work was Monas Hieroglyphica (1564), a dense Kabbala-influenced work on alchemy. But in 1570 he wrote the preface to the first English translation of Euclid's works. He became a close associate of many Elizabethan explorers and entrepreneurs such as Sir Humphrey Gilbert.
He met Edward Kelly (or Kelley), a convicted forger, in 1582 and Kelly became his companion. Kelly acted as intermediary for Dee in his attempts to receive visions from "angels" using a globe of crystal—a magical system and language called Enochian was apparently derived from this scrying. (Dee's crystal globe ended up in the British Museum unnoticed for many years in the mineral collection.) Most of the still existing papers of John Dee are contained within the British Museum, and are available for replication or viewing.
In 1583, while Dee was away in Europe, his home and library at Mortlake were destroyed, perhaps by a mob fearful of this "magician", though Dee grew to believe that many of his books had been purloined by former friends and associates.
He has the distinction of being the first person to put the word British before the word Empire. He was warden of Manchester College from 1595 until 1604.
Death and afterwards
When Elizabeth I died in 1603, so did Dee's influence: he was forced to retire to his home at Mortlake where he died in poverty. The posthumously published account of Dee's encounters with spirits was reprinted in 1974.
He was married three times and had eight children. His eldest son was Arthur Dee, who was also an alchemist and hermetic author.
Fictional books about Dee
A series of books by Armin Shimerman fictionalizes Dee's life by providing a science fictional basis for his supposed magic.