John Dee – A Timeline

1527 13th July: John Dee born in London, England, son of Rowland Dee, a minor civil servant, and Johanna Dee (née Phillips).
1542 Dee atttends St. John’s College, Cambridge University, having already been schooled at London and Chelmsford (Essex). Dee, having already mastered Latin, would have studied grammar, logic and rhetoric; also arithmetic, geometry, astronomy (which in those days included Astrology), and music; as well as the three philosophies – Moral, Natural and Divine. It is also probable that he studied Greek and Hebrew. It has also been suggested (Clulee 1988), that this was when Dee first became acquainted with Hermeticism, and even (French 1972) Practical Alchemy – though both of these would not have been on the curriculum!
1546 Dee gets BA. He is given a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge as Under Reader in Greek.
1548 Dee is awarded his MA. He goes to Louvain in Belgium to lecture in Mathematics. He fast establishes an international reputation for himself as a leader in the field.
1550 Goes to Paris to lecture on Euclid. This is so successful Dee receives offers of patronage from European Monarchs and nobles: however, Dee refuses them all, as he has set his sights on a career in England. Dee’s success in Paris also causes hime to be sought out by European scholars. Around this time, Dee’s lectures show the influence of Henry Cornelius Agrippa.
1551 Returns to England. He makes a favourable impression on the boy King Edward VI, from whom he receives an annuity.
1552 Dee is employed by the Earl of Pembroke. Around this time, he is also engaged by the Duke of Northumberland, a powerful nobleman, as tutor to his children: on the grounds that the Duke wants “the best scientific education in England.”
1553 Edward VI dies. Lady Jane Grey becomes Queen with support of, inter alia, Northumberland (Dee’s patron). However, 9 days later she is deposed by Mary I. Northumberland is executed, and Dee becomes an object of suspicion among supporters of the new queen, Mary.
1555 Dee, who numbers Astrology among his many talents, does some work for Princess Elizabeth by casting her horoscope and those of the Queen and her husband. Dee’s enemies use this as an excuse to lay false charges of Treason and conjuring evil spirits. Dee successfully defends himself before the Star Chamber and subsequent interrogation by the Bishop of London. Dee is eventually released 3 months after being arrested, but the slur of being a conjurer of spirits will haunt him for the rest of his life…
1558 Mary I dies. Elizabeth I ascends the throne. Unlike her predecessor, Elizabeth is kindly disposed towards Dee – indeed, she sets the date of her coronation (17th November) by a horoscope she has asked him to cast. Propaedeumata Aphoristica published. This is a set of aphorisms setting out Dee’s view of cosmology, astrology, and the roles of science and natural magic. There is a strong Hermetic influence pervading the text.
1562 Dee travels to the Continent. In Antwerp, he gets hold of a rare copy of Trithemius’ Steganographia – a book of Cryptography and Angel magic, allowing the magician to know what is going on in the parts of the Earth as if by telepathy. Dee by his own admission is very impressed by his find.
1563 Leaves Antwerp for Zurich in Switzerland; and thence for Italy.
1564 Returns to Antwerp. Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica is published.
c. 1565 – 1570 Dee returns to England and settles at Mortlake in Oxfordshire. He sets about establishing the best library in England at his own house. It eventually becomes at least the second largest collection in all Europe: around 1000 written books, and 3000 more other documents. As well as containing works on all the Sciences, it also includes Hermetic philosophy,alchemical works, classical Roman poetry, neoplatonist works, etc etc.
1570 – 1583 In between being England’s greatest Philosopher and Mathematician (and Bibliophile), Dee during this time is feted at Court. Both noblemen and scholars regularly visit Mortlake to meet Dee and to inspect his library. At one point (in 1575), the Queen herself comes to visit. However, apart from a few works (See below) Dee does not publish much himself: and he likes to impart his wisdom only in private.
1570 “Mathematicall Preface” to Euclid’s Elements of Geometrie published. Dee’s approach is not just one of practical mathematics, but also “Mathesis”. This is a kind of Mystical Mathematics à la Pythagoras – as if the secret language of the mind of God, which holds the Universe and all its inhabitants together, consists of numbers. Hence Magic is the art of discovering the Equations which govern the Universe.
1576 Since 1563, one John Foxe has been publishing a book called Actes and Monuments. This has included disparaging references to Dee as the “Greate Conjurer”, as well as a number of other epithets suggestive of black magic. Since 1571 a copy of this book has been placed in every English Cathedral, and in most parish churches. Fed up with the slander, Dee makes a Plea to make Foxe stop calling him “a conjurer of divils”. This is successful (perhaps we can infer the influence of members of Elizabeth I’s court?) – all references to Dee are removed in the 1576 edition.
1581 Dee’s first recorded attempt at Angel Magic, with the aid of a seer named Barnabas Saul
1582 Dee meets Edward Kelley for the first time, who is then using the assumed name of “Talbot”. From March until the spring of the following year, Dee and Kelley receive the Sigillum Dei Aemeth, the Holy Table, a Lamen formed from the names of the Heptarchic Kings and Princes, a magic Ring, and seven tables of letters (forming the basis of the Tabula Bonorum and Tabula Collecta). It would appear that Dee and Kelley had a quarrel early in 1583, causing a hiatus in the work.
1583 September – Dee, Kelley (now apparently reconciled) and their respective families travel to the Continent. In Dee’s absence, a mob, possibly suspicious of his magical activities, ransack Mortlake doing extensive damage to the Library. Meanwhile, Dee and Kelley’s Angelic Magic at this time includes revelations concerning the 49 Good Angels, Liber Logaeth, and the Angelic Alphabet.
1584 In Prague, Dee meets Emperor Rudolf II. Meanwhile, Dee and Kelley are attracting criticism and malicious gossip, after all they are “Heretics” (i.e. Protestants) in Catholic Europe, and practising Magic. Rumours of conjuring demons again begin to fly. It is around this time (April – July) that Dee and Kelley receive the Tablet of Nalvage, Liber Scientiae, the elemental Tablets and Tablet of Union and the 48 Enochian Calls. Significantly, the Angelic Magic operations between the pair fizzle out from this point.
1585 In Cracow, Dee meets the King of Poland.
1586 In Prague, Dee, at a meeting with the Papal Nuntio (i.e. the Vatican Ambassador), makes a plea for Christian unity and love to end the terrible divisions between Catholics and Protestants. Dee, Kelley and their entourage then leave to go on their travels again. Dee later learns that his plea for unity incensed the Nuntio against Dee: even the Pope wrote to the Emperor to arrest the magicians and send them to Rome for interrogation. Although this doesn’t happen, they are banned from Rudolf’s territories. Dee and Kelley go to stay as guests of the Duke of Bavaria, at one of his castles at Trebona. The Duke manages to get the exclusion order mitigated.
1589 Dee and Kelley break up once and for all, quite soon after the notorious wife-swapping incident. Kelley convinced Dee that an Angel had told them to share their wives in common. Note that since Dee was not present at the time this angel spoke to Kelley. Apparently the incident did occur, although Dee unsuccessfully tried to erase this portion from his diary. Kelley remains behind when Dee, at Elizabeth I’s behest, returns to England. Dee attempts to continue Angel Magic with limited success, using as seers his son Arthur, and one Bartholemew Hickman. Dee’s influence at court starts to go into decline: most of his old friends and patrons are either dead, getting old – or just wilfully distant. Old gossip about Dee being a conjurer of devils begins to circulate again…
1594 Dee writes A Letter, Containing a most Briefe Discourse Apologeticall… to the Archbishop of Canterbury – it is published the following year. Dee’s motive is to try and quash rumours that he is a necromancer: but the rumours still persist.
1595 After his break-up with Dee, Kelley stayed in Europe: he was knighted by the Emperor Rudolf II, and employed as his Alchemist. However, when the bullion was not forthcoming, Rudolf lost patience and had Kelley imprisoned. In November 1595, Kelley, aged 40, died, being fatally injured falling from a turret during an escape bid.
1596 Given the Wardenship of Christ’s College, Manchester, but encounters hostility from the Fellows there on account of his reputation.
1603 Elizabeth I, who throughout her reign had enormous respect for Dee, dies. She is replaced on the throne by the King of Scotland, James VI (who becomes James I of England). He is a man known for his hatred of witchcraft, satanism and the Occult. Once again, Dee finds himself as an outsider at Court, in much the same way as in 1553.
1604 Dee, in a desparate attempt to clear his name once and for all, petitions the King to put him on trial so that accusations of summoning evil spirits and devils can be disproved. Note that if Dee had gone on trial and was found guilty he would have been sentenced to death and burnt at the stake. As it happens, the King does not decide to put Dee on trial, but in sparing him the ordeal he has denied Dee the chance to salvage his public reputation, now in tatters.
1605 Jane, Dee’s wife, dies of the plague. Dee is forced to relinquish his post at Manchester, owing to the hatred from the Fellows – this reduces him to poverty. The only way he can keep from starving is to start selling books from out of his famous Library.
1608 John Dee dies at Mortlake, aged 81.


JOHN DEE – The World of An Elizabethan Magus by Peter French, 1972 Routledge & Kegan Paul plc.

John Dee’s Natural Philosophy: Between Science and Religion by Nicholas H. Clulee, Routledge 1988