Freaky Friday – The Elizabethan Odd Couple


The required US legal disclaimer: All images are the property of their owners I reproduce them here under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright law for commentary and critique The required US legal disclaimer: All images are the property of their owners I reproduce them here under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright law for commentary and critique

History is full of strange partnerships.  Some change the world, others just perplex it.  This is the story of the latter.   The tale of Dee and Kelley is one of an educated man and a con man.  How the two became involved and what it did for each is something told again and again.  It has been fuel for many fictional works and even showed up subtly in the X-Men movies on Kurt’s skin. Yet some wonder did this odd couple stumble upon something or did Kelley run the longest most successful con of his career on Dee?

John Dee was a very respected man in Elizabethan society who was the advisor to Kings and Queens.  In a time when the lines between magic,  mysticism,  and science were clearly drawn he attempted to master them all.  His personal library became the largest in Europe at the time. He was integral to the Age of Exploration in England having taught navigation to many of the teams that went.  He chose the date and time of Elizabeth I’s coronation.  He was one of her most trusted advisors for a time and the Court Mage.   His influence declined with his age.  Dee became obsessed with finding the very thing CERN is looking for – the grand unifying theory of everything.  Being a man of his time he thought that if he could talk to angels he’d learn this theory and can teach it as he had mathematics and navigation.  Only he couldn’t talk to angels so he thought he needed a medium who could.

Here is where Edward Kelley entered the picture.  Kelley was educated – he could read and write.  He knew Latin and for a time studied at Cambridge under another name, Edward Talbot.  Why another name – well he’d been in a bit of trouble for counterfeiting.  For that offense he was sentenced to pillory (placed in the stocks) and possibly his ears were cropped for another offense OR they were nailed to the stock and torn when he turned his head or was released.  Either way he always wore a peculiar hat to cover the tops of them.  Every contemporary description of him I could find mentioned his penchant for odd hats that covered his ears despite the current weather.  Kelley’s brother worked for Dee and stated that Kelley could scry (look into a shiny object an tell fortunes or in this case talk to angels).

The two began working together using water bowl for scrying then later a highly polished obsidian mirror.  Of course once they got in touch with Archangel Uriel and a helpful sprit called Madimi set about teaching the men the language of the angels called Enochian.  (here’s where the X-Men come in the language carved on Nightcrawler’s skin is this).  It is from this language that all other revelations to the two flowed.

It seems that the two were finding it hard to gain patronage.  While many regarding Dee is a favorable light they did not trust Kelley.  No one seemed to want to become their patron as it involved paying the two to sit about gaze into a mirror and talk in Enochian all day.  So having met a Polish nobleman in court who promised them they would find patronage for their work in his home court they moved to the Holy Roman Empire (that wasn’t holy, nor Roman,  nor an empire at this time).   There it was revealed that the Polish nobleman was destitute, a well know moocher, and hoped to make money from the pair.  They did not find patronage as expected but did gigs about Europe for their support.

It was in one of their regular readings that Uriel came to them and told them they must share everything between the two of them, including their wives.  Dee was a bit taken back by this his pretty third wife was 28 years younger than him (and Kelley) and he didn’t want to share her.  Still if God wanted it and sent angels to order of him who was he to stand in the way?  So on the 22 May 1587 the men traded wives and surprise Dee’s wife became pregnant with a son that was named Theodorus Trebonianus Dee and was raised as John’s son.   As to Kelley’s wife I couldn’t even find her name much less her age.

It was after this the partnership between Dee and Kelley broke.  It had become ‘quarrelsome’ toward the end according to Dee’s oldest son.  Dee went back to England.  When he got home he found his estate looted and the largest library in Europe decimated. There he got a position as Warden of Christ’s College in Manchester from King Edward.  It was a position he held until he died.  He lived in poverty selling off what remained of his library and other items to keep home and hearth together.  His daughter tended him there until his dying day.

As for Kelley, he tottered off Europe to enjoy an opulent life with patronage from various families.  From these influential positions he found his way into court of Rudolf II.   There he claimed he’d found the alchemy answer to turning base metals to gold.  Well the Emperor took him up on it and supplied Kelley with all he claimed to need to do the deed.  However despite a few fantastical attempts to get out finishing, one included a duel, he failed to spin straw to gold or make gold in any other way.  For this he was imprisoned.  He attempted to escape by jumping from the castle wall but only served to break a leg or both, he died from the injuries.

So ends the tale of the odd partnership of Dee and Kelley.  Only a few questions remain – Enochian is a full language.  If Kelley dictated it to Dee he had to create a language from whole cloth then feed it to his mark.  Was Kelley able to do that?  True he was a smart man to a point but it seem eventually his scams caught up with him.

How did Dee follow Kelley for five years destroying his status and career?  Was it faith?  Was he scammed or was he in on the attempted scam of higher nobility?  You have to agree sitting about all day writing stuff from a polished piece of rock while being supported by your patron sounds grand.  But if Dee didn’t believe why does his personal diary seem as if he did?  Why did he turn his wife over to Kelley even for a night?  Was the son his or Kelley’s?

There are books from what Dee and Kelley created together.  Some contain advanced mathematics not odd for a navigator and mathematician I’d say. The great unified theory of all eluded him though and we are still seeking it today in our own way by trying to read it from subatomic particles.  I do wonder what future generations will think of that.

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