Friday, March 28, 2014

Guest Post from Anne Clinard Barnhill

Today I am excited to have Anne Clinard Barnhill, author of Queen Elizabeth's Daugther, visiting my blog today. If you missed my review of Queen Elizabeth's Daughter, check it out here.  

Today Anne will be sharing some information about one of my favorite secondary characters in the novel, Dr. John Dee.  I thought that he was mysterious, eccentric, intriguing and a revolutionary in the novel.  Much to my surprise, he isn't a fictional character, but instead, his character is based on a real-life person.  Check out Anne's post on this very interesting person and character in her novel. He lived an unbelievable life (magic, horoscopes, visions!)…. one that you couldn't even make up if you tried!

    "First, let me thank you for having me.  In my novel, QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER, one of the minor characters is Dr. John Dee, a renowned scientist, cartographer, mathematician and astrologer who served at the court of Edward VI and Elizabeth I.  Dee was born the only child of a mercer and minor courtier, Rowland Dee, whose origins were Welsh.  Rowland Dee served Henry VIII and became quite wealthy in the cloth trade.  This prestigious position allowed his son to become very well-educated.

      While studying at Trinity College, Dee produced a mechanical beetle to be used as a prop for a play.  The beetle was so life-like that he was brought up on charges of sorcery.  He beat the rap but from that point on, his name was associated with magic.  During this time, there was no real line between science and magic.  Thus, a learned man could pursue both astronomy and astrology without suffering scorn from his fellow scientists.  This was a time when alchemy (turning base metal into gold) was considered as legitimate a scientific pursuit as geometry.  Dee studied both and saw no difference—the world had a more open view of science during the Renaissance than it does today.

      After returning to England after lecturing abroad, Dee was called to serve Edward VI.  He was well-paid and this money allowed him to continue his experiments.  However, this lovely circumstance was short-lived, as was Edward.

     When ‘Bloody’ Mary came to the throne, Dee, a Protestant, aligned himself with Elizabeth, who was also Protestant.  While visiting her at Hatfield, he cast her horoscope and also that of Queen Mary.  The results said that Elizabeth would become queen soon, and Mary would die.  He was arrested once again, this time for treason—imagining the queen’s death.  Miraculously, he once again was declared innocent. Once his innocence had been established, Dee proposed that Mary establish a Royal library.  Dee, himself, owned over 4,000 books which he had collected while on the Continent.  He explained to the queen that failure to establish such a library would "prove by a certain token that they are not sincere lovers of good learning because they will not share them with others."  Mary declined, so Dee housed his own collection at his family home, Mortlake, where he eagerly shared with like-minded people, including Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. 

      When Elizabeth became queen, she immediately contacted Dr. Dee and asked him to select a propitious date for her Coronation.  One reason she might have received him well was that one of her dearest ladies, Blanche Parry, was Dee’s cousin.  Elizabeth continued to consult him for many years, though, parsimonious as always, she didn’t pay him well.  He began to tutor students in geometry and other sciences as a way to supplement his royal income.

      Dee, also a cartographer and navigator, was helpful to Sir Francis Drake in his travels.  Dee had brought various navigational instruments back to England from his travels and he invented others.  As a reader of the stars, he predicted that Britain would become an empire and coined the word Britannia.  He helped the Royal Navy and some say he cast a sort of spell during the threat from the Spanish Armada, resulting in the storms that forced the Armada to return to Spain.

      Later in his life, Dee became more and more fascinated with what we would now call the occult.  He had an obsidian mirror-like device which he would use to see spirits.  He also had a crystal ball he used to scry the future.  However, according to his diaries, he was not particularly good at seeing what he hoped to see, though he did claim to see spirits at one of his sessions.  But for him, the concentration had to be quite intense to have success.  Plus, while he was focusing so intently on the sphere, he was unable to write down what he saw.  He needed a partner.

      He found just the right person in Edward Kelly, who, unfortunately, was more of a con man than collaborator.  Kelly, whose original name may have been Talbott, was more interested in making money from alchemy than making a contribution to humanity.  However, Kelly was quite a showman and quickly impressed the visiting dignitary from Bavaria with his abilities.  This resulted in an invitation for both Kelly and Dee to travel to Bavaria for further studies, all expenses paid and then some. 

       This second excursion to the Continent, in the company of Kelly, led to a strange episode in Dee’s life.  Kelly convinced Dee he heard angels when he went into his ‘trances.’  These angels directed the men in conducting their lives.  Dee wrote down all the angels said, even explaining about the angelic language, Enochian.  Kelly was interested in how to use this new tact to his advantage.  He convinced Dee to pursue more monetary rewards and he persuaded him that the angels wanted them to swap wives.  After much deliberation, Dee agreed.

       Eventually, he returned to London to discover many of his instruments and books had been stolen in his absence.  He went about reconstructing his laboratory and returned to Elizabeth for patronage.  She gave him a minor post, but rumors of his escapades in Europe had followed him home.  He had lost credibility.

      Sadly, he died in poverty a broken man of 81."
      Sources: and

Thanks for visiting Anne, and thank you for sharing this information about Dr. John Dee with us.  If you are looking for a Tudor novel that doesn't focus on Henry VIII, I urge you to check out Queen Elizabeth's Daughter, which just came out this month.  What do you guys think of Dr. John Dee's life? Crazy, right?! 


  1. Well that's a bit of a depressing end to his story! That time period and the line between magic and science is always fascinating to me, the fact that a mechanical beetle could have him brought up on charges of sorcery is just crazy. It makes me wonder what will be crazy about the things we do/believe now to people hundreds of years in the future. Such an interesting post, thanks for sharing Christina and Anne!

    1. I know! It's crazy isn't it?! The mechanical beetle part of his biography took me by surprise as well. He's a fascinating person for sure. Thanks for visiting, Jenny!


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