On page 38 of this book there is a quote by the 17th century historian John Aubrey: "In those dark times, astrologer, mathematician and conjuror were accounted the same things". This encapsulates the contradictory nature of Doctor John Dee very well. He demonstrates amply the contradictions of the Elizabethan era, the boundary between Medieval magic and enlightenment science and rationality. The book goes into what was for me rather excessive detail on the seances (or "actions") in which Dee took part, usually through the medium of the sinister Edward Kelley. But there were many interesting passages about Dee's interest in the latest explorations of America, astronomy and calendar reform, which show that he was a polymath of considerable achievements. He wrote a paper on calendar reform for Elizabeth's government after Pope Gregory's promulgation of the revised calendar in Catholic countries in 1582; but was also consulted by Robert Dudley on the most auspicious day for Elizabeth's coronation in 1558, based more on astrology than practical scheduling issues.
Dee led a colourful life, being married three or four times and having a lot of children (the book seems a litle inconsistent in places over the names of his wives and number of children), reverted from oppressed Protestant to Catholic oppressor under Queen Mary and may have been employed by Walsingham as part of his network of intelligencers. He also made a long journey across central and eatsren Europe in the 1580s after England became too hot for him and returned to find that the attitude towards alchemy and mysticism was beginning to change (though it is worth remembering that even the great Isaac Newton made experiments in alchemy later).
In sum, a lot of fascinating stuff about the Elizabethan era, but the detail in the lengthy scenes involving spirits, etc. became boring for me after a while.
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