On this day in 1609 – John Dee died

John Dee was born on 13th July 1527 in Tower Ward, London to Rowland Dee and Johanna Wild. He was an only child. His father was a minor courtier in the time of Henry VIII.

Dee had a strong education studying at St John’s College in Cambridge. Upon graduation he travelled Europe a continued studying and lecturing. Along the way he picked up a vast collection of astronomical and mathematical instruments.

In 1555 Dee was arrested on the grounds of forecasting the horoscopes of Queen Mary and the Princess Elizabeth. Mary also added treason to the charge but Dee cleared his name and survived. Dee was a lifelong learner and an attempt to preserve books and manuscripts with a vision of a national library was dismissed by Mary. Instead Dee set about expanded his personal library and collecting many ancient books from across Europe.

In 1558, with the ascension of Elizabeth, Dee prospered he was appointed to be Elizabeth’s advisor on all astrological and scientific matters and was consulted over the best day to hold the new queen’s coronation.

In his time Dee published many books and advised on matters that ranged from navigation to the occult. The occult was something that Dee himself would dabble in, in later life, using the services of scryers in an attempt to communicate with angels.

Dee travelled to Europe in 1583 and lived a nomadic life travelling from court to court seeking audiences with rulers. However, they did not trust him; they believed he was a spy under orders from Elizabeth herself.

Eventually Dee returned to England in 1589 to his home at Mortlake to find his house vandalised and his impressive library destroyed and burgled. An increased distrust in the occult meant that Dee found it difficult to find a position and asked Elizabeth for help. She appointed him Warden of Christ’s College, Manchester.

Dee returned to London in 1605 after Elizabeth’s death to find that King James I was unwilling to help him. Dee returned to Mortlake in poverty and was forced to sell off many possessions to support himself and his daughter.

Dee died on 26th March 1609 aged 81.

John Dee memorial plaque

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