Dee meets Rudolph II: notes

Notes on Dee’s meeting with Rudolph II

The upshot of this surreal story is that Dee did not seek audience of Rudolph II in order to sell him a book. At no time during his stay in Bohemia does he seem to have been seriously short of money and he returned to England believing that his mission had been a complete success.

There is nothing much to be got out of the derivative, sub-biblical spirit actions, but they are essential to understanding Kelly’s role in the story. He left no substantial legacy to history but in a way he is a more interesting man than Dee. If he had been born in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries he would probably have founded a new religion. There is perhaps a key to his personality in the following list of words taken from the spirit actions which do not occur in the Bible (Authorised Version – he would have known the very similar Bishops’ and Geneva Bibles):

a superiore, alternatim*, angular, aptness, ascender, August, beak*, beam (of light)*, belayed*, bigger*, camber, capacity, carve (of meat), carver, centraliter, centre*, chair*, challenge (noun), chapel*, childishness, circularly*, cleft*, cobweb, commodity, correspondent (adj), decent, deliverance (of childbirth), descension, dilated, disdain (verb), dish (= the food not the container)*, dissonancy, dogma, duskish*, e contrario, emanation*, emperor, engender, enterlaced, enticement, extended (adj.)*, extent, falcon, familiarity*, fetter, foggy, glide, gown*, gull*, hatchet*, hover*, humanity, immensurable, impression, incredulous, interest, license (verb), missive, misty, nakedly, objectum, offensive, organical, pale (noun = boundary)*, parchment*, park*, participant, piercer, pitch (= slope)*, prick (= small hole), property, prostrate*, puke-colour*, radically, ramp (verb = rampage), rashness, reprehender, rolling-pin*, rosebud*, rushes (= floor covering), sarcent*, scald, scarf*, scratch, shewstone*, shingle*, simper*, skillful, skrike*, smother*, snaffle, snuff (noun, of candle)*, spade, stream (verb)*, subjects (noun), subtlety, sufferance, suffocated, supereminent, superior (noun), threadbare, tiger, trunk*, tumble*, turret, unborn, unsanctified, untouched, vouchsafe, watermill*, wildness, wrast, wrinkled*

Words with an asterisk are used by Kelly speaking as Kelly, the others by the spirits. The impression one gets is of far more learning than he has been credited with, but an imagination which strays to the kitchen and the toolshed.


The alchemical poem is obscure and my translation is partly guesswork.


Dee, an honest, self-deluded man, calculates the end times to be a life time away. Kelly later ambiguously talks of the year 88, possibly a troubling three years in the future – but a good psychic always has an excuse in reserve.


The spirit actions all took place in the morning and not, as many assume, in the hours of darkness.


Kelly’s first aim on arriving in Prague is to turn Dee against Laski and seek a new patron in Rudolph.


Dee’s letter to Rudolph is barely coherent, the work of a man not far from delusions of grandeur.


theyr Disputations and doctrines, are dogma: an interesting early use of the word ‘dogma’ in a slighting sense.


In fact Dee lived to be 81 and Kelly to 42.


Kelly is distinctly knowledgeable about angels. Madimi is ‘of the order of powers’ (one of the nine celestial hierarchies of pseudo-Dionysius). Her explanation of the false revelation of Henry Sidney’s death assumes the semi-physical angelology of Renaissance Platonism which is also involved in Marci’s references to angelic intervention.

The secrets of a successful career as a psychic have not changed much in four centuries. To quote from James Randi, The Truth about Uri Geller (Buffalo, 1976), chapter 17:

Other supernatural forces dictate conditions and instructions; thus the performers are not responsible for errors of interpretation.

Participants are credited with paranormal forces and are said to have contributed to the success or failure of the demonstration.

Failure is proof of paranormal powers, which only work in a sporadic and unpredictable fashion.

The feats and communications of higher powers appear trivial to us mortals because they are too deep for our primitive intellects.

Voices come from beyond to comfort the ridiculed prophets of the new truths.

The English will believe anything. Go there and prosper.


The drunkenness of Kelly is puzzling. At other points in the story he throws a tantrum to renew Dee’s dependency on him, but here he seems to have lost control of himself. The target of his anger is Lasky’s servant Alexander, and we have seen that Kelly was eager to break all ties with Lasky. Did he know something that we do not, or was he merely on edge in advance of Dee’s audience with the Emperor?

Si fuisset alius: Did Alexander really communicate with Dee and Kelly in Latin, even in the midst of a furious quarrel?


Dee, no less than Kircher, was a man who knew everything. His library came close to what Trithemius dreamed of, a copy of every book, and yet he does not really perceive, like Francis Bacon, that the learning of the ancients was near to exhaustion and needed to be surpassed.

Rudolph hears Dee out, does not know what to make of him, and tells him to keep in touch. Is this what Kelly was aiming for, or did he spend too much time crafting a bait for Dee and not enough thinking about the effect on Rudolph?


Rudolph’s house is to be filled with workers of gold and silver. This is true enough, and no doubt Kelly aspired to be one of their number.


Dee regards his mission as having been accomplished with great success. He is not known to have met Rudolph again, though Marci several times refers to a display of transmutation at which Dee and Kelly both assisted.