Edward Kelley

Last updated

Edward Kelley
Edward Kelly prophet or seer to Dr Dee 02355.jpg
An 18th-century engraving of Edward Kelley
Born1 August 1555
Worcester, England
Died1597/8 (aged c. 42)

Sir Edward Kelley [1] or Kelly, also known as Edward Talbot ( UK: /ˈtɔːlbət/ ; 1 August 1555 – 1597/8), [2] was an English Renaissance occultist and self-declared spirit medium. He is best known for working with John Dee in his magical investigations. Besides the professed ability to summon spirits or angels in a "shew-stone" or mirror, which John Dee so valued, [3] Kelley also claimed to possess the secret of transmuting base metals into gold, the goal of alchemy, as well as the supposed Philosopher's Stone itself.


Legends began to surround Kelley shortly after his death. His flamboyant biography, his relationships with Queen Elizabeth I's royal magus Sir John Dee and the Emperor Rudolf II, and his claims of great alchemical skill and the ability to communicate with angels have all led to his relative notoriety among historians. This has made him (along with the German Faustus and Sir John Dee himself) one source for the folklorical image of the alchemist-medium-charlatan.


Birth and early career

Much of Kelley's early life is obscure. He claimed descent from the family of Ui Maine in Ireland. He was born at Worcester on 1 August 1555, [2] at 4 P.M. according to a horoscope that John Dee drew up (based on notes Dee kept in his almanac/diary). His sister Elizabeth was born in 1558, and he had a brother Thomas who later joined him in Dee's household. [4] However, much of Kelley's life before meeting John Dee is not known. [5] He may have studied at Oxford under the name of Talbot; whether or not he attended university, Kelly was educated and knew Latin and possibly some Greek by the time he met Dee.

Anthony à Wood records in Athenae Oxoniensis that Kelley, "being about 17 years of age, at which time he attained to a competency of Grammar learning at Worcester and elsewhere, was sent to Oxford, but to what house I cannot tell. However, I have been informed by an ancient Bachelor of Divinity who in his younger years had been an Amanuensis to Mr Thomas Allen of Gloucester-hall, that he (Kelly) had spent some time in that House; whereupon I, recurring to the matriculation, could not find the name Kelly, only Talbot of Ireland, three of which name were students there in 1573, 74, &c... This relation being somewhat dubiously delivered to me, I must tell you that Kelly having an unsettled mind, left Oxford abruptly, without being entitled into the matricula." According to some accounts, Kelley was pilloried in Lancaster for forgery or counterfeiting. Both his ears were supposedly cropped, a common punishment during the Tudor Dynasty. He usually wore a cap on his head, and it was thought this was to hide his lack of ears. [6] John Weever says, "Kelly (otherwise called Talbot) that famous English alchemist of our times, who flying out of his own country (after he had lost both his ears at Lancaster) was entertained with Rudolf the second, and last of that Christian name, Emperor of Germany." [5] Some accounts say that he first worked as an apothecary's apprentice: some say he worked as a notary in London.

With Dee in England

Kelley approached John Dee in 1582. Dee had already been trying to contact angels with the help of a scryer, or crystal-gazer, but he had not been successful. Kelley professed the ability to do so, and impressed Dee with his first trial. Kelley became Dee's regular scryer or medium. Dee and Kelley devoted huge amounts of time and energy to these "spiritual conferences". From 1582 to 1589, Kelley's life was closely tied to Dee's. In those seven years, they conducted conferences or seances, including "prayers for enlightenment... in the spirit of Dee's ecumenical hopes that alchemy and angelic knowledge would heal the rift of Christendom". [7] Dee also believed that the angels held knowledge that would aid the English in their discoveries of new and uncharted lands on Earth. [8]

Kelley married a widow, Jane (or Joanna) Cooper of Chipping Norton (1563–1606). He helped educate her two children: the girl, future poet Westonia, later described him as a 'kind stepfather' and noted how he took her in after the deaths of her two grandmothers. Kelley had also hired a Latin tutor for her, named John Hammond (Johannes Hammonius in Latin). [7]

About a year after entering into Dee's service, Kelley appeared with an alchemical book (The Book of Dunstan) and a quantity of a red powder which, Kelley claimed, he and a certain John Blokley had been led to by a "spiritual creature" at Northwick Hill. (Accounts of Kelley's finding the book and the powder in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey were first published by Elias Ashmole, but are contradicted by Dee's diaries.) With the powder (whose secret was presumably hidden in the book) Kelley believed he could prepare a red "tincture" which would allow him to transmute base metals into gold. He reportedly demonstrated its power a few times over the years, including in Bohemia (present Czech Republic) where he and Dee resided for many years.

With Dee on the Continent

In 1583, Dee became acquainted with Olbracht Łaski, a Polish nobleman interested in alchemy. In September of that year, Dee, Kelley, and their families left England with Łaski for the Continent. Dee sought the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and King Stefan of Poland in Kraków; Dee apparently failed to impress either monarch enough to earn a permanent station. Dee and Kelley lived a nomadic life in Central Europe, meanwhile continuing their spiritual conferences. While Kelley was apparently more interested in alchemy than in scrying, Dee seemed more interested in making contact with the angels. Kelley's supposed value was as a medium, as only he was able to understand and scribe their language. According to those close to Dee (particularly his son Arthur) there was no little tension between the two men and their families as they journeyed through Europe. Some claim that "Dee seems to have driven Kelly to the brink of insanity, forcing him to perform long skrying sessions on a nearly daily basis". [6]

Kelley and Dee's involvement in necromancy eventually caught the attention of the Catholic Church, and on 27 March 1587 they were required to defend themselves in a hearing with the papal nuncio, Germanico Malaspina, bishop of San Severo. Dee handled the interview with tact, but Kelley is said to have infuriated the nuncio by stating that one of the problems with the Catholic Church is the "poor conduct of many of the priests." The nuncio noted in a letter that he was tempted to toss Kelley out of the window (defenestration was a somewhat common tradition in Prague at the time). [5]

In 1586, Kelley and Dee found the patronage of the wealthy Bohemian Lord William of Rosenberg, a senior official from a powerful family who also shared Kelley and Dee's alchemical interests and is known to have participated in spiritual sessions with the two men. [5] Kelley and Dee settled in the town of Třeboň and continued their research there (in Dee's journal, he states "Oct. 26th, Mr. Edward Kelly came to Trebona from Prage"), and according to Dee's diary it was during this time that Kelley is said to have performed his first alchemical transmutation (on 19 December 1586). Kelley's skilled draughtsmanship is evident in the notes taken by Dee during certain séances (these notes are available in Dee's Book of Enoch). These notes show Kelley's initial commitment to the alchemists' mutual goal. However, he soon began to waver and expressed a desire to stop. Dee insisted that they continue. In 1587, possibly as an act to sever the sessions, Kelley revealed to Dee that the angels (namely a spirit "Madimi") had ordered them to share everything they had, including their wives. Dee, anguished by the "order" of the angels, subsequently broke off the spiritual conferences. He did, however, share his wife. This "cross-matching" occurred on 22 May 1587 and is noted in John Dee's diary: “May 22nd, Mistris Kelly received the sacrament, and to me and my wife gave her hand in charity; and we rushed not from her.” [4] Nine months later, on 28 February, Dee's wife Jane gave birth to a son, Theodorus Trebonianus Dee. Although there may have been speculation among the families that the child was actually Kelley's, he was raised as Dee's son (references to the child's communion are present in Dee's diary); the "cross-matching" incident remained a secret (as did many of their activities) until after the post-mortem publication of Dee's diaries; there was no controversy at the time. [5]

Though it seems the two shared an intimate and often cooperative partnership, it was often characterised as "quarrelsome" and "tense" by contemporaries and historians. Also they were clearly involved in activities that could be seen as heretical to the Catholic Church of the time, so a certain amount of tact and secrecy was required. Kelly left Dee at Trebon in 1589, possibly to join the emperor's court at Prague. Dee returned to England. They did not see each other again. [7]

The manuscript collector Karl Widemann from Augsburg was between 1587 and 1588 his secretary at the court of Rudolph II, and also worked for the Rožmberks in Třeboň. [9]

Apogee and fall

By 1590 Kelley was living an opulent lifestyle in Europe, enjoying the patronage of nobility: he received several estates and large sums of money from Rožmberk. Meanwhile, he continued his alchemical experiments until he had convinced Rudolph II that he was ready to start producing gold, the purpose of his work. Rudolf knighted him Sir Edward Kelley of Imany and New Lüben on 23 February 1590 (but it is possible that this happened in 1589). In May 1591, Rudolf had Kelley arrested and imprisoned in the Křivoklát Castle outside Prague, supposedly for killing an official named Jiri Hunkler in a duel; it is possible that he also did not want Kelley to escape before he had actually produced any gold. [7] In 1595, Kelly agreed to co-operate and return to his alchemical work; he was released and restored to his former status. When he failed to produce any gold, he was again imprisoned, this time in Hněvín Castle in Most. His wife and stepdaughter attempted to hire an imperial counselor who might free Kelley from imprisonment, but he died a prisoner in late 1597/early 1598 of injuries received while attempting to escape. [7] However, according to the account of Simon Tadeá, Rudolf II's geologist, he poisoned himself in front of his wife and children. [10]

In 1674, Sir Thomas Browne, an acquaintance of John Dee's son Arthur Dee, in correspondence to Elias Ashmole, stated that "Arthur Dee said also that Kelley dealt not justly by his father, and that afterwards imprisoned by the Emperor in a castle, from whence attempting an escape down the wall, he fell and broke his leg and was imprisoned again." [11]

A few of Kelley's writings are extant today, including two alchemical verse treatises in English, and three other treatises, which he dedicated to Rudolph II from prison. They were entitled Tractatus duo egregii de lapide philosophorum una cum theatro astronomiae (1676). The treatises have been translated as The Alchemical Writings of Edward Kelley (1893). [7]

The Enochian language

Kelley's "angels" communicated to him in a special language termed 'Angelic', subsequently called Enochian, which he then relayed to Dee. Some modern cryptographers argue that Kelley invented it (see for example the introduction to The Complete Enochian Dictionary by Donald Laycock). Some claim that this was all a farce, but are not clear whether Dee was a victim or an accomplice. Because of this precedent, and of a dubious connection between the Voynich Manuscript and John Dee (through Roger Bacon), Kelley has been suspected of having fabricated that book too, to swindle Rudolf. [12]

The angelic language was supposedly dictated by angels whom Kelley claimed to see within a crystal ball or mirror. (Dee experimented in optics, so these tools were always handy). The angels were said to tap out letters on a complicated table, something like a crossword puzzle but with all the cells filled in. The first third were tapped out with each angelic word backwards; the following two-thirds with each word forwards. There are no significant errors or discrepancies in word usage between the first and following parts. The English translations were not tapped out but, according to Kelley, appeared on little strips of paper coming out of the angels' mouths.

The angelic word telocvovim is glossed as "he who has fallen", but it is actually a Germanic-like combination of two other angelic words: teloch (glossed as "death") and vovin (glossed as "dragon"). Thus "he who has fallen" would be literally translated as "death dragon", both rather obvious references to Lucifer. Neither Kelley nor Dee mention this in their writings.

One argument against Kelley's fabrication of angelic language is that the English translations are in a very different style of writing to that of Kelley's own work. This raises the possibility that Kelley actually plagiarized material from a different source. However, no likely source material has ever surfaced.

Dee considered the dictation of angelic material highly important for three reasons. First, Dee believed the angelic represented a documentable case of true glossolalia, thereby "proving" that Kelley was actually speaking with angels and not from his imagination. Second, the angels claimed that their language was actually the original prototype of Hebrew: the language with which God spoke to Adam, and thus the first human word. Third, the angelic material takes the form of a set of conjurations that would summon an extremely powerful set of angelic beings who would reveal many secrets to those who sought them, especially the key to the philosopher's stone, to god-like wisdom, and eternal life.


  1. Charlotte Fell-Smith, John Dee: 1527–1608. "Dee is careful to give his former skryer his full title 'Sir Edward Kelly, Knight, at the Emperor's Court at Prague.'"
  2. 1 2 Schleiner 2004.
  3. https://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/d/dr_dees_mirror.aspx
  4. 1 2 Dee. John. The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee and the Catalog of His Library of Manuscripts. Ed. James Orchard Halliwell. 2006. Project Gutenberg. Web. 8 March 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Linden, Stanton J. "2." Mystical Metal of Gold: Essays on Alchemy and Renaissance Culture. New York: AMS, 2007. 35–79. Print.
  6. 1 2 http://hermetic.com/sabazius/kelly.htm
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Louise Schleiner, "Kelly, Sir Edward (1555–1597/8)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 4 March 2012
  8. Wilson, A.N. "The Elizabethans" Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NYC, NY. 2011
  9. Ole Peter Grell (1998). Paracelsus. p. 163.
  10. Rafał Prinke (2010). "Beyond patronage: Michael Sendivogius and the meanings of success in alchemy".
  11. Bibl. Bodleian Ashmole MS 1788
  12. Kennedy/Churchill, pp.60–68

Related Research Articles

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia and Archduke of Austria (1552-1612)

Rudolf II was Holy Roman Emperor (1576–1612), King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia (1575–1608/1611) and Archduke of Austria (1576–1608). He was a member of the House of Habsburg.

Enochian Occult or angelic language recorded in late 16th-century England in the journals of John Dee and Edward Kelley, who claimed that it was revealed by the Enochian angels

Enochian is an occult or angelic language recorded in the private journals of John Dee and his colleague Edward Kelley in late 16th-century England. Kelley was a spirit medium who worked with Dee in his magical investigations. The men claimed that the language was revealed to them by the Enochian angels. The language is integral to the practice of Enochian magic. The syntax and grammar of the Enochian language are highly similar to the English language.

Arthur Dee was a physician and alchemist. He became physician successively to Tsar Michael I of Russia and to King Charles I of England.

Enochian magic System of ceremonial magic based on the evocation and commanding of various spirits

Enochian magic is a system of ceremonial magic based on the evocation and commanding of various spirits. It is based on the 16th-century writings of John Dee and Edward Kelley, who claimed that their information, including the revealed Enochian language, was delivered to them directly by various angels. Dee's journals contained the Enochian script, and the tables of correspondences that accompany it. Dee and Kelley believed their visions gave them access to secrets contained within the Book of Enoch.

Elias Ashmole English antiquarian, politician, officer of arms, astrologer and alchemist

Elias Ashmole was an English antiquary, politician, officer of arms, astrologer and student of alchemy. Ashmole supported the royalist side during the English Civil War, and at the restoration of Charles II he was rewarded with several lucrative offices.

<i>Fasciculus Chemicus</i> Alchemical writings compiled by Arthur Dee

Fasciculus Chemicus or Chymical Collections. Expressing the Ingress, Progress, and Egress, of the Secret Hermetick Science out of the choicest and most famous authors is an anthology of alchemical writings compiled by Arthur Dee (1579–1651) in 1629 while resident in Moscow as chief physician to Czar Michael I of Russia.

Michael Sendivogius Polish alchemist, philosopher, and medical doctor

Michael Sendivogius was a Polish alchemist, philosopher, and medical doctor. A pioneer of chemistry, he developed ways of purification and creation of various acids, metals and other chemical compounds. He discovered that air is not a single substance and contains a life-giving substance—later called oxygen—170 years before Scheele's discovery of the element. He correctly identified this 'food of life' with the gas given off by heating nitre (saltpetre). This substance, the 'central nitre', had a central position in Sendivogius' schema of the universe.

Michael Maier German physician and alchemist

Michael Maier was a German physician and counsellor to Rudolf II Habsburg. He was a learned alchemist, epigramist and amateur composer.

Heinrich Khunrath German scientist

Heinrich Khunrath, or Dr. Henricus Khunrath as he was also called, was a German physician, hermetic philosopher, and alchemist. Frances Yates considered him to be a link between the philosophy of John Dee and Rosicrucianism. His name, in the spelling "Henricus Künraht" was used as a pseudonym for the 1670 publisher of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus of Baruch Spinoza.

In the tradition of the 1880s Order of the Golden Dawn a watchtower or guardian in ceremonial and derived neopagan magical tradition is a tutelary spirit of one of the four cardinal points or "quarters". They are also variously associated in many traditions with each the four classical elements and stars. The Watchtowers are invoked during the ritual of casting a magic circle.

<i>Book of Soyga</i> 16th-century Latin manuscript

The Book of Soyga, also titled Aldaraia, is a 16th-century Latin treatise on magic, one copy of which was owned by the Elizabethan scholar John Dee. After Dee's death, the book was thought lost until 1994, when two manuscripts were located in the British Library and the Bodleian Library, under the title Aldaraia sive Soyga vocor, by Dee scholar Deborah Harkness. The Sloane MS 8 version is also described as Tractatus Astrologico Magicus, though both versions differ only slightly.

John Dee English mathematician, astrologer and alchemist

John Dee was an Anglo-Welsh mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, teacher, and occultist, but mostly he was an alchemist. He was the court astronomer for, and advisor to, Queen Elizabeth I, but spent much of his time on alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. As an antiquarian, he had one of the largest libraries in England at the time. As a political advisor, he advocated turning England's imperial expansion into a "British Empire", a term he is credited with coining.

The Angel of the West Window is a novel written in 1927 by Gustav Meyrink steeped in alchemical, hermetic, occult and mystical imagery and ideas interweaving the life of Elizabethan Magus Dr John Dee with that of a fictional modern descendant, Baron Mueller.

Elizabeth Jane Weston Czech poet

Elizabeth Jane Weston. Elizabeth was an English-Czech poet, known for her Neo-Latin poetry. She had the unusual distinction for a woman of the time of having her poetry published.

<i>Dæmonomania</i> Modern fantasy novel by John Crowley

Daemonomania is a 2000 Modern Fantasy novel by John Crowley. It is Crowley's seventh novel, and as the third novel in Crowley's Ægypt Sequence, a sequel to Crowley's 1994 novel Love & Sleep. The novel follows protagonist Pierce Moffett as he continues his book project begun in The Solitudes about the Renaissance and Hermeticism, while dealing with a stormy relationship with his girlfriend Rosie Ryder.

Enochian is an occult or angelic language recorded in the private journals of Dr. John Dee and his seer Edward Kelley in the late 16th century.

<i>Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum</i> book by Elias Ashmole

Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum first published in 1652, is an extensively annotated compilation of English alchemical literature selected by Elias Ashmole. The book preserved and made available many works that had previously existed only in privately held manuscripts. It features the alchemical verse of people such as Thomas Norton, George Ripley, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Lydgate, John Dastin, Abraham Andrews and William Backhouse.

Jane Dee (1555–1604/5) was an English gentlewoman and lady in waiting whose married life is documented in the journals of her husband, the philosopher, occultist, and mathematician John Dee.

Karl Widemann or Carl Widemann or Carolus Widemann, was a German author, physician and collector of manuscripts, from Augsburg, and secretary of the English alchemist Edward Kelley, at the court of Emperor Rudolph II.