From King James there was nothing to be hoped for Dee, the man familiar with occult sciences. The Scotsman felt himself a special expert on the subject of witches, demons and magic. Had he not attended the infamous trials of 1590 and 1591? And was he not the author of a book intended to shatter the doubts of those who were still unconvinced of the infamy? He was aghast at the new and unorthodox views of apologists like Wier and Reginald Scot, and upon his accession promptly ordered The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), by the last named, to be publicly burned. James's Demonologie is a strange piece of reasoning, a plea, in fact, for the devil, with whom he seems to be on particularly intimate terms. "God's hangman" - that is the title awarded him - is, according to King James, able to return and reanimate any dead body. He announces his faith in the power of conjurers to invoke the devil when they choose, and to invest others with his spirit. He adjures all pious people to unite in exterminating and utterly destroying all persons so possessed: a somewhat unkind request, since he has previously allowed that such objects of reprobation are permitted to exist in order that the godly may be warned!
The first Parliament of James met on March 19, 1604. On the 275h a new and more stringent Act against Witchcraft was brought into the House of Lords. It was referred to the bishops, who discovered it was imperfect, and had a fresh one drawn. On June 9 the execrable Act that disfigured our statute book for 150 years became law. This haste, it was supposed, was used to meet offences exposed by the Scottish trials, now again evidently revived and much talked of in England. It is significant to remember that Shakespeare finished writing Macbeth in 1606. In what way Dee felt himself specially involved, unless by the publication, in 1603, of Harsnet's tirade against impostures and exorcists, it is hard to conjecture, but the times were ripe for him to make, at this identical moment, a passionate appeal to the King and Parliament. On June 5 he presented to James, in the Palace at Greenwich, a petition couched in the strongest and most piteous terms that any man could devise.
He urged upon the King
"to cause your Highnesse said servant to be tryed and cleared of that horrible and damnable, and to him most grievous and dammageable sclaunder, generally, and for these many yeares last past, in this kingdom raysed and continued, by report and Print against him, namely that he is or hath bin a conjurer or caller or invocator of divels."
He went on to relate how he had published many times his "earnest apologies against the slander [one we remember in his preface to Billingsley's Euclid in 1570, and another, the letter to the Archbishop in 1595, he had republished in 1599 and 1603], and yet this ungodly and false report, so boldly, constantly and impudently avouched," has been uncontrolled and unpunished for so many years; and, moreover, in spite of all, some writer, either a "malicious forraine enemy or an English traytor to the flourishing State and Honor of the Kingdom," on January 7, 1592, had called him, John Dee, in print, "the conjuror of the Queen's Privy Council." It seems, therefore, very needful that the suppliant shall be brought to trial, for the credit of the Lords of the Privy Council as well as for his own. "Therefore he offereth himself willingly to the punishment of Death, yea eyther to be stoned to death, or to be buried quicke, or to be burned unmercifully, if by any due, true, and just meanes, the name of conjuror, or caller, or invocator of Divels or damned Sprites, can be proved to have beene or to be duely or justly reported and told of him (as to have been of his doing) were true, as they have been told or reasonably caused any wondering among or to the many-headed multitude, or to any other whoseever else."
Dee's sympathies were so strongly with the unfortunate, persecuted,
so-called witches, that he was willing to throw in his lot with
them and share the same fate. He ends this extraordinary petition
with "a great and undoubted hope" that the King will
"soon redress his farder griefs and hindrances, no longer
of him possibly to be endured, so long hath his utter undoing,
by little and little, beene most unjustly compassed."
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