Here Dee took up his abode. Its nearness to London and to the favourite places of Elizabeth's residence - Greenwich, Hampton Court, Sion House, Isleworth, and Nonsuch - was at first considered a great advantage, and the journey to and from London was almost invariably made by water. The Queen desired her astrologer to be near at hand. When he fell dangerously ill at Mortlake in 1571, after a tedious journey abroad into the duchy of Lorraine on some mysterious errand, Elizabeth sent down two of her own physicians, Doctors Atslowe and Balthorp, to attend him. Lady Sidney was also despatched with kind, and gracious, and "pithy" messages from the sovereign, and delicacies, "divers raretiess," were supplied from the royal table to supplement his mother's provision for the invalid. The Queen seems to have felt a special obligation to look after him, as she had sent him on some mission of her own, which probably we shall not be far wrong in thinking connected with Dee's alchemistic experiments. Every Court in Europe at this time had astrologers and alchemists in its employ, and the Queen and Burleigh were as anxious as Dee that he should really attain the ever-elusive secret of transmutation. Dee had of course carried the Queen's passport for himself and a couple of servants, with horses, and had obtained permits through foreign ambassadors in London to travel freely through various countries.

Dee was now bent on rather a strange form of public service. On October 3, 1574, he wrote a very remarkable letter to Lord Burleigh of four and a half folio pages in that best printed hand of his which offers no excuse for skipping. His own paramount deserts are very naturally one of the main subjects. He has spent all his money and all his life in attaining knowledge. "Certes, by due conference with all that ever I yet met with in Europe, the poor English Bryttaine (Il favorita di vostra Excellentia) hath carried the Bell away. God Almighty have the glory." If he had only a sufficiency of two or three hundred pounds a year, he could pursue science with ease. Failing that, there is another way. Treasure trouve is a very casual thing, and the Queen is little enriched thereby, in spite of her royal prerogative. No one knows this better than the Lord Treasurer. Now, if her Majesty will grant him, but Letters Patent under her hand and seal, the right for life to all treasure he can find, he promises to give Burleigh one half, and of course to render to the Queen and Commonwealth the proportion that is theirs. It is not the gold, as wealth, that appeals to this man of books and stars:

"The value of a mine is matter for King's Treasure, but a pott of two or three hundred pounds hid in the ground, wall, or tree, is but the price of a good book, or instrument for perspective astronomy, or some feat of importance."

He has spent twenty years in considering the subject; people from all parts have consulted him about dreams, visions, attractions and demonstrations of sympathia et antipathia rerum;" but it is not likley he would counsel them to proceed without permission from the State. Yet what a loss is here!

"Obscure persons, as hosiers or tanners, can, under color of seeking assays of metalls for the Saymaster, enojoy libertie to dig after dreamish demonstrations of places. May not I then, in respect of my payns, cost, and credit in matters philosophical and mathematicall, if no better or easier turn will fall to my Lot from her Majestie's hands, may I not then be thought to mean and intend good service toward the Queen and this realm, yf I will do the best I can at my own cost and charge to discover and deliver true proofe of a myne, vayn, or ore of gold or silver, in some place of her Grace's kingdom, for her Grace's only use?"

The Society of Royal Mines had been incorporated May 28, 1565, and the Queen had granted patents to Germans and others to dig for mines and ores. It was well known that the country abounded in hidden treasure. The valuables of the monasteries had been, in many cases, hastily buried before the last abbot was ejected at the dissolution. The subject had a special fascination for Dee, who was conscious of a "divining rod" power to discover the hiding places. He made a curious diagram of ten localities, in various counties, marked by crosses, near which he believed treasure to lie concealed. He ends his letter to Burleigh with a more practical and much more congenial request. He has been lately at Wigmore Castle, and has seen a quantity of parchments and papers from which he has copied accounts, obligations, acquittances. Will the Treasurer give him a letter to Mr. Harley, keeper of the records there, asking permission to examine them and report as to the contents? "My fantasy is I can get from them, at my leisure, matter for chronicle or pedigree, by way of recreation." So he ends with an apology for his long letter and is "you Lordship's most bownden John Dee."

Previous page Table of Contents Next page