John Dee

Aubrey's Brief Lives

Obituaries Index

I have left about 1674 with Mr Elias Ashmole three pages in folio concerning him.

The father of this John Dee was a vintner in London (from Elias Ashmole who has it from this Dee's grandson. Memorandum: Mr Meredith Lloyd tells me that his father was Roland Dee, a Radnorshire gentleman, and that he has his pedigree, which he has promised to lend to me. He was descended from Rees, prince of South Wales. My great-grandfather, Williarn Aubrey (LLD), and he were cousins, and intimate acquaintance. Mr Ashmole has letters between them, under their own hands, viz one of Sr Williarn Aubrey to him (ingeniously and learnedly written) touching the Sovereignty of the Sea, of which John Dee wrote a book which he dedicated to Queen Elizabeth and desired my great-grandfather's advice upon it. Dr Aubrey's country-house was at Kew, and John Dee lived at Mortlake, not a mile distant. I have heard my grandfather say they were often together.

Arthur Dee, MD, his son, lived and practised at Norwich, an intimate friend of Sir Thomas Browne, MD, who told me that Sir Williarn Boswell, the Dutch ambassador, had all John De&s manuscripts: ask his executors for his papers. He lived then somewhere in Kent.

Ask A. Wood for the manuscripts in the Bodleian library of Doctor Gwyn, wherein are several letters between him and John Dec, and Doctor Davies, of chemistry and of magical secrets, which my worthy friend Mr Meredith Lloyd has seen and read: and he tells me that he has been told that Dr Barlowe gave it to the Prince of Tuscany.

Meredith Lloyd says that John Dee's printed book of spirits is not above the third part of what was written, which were in Sir Robert Cotton's library; many whereof were much perished by being buried, and Sir Robert Cotton bought the field to dig after it.

Memorandum: he told me of John Dee conjuring at a pool in Brecknockshire, and that they found a wedge of gold; and that they were troubled and indicted as conjurers at the assizes; that a mighty storm and tempest was raised in harvest time, the country people had not known the like.

His picture in a wooden cut is at the end of Billingsley's Euclid but Mr Elias Ashmole has a very good painted copy of him from his son Arthur. He has a very fair, clear sanguine complexion (like Sir Henry Savile); a long beard as white as milk. A very handsome man.

Old goodwife Faldo (a native of Mortlake in Surrey), aged eighty or more (1672), did know Dr Dee, and told me he died at his house in Mortlake, next to the house where the tapestry hangings are made, viz west of that house; and that he died aged about sixty or more, eight or nine years since, and lies buried in the chancel, and had a stone (marble) upon him. Her mother tended him in his sickness. She told me that he did entertain the Polish ambassador at his house in Mortlake, and died not long after; and that he showed the eclipse by means of a camera obscura to the said ambassador. She believes that he was eighty years old when he died. She said, he kept a great many stills going; that he laid the storm by magic: that the children dreaded him because he was accounted a conjurer. He recovered the basket of clothes stolen when she and his daughter (both girls) were negligent: she knew this

A daughter of his (I think Sarah) is married to a flax-dresser in Southwark: ask for her name.

He built the gallery in the church at Mortlake. Goody Faldo's father was the carpenter that worked on it.

A stone was on his grave, which is since removed. At the upper end of the chancel then were steps, which in Oliver's days were levelled by the minister, and then it was removed. The children when they played in the church would run to Dr Dee's grave stone. She told me that he forewarned Queen Elizabeth of Dr Lopez' attempt against her (the doctor betrayed it, beshit himself).

He used to distil eggshells, and it was from hence that Ben Jonson had his hint of the alchemist, whom he meant.

He was a great peacemaker; if any of the neighbours fell out, he would never let them alone till he had made them friends.

He was tall and slender. He wore a gown like an artist's gown, with hanging sleeves, and a slit.

A mighty good man he was.

He was sent ambassador for Queen Elizabeth (she thinks) into Poland.

Memorandum: his regaining of the plate for a certain gentleman's butler, who coming from London by water with a basket of plate, mistook another basket that was like his. Mr J. Dee bid them go by water on such a day, and he would see the man that had his basket, and he did so. But he would not get lost horses, though he was offered several angels (pieces of money). He told a woman (his neighbour) that she laboured under the evil tongue of an ill neighbour (another woman) who came to her house, who, he said, was a witch.
From John Aubrey's Brief Lives. (Edited by R Barber, Boydell Press, 1982)