Edward Kelley

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EdwKelley.jpg
Edward Kelley, nineteenth-century portrait

Edward Kelley or Kelly, also known as Edward Talbot (August 1, 1555 - 1597) was a spirit medium who worked with John Dee in his magical investigations. Besides the ability to summon spirits or angels on a crystal ball, which John Dee so valued, Kelley also claimed to possess the secret of transmuting base metals into gold.

A horoscope drawn up by Dee indicates that Kelley was born in Worcester on August 1, 1555. Kelley's early life is obscure, but most accounts say that he first worked as an apothecary's apprentice. He may have studied at Oxford under the name of Talbot; whether or not he attended university, Kelley was educated and knew Latin and possibly some Greek. According to several accounts, Kelley was pilloried in Lancaster for forgery or counterfeiting.

Kelley approached John Dee in 1582, initially under the name Edward Talbot. 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. Dee and Kelley devoted huge amounts of time and energy in these "spiritual conferences." From 1582 to 1589, Kelley's life was closely tied to Dee's.

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.

In 1583, Dee became acquainted with Prince Albert Lasky, a Polish nobleman interested in alchemy. Dee, along with Kelley and their families, accompanied Lasky to Europe. Dee sought the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and King Stefan of Poland in Kraków; Dee apparently failed to impress either monarch. Dee and Kelley lived a nomadic life in Central Europe. They continued with their spiritual conferences, though Kelley was more interested in alchemy than in scrying.

In 1586, Kelley and Dee found the patronage of the wealthy Bohemian count Vilem Rozmberk. They settled in the town of Třeboň and continued their researches. In 1587, Kelley revealed to Dee that the angels had ordered them to share everything they had--including their wives. It has been speculated that this was a way for Kelley to end the fruitless spiritual conferences so that he could concentrate on alchemy, which, under the patronage of Rozmberk, was beginning to make Kelley wealthy. Dee, anguished by the order of the angels, subsequently broke off the spiritual conferences even though he did share his (beautiful) wife. He did not see Kelley again after 1588, and returned to England the following year.

By 1590, Kelley was living an opulent life. He received several estates and large sums of money from Rozmberk. He convinced many influential people that he was able to produce gold. Rudolf made Kelley a "Baron of the Kingdom," but eventually he tired of waiting for results. Rudolf had Kelley arrested in May of 1591 and imprisoned in the castle of Purglitz (today Křivoklát) outside Prague. Rudolf apparently never doubted Kelley's ability to produce gold on a large scale, and hoped that imprisonment would induce him to cooperate. Rudolf may also have feared that Kelley would return to England.

Around 1594, Kelley agreed to cooperate and produce gold; he was released and restored to his former status. Again he failed to produce, and was again imprisoned, this time in Hněvín Castle in Most. Kelley died in 1597 at the age of forty-two. A tradition has him dying while trying to escape: the story goes that he used an insufficiently long rope to lower himself from a tower, fell and broke his leg, and died from his injuries.

Kelley's "angels" sometimes communicated in a special "angelic" or Enochian language. Dee and Kelley claimed the language was given to them by angels. Some modern cryptographers presume Kelley invented it. (It is not clear whether Dee was a victim or an accomplice of this farce.) 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, in order to swindle Rudolf.

Legends began to surround Kelley shortly after his death. His flamboyant biography, and his relative notoriety among English-speaking historians (chiefly because of his association with Dee) may have made him the source for the folklorical image of the alchemist-charlatan.es:Edward Kelly

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