Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 16, Vol. 2. Vernal Equinox 2009
Shakespeare's Green Garland Part Two:
by Teresa Burns
Last issue, two articles under the larger title William Shakespeare’s Green Garland explored the possibility that “Francis Garland,” a man who seems to barely exist outside of his presence in John Dee’s diary and angelic workings, but who according to Dee witnessed Edward Kelley’s grand transmutation, could be a pseudonym for the man we now call William Shakespeare.
As the first of those articles noted, Dee refers to several “Garland” brothers in his diary—Francis, Edward, and Robert—and mentions a fourth “Garland,” Henry. None have ever been positively identified. No extant archival records show a payment to or letter from any of these men, yet they clearly are presented by Dee as acting as couriers. No civic record yet located lists their names. In fact, with only two or perhaps three significant exceptions which I mentioned in that essay, all of the references to a “Garland” connected to John Dee or Edward Kelley have as their source the writings of John Dee.
That article, “Francis Garland, William Shakespeare, and John Dee’s Green Language,” its timeline comparing Francis Garland’s activity to that of William Shakespeare, and a related analysis of a poem perhaps written by Edward Kelley to a “G.S.” who may have been “Gulielmus Shakespeare,” were all written to test out two clusters of hypotheses concerning John Dee, Edward Kelley, William Shakespeare, and Francis Garland.
First, could the man now called Shakespeare have been working as an English courier/spy from the late 1580s at least until the mid 1590s, and was he the man who repeatedly visited John Dee and Edward Kelley in Trebona at the height of their alchemical experiments? John Dee, and later Elias Ashmole with Dee’s diary as the probable source, reports that Francis Garland and his “brother” Edward Garland were present for Edward Kelley’s “public demonstration of the philosopher’s stone;” Edward and Francis Garland are also specifically referred to in one angelic “conversation” that we said we’d return to this issue.
While Edward Garland disappears for good not long after that, Francis Garland continues to come and go during Dee and Kelley’s most mysterious workings, performed in the months leading up to England’s victory over Spain’s “Invincible Armada.” Upon his return to England in 1589, John Dee records that “Francis Garland” then carried letters between Dee (in Mortlake) and Kelley (in Prague) at least in 1590 and in 1593-94. Garland most often appears in connection with the courtier and poet Sir Edward Dyer and members of the Kelley family: Kelley himself, his wife Joan, his wife’s brother Edmund Cooper, and his brother Thomas Kelley and Thomas’ wife.
Comparing the dates when John Dee records Francis Garland in his diaries with the known dates of Shakespeare’s life shows clearly that the idea is impossible to disprove. Francis Garland is never mentioned by Dee as being in one place when we can demonstrate that Shakespeare is in another. Most of the dates for Francis Garland fall in what is known as the “Lost Years” of Shakespeare. Shakespeare probably left Avon around 1585, probably soon the birth of the twins Hamnet and Judith, and we know nothing of what he was doing until April 18, 1593, when his poem Venus and Adonis was registered in London. Not long after Shakespeare’s rise to fame begins, “Francis Garland” disappears.
Mysteriously, there does seem to be a portrait of someone who could be Shakespeare painted in 1588, when he was 24 years old: the famous Grafton Portrait. Even conservative scholars like Michael Woods have suggested this painting could indeed be a young Shakespeare, and might mark young Shakespeare’s entrance into the service of a noble family, such as that of his likely first patron, Ferdinando Stanley Lord Strange. Others have argued that it is not Shakespeare at all, and question how a young man could have afforded such expensive clothes of the color only allowed for aristocrats.
But both of these explanations by-pass the obvious: that talented young writers were in high demand as “intelligencers,” that odd Elizabethan composite of spies, reporters, couriers and diplomats, where it is not clear where one label stops and another begins. The Grafton portrait is just the sort that might be done to identify someone’s secret service agent (their “man” in the lingo of the time) who might well be presented (via clothing rather than things less easy to change, like facial features) as someone of a station he is not. The Grafton portrait most definitely is not the kind of symbolic study we see of many nobles. At the far extreme, consider the many paintings of Elizabeth I, about which art historians can make numerous observations about the portrait symbolism, though in terms of empirical physical identification no one even agrees what color her eyes were. Portraits of nobility, especially monarchs, often tell us much more about the values that a particular group wants associated with the image rather than what the person looks like.
In contrast, another type of Renaissance portraiture, done quickly and often in multiple copies, functions more as photography does today: as a way to identify someone to an audience that has not yet met them. They are the sort sent ahead when looking for marriage prospects, or the sort done to let one courier/spy know what another looks like. The painting might be sent ahead, the message with it implicit: “this person will be coming, and he’s one of our men. Give him what he needs, or take the instructions he gives you, and don’t ask questions.”
Not coincidentally, the Grafton portrait of a 24-year-old who may be Shakespeare is dated 1588, when according to John Dee, Francis Garland leaves Trebona for England with letters for Edward Dyer and a “Mr. Yong,” likely the rabidly anti-Catholic justice Richard Young, who is among other things connected to the arrest of playwright/spy Christopher Marlowe years later. Francis Garland leaves England sometime during the spring of 1588 and then seems, according to Dee’s references to him, to have no trouble taking quick trips around central Europe at the very same time that the English are battling the Spanish Armada and many in the places Garland travels to might be rather apprehensive about the identity of an unrecognized English traveler, papers or no. It seems likely that this painting is for identification and originally may have gone ahead of Garland with some other better known courier. It may have been one of several made to identify an agent, so that that agent, Frances Garland, could go to various drop-points to pick up, deliver, or ask for information. (For Dee’s diary entries on Garland’s travels as compared to the whereabouts of Marlowe and Shakespeare, see the timeline from last issue.) A portrait of young Christopher Marlowe, discovered in 1953 and discussed at length by Charles Nicoll in his study of how the competing spy rings of Essex and Robert Cecil may have been involved in the death of Shakespeare’s most famous predecessor, could well have served a similar function. Like the Grafton portrait, the portrait of Marlowe gives the date of composition, 1585, and the age of the subject, 21.
We must also ask, as we will later in this article, what role Dee was playing in the secret service during the years Garland appears in his diary. For instance, in December 1587, Dee writes:
Thomas Simkinson and Mr Francis Garland’s brother Robert came to Trebon from England, thinking we were ready to come into England upon the Queen’s letters sent for us.
Should we take this diary entry on face value? If so, why does Dee choose to stay in Trebona rather than return home? Incidentally, “Thomas Simkinson” is the same name Elias Ashmole will later refer to, a man as untraceable as the Garland brothers. It is significant that Dee has enough clout with someone that he can, at least by his own record, refuse a request from the Queen to return home in 1587, yet after England’s victory over the Armada in 1588, he can write her a letter congratulating her on the victory and ask to come home then, and get permission do so. The conventional analysis has been that he returns in disgrace, and finds his home in Mortlake sacked. The more we uncover about Dee’s connections to Shakespeare and Shakespearean theater, the less plausible that explanation seems. More likely: there are some very powerful factions in England that support him, and some that do not.
But let us continue trying to follow Garland/Shakespeare. After the possible 1588 portrait, no trace of Shakespeare appears again until his works are in print. Garland appears in Dee’s diary for the next two years, then disappears 1590-91, the very same years that playwright/spy Christopher Marlowe’s fatal troubles begin. If we assume that Frances Garland is Shakespeare, it appears that he visited Dee before the registration and publication of both Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece: Francis Garland visits Dee on March 17th 1593, and Venus and Adonis is registered on April 18th. Garland visits Dee on March 28th 1594, and The Rape of Lucrece is registered on May 19th. It is tempting to think that the young pupil, Garland/Shakespeare, was showing his mentor his latest works of alchemical poetry; Venus and Adonis in particular is filled with alchemical symbolism. By Garland’s last visit in 1595, when Dee writes that he and Francis “had much talk” of Sir Edward Kelley,” it is possible that both Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were finished and perhaps read with approval by Dee. Indeed, a close analysis of either poem reveals that they are filled with Hermetic ideas, and Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular is probably the most easily accessible statement of Shakespeare/Dee’s alchemical philosophy.
One of the few other places in which the surname “Garland” appears is a group of manuscripts located in the Royal Library in Copenhagen and recently analyzed by Jan Bäcklund as part of a group of manuscripts that connect to an alchemical circle around John Dee and Edward Kelley, where its also clear that the men named in the documents are interested in not only alchemy but espionage. We’ll look at those documents again later in this article. They may not only give us a clue about what William Shakespeare was doing, but help us answer a few of the questions about Edward Kelley.
Last issue’s second cluster of hypotheses concerned Edward Kelley’s poem “Concerning the Philosopher’s Stone,” probably written around 1589 and anthologized in 1652 by Elias Ashmole in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum with a dedication to “G.S., Gent.” Last issue’s article argued that the “G.S.” of the poem was likely “Gulieilmus Shakespeare,” the baptismal name of William Shakespeare (and conveniently, also the initials for Garland-Shakespeare). Elias Ashmole, or someone close to him, must have changed Kelley’s original dedication. That suggests that Elias Ashmole, editor of the work of Dee’s son Arthur and more famously, founder of England’s Royal Society, knew more about the identity of the “Francis Garland” than he lets on—as mentioned, his Theatrum is one of the only sources beyond Dee’s diary where “Francis Garland” is referred to, and has Dee’s diary as its probable source—and knew who Garland, aka “Gulielmus Shaksper,” later became. Perhaps because of particular family connections that sparked Ashmole’s interest as well as an oral tradition that can be traced back to his own Rosicrucian “father”, William Backhouse, Elias Ashmole certainly had access to much information since lost, including information about Edward Kelley’s family. If anyone knew the more common identity of the Garland brothers who witnessed Kelley’s grand transmutation, it would be Ashmole.
An explication of the very dense alchemical symbolism and green language allusions within Kelley’s poem is almost a prerequisite for reading it. The title of Kelley’s original was simply, “The praise of vnity for frendship’s sake made by a stranger/ to further his frende his Conceyts.” Elias Ashmole renamed the “stranger,” originally perhaps a pun on the courier’s connection to Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, as “G.S., Gent.” Since the poem itself is an instructional piece, designed to give insight into a kind of alchemical theater, we can suppose that the “conceyts,” or personal creative endeavors, that it refers to involve that alchemical theater. Clearly, Kelley is writing to someone who knows his initiatory language and has perhaps actually witnessed the art of transmutation. Just as clearly, that someone is a poet, “nature’s sower,” and a member of the “schoole” mentioned in the poem’s last line.
In the late 1580s, if one were to mention a “school” of English poets, one would likely be referring to a group of courtiers which included Sir Edward Dyer—the same poet/aristocrat who often appears with Francis Garland. Dyer was also at least a double agent, and is part of that rarefied group of Renaissance writers, men other than Shakespeare who someone, in this case Alden Brooks, argues were really Shakespeare. In this writer’s opinion, Brook’s argument holds up much better if one simply assumes that the gifted writer-spy who became Shakespeare spent many formative years with his older writer-spy colleague, Dyer.
What has lived on the most about Dyer is not his connection to espionage or to Dee and Kelley, but the poetic “school” he was a part of: the “Areopagus” circle around Sir Philip Sidney. Sidney’s uncle, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, had been tutored in his youth by John Dee, who had also likely tutored the young Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth. When Princess Elizabeth became Queen, Robert Dudley’s close connection to her was a matter of great consternation to many, so much so that when Dudley’s wife Amy Robsart died, supposedly of falling down the stairs, many suspected a murder with Dudley behind it, because many suspected that he hoped to marry Elizabeth and become King.
At this particular time Philip Sidney wrote a very spirited, and very political, defense of his uncle, and he and his poetic circle, Dyer included, almost always supported the unpopular Earl. In other words, Dyer and those around him were not only poets, courtiers, and occultists, but became, willingly or not, sucked into the political issue that gave birth to modern espionage: the covert “war” to determine who would marry Elizabeth and become King, and when it became clear she would never marry, who would succeed her as the next ruler of England.
But before we try to untangle the web of espionage that links Francis Garland to Dyer, Dee, and Kelley, and learn to read John Dee’s diary as the veiled record of the Queen’s most trusted intelligencer, let’s pause for a moment to consider the significance of identifying Dee’s “Francis Garland” as young Will Shakespeare, courier and occultist-in-training.
Simply put, if Francis Garland is William Shakespeare, then most of the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare’s life disappear like actors at the end of a play.
A sudden light is thrown on the so-called lost years, and a real person, not a cipher or a mask, emerges. The reason why his plays seem so filled with “inside information” becomes obvious. The young Will didn’t waste his time holding horses in front of playhouses and apprenticing as an actor; he went directly to the source of the national literary Renaissance: the Sidney group. And in that circle he met Dyer, who was perhaps in need of another bright young poet who could write quickly and cleanly. In years of carrying messages from one country to another, young Shakespeare had more than the equivalent of the college education, training in multiple languages and familiarity with different cultures and classes that scholars see in his plays, but can’t account for in his life. The education, erudition, and facility at encoding meaning on multiple levels came from Shakespeare’s years as a courier-spy working with some of the most gifted occultists in western history.
What about questions concerning the plays themselves? All of these questions can be reframed in terms of an overarching “monadic” philosophy that synthesizes alchemy, Kabbalah, sacred geometry, and mythology.
Suppose one is trying to understand the green language allusions in particular character names: not only “big names” like Hamlet and Lear, but even more so those of non-leading characters—take, for instance, the names of the two young couples lost in the woods in Midsummer Night’s Dream, or the characters in its play-within-a-play, Pyramus and Thisbe. The key to understanding them may well be Dee’s alchemical system as alluded to by particularly dense Shakespearean punning. Suppose a director is blocking out stage directions for extremely complex scenes like the wedding masque in The Tempest or the fencing scene at the end of Hamlet, and notices the Bard gives us virtually no staging guidance at all. Well, then how might those scenes be staged as alchemical theater, within the sacred geometry implicit in Shakespearean staging? If one questions what might be in the missing scenes in Macbeth, might one want to see first what the scenes we have suggest in terms of ceremonial magic, identify what parts of the process are missing, and then speculate what may have been in those sections? If one sees Kabbalistic overtones in The Merchant of Venice, might one look at those overtones in terms of how Dee used Kabbalah, and then follow up by asking, “why Venice?” What might that locale have signified to alchemists of Dee’s day?
Finally, if one wonders, as many, many scholars have, why a particular play, Julius Caesar, is chosen to open the Globe theater, or why that very esoterically constructed theater seems to open at a particular time with a play that has multiple and contradictory calendar references, or why recently rediscovered architectural drawings that include those of Elizabethan playhouses including the Globe, the so-called Byrom manuscript, seem to point to John Dee—even beginning to answer any of these questions intelligently demands that scholars look at them in terms of the alchemical philosophy William Shakespeare internalized as part of John Dee and Edward Kelley’s initiatory circle.
Scholars could also take the reverse tact, and note that Dee and Kelley’s angelic workings have some of the aspects of Renaissance theater, a decade or more before that theater comes into full bloom. Deborah Harkness did just that in her 1997 analysis, “Shows in the Showstone: A Theater of Alchemy and Apocalypse in the Angel Conversations of John Dee.” Could we also find echoes of Enochian magical structure itself in Shakespeare’s plays? Yes, though to this writer’s knowledge no one has pointed it out in scholarly circles. The overlap between Enochian ceremonial magicians and Shakespearean scholars is rather small.
The best way to demonstrate that Francis Garland was a pseudonym for William Shakespeare demands that Shakespearean scholars learn Hermetic teachings, specifically those associated with Dee and Kelley. Since there has yet to be an in-print explanation of even Dee’s earliest sacred geometry work, the Hieroglyphic Monad, and since the little written work left behind by Kelley seems almost totally inaccessible even to Hermetic scholars, that means that scholars who really want to understand these plays and their deep connection to Hermeticism may have a rather steep learning curve, and may find themselves embarking on a course of initiation in the process.
If one analyzes certain aspects of Shakespearean drama in terms of the underlying magical structure of John Dee and Edward Kelley’s Enochian corpus, one would of course have to understand that corpus and structure. For Shakespeare to use any part of that structure, when was top secret and only rediscovered accidentally years after Dee’s death, he would have to have been both present for some of it and the equivalent of a high-level Adept student of Dee and Kelley. “Francis Garland” fits the bill.
On a less dramatic note, “Francis Garland” is also one of only a few Englishmen who could have possibly copied John Dee’s Tuba Veneris, aka The Consecrated Little Book of Black Venus, back to England, according to the analysis Vincent Bridges and I did of that work. Does Black Venus connect in any way to the “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Yes, in this writers opinion. It has just never been explained to a non-initiated audience.
In fact, just this—making a particular initiatory alchemical path available to any who could see it, rather than those of a particular lineage—must have been one of the goals of such alchemical theater. Prospero, the Magus in Shakespeare’s last play, thought by many to be modeled on some combination of John Dee and Shakespeare himself, says as much at the end of The Tempest.
Francis Garland, William Shakespeare, was likely a member of Dee’s inner circle for close to nine years. In the later years, he was Dee’s main point of contact with Kelley, and he was, in light of Kelley’s poem, perhaps even closer to Kelley than Dee. During those years, full of adventure and marvels, we can easily see Shakespeare, or Garland, maturing and learning, absorbing everything, from politics and court protocol to intrigue and esoteric insights, that he would later turn to such good use in his plays.
The rise of Shakespeare’s popularity in the mid-1590s represents a watershed for art, politics and occultism: suddenly, very deep and powerful ideas were turned loose in the public consciousness without the control and interference of either rabid Protestants or rabid Catholics. The Elizabethan theater was essentially a magical theater, from the sacred geometry of the space in which they were presented to the subject matter and language of the plays themselves. They were a Hermetic revolution to those who saw, and hidden in plain site for four hundred years from those who couldn’t. As this spring is the 400th anniversary of John Dee’s death in 1609, it seems high time to draw back the veil.
Within that context, let’s return to Shakespeare’s “Lost Years,” noting they weren’t so lost at all, and see what we can we find out about the other “Garland brother” with whom he first appears, Edward. After that, we’ll look at John Dee’s role in the secret service, and conclude with the one angelic working that mentions Francis Garland.
19 Dec. On the 19th day (by the new calendar), to please Master Edward Garland (who had been sent as a messenger from the Emperor of Muscovy to ask me to come to him, etc) and his brother Francis, E.K. made a public demonstration of the philosophers’ stone in the proportion of one grain (no bigger than the least grain of sand) to 1 oz and a ¼ of common and almost 1 oz of the best gold was produced. When we had weighed the gold, we divided it up and gave the crucible to Edward at the same time.
Notice that the demonstration is supposed to be for the benefit of Edward Garland, first, and Francis seems almost an afterthought. But this Edward disappears almost immediately, never to return, and Francis Garland appears later most often with Sir Edward Dyer. Yet Dyer never mentions a “Francis Garland” at all. We’ll add to our earlier hypotheses one more.
It is likely Edward Garland disappears and doesn’t return with Francis Garland or Edward Dyer because that name too is a pseudonym: for Sir Edward Dyer himself. To explain this further, one must learn to read John Dee’s diary not as the private diary many have supposed it was, but as a document that Dee knew visitors might try to read and get information from. Certainly Edward Kelley both read and made comments—his remarks and scratch-outs appear multiple places—but it’s likely that less colorful visitors read it also, but more covertly. In fact, when one reads Kelley’s comments in Dee’s diary and then sees Dee responding in writing to those comments, one wonders exactly what audience they are writing for. Not each other, because they’re both right there.
While scores of gullible readers have taken Dee’s diary as the straightforward personal record of his life, it is not. It can’t be. Not only does part of the diary involve untraceable names like “Garland,” but we also know of many people who Dee is likely to have interacted with that he makes no record of at all. For instance, he never once mentions Giordano Bruno, though while he is in England Bruno dedicates two books to Dee’s friend and student Philip Sidney. One might guess that Dee never mentions him because Dee is Protestant and Bruno Catholic. . . but nothing, in the world of Renaissance spymasters, is ever that simple. While Bruno was at Oxford upsetting anti-Copernicans, he was likely also, under the pseudonym “Henry Fagot,” working as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham while living at the French embassy. Walsingham, the public face of Elizabeth’s early secret service, was Dee’s neighbor and good friend, so if the Catholic Magus Giordano Bruno is dedicating books to Protestant Sir Philip Sidney and spying for Dee’s neighbor Walsingham, why doesn’t Dee mention him, or his work? They’re in the same place in the same time in 1583, may cross paths on the continent in 1586, have similar publishing contacts, and most interesting to this writer, Bruno is in Prague in 1588, where it would seem he’d have met with Sir Edward Kelley. But as usual, there is no record. Why?
One can find scores of other examples, but for now we’ll take only a few. Dee, the Christian Kabbalist, would certainly have met Rabbi Judah Loew, legendary creator of Prague’s golem, and they were also in the same place at the same time. Dee never mentions him. Dee the astronomer would have no doubt wanted to communicate with Tycho Brahe, the most meticulous observer of the heavens in his age. In fact, Brahe writes to Caspar Peucer that Dee plans to visit him, so it seems almost certain that John Dee’s trip home to England in 1589 involves a side-trip to Brahe’s observatory. But Dee never records that in his diary, nor can we find any secret service records to that effect. Why? Something must be truly rotten in the state of Denmark. In fact, a team of Danish scientists have recently raised legitimate concerns that Brahe was indeed murdered, poisoned, in 1601, by a contract killer working for Danish King Christian IV. Note too that when John Dee returns to England from Bohemia, likely via a visit to Tycho Brahe, Edward Dyer leaves to become ambassador to Denmark. Finally, the 1589 version of the poem written by Edward Kelley is found with papers bearing names of those in Dee’s circle, including “Garland,” is the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark. Who might have taken them there? Don’t ask John Dee’s diary, because it isn’t telling.
Most importantly to our subject at hand, the years that the Globe theater is being planned and constructed as its era’s masterpiece of sacred geometry, and Shakespeare’s rise to fame continues, John Dee writes almost nothing at all. He is supposed to be living in Manchester and serving as Warden from February 15, 1596 on, but he seems gone for many lengthy periods. On June 10, 1600, after the Globe theater is open and his diary not written in since March of 1598, he finally writes that he “set out from London,” and eight days later records, “My return to Manchester from London.” At the crowning moment of Shakespearean theater—the opening of the Globe, likely on the fall equinox of 1599,—John Dee is nowhere to be found. Perhaps this is because he is London for months in 1599, helping ensure that the Globe Theater is constructed according to the same geometric principles one can find in his Hieroglyphic Monad, and to ensure that the opening and first few months of performances go well.
Clearly many of the most important meetings and events in Dee’s life are not recorded by him. He does record many, many personal details, from the births (and deaths) of his children, when he hires and pays servants, when he borrows money, and many details concerning his wife, especially when she is upset. In symbols, he also records her menstrual cycle and when they have sex. For that matter, during the Dees and Kelleys “cross-matching” pact, he records when he and Joan Kelley have sex, and the not surprising news that Jane Dee and Joan Kelley seem to be in the midst of an argument then have a “reconciliation” of sorts: but one can easily surmise that these domestic dramas would be of no great interest to politicos, nor would another spy quickly perusing Dee’s diary necessary even think it worthwhile to find out what the coded signs for intimate activity mean. Indeed, the first editor of Dee’s diary, James Halliwell, thought all of Dee’s symbolic notations were meaningless. It is an easy mistake to make.
If nothing else, the focus on domestic life makes Dee’s diary appear like the strictly personal record most have taken it as. It has been of more interest to cultural historians chronicling a bizarre household than to those interested in espionage and magic. Here again we find another excellent essay by Harkness, “Managing an Experimental Household: The Dees of Mortlake and the Practice of Natural Philosophy,” which makes extensive use of John Dee’s diary entries and what they show about his household.
Why does Dee leave certain people out? Even Edward Kelley’s step-children, who had to be in the castle with Trebona being tutored with Dee’s children, aren’t ever mentioned, nor is the name of Thomas Kelley’s wife, or significant details like what family she is from or where the wedding is.
Very simply, John Dee only lists people who are safe, or who he must list to protect himself. This explains much concerning his marginalia conversations with Kelley. But in short: he will list people already known to be part of his family, people known to be living with him (which must not include Kelley’s step-children), some people employed by him, and those connected overtly to the power structure he draws support from: the Queen, Burghley, Leicester. While on the continent, Dee does give details about where he is travelling and staying, though as mentioned, he omits meetings we know had to occur and may well be omitting certain travels. One can assume that Dee knows that other English courier/spies taking messages to and from him may also report what they read in Dee’s diary to their “boss” back home, so he lists places considered “safe.” Rafal Prinke has assembled an entire European itinerary of John Dee and Edward Kelley, which holds up just fine, as long as one takes it as a record of where John Dee wants other people to think he has been, rather than a completely accurate account of where he actually was.
On every page, from the moment Dee starts keeping this record, we must realize that names we can’t trace may well be pseudonyms for other people, perhaps very significant people. For instance, consider one of the most important patrons of early English drama, Ferdinando Stanley Lord Strange, the 5th Earl of Derby, patron of Lord Strange’s Men, the most likely early patron of Shakespeare, and the main patron of Marlowe. We know Dee knew Ferdinando Stanley and his brother William (who becomes the 6th Earl of Derby) even before Elizabeth became Queen. Much circumstantial evidence also connects Edward Kelley to the Stanleys. Yet John Dee never mentions them in his diary until he has returned from the European continent and is lobbying to become Warden of Manchester, near Lathom and the home of the Earls of Derby.
Why? Remember that different spy rings grow out of concerns over who the Queen will marry then who will succeed her, and the Stanleys are rather high on the list of Englishmen with possible claims to the crown. So is another magical aristocrat, the Wizard Earl of Northumberland, who Dee also seems at pains to never mention, even though the Wizard Earl’s magical circle includes several of Dee’s students.
As the political climate sours and it becomes clear that Elizabeth will neither marry nor name a successor, and as war with Spain becomes eminent and Dee the Protestant leaves to spend several years on the European continent, mainly in Catholic countries, one can make sense of his diary only as the record of an intelligencer. Even starting to work through who all of the different pseudonyms refer to and the alternative history their presence implies would take not just another article, but another book.
For now, let’s just look at how this works with Edward Dyer, who in a very real sense may be the “key” to unlock the code of how to read John Dee’s diary, and how to place Shakespeare’s plays within the vicissitudes of the competing political interests and intelligence rings that develop in England by the 1590s.
Dee starts his diary in 1577, and Dyer is in the very first entry:
16 Jan. The Earl of Leicester, Mr Philip Sydney, Mr Dyer, &c.
Let’s assume these three men are, in 1577, “safe” to mention. After all, Leicester has been Dee’s patron; Sidney and Dyer, besides being in the same poetic “school” and in the circle loyal to Leicester, are both involved in Dee’s navigation projects, including Martin Frobisher’s attempts to discover a Northwest Passage to Russia and riches in the “New World.” Dee and Dyer had met with promoter Lok the previous August, and many of the supporters of Frobisher’s voyages were friends of Dyer or supporters of Leicester. Notably, Lord Treasurer William Cecil, Lord Burghley also supported the voyages, though he and Leicester often were at odds with each other and the advice they gave the Queen often differed.
Burghley’s participation in, and financial structuring of, the company that underwrote Frobisher’s voyages is what led the Queen’s Privy Council to invest in them, though one suspects his financial interests were often at odds with Dyer and Sidney’s more esoteric ones. Lord Burghley profited greatly from the years Elizabeth was Queen (he is the only English aristocrat in our story who seems to end his life much wealthier than he began it), and we can safely assume his agenda will be more financially focused. Elizabeth’s interests, as always, seem to balance precariously between the conflicting agendas of her more visible advisors. She clearly valued the magical possibilities of exploration, in ways that now seem quaint. For instance, one Elizabethan inventory listed a “unicorn horn” (reputed to have many protective properties) valued at £100,000 as the Queen’s most valuable possession, and when Frobisher returned from one of his voyages, he gifted her with yet another, a “sea unicorn” horn, probably the tusk of a narwhal. One suspects that Burghley would have valued narwhal horns much less than the gold and silver he hoped Frobisher would bring back. Frobisher’s voyages never lived up to anyone’s financial expectations. But in January of 1577, the investors and their sponsoring company still dreamt in glitters of gold, silver, glory, and magical treasures in far away magical lands.
But we have left out a critical detail: what was the name of the company that Dyer and Sidney gave money to, which backed Frobisher’s expedition? The Muscovy Company.
Its headquarters, the “Muscovy House” mentioned by Dee in his diary, stood near the Tower of London. The scientific and esoteric advisor to these expeditions (and most others of this time, including those of Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake)? John Dee. Dee’s Propaedeumata aphoristica, presented to mapmaker Gerard Mercator in a letter in 1558, revised and presented to Elizabeth in 1568, and on both occasions decorated with his Hieroglyphic Monad symbol, is almost certainly one of the initiatory texts that the more esoterically inclined Muscovy Company members studied, being as it is a study of applied astronomy and geometry clearly intended to help map and navigate around the globe.
Recall that in 1586, “Edward Garland” is supposedly sent by the “Emperor of Muscovy” to get Dee to come help him. For several hundred years, that statement had been taken on face value, when it is not even possible.
This “Emperor” can’t be the ruler of Muscovy, or Russia, not in 1586. Czar Fyodor I had literally no interest in politics or esoterica. He spent most of his time praying and was reportedly mentally challenged. The Muscovy Company, which had a monopoly on trade between England and Russia, had been set up years before with the cooperation of Fydor’s father, Czar Ivan IV the Terrible, who died in 1584. When Edward and Francis Garland arrive in 1586, the only “Emperor of Muscovy” that Edward Garland can be a messenger for is an “Emperor” of the Muscovy Company, of which Dyer is a member. In other words, this whole statement is likely a euphemism for saying that an “Emperor-like” man in England’s Muscovy Company has sent Edward Garland to get John Dee to com help him.
That “top man” can only be one of two people, the two most powerful advisors to the Queen: Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester, or William Cecil Lord Burghley. Burghley has repeatedly thwarted Dee’s proposals in the past and Dee has dreamt of being disemboweled by him. In 1586, he likely views Dee’s navigation theories as a financial liability and of no practical application in defending against the Armada, and he has Dee’s protégé Thomas Digges still in England if he needs someone schooled with Dee’s expertise in optics to make spyglasses for gunships. Burghley has no obvious reason to send a courier to get Dee to return. In contrast, Leicester is Dee’s long-time patron, even though one may suspect the relationship was extremely problematic. When Edward and Francis Garland appear at the castle in Trebona, the Earl of Leicester is in big trouble elsewhere on the continent.
While Dee has been gone, Leicester and his nephew Philip Sidney have spearheaded a zealous Puritan faction urging English protection of the Protestant Dutch against the Spanish. Having succeeded, and having been put in charge of English forces in the Low Countries, Leicester shows himself to be a terrible military leader, but nonetheless makes himself “absolute ruler” of the Netherlands while remaining a “loyal subject” to the Queen. Elizabeth, predictably, becomes enraged. In the battle of Zutphen on September 22, 1586, Philip Sidney is fatally wounded. (Incidentally, Sidney wills all of his books to two people: his friends Edward Dyer and Fulke Greville.) Leicester, the Muscovy Company member who has made himself King of the Low Countries, is our most likely candidate for the “Emperor of Muscovy,” and may have called on his dying nephew’s friend, Edward Dyer, to go get Dr. Dee for help. . . to save his dying nephew, to save his reputation, to prophesy what may happen, or all of the above.
But it is too late to save Philip Sidney, and John Dee has good reason to want little to do with the Earl of Leicester. First, he is in a Catholic country and Leicester’s faction is among the most anti-Catholic in England. Second, we can trace in John Dee’s diary, via his interaction with Dyer among others, Dee’s increasing distance from the unpopular Earl.
What has happened since 1577 to drive Dee and Dyer, and by extension Dee and Leicester, apart?
We’ll circle back again through Dee’s diary. Dee and Dyer still seem on good terms in 1579, when Dyer appears at the christening of Dee’s first son, Arthur. Unlike Arthur’s other two god-parents, Dyer actually is present:
16 July. Arthur Dee, christened. Arthur Dee was christened at 3 of the clock
Dyer does not appear again in Dee’s diary until 1583, after Edward Kelley has already arrived. By then, “something” seems to have happened.
The “what” is easy to guess if we notice Dee’s many other entries concerning Queen Elizabeth. He is apparently having frequent conferences with her physician about her “grievous pangs and pains by reason of the ache and the rheum” and giving advice about her possible marriage to the Duke of Alençon, who for years has the Earl of Leicester’s primary rival suitor. In 1579, Dee records when “Monsieur” gets a passport, records when the Queen visits him at Mortlake and her comings and goings from Richmond and Whitehall, and finally writes, on November 16, 1581, that the “Queen removed to Whitehall, and Monsieur with her.”
For years Elizabeth has relied on Dee for advice, good “intelligence:” after all, this is the Magus who chose the propitious date for her coronation. John Dee’s position on the Elizabethan espionage ladder is very near the top, and appropriately, he is nearly invisible except in his own writing. Sir Francis Walsingham, considered by most the head of the secret service, is the empirical manipulator people can see; Dee is the Magus people can’t see.
In contrast, Dyer, whose agenda has mainly been to support Leicester, provides less reliable intelligence. Those in Sidney’s “school” and Leicester’s political camp certainly were not pleased that Elizabeth was again asking Dee for advice about a marriage they didn’t want to happen, and were actively maneuvering against. (Sidney even wrote Elizabeth a letter advising her against the match; a commoner who wrote a similar opinion had his hand chopped off.)
Less than a month after the Duke of Alençon leaves England for good, the marriage negotiations having ended once and for all, Edward Kelley arrives at John Dee’s door. Is there a connection between these events? Almost certainly. But that is a story for another time.
If we assume that “Edward Garland” is really Sir Edward Dyer, but can’t safely be referred to as such, then why can Dee suddenly write about him a year later? November 21, 1587, Dee records that “at night Mr Francis Garland came from England to Trebon and brought me a letter from Mr Dyer and my brother Mr Richard Yong.” Why must Garland arrive at night? And if it is so secret he must travel at night, then why does Dee record the fact? Something has happened. Answering what it might be will take us to one of the most bizarre angelic conversations John Dee ever records. But first, let’s step back and look at where Dee stands in the shifting intelligence hierarchy of Elizabeth and her advisers.
Yet some historical accounts of Elizabethan intelligence, and most conventional biographies of Elizabeth I until recent years, barely mention Dee at all. More than any other recognizable historical character, John Dee stands at the crossroads of two different sorts of intelligence work.
Modern accounts of Elizabethan espionage tend to use the more modern paradigm of a spy as a secret agent gathering, encoding, or sometimes manufacturing or manipulating, empirical political data. As Alan Haynes points out in The Elizabethan Secret Services:
In the middle of the sixteenth century the English had the sudden death of rulers at home and abroad perpetually in mind. In 1558, when Elizabeth, the last Tudor of direct lineage, ascended the throne, there were many of her countrymen (we may guess) who groaned inwardly, even despairingly, that the clumsy pantomime of Henry VIII’s marital cavortings had settled so little about the succession question, with controversy ever flourishing. If the new queen remained unmarried, the bewildering search for a Protestant successor was sure to torment the politically empowered class. Their vicissitudes drove them to embrace an emerging option—the use of spies to protect a vulnerable woman from the worst her enemies could do.
Tracking payments and locations, decoding messages, manipulating data, controlling currency, drafting the best and brightest young people and using them as agents, double-agents, triple-agents, and agent provocateurs. . . these are all things we associate with modern espionage and can trace back to Sir Francis Walsingham’s spy service. We can also find such circles around different nobles, such as the Earl of Leicester or Lord Burghley, and later around court rivals Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux. Lord Burghley controls the purse strings of Walsingham’s network, but has another network of his own, which he and son Robert expand until its tentacles seem everywhere. Each of these spy circles had a more than peripheral interest in the occult: The idea of an “intelligencer” as philosopher, prophet, and Mage still lived comfortably in the Elizabethan word, as it does not in ours, so modern accounts consistently omit or downplay that aspect.
How espionage networks recruit young writers is perhaps best detailed by Charles Nicoll in The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. Nicoll notes that in the 1580s, while Burghley and Leicester had their own spy networks, the “spymaster par excellence” was Walsingham, who “comes down to us as an archetype of Machiavellian political cunning.” By the mid-1580s, the time that Marlowe, and likely Garland/Shakespeare, become part of the secret service, espionage is easier to trace, because it is taking on the very modern connotation mentioned above, of networks using and manipulating empirical data. The focus of two of these networks—Leicester’s and Walsingham’s--seem obsessed at locating (and at times creating) so-called “Catholic conspiracies.” Cecil’s network, focused on accumulating power through banking, commerce, and control of the legal system, is so modern that it might not even seem to us as much like espionage as late twentieth century multinational corporate behavior.
Sir Francis Walsingham’s focus on “Catholic conspiracies,” culminating in setting up a plot to entrap Mary, Queen of Scots, meant he needed to recruit young men like Christopher Marlowe who could plausibly seem Catholic to infiltrate particular groups, and begs the question of where any particular spy’s allegiance really lies. For a talented poor boy who was Catholic (or Protestant, or of the old religion, or tired of all of them), his main way out of poverty was to spy on Catholics, occultists, “atheists” (which often was a euphemism for occultists) and “heretics.”
Many recent critics have looked at Shakespeare as a closet Catholic, assuming his “lost years” involve a connection with the Catholic-leaning Stanley family. Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange then Earl of Derby, is a likely early patron of both Shakespeare and Marlowe, and after Strange’s death, his brother William Stanley, the next Earl of Derby, becomes closely associated with John Dee when Dee becomes Warden of Manchester. By that time, the late 1590s, Shakespearean drama is high gear, and John Dee seems out of the intelligence business beyond having a post where he can watch the Earl of Derby. But is he really?
Elizabeth’s coronation may have marked the beginnings of modern espionage. . .but it did not end the use of “intelligence” in an older sense. In Dee, we see the merger of the two. From the beginning he has been too high on the Queen’s intelligence ladder to be simply someone who watches, and reports. He is the invisible man others report to, and he must report only to the Queen.
For her entire reign, until the very year she dies, Elizabeth repeatedly seeks Dee out for advice, and early on accepts him as occult teacher: he says, for instance, that he has revealed to her the sacred mysteries of his Hieroglyphic Monad. Is such advice and instruction espionage? No, but it definitely is “intelligence,” in that specific Renaissance context where an “intelligencer” is one who collects and conveys information, ranging from the unencoded reports we’d now call journalism to the prophecies and astrological almanacs of Michel de Nostredame that so influenced the French crown.
Compare Dee to a much more shadowy figure, the French magician Cosimo Ruggieri, who comes to Paris from Florence with Catharine de Medici. Reportedly Ruggieri knew the French Queen when she was a child, though no empirical evidence attests to this, just as many similarly claim that Dee knew young Elizabeth long before their supposed introduction by the Earl of Leicester, another claim that seems probable though not empirically provable.
Ruggieri made the predictions and potions one might expect from a Medici family Magus, and reportedly predicted when Catharine was very young that she would become Queen of France and have ten children. Legend had it that she constructed the Medici Tower so that he would be near to her, and she near to his protection and laboratory. All we know for sure is that the Medici Tower had two doors which both led to the Queen’s manor: one probably led to her private chamber, and the other to Ruggieri’s laboratory. Despite the many legends surrounding Ruggieri, very little is known about him at all, and only one book has attempted to chronicle his life. Curiously he seems involved in a plot concerning the Duke of Alençon, Elizabeth’s last suitor, and is implicated in another plot to kill Catharine’s son, King Charles IX. While the others involved are tortured mercilessly, Catharine spares Ruggieri. In later years, he seems displaced in her favor by the much more famous, and more traceable, Michel de Notredame, or Nostradamus. Ruggieri uses magic and prophecy to protect the Queen; Nostradamus claimed he did not use magic to prophecy or to create his astrological almanacs, though that might have been for the very prudent reason that he did not want to be persecuted by the Inquisition, and had no powerful Medici family behind him.
Dee’s “intelligencing” picks and chooses from all of the above sorts of “intelligencing” and adds to this the fact that he’s the most educated man in England and perhaps of his age. In the first half of Elizabeth’s reign, until he and Kelley leave for their continental adventures, the very top and most invisible layer of Elizabethan intelligence is John Dee. When, in the early 1580s, we see an official state secret service with Walsingham at its head, it is a measure of how precarious things are becoming.
Spymaster Walsingham—referred to by Dee repeatedly as “good Sir Francis,” (despite Walsingham’s more sinister depiction at the hands of most biographers)—originally had to be Dee’s “eyes on the ground,” while the Magus tried to lever, from his huge library, his own writings, and finally by talking to the angels: better “intelligence” from the heavens. Today we might not think of spies asking for information via magical ritual, though at least one twentieth century British agent, Aleister Crowley, did just that. It might be more accurate to say that modern spycraft, as explored in fiction and non-fiction, focuses on the empirical because to modern minds, the empirical is easier to accept.
Even John Dee’s idea of how to encode and send information stands at the junction of two worlds. Consider his manuscript collecting, particularly of an odd text like the Stenographia of Abbot Trithemius, of which Dee went to great pains to obtain a copy, and called “"the most precious juell that I have yet of other mens travailes recovered.” He reported its acquisition to Lord Burghley but of course we have no instructions on how to use it. In places Trithemius seems to be telling us how to use angelic spirits to deliver long-distance messages. While the incantations that fill the first two books of Stenographia are rather arduous encryption schemes, the latter portion presents a very complex, but coherent, method in which the magical images of cosmic forces are etched into wax to capture and manipulate their energies. The cryptography and the magic cover for each other, so much so that to this day scholars argue about which was a blind for which.
At the crossroads of the medieval and modern, John Dee picks and chooses from every system he encounters. In the early 1560s he synthesizes them into the Hieroglyphic Monad, a masterful and masterfully encoded work of sacred geometry and precessional astronomy whose less tantric ideas are expounded upon in the revised Propaedeumata aphoristica. After these works his “intelligencing” seems to concern navigation as connected to less documentable activities. From the publication of the Monad for almost fifteen years his travels and manuscript connecting virtually halt, and he mainly stays at Mortlake, built on an “ancient site” and given to his mother by Elizabeth, with his growing family. In the early 1580s, something sparks or revives his interest in angelic magic, Edward Kelley appears at his door, and their project to change the world via magic begins.
When Dee and Kelley’s odd partnership ends in 1589, one marker is the charged set of alchemical theater instructions written by Kelley. Along with the many other reasons argued last issue for thinking that G.S. is “Gulielmus Shaksper,” or Garland/Shakespeare, consider that the only playwright of the era whose works show an author capable of understanding Kelley’s poem are the ones by William Shakespeare.
The fusion of John Dee and Edward Kelley’s magic with Garland/Shakespeare’s theater sparked a Hermetic revolution we are only now being able to understand. The private culmination of John Dee’s intelligencing must have been the unelaborated-upon magical workings of 1586-88, workings that had to draw upon the Enochian system revealed over the five years preceding. The public culmination of that tradition is Shakespearean drama, the product of Dee’s most famous student, William Shakespeare.
Once More to the
That leads to one obvious question: why does Edward Kelley choose to make a “public demonstration of the philosopher’s stone” for Dyer and Shakespeare’s benefit?
That question might be reframed as follows: who are Dyer and Shakespeare reporting to; who is Kelley trying to send a message to? This can’t be the Earl of Leicester. Welcome to the world of double and triple agents. Kelley has to know that Dyer serves multiple masters.
Before going further, note that this analysis will take the reasonable tack that Edward Kelley could and did demonstrate something that impressed a great many people. As discussed last issue in greater detail, and as discussed in even more detail by scholars like Lyndy Abraham, Charles Nicoll, and Lauren Kassell, sources contemporary to Kelley report over and over of his ability to perform the grand transmutation. Edward Dyer and Dee’s son Arthur are among the many who give eyewitness accounts.
Kelley decides to show Dyer, in particular, what he can do. The only reason for Kelley to do so is to send a message back to whomever’s “man” Dyer is. Kelly as a scryer is clairvoyant; perhaps he senses Dyer is not quite who he says he is. Certainly Kelley, like Dee, knows that the most rapidly growing power in England is the financial power of William Cecil. No matter how you slice it, the person most likely to be impressed, and interested, in Edward Kelley’s reputed ability to change lead into gold is the Lord Treasurer. In fact, Burghley’s tight control of finances made him a different sort of “Emperor” of (the) Muscovy (Company), one that could control or stop whatever they did by exerting financial pressure. Dee’s note about the “Emperor of Muscovy” then nods at Dyer’s serving two masters, and protects Dee as much as Dyer. Like a reference in a good play, a name with multiple meanings also means that any one of them can be plausibly denied. Which “Emperor” does “Edward Garland” serve? The obvious one, Leicester, or William Cecil?
Dee writes that, “When we had weighed the gold, we divided it up and gave the crucible to Edward [Garland/Dyer] at the same time.” Why give Dyer the crucible, except to provide him with physical evidence to help convince Burghley that his report is real?
News of Kelley’s demonstration does get back to Burghley, and must impress him. Within only a couple of years, Burghley will be using Dyer as an emissary to try to get Kelley to come back to England, and have little interest in John Dee. He’ll keep trying to bring Kelley back until Kelley dies. Our timeline suggests that after Dee returns from Europe, and after Dyer fails repeatedly to bring Kelley back or learn how to do whatever Kelley does, that Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil’s main connection to Kelley becomes the same person as John Dee’s “Francis Garland,” rapidly also becoming known as playwright William Shakespeare.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means that John Dee and the Cecils suddenly like each other, or are even working for the same end. It only means that, out of necessity, they come to some agreement. That same practical necessity, in 1586, is shifting Edward Dyer from loyalty to Leicester to the practical necessity of looking for support from the Cecils.
In this limited sense, Dyer is already a double agent or at least someone trying to serve multiple masters, his old patron Leicester and the man holding the purse strings, both of whom may have Dyer running an errand that they think Elizabeth knows nothing about.
Now let’s return to Dyer’s likely companion, Will Shakespeare.
Young Shakespeare had to be part of the Sidney circle, but just as likely he spent time in or near the household of the Stanleys, perhaps with the Hoghton family. E.A.J. Honigmann’s famous argument in Shakespeare: The "Lost Years" is that the boy Shakespeare, from a Catholic family, was fostered out to another Catholic recusant family living in Lancashire, the Hoghtons. When Alexander Hoghton of Lea Hall, Lancashire, died, he willed musical instruments and “play-clothes” to his brother “if he be minded to keep players”; but if his brother chose not to keep a troop of actors anymore, then the costumes and instruments go to Sir Thomas Hesketh of nearby Rufford, who is told to “be friendly unto Fulk Gillom and William Shakeshafte now dwelling with me.” Honigmann argues that “Shakeshafte” is the boy who became Shakespeare, a boy from a Catholic background whose earliest patrons were other Catholic recusant families, including the famous Stanleys, who are very high up in the line of succession. By 1586, it seems the Catholic boy who was Shakeshafte has been taken deep into the bowels of Protestant espionage.
Honigmann’s argument skips one vital connection: that Shakespeare’s mother’s family, the Ardens, also seem to maintain the “old religion.” Edward Arden, a relative of his mother and usually described as a Catholic martyr, may have been scapegoated for his “witchcraft” beliefs as much for being Catholic. Arden of Feversham, an early Renaissance play of unknown authorship with two hit men curiously named “Black Will” and “Shakebag,” may be partly inspired by Arden’s plight. If young Shakespeare for a time became “Shakeshafte” and is schooled in the magical theater of the Lancaster Stanleys, then consider that part of the Shakespeare-Stanley relation is less Catholicism as dictated by Rome, but rather the continuation of an underground Hermetic current that for many years hid rather easily within the structure of local Catholic churches and folk practices coming from more ancient pagan traditions.
The Stanleys know John Dee and Edward Kelley as well. When one member of the Stanley family, Lord Monteagle, dies without heirs, Dee records that the angels say that Edward Kelley (then known as Edward Talbot) should go get his books from Lancaster. By then, 1582, Shakespeare/Shakeschafte must surely have been part of the Sidney circle for several years. For a time, occultism perhaps trumped surface religious divides. We can surmise that Edward Arden’s prosecution and decapitation in 1583 could have easily changed all that. By the time Dyer and Shakespeare appear in Trebona in 1586, their relationship must be complex at the very least. Incidentally, the man most behind the prosecution of Edward Arden was Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.
Meanwhile the Earls of Derby had their own intelligence network, though we know less about it because many of the family papers have been destroyed. Christopher Devlin argues persuasively that many of these papers, especially as connected to the suspicious death of Lord Strange in 1594, were destroyed by the Cecils. Others were destroyed during the English Civil War.
Note that Christopher Marlowe is killed in 1593, his patron Lord Strange in 1594, and by that time, Lord Burghley’s son Robert Cecil has been running a surveillance operation on this whole Stanley family for years.
Dee, Dyer, and Shakespeare are among the survivors.
In the 1586 Dyer-Shakespeare connection we see what becomes a familiar type of Cecil-esque espionage pairing: two men with very different loyalties paired together for that very reason. Dyer may provide intelligence to Leicester and Cecil; Shakespeare to Cecil and Stanley, and via both agents, neither of whom may have Royal permission to be in Trebona, Cecil can keep an eye on the motives of Leicester and Stanley.
By the way, when would Garland/Shakespeare have Royal permission? If this theory is correct, right about the time the Grafton portrait is painted, 1588.
But in December 1586, they must be on a private mission that involves at least three different spy ring: Leicester’s, Stanley’s, and Cecil’s. Garland/Dyer must leave soon after Kelley’s demonstration; indeed Edward Dyer can be located elsewhere not long after. Francis Garland/Shakespeare evidently stays around through June of the next year, through the most intense part of John Dee and Edward Kelley’s magical workings. Imagine what he might have witnessed that is lost to history: and imagine how odd this year must have been for the two oldest children and most constant witnesses, Dee’s son Arthur (who claimed to know the secret of the philosopher’s stone himself, and who did actually go to “Muscovy” years later, to become physician to the first Romanov Czar) and Kelley’s stepdaughter Elizabeth (who became the poet Westonia, perhaps coached early on by the spy who became Shakespeare). If one reads the angelic workings that take place while Garland/Shakespeare is likely there or nearby, from December 1586 through June 1587 and then again from November 1587 through February 1588, and on and off from June 1588 to December 1588, and put in the backdrop the build up towards England’s successful defense against the Spanish Armada, it is high drama indeed.
The April before Garland/Shakespeare leaves for the first time, we come across the string of incredibly inaccurate and puzzling prophecies I discussed last issue. They follow the third of six or perhaps seven projected magical workings, sandwiched in between Dee apparently mulling over the “new and strange doctrine” of marital “cross-matching.” Here’s the part that specifically mentions the Garland brothers:
He [the spirit Ben, who comes out of the spirit of “wine distilling over out of a retort” and who Dee says was “the deliverer of the powder to E.K. at the digging in England” said also that this Francis Garland was an espy upon us from the Lord Treasurer of England, and that Edward Garland is not his brother: and that so the matter is agreed between them, etc.. He said that shortly this Francis Garland should go into England, and that we should be sent for, but that it were best to refuse their calling us home.
All right. . . taken on face value, it would seem that Kelley has an alchemical apparatus in the castle crypt and is at the stage of producing the philosopher’s stone that involves “wine”. . . literalists who want to take it this way are referred to Rosicrucian seer Fred Hockley, who spent many years trying to reproduce Kelley’s experiments. If we want to be literal about it, perhaps “Ben” is revealing this because Kelley has made a public demonstration of his powder to Edward and Francis Garland. “Ben” might suggest the “Tribe of Benjamin” to those obsessed with ancient royal bloodlines, and the coupling of that with the philosopher’s stone would be bound to get the attention of those who thought their bloodline was particularly special.
But this essay won’t take the prophesies quite so literally. While there’s little doubt that Dee and Kelley had a variety of alchemical experiments running, and one supposes it is possible that Kelley really is imbibing some good brew and talking to a spirit named Ben, what’s more interesting is the effect that this rant, whether real or a performance contrived by Kelley or just written in by Dee, would have had on young Garland/Shakespeare. It could serve as a pretty effective way to both scare and flatter their magical apprentice just enough to keep him in line when he returns back to England, or when he next encounters other English operatives on the continent. If Garland is Shakespeare, as I think he must be, then he’s a mere 22 years old when this happens.
First, take a moment and read over that particular day’s magical record, as written by Dee. Then take that day and put it in the context of those surrounding it. Most would agree with Edward Fenton that “the events of April and May 1587 form the most sensational part of Dee’s diaries.”
We find that Dee and Kelley start this third Action on April 4, 1587. The descriptions seem quite theatrical. Take the opening of the action:
E.K.: There seemeth a black curtain of velvet to be drawn from one side of the Stone to the other. The curtain is full of plights.
Kelley’s opening his vision with the drawing back of a curtain might suggest that he had been to the theater once too often, and it was affecting his scrying: except that theaters then did not signify opening and closing scenes using a curtain. Dee and Kelley’s angelic visions often use this “stage device,” but its use in theater started a few years later.
In any case, the angels give Dee and Kelley an ultimatum, and make some seemingly contradictory comments about Kelley having taken a wife against their commandments (only a couple years before, they’ve told him to get married and he protested it was “against his vows,” implying he was a priest). Kelley balks, and Dee decides to use his son Arthur as a scryer. Kelley also refuses to teach Arthur how to scry, and tells Dee to do it himself. Arthur does see something in the stone, but nothing nearly as detailed nor theatrical as the visions Kelly has reported.
Two weeks pass, and now Arthur can see nothing at all. Conveniently Kelley appears, and says he sees in the Stone a white marble book on a wooden desk. He says:
“Now a leaf of that book is turned open, and there is written on it, but I cannot read it yet. Now I see it.
The next conversation, April 18, is a continuation of the same “Third Action.” Dee tries to get his son Arthur to see in the Stone. Again, Arthur can’t, so Kelley does. Dee tells us that “E.K. had brought the powder with him as he was bidden to do,” and conveniently leaves out who, human or otherwise, did the bidding.
Since Arthur is present, we might wonder who else in the household, such as Garland/Shakespeare, might be listening. The spirit Madimi tells her audience that the “doctrine of unity” required “carnal use” as well as “spiritual love and charitable care and unity of mind for the spirit of God advancing.” It’s not hard to suspect Kelley’s motives; nor is it much of a leap to imagine the effect that witnessing such theatrical and emotionally manipulative angelic pronouncements might have upon the young playwright-to-be.
The action ends, and the household, by Dee’s account, flips into alarm. Kelley winds up in the basement distillery and delivers the long prophecy from “Ben.” Somehow this string of unbelievable predictions convinces Dee that there is “no remedy” but for he, his wife Jane, Kelley, and Kelley’s wife Joan, to partake of this new doctrine, so a week later, they draw up a pact. Through this whole time, it seems Garland/Shakespeare still is at the castle. Dee records the June 14 marriage of Kelley’s brother Thomas as if it were in Trebona, though Elias Ashmole later implies it was not, and June 22, records that “Mr Francis Garland went toward England from Trebona.”
We return again to “Ben’s” odd comments about Francis and Edward Garland. Why would Dee record them? Or, put another way, if we think they were manufactured by Dee as writer or Kelley as actor, then what power interest do they serve?
We know that Dee took the “cross-matching” pact seriously, whether this “strange doctrine” came from Madimi, from the manipulative mind of an exhausted and scryed-out Edward Kelley, or a combination of both. If any others beyond John and Arthur Dee and Edward Kelley were present for this third action—say, if Shakespeare were present, or Kelley’s brother Thomas, who also seems to be staying there—then Dee also must be concerned about who these other people will report it to. We can guess that Dee does not want a report of this reaching the Queen or the Lord Treasurer.
(Note that this day’s magical working is not part of Dee’s regular diary, nor are any others. They are in a record of angelic conversations kept separately. If one studies Dee’s regular diary entries after his return to England one can assume that as usual Dee is writing in part to protect himself from possible other readers, in particular those working for Robert Cecil. But one can also assume that when he returns to England, he puts these particular workings in a very safe place where no one will read them, and indeed they aren’t recovered until years after his death.)
The references to Edward and Francis Garland in the trumped-up prophecies that follow the Third Action are the best clues that Garland/Shakespeare is either present at the working or able to read John Dee’s record of it. Indeed Garland/Shakespeare may still be in Trebona when Dees’ and Kelleys’ spouse-swapping starts. Our young playwright and spy might well have been partial spectator to quite the domestic drama, perhaps the Enochian version of the lovers lost in the forest in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, minus a happy ending and royal applause.
Why are the prophecies that follow the best evidence that Francis Garland is present or close by? Because if he’s a double-agent for Cecil and Stanley, these sham prophecies seem targeted right at him.
Recall that while Garland/Shakespeare must answer at least in part to Cecil, his real loyalty is likely to Stanley. John Dee may not care what fellow occultist Ferdinando Stanley thinks about his and Kelley’s magical workings, but he has good reason to not want the Lord Treasurer to retell a cross-matching pact story he’s heard from Garland to Queen Elizabeth, who has a habit of wanting total control over the intimate lives of all men around her, and seems to quit trusting them as soon as she does not. The Queen has visited Dee upon the death of his second wife, and it appears, chosen or at least approved his third wife, Jane. She’s not likely to react well to news that her “philosopher” is engaged in wife-swapping pacts, and knowledge of such would give Cecil exactly the ammunition he needs to discredit Dee forever.
Both Dee and Kelley have to know this. If the whole ploy is manipulation on Kelley’s part, he at least thinks the game through enough to create for Dee a bizarre sort of protection while finding a ruse to sleep with Dee’s wife.
In any case, Dee records a string of improbable prophecies that concern Edward and Francis Garland, and can’t possibly be communicated to Cecil if Garland/Shakespeare ever wants to return to the magical castle again. As a power play, it doesn’t matter if Kelley really said these things or whether or not he believed them when he said them or if Dee just made the whole thing up, though it would be much more dramatically believable to have Kelley really waking up the household and ranting drunken prophecies rather than Darland/Shakespeare just reading about it. However they were delivered, they could and apparently did scare Garland/Shakespeare into silence, by giving him news he can’t report to Burghley. We’ll look over that whole section again, one last time:
After dinner, as E.K. was alone, there appeared unto him little creatures of a cubit high: and they came to the still where he had the spirit of wine distilling over out of a retort. And one of them (whose name they expressed Ben) said that it was in vain so to hope for the best spirit of the wine, and showed him how to distil it and separate it better, and moreover how to get oil of the spirit of wine as it burned in the lamps: and began to ask E.K. what countryman he was. And when he had answered “an Englishman”, he asked then how he came hither. He answered “by sea”.
Let’s briefly shift contexts and recall Dee in his old-style role of “intelligencer” as one who can prophesy correctly. Kelley, too, is that sort of intelligencer. Together, they’ve delivered as an angelic prediction the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and by April 1587, that has come to pass. They’ve predicted the Spanish Armada, and by 1587 it looks certain that will happen, as well. On more prosaic matters, when Elizabeth, more than a year after deciding not to marry the Duke of Alençon, asks Dee about “Monsieur’s” state, he tells her (and records this, in Greek, in his diary) that “he will die a violent death.” A year later, the Duke dies of typhoid.
It is even possible that the sort of help Edward Dyer originally wanted for the Earl of Leicester was a prediction: would the Earl prevail? (He doesn’t; Leicester dies or is poisoned in September 1588, just after the Armada victory.)
But the above string of prophecies is far more direct and invective than any of the accurate ones Dee, or Dee and Kelley together, record. Not only that, it was treason for an English subject to predict the death of the Queen, much less that she would be “from heaven destroyed.” Conveniently, John Dee writes that Kelley says this, rather than himself.
Certainly Dee and/or Kelley must have known Garland/Shakespeare was the Stanley’s “man” as well as Dyer’s sidekick as soon as he arrived. But the prophecy says he also is “an espy” for Cecil, the Lord Treasurer. Think of this as Kelley and/or Dee and/or “Ben” telling Garland/Shakespeare that they know he’s a double agent working for Cecil. If young Shakespeare is gullible enough, now he’ll believe that even the angels know this about him. Along with giving Garland/Shakespeare a chill, it adds to the list of things he can’t report if he wants to come back as a student of Dee or Kelley. What handler would send an agent back to a place where a spirit has outed for whom that agent works?
We don’t know what other English agents Garland/Shakespeare may have encountered on the continent, but we do learn from Dee that he returns to England . Upon Garland/Shakespeare’s return, Lord Burghley and Lord Strange will want to know, for very different reasons, what John Dee and Edward Kelley have been up to.
Garland/Shakespeare won’t be able to answer, at least not to Burghley. Not only would reporting the prophecy be treason, but it would also raise the question of Shakespeare and his patron Stanley’s allegiance, if it seemed that the prophecy was an answer to something that Ferdinando Stanley had wanted Garland/Shakespeare to ask. Remember that Ferdinando Stanley is close in line to the throne, a suspected “papist,” and the main Catholic hope for a Catholic King.
With the multiple meanings we’ve come to expect, the “prophecy” also tells Garland/Shakespeare something else: that “Ben” sees him as part of the magical circle around Dee, more so than Edward Dyer, the “Edward Garland” who “is not his brother.” Of course the Garland brothers weren’t siblings, but neither Kelley nor Dee needed “Ben” to tell them that. The line makes more sense taken this way: “Dyer isn’t Shakespeare’s magical brother.” Garland/Shakespeare might take this way: his “brothers” have become John Dee and Edward Kelley, rather than the disintegrating “school” that had centered around Philip Sidney.
That brings us to one last curiosity-- whether Garland/Shakespeare relays anything about Dee and Kelley’s angelic actions (or this bogus prophecy) to Ferdinando Stanley, a fellow occultist. One odd connection suggests he did: the reference that one from the “House of Austria” (such as the son of Philip of Spain, himself a descendent of Austrian Hapsburgs) should invade England at Milford Haven.
This doesn’t actually happen, but one of the Stanleys who defected to the Spanish side did suggest it. Lord Strange’s cousin William Stanley (not his brother, but a different William Stanley) was one of the most capable military leaders in the Earl of Leicester’s forces in the Low Countries, fought with Sir Philip Sidney and Zutphen, and was made by Leicester governor of Deventer in January 1587. At that time, he promptly switched sides and surrendered Deventer to the Spanish. Most of his men also switched to the Spanish side, and this Stanley went to Madrid to discuss possible ways to invade England. As the Invincible Armada was returning home in pieces, this Stanley, in January 1589, recommended to King Philip that the Spanish launch an invasion from Milford Haven. Could this unsound suggestion, coming from an excellent strategist, actually have been made because Garland/Shakespeare communicated a fake prophecy to some other member of the Stanley family, who passed it on to William the traitor, who took it seriously?
By the end of June, Garland/Shakespeare leaves Trebona, to return only a few months later with a letters from Dyer and Justice Young. If he ever communicated anything about the Dees and Kelley’s angel magic, or their spouse-swapping, or where he and Dyer and Kelley and others went on the various trips recorded by Dee, we don’t know what it was, any more than we know much about Garland/Shakspeare at all outside of Dee’s diary and some manuscripts in Denmark.
Sir Edward Dyer also returns to Trebona, predictably, and a few years later becomes a not-too-successful student of Edward Kelley’s. By then we’re certain of who Dyer is working for, because Leicester has mysteriously dropped dead not long after the victory over the Armada. He’s Cecil’s man, trying to get Kelley to come back or to learn how to produce the philosopher’s stone from Kelley if he won’t come back, but there’s not a shred of evidence to suggest that John Dee or Edward Kelley trust him. Their “man” is William Shakespeare, Francis Garland.
After the defeat of the Armada, the focus of espionage in England shifts back to the war of succession. Leicester’s spy ring shifts to his step-son, the Earl of Essex. Walsingham dies not long after Leicester. John Dee returns home to a country very different than the one he left. For two years, he makes no reference to “Francis Garland at all”. . . then as “something” happens that leads to the murder of the country’s premier dramatist, Christopher Marlowe, and soon after the poisoning of his patron, the Earl of Derby/ Lord Strange, “Francis Garland” appears in Dee’s diary a final few times.
Mysteriously, as the body count of those aspiring to the throne or those working for them grows, so does Shakespearean drama. It is the final, best, and most powerful dramatic legacy of William Shakespeare’s teacher, John Dee.
The cloak-and-dagger trail that leads to the construction of the Globe theater may be one of the greatest stories never told. Garland/Shakepeare’s time with John Dee and Edward Kelley in the castle at Trebona is only Act One.
Aries, A and Duby, G. 1987, A History of Private Life v. 2 Belknap Press, Cambridge.
Ashmole, E 1967, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, A reprint of the London ed., 1652, with a new introd. by Allen G. Debus edn, Johnson Reprint Corp, NY.
Backlund, J. 2006, “In the Footsteps of Edward Kelley: Some Manuscript References in the Royal Library in Copenhagen Concerning an Alchemical Circle Around John Dee and Edward Kelley.” John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought. S. Clucas, ed. Springer, Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
Banes, D. 1975, The Provocative Merchant of Venice, Malcolm House Publications, MD.
Bassnett, S 2006, "Absent Presences: Edward Kelley's Family in the Writings of John Dee" in John Dee: Interdisciplinary Studies in English Renaissance Thought, ed. S. Clucas, Springer Dordrecht, Dordrecht, the Netherlands, pp. 285-294.
Brann, NL 1999, Trithemius and Magical Theology : a Chapter in the Controversy Over Occult Studies in Early Modern Europe, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.
Brahe, T. 1929, Tychonis Brahe Dania Opera omnia, Libraria Gyldendaliana, Hauniæ.
Bridges, V 2006, "Angel Magick, Dee's Rosie Crucian Secrets, and the Byrom Collection", Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, vol. 2, no. 11. Available: http://jwmt.org/v2n11/angel.html.
-- and Burns, T 2007, "Olympic Spirits, the Cult of the Dark Goddess, & the Seal of Ameth" in The Consecrated Little Book of Black Venus attributed to John Dee, ed. Burns, T and Turner, N, Waning Moon Publications, Ltd., Cold Springs, NY . Earlier version available: http://jwmt.org/v2n13/book.html.
-- and Burns, T forthcoming, Shakespeare, John Dee and the Hermetic Revolution: Alchemy and Espionage in the Magickal Theatre of Elizabethan England
Brooks, A. 1943, Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand, Scribner’s Sons, NY.
Burns, T. 2008, “Concerning Ed. Kelley’s Poem,” Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition 2, (15). Available: http://www.jwmt.org/v2n15/kelley.html.
-- Burns, T., 2008. “Francis Garland, William Shakespeare, and John Dee's green language”, Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition 2, (15). Available: http://www.jwmt.org/v2n15/garland.html.
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--, 1996, “Shows in the showstone: A theatre of alchemy and apocalypse in the angel conversations of John Dee,” Renaissance Quarterly, v. 49 no. 4.
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Kelley, E 2008. "Concerning the philosopher’s stone." Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition 2, (15). Available: http://www.jwmt.org/v2n15/kpoem.html.
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Wood p 131-132; he notes that Grafton, besides the connections to Shakespeare’s marriage (p 85-86) is close to Abington where his last direct discendent, Elizabeth, died; it winds up in Manchester where Shakespeare’s possible first patron, Ferdinando Stanley Lord Strange, lived.
Consider the famous story of Henry VIII’s well-known reaction to first seeing Anne of Cleves, who he complains looks nothing like the the portrait Holbein has made of her. For more on Renaissance portraiture, see Aries and Dubu, 556-567. They comment, “In a climate favorable to enigma, portraits were not innocent; they said more by saying less, adopting the rhetoric of the unadorned. In the simplest cases an object or two was enough to reveal the secret.” If the young man in the Grafton portrait is Shakespeare, his aristocratic livery may signal whose “man” he is, not that he is an aristocrat himself.
Ashmole writes: “And whether they found it [Kelley’s elixir] at Glastenbury (as is aforesaid) or howsoever else they came by it, ‘tis certain they had it: for at Trebona in Bohemia (whither they were come to dwell) Sir Edward Kelley made Projection with one small Graine thereof (in proportion no bigger then the least graine of Sand) upon one Ounce and a Quarter of Common Mercury, and it produced almost an Ounce of most pure Gold. This was done to gratifie Master Edward Garland and his Brother Francis, and in their presences which Edward was lately come to Trebona, being sent thither to Doctor Dee, from the Emperour of Muscovia, according to some Articles before brought, by one Thomas Symkinson.” (Theatrum p 481)
This is part of the focus of the forthcoming book by Vincent Bridges and myself, Shakespeare, John Dee and the Hermetic Revolution: Alchemy and Espionage in the Magickal Theatre of Elizabethan England.
As noted last article, Ashmole says that Dee and Kelley took their “wives, children and families” (Ahmole 481) along when they left England, a comment often considered a mistake until recently. Also see Bassnet p 287.
Steve Sohmer’s recent book Shakespeare’s Mystery Play: The Opening of the Globe Theater, 1599, makes this argument without connecting it to John Dee or Dee’s extensive interest in correcting the faulty Julian Calendar.
See Hancox. For the possible connection of these manuscripts to an underground current connected to Dee, see Bridges’ previous article in this journal.
Bridges and Burns, “Olympic Spirits,” 178-179; or see part seven of earlier online version.
The only reference to Edward Garland located outside of John Dee’s diary thus far is on Roberts & Watson’s “not found” list of books and manuscripts “known to have formed part of Dee’s diary but which do not appear in his catalog or records.” (Roberts & Watson, 155) The “reference” for that missing document seems to be an 1874 appendix whose source may be this very diary entry.
Consider the first example of this, when Edward Kelley is still using the name Talbot. He has arrived with a “Mr Clerkson” tells Dee something about Dee’s former scryer, Barnabus Saul’s “naughty dealings” towards Dee, and that he had “cozened” both Clerkson and Dee. Then Dee writes that “this learned man after dinner promised to do what he could to further my knowledge in magic” and the line is crossed out. Above the deleted line are the words, “You that read this underwritten assure yourself that it is a shameful lie, for Talbot neither studied for any such thing: nor showed himself dishonest in anything.” Above this writing, we see Dee’s again, saying: “This is Mr Talbot, or that learned man, his own writing in my book, very unduly as he came by it.” This exchange makes it clear that both men know someone else may be reading the diary.
Who exactly are these two men writing for?
This is the argument John Bossy argues at length in Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair. As empirical spy research, the book is spectacular; unfortunately Bossy has no understanding of Hermeticism or what Bruno might be trying to accomplish, nor any particular sympathy for Bruno, and so ends by staying that he deserved his fate of being burned at the stake by the Inquisition.
See Schulz, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,601729,00.html
Here too he likely uses pseudonyms in the case of his scryers. Not one of them, from Barnabus Saul to Bartholomew Hickman to Edward Talbot/Kelley, has a traceable name. Bassnet is able to locate a birth record for an Edward Kelley with brother Thomas, but neglects to consider that this may simply be a “dead identity” that someone in a position of power has allowed Kelley to use. If that is the case, it means that many people, John Dee included, know who Kelley “really” is, but modern scholarship thus far has failed to solve the blind. For more on this, see Bridges and Burns, Shakespeare, forthcoming.
Like the Hieroglyphic Monad, the Propaedeumata aphoristica has never been satisfactorily explicated in terms of Dee’s alchemical philosophy. Instead, writers have tended to view it as primitive astronomy, much as many view the Monad as primitive geometry. The only English translation available of the Propaedeumata aphoristica is by Wayne Shumaker, a scholar of the history of science, who tends to overlook or ignore the esoteric meanings of significant Latin words throughout.
For further discussion, see Bridges and Burns part II and notes 11-14.
As far an anyone knows, the spelling “Shakespeare” rather than “Shaksper(e)” “Shake-speare,” or “Shagspur” does not seem to be used by his family or on his plays until later, but I use it throughout this section for convenience
Fenton 27, 45. As usual, it is unclear whether Kelley actually gets the books—he says he doesn’t, but Dee would have good reason to not record it if he did. Of note, this angelic directive comes right in the midst of diections on how to construct the Sigillum DEI Amaeth.