“The sky seemed to be on fire and to grow red like blood as it spread in different directions, at about 9 at night, especially to the north and east: while overhead, the blood-red clouds were carried to the north” John Dee’s Diary 8 March 1582 (extracted from ‘The Diaries of John Dee’ edited by Edward Fenton, page 24, Day Books, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, 1998, reproduced with kind permission of the rights holder)
This is the story of one of the greatest Britons, whose identity has been hidden for 400 years. The truth is much stranger than the fictions that surround him but here is a little fiction based on the facts, which can be investigated from the references I will put at the end of the curious tale of the British spy codenamed Edward Kelley.
An actor, agent, alchemist, aristocrat and author.
Sometimes misfortune opens the doors of a great treasure house in our lives while at other times it scars us for life or shuts us in a prison of our own making. It is certainly relative. We see some children grinning as they scrape a living in some dire slum and we see others shattered and shocked by tragedy. Edward was six when his mother died. It was not an unusual event in those days as he would discover when he went to a school for orphans. His young brother Henry was only three and his two older brothers fourteen and sixteen, but it was Edward who was the worst affected. He plunged into an abyss of sorrow and no one could save him from it. There were nannies, governesses, maids, older sisters and within a year a step mother, all trying their best to raise his spirits. His father loved him dearly but came to dread the look of reproach and despair in his eyes. He was an important man and very busy but whenever the boy came near he stopped what he was doing and hauled him onto his knee, much to the indignation of his fourteen year old brother Gilbert, who received no such attention.
The staff in the great castle all seemed to take this matter to heart. They fussed over him in the kitchen, told him stories, took him berry picking and the blacksmith let him watch him at work. It was to no avail. Edward seemed to take most comfort in the forge watching metal transform from being black and brittle into a shining red and malleable material. And one day he had a companion, a small black lamb that had also lost its mother and needed to be fed by human hand. Edward was given the job and all were relieved to see how he was transformed from grieving son to doting mother. Blackie followed him everywhere, even into the great hall at dinner and his father allowed this, which filled brother Gilbert with rage. He had also lost his mother but was forced to endure hours of study with his older brother Francis and a succession of tutors who seemed to delight in reporting his every failure to his father. And if it was not enough to watch his mollycoddled younger brother treating a lamb like a very important person, soon the lamb was joined by yet another pet. Someone had found a baby bird in the stables and Edward was given the task of rescuing it, which he did and for which a large cage was constructed as they watched it grow and wondered what it would become. It was a jackdaw and soon to the amusement of all but Gilbert it was strutting along the table in the hall taking morsels from plates at will. Edward called it Dhu and was often seen with the jackdaw sitting on his shoulder. Blackie grew fast and was eventually banned from the house after a series of misdemeanours but lived in some style on the grass inside the castle walls, which Edward supplemented with a little hay.
It was a recipe for disaster. The world was a violent place and children on farms soon had to learn the role of the animals there. Perhaps Edward spent less time with Blackie and more trying to teach Dhu to speak and to learn tricks but one morning after church he told Dhu that they must feed Blackie and together they went out to find him. But Blackie was nowhere to be found and as the boy searched and asked one and all if they had seen his sheep, so did the greatest alarm bells start ringing around the castle. There was no time to search the countryside for a similar looking black sheep, not that Edward could have been duped. Blackie always ran towards him. What the boy found first was the black sheepskin being stretched on a frame. At first it did not register with him, he had seen many sheepskins, they were part of the family business. Then he saw his skinned sheep hanging upside down from a great hook, with a pail below which had caught most of the blood pouring from the gash in his neck. He shrieked, Dhu fluttered furiously and flew up to the rafters and the butcher ran for help. But no one could help. That night Edward told Dhu to leave, to escape and he left the cage open by the window. In the morning Dhu had gone too. Edward’s father was seething with everyone, and everyone was in a panic as a result. Even Gilbert was avoiding his brother’s eyes. If they had been sad before, now they were frozen in grief and fury.
So it was later that day that Edward decided to sit in the forge watching his new friend the blacksmith at work, wishing that lives could be mended as simply as worn out implements. The smith’s name was Duncan Black but he was only ever called Black. He was a Scotsman who had come to live in Yorkshire when his father had taken the same job with Edward’s grandfather. He never had much to say and had at first shocked Edward when he gruffly ordered him to move back from the fire. The last thing he wanted was for the earl’s son to burn his hand and Edward’s little hands were everywhere. He was in fact the first person ever to show much interest in the art of the forge, seemed curious about everything there and was only a child of seven. So Black took to explaining everything he did to the boy. Why he plunged red hot irons into a bucket of cold water, why he hammered blades or used the curve of his anvil to turn a horseshoe to the correct size. Unlike the other staff he was not doing this out of sympathy for a motherless child but out of pride in his workmanship and skill and an art that went back as far as history itself.
But when Edward was with his father or the rest of his now extended family he switched instantly back to an almost catatonic state. He would not speak, barely ate and when spoken to stared back with a haunted expression. No one seemed to be able to bridge the gap he had created with the possible exception of Black and this was of particular worry to George, the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury. It was August and for the forty five days between the Christian festivals of Mary and St Michael there was an annual fair at Scarborough. This was when the earl bought horses, and various exotic goods including opium, and also when he traded sheepskins and metalware from his farms and forges. George owned mines and extracted coal, iron and lead from them. He exported wool cloth and lead using his own small fleet which was based in Gravesend near his Thames side warehouse. He was about to send Black to the fair with a load of goods to barter for some new horses he needed and yet he dreaded the effect this would have on his traumatised son.
His family were divided on the issue. His new wife Bess sympathised with the boy, suggested keeping Black at home and sending someone else to trade the merchandise. Others were less sympathetic and thought Edward needed to pull himself together. Some frowned on his relationship with a blacksmith, among them Gilbert. George called Black to his study and discussed the list he had of items that he wanted found and purchased at the fair. It attracted merchants from all over the world and was a place where bargains could be found. Unlike London. Finally George asked Black about his boy in the hope that his smith could break the news of his absence gently to him. But instead Black asked if he could take Edward with him, assuring the earl that he would look after him and that he felt that it would do him the world of good to get away for a while. George only thought about it for a few minutes. It was a long journey to and from the fair which was about a hundred miles away from Sheffield. They would be travelling down bumpy lanes for days but he had no doubt that Edward would prefer some physical discomfort to the mental torture of losing yet another friend or loved one, even if this was just a blacksmith. Blackie was just a sheep, Dhu a wild bird. He agreed to let him go but warned Black to take very great care of him and not once to let him out of sight. A child could easily vanish at a fair.
Edward took it in his stride. He was too young to realise what was in store for him but took especial delight in discovering that his tormentor and older brother was fuming with envy. While Edward was gallivanting at the greatest fair known to man, Gilbert would be studying Latin and reading Ovid or some such horrible author. Furthermore he would be tested on it and punished if he fell short, as was inevitable in his view. Meanwhile Bess was looking out clothes and food for Edward’s journey and instructing those accompanying him on almost any possibility of him coming to harm. If necessary they were all to return home, with or without the things George had requested. There was one thing that had to go with Edward and that was his security blanket, his black sheepskin under which, or on top of which, he slept every night and which he stroked as though Blackie was still alive.
Edward was quite surprised when he saw the length of the convoy travelling with him. There were three grooms on horseback and six carts loaded up with sheepskins, supplies, tents, food and water. It was hardly as grand a procession as he had seen when other earls came to visit his father, certainly not as grand as when his father had married Bess but it was in his mind far more important and valuable. He sat on the first cart with Black and with much waving and not a few tears they were off on his great adventure.
Towards the end of the journey it rained for two whole days and there was no way to keep dry, although they did all they could to keep the boy from getting drenched. But on the last day the sun came out and the puddles and knee deep mud holes, which snared the wagon wheels, had dried along with their clothes. As they came into view of the vast market Edward was stunned. He had never seen or imagined anything like it. The smells of countless wood fires, food cooking and incenses were overwhelming. There were other less pleasant aromas of course but the sight was something that cannot be described. Men and women in clothes and colours he had never seen before. Caravans painted in gorgeous detail, signs, stalls, tents, flags, jugglers and a vast array of animals – dogs, bears, goats, horses, donkeys, monkeys, parrots even camels. How they had all arrived in one place was impossible to contemplate and yet they all had a place in what was really a city for a month. And for Edward, in a very real sense, this was heaven and he was in it.
They soon found the space assigned for them and that was when Edward began to realise for the first time how important his father really was. The Talbots owned much of Yorkshire, ruled it all and he was a Talbot. Over the next few days many people from many countries came to their encampment with presents for his father, his step mother and even for him. His father’s secretary noted each of these meticulously. But Edward was not comfortable playing the little lord and was only happy when Black took him around the vast site to show him one wonder after another. Whether he saved the best for last or not eventually Edward was seated in front of a small brightly coloured box with a curtain covering it. There were other children with him and all seemed very excited. A man in brightly coloured and very strange clothes came and stood before them and asked if any of them had seen Reynard. Some of the children laughed and some pointed at the box and shouted that he must be in there. The man went behind the box to look and suddenly the curtain was swept aside and Edward was taken to a fantasy world that delighted him more than anything in his little life.
Almost every child in Europe knew Reynard and had done so for hundreds of years. Reynard could do the most despicable and dastardly things but they loved him all the more. When he was caught, as always happened, every child was aghast. For Edward it was as if he had seen his beloved Blackie taken away to that shed. But Reynard was so clever. He always pretended to be dead. He always seduced his prey. And he always escaped at the end. And no one had ever loved Reynard more than young Edward, even if he was a glove puppet and all the children knew it. For a while he was alive and the children were part of his world. Edward was instantly addicted. Black sat next to him, laughing too but noticed with alarm that the boy was flushed and that his forehead felt very hot. And he knew that the boy entrusted to him had a fever, one that he was most unlikely to survive whatever it was. He picked him up and carried him back to their encampment.
News travelled fast and within an hour a woman appeared to speak with Black. Edward was awake and watched her fascinated as Black brought her to him. She was perhaps quite old but also quite beautiful and her clothes extraordinarily exotic. Her black eyes examined his and she put a hand inside his clothes to feel his chest. Then she walked away. Edward asked Black who she was and he told him that she was the Queen of the Egyptians, who was camped almost next to them. He knew who a queen was but this gypsy woman was nothing like the queens that his father talked about. In minutes she was back with a small package and was again talking to Black. The poor man was worried sick and seemed to be even more troubled about what she was telling him but soon he turned to Edward and told him she had brought him a sweet. Usually that would have delighted Edward, anything sweet did but he was feeling hot and tired and his head hurt. Nevertheless he took the white sticky cube she gave him and sucked it, then swallowed it. She smiled and went away. Black put Edward on his sheepskin and wiped his hot face with a cool wet cloth. Edward began to doze but after about an hour the Egyptian Queen was back with a cup and held him in her arms as she put it to his lips. It was some sort of tea or herbal brew, very easy to swallow and Edward had the sensation of sinking blissfully into the woman’s arms, deeper and deeper. Everything around him seemed to be more colourful, more textured, more aromatic and more beautiful. He lay in her arms for hours as lamps were lit, the fire made and music nearby started to be played. Then he slept and dreamed.
His fever lasted for two days and during that time he was fed and cared for by the queen. Black was content that the boy was not dying and very happy in her company. It enabled him to get on with the earl’s business. On the third day Edward was back to perfect health and his usual curiosity. He wanted to know all about her and who her people were, but she teased him and only told him what she wanted him to know. She took him into her tent and it was a marvellous experience for him. Then she took a round glass ball the size of an egg and rolled it on the palm of his hand, looking intently in it. After some minutes of this she looked up sharply at him. He asked her what she was looking at and she told him that it was his future, his fortune, what he would be, his destiny. He was not sure if she was teasing him again. Then she said she saw a beautiful woman standing next to him. Edward had been dreaming about his mother for the last few nights. Each time he awoke from these dreams he felt the same anguish as he slowly realised that she was not still with him and tried in vain to get back to her in the dream. Now he asked her if it was his mother. The queen asked him if his mother was still alive and saw in an instant the answer, then she picked him up again and told him that it was indeed his mother and that she was always with him, whether he could see her or not. But she saw something else and it was something that Edward would never forget. Indeed it was something that changed his life forever. And it is why I say that sometimes misfortune opens the doors of a great treasure house in our lives.
Black asked the woman what medicine she had given to Edward. He wanted to be able to answer the earl when he asked, as he was sure to. She at first told him that it was an Egyptian secret but finally admitted that it was a cure all, a cake they made with honey, mare’s milk and the tiny mushrooms they find in sheep’s pasture in the autumn. She had an urn full of the little things which she had picked the year before and dried. Black looked at them and knew exactly what they were. He was going to pay her when Edward came in and gave her his black sheepskin. The queen had never received such a present, nor had she ever met such a man, even if he was still a boy. Tears sprang from her eyes and landed on Edward’s face as she hugged him. Then they left for home.
He was seven when his father married Bess of Hardwick, a woman who had already been married three times and had seven children of her own. As it happened he liked her and although her children were all older than him, he got on quite well with them too. In fact the siblings of both parents must have got on very well because barely six months after their parents were married there was a double wedding between them. Gilbert was sixteen when he married his stepsister Mary, who was only twelve. At the same time Edward’s sister Grace, who was only eight, married her stepbrother Henry, who was eighteen. That was typical of this family.
Edward had been two when his oldest brother Francis, then twelve, was married to Anne Herbert who was also twelve. She was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Pembroke who had married the daughter of Edward‘s great grandfather the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury. The 2nd Earl of Pembroke, son of the 1st, was married to Edward’s sister Catherine
Edward was ten when another queen entered his life. Another two queens in fact. Queen Elizabeth had decided that his father should keep Mary Queen of Scots in his castle under house arrest. She was frightened of her cousin for several reasons. The most pressing of these being that Mary was a devout Catholic and there were many Englishmen who would have liked to have seen her sitting on the English throne, restoring Catholicism as the state religion. But after the burnings of Elizabeth’s half sister, another Mary’s bloody reign, there were many who did not want to see a Catholic on the throne again and they included the man who ran the country for Elizabeth, William Cecil or Lord Burghley as he was known. So they decided that it might be wise to keep the Scottish queen as far north as possible, and far away from London. They both trusted George who was not only the premier earl of England but also probably the wealthiest man in it. He was quite capable therefore of keeping Mary and her small court in the style to which she was accustomed. It was a huge expense and very difficult for George, but it was not a request that he could refuse.
One night, when they were all in the great hall, Edward was allowed to provide an entertainment for them. He had persuaded Black to make him a puppet theatre just like the one he had seen at Scarborough and he had got the seamstress to make his four glove puppets. One was Reynard the fox, one his beloved sheep Blackie, another Dhu his jackdaw and the last was Chauntercleer the cock who was from a tale written by Chaucer that Edward loved when it was first read to him. Reynard first tried to outwit Dhu by playing dead. When Dhu came to have a peck or two of the dead fox he tried to catch the bird. That was what usually happened in Reynard plays but Dhu was too fast so he turned his attention to sweet talking Chauntercleer into crowing for him. Easily flattered by the fox into thinking that he really did want to hear him sing, the cock closed his eyes to perform and Reynard leapt catching him in his mouth and carrying him away for his dinner. But Blackie came to the rescue, caught Reynard and told him off. Edward came out from behind his small stage and took a bow as the hall erupted in applause. It was a masterful performance and Edward had mastered voices for all his characters. It was also very funny. The Queen of Scots was delighted and so was George. But no one was happier than young Edward.
Having the queen living with them put a spoke in George’s marriage to Bess. Mary played on George’s obvious affection for, and indeed attraction to her. Bess was enraged. She moved out and started spreading rumours about George and Mary which put the fear of God into the earl. So he had a brilliant idea. He turned to his old friend William Cecil, the Lord Burghley. Apart from his various other responsibilities he was the guardian of all the wards of court, who were young aristocrats who had lost both parents. These noble orphans along with some others, never more than twenty in all, were his school of knights. They were all people that Burghley thought would or could be useful to him and the Queen, and he ensured they had a very unusual education.
Burghley lived in the Strand in London and was an old friend of George who kept a huge home nearby, Shrewsbury House, which they called Cold Harbour. This was where his servant, a lawyer named Thomas Bawdewin, or Baldwin, managed his business. George decided to send Edward and Henry to Burghley’s school to get educated, but he had in mind something that he thought would cement his friendship with Burghley in the way his family always forged their alliances. Lord Burghley was the most powerful man in the country and George wanted him on his side so he asked him if Edward, who was then 14, could marry his daughter Elizabeth, who was only ten.
Unfortunately for George rumours of his affection for his prisoner had already reached court. At one time it was even suspected that the two had a child. Meanwhile he was estranged from his new wife Bess and the huge family was having to take sides in their dispute. As Bess was feeding the court with rumours, George was paranoid and Burghley was most unwilling to get embroiled, let alone marry his daughter into that family. He politely refused the offer but he saw a very special talent in Edward and decided to use him on a very important mission that he was planning.
Life at the school was not what Edward and Henry were expecting. Their older brothers had been tutored at home by strict teachers and the subjects they studied were dry and dull. In the Strand it could not have been more different. They read aloud to their classmates to develop their oratory. They performed most of the Greek plays. They studied European languages with Europeans in a friendly conversational way. They were taught how to make maps and sent into the countryside to do so. Fencing and wrestling were obligatory. Lady Burghley was a Hebrew scholar and taught some of the boys including Edward, who translated biblical and other texts. He had a flair for all of it. They danced, they hid, disguised themselves, adopted country accents, learned about politics and religion and on special occasions famous men came to visit them to tell them true stories of their adventures.
At the school were boys varying in age from seven to twenty. Edward’s cousins the Rutlands were there but his best friend was a boy who was the same age as he and had lost both parents. This was the first person Edward found who really understood him and in turn he felt a great compassion for young Francis Bacon. They got up to all sorts of mischief and when called to account for themselves to the master of the school, Burghley himself, found a kindly audience in him, seemingly very interested in their exploits and, if concerned, this was mostly about why and how they were found out. If you are going to do this sort of thing, he would tell them, then don’t get caught. His son Robert was rather different to them and Burghley was a good deal stricter in his dealings with his own boy. But Robert and Henry were the same age and in no time best friends too, never happier than when Edward and Francis allowed them to come along on their exploits. All the boys, especially Robert, worshipped a man who occasionally came to visit them. He was young, dashing, heroic and quite irreverent, with an endless seam of stories to tell or repeat. Sir Walter Raleigh worked for Burghley’s Service. He was given the nickname Sir Walter Whorehound by someone at the school and it stuck. Raleigh took particular interest in Edward and his progress and something he told the boy gradually changed Edward’s whole approach to life. He was talking about the role of a spy, a man with a mission, and that his life or death depended on how well he played his part. Looking deep into his eyes he told him that no one knew who they really were, all they saw were the parts they played. This was Edward’s induction into the new Secret Service and one of the parts he had to play. He was not particularly keen to spy on anyone but there was nothing he loved more than acting, so for the young man it was a job from heaven.
Next the Talbot brothers were sent to Magdalen College in Oxford and in their holidays Henry and Edward attended court. George wanted them to find out all the gossip there about him. He was very pleased to hear from his servant Thomas that the Queen liked both the boys. He very seldom came to London and from now on they very seldom travelled to Yorkshire, but his bright idea certainly insulated him from trouble that might have arisen from any suggestion that he was having an affair with his prisoner. However even George did not know what Burghley was planning to do with his sons. They had two older brothers Francis and Gilbert, so neither of them would become an earl of Shrewsbury and it was important that they found something worthwhile to do with their lives. Far too many young men wasted their fortunes and George was already having to bail Francis and Gilbert out of debt. Although he was rich it was something that he loathed to do and he worried that all his efforts in building up the family businesses and property portfolio would be quickly wasted once he died. He therefore started thinking about leaving substantial amounts of his property to Henry and Edward while he was still alive. They were more like him and, unlike their older brothers, anything but an embarrassment to him.
Edward felt liberated. He had finished with Magdalen after years of intensive study there, the last with Mr Florio, an Italian, adding to his list of languages to be mastered. He had also been working in the college laboratory which he much preferred. But now he was free, or so he thought. London was considerably more exciting than Oxford. He lived in Cold Harbour, George’s a vast house on the bank of the Thames where the family’s business was conducted. Goods arrived from their farms and mines and were transferred to their small fleet, which was moored downriver at Gravesend. Edward loved boats and was a quick learner. He had long hoped to be allowed to travel, perhaps as master of his own ship one day, but had so far only got as far as France and then been rushed back. He and his brother Henry went there with Thomas, the family retainer, lawyer and general manager. General dogsbody for his father really. He was not sure what the reason was for their recall but was about to meet Sir Francis Walsingham to find out. Meanwhile what was a good looking boy to do?
When Edward was back in London he met again his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth Cecil, the daughter of Lord Burghley. This was the girl that his father had suggested to Burghley might marry his son when the two children were living at his school on the Strand in London. Now she was to be married to William Wentworth, a man deemed suitable by her parents even if she did not love him. Edward knew it was not love exactly but there was something about her that moved him. They shared a similar sense of humour and he loved to play the witty one. She laughed at his jokes and he loved that even more.. One evening in February 1582 she had a drink with him, some sweet wine that his father had imported. She adored the taste of it and had a bit too much, causing her to giggle uncontrollably. But she knew what was going to happen and was determined to enjoy it. He was at his most amorous and charming, promising he would never desert her. That week seemed to be spent in each other’s arms. At the end of it Edward told her that Walsingham had given him a job. And he had given her one. She was pregnant. He did not find out about that for a few months though. Meanwhile she married Wentworth on February 26 before any bump might be noticed. Burghley was beside himself when he found out. He had spies everywhere but particularly watching his young protégé. And he was determined that Edward would pay for this and honour his promise to his daughter.
There had been another girl called Jane in his life but she was married to a man much older than her. They had both been at court which was the place for liaisons. The first time with her had been the most wonderful night he had ever experienced. There had been a masque. These plays were performed at night and interspersed with dancing which went on until the early hours of the morning. Edward absolutely adored the theatre. His father had created his own acting troupe up in Yorkshire in the year that he was born. This was because he had given permission for the Earl of Leicester’s Men to perform all over Yorkshire the year before and they were so popular that he had wanted his own troupe. Yorkshire was Talbot territory. ‘Shrewsbury’s Men’ let the boy play with them. They had to really as his father was paying them, but they all loved Edward. On the night of the masque Jane had shown him how to make love before going home to her old husband. Acting and making love was all he could think about for months.
Walsingham wasted no time explaining Edward’s mission to him. He was to go with Clerkson to John Dee’s house in Mortlake and persuade Dee that he was a better medium than the one he had been using. That was a man called Barnabus Saul, who had been Walsingham’s preferred choice for the mission, however Saul had got into trouble with the law and needed to be replaced. Edward was only twenty two, even if he seemed much older and more experienced at times, or acted someone older than he really was. The March evening in 1582 that Clerkson took him to Dee was dramatic. The sky was a blood red, something Dee noted in his diary. Edward saw it as a very good omen as he still considered himself to be a shepherd at heart.
Jane recognised the man immediately when he was brought into the house by the Grays Inn lawyer Clerkson. She knew something fishy was going on but her husband was pretending this was just a social call. Meanwhile she had watched an ashen faced Barnabus Saul retrieve his few possessions and scurry off without a by your leave. She had not particularly liked Barnabas and had been quite sceptical of the clairvoyant powers he claimed to have, but her husband John was entranced by the young man and it had been a very worrying month for him. No one wanted to be accused of witchcraft in those days and they were all worried about the court case involving Saul, although they were assured that the matter would be dealt with and nothing come of it. John had made enemies and they were out to get him which angered Jane immensely. It also threatened her. Marriage to a much older man was not really what she had wanted. There were many attractive younger men at court but she had been given no choice. The marriage was arranged by the Queen herself to reward her personal astrologer, Dee. Now she had two children. On the day her first baby was born, young Arthur, her father had a stroke and died. It was not an auspicious start to family life.
There was something else that troubled her and that was her husband’s diary which he hid up the chimney. Nine months before she gave birth to Arthur she had been at court in Richmond. She had been married for less than a year and determined to enjoy herself. When she got home ten days later she initiated sex with her husband as a precaution and was pleased to see that he had noted this in his diary because the next day he was sent to Germany. It had worried her when he had met Burghley, Raleigh and Walsingham a year before. Even she knew that Walsingham was head of the feared secret service. She did not know what it was but had heard rumours at court about it. And she knew that whatever these powerful men wanted with her husband it might well be dangerous. Then almost a year later Walsingham was back and sending John abroad.
When Arthur was born she had to deal with her father’s death and John was very understanding but she noticed a change come over him. For the first time since they had married he began checking up on her movements and asking questions. She knew that was normal in a marriage but had not expected it from such a genial man. And she had also noticed when she looked in his diary, which was whenever he was out of the house for any length of time, that he was noting when she had her periods. It disgusted her but there was nothing she could say about this without alerting him to the fact that she too was snooping.
That year she had again gone to court, having managed to wean her son and discharge his far too inquisitive nurse. And she got pregnant again with the same handsome young man she had dallied with before. This time she thought she might have got away with it. There was nothing in the diary that suggested her husband might harbour any suspicions. He was far too busy dabbling with Saul who had told him about two chests of books in one of his séances. Dee had not at first believed him but lo and behold two chests of long hidden books suddenly arrived at their doorstep. That made Jane even more suspicious of Saul. Something was going on and others were obviously involved and taking advantage of her husband’s gullibility. But he was not having any of it and had urged her to be on her best behaviour when their guests arrived.
She almost fainted when she saw her young lover appear at the door. As he pretended not to know her she did her best to reciprocate, but she caught him looking hard at her young son and baby daughter. Then he winked at her and it was too much to bear. But as their dinner wore on she began to understand what was happening and it completely threw her. Suddenly she was not infatuated with a dashing and witty young man. She was in love. And if he was tricking her husband, as Saul had clearly been doing, then she was on his side.
After the meal Edward told his host that he was an expert on fairyland and the spirit world but John Dee was not impressed. He had just had a huge breakthrough with Saul in one of their séances and was convinced that an angel had appeared to Saul with a message for him. The young man in front of him now seemed most unlikely to be able to summon such rarified and holy spirits. He listened to him out of politeness and because Clerkson worked for Burghley and Walsingham, who were also Grays Inn men, that is to say they had trained in law at this Inn of Court.
He knew who Edward was. The name Talbot was instantly recognisable and George Talbot was the Premier Earl of England. His worry was that Edward was setting him up to trap him into saying something that could be used in court against him. Who knew what devious things Walsingham and his crew would get up to even if you did exactly what they asked of you? One of his enemies could easily have got some wicked report to reach the ears of someone at court and the whispers would inevitably reach Walsingham. He wondered if that had already happened and whether Talbot would be used to testify against him. Any court would take a Talbot’s word against him.
After dinner the two men went away and Jane was in turmoil. Her main anxiety however was to hide from her husband any sign that she knew Edward. She knew that John was angry with the young man’s presumption that he might teach him anything about fairyland and that he disliked and distrusted the man.
The next morning Jane was upstairs with the children when someone rode up and banged on their door. It was Edward again demanding to see John in private. They went into his study and shut the door. Jane asked the girl who had admitted the guest who it was and blushed when she was told that it was the same young man who had been at dinner the night before. And the girl’s smile told her that she had noted the blush. It was too awful. She stamped back upstairs but longed to see her man again. Then she thought perhaps she could take some refreshment in to them but was told that her husband had come out and said they were not to be disturbed under any circumstances. How frustrating it was just to be the wife.
When they did finally emerge she was amazed to see how happy John looked. He called her and told her to prepare the best room in the house, and the best bed as Edward was going to be staying with them. She was stunned. Saul had to sleep with the servants but Edward was to be given the best room. Edward beamed at her and she almost fainted, but it was with sheer delight. However that night she found it loathsome to go to her own bed and await her husband.
For the best part of two weeks this continued. By day her husband was locked up with Edward and they were consulting ‘angels‘. She had to listen to this nonsense every night and was becoming more and more frustrated. At times Edward would steal up behind her, clasp his hands on her breasts, pull her towards him and kiss her fiercely. It was practically unbearable but excruciatingly wonderful. But she also noted that her husband was becoming more and more suspicious and she tried desperately to act the perfect wife, even to the extent of making complaints about Edward and asking when he would be going. Edward loved acting and he seemed to love her acting too. They got their chance eventually. It did not take them long and was consumed by a furious passion on both sides, conducted in complete silence lest anyone in the house hear. She had taken Edward some wine to drink in his room. Minutes later she emerged, composed herself and went to complain to her husband again about their house guest. John was deeply immersed in creating a seal which had miraculously been shown to Edward in their séance, ecstatic in fact. He exclaimed to her ’Jane you don’t understand. Michael himself has come to us here’. Jane was pregnant.
It was the same day that Edward told John that the archangel had told him to get married and how unhappy he was about that. He kept this up for five days refusing to speak with the angel again because of it. But on the 4th May he relented and they had another séance. Then he got up and went away to get married.
John eventually confided to his wife why Edward had gone. At first he thought she would be pleased, after all this is what she had been asking for. But two diary entries told a different story. Jane was in an incandescent rage, then in utter misery and despair and then ill. And John was in no doubt why. Edward had been with them almost two months and tricked them both. If John was not absolutely certain about the matter he suspected it was only for four weeks. That was when he noted in his diary that Jane had not had her period and how wicked Edward was. She was pregnant and he was not the father.
Edward went back to London where his other Jane was now noticeably pregnant. He had known for a while and had thought that would mean getting married, even if the girl knew better. Thomas Baldwin, their wise guardian and servant, took him to his office and broke the news to him gently. This was not something that was likely to annoy his father, this was his father all over, but there would be no marriage. On the other hand Jane was going to be cared for and could continue working and living in Cold Harbour.
Edward had work to do for his new employers and was working to a rigid timescale. They were training him to be a spy and to play a part. He had to get it right for if not he would be in great danger and they would not be able to rescue him. He worked hard learning new codes, the geography of Northern Europe and more laboratory skills. But they wanted him to learn something else and the only teacher they could find was an actor and puppeteer. He was also a juggler and conjuror. Edward was sent down to Worcester to learn as much as he could. It was high summer and this was bliss as far as he was concerned. He had an alias given to him and was to try to pass himself off as a commoner, even though his teacher knew exactly who he was. It was a test and typical of Walsingham, who was a man for whom detail was everything.
By the end of the summer he was juggling and also able to make eggs disappear and reappear at will. In the evening he was even allowed to act in some of the plays they performed. He was missing his two married girlfriends, or missing the sex, he was not sure which but there was another girl he found attractive and it was obvious that it was mutual. Edward had been warned about her though. She was the apple of her father’s eye and this family was not to be messed with. But he couldn’t help himself and soon the sweet nothings, the compliments and assurances were flowing, their blood was pumping and the warnings forgotten. This one was called Anne and she was a pretty country girl. He was a handsome young country boy. He told her he was twenty, in fact he was twenty two, but eventually he told her he was only eighteen and apologised for lying. She liked him the better for it. He was obviously too young to get married. But not too young to get her pregnant. By the autumn, as the romantic and lazy summer disappeared behind them, she broke the news to him and he promised not to desert her. Then promptly packed his bag and returned to London to face Thomas Baldwin again, who was very nice about it and assured Edward that the girl would be looked after but that marriage was quite out of the question. They could cope with illegitimate children. Walsingham was much more worried though and he could see problems looming, indeed threats to the mission he was planning.
Meanwhile in Mortlake John Dee avoided speaking about Edward to Jane and they both pretended that they were excited about their next child. He received a letter from Edward telling him that he would be back. Then he wrote in his diary something that Jane did not at first understand or relate to her lover. He had received another letter from E. Kelly in November.
Edward had taken on a new identity. Now the real work began, his mission for Walsingham and Burghley, and something so secret no one else was allowed to know about it. Within a few days of sending his letter and adopting his new name he was back in the house working with John again. Jane was told to address Edward as Mr Kelly and was quite happy to do so. There was nothing to suggest that Edward had married anyone while he had been away which was what had most concerned her. She had missed him terribly but now he was back and she was ecstatic. That made John a bit happier too, but it was the work with Edward that really excited him. A new character had appeared in the séances, one calling himself King Carmara. Even more extraordinary was that a small angel the size of a child had brought something from the angelic world into their physical one. Edward was in a trance and told John that it was as big as an egg, ‘most bright, clear and glorious’ and that King Carmara had instructed John to pick it up. At first he could see nothing where Edward was pointing, then he saw a shadow of something round, but when he bent down to pick it up the thing was cold and hard. It was a small crystal ball. ‘King Carmara’ told John not to let anyone else touch it.
Dee now had a crystal ball given to him by the angels, if with a lot of help from Edward. But almost immediately his new medium received some very disturbing news and was recalled to London. He told John he would be back in ten days but Edward did not return within ten days and this time he really was getting married. Thomas Baldwin had paid a princely sum to have the matter dealt with as quickly as possible as Walsingham was breathing down his neck. There was a very angry family in Worcestershire that had to be placated.
27.11.82 Wm Shaxpere et Anna W Whateley marriage licence
28.11.82 Willm Shagspere and Ann Hathwey bond. 1 banns only. Worcester.
The deed was done. Edward did what he was told and reverted to his previous character. He assured his new wife that he would see to it that she would be cared for in his absence, but absent he would be and absent he was. She accepted that. At least she was married. The alternative was to be a single unmarried mother which was too horrible to think about. Her parents were still angry but at least her husband had done the right thing by her their daughter and they all had to take into account that he was only eighteen.
This forced marriage was really about Burghley exacting his revenge as at the beginning of November his daughter Elizabeth gave birth to Edward’s daughter. She was named Elizabeth for her mother and the Queen. William Wentworth was at Burghley’s grand house called Theobalds, just to the north of London. The timing of the birth was not wasted on him and it dawned on him that he was not the father, just the mug chosen to act the part. He was furious and unwisely threatened to reveal all to the court. The official story was that he died of plague on the 7th of November. It was also stated that a son born at that time was stillborn. Burghley was disappointed in his daughter. She was fluent in a number of European languages and had been well taught by her mother, the Hebrew scholar. He decided to include her on the mission and to ensure that Edward kept his word. Five months later it was announced that Elizabeth had died. Mother and child were fine but no longer part of the Cecil family.
Edward then returned to Mortlake where everything began to change for John Dee. Edward had found his diary and scrawled out anything in it that he did not like. Under the entry for the night he first arrived at the house and talked about fairies, which John had written was a terrible lie, Edward had written that it was John who was lying and that he Talbot had never studied fairies or lied about anything. John then noted in it that Mr Talbot had written in his book and had been quite devious in finding it to write in. Edward had also tried to erase entries relating to his sudden change of name. John knew that he was losing control and was quite paranoid at the thought of ending up in court accused of slander or witchcraft or anything else. Jane had told Edward where John hid the diary and was horrified at what he had done. She just hoped her husband would not know of her involvement but it was a hard lesson for her too. Edward had suddenly grown enormous before their very eyes, much as a cuckoo chick does. His attitude was changing too, becoming more imperious by the day. He seemed to have tired of playing the boy. John did not know what to do.
The matter was put right by some very unexpected visits. First Raleigh’s step brother Adrian Gilbert came. Edward knew Adrian well. Barnabus Saul had left London to work with him in Sherborne. Then Walsingham himself appeared, then a few others and they all left together. John explained the visits as being about a voyage to discover the North West passage. He was trying to be careful now that he knew Edward looked in his diary. On the 28th January 1583 Jane’s third child, Rowland Dee, was born. Two weeks later the queen had dinner with Walsingham, then rode up to their house and called John out to see her. Then a week later Lady Walsingham arrived out of the blue. The following month the Queen sent a Mr North and Lord Laski to see them, both from Poland. The plot was hatched and John was in no doubt that he was to defer to Edward from this time on. If he was upset he did not dare to show it. And if Jane was delighted nor did she.
Next John was given some kind of coded treasure map by a man brought to him by Edward, who had started putting his training in codes and invisible inks into practice. It took John three weeks to decipher the codes on the map and discover the names of ten places shown on it, some being stone or wooden crosses at particular crossroads. Three days later the queen sent Sir Walter to collect him and she made a curious statement in Latin to him that a promise delayed was not a broken promise. At the séance later that evening the treasure map was mentioned by a new spirit called Il who wanted the treasure dug up. Edward was using his Hebrew lessons with Lady Burghley for the names of spirits that would impress John. El or Il was one of the names used in the bible for the Hebrew God.
Even so John expressed his alarm at doing such a thing without a licence. That must have annoyed Edward because Il then informed John that the man who had brought the map had told various people all about this. And then he made a chilling statement to the effect that John’s chimney would speak against him. That was a clear reference in John’s mind to his diary which he hid there and which Edward had found in it. Il also told Edward to inform John about some red powder he had found at one of the places mentioned on the map. It was all too much for the poor man and for the next four days he had a succession of arguments with Edward and Adrian Gilbert. The whole mission was beginning to unravel and Edward needed all his wits to get it back on track. Then Jane also weighed in, which shocked both Edward and John, who noted this in Latin, perhaps in the hope that Edward would not understand it. But he did and scrawled the entry out. Two days later he was able to note that Jane had come to her senses and was again very friendly towards Edward. The danger had been averted but was a warning to all. Edward had other irons in the fire however of which Jane was still blissfully unaware.
In a séance the following week they were shown the angelic alphabet. John noticed that Edward traced these peculiar letters shown to him by the angel and he noted this in his diary that Edward drew them in black on top of faintly marked yellow letters. He knew that the séances, faked or not, were something he was intended to accept as genuine, so he did. This time the spirit Uriel made a prediction that it would not be long before the death of the Queen of Scots. In fact it would be four years but clearly Edward knew something about the hatching of a plot to bring this about, also involving codes.
Then Edward decided to go away again. It was early May in 1583. John was very unhappy about Edward leaving at this particular time and he managed to induce him to stay for another two days but Edward had a pressing reason for leaving. His wife Anne was giving birth to his daughter Susanna and he needed to be there. He left on the 9th but was back by the 22nd. Walsingham was not allowing him off the leash. He therefore missed the babe’s baptism on the 26th but Anne and her family were getting used to her absent husband and at least the bills were getting paid. Nevertheless something had to be done about Edward’s increasingly complicated domestic situation and Walsingham’s solution was to add yet another layer to it and another wife.
The next few months were difficult and worrying for all of them and they saw more of the Polish Lord Laski who was also present at a séance. In this one a sprite resembling a small girl, calling herself Madimi, spoke something in Greek which Edward pretended not to understand. It was telling John that Edward was packed and about to depart which concerned him deeply. A week later Edward asked Madimi to lend him a hundred pounds for a fortnight. Four weeks later the Queen came again to the house and the day after she sent John money, a present of forty angels. It was inevitable that Edward’s past would begin to catch up with him and yet it happened in an unexpected way. In August a man arrived at John Dee’s house. He had come from Worcestershire and he told John about Edward’s domestic situation there. John knew the man to be honest, although he calls him a wicked spy in his diary. Edward would be reading it soon enough. John immediately left to find Mr Kelley.
When they were both back Jane challenged Edward on the matter and he became enraged. John wisely wrote nothing else in his dairy for the next month but during that time Edward brought to his home a woman he claimed was his new wife and an infant he claimed to be his step daughter. Burghley had got Walsingham to find another recently deceased couple to use for the aliases. The mother, Elizabeth Cecil Wentworth, was now a Joanna Cooper but her daughter retained her name Elizabeth. And Edward was now the official husband and step-father of his own child. He was far from happy but Burghley as usual had the last word and his own cherished daughter was to be a secret agent like Edward. The newly named Joanna Kelley was delighted to be reunited with her lover until she saw Jane Dee’s initial reaction when they all arrived at her house. However as Edward was in her bed and holding her baby she shrugged that off. This was so much better than being Lady Wentworth or indeed shamed at court
When they were both back Jane challenged Edward on the matter and he became enraged. John wisely wrote nothing else in his dairy for the next month. Then Lord Laski arrived and they all set off for Europe on two ships moored at Gravesend. The journey was not without incident. They were almost wrecked on a sand bar during a violent storm. After they disembarked into a smaller boat they were almost drowned again as water flooded in and the boat began to sink. Then they lost an oar. But Edward saved the day, and all their lives, single handed by bailing out the boat with his gauntlet. A week later they reached Holland.
They had barely set foot ashore than John’s library at Mortlake was ransacked. Walsingham’s men were looking for the diaries and anything else John had written that may have connected Edward Kelley to Edward Talbot. But John had hidden them in the garden and it was many years before they were unearthed.
Meanwhile Walsingham was creating a smokescreen to hide Edward Talbot. He arranged his marriage to the seventeen year old daughter of Baron Ogle, another Jane, and also arranged a huge transfer of property from Ogle to Edward. There was no wedding night, in fact there was no wedding at all but there was an agreement. Arranged marriages were hardly unusual for boys like Edward and girls like Jane but perhaps the parties to this one were.
First Party: George, Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl Marshal of England, KG (the premier earl and richest man in England); and Edward Talbott, Esq., his second son.
Second Party: Cuthbert, Lord Ogle; and Jane Ogle his eldest daughter.
Third Party: Sir Francis Walsingham, knight, Principal Secretary to Her Majesty; Sir Francis Russell, knight; Thomas Bawdewyn, gentleman; and Nicholas Ridley, Clerk.
But this did not put the matter to bed because Edward was in Europe. In November his father received a letter from Jane Ogle and Sir John Forster, who was related to the Ogles and a very senior figure in Northumberland where Jane and her family lived. They were perturbed that Edward had not yet ‘solemnised’ the marriage. This caused a flurry of activity before Sir John was able to write to the earl in the week before Christmas that the ‘business’ had been completed in Northumberland and that they should start the exchange of property between Baron Ogle and Edward. And so another wife suffered the anguish of having an absent husband, but in her case there was no wedding and no wedding night. However any upset that may have caused the new Mrs Talbot was not as much anguish as Jane Dee felt sharing lodgings with Edward, Mrs Kelley, one of his other new wives, and their child. But Edward had a plan!
When Lady Walsingham had visited Mortlake the previous January she had come to speak to Jane. Her ladyship was no stranger to tragedy. Her two sons by her first marriage were blown up in an accident. She had been widowed and then married to Sir Francis by whom she had two daughters. One had died aged seven a couple of years before. The older one would one day be godmother to one of Jane’s daughters. But as the wife of the head of England’s secret service she was well aware of the qualities and patience required of the wives of its agents. And she also knew all about Jane’s long running affair with Edward which was what she wanted to talk to her about. Jane was indignant at first but calmed down when she realised that Lady Ursula was neither criticising her for it nor demanding it cease. What she was trying to explain was that Edward was not the architect of his life nor deliberately wishing to upset her. And she like him must make certain sacrifices for their country and monarch. Which meant accepting that like Jane, Edward may one day be married to someone as a duty rather than by choice. Ursula then warned her that she would be wise not to meddle, nor to pry and certainly not to cause trouble over any government matters in such dangerous times.
When Edward first appeared with his new family therefore Jane tried to follow this advice. She even tried to befriend the new wife and child. She could see that the relationship between Edward and his wife was somewhat strained and she tried her hardest not to show any sign of her interest in her lover. But more perturbing to her was that John Dee was also finding the situation very difficult and there were many reasons for this. He was immensely grateful to Edward for saving all of them from drowning. They were still having séances and following the near death experience the angel Michael had appeared. John was in a quandary. Even though he knew that Edward was probably faking these séances, and even though he knew it was all part of a mission, he noticed something else. When Edward was playing the medium it seemed as though he really did enter some kind of trance. Many mediums do and some have no recollection of it later. Furthermore John really did want to believe in them, or that out of them some matters that were of very great interest to him might actually be true.
Two months after leaving England, in a séance, Edward told John about his Mortlake library being ransacked and that Jane’s brother, who had been looking after the house for him, had been arrested. This was not the archangel Michael telling him but a new spirit calling himself Principal. In reality it was one of the couriers that Walsingham sent to Europe and John was extremely worried. It was possible that Edward was wrong, but perhaps he was right and perhaps furthermore he knew more that he was telling. Edward was becoming much more difficult and had taken to verbally abusing John at times. John was a very meek and gentle man, quite unused to this kind of treatment. For some reason he thought Edward did not know Greek and wrote about this in his diary in Greek. Edward allowed John to think that by not striking out these entries. John thought that Edward was putting his life in danger and at the same time Jane started berating her husband. If she was not to harass Edward she was certainly going to let off steam with someone at this very awkward time. Every night she lay awake thinking about Edward lying with his wife in the next room. It was agonising for her. But in March Edward and his small family went to live in a separate house. By now they were in Cracow. Jane would almost certainly have gone mad at this point if Edward had not told her that it was the only way that they could indulge their passion. If his wife and her husband were in the same house with them it would be impossible. She wanted very much to believe him.
One of the reasons that John Dee thought that Edward was endangering them was that Edward had started saying things which were quite heretical. In almost any country they would get one executed, tortured or burned at the stake. Even if one thought such things it was madness to utter them. The séances had become very tiresome but at the same time were offering John everything he had ever hoped for. If Edward was being honest then they were being given the key to the angelic world. There was always the danger that the spirits that were contacting them were not angels at all but demons pretending to be angelic. Of course there was always the danger that they were a product of a vivid imagination anyway. But at last they were being taught the angelic language with its own alphabet and in theory that knowledge would enable them to make genuine contact with any number of angels, and to correspond with them. And then John would be able to find out what he had wanted to know his entire life. The truth. However learning the language was tiresome to say the least and they spent three long months receiving seemingly random letters and words and what the angels said were ‘calls‘. Perhaps that might be like an Englishman trying to learn Chinese in a crash course, first of all learning to write the exotic alphabet then learning some words and some sentences.
However while this work was going on Edward suddenly announced that Jesus was not God and they should not pray to him. That there was no such thing as sin. That when people died their souls went to a baby in a womb somewhere else thus there were as many people living as ever had lived. John had to listen to this blasphemy and to record it. Whether it was true was not the problem. It could get him burned at the stake and that was. Edward however seemed oblivious to that. The man thought himself indestructible.
In August John was told that he, Edward, a man who was supposedly Edward’s brother, Thomas Kelly, and John’s servant Edmund must go without their families to Prague, which was where the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf 11 lived. It was very upsetting for John to be parted from his family and to leave them without any protection but he had to go. The angels demanded this. Or Edward demanded, or possibly Walsingham himself. It made no difference, he had to go.
Meanwhile he got a letter from England. It had taken four months to arrive and was from Jane’s brother. It seemed to confirm what Edward had told him about his library in the séance and informed John that Adrian Gilbert and his bookseller had conspired against him. It was the last thing he wanted to hear. John’s life since Edward’s arrival in it had descended into a complete nightmare, however in a sense it was turning into everything he had ever hoped for. If the angels really were speaking to him. If only he could actually hear and see them himself and not have to rely on a Saul or Kelly. But we cannot all be mediums. Although they seemed to speak to Edward it was only to pass on their messages to John. Hopefully.
Edward had started drinking too much which was also becoming dangerous. In one drinking session he attacked Lord Laski’s servant Alexander, laying into him with a stick. The next morning Edward told Alexander he remembered nothing about it and they made up. But John then made the mistake of informing Edward that the previous night this Alexander had said he would cut Edward up in pieces and that he was glad they had put the matter right. Edward went mad. Few aristocrats would put up with such an insult from a servant. He took his brother’s rapier and challenged a terrified Alexander to a duel. Although he had been some kind of soldier Alexander turned and fled. Edward picked up a stone and hurled it at him. What most worried John was that the police in Prague had already warned him they would all be locked up if there was going to be this sort of trouble. Edward could not give a damn about that.
Later that day the emperor himself sent an invitation to John who rushed to the palace to meet him. He had a book beside him that John had written twenty years before and dedicated to Rudolf’s father. It was quite a famous book which he had called the Monas Hieroglyphica and was about deciphering a particular esoteric symbol. John was quite flattered and Rudolf seemed very pleasant. But then John went a bit mad himself. Perhaps he felt he would never get another opportunity, perhaps the occasion had gone to his head but he found himself blurting out to Rudolf that at last he was able to communicate with the angels. Rudolf took that quite well. Then John started behaving like an Old Testament prophet. He had spent too many hours in séances. He told the emperor to give up his wickedness or be dethroned, but that if he did turn from his evil ways he would be rewarded and the devil would become his prisoner. John explained that the devil in this case was the Turkish sultan. Ten years later Rudolf did indeed take on the sultan, launching a crusade against him. That was his undoing and after thirteen year of disastrous war he was indeed dethroned. Perhaps he never gave up his wicked ways.
Rudolf was very gracious in the face of this madman who had come to his court and threatened him. He did not throw him into some prison at all. But that was because Rudolf had been briefed by his friend in London, Lord Burghley. Rudolf knew all about the mission and assumed that Dee was also part of it. He found it quite amusing therefore and Dee was allowed to leave, alive.
Like Burghley and the Earl of Shrewsbury, Rudolf 11 was a Templar knight in all but name and the heresy that Edward had been spouting was Templar too. The Knights Templar had been an immensely wealthy Order and extremely powerful but they fell out with King Philip IV of France who had many of them arrested and tortured into confessions. Whatever his motives were for this the Order was officially dissolved in 1312 and much of their property handed over to the Knights Hospitaller (Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem) whose colours were the inverse of the Templars, that is they had a white cross on a red background. The Templars wore a red cross on a white background. The Knights of St John were also powerful and international. There was another another similarly powerful and international organisation called the Teutonic Order (The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem) who had a black cross on a white background. All three dated from the Crusades. One of the things the Templars were accused of was the worship of Baphomet, or a severed head they had allegedly discovered in Jerusalem, which may or may not have been John the Baptist.
A powerful and international organisation was hardly likely to be put down so easily but the heretical allegations made against them were an insurmountable problem. In 1348 therefore King Edward 111 of England instituted a new Order. This was the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Like the Templars they had a shield with a red cross on a white background but there were many fewer knights to cause difficulties, no more than 24 knights at any time. We might like to think of this as a ceremonial title awarded for services rendered to the government, or for being born into the royal family, but in the 16th century it was anything but that. It was in fact a powerful and international organisation. Among the 24 Knights of the Garter when Edward arrived at the court of Rudolph 11 were King Philip 11 of Spain, the Earl of Leicester who was the Queen’s ‘favourite’, the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, George Talbot the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, William Cecil aka Baron Burghley, King Henry 111 of France and Poland, Rudolf 11 the Holy Roman Emperor and of course Queen Elizabeth 1. They were the most powerful people in Europe, outside the Vatican.
On the first of October they held a séance. Jane was very ill and John asked about her illness. The angel Gabriel came to them and told John not to have sex with his wife. She was pregnant. John was flabbergasted but delighted. Their baby Michael was born in 1585.
Edward was keenly aware of his heritage. He had been brought up with bards singing about it and somewhat exaggerating it at dinner, literally singing for their supper. He was descended from the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, the man who around 800AD united most of Western Europe and who as Edward knew well had had five wives, some for political purposes, many concubines and eighteen children. Edward considered his blood as blue as any monarch’s but it was the oldest son who inherited a title and he had been born with two older brothers. At the time that Edward had to leave Dee and his pregnant wife Jane in 1582, his oldest brother Francis had died in their cousins’ castle at Belvoir at the end of August and was buried in the family crypt at Sheffield on 3rd September. While away attending the funeral Edward took the name Kelly or Kelley. He now had a slightly better chance of succeeding his father as Premier Earl. Having more than one wife and a mistress and having many children seemed to him to be normal and with an excellent precedent. Rudolf certainly knew that they were both descended from Emperors.
In 1577 John Dee had inscribed a message in the friendship book of Abraham Ortelius. It is a lovely book in Pembroke College Cambridge and Dee has put a decorative plate containing his coat of arms with the message at the top ‘Abrahamum Ortelium Antwerpianum Joannis Dee Londinensis Geographum Mathematicus Philosophico Complectitur Amore’ (Ortelius Antwerp John Dee London geographer, mathematician, philosopher including love). Ortelius had visited him in March that year and was a good friend. They had much in common, perhaps more than they wished anyone to know. While he was in England for some reason Ortelius decided to visit the Temple(ar) Church in Bristol. While there he put a pebble between the walls of the once round church and its leaning bell tower. When the bells tolled he watch the pebble crushed. John Dee felt like the pebble between the mighty forces on either side of him.
Another inscription in the book was made by Christophe Plantin the greatest bookbinder and publisher of the time, and another great friend. Ortelius seemed to have many great friends. The Plantin Press was in Antwerp and had published Paradin’s popular work Devises Heroique in Latin and French. Willem Silvius however published the Dutch version with a beautiful device for EL, the Hebrew God and other gorgeous illustrations. These may have decided Dee when in 1564 he wanted a publisher for his Monad and abandoning his London printer Sutton chose this Silvius. He even lived in his house as he finished it. And this was the book that Rudolf 11 had by him when they met. Such books were so exquisite they belonged in palaces and museums.
John did not know that while Plantin was away in Paris in 1561 Silvius had secretly printed his Golden Fleece on Plantin’s Press in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the royal warrant that was awarded to Plantin. They were great competitors. Plantin published 1887 books to the 120 by Silvius, not that quantity is everything. But Plantin was a long way ahead of most printers in using copperplate etchings rather than woodcuts for his illustrations and by designing the most magnificent fonts. His printing house is now a Unesco museum. One of his masterpieces was the Ortelius atlas.
What Plantin, Ortelius and Dee had in common was by necessity secret. Although Elizabeth and Burghley were also involved to a degree, or at least sympathetic, it was still dangerous for them. A secret society had arisen from the Anabaptist sect in Holland and was to be known as the Family of Love. At the heart of this group was a belief in the power of Nature rather than for example the religious view that the ultimate power was the Trinity. Even those who believed in this Trinity had problems with it. Charlemagne was a supporter of the Son part of the Trinity and allowed the use of the words ’and the Son’ to be added to the creed. The Church in the East, including the Greek Orthodox Church, strongly objected. Some thought it undermined the power of the Holy Spirit, also part of the Trinity. There was massive debate and anger over such matters but to this group of academics, musicians and scientists it all seemed ridiculous. They were not even particularly keen on the Father part of this Trinity. What they saw was Nature, but of course they were far too intelligent to talk about this outside their own small circle. By 1580 they were being hunted and persecuted.
There were degrees within this sect. Perhaps the attraction for some of them was that it lacked structure. But what made up for this was that its members included some of the publishers and printers in the comparatively free thinking city of Antwerp. Like that city their ‘family’ was international. Maybe there was an element of the beliefs of another sect that had been wiped out two hundred years before, the Cathars. They had believed that there was a good and pure spiritual element in the human but that the physical part was corrupt. They were also fairly liberated about sex. Certainly there was an altruistic side to this Family of Love, who were mostly pacifists. The angels who spoke to John via Edward made a similar point, that they were too pure for their earthly contacts. John felt that it was necessary to be pure to receive them. Probably many of the adherents to the Family were quite pure by comparison to most, depending how one defines the ‘angelic’ idea of purity. But there was also the view that sex was natural and that maybe marriage was not. Or that marriage should be open. It was something that Edward was aware of with his mentor. A human weakness he wished to exploit or at least enjoy.
There was of course much more to this than that. These people were the media. They included the playwrights, authors and actors. Publishing was extremely important. Pamphlets were being very effective at sowing all manner of ideas and discord. If the enemy could use them so must they, and so they did. That was why the English Secret Service infiltrated and to a degree protected them. There was also the small matter of the Fugger’s news sheets. The Fuggers were a banking family, the richest people in the world, and in 1568 they had started circulating news sheets among their clients and traders. Originally these were intended to coordinate them and to ensure that they did not incur losses due to lack of communication. If someone was on the verge of bankruptcy they needed their people to know. But by the time Edward and John were in Europe they were also serving as propaganda and one of their complaints against the English was causing problems.
The queen had at last managed to pay off her own debts and those she had inherited. Sir Thomas Gresham, her agent in Antwerp who arranged the loans, had been a great help, but the real reason was something they were not keen to advertise. For years they had been plundering the treasure, silver and gold laden ships leaving Central and South America. The pirates as they were deemed were supposedly privateers but in reality they were bringing the loot back to England and straight into the treasury. This had made it possible to improve the gold and silver content in England’s coinage, to launder the proceeds of their piracy and of course to pay off the Fuggers, which was exactly what that banking family had not wanted. Their newsletters tried to highlight these violations of international trade and mentioned any ships relieved of their cargoes by the English navy. The Queen meanwhile was trying to encourage trade to come to London and disowned the piracy. There was a need to counter the propaganda whether it was true or not. Much of it was not but was part of a campaign to discredit people close to the crown, and its agents. Thus it was that the printing presses in Antwerp, London and Paris were coming into their own and the fourth estate was being born, still known by the name of that marvellous invention, the Press.
The Family of Love was of course nothing of the kind. No more than Protestantism was really a protest against the transmutation of wine into blood. Both were part of a campaign by the old Templars to revenge themselves on the Vatican which had treated them so unkindly after accepting centuries of their protection. Charlemagne and his father had given the Pope his own territory in Italy and protection. They had dealt with any and every threat to the Papacy, and in exchange he had been granted the title Emperor of the Romans, Holy Roman Emperor. But the Popes with their Inquisition had become greedy and demanding, too big for their boots. One day they had granted the king of England a title the monarchy retain to this day – Defender of the Faith, but the next they were complaining about a divorce and excommunicating him. Now they were plotting against his daughter Elizabeth. If she would not marry a Catholic then they would do all possible to replace her with her Catholic cousin Mary Queen of Scots. It was easy to poison someone and she was quite paranoid. Edward was her secret weapon and poor John Dee was his cover………..
to be continued