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The Queen's Conjurer: The Science and Magic of Dr. John Dee, Advisor to Queen Elizabeth I

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  503 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
Although his accomplishments were substantial-he became a trusted confidante to Queen Elizabeth I, inspired the formation of the British Empire, and plotted voyages to the New World-John Dee's story has been largely lost to history. In The Queen's Conjurer, Benjamin Woolley brings to life the tale of one of the most colorful characters of the Renaissance. In the midst of a ...more
Paperback, 376 pages
Published February 1st 2002 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2001)
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Matt Comstock
Jan 03, 2012 Matt Comstock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an historically dense read, almost overwhelming, but overlayed with a very human and tragic plot. Dee was a brilliant renaissance scientist who became obsessed with communicating with angels through 'skryers.' It's hard to determine if his often reluctant skryer, Edward Kelley/Talbot was psychotic or cunning or both. In the end Kelley ended up making a name for himself as an alchemist (the student become the master; though he is subsequently tracked down and arrested for fraud or some su ...more
May 06, 2014 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very enjoyable and readable account of John Dee and how such an inquiring mind was so misled by skryers who cozened him. Sad that he was so gullible! From Amazon;A fascinating portrait of one of the most brilliant, complex, and colorful figures of the Renaissance.

Although his accomplishments were substantial -- he became a trusted confidante to Queen Elizabeth I, inspired the formation of the British Empire, and plotted voyages to the New World-John Dee's story has been largely lost to history
Pete daPixie
Very many moons ago I read a biography of Dee. After some forty years I thought it time to read another. Benjamin Woolley's biog is just a few years published so 'The Queen's Conjuror' is as up to the minute on the life and magic of Dr.Dee.
One item I do recall from the first reading, is that Dee calculated a land mass in the southern oceans that Cooke eventually discovered. However there is no mention of this here.
Woolley has traced this life, in the main, through Dee's own diaries and various w
Jan 20, 2008 Anthony rated it really liked it

This book was a lot of fun for me. It had history and magic and, most importantly, a huge bibliography of old books. I personally love books that direct me to other books.

John Dee, for those of you that can't read the title, was an adviser Queen Elizabeth. On the surface, he was a well-read, intelligent mathematician whom the Queen trusted. But, privately, he was an astrologer who apparently talked to angels. Woolley never breaks the barrier of calling Dee crazy, nor does he support Dee's claims
Matthu Stull
quite fascinating to speculate how large of an impact Dee had on the rise of the British empire....there's a sort of before and after scenario, ....were the angelic 'actions' part of the destiny of some greater Britannical masterplan? like neil gaiman's 1602, the new world was just about to be inhabited by the elizabethan paradigm....later england so take control of a certain large amount of future USA....i continued the speculation to include Bacon's new atlantis and subsequent world domination ...more
Steve Lew
The short review: I wonder if I would have done better to have read some Dame Frances Yates?

The good: I came to this book with only a vague sense of who Dee & Kelly were and what they were doing, and really no knowledge of the socio-political context in which they found themselves. Now I know. Mission accomplished.

The bad: I'm not sure I got enough out of it to justify the 325-page slog through a grammaticized timeline. The writing is reluctantly dry: The many attempts made to liven it up on
I once dated a "gothic" guy who was very much into New Age, metaphysical, and dark topics. He even though he spoke to demons and soon enough, I swear I started seeing shadows lurking in my apartment. Anyway, I digress and thankfully that is out of my life. He knew that I was a hugh fan of Tudor England and mentioned Dr. Dee to me, whom at the time, was a pure mystery except for the brief mentionings in Elizabeth books.

Thusly, I had high hopes for a look into Dr. Dee's work. Sadly, this book is d
Borrowed this from a friend when it first came out. Was totally fascinated with it, but only just remembered the correct title now to add it.
RB Love
Feb 09, 2009 RB Love rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
this book is written more as a narrative/biography of John Dee’s life which spanned from 1527 to 1628. More digestible in this form I was finally able to enter the world of Dee first introduced to me at UCSC in a course called something like “The History of Mathematics,” which I was really into but couldn’t hang with and so dropped. I will always remember the radical intellectual vibe and characters in there, instructors included, which gave the whole thing a bit of a cult tinge. The one guy wit ...more
Äsruþr Cyneaþsson
A fast-paced, well structured biography. As a result of Woolley avoiding entrance into too great a depth in any singular aspect, the account of Dee's life serves as a tasy appetiser for those who like to delve deeper.
Andrew Gronosky
Jun 13, 2017 Andrew Gronosky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at a brilliant sixteenth-century polymath from a time when Europeans believed in magic.
Jul 21, 2014 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent humanist study (The proper study of mankind being man.) of the Renaissance man par excellence. Dee saw himself as England's own philosopher, but couldn't quite get the throne to acknowledge him as such, but was delegated to the position of being more of an intelligenser, who is able to get info from foreign princes and kings in places like the Holy Roman Empire that were off limits to those of the Protestant persuasion. His avid book collecting brought him into contact with the top min ...more
Sonya L Moore
May 14, 2014 Sonya L Moore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a student of history, I was astonished that I had never even heard of this very important advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, let alone studied him. I was glad this book was readable and held my attention so I could make his acquaintance.
From Amazon:
"A fascinating portrait of one of the most brilliant, complex, and colorful figures of the Renaissance.

Although his accomplishments were substantial -- he became a trusted confidante to Queen Elizabeth I, inspired the formation of the British Empire, an
I found this book a fairly good historical read, which attempted to balance a thorough account of Dee's angelic "actions" with the skryer Edward Kelley against an understanding of his place in the development of history and mathematics. I was struck by the thought that, if Dee had not put so much of his energy into these conversations with angels, his methodology would likely be hailed as one of the precursors of the modern scientific method. Woolley makes a good case that Dee did not see a dist ...more
May 05, 2010 Leslie rated it really liked it
John Dee, the mystical figure from history most often associated with translating grim magical texts, raising demons, communicating with angels, actually was one of the foremost scientific minds of his time. He was played a crucial role in early circumnavigation efforts, indeed he was able to trace back British land rights to the New World/Atlantis/North America, and first coined the term, THE BRITISH EMPIRE, to Elizabeth I, laying out a detailed economic analysis of the country and the means by ...more
Feb 03, 2013 Julian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Allison Thurman
May 17, 2013 Allison Thurman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating less for the biography of Dee himself as the relationship between Dee and his chief "scryer", Edward Kelly. On the surface it seems obvious that Kelly was a fraud who successfully scammed Dee, but it seems much more complicated: even Kelly doubted his "visions" at times, the "language of the angels" that they developed together had grammar and syntax that appeared unlike any other language.

This inspires a number of questions: was Kelly a phony, or a "real phony" (did he believe his o
Kathleen Tahk
Apr 23, 2008 Kathleen Tahk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, this is a bit of a fluffy piece of pop history writing by a journalist and not a *ahem* professional historian, but John Dee is the kind of character whose thoroughly eccentric real life suits this entertaining genre of history writing perfectly. Dee, astrologer, mystic, scientist, was simultaneously an utterly idiosyncratic mind and a perfect representation of early modern thought, which was as fascinated by occultism as its was by scientific observation and more often than not tried to in ...more
Tom Cöle
Aug 13, 2013 Tom Cöle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling and robust book which goes beyond being a mere biography of Dee and paints a vivid picture of Tudor life, both intellectual and historical. The book also makes the interesting point that medieval occult texts may have had more to do with cryptography than magic, an idea which I hadn't encountered before reading it. Woolley's accounts of the scrying sessions engaged in by Dee and Kelley are so vivid that the reader almost feels as though they're stood behind the pair, peering over th ...more
Ivan Voras
Dec 30, 2012 Ivan Voras rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: serious, history
A good overview of Dr. Dee's life, created (apparently) solely from his own writings and historical records about him, without much delving into the more mystical stories about him.

As a biography, it's useful for finding out where he went and what he did. As a story, it's somewhat dry. Apparently, there are not that many historical records to reconstruct the story.

I very much expected to get more details about some of the more "interesting" topics - his alleged spying across the European courts,
Orin Holland
Sep 16, 2007 Orin Holland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book reminded me how interesting biography can be, esp. when the time period is much different than the modern day. I have been vaguely aware of the figure of Dr. Dee, because of his mythical role in the transmission of Enochian Magic, a topic of much interest to contemporary occultists. The presentation of the more mundane aspects of Dee's life were just as fascinating, and I appreciated the presentation of the spirit conversations as a perfectly natural pursuit of the learned men ...more
An account of the life and times of Elizabethan England’s foremost philosophical occultist. John Dee was a scholar so cutting edge that he went a bit over the edge. A brilliant man who boldly followed his curiosity wherever it led, Dee explored mapmaking, calendar reform, and astronomy. He also investigated alchemy and astrology, two subjects that Dee’s contemporaries believed to be as scientific, if not more so, than odd notions like Copernicus’s belief that the Earth orbited the Sun. It was sp ...more
Douglas Leslie
May 22, 2013 Douglas Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: occult
An utterly fantastic work, Woolley's writing keeps you captivated and entertained throughout; he approaches Dee's life from all aspects, from his childhood, to his jail time, his astronomical workings to the North-West Passage, and everything else, including going into some detail about some of the characters and Lords he met within his life. Woolley has covered all aspects of John Dee in this book, and his efforts certainly shine through. A highly recommended book for anybody who is interested ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Misha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently experienced the fantastic exhibit of Dee's books and items at The Royal College of Physicans in London. The Queen's Conjuror is a beautifully done bio of a fascinating polymath who, under the "spell" of the medium Edward Kelley, eventually fell out of favor with the court and ended his life in sad, tragic ruin. Woolley does his part to rescue Dee from his notorious reputation as a necromancer and restore his legacy as a mathematician, inventor, economist, and cryptographer. LOVED.
Jan 23, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
John Dee was an alchemist in the 16th century-or was he a crook? or was he a genius? Did he lay the philosphy for the establishment of the British Empire?

This man's history is truly fascinating. It is worth a read. In my opinion, he was a a very clever man. He had the largest private library in England at his home in Mortlake, London. He was a confidant of Queen Elizabeth I. He travelled extensively.He supposedly talked with angels. Judge for yourself.
Aug 15, 2010 Marc rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating treatment of John Dee that was clear on the sources used, respectful of Dee and engaging to read. While his preoccupation with angels and the methods he used to talk to them might seem very odd to a modern reader, the author paints a sympathetic, fleshed-out image of him. Includes interesting notes on other better known figures of the time whose occult dabblings are often overlooked.

A great biography for those who wish to raise the veil of mystery around this man. Unfortunately it also made him seem petty and selfish. I suppose this is the case for many of the "mysterious" figures of history (Dee, Nostradamus, Rasputin, etc), but it was a bit discouraging to see him reduced from "conjurer" to "petty bullshit artist"

Luna Ofthenight
Jan 04, 2013 Luna Ofthenight rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Draws the human side of the historical figure. A book rich in history and background detail. I've been fascinated by Dee for years but this is the first biography specifically detailing as much of his life as is possible that I've read. I wasn't disappointed, for anyone interested in Tudor history and Dee himself this is a fascinating read.
Tim Corke
Jul 22, 2011 Tim Corke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A difficult book to get into but an excellent biography into the fascinating Elizabethan world of religious turmoil, mysticism and the evolution of science and mathematics. Sir John Dee's troubled journeys across the Continent to the courts of Emperors and Monarchs cannot help to pull you in travelling alongside him. A great read.
Elizabeth Ashworth
I'm reading this as part of my research into a new novel on the subject of Dr John Dee and his wife Jane. This book gives a brief, but fairly comprehensive look at the life of John Dee and in particular his association with Edward Kelley. It is well researched and there are plenty of footnotes and links to other publications that I will find useful
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“During his star in Antwerp, Dee write: 'When infancy and childhood are past, the choice of a future way of life begins to present itself to young men as a problem. Having hesitated for some time at the crossroads of their wavering judgment, they at last come to a decision: Some (who have fallen in love with truth and virtue) will for the rest of their lives devote their entire energy top the pursuit of philosophy, whilst others (ensnared by the enticements of this world or burning with a desire for riches) cannot but devote all their energies to a life of pleasure and profit.” 0 likes
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