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Dr John Dee (1527-1608/9)

John Dee was a much respected scientist in his own time, but subsequently derided as a conjurer and a trickster. He conceived the universe as being based on essentially magical principles, though believed that many of its rules and laws could be approached through mathematics.

After studying at St John's College, Cambridge, Dee travelled to Continental Europe, enrolling in the University of Louvain in 1548. He returned to England in 1551, bringing with him mathematical and scientific instruments of a quality never before seen in the country. He was soon accepted in influential circles around Edward VI and settled down to a life of study. Under Mary I (reigned 1552-58), Dee seems to have lost popularity, and in 1555 he was briefly imprisoned, accused of using enchantments against the Queen's life. He was reinstated after the accession of Elizabeth in 1558, but he never achieved a position that would give him financial independence. However, he was entrusted with the evaluation of the new Gregorian Calendar proposal in 1583, the introduction of which was subsequently rejected in England.

During the next quarter century, Dee lived most of the time at Mortlake, publishing two important texts, Monas Hieroglyphica (1564), an abstruse magical treatise, and the Mathematicall Praeface (1570) to Henry Billingsley's translation of Euclid. The Praeface is an eloquent defence of mathematics as the basis for practical work, and greatly stimulated interest in mechanics and scientific instruments.

In 1582, Dee came into contact with Edward Kelly (1555?-97), who soon began to act as his medium, and join him in occult research, seeking contact with Divine Spirits. In 1583, Dee and Kelley visited Cracow and Prague, where Dee was made a doctor of medicine at the University. In 1586, for unclear reasons, Dee was banished from the Empire, but was given sanctuary at a castle in Bohemia. He returned to England in 1589, and was made Warden of Christ's College, Manchester. He continued his occult research, but published no more. He died in 1608 or 1609.

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