Edward Kelly (1555–1595) was a fraudulent alchemist, best known for his turbulent partnership with JOHN DEE. Edward Kelly’s name was also spelled Kelley; he used the alias surname of Talbot as well.
Kelly was born in Worcester, England, in 1555. He served as an apprentice to an apothecary, where he probably learned enough about chemistry to develop his fraudulent schemes later. He attended Oxford but left suddenly without earning a degree. In London he earned a reputation as a fraudulent lawyer. He moved on to Lancaster where he engaged in forgery and counterfeiting, for which he was punished by having his ears lopped off in a pillory. He also was accused of practicing necromancy with a corpse that he dug up himself.
Evidently Kelly heard about Dee and his occult interests. In 1582 he covered up his ear holes with a black skull cap and paid a visit to Dee at his home in Mortlake. He introduced himself as a serious student of the occult and asked Dee for instruction. Initially, Dee did not acknowledge his interest in magic and scrying, but Kelly persuaded him to bring out his smoky quartz crystal for a scrying session with the spirits. While Kelly scried, Dee waited to take notes.
Not surprisingly, Kelly produced incredible results. He said the archangel Uriel appeared and gave instructions for invoking other spirits. Uriel also said that an evil spirit named Lundrumguffa was harmful to Dee and should be banished. Furthermore, Uriel instructed Dee to engage Kelly as scryer and to work with him always. Dee did as told, and Kelly moved into the Dee household. He and Dee engaged in alchemical research as well as sessions with the spirits. The angels spoke in Enochian, according to Kelly. He could understand it and translated it for Dee. (See also enochian magic.)
Kelly easily fooled the credulous Dee. Once they took a trip to the abbey ruins at gl ast onbury, where Kelly managed to “fi nd” a supply of the philosopher’s stone that had been allegedly made by St. Dunstan.
Their work caught the attention of nobility, including the Polish count Albert Laski, who was looking for alchemists to restore his lost fortune. Laski invited Kelly and Dee to Europe, and they and their wives set off in 1584. They were not well received. For four years they were hounded from city to city as frauds, finally landing at Count Rosenberg’s castle in Tribau in Bohemia. Kelly still possessed some of St. Dunstan’s Philosopher’s Stone, and he put on a show of making a transmutation for the count. He took one grain of the Stone and supposedly transmuted one-and-a-half ounces of mercury into nearly an ounce of gold. Kelly also supposedly made gold out of a piece of metal cut from a warming pan; he sent both to Queen Elizabeth as “proof” of his talent.
The beginning of the end of Kelly’s relationship came in 1587 while they were still in Tribau. Kelly raised his effrontery to new heights when he reported that he saw a naked woman in the scrying crystal and that she ordered that Kelly and Dee should share their wives. Dee, who usually demurred to Kelly’s demands, balked, and so did Dee’s wife Jane. But Kelly prevailed, and Dee signed an agreement submitting to wife-sharing. It is not known whether any actual wife-sharing occurred, but violent quarrels did, and the Kelly-Dee partnership was torn asunder. The Dees returned to England in 1588, and Kelly went back to Prague.
Emperor Rudolf II still was unimpressed with Kelly and soon threw him into prison. Kelly languished there for four years and then was released. But a year later Rudolf imprisoned him again. In 1595 Kelly attempted to escape by making crude rope. He fell and sustained mortal injuries, dying several days later.
According to a diary of Dee’s, Kelly successfully made gold on December 19, 1586, at the Rosenberg castle. In 1588 Dee wrote to the Elizabethan courtier Dyer about his travels with Kelly and that Kelly “had at last achieved the secret of the ages, that Kelly could indeed transmute base metals into gold.” This startling news caused Dyer to leave England and go to Prague to investigate for himself.
Dee’s diary for 1586 gives brief descriptions of some of the stages of the Great Work:
March 24th, Mr K. put the glass in dung. . . . Dec 13th, Mr E.K. gave me the water, earth and all. . . . [on 19th December] E.K. made projection with his powder in the proportion of one minim upon an ounce and a quarter of mercury and produced nearly an ounce and a quarter of best gold; which gold we afterwards distributed from the crucible.
Dee’s diary shows that he did not know exactly how this process worked. About a year-and-a-half later, Kelly allegedly revealed the secret to him. Dee cryptically recorded on May 10, 1588, that “E.K. did open the Great Secret to me, God be thanked.”
Kelly later wrote to Dyer, “what delight we took together, when from the Metall simply calcined into powder after the usuall manner, distilling the Liquor so prepared with the same, we converted appropriat bodies (as our Astronomie inferiour teacheth) into Mercury, their first matter.”
Alchemical texts that have been attributed to Kelly are The Stone of the Philosophers and The Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy, which appear in Tractatus duo egregii, de Lapide Philosophorum, una cum Theatro astronomae terrestri, cum Figuris, in gratiam fi liorum Hermetis nunc primum in lucem editi, curante J. L.M.C. [Johanne Lange Medicin Candidato], published in Hamburg in 1676.
- Halliwell, James Orchard. Private Diary of Dr. John Dee and the Catalog of His Library of Alchemical Manuscripts. White- fi sh, Mont.: Kessinger, 1997.
- Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. New York: Penguin Books, 1957. “The Stone of the Philosophers by Edward Kelly.” Available online. URL: https://www.levity.com/alchemy/kellystn. html. Downloaded January 8, 2005.