Occult philosophy and politics: Why John Dee wrote his Compendious rehearsal in November 1592

Glyn Parry

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5 Citations (Scopus)


John Dee’s autobiographical Compendious rehearsal, written in November 1592, not only reveals the close connection between occult philosophy and high Elizabethan politics through its contents, but also through the circumstances that brought it into existence. Dee’s Court career shows a clear pattern, in which events sometimes aligned to make his occult philosophy useful to senior politicians, boosting his status at Court. One such series of events occurred in 1591–2, when Lord Burghley used Dee’s prediction of a Spanish conquest of England in 1592 to panic Queen Elizabeth into permitting a large scale, organized persecution of Catholic recusants, based on a Proclamation against Jesuits and missionary priests. This enabled Burghley to deflect Archbishop Whitgift’s campaign against the Presbyterians and re-establish his own influence over religious policy. However, the eventual failure of Dee’s prediction enabled Burghley to abandon Dee to Whitgift’s revenge, part of Whitgift’s cultural counter-revolution against all forms of occult philosophy, which be believed inspired political subversion. With the fall of Sir Walter Raleigh in the summer of 1592 it also left Dee vulnerable to criticism from Catholic exiles, and enables us to definitely identify Dee as the ‘conjuror’ associated with the fictional, atheistical ‘School of Night’ associated with Raleigh.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)480-488
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012

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