John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians | SC Exhibitions

A "manicule" drawn in Dee's copy of
Quintillian's Institutionum Oratoriarum (1540).
© RCP and Mike Fear.
John Dee (or Dr. Dee, as he was also known) is one of the celebrities of the Tudor age. A polymath and advisor at the royal courts of Edward VI and Elizabeth I (and arrested for a short time under Mary I, accused of "conspiring by enchantments to destroy Queen Mary"), he spent his life exploring subjects as diverse as mathematics, cryptography, history, astronomy, astrology, and – perhaps most famously – the occult and alchemy. As an intriguing historical character, he's also appeared in novels, paintings, movies and even an opera, and is now the subject of a small, but fascinating exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians in London.

"Scholar, Courtier, Magician: The Lost Library of John Dee" displays a selection of the over 100 volumes from Dee's personal library now in the College's collection – it's the first time they've been displayed together. Originally, these volumes were kept at Dee's home in Mortslake, Surrey, along with his other 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts – that is, until they were stolen. In 1583, Dee set out on a six year journey around Europe, leaving his house and library in the hands of his brother-in-law, Nicholas Fromond, who, rather carelessly, allowed the vast majority of Dee's books to be "carried away." The empty shelves probably made family dinners at Dee's home a little awkward for the rest of their lives.

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