This is a letter from John Dee to James I (printed in 1604), pleading with the King to withdraw the accusation that Dee is a ‘Conjurer, or Caller, or Invocator of Divels, or damned Spirites’. Dee defends himself vigorously, but says if the claims are proved true he deserves ‘to be stoned to death; or to be buried quicke: or to be burned unmercifully’.
Though John Dee had established a role for himself at the court of Elizabeth I, he aroused James I’s suspicions. In 1599 James had published his treatise, Daemonologie, promoting witch hunts and condemning the study of magic as damnable. The King refused the plea in this letter, and Dee died poor and isolated.
An inspiration for Shakespeare’s Prospero
Dee is often thought to be a model for Shakespeare’s magus, Prospero. Both men raise troubling questions over the use and abuse of their Art or magical power. They present a potential conflict between their ‘secret studies’ and their pursuit of ‘worldly’ political ends (The Tempest, 1.2.77–89), and they continue to inspire debate over their involvement in ‘theurgy’ (white magic) or ‘goety’ (using magic for dark purposes).