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JOHN DEE AND THE ELIZABETHAN BRITISH EMPIRE IN ITS EUROPEAN CONTEXT

  • GLYN PARRY (a1)
Abstract

Recent scholarship on the ideological origins of the British Empire has emphasized the importance of John Dee's imperial writings in justifying the Elizabethan exploitation of English Atlantic discoveries. Yet a closer reading of these writings in the context of European politics, Elizabethan Court intrigues, and Dee's occult natural philosophy and magical imperialism reveals their covert purpose of recovering a lost British Empire in Europe. Dee wrote initially to address both the chronic and acute problems facing the regime in 1576, but rather than being an autonomous authority whose ideas commanded attention because of their intrinsic power, he was subordinate to the Court patronage system. Consequently his writings only gained attention when revised to align with the policies of powerful courtiers such as the earl of Leicester, and even then influential Catholic courtiers could exploit contingent political circumstances to counter his influence. Dee's writings remained problematic not only because restoring the British Empire in Europe would entail confronting Spain, but also because in their hidden centre they proposed the creation of an apocalyptic empire by magical means, particularly the philosopher's stone. In the end the contingent events that made Dee's writings briefly influential ensured their ultimate irrelevance to Elizabethan policy-making.

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Corresponding author
History Department, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand glyn.parry@vuw.ac.nz
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I am grateful to William Sherman and Simon Adams, readers for the Historical Journal, for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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