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16. století

Edward Kelley

Famous alchemist and occultist
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He represents the archetypal image of an alchemist-charlatan. He was convicted several times as a criminal, but was able to make a name for himself as a spiritual medium in collaboration with the notorious John Dee. Kelley also alleged that he could do transmutations, in particular that he could transform base metals into gold. He achieved significant fame in the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, which ended up being fateful for him. Born Edward Talbot, he started as an apothecary’s apprentice. In 1582 he met John Dee and won him over with his proclaimed ability to contact angels. Both men began to run so-called spiritual conferences and their collaboration lasted many years. In the very first year of their collaboration, Kelley became involved in the publication of an alchemical book known as the “Book of Dunstan”, which revealed for the first time Kelley’s fascination with transmutation (particularly base metals into gold), and alchemy in general. In the years to come this fascination kept growing. Together with Dee he set out on travels throughout Central Europe, where they sought sufficiently influential patrons. In 1586 they ended up in Bohemia where they received the patronage of the powerful William of Rosenberg. At that time

however, conflicts emerged between Kelley and Dee, where the former was no longer interested in devoting himself to crystal gazing and to contacting spirits, but rather intended to concentrate on experiments and alchemy. In 1587 Kelley cleverly put pressure on Dee by telling him that the angels wanted the two to share everything, including their wives. This (together with some other reasons) troubled Dee to such an extent that he left Bohemia in 1588 and returned to England with his entire family. Kelley was at the top of his career, and thanks to some achievements in the field of alchemy, which brought along the loosening of his benefactor’s purse-strings, he lived a very profligate lifestyle. Emperor Rudolf himself bestowed upon him the title of baron and treated him with respect. His introduction to the Emperor was however to become the omen of his downfall. In 1591 the Emperor locked him up to force him to speed up his work with the transmutation of metals into gold. In 1594 he was released, but the Emperor’s capricious mercy led to his imprisonment anew due to worries he might flee back to England. In 1597 Kelley died while attempting an escape: he was forced to use a rope that was too short, jumped and shattered all his bones.


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