An English alchemist, scryer and lawyer, who gained fame solely through his association with John Dee, an adviser to Queen Elizabeth I on occult matters.
As a lawyer, Kelley had been convicted for forging land deals, fraud and coining. In the 1570s he acquired an old parchment dealing with the transmutation of metals. He bought the document, along with two vials of powder, from a lowlife innkeeper who said they had come from the grave of a rich bishop.
Although Kelley was educated enough to read the parchments Old Gaelic text, he lacked the knowledge of alchemy that would allow him to make use of it. In a burst of bravura, Kelley decided that the eminent John Dee, known to have an interest in the occult, would be just the man to help him with the alchemy and also to lend credibility to his schemes. A rogue of persuasive charm, Kelley got Dee interested in his manuscript and coaxed him into the laboratory to attempt a transmutation.
To Dees intense surprise and delight, so the story goes, the experiment worked. In December 1579, they reportedly turned a pound of lead into a pound of gold. This well-publicized success with furnace and crucible brought the pair to the attention of a certain Prince Albertus Alasco, a Polish nobleman who was a guest at Elizabeths court. By then, the unscrupulous Kelley had tricked the honest philosopher into an iniquitous collaboration. Before ever meeting Kelley, Dee had experienced what he believed to be an encounter with the angel Uriel, during which the angel gave him the power to communicate with beings on other astral planes.
When Kelley claimed that angels were speaking to him, Dee apparently did not doubt him. The two presented a seance for the benefit of Alasco and convinced him that angels said the prince was destined to become the king of Poland. With telepathic exuberance, they further informed Alasco that he would live forever. Pleased with what he had been told, and hoping to profit from the pairs alchemical pursuits, the grateful prince invited the conspirators to his native Poland.
Not until he had paid over a goodly share of his fortune did the prince realize he was being swindled. Then, in 1585, he packed the unwanted house guests out of his life. Kelley and Dee and their families made their way to Prague, at that time one of two capitals of the Holy Roman Empire.
The mystically inclined emperor Rudolf II was widely known to give a generous welcome to alchemists but soon after the Englishmen arrived, they were alarmed to hear gossip alleging that they were involved in fraud an necromancy.
They prudently left town in May 1586 an three weeks later learned that the papal nuncio had ordered Rudolf to deport them. They took refuge with a powerful nobleman, Count Rosenberg of Bohemia, who obtained official permission for them to take up residence in his castle for as long as they liked.
Despite their difficulties, Dee seems to have remained enthralled by Kelley but not without exception. In 1587 Kelley claimed that the angel Uriel told him that henceforth he and Dee were to share "their two wives in common." Dee, whose wife was prettier and younger than Kelleys, is said to have drawn the line at this proposal. These differences precipitated a temporary disruption of his relationship with Kelley.
By 1589, a dispirited and discredited Dee returned to England, where he was promptly visited by Elizabeth I and awarded a license to practice alchemy. But there was to be no end to his misfortune. Some years later, his superb library and cherished laboratory were destroyed by a mob that had become convinced he was in league with the devil. He died in poverty at the age of eighty-one.
Kelleys fate is not so certain. One story says he was imprisoned somewhere on the Continent and fell to his death in 1593 (some say 1595 or 1597), while trying to escape from a window on a rope twisted from bed linen.
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