Social Philosophy

In the Labyrinth: John Dee in Manchester

Michael Powell
5th April 2017, 7:00pm

John Dee (1527-1608) was one of Tudor England's most extraordinary and enigmatic figures.  A mathematician, astrologer, occult philosopher, imperialist, and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, Dee devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy, attempting to communicate with angels and thus learn the language of God. 

Dee has had an extraordinary afterlife.  He was the model for Shakespeare’s Prospero and Marlowe’s Faustus.  In recent times he has appeared as a character in novels, children’s books, graphic novels, films and plays.  Dr Dee: An English Opera, created by theatre director Rufus Norris and musician and composer Damon Albarn, was one of the highlights of the 2011 Manchester International Festival.

What is less well known is that Dee was based in Manchester for many years.  In 1595 Elizabeth appointed Dee Warden of the Collegiate Church of Manchester, which was effectively the only job he ever had, and he remained in this post until his death in 1608.  Dee’s period in Manchester was an unhappy one.  He found himself in battles over church governance and policy with the fellows of the Church and with the Crown.  His third wife, Jane, and at least one of his children died as a result of the plague in Manchester. 

This lecture will focus on what survives in Manchester from Dee’s Wardenship, looking at his role in the Collegiate Church (now Cathedral), at some of his surviving books from Chetham’s Library and also at Dee’s extraordinary afterlife.  Why has this difficult character who worked in very esoteric fields exerted such a strong attraction and appeal to artists and writers in the 20th and 21st centuries?

About the Speaker

Michael Powell is Librarian of Chetham’s Library, Manchester and Hon. Archivist of Manchester Cathedral.  He has published widely on book history and on aspects of the history of Manchester.


Menu for Supper

Steamed salmon with a hollandaise sauce with new potatoes and vegetables or stuffed peppers with tomato sauce (v)

New York cheese cake with raspberry coulis or fresh fruit salad

N.B. the Lit & Phil office have to inform venues of catering numbers approximately 7 days before an event so please make sure you book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.