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Radnorshire Society transactions

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Vol. 68 1998

A matter of pedigree : the family and arms of Dr John Dee baptised in wine /

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A MATTER OF PEDIGREE: THE FAMILY AND ARMS OF
DR JOHN DEE BAPTISED IN WINE
N de Bar Baskerville
In exploring the Nachleben of Dr John Dee, the famous Elizabethan
mathematician and astrologer, the researcher soon discovers that he has
been, very nearly, 'all things to all men'. This century his intellectual and
scholastic reputation has undergone a renaissance starting with Charlotte Fell
Smith (1909), and taking us up through Francis Yates (1960 70s) to the
present.' However, up until this century the 'Angelic' phase of Dee's life had
taken precedence over his wider intellectual pursuits to become the subject
of apocryphal writings, mainly as a result of Causaubon.2 As my research
progressed it soon became apparent that there were other areas of Dee's life
that demanded I explore the Abstammung of his Vorfahren. So, the subject of
this enquiring paper is not the usual modern academic Dee territory of
Libraries, Mathematics, Navigation, Alchemy or any of the other rounded
renaissance subjects that he (like many of his contemporaries) studied (or
even his occultic studies that filled his latter years), but rather an area that
has remained relatively uninvestigated and forgotten: his family. This pursuit
of his own past, his own pedigree, and the grant of a new and personal crest
to his Coat Armour, lasted barely ten years, and yet his general antiquarian
interests lasted much longer;3 and arguably was the area of his greatest
influence in the politics of Elizabethan England.
Professor Gwyn A Williams in his Madoc; the making of a myth (1979)
and his Gwyn Jones Lecture Welsh Wizard and British Empire; Dr John Dee
and a Welsh Identity (1980), dealt with this very issue of the practical use
that Dee put his antiquarian knowledge to in justifying the concept of a
British Empire: and the Welshness Britishness of the Crown. In a similar
vein his general interest in historical and antiquarian study acted as a
framework to the wider personal question of 'Who am I and from where do I
come?'. R.J.Roberts in John Dee and the Matter of Britain (Transactions of
the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion 1991) takes his 'British' studies
that step further in detailing Dee's specific British studies as a reaction
against the 'Englishness' of contemporary antiquarians;4 and certainly in line
with Humfrey Llwyd's The Breviary of Britain translated by Thomas Twyne
(published 1573), and the publication of the compilation of Sir John Prise's
Historiae Britannicae in the same year. Is it surprising that John Dee, with
the flush of his first brilliant entry into the intellectual world, started to
research his own family as his interest in King Arthur and early British
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