Edward Kelley

By Erin Naillon

Edward Kelley’s background is something of a mystery. His exploits, first in England and then in Bohemia, are legendary.

Unknown origin

His fellow astrologer, John Dee, indicated that Kelley (also known as Talbot) was born on August 1, 1555, in Worcester. Kelley approached Dee with the claim that he, Kelley, was adept at working with a crystal ball. Dee believed him, and from 1582 to 1589, the two spent most of their time together. It was during this time that Kelley claimed to the ever-credulous Dee that he could change base metals into gold.

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The two men traveled to the European continent to seek royal, or at least noble, patronage. After failing to impress two monarchs (including Rudolph II), they found an easy mark in Vilem Rožmberk. He provided them with money and housing in the city of Třeboň. While they were enjoying easy living, Kelley married a widow named Jane Cooper and adopted her daughter, Elizabeth Jane Weston. Easy living became even easier for Kelley in 1587, when he convinced Dee that they should (on the advice of the angels, no less) share their wives. Dee returned to England two years later.


Kelley enjoyed the generosity of Vilem Rožmberk for some time. Rožmberk had given him estates as well as money, and his pockets were deep. Kelley owned houses in Prague, as well, including one below Prague Castle. By this time, Rudolph II had become impressed by both men, and especially by Kelley’s assertion that he could transmute base metals into gold. Rudolph had given Kelley a title, but after some time, he tired of waiting for the transmutation to take place. He hoped that imprisonment would motivate Kelley to get to work, so in May of 1591, Kelley was incarcerated in Křivoklát Castle, near Prague.


Kelley agreed, three years later, to produce the gold Rudolph wanted. It was a fraud, of course; Kelley had pulled a fast one on Vilem Rožmberk some years earlier by telling him that planting gold coins in the ground would cause more coins to grow, and Rožmberk believed it. Rudolph released him, only to imprison him again when no gold was forthcoming. There are several rumors about Kelley’s imprisonment; one states that he attempted to escape from Křivoklát, only to fall and break his leg. Then, when imprisoned a second time, he staged another escape, but fell and broke his other leg. Or, he only broke one leg in one escape attempt. Or, he tried to escape from his second prison, fell, and broke both legs.

At any rate, Edward Kelley/Kelly/Talbot died on November 1, 1597, aged approximately forty-two. The con man who had done well for so long ended his life in poverty.

This, despite the fact that when he persuaded Rožmberk to plant money, he, Kelley, was the one who dug up the coins and decamped with them.


Edward Kelley



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