Edward Kelley or Kelly, also known as Edward Talbot (August 1, 1555–1597) was a convicted English criminal and self-declared spirit medium who worked with John Dee in his magical investigations. Besides the professed ability to summon spirits or angels on a crystal ball, which John Dee so valued, Kelley also claimed to possess the secret of transmuting base metals into gold.
Legends began to surround Kelley shortly after his death. His flamboyant biography, and his relative notoriety among English-speaking historians (chiefly because of his association with Dee) may have made him the source for the folklorical image of the alchemist-charlatan.
About a year after entering into Dee's service, Kelley appeared with an alchemical book (The Book of Dunstan) and a quantity of a red powder which, Kelley claimed, he and a certain John Blokley had been led to by a "spiritual creature" at Northwick Hill. (Accounts of Kelley's finding the book and the powder in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey were first published by Elias Ashmole, but are contradicted by Dee's diaries.) With the powder (whose secret was presumably hidden in the book) Kelley believed he could prepare a red "tincture" which would allow him to transmute base metals into gold. He reportedly demonstrated its power a few times over the years, including in Bohemia (present Czech Republic) where he and Dee resided for many years.
In 1586, Kelley and Dee found the patronage of the wealthy Bohemian count Vilem Rožmberk. They settled in the town of Třeboň and continued their researches. By then, Kelley had married Jane Cooper (and adopted her daughter, the future poetess Elizabeth Jane Weston). In 1587, Kelley revealed to Dee that the angels had ordered them to share everything they had--including their wives. It has been speculated that this was a way for Kelley to end the fruitless spiritual conferences so that he could concentrate on alchemy, which, under the patronage of Rožmberk, was beginning to make Kelley wealthy. Dee, anguished by the order of the angels, subsequently broke off the spiritual conferences even though he did share his wife. He did not see Kelley again after 1588, and returned to England the following year.
Around 1594, Kelley agreed to cooperate and produce gold; he was released and restored to his former status. Again he failed to produce, and was again imprisoned, this time in Hněvín Castle in Most. Kelley died in 1597 at the age of forty-two. A tradition has him dying while trying to escape: the story goes that he used an insufficiently long rope to lower himself from a tower, fell and broke his leg, and died from his injuries.
The angelic language was supposedly dictated by angels that Kelley claimed to see within a crystal ball. The angels were said to tap out letters on a complicated table, something like a crossword puzzle but with all the cells filled in. The first third were tapped out with each angelic word backwards; the following two thirds with each word forwards. There are no significant errors or discrepancies in word usage between the first and following parts. The English translations were not tapped out but, according to Kelley, appeared on little strips of paper coming out of the angels' mouths.
Some reasoning that Kelley fabricated the language is based upon the claim that the angelic is just a word-for-word substitution for English translation. This is not entirely the case, however, and there is tantalizing evidence of some other linguistic source. For example, the angelic word "telocvovim" is glossed as "he who has fallen", but it is actually a Germanic-like combination of two other angelic words: "teloch" (glossed as "death") and "vovin" (glossed as "dragon"). Thus "he who has fallen" would be literally translated as "death dragon", both rather obvious references to Lucifer. However, neither Kelley nor Dee appears to have noticed or remarked on this.
Another argument against Kelley's fabrication of angelic is that the English translations are in a very different style of writing to that of Kelley's own work, exhibiting an eldritch quality that seems beyond Kelley's own modest ability as a writer. This raises the possibility that Kelley might have plagiarized the material from a different source. However, no similar material has ever surfaced.
Dee considered the dictation of the angelic material as highly important for three reasons. First, Dee believed the angelic represented a documentable case of true "glossolalia", thereby proving that Kelley was actually speaking with angels and not from his imagination. Second, the angels claimed that angelic was actually the original prototype of Hebrew and the language with which God spoke with Adam, and thus the first human language. Third, the angelic material takes the form of a set of conjurations that were supposed to summon an extremely powerful set of angelic beings who, he believed, would be able to reveal many secrets, especially the key to the philosopher's stone.
The tale of Rumpelstiltskin revolves around a fool trying to make gold out of hay to save his life from the king.
Gustav Meyrink's novel The Angel of the Western Window describes John Dee's and Edward Kelley's astrological and mystical experience.
Edward Kelley figures prominently in School of the Night, which is part of the Elizabethan mystery series by Judith Cook, The Casebook of Dr Simon Forman -- Elizabethan doctor and solver of mysteries. John Dee is also mentioned, but does not appear as a character.
In Ruled Britannia, Edward Kelley was burned in the first chapter, weeping and trying to call to William Shakespeare for help.
In Patricia Wrede's novel Snow White and Rose Red, Kelly and John Dee trap a faerie spirit in a crystal, and Kelly is shown to be experimenting in alchemy.
In Brian Stableford's Science Fiction story, “The Philosopher’s Stone”, published in the July 2008 Issue of Asimov's Science Fiction Kelley and Dee appear in a fictionalized version of their meeting and beginning collaboration.