For all of his failures to secure patronage, John Dee was successful compared with his contemporaries. We know more about his patronage relations than those of any other natural philosopher in Tudor England. Only by comparing him with other English client practitioners can we understand how unusual and even productive were Dee’s relations with his patrons. This article makes those comparisons and offers an overview of Dee’s patronage, but in the main it explores three of the unusual aspects.
The first is Dee’s good relationship with female patrons and patronage brokers, notably Queen Elizabeth. The second is the kind of office that Dee sought. His greatest efforts were aimed at securing the headship of a collegiate institution such as Eton College or the Hospital of St Cross. Not only did they fit his aspiration to set up a research institute, but all were offices in the Queen’s direct gift, and so played to Dee’s strengths. Nevertheless, Dee was frustrated at nearly every turn. It is suggested that a major cause was the young Dee’s links with both Sir John Cheke’s network of Protestant humanists, who became Marian exiles, and with ‘Louvainist’ Catholic exiles opposed to Edward VI and Elizabeth. We see how Dee was consistently passed over in favour of other members of these circles. Notwithstanding this, it is concluded that Dee was relatively successful, given the English court’s refusal to patronise speculative natural philosophy, even that offered by Thomas Digges, William Gilbert or Francis Bacon. Finally, some of Dee’s supposed failings as a client, such as the sparseness of printed works, are shown to have been systemic.