Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 February 2022
The Tudors’ Welsh ancestry and doubtful claim to the English throne rendered them conscious successors of King Arthur, and the mythology surrounding Arthur and Merlin became central to the construction of Tudor power from 1485 onwards. Accusations and rumours of magic were rife at the court of Henry VIII and played a key role in the downfall of Anne Boleyn as queen, but allegations of magic also swirled around Cardinal Wolsey in Henry’s early reign. However, it was not until the reign of Elizabeth that a Tudor monarch embraced her ‘Arthurian’ identity to the extent of seeking the advice of a latter-day Merlin, a role eagerly fulfilled by John Dee. At the high point of Dee’s influence a magically inspired idea of a British empire briefly influenced official policy under a queen so fascinated by the occult arts that she personally practised alchemy. At the same time, the Italian religious exile (and possible spy) Giordano Bruno saw himself as an ‘occult missionary’, bringing his particular brand of Hermetic magic to England.