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Ron Heisler - The Forgotten English Roots of Rosicrucianism

Article originally published in The Hermetic Journal, 1992.

The Forgotten English Roots of Rosicrucianism

Ron Heisler

Michael Maier, according to his own statement, first heard of the Rosicrucian brotherhood when in England. Leaving Prague in the spring of 1611, he spent some time in Amsterdam before, we can reckon, arriving in London in the winter of that year. Presumably it was in December 1611 that he wrote the Rosicrucian "greetings card", featuring a rose, which was sent to James I. The wording carries a very strong echo of a powerful speech in the play, The Two Noble Kinsmen, which bears the unmistakable imprint of William Shakespeare's unique poetic talent. This familiarity with the Bard's play is unlikely to have been purely accidental, particularly, as I have shown elsewhere, Maier had a significant connection with Shakespeare's circle of friends.1 The question inevitably arises, therefore, of what clear evidence exists to indicate that the traditional Germanocentric reading of the history of early Rosicrucianism - which depicts the movement as mainly gestating in the strivings of J.V. Andreae's personal circle - oversimplifies the movement's origins to the point of gross distortion?

Francis Thynne, whose cousin was Sir John Thynne of Longleat House, Wiltshire, was born c. 1545 and died in 1608. Not a literary figure of either the first or second rank, he is remarkably interesting, however, for the ethos his erratic life and interests evoke. Entering Lincoln's Inn in 1561, he made there a life-long friend in Thomas Egerton, who later rose to positions of the highest importance in both law and state. Improvidence and mental illness seem to have afflicted Thynne in his early years. At the end of 1573 he was imprisoned in the White Lion at Southwark for a debt of £lOO, his precious books being sold off. His pleas for help to Lord Burleigh survive among the Salisbury letters. After two years he was released from confinement, coming under the hospitality of cousin Sir John at Longleat. Sir John's first marriage, incidentally, was to the sister of Sir Thomas Gresham, a masonic Grand Master in the south, says James Anderson. In 1602 Francis was to offer a long discourse on the admirals of England to Charles Howard, the Lord Admiral, another Grand Master.2

Thynne's manuscripts are numerous, and they reveal a man who not only was a heraldic enthusiast, becoming Lancaster herald, but was an ardent delver into alchemical texts, which exist to this day in the British Library, in Longleat House and in the Ashmole collection in the Bodleian.3 At Longleat are to be found Ripley's Compendium of Alchemy, Thomas Norton's Ordinal of Alchemy, the obscure Stella Alchymiae, dated 1384, of "Joanne Bübelem de Anglia" and a disputation between the father and son, Merline and Marian, concerning the marriage between Sylos and Anul (Sol and Luna).4 A member of the Society of Antiquaries, Thynne was a hack historian, who worked with John Stow and Abraham Fleming for the editor John Hooker in expanding and revising Holinshed's famous Chronicle. Thynne's "A Treatise of the Lord Cobhams" was left out by order of the Privy Council.

Thynne's occultic preoccupations become very evident in the "Homo Animal Sociale", a manuscript treatise, dated 20th October 1578, which he presented to Lord Burleigh.5 He discusses Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Druids, the "notes, signes, tokens, caracters or signes of the voyce whereby there are made generall differences of soundes", and, with evident relish, kabbalah, the "most profounde knowledge" being lost to us, as "the learned Cabaliste Mr Dee" observed in his book "entituled monas heroglyphica". He tells how Hebrew letters were unwritten before the "sonnes of Adam", who before "the generall floode were the Junitors of the same, for the sonnes of Sethe as speketh Josephus did write on the pillers all the knowledge of the celestiall things". He also refers to "the confused Kingdome of trayters[?] at the Towere of Babilone" - the masons who built badly and were deprived of the original pure tongue.

Thynne's poetry is far from great; but its content is fascinating and revealing. His Emblemes and Epigrammes were written out c. 1600. "White heares" is a description of some sort of society meeting at the Rose tavern :

"At the Rose within newgate, ther friendlie did meete,
fower of my ould frends, ech other for to greete:"6

Thynne's poem "Societie" is suspiciously ambiguous: we are never quite sure whether he is lauding mutuality and social bonds in society in general, or whether he is talking of a very specific, very exclusive fraternity - a club. Dated December 20 1600, the poem is dedicated to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The poet tells of,

"The purple Rose which first Damasco bredd,
adorn'd with cullor gratefull to the sight"

He links the image of a society to the image of the rose:

"Soe two faire dowries which mann doth enioye -
true perfect love, and suer fidelitie -
firmelie preserve humane societie,
their frends assisting in ech hard annoye,
when want of ech brings noe securitie;
both which, this damask rose doth well unfoulde,
as honest hart, which fayth and love doth houlde."

Thynne concludes:

"soe our societie, without love and fayth
is never perfect, as true reason sayth;
ffor where is perfect love, there trustie fayth is found,
and where assured trust doth dwell, there must needs abound."7

So from all this we have learned that there was a group of friends meeting at the Rose Tavern in Newgate, which almost surely included Egerton. The damask rose was their emblem. From Thynne's papers, we can guess that one of the topics their conversations regularly ran to was alchemy. But that London had at least one tavern called the Rose is unsurprising, the rose being perhaps the most popular symbol of Tudor England.

A little more need be said on Sir Thomas Egerton, who eventually became Lord Chancellor. A man of considerable intellect, he ceaselessly encouraged young men of the highest calibre. In the 1590s he was a vigorous promoter of the career of Sir Francis Bacon. John Donne the poet became his secretary. Another of his secretaries, George Carew, was presented with a copy of Arcana arcanissima by Michael Maier and probably provided hospitality to Maier whilst serving as ambassador in France. In 1610, when Egerton's son James was killed in a duel, Robert Fludd and his servant were interrogated by a law officer for the light they could throw on the affair. Presumably Fludd had been in attendance on the dying man. Egerton's third wife, the shrewish Alice, was the widow of Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby, whom Professor Honigmann argues with some trenchancy had been an early patron of the Bard. A fierce Protestant, if not quite a Puritan, Egerton – originally a good friend to the Earl of Essex before his fall from grace – was to bind himself strongly in alliance with William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Southampton, both famous patrons of Shakespeare.8

The Bard's poem The Phoenix and the Turtle was published in Love's Martyr (1601). Dedicated to Sir John Salusbury of Lleweni, many of the poems relate to Salusbury's marriage. Honigmann skilfully argues that Sir John had been an early patron of Shakespeare and that the Bard's poem had been occasioned before 1590. Now it happens that Sir Robert Salusbury of Rug, Sir John's cousin, on contemplating his imminent departure from this world, asked Sir Thomas Egerton to become guardian to his son. Honigmann concludes that during his last illness, Sir Robert "could probably be considered to be in the hands" of the faction in the county of Denbighshire led by Sir John of Lleweni.9 The Egerton of the Newgate "Rose" society, we can surmise, was on the most intimate terms with Shakespeare's best known patrons.

We must now seek for the antecedents of the crucial Rosicrucian scene in The Two Noble Kinsmen, which depicts a ceremony in the temple of Diana at which a rose falls from its tree as a sign to the vestal virgin Emilia that she may marry.10 The origin of this scene is to be found in the story of Palamon and Arcite as related in "the knight's tale" in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Chaucer tells how,

"The fires flamed up upon the altar fair
And clear while Emily was thus in prayer;
But all at once she saw a curious sight,
For suddenly one fire quenched its light
And then rekindled; as she gazed in doubt
The other fire as suddenly went right out;
As it was quenched it made a whistling sound
As of wet branches burning on the ground.
Then, from the faggot's tip, there ran a flood
Of many drops that had the look of blood."
(Coghill translation)

Diana the huntress appears and explains to the bewildered Emily that,

" … the fires of sacrifice that glow
Upon my altar shall, before thou go,
Make plain thy destiny in this for ever."

The seeds of the idea of associating Emilia with the imagery of the rose are also planted by Chaucer:

"... one morning in the month of May
Young Emily, that fairer was of mien
Than is the lily on its stalk of green,
And fresher in her colouring that strove
With early roses in a May-time grove
- I know not which was fairer of the two -"

Shakespeare's ritual scene has also somewhat more immediate precursors in the tilt yard entertainments that constituted such a prominent feature of the annual round of the Elizabethan court. Numerous descriptions of these have survived in print and in manuscript; many more have been irretrievably lost.

Fortunately, we have a good account of the 1575 events at Woodstock. We are told that Hemetes the hermit went to the temple of Venus at Paphos and was stricken blind there as a punishment for maintaining divided allegiances: he had been a delighter in learning as well as a servant of love. Edward Dyer, alchemist and possible freemason, whom years after his death was reputed to have been a Rosicrucian of sorts (he seems to have had a connection with the Rosicrucian Cornelis Drebbel), composed the "Song in the Oak" for the entertainment, for it is ascribed to "Mr Dier" in a manuscript now lingering in the Bodleian Library. It has been speculated that Hemetes' tale may in fact be an allegorical projection of Dyer himself. What is certain is that according to a letter from the autumn of 1575, Dyer stayed on at Woodstock after the court had left.11

Our next relevant description turns up in Sir William Segar's Honor, Military and Civill (1602). Segar's brother, Francis, it is worth noting, was to serve the great patron of the Rosicrucians, Moritz, Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel, in the capacities of captain, counsellor and English agent. William Segar paints the picture on Accession Day (17th November) 1590 at Westminster. Her Majesty "did suddenly heare a musicke so sweete and secret, as euery one thereat greatly maruelled .... the earth as it were opening, there appeared a Pauilion made of white Taffata, .... being in proportion like vnto the sacred Temple of the Virgins Vestall. This Temple seemed to consist vpon pillars of Pourferry, arched like vnto a Church, ... Also, on the one side there stood an Altar .... Before the doors of this Temple there stood a crouned Pillar, embraced by an Eglantine tree, whereon hangd a Table" An eglantine is a variety of rose with five petals (the sweet-brier). Sir Henry Lee, says Segar in describing more of the ceremony, "himselfe disarmed" and "offered vp his armour at the foot of her maiesties Crowned Pillar ...."12 The equation had been made between Elizabeth I and a goddess.

Glynne Wickham has noted the strong connection between A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Noble Kinsmen - how characters in one text turn up again in the other. He remarks, "How singular .... that when Shakespeare was again called upon to write a play in celebration of a marriage, he should have chosen another aspect of the same story of Theseus and Hyppolita, and begun it at the very point where the earlier play had ended". Wickham then acutely observes that Hymen's song at the opening of the Kinsmen play echoes the sentiments of Oberon's song at the end of the Dream.13

But when was the Rosicrucian play written? To answer this we must first date the Dream. Professor Honigmann comprehensively explores the question of for what marriage the latter was run up and comes down in favour of the Derby marriage - William Stanley, 6th Earl, to Elizabeth Vere - which took place on January 26 1595.14 The Dream may have already played on stage a little while and been polished up somewhat for the Derby wedding, with some topical allusions fed into the text to enliven the occasion. If the writing of the Kinsmen text followed that of the Dream, we are probably talking about the second half of 1594 as the moment of composition. We have a major clue at hand, however, in Henslowe's diary. Philip Henslowe was the most successful theatrical impresario of his day, and his diary contains a section for 1594 when entries cover the performances of both the Lord Admiral's Men and the Lord Chamberlain's, the Bard's company. Whether the companies acted together in effect, or performed separately, we cannot tell from these entries. For the 17th September 1594 Henslowe wrote "ne - Rd at palamon & arsett ljs".15 "Ne" has attracted much comment over the years in Henslowe's usage. Most commonly, it is taken to be an abbreviation for "new" - to represent a premiere performance. Could this premiere of September 1594 have been of the Bard's original text for The Two Noble Kinsmen? An older play of Palamon and Arcite certainly existed. As far back as 1566 the now lost play by Richard Edwardes, Master of the Children of the Chapel, had been performed at Christ Church Hall, Oxford.16

There is a second clue, whose import is equally difficult to determine. The Kinsmen text includes a ballad, "The George Aloe". On March 19 1611 there was entered on the Stationers' Register, in the name of the publisher Richard Jones, "the seconde parte of the George Aloe and the Swiftestake, beinge both ballades". We can search in vain through the Register for anything called the "first part of the George Aloe" - or the "George Aloe", for that matter. However, on January 14 1595 an entry was made in the Register for the publisher Thomas Creede (who published the first Quarto of King Lear): "the Saylers ioye, to the tune of ‘heigh ho hollidaie'". In the manuscript of the Percy Papers several decades later a ballad was entered "from an ancient black-letter [printed] copy in Ballard's collection", with the following description: "The Seamans only Delight: Shewing the brave fight between the George Aloe, the Sweepstakes, and certain French Men at sea. Tune, The Sailors Joy, etc."17 Our 1595 Register entry, it would seem, is none other than the first part of the "George Aloe". The closeness of this January 1595 date to Henslowe's "ne" entry of September 1594 adds weight to the claims of Henslowe's Palamon and Arcite to be the torso from which The Two Noble Kinsmen was quarried.

There is a further riddle tied up with the ballad of "The George Aloe". The music was composed by the great lutenist, John Dowland. Diana Poulton identified this music in three surviving manuscripts: in William Trumbull's Lute Book, now in the British Library, where it probably was written in after 1613 at Brussels, where Trumbull was the English envoy; in the Euing Lute Book of c. 1600, now at Glasgow University; and in a Cambridge University manuscript containing three copies of the piece, convincingly dated at c. 1595-1600.18 Those who claim The Two Noble Kinsmen as a definite late work of the Bard have scrupulously refrained from tackling the question of the early date of Dowland's song in relation to dating the play. Dowland seems to have associated with the Bard in the 1590s, if we are to believe some manuscript notes by Sir William Oldys written in the mid-18th century. Oldys comments that "Shakespeare was deeply delighted with the singing of Dowland the Lutenist, but Spencer's deep conceits he thought surpassed others. See in his Sonnets The Friendly Concord. That John Dowland and Thos. Morley are said to have set several of these Sonnets to musicke ...."19 That the Bard and Dowland, the brightest stars in their respective firmaments, knew each other well would not be surprising. Both shared an illustrious patron in Ferdinando, Lord Strange. Dowland's "Ferdinando Earle of Darby, his Galliard" and "Lord Strangs March" survive to this day.20

Dowland's personality is almost as puzzling as Shakespeare's, although at least with Dowland we have some personal letters to refer to. Despite the massive biographical and musical profile given in Diana Poulton's well known study, and subsequent analyses published in Early Music and elsewhere, I believe there is a hitherto unrecognized pattern running through his life, whose unravelling can throw substantial light on the mentalité in which thrived one of the leading exponents of Renaissance melancholy. Dowland's esotericism has already attracted some critical attention; but one facet of his esoteric life has up to now been completely overlooked: the recurrent interaction of his career with the lives of personalities conspicuously associated with Rosicrucianism.

We must first consider Dowland's illustrious patron, Moritz, Landgrave of Hessen-Kassel. Brought up a Lutheran, Moritz converted to Calvinism in 1604. Marburg, which he established as Germany's first Calvinist university, with its brilliant chemistry and medical faculties became the powerhouse of academic Rosicrucianism in Europe. It had a particularly close association with Exeter College, the only Calvinist college at Oxford. Bruce T. Moran's researches have uncovered the systematic way in which Moritz organized and controlled an extensive hermetic alchemical circle focussed on what were probably Europe's best laboratories at Kassel, some of whom were leading Rosicrucians. The Danish scientist Wormius discussed in a letter of the 18th August 1616 the rumour that Moritz was a Rosicrucian. On the 17th April 1604 Moritz wrote a letter mentioning the livery "made in the form of a rose" worn by many young gentlemen at Kassel and remarking that it was "plutost signe d'une bonne amitié entre eux, que de quelques autre consequénce[s]."21 Karl Widemann, a physician, was to send Moritz cosmological Rosicrucian writings some years later.22 Finally, it is hard to believe that the first editions of the Rosicrucian manifestoes could have been printed in so small a town as Kassel without Moritz's explicit knowledge and consent.

An Anglophile, who assiduously pursued connections with England and maintained a company of English "comedians" at his court for years, Moritz was in a strong position to steer the marriage of Prince Frederick of the Rhine with James I's daughter, Elizabeth, an event which finally took place at the start of 1613. This marriage was intended to cement the alliance of German Protestant princes with England against Hapsburg supremacy in Europe. A skilful public relations campaign was mounted to promote the claims of Prince Frederick for Elizabeth's hand, and I would suggest that we look at the book, the Varietie of Lute-Lessons of 1610, in this context. Edited allegedly by Dowland's son, Robert, it features a pavan attributed to Moritz himself – although Anthony Rooley believes it is good enough to have been the product of John Dowland's genius. I am sure that its aim was to spread Moritz's "fame" at the English court. We learn in the book that the first "Pavin" was "made by the most magnificent and famous Prince Mauritius, Landgrave of Hessen, and from him sent to my father, with this inscription following, and written with his GRACES owne hand." This was surely a "pièce d'occasion", a minor political act in itself.

Dowland 's relationship with Moritz went back to the 1590s. On March 21 1595 Moritz wrote to the Prince of Brunswick comparing Dowland's ability as a lutenist with those of Gregorio Howet. Dowland was still working for Moritz when Henry Noel wrote to him on December 1 1596. On February 9 1598 the Landgrave wrote to Dowland offering the post at his court the musician had relinquished a year before.23 After that nothing further is known of their relationship until the music book of 1610.

Of Michael Maier, I have said much elsewhere. To my earlier comments should be added the thought that he most probably served as an intermediary with Dowland, for it was about the time of his first English visit that he became personal physician to the Landgrave. One thing is pretty certain. In the autumn of 1613 there must have been some interaction between Maier and the dedicatee of the Varietie of Lute-Lessons, Sir Thomas Monson. Sir Thomas Overbury, whose murder was to rock society at its highest levels, had been gaoled in the Tower at the behest of James I, whose governor (Master of the Armoury) was Sir Thomas Monson. Traditionally, the historians of the Overbury affair have assumed that Overbury was attended in the Tower by the physician Sir Turquet de Mayerne, who signed himself "Mayernus". A careful scrutiny of letters in the British Library shows Overbury referring to the physician "Mayerus" on several occasions, which is the way Maier signed himself . Independent evidence exists to confirm that Maier was in England in May 1613.24 James had insisted that no doctor see Overbury without his personal approval, and it is inconceivable that Maier could have got to Overbury without going through Monson. We can envisage, perhaps, a friendship circle consisting of Monson – a fanatical music lover – Maier and Dowland .

If we cast our minds back to the probable premiering of the Ur- Two Noble Kinsmen in September 1594 and the first mention of Dowland's appearance at the Kassel court in late March 1595, we have good grounds to conjecture that it was Dowland himself who first brought news of Palamon and Arcite, to which he had contributed, to the ears of Moritz the Landgrave. No-one better, apart from the Bard himself, could have explained the play's esoteric rose symbolism, one would have thought. Other than Shakespeare, no creative mind of the period invoked the imagery of the rose so frequently as Dowland.

But what of The Two Noble Kinsmen as we know it, in which Shakespeare's evident contribution runs to no more than perhaps forty percent of the playing time - one hour of the 150 minutes it ran to in the recent Royal Shakespeare Company production? The surviving script is a hodge-podge that must have been assembled in a hurry. The joins certainly show. It even borrows its morris dance scene from The Masque of Grays Inn and Inner Temple, written by Fletcher's usual partner, Francis Beaumont, and presented earlier in 1613 in celebration of the Palatinate marriage. Beaumont and Fletcher had made three admiring references to Dowland in The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607?). Fletcher alone made a reference to him in The Bloody Brothers (1617) and a further one – in collaboration, it is usually thought, with Philip Massinger - in The Fair Maid of the Inns (1626).25 This all tends to suggest an ongoing friendship between Fletcher and Dowland at a time when Dowland's contemporary reputation in England was on a definite slide. Could Dowland have actually been the organizing genius responsible for getting the King's Men to take Palamon and Arcite out of the prompt copy chest where it lay gathering dust and to commission a rewrite at the nimble hands of John Fletcher? We should not rule out the possibility.

Why did the play's "George Aloe" music get into the Trumbull Lute Book? I doubt it was for purely musical reasons, for William Trumbull seems to have had Rosicrucian associations. A friend of his, acting as secretary to the English ambassador at Paris in the years 1611-13, was Thomas Floyde. On December 15 1609 Floyde wrote to Trumbull that "Dr. Lloyd, my brother Jeffreys and my cousin Yonge have often remembered you." On February 23 1610 Floyde concluded a letter with "My good friend and yours, my brother Jeffreys, Doctor Floud, my cousin Floud, my cousin Yonge and myself .... kiss your hands." One presumes that "Dr. Lloyd" was "Doctor Floud"; and I suspect strongly that "Doctor Floud" was none other than Dr Robert Fludd, the most famous of English Rosicrucians.26

By January 17 1610 a relationship between Trumbull and Moritz of Hessen-Kassel was well established, for on that day Moritz commended Dr Mosanus "unto you and your favour." And on October 17 1611 Moritz wrote to thank Trumbull for the kindness he had shown to his son Otto at Brussels.27

Trumbull's daughter Elizabeth married George Rudolph Weckherlin (1584-1653), a distinguished German poet, who was appointed an under-secretary of state at Whitehall in 1624 and was a keen Palatinist. Weckherlin's diary reveals that Weckherlin knew Robert Fludd and bought a house from him. It also gives the chronology of some mysterious transactions between the poet and Lewis Ziegler, agent to Lord Craven, the main financial backer of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, which appear to partly relate to Weckherlin's initiation into Rosicrucianism.28

The poet's grand-son, Sir William Trumbull (1639-1716), was a devoted friend of Alexander Pope's about the year 1706; and quite uninformed of an earlier Rosicrucian affinity in the family, it has been suggested that Pope's knowledge of Rosicrucianism was garnered through this particular friendship. Sir William was said to have received his early instruction in Latin and French from Weckherlin.29

Another manuscript collection of lute pieces with Rosicrucian implications is that belonging to Philip Hainhofer, which is held today in the library at Wolfenbuettel. Hainhofer (1578-1647), who came from Augsburg, was well known both as a diplomat and as an art connoiseur. His manuscript compilation appears to have been begun in 1603 or 1604. That it contains three unique items attributed to Dowland suggests a personal link between Hainhofer – or his transcriber – and Dowland at some point in time.30 Daniel Stolcius produced two of the classic Rosicrucian emblematic texts in The Pleasure Garden of Chemistry (1624) and The Hermetic Garden (1627), the first largely derived from engraved plates originally printed in works by the Rosicrucians Michael Maier and J.D. Mylius. Stolcius, who studied at Oxford after fleeing from Bohemia in 1620, dedicated The Hermetic Garden to Hainhofer, who was described as counsellor to the Duke of Pomerania. Coincidentally, the younger Dowland, Robert, spent time working at the court of the Duke of Wolgast in Pomerania, where he asked permission to return to England on August 30 1623.31 Stolcius was indebted to Hainhofer, who "inspired me with your gentle conversation, even to the extent of thoroughly showing me your storehouse of philosophy [science and alchemy], the like of which I have never seen in my travels ..."32 Hainhofer signed the album amicorum of the Rosicrucian Joachim Morsius and –years later - was mentioned in a letter from the Herzog August von Braunschweig to the greatest Rosicrucian (or ex-Rosicrucian) of all, Johann Valentin Andreae. Hainhofer even owned a manuscript copy of one of the manifestoes, the Fama, taken from an early draft that must have been in existence before 1613.33

Henry Peacham (1578-1644) was a prolific literary jack of all trades, who even published the occasional musical composition of his own.34 His drawing of a scene from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus is the earliest illustration of a Shakespeare play known. Done in 1595, it found its way to the library of Longleat House, the temporary home of Francis Thynne. Peacham's friendship with John Dowland was clearly a strong one. He dedicated an emblem to Dowland in Minerva Britanna (1612) and mentions their friendship in The Compleat Gentlemen of 1622. Peacham also dedicated an emblem to the Landgrave Moritz in Minerva Britanna, to which he appended a marginal note: "This most noble Prince beside his admirable knowledge in all learning, & the languages, hath excellent skil in musick. Mr Dowland hath many times shewed me 10 or 12 several sets of Songes for his Chappel of his owne composing."35

Could Peacham have known Michael Maier, introduced through the agency of John Dowland? His Minerva Britanna, presumed to have been published at the beginning of 1612, having been entered on the Stationers' Register on August 9 1611, contains a surprising nugget, which evokes recollection of Michael Maier's Christmas "greetings card" of 1611 to James I as well as the Bard's great rose speech in the Kinsmen play. In a poem dedicated to John Dowland, Peacham writes:

"Heere, Philomel, in silence sits alone,
In depth of winter, on the bared brier,
Whereas the Rose, had once her beautie showen;
Which Lordes, and Ladies, did so much desire:
But fruitles now, in winters frost and snow,
It doth despis'd and unregarded grow."

It is poor verse and worse syntax, but all the same the poem seems to draw nourishment from Shakespeare's explication of why "a rose is best":

"It is the very emblem of a maid:
For when the west wind courts her gently
How modestly she blows and paints the sun
With her chaste blushes! When the north comes near her,
Rude and impatient, then, like chastity,
She locks her beauties in her bud again
And leaves him to base briars." (T.N.K. II.ii.)

Was Peacham an actual Rosicrucian or a member of a rose society? The question is unanswerable, but prompted by a provocative passage in his posthumously published The Truth of our Times (1638). He describes a tavern tradition: "in many places, as well in England, as the Low Countries, they have over their Tables a rose painted, and what is spoken under the Rose, must not be revealed; the reason is this; The Rose being sacred to Venus, whose amours and stolen sports that they might never bee revealed, her sonne Cupid would needes dedicate to Harpocrates, the god of Silence".36

Moritz of Hessen-Kassel, The Two Noble Kinsmen, the evidence of Henry Peacham, William Trumbull and Philip Hainhofer, the hermeticist tendency of many of Dowland's greatest melancholic compositions: – all these pointers combined tell us of a man in close, knowing proximity to that typical Baroque expression of Protestant mysticism: the Rosicrucian movement. And that movement claimed its own. Alongside J.V. Andreae, Fludd and Maier, Johann Daniel Mylius ranked as one of the most eminent Rosicrucian writers. Son-in-law of Johannes Hartmann, the great professor of chemistry at Marburg University, Mylius eventually became Moritz's personal physician. Robert Fludd prescribed pills according to his prescriptions in England. In 1620 Mylius published his Thesaurus at Frankfurt. No printed copies appear to have survived. But there is a manuscript copy in Germany, in which Mylius pays tribute to Dowland by featuring his "Farewell" on page one under the heading "Grammatica illustris Douland." "A Fancy" by Dowland turns up on page eighteen. Undoubtedly Dowland was the favourite composer of the Rosicrucians.37

Our story is almost complete and it would be timely for me to set it in a broader framework. The symbolism of the rose had evolved into a rich tradition in the culture of Tudor England, and began to develop new ideological forms in late Elizabethan times in response to court politics (tilt day entertainments) and the fashionable hermetic and alchemical ideas that the quickening English Renaissance was disseminating. The literary culture ran in tandem with the scientific-esoteric revolution. Thus Shakespeare's Palamon and Arcite paralleled the formation in London of Francis Thynne's "Rose" society – almost certainly an alchemical talking-shop. Alchemical societies named "the Rose" are known to have been founded on the Continent a few years later, as in France, probably in imitation of the London society, whilst Moritz of Hessen-Kassel bragged of a society at Kassel wearing "the livery" of a rose as early as 1604 and a brotherhood of the "Rose" apparently existed at Tuebingen in 1607.38

The central role of England in the Protestant struggle with Catholicism and the Hapsburgs of Spain and Austria had long been appreciated. England and Wales constituted one state, and a wealthy one at that; German Protestantism was divided over many states, most of them relatively impoverished. It was therefore almost inevitable, because of the dynamic of Elizabethan England, that fresh winds generated in Britain would sweep abroad, changing the climate for the torpid German states and their mainly timid princes. The sudden brilliant outpouring of the English drama that began in the 1580s was to have unexpected political consequences overseas. By the mid-1590s, English actors – usually called "comedians" – were touring widely on the Continent. This unprecedented cultural offensive spread English influence and ideas in Germany to enthusiastically receptive audiences. Moritz of Hessen-Kassel's Anglophilism led him at this time to set up a permanent company of English actors at his court; although drawn mainly from the Lord Admiral's Men, some of the principals had previously acted in Shakespeare's productions.39 With the musicians who so often accompanied them, including the young Dowland, they were the couriers of English ideas as much off-stage, we can assume, as on-stage. At least two plays with strong masonic content were acted abroad by the English companies; one for certain was performed at Kassel in the winter of 1606/7.40 Whether the choice of these dramas reflected a widening interest, expressed even abroad, in matters masonic, I cannot say. But, as I show in a work currently in course of completion, speculative freemasonry was a far more vigorous plant in late Elizabethan England than had previously been suspected. And this very fact, combined with the thriving "underground" culture of the Family of Love, implies that a fully institutionalized "secret society" tradition had already broken ground that the Rosicrucian brotherhood, in process of establishment well before the publication of the manifestoes in 1614, would seek to occupy also.

There has been a tendency to view the early history of Rosicrucianism through a religious prism to the exclusion of a variety of seemingly autonomous cultural influences – such as the literary and musical – which moulded the imaginative arena in which the movement took flight. What I hope to have demonstrated is that these influences have their place – and their importance; and that to understand the preliminaries to Rosicrucianism proper we should think in terms of a dialectic between the capitals of London and Kassel that spanned all of two decades.


1. See R.Heisler "Michael Maier and England" Hermetic Journal 1989.
2. Dictionary of National Biography. Calendar of State Papers (Dom.) 1601-1603 p. 165.
3. Brit. Lib. Add. MS. 11, 388. Bodleian Library Ashmole MS. 766 fs. 2-88 ("Discourse uppon the Philosophers Armes").
4. Historic MSS Commission 3rd Report Appendix p. 186.
5. Brit. Lib. MS Lansdowne 27 fs. 70-5.
6. F. Thynne Emblemes and Epigrammes ed. F.J. Furnivall (1876). Early English Texts Series Old Series 64 p. 75.
7. Ibid. p. 25.
8. Dic. of Nat. Biog. Public Record Office S.P. 46/75 fs. 18, 20-1, 78d. B. White Cast of Ravens p. 90.
9. E.A.J. Honigmann Shakespeare: the ‘lost years' p. 96.
10. See R. Heisler "Shakespeare and the Rosicrucians" Hermetic Journal 33 (Autumn 1986).
11. The Queenes Maiesties Entertainment at Woodstock ed. A.W. Pollard (1910) p. 87.
12. Sir W. Segar Honor, Military and Civill ...(1602) pp.197-8.
13. G. Wickham "The Two Noble Kinsmen or A Midsummer Night's Dream, Part II?" p. 179 in The Elizabethan Theatre VII ed. G.R. Hibbard.
14. E.A.J. Honigmann op. cit. pp. 150-53.
15. R.A. Foakes & R.T. Rickert Henalowe' s Diary (1961) pp.24-5.
16. R. Dutton Mastering the Revels (1991) pp. 38-9, 58.
17. Transcription of the Registers of the Stationers' Company 1554-1640 AD. ed. E. Arber vol. II p. 317. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads ed. F.J. Child (1898) pp. 133-5, 285.
18. D. Poulton John Dowland p. 172.
19. Oldys' notes are found inscribed in the British Library copy of Gerard Langbaine Account of the English Dramatic Poets (1691) (Pressmark C.45d.15) vol. II f. 455. The poem in question, although originally attributed to the Bard, was shortIy afterwards published in a book of Richard Barnfield's poetry. It is so good, it is better than anything else that Barnfield wrote, and is good enough to be by Shakespeare. Barnfield so regularly betrays Shakespeare's influence in his writings that he almost certainly was a personal friend. Perhaps the poem was the Bard's gift to him, which he was permitted to sign as his own.
20. D. Poulton op. cit. pp. 157, 168-9.
21. B.T. Moran "Privilege, communication, and chemistry: the hermetic alchemical circle of Moritz of Hessen-Kassel" Ambix 32 (Nov. 1985). R. Heisler "Rosicrucianism: The First Bloorning in Britain" Hermetic Journal 1989 p. 30.
22. B.T. Moran op. cit. p. 117.
23. Personal communication from Anthony Rooley. D. Poulton op. cit. pp. 34, 47, 50.
24. See R. Heisler "Michael Maier and England" Hermetic Journal 1989.
25. For most of these references see D. Poulton op. cit. p. 132.
26. His. MSS Com. Marquess of Devonshire MSS vol II pp. 201, 249.
27. Ibid. vol. II p. 218; III 1). 154.
28. On Weckherlin see Dic. of Nat. Biog. and L.W. Forster Rudolf Weckherlin (1944). The diaries (now in British Library) have entries for Ziegler in 1636 and 1637. Relevant entries are given in R. Heisler "Robert Fludd: A Picture in Need of Expansion" Hermetic Journal 1989 p.143.
29. On Pope' s friendship see Maynard Mack Alexander Pope p.104, etc.
30. Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbuettel. Guelf. 18.7 Aug.2. D. Poulton op. cit. p. 452.
31. Ibid. p. 86.
32. Useful references to Hainhofer are in H. Schneider Joachim Morsius und sein Kreis (1929). Regrettably, the British Library lacks a copy of this work. W.E. Peuckert Die Rosenkreitzer p.173.
33. Johann Valentin Andreae, Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam (1986) p. 41.
34. R.R. Cawley Henry Peacham (1971). Dic. of Nat. Biog.
35. E.K. Chambers "The First Illustration to ‘Shakespeare'" The Library IV (1924-5) pp. 326-30. Dover Wilson "‘Titus Andronicus' on the Stage in 1595" Shakespeare Quarterly I (1948) pp. 17-27. H. Peacham Minerva Britanna (1612) pp. 74, 101.
36. H. Peacham The Truth of our Times (1638) pp. 173-4. Peacham's Rosicrucian affiliations are underlined by the epigrams in Thalia's (1620): there are epigrams to Dowland, Ben Jonson and John Selden.
37. D. Poulton op. cit. pp. 485, 494.
38. The Tuebingen society is mentioned by L. Keller "Akademian, Logen u. Kammern des 17. und 18. Jahrhundert" Comenius-Gesellschaft vol. xx (1912) p. 17. At Amsterdam, a chamber of rhetoric had been active since the 15th century called De Eglantier – the Eglantine.
39. The indispensable work on English actors abroad is Jerzy Limon's Gentlemen of a Company. English Players in Central and Eastern Europe, 1590-1660 (1985).
40. "Fortunatus" – obviously Old Fortunatus, which featured King Athelstan of masonic legend – was performed at Kassel in 1606/7. Earlier, in the 1590s, The Four Sons of Aymon was being performed abroad, as at Amsterdam.