John Dee, ancestor of James Bond: the very first 007 was a 16th century scientist

The historian Viviane Perret answered the question of Anaïs who wondered, in the emission of the P’tis boats “why is James Bond called 007?“. That is, where does its creator Ian Fleming found the idea for this number? From the books and films, it is known that he represents James Bond’s license to kill and that the spy would be the seventh agent to receive this title. But the writer tells us that of all the hypotheses, the most likely would be that when Ian Fleming started writing his first James Bond in 1953 (the very first “Casino Royale”), he was reading the biography of some John Dee, scholar and spy in the service of the kingdom of England during the 16th century. He signed his letters addressed to Queen Elizabeth I with this same number, often represented by two framed circles, and by what is similar to the disproportionate bar of a seven added at the end of the double 0, which very probably served to indicate that the mail indeed came from him.

The author of James Bond would have known of this coded signature by learning about cryptographic processes during his own espionage activities during the Second World War. John Dee was also a brilliant cryptographer in his time. It seems that the destinies of the two men were made to meet when we measure the incredible success that the saga is meeting today. His ancestor was one of the very first spies and scientific advisor to the British crown..

An unknown spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth I

“For Your Eyes Only”: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

His erudition was such that the Queen of England wasted no time in engaging him in her service. This humanist worked in his spare time in the service of the English crown, signing his confidential letters with two zeros, as if to represent the eyes of the queen and meaning “For your eyes only“. Does that remind you of anything? He was thus pensioned by the crown of England which offered him many honors, as well as its protection by making him its official astrologer and mage.

Cryptographers and historians would have decoded it as “007”, giving it a double meaning, which falls in particular on the esoteric philosophy dear to the scientist, the seven being a very symbolic and evocative number in what was then called the occult and symbolic sciences, which only qualified adepts were able to decode. Still, the signature looked very curiously like the most famous registration number in the history of cinema.

Astrologer, it was he who, by the way, had calculated the most favorable date, according to the alignment of the stars, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1559. They maintained very good relations, shared many appointments. you one on one even though he was not of noble rank. They discussed many topics and his humanismspecific to many scholars of the Renaissance period, made him a valuable adviser, because he was a visionary for all that concerned knowledge, knowledge in general, particularly in terms of geopolitics and diplomacy.

An unparalleled sense of diplomacy

Elizabeth I used her erudition and her notoriety in terms of knowledge, to make her a spy likely to gather information on her enemies for her. He himself used his position as scientific adviser to create one of the most impressive libraries in England at his house in Mortlake and to build up a whole network of scientists, intellectuals and courtiers throughout the world, which he probably used and used for intelligence gathering.

Moreover, at the time, England was not the superpower that we know. We have to wait until the 17th century for that. In the 16th century, the Commonwealth was caught between the France of the Valois and the Spain of the Habsburgs, which was its real enemy. John Dee is one of the thinking heads of the constitution of the British empire and transmits many councils as regards colonial policy. It is besides him, the first, which would have forged near England, the concept of British Empire. His geopolitical achievements in the service of the Queen are as commendable as those honored at the same time by the English explorer Sir Francis Drake. Except that Dee stayed in the shadows. So much so that the scientist has remained as little known as the functions that the queen demanded of him.

And for good reason, he will have trained most of the men who led the expeditions of the great discoveries of England, as a navigation adviser between 1550 and 1570, where he drew up geographical descriptions of the territories explored. In 1577, in his study of navigation General and Rare Memorials pertaining to the Perfect Arte of Navigation, he describes his vision of an English maritime empire extended over what was then called the New World. His expertise will have made it possible to significantly reinforce England’s naval superiority.

A great scholar of the English Renaissance

A Leonardo da Vinci with British sauce

John was born on July 13, 1527 in London. His father sent him to study at Cambridge and his thirst for knowledge very quickly nourished his eclecticism, as he became an intellectual attached to all kinds of scholarly disciplines (mathematician, alchemist, astronomer, navigation genius, without forgetting cryptography either the study of codes to name but a few…). It’s kind of an English Leonardo da Vinci who became one of the most brilliant philosophers of his time in England. Above all, his atypical scientist profile resonates with the renewal of the way science is viewed by humanist culture and the Renaissance movement. 007’s relationship to science is also fascinating for understanding the reality of the relationship to knowledge in Europe in modern times..

* At the time, we spoke less of scientists than of philosophers.

Symbol of mathematization and diversification of sciences

The 16th and 17th centuries were marked by changes in paradigms, methods, in the way of looking at the sciences. Astronomy, John’s favorite discipline, is also at the heart of this humanist reflection which updates the sciences of the Ancients to give birth to modern science. It is part of a conception based on the plurality, diversity, complementarity of sciences, prefiguring in its own way the development of a method based on experience, calculation, the perception of a world where all terrestrial phenomena are explained by figures, movements and even symbols that can be described mathematically.

John witnesses the transition of an era from the medieval era to the modern era. A time in between consecrated by the Renaissance therefore where knowledge gradually begins to free itself from religious dogma alone. Thanks to astronomy, John Dee begins for his part to detach himself from this dogma of a closed, hierarchical knowledge, to devote a much more diversified knowledge based on the mathematization of the world, the emergence of a continuous progress of science. He is one of many European scholars of the modern era whose reflections aim to give new meaning to knowledge.

When the relationship to the supernatural calls for a progressive vision of science

Moreover, in 1570, John published a mathematical preface during a reissue of the treatise Euclid’s Elements, in which he emphasizes their importance in the world of science. His trivial sense of knowledge (for the time) John Dee cultivates it by considering that math must be able to be applied not exclusively in the natural world alone but also in supernatural practices, thus falling into hermeticism and occultism (alchemy, magic, divination, etc.) touching on the invisible. Approaches which had nothing irrational, but which were considered profane, as well as astronomy, at a time when it was considered that only the word of God made science and truth.

But he clings to his ideas, as an astrologer he makes his assumptions based on the stars and the stars, he dabbles in alchemy and even goes so far as communicate with the angels to cultivate new knowledge, thanks to the cultural foundations which are those of the time. It also compiles works around communication with angels and spiritsin his Liber Mysteriorum Sextus et Sanctus (1583), a compilation of his spiritual notes. Still, he contributes in his own way, and in his time, to bringing astronomy out of obscurity. He also considers that magic must be part of the searchto try to better understand the logics that still essentially link science to religion.

He slightly precedes the scholars who systematize the primitive principles of experimental natural philosophy. It is part of the dynamic inspired by the first modern thinkers such as Francis Bacon, Galileo. Also in the wake of Nicolaus Copernicus, as an advocate of the controversial theory of heliocentrism (the planets revolve around the Sun). A break with the traditional teaching commonly accepted until then according to which the Earth was at the center of the whole universe.

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John Dee, ancestor of James Bond: the very first 007 was a 16th century scientist

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