Book of Oberon Update

It’s always interesting to think about the origins of a magical manuscript and who might have owned it.  We must be careful about this, though, as much of the information within might very well be lies.

I’ve been turning my attention to this particular passage in the Book of Oberon:

This Regall Regent made by me parsonn Clarcke in divinitie Thomas Drowre, with other, 4, or doctours & maisters of the hye sciens under god, ii of the hie scholes of Orlians & ii of the universities within the realme of England with the helpe & counsell of ffriar Bacon, these vi Consentinge in one that this experimente used after this manner followeinge in all degrees is as sure as the gospell, & a xi thimes by them proued haveinge a carrier at ther commaundemente to deliver or shew any manner of things that the[y] demaunded eyther of treasures Hidden, or any other things,

It’s hard to tell who any of these people are.  For example, Friar Bacon cannot be Roger Bacon, as he’s too early, or Francis Bacon, as he wasn’t a friar.  One figure in particular, Thomas Drowre or Drury, might be another story.

The most famous Thomas Drury from this period was an interesting character:  Cambridge graduate, member of the Inner Temple, heraldry student, traveler to foreign destinations, spy, informant, and swindler.  On the up side, he doesn’t seem to have been very good at any of these, as he tends to end up in jail as a result of one failed scheme or another.  He did have powerful friends, at least for a while, who kept him around to do their dirty work.  Most famously, Drury likely drafted the famous list of charges against the playwright Christopher Marlowe, brought against him by Richard Baines, that led to Marlowe’s arrest and (possibly) his death shortly thereafter.

Nonetheless, there’s another aspect of Drury that is directly relevant to this project.  Here’s what Charles Nicholl says in his book The Reckoning about one of Drury’s escapades:

In the summer of 1585 he was involved with a certain John Meeres, another law-student at the Temple, a man described as ‘full of craft’. Meeres had been importuning a widow, Edetha Beast, using ‘sorceries and threats against her, threatening to trouble her with the sight of the devil unless she consented to his desires &c’. Mrs Beast had succeeded in gaining protection from Sir Francis Walsingham, and Meeres ended up in prison for acting ‘in contempt’ of this injunction. Drury was also imprisoned and examined: he dished the dirt on Meeres and was released shortly after.
Don’t forget that the most recent date mentioned in the Book of Oberon is 1583, and that’s not even near the end.  It’s likely that the book was still being written near or at the time when this particular incident occurred.   It could indeed be that Thomas Drury, a man involved with devil summoning and who made mysterious trips to Europe, might have dabbled in magic himself with individuals from both England and France.
Now, there is one tiny itsy-bitsy problem with my theory, insofar as the Book of Oberon goes on to say that Drury is now dead.  This could mean that the author was misinformed about Drury, or that he wished Drury was dead – which, having read about what a bastard he was, I can understand.  There’s also a long-standing magical tradition of stating that a living person is dead, in order to bring about that transformation.   Then again, it could be that the magic-using Drury and the one who got mixed up with Marlowe are in fact two different individuals.
Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. “Friar Bacon” was also a necromancer character in the play “The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay” around the same time (based on Roger Bacon). Like the character of Faust, it’s possible the author mixed fact, fiction, and whatever news and gossip he heard.

  2. Dear Dan,

    I’m wondering if you’ve followed up on this any further. It seems as plausible an identification as any, even with the problems you mention.

    Probably like yourself, I’ve gone through lists of graduates of Cambridge and Oxford using all sorts of variant spellings of Drowre (Drewre, Drewry, Drury, Drowrey, Druery, Drurie, Drurye), and there aren’t many candidates. Even looking for men who appear in the public record, I only find a couple. I also noticed that one Drowre I found (a Sir Robert Drowre) had his name miscopied as Drowse, and looked for that name. No luck.

    There is a “Bacon” you can attach Drury to, though not a Friar. He worked for Lord Keeper Nicolas Bacon, father of Nicolas, Anthony and Francis Bacon; the last two sons, at least, wound up as part of William Cecil’s ring of informers. Many in that ring, like Drury or Christopher Parkins/Perkins, were Catholics used to inform on other Catholics.

    If the second section, Vb.24 (2), is referring to Drury, how would that change how you look at the whole manuscript, or would it?

    As for the dating problem: I would love to know for sure that the two parts of this manuscript actually were produced at the same time or near it rather than just by someone who had the same handwriting. (I realize that they’re numbered sequentially, but its not clear to me how much later the numbering was put on.) The second section, where “Thomas Drowre” is referred to, looks and feels very different from the first part: more worn out, not as neat, and much more focused on ciphering. It seems a lot more clearly connected to some sort of espionage and/or entrapment than the first part. The dates 1577 and 1583 are in the first part; I’m not sure why this second part couldn’t have been written later even if by the same person. (For instance, another text on-line from the Folger, X.d..234, is listed as ca. 1600, but it’s handwriting is Elizabethan secretary hand no more “modern” than Vb.24.)

    After spending as much time with this text as you have, does the last section feel any different to you from what’s come before it?

    Someone numbered them sequentially, and the handwriting suggests the same person, but isn’t it possible that they could have been put together later (then taken apart, then put back together again)? Or are there other things that definitely show those last pages of Vb.24 (2) are a continuation of Vb.24 (1) ?

    Back to “Thomas Drowre”… another other possibility is that it’s an alias for someone or a blind. Thomas Drury the spy informed on so many people, one might think his name could have been written into the manuscript as a way to entrap him.

    After spending far too much time trying to track down “John Weston” and “John Porter,” I keep coming back to that possibility (that these names are blinds), even when finding names that could match the dates. In the “John Weston” section in Vb.24 (1), for instance, why on earth would “John Weston” admit to being in Douai—seat of the English Catholic college—unless he never plans to return to England? (Or unless he never wrote that part of the manuscript anyway, but had his name put in by someone else so that person could claim the manuscript came from a “John Weston” who was conveniently dead.)

    Meanwhile, Thomas Drury, as you know, made his living entrapping people and informing on them, and even as a Catholic would have probably used such a statement to get payment for turning another Catholic. By the 1590s, there must have been many people who would have loved to inform on Drury… so one could look at the names in the text not as real identifications, but names dropped in by someone else to smear someone. Then they only had to think that Drury was dead—after all he disappeared many times—to have plausible deniability if they wanted to smear him.

    What are your thoughts on “Thomas Drowre” these days? Do you approach the names in Vb.24 as real people, and do you still entertain the possibility that “Thomas Drowre” is either Thomas Drury or someone who wants to set up Thomas Drury?

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