Jim Egan, proprietor of the Newport Tower Museum, believes he has solved the historical mystery of who built the mysterious medieval tower in Newport RI. Would you believe its designer may be none other than John Dee, mage extraordinaire of Queen Elizabeth the 1st ?
Egan has uploaded a series of entertaining videos at the Newport Tower Museum website which explore this thought provoking thesis. As a professional photographer, Egan seems to think in pictures even when he’s writing and I found the first chapter of the 300 page synopsis to be the most concise and visually accessible guide to the features and anomalies of the tower, and the rest of the synopsis essential to really understanding his theory.
My favorite theories of who built the tower involve Templars and Cistercians since the tower of Touro Park can be seen as a variation on the theme of the round, octagonal and eight pillared baptistries which these orders constructed throughout medieval Europe – or perhaps their esoteric heirs the Sinclairs of Roslyn Chapel built the tower. Adding Dee and Raleigh and the patronage of Wriothesley and the idea that the tower was a horologium in which the camera obscura method may have been used to track time just makes the subject all the more interesting as far as I’m concerned.
After reading the synopsis, I have to say that the John Dee-Newport Tower theory deserves careful consideration. The tapestry Egan weaves really is suggestive that Dee may have had a hand in the design of the tower. From this evidence, I am at least convinced that Dee was one of the prime forces behind an intended plantation in the RI area that failed to take root in his lifetime, a kind of intellectual and religious “refugio” like Francis Bacon’s Atlantis and Thomas Moore’s Utopia.
Not only is this alt history geek heaven, but it has a good bit of math nerd coolness too. I loved the elegant dance of symmetry in the number system which Egan explained in a way that was entirely new to me. Retrocity. Palindromes, Transpalindromes. The Cycloplex and the Holotomes (or as John Dee would have it Consummata and Metamorphosis). There’s even an unexpected foray into the order of the primes through circular number arrays, which I was first introduced to through the Prime Number Cross of Peter Plichta. In a six number array, called Modulo 6, primes always fall into the first and fifth columns. When you stretch those arrays into a circle you find the mystic numbers picked out and highlighted between two columns of primes. A 30 point array arranged in a circle creates the Pentagram of Prime Numbers, and a 36 point array gives us the Prime Number Seal of Solomon. Modulo 18 produces a Trine or Triangle and Modulo 48 the Octagon. Here is the Prime Number Cross of Peter Plichta:
Peter Plichta noted that in the Cross of the Prime Numbers the squares of the prime numbers will always and forever appear in column 1. I might add that the mystic numbers will always and forever appear in a column divisible by six. Each of these figures show the mystic numbers running right through the center of the figure along with other composites, but the mystic numbers will never appear outside of the geometric pattern even if you extend them out to 25,920 or 129,600 for instance. I like the Prime Number Seal of Solomon the best because it separates what are considered the mystic numbers from more run of the mill composites, concentrating them into a single arm of the hexagram. You can add any two numbers in a prime number radix and the sum will be a number that falls 2 columns away from a mystic number column (falling one before or one after a “pair” of prime number columns which themselves come before and after a mystic number column). If you add any two numbers from a mystic number column, however, the sum obtained is always to found in another mystic number column. The modern mathematician is fascinated with primes for good reason, but the ancient mathematician was often more interested in the properties of the composite numbers that fell between the primes.
Thinking about the dashed dreams of John Dee, in the end Dee had failed, Raleigh failed, Bacon slipped into the role of elderly diplomatic statesman and their future hope and champion, the young Prince Henry, died before reaching full maturity, but the younger generation, including Henry Wriothesley and William Herbert, both candidates for being the W.H. of the dedication in Shakespeare’s sonnets, and John Donne (related to Thomas Moore of Utopia fame) would go on to see the dream realized through their involvement or interest in the Virginia company’s Jamestown venture. Raleigh’s infamously secret and esoteric “School of the Night” may have been the same as or overlapping with the group of Sirenaicals who met on Friday nights at the Mermaid Tavern in Bread Street in London. They were known as “Raleigh’s Friday Club” but were most often hosted by playwrite Ben Jonson. The investor rolls of the Virginia company contained many members of this group. Of the 22 names Thomas Coryate listed as belonging to the Worshipful Fraternity of Sirenaicals, 18 were associated with the Virginia company, and their fever for new world settlement may have inspired their host and NON Virginia company investor Ben Jonson’s satirical play “Westward Ho!” (most of this gleaned from Savage Kingdom: The true story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America, by Benjamin Woolley.)
Studying the Elizabethans is like unraveling endless threads that turn out to be tied together after all, so I admire how Egan was able to separate and streamline the facts of his theory. I last visited the tower with my son shortly before the Newport Tower Museum opened so I’ll be sure to check it out the next time we make it out that way.