Devine, Michael J.
Master of Arts at Victoria University of Wellington (2009)
This thesis is the biography of John Prestall (c.1527-c.1598) an unsavoury, nefarious, and spendthrift Catholic gentleman from Elizabethan England. A conspirator, opportunist informer, conjurer, conman and alchemist Prestall‘s biography provides an alternative perspective from which to view Elizabethan history, exposing the dark fringe of the Elizabethan Court and the murky political underworld it attracted. In the polarised politico-religious ferment of late Tudor England Prestall, perennially in debt, utilised his occult powers for his own ruthless self-interest and preservation. In exploring Prestall‘s use of magic, this thesis demonstrates the important influence magic had on Elizabethan political conspiracies and Court politics. Within a society whose belief system held magic to be an inherent part of the natural world Prestall became a player in Elizabethan politics by using his astrological and alchemical talents to whatever ends he thought would provide the biggest payoff. He oscillated between using magic in conspiracies against both Mary I and Elizabeth I, and trading alchemical promises with members of the Elizabethan establishment for patronage, royal pardons, and safe passage from exile. Prestall‘s self-interest as the motivating factor for his actions presents an interesting contrast with those, such as his fellow conspirators and members of the Elizabethan government, whose actions were often dictated by their ideological views on the Catholic-Protestant clash. Through an examination of primary manuscripts and printed materials, this thesis situates Prestall in the broader context of Tudor England and uses his life as a conduit to link a sequence of previously unrelated plots, conspiracies and patronage relationships.