Alexander Dicsone


Beal, ‘Checklist’

Peter Beal, ‘Alexander Dicsone, Elizabethan Philosopher, Propagandist, Spy: A Checklist of his Writings’, The Library, 7th Ser. 2 (2001), 120-30

Beal, ‘Sidney's Letter

Peter Beal, ‘Philip Sidney's Letter to Queen Elizabeth and that “False Knave” Alexander Dicsone’, EMS, 11 (2002), 1-51


John Durkan, ‘Alexander Dickson and S.T.C. 6823’, The Bibliothek, 3 (1962), 183-90


Rita Sturlese, Bibliografia, censimento e storia delle antiche stampe di Giordano Bruno (Florence, 1987)


Dicsone and Bruno

Alexander Dicsone led a varied life as a political agent, if not spy, of changing allegiances, and also as a philosophical and political writer. As a disciple of the cosmologist Giordano Bruno, while he was in England in 1583-85, Dicsone not only acquired at least four books by Bruno (DiA 6-9), one of which (DiA 8) was personally inscribed to him by Bruno, but also received from him a warm tribute to Dicsone as a ‘very faithful friend’ in the text of yet another of Bruno's printed works. In consequence Dicsone wrote and published a philosophical tract entitled De umbra rationis & judicii (1584) based on the mnemonic theories of Bruno. This work, often known as ‘Of the Art of Memory’, became extremely controversial, and one virulent attack against it prompted Dicsone's published retaliation Heii Scepsii defensio (1584). Known surviving exempla of these two works, whose early owners included Robert Burton, William Drummond, and Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland (the ‘Wizard Earl’), are listed in Beal, ‘Checklist’, and in ‘Correspondence’, The Library, 7th Ser. 2/4 (December 2001). 394. A manuscript offshoot of this mnemonic controversy is Dicsone's surviving autograph essay in English entitled Auertiment of Prudence (*DiA 1), an essential part of Prudence being (according to Cicero) the faculty of memory.

Dicsone, Leicester and Sidney

This same period brought Dicksone into the circle of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his nephew Philip Sidney, to whose papers he was given access. In consequence he later gave a ‘casket’ of state papers and tracts to the French ambassador Guillaume de L'Aubespine, which included three prose works by Sidney, one of them his Defence of the Earl of Leicester. By his own account, Dicsone also wrote his own defence, or ‘answer’ to the libel Leicester's Commonwealth, but this is not known to have survived. Dicsone also had a copy, probably made for him, of Sidney's ‘Letter to Queen Elizabeth’ on the proposed Anjou marriage, an interesting text which does survive (SiP 209.5) in a miscellany of state papers that belonged to him (*DiA 10).

Other Writings

Dicsone is known to have written other political works, including at least three in later years when he was in the service of James VI (later James I of England). One, now unknown, was a defence of James's title to the English throne, written as ‘An anwer to John Cecil's Discovery of Errors’ (1599). Another, also now unknown, was an ‘Apology’ vindicating James's execution of James Wood, Laird of Bonnington, in 1601. And a third, the partly autograph working draft of which still exists (*DiA 2), is a lengthy treatise in English supporting James's title to the English throne entitled Of the Right of the crowne efter Hir Majestie (1598).


Dicsone's characteristic secretary and italic hands in these surviving manuscripts can be identified from the two known autograph letters signed by him (DiA 3-4).

Peter Beal