With Dee in England
Kelley approached John Dee in 1582, initially under the name Edward Talbot. Dee had already been trying to contact angels with the help of a "scryer" or crystal-gazer, but he had not been successful. Kelley professed the ability to do so, and impressed Dee with his first trial. Kelley became Dee's regular scryer. Dee and Kelley devoted huge amounts of time and energy to these "spiritual conferences." From 1582 to 1589, Kelley's life was closely tied to Dee's.
About a year after entering into Dee's service, Kelley appeared with an alchemical book (The Book of Dunstan) and a quantity of a red powder which, Kelley claimed, he and a certain John Blokley had been led to by a "spiritual creature" at Northwick Hill. (Accounts of Kelley's finding the book and the powder in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey were first published by Elias Ashmole, but are contradicted by Dee's diaries.) With the powder (whose secret was presumably hidden in the book) Kelley believed he could prepare a red "tincture" which would allow him to transmute base metals into gold. He reportedly demonstrated its power a few times over the years, including in Bohemia (present Czech Republic) where he and Dee resided for many years.
With Dee on the Continent
In 1583, Dee became acquainted with Prince Albert Łaski, a Polish nobleman interested in alchemy. Dee, along with Kelley and their families, accompanied Łaski to the Continent. Dee sought the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and King Stefan of Poland in Kraków; Dee apparently failed to impress either monarch. Dee and Kelley lived a nomadic life in Central Europe. They continued with their spiritual conferences, though Kelley was more interested in alchemy than in scrying.
In 1586, Kelley and Dee found the patronage of the wealthy Bohemian count Vilem Rožmberk. They settled in the town of Třeboň and continued their researches. By then, Kelley had married Jane Cooper (and adopted her daughter, the future poetess Elizabeth Jane Weston). In 1587, Kelley revealed to Dee that the angels had ordered them to share everything they had—including their wives. It has been speculated that this was a way for Kelley to end the fruitless spiritual conferences so that he could concentrate on alchemy, which, under the patronage of Rožmberk, was beginning to make Kelley wealthy. Dee, anguished by the order of the angels, subsequently broke off the spiritual conferences even though he did share his wife. He did not see Kelley again after 1588, and returned to England the following year.
Apogee and fall
By 1590, Kelley was living an opulent life. He received several estates and large sums of money from Rožmberk. He convinced many influential people that he was able to produce gold. Rudolf made Kelley a "Baron of the Kingdom," but eventually he tired of waiting for results. Rudolf had Kelley arrested in May of 1591 and imprisoned in the Křivoklát Castle (Purglitz in German) outside Prague. Rudolf apparently never doubted Kelley's ability to produce gold on a large scale, and hoped that imprisonment would induce him to cooperate. Rudolf may also have feared that Kelley would return to England.
Around 1594, Kelley agreed to cooperate and produce gold; he was released and restored to his former status. Again he failed to produce, and was again imprisoned, this time in Hněvín Castle in Most. Kelley died in 1597 at the age of forty-two. A tradition has him dying while trying to escape: the story goes that he used an insufficiently long rope to lower himself from a tower, fell and broke his leg, and died from his injuries.