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The premises of the Royal Society in London (first four properties only).

The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, was founded in 1660 and claims to be the oldest learned society still in existence.

Although a voluntary body, it serves as the academy of sciences of the United Kingdom, and is a learned society for science. It is a member organization of the Science Council.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (founded 1783) is a separate Scottish body. The Royal Irish Academy(founded 1785) is a separate Irish body.

Psychologists who have become Fellows of the Royal Society

Others working in associated fields who have become fellows

John Maynard Smith


The Royal Society was founded in 1660, only a few months after the Restoration of King Charles II, by members of one or two either secretive or informal societies already in existence. The Royal Society enjoyed the confidence and official support of the restored monarchy. The "New" or "Experimental" form of philosophy was generally ill-regarded by the Aristotelian (and religious) academies, but had been promoted by Sir Francis Bacon in his book New Atlantis.

Robert Boyle refers to the "Invisible College" as early as 1646. A founding meeting was held at the premises of Gresham College in Bishopsgate on 28 November 1660, immediately after a lecture by Sir Christopher Wren, at that time Gresham Professor of Astronomy. At a second meeting a week later, Sir Robert Moray, an influential Freemason who had helped organize the public emergence of the group, reported that the King approved of the meetings. The Royal Society continued to meet at the premises of Gresham College and at Arundel House, the London home of the Dukes of Norfolk, until it moved to its own premises in Crane Court in 1710. [1]

A formal Royal Charter of incorporation passed the Great Seal on 15 July 1662, creating "The Royal Society of London", with Lord Brouncker as the first President, and Robert Hooke was appointed as Curator of Experiments in November 1662. A second Royal Charter was sealed on 23 April 1663, naming the King as Founder and changing the name to "The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge".

The motto of the Royal Society, "Nullius in Verba" (Latin: "On the words of no one"), signifies the Society's commitment to establishing the truth of scientific matters through experiment rather than through citation of authority. Although this seems obvious today, the philosophical basis of the Royal Society differed from previous philosophies such as Scholasticism, which established scientific truth based on deductive logic, concordance with divine providence and the citation of such ancient authorities as Aristotle.

Historical philosophy and significance

The Royal Society imagined a network across the globe as a public enterprise, an "Empire of Learning", and strove to remove language barriers within the Sciences. The Royal Society was dedicated to the free flow of information and encouraged communication. Boyle, in particular, began the practice of reporting his experiments in great detail so that others could replicate them, unlike previous alchemists. Sir Isaac Newton was a practising alchemist and his assistant, J. T. Desaguliers, a demonstrator for the Royal Society, was a prominent Freemason. The Society thus had a complex relationship with occultism and secret societies. During the eighteenth century, masonic lodges in France became conduits for circulating scientific texts which could not be made available publicly (see John Toland).

Current activities and significance

  • Funding scientific research
  • Publishing
  • Providing science advice, including education
  • Science in Society programme to increase public interest in science


The Society is governed by its Council of Trustees, which is chaired by its President. The members of Council and the President are elected from its Fellowship.


As with many learned societies, the Society's governance structure is based on its Fellowship. Fellows are elected annually by the existing Fellowship for their "substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge including mathematics, engineering science and medical science". Fellows must be citizens or ordinarily resident of the Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland, otherwise they may be elected as a Foreign Member.

There are two additional categories: Royal Fellow, for a member of the Royal family to be admitted, and Honorary Fellow, for someone who has "rendered signal service to the cause of science, or whose election would significantly benefit the Society by their great experience in other walks of life". A maximum of forty-four Fellows, six Foreign Members and one Honorary Fellow may be elected each year. [2]

Council and Officers

The Fellowship elects twenty-one members of Council, the governing body and trustees of the society. The chair of the council is the President of the Royal Society, and there are four other titled posts, variously referred to as Vice-Presidents, Secretaries and Officers: The Treasurer, the Foreign Secretary, the Physical Secretary and the Biological Secretary. [3] [4]


The Society awards 10 medals, 6 prizes (which it terms awards) and 9 prize lectureships variously annually, biennially or triennially, according to the terms of reference for each award. The Society also runs The Aventis Prizes for Science Books.

Medals and Prize lectures are awarded to scientists in honour of the excellence of their science. Only Fellows can make nominations, which are assessed by committees of Fellows which recommends to the Society's Council who should receive them. Nominees do not have to be Fellows. Recipients of Medals and Prize Lectures receive a struck medal, a scroll, and an honorarium from the Society's private funds. Prize lecturers are required to give a public lecture. [5].

The Prizes often have the word Award in their title, are open to nomination from all. They have a variety of assessment criteria and selection process. Some, such as the Michael Faraday Prize, require the recipient to give a public lecture, whereas others, such as the Kohn Award, provide funds for the recipient to undertake a project.

A full list of recipients is on the Awards section of the Society's website.

Selected bibliography

The coat-of-arms of the Royal Society as a stained-glass window. The motto is 'Nullius in verba'.


  • 1640s — informal meetings
  • November 28, 1660 — Royal Society founded at Gresham College
  • 1661 — name first appears in print, and library presented with its first book
  • 1662 — first Royal Charter gives permission to publish
  • 1663 — second Royal Charter
  • 1665 — first issue of Philosophical Transactions
  • 1666 — Fire of London causes move to Arundel House until 1673, then returns to Gresham College [6]
  • 1669 — third Royal Charter; original proposal would have made Chelsea College the permanent home of the Society, but the site became Chelsea Hospital instead
  • 1710 — acquires its own home in Crane Court
  • 1780 — moves to premises at Somerset House provided by the Crown[7]
  • 1847 — changed election criteria so that future Fellows would be elected solely on the merit of their scientific work
  • 1850 — Parliamentary Grant-In-Aid commences, of £1,000, to assist scientists in their research and to buy equipment.
  • 1857 — moved to Burlington House in Piccadilly
  • 1967 — moved to present location on Carlton House Terrace

See also


  • Copley Medal
  • Rumford Medal
  • Royal Medal
  • Davy Medal
  • Darwin Medal
  • Buchanan Medal
  • Hughes Medal

Prize Lectures

  • Bakerian lecture

In fiction

The early days of the Royal Society forms the backdrop for the events of Neal Stephenson's Baroque cycle of novels — Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World


  • Purver, Margery & Bowen, E. J., The Beginning of the Royal Society, Oxford: The Clarendon Press (1960)
  • Gleick, James, Isaac Newton, Vintage Books, ISBN 1-4000-3295-4
  • Hartley, Sir Harold (editor), The Royal Society: Its Origins and Founders, The Royal Society (1960)
  • Sprat, Thomas, History of the Royal Society, Kessinger Publishing (February 1, 2003), ISBN 0766128679
  • Lomas, Robert, Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science, Fair Winds Press (2003), ISBN 1-55267-755-9
  • Homes of the Royal Society, The Royal Society, nd, retrieved 15 December 2005

External links

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