28 November 1660: the Royal Society is founded

The Royal Society is one of the world’s most famous scientific bodies. Its roots lie in a series of regular meetings of a small group of scientists and scientifically interested people – including the architect Christopher Wren and the physicist Robert Boyle – that began in 1645.

The worsening of the English Civil War saw this self-styled ‘Invisible College’ split into two groups, one in Oxford and one in Gresham’s College, London, by the late 1640s. Later, political turmoil would force the London group to suspend its meetings from 1658 to 1660.

The restoration of Charles II (pictured) to the English throne in May 1660 finally brought stability back to political life and the London meetings resumed. At that point, both groups decided that it would be best to put the society on a more formal basis.

So on 28 November, the 12 founding members agreed to approach the new King for his approval. At the same time they expanded the society by inviting 40 other members to take part, including soldiers and literary figures as well as scientists (35 would end up accepting).

The Royal Charter would be formally granted in July 1662. Thanks to several energetic leaders, most notably Isaac Newton, who was president from 1703 to 1727, the Royal Society played a key role in disseminating scientific ideas.

In 1665 it established the first dedicated scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which continues to be published today. It also acted as a key scientific adviser to the British government. During the 19th century, the numbers of non-scientists were drastically cut down and it started receiving government funding.

Today, the Royal Society remains a respected body with around 1,600 members, which distributes around £42m in research grants.

  • Rear Admiral Sir Vincent Smyth

    The Royal Society was founded on 28 November 1660 in the Julian calender. That is in fact 9th December today.