28 November 1660: the Royal Society is founded

After the restoration of the monarchy, members of the “Invisible College” asked King Charles II to approve their scientific and literary society. A Royal Charter was granted two years later.

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 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.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Today, the Royal Society remains a respected body with around 1,600 members.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri