The Royal Society

Founded under Royal Charter in 1662, the Royal Society of London was England’s premier association of scientists and from 1710 had premises at Crane Court, north of Fleet Street and close to the Inns of Court. The Royal Society provided a forum for new scientific theories and equipment, many of which were demonstrated via practical experiments. Under the governance of an elected President, Vice Presidents and Council, and with a small secretariat and technical staff, the Society lay at the hub of an international network that pioneered scientific advancement.

Many members, known as Fellows or FRSs, were connected intimately with the development of English Freemasonry with an estimated third or so of London-based Fellows being freemasons. J.R. Clarke’s forensic analysis, The Royal Society and Early Grand Lodge Freemasonry, identifies twenty-four Fellows who appear in the 1723 Grand Lodge lists (which were less than two-thirds complete), and a further sixteen who later became freemasons. He identifies another twenty-seven FRSs in the 1725 lists, of whom sixteen were FRSs at the time and eleven who were elected subsequently. Clarke ‘disallows’ Fellows whose later Masonic membership was not recorded by their lodges and estimates that by 1730 there were around thirty-five who were freemasons (out of some 250). However not all lodges provided a list of members each year (including the Horn in 1730), and the actual number of FRSs was considerably greater than Clarke allows. Indeed, if the thirteen members of the Horn known to be FRSs are added to Clarke’s total alongside those of other lodges at least 29 names can be added.

Trevor Stewart describes the importance of the Royal Society to Freemasonry in his Prestonian Lecture, English Freemasonry: Origins, Themes & Developments, AQC (2004). The extensive overlap between the two organisations suggests both shared scientific interests and inter-connected personal relationships and patronage, an idea reinforced by Stewart’s note that thirty-nine freemasons were proposed for election as Fellows by other freemasons prior to 1754.

The club-like atmosphere of the Royal Society provided a perfect milieu for intellectual and amiable members, including Martin Folkes and Desaguliers, to encourage their colleagues to join the Craft. In the case of the Horn Tavern, lodge members who were FRSs include the Dukes of Richmond and Montagu; Desaguliers; George Carpenter, MP for Wallingford; Charles Du Bois, a botanist and cashier-general of the East India Company; Jean Erdman, Baron Dieskau, a French soldier and diplomat; Charles Du Fay, a member of the French Royal Academy of Science; Charles Delafaye, one of Britain’s most senior crown officials; Nathan Hickman, the physician; Sir Richard Manningham, the leading obstetrician; James Hamilton, Lord Paisley; Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry, a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to George I; and George Stanley, a merchant.

Many freemasons held senior positions at the Royal Society. George Parker, later 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, served on the Council in 1723 and 1724 and succeeded Folkes as President (1752-64). As a member of the Swan in Chichester he would probably have been initiated into freemasonry by the Duke of Richmond. John Machin served as a Council member from 1717-30, as Secretary from 1718-47, and as Vice President from 1741. And William Rutty was Joint Secretary from 1727-30 and a Council member from 1727-29.

Other officeholders and freemasons include John Browne, a chemist, elected FRS in 1721 and a Council member (1723, 1725); James Douglas, a physician and Council member (1714-5, 1717-8, 1720, 1724, 1726-8); and William Jones, a Council member (1717-18, 1721, 1723, 1725-26, 1728, 1730), and Vice President in 1749.

Overall, freemasons occupied the key positions of Secretary or Joint Secretary of the Society from 1714-47; held the office of President from 1741-68; and maintained a substantial presence on the Society’s Council and in the Vice Presidency without a gap from 1714-1770.

Several Grand Masters were also FRSs. They include John, Duke of Montagu, appointed GM in 1721, elected FRS 1718; Francis, Earl of Dalkeith, GM 1723, FRS 1724; Charles, Duke of Richmond, GM 1724, FRS 1724; James, Duke of Paisley, GM 1725, FRS 1715; Henry Hare, 3rd Baron Coleraine, GM 1728, FRS 1730; Thomas Coke, Lord Lovell, GM 1731, FRS 1735; James Lyon, 7th Earl of Strathmore, GM 1733, FRS 1732; John Lindsay, 20th Earl of Crawford, GM 1734, FRS 1732; John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudoun, GM 1736, FRS 1738; Edward Bligh, 2nd Earl of Darnley, GM 1737, FRS 1738; Robert Raymond, 2nd Lord Raymond, GM 1739, FRS 1740; and James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton, GM 1741, FRS 1733.

Desaguliers himself was elected a Fellow in July 1714 and took up the roles of Curator and Demonstrator. He had been proposed by the two most prominent members of the Society’s Council: Sir Isaac Newton, its President, and Hans Sloane (1660-1753), its Secretary (1693-1713), Vice President (1713-27) and President. At Newton’s instigation, Desaguliers’ admittance fee and annual membership fees were waived ‘in consideration of his great usefulness to the Royal Society as Curator and Operator of Experiments’. Desaguliers would become one of Newton’s most effective proselytisers and during his thirty years at the Society published some sixty papers and compilations of lectures.