The Library and Museum of Freemasonry’s latest exhibition explores the links between freemasons and the Royal Society over the course of its history.
The origins of the Royal Society lie in an “invisible college” of philosophers and scientists who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss the ideas of Francis Bacon. Two of the original members of the Royal Society – Sir Robert Moray and Elias Ashmole – were already freemasons by the time the Royal Society was formed. The Society met weekly to witness experiments and discuss what would now be called scientific topics although science then was much more broadly defined and included subjects such as alchemy and astrology.
As membership of Masonic lodges grew after 1717, freemasonry seems to have been attractive to other Fellows of the Royal Society. Several were closely involved in promoting new lodges and developing the constitutional basis of the new Grand Lodge. Early lodges were sometimes a forum for lectures on scientific subjects. John Theophilus Desaguliers was both an important publicist for Newton’s scientific ideas and a leading freemason.
By the end of the 1700s, particularly during the long Presidency of Sir Joseph Banks, himself a freemason, membership of the Royal Society had become a mix of working scientists and wealthy amateurs who were potential patrons and could help finance scientific research at a time before the government considered doing so itself. Several of these patrons were also freemasons and would have met with scientists both at meetings of the Royal Society and in lodges. As the professionalisation of science developed in the nineteenth century, Fellows began to be elected solely on the merit of their scientific work. New types of science developed and science education expanded with the growth of university science degrees and medical schools. Freemasonry attracted these scientist Fellows often in the growing number of new lodges whose membership was drawn from particular universities, hospitals or other specialist groups.
Monday 11th January – Friday 28th May 2010 (Monday to Fridays only)
Open: 10am to 5pm
Alphabetical List of Fellows of the Royal Society who were Freemasons
This list comprises more than 350 names listed alphabetically by surname. The complete list with appendices comprises over 120 pages and is searchable using the Edit/Find buttons.
The list can be downloaded here.
Additions and corrections are welcomed and will be added to future updates.
Please email with details of these to the Library and Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org