28 November 1660: The Royal Society is born
A group of ‘natural philosophers’ formalise their commitment to science
The oldest scientific academy in continuous existence was born in an age of extraordinary turbulence. It was during the mid-1640s, with England convulsed by war and revolution, that a group of ‘natural philosophers’ began meeting informally to discuss their ideas. Within a few years, two groups had formed, one in Oxford, the other in London. For the best part of a decade, the London group met at Gresham College in Holborn. But when the army occupied their rooms during the anarchy that followed Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658, meetings were suspended.
It was only after the restoration of Charles II two years later, which brought order to the capital, that the natural philosophers felt safe to resume their deliberations. On 28 November 1660, Christopher Wren was due to give an astronomy lecture at Gresham College. Afterwards, a group of 12 men, including Wren, piled into the rooms of Gresham professor Lawrence Rooke. They were a mixed bunch: astronomers, mathemati- cians, physicians and inventors. Some were parliamentarians; others had links with the royal court. What united them, though, was a commitment to science.
That evening, as the 12 men discussed Wren’s lecture, they also debated their journal – later named ‘A Designe of Founding a Colledge for the Promoting of Physicall-Mathematicall Experimen- tall Learning’. According to the journal, they agreed to meet every Wednesday at 3pm, with an initial membership fee of 10 shillings and a regular fee of a shilling a week. Seven days later, at the next meeting, royalist intellectual Sir Robert Moray reported that no less a person than “the king had been acquainted with the design of this meeting. And he did well approve of it, and would be ready to give encouragement to it.” The Royal Society was up and running. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook
28 November 1757
Poet and artist William Blake is born in London.
28 November 1811
The first public performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat Major took place at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. It was dedicated to Beethoven's pupil and patron, Archduke Rudolf of Austria.
28 November 1899
A British force under Lord Methuen, which was trying to relieve the besieged Kimberley, won a victory over the Boers at Modder river – with heavy British casualties.
28 November 1968
The children's author Enid Blyton dies aged 71. The characters in her 700 or so books include The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Naughtiest Girl in the School, and Noddy.