Astronomer Royal

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John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, by Thomas Gibson. Royal Society, London.

Astronomer Royal is a senior post in the Royal Households of the United Kingdom. There are two officers, the senior being the Astronomer Royal dating from 22 June 1675; the junior is the Astronomer Royal for Scotland dating from 1834.

The post was created by King Charles II in 1675, at the same time as he founded the Royal Observatory Greenwich. He appointed John Flamsteed, instructing him "forthwith to apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so-much desired longitude of places, for the perfecting the art of navigation."[1][2][3]

The Astronomer Royal was director of the Royal Observatory Greenwich from the establishment of the post in 1675 until 1972. The Astronomer Royal became an honorary title in 1972 without executive responsibilities and a separate post of Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory was created to manage the institution.[3][4]

The Astronomer Royal today receives a stipend of 100 GBP per year and is a member of the Royal Household, under the general authority of the Lord Chamberlain. After the separation of the two offices, the position of Astronomer Royal has been largely honorary, though the holder remains available to advise the Sovereign on astronomical and related scientific matters,[5] and the office is of great prestige.

There was formerly a Royal Astronomer of Ireland, a post that seemingly ended with Irish independence.

The Astronomer Royal is mentioned in H.G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds and in George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.[6] He also makes an appearance in the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance[7] and plays an important role in Fred Hoyle's novel The Black Cloud.

Astronomers Royal[edit]

# Image Name Start year End year Reference
1. John Flamsteed 1702.jpg John Flamsteed 1675 1719 [2][5]
2. Edmond Halley 072.jpg Edmond Halley 1720 1742 [2][5]
3. James Bradley by Thomas Hudson.jpg James Bradley 1742 1762 [2][5]
4. The Reverend Nathaniel Bliss.jpg Nathaniel Bliss 1762 1764 [2][5]
5. Maskelyne Nevil.jpg Nevil Maskelyne 1765 1811 [2][5]
6. John Pond 1811 1835 [2][5]
7. George Biddell Airy 1891.jpg Sir George Biddell Airy 1835 1881 [4][5]
8. William H M Christie.jpg Sir William Christie 1881 1910 [4][5]
9. Frank Watson Dyson.jpg Sir Frank Dyson 1910 1933 [4][5]
10. Sir Harold Spencer Jones 1933 1955 [4][5]
11. Sir Richard van der Riet Woolley 1956 1971 [4][5]
12. Sir Martin Ryle 1972 1982 [4][5]
13. Francis Graham Smith.jpg Sir Francis Graham-Smith 1982 1990 [5]
14. SirArnoldWolfendale.jpg Sir Arnold Wolfendale 1991 1995 [5]
15. Official portrait of Lord Rees of Ludlow crop 2.jpg Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow 1995 Incumbent [5]


  1. ^ F Baily, "An Account of the Rev. John Flamsteed", reprinted in vol.28,at p.293. "The Museum of foreign literature, science and art", R Walsh et al., publ. E Litell, 1836.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Forbes, Eric G. (1975). Greenwich Observatory, volume 1: Origins and Early History (1675–1835). London: Taylor & Francis.
  3. ^ a b McCrea, William Hunter (1975). Royal Greenwich Observatory : an Historical Review Issued on the Occasion of its Tercentenary. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Meadows, A. J. (1975). Greenwich Observatory, volume 2: Recent History (1836–1975). London: Taylor & Francis.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Astronomer Royal". The British Monarchy. Royal Household. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  6. ^ p. 175, Penguin edition
  7. ^ "The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan".

External links[edit]