List of presidents of the Royal Society

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The arms of the Royal Society

The president of the Royal Society (PRS), also known as the Royal Society of London, is the elected Head of the Royal Society of London who presides over meetings of the society's council.

After an informal meeting (a lecture) by Christopher Wren at Gresham College, the Royal Society was officially founded on 28 November 1660 when a group of academics decided to found "a College for the Promoting of Mathematical Experimental Learning",[1] acquiring a Royal Charter on 15 July 1662.[2] King Charles II granted the society a royal charter in 1662, formally establishing it as the "Royal Society of London." The Royal Charter nominated William Brouncker as president and stipulated that future presidents should be elected by the Council and Fellows of the Society at anniversary meetings each year on St. Andrew's Day (30 November).

The details of the presidency were described by the second Royal Charter, which did not set any limit on how long a president could serve. There were considerable fluctuations in the president's term of office until well into the 19th century. By then, sentiment had turned against electing wealthy amateurs solely because they might become patrons of the society, and in 1847 the society decided that Fellows would be elected solely on scientific merit. Since the 1870s, it has been usual (with a few exceptions) for each President to serve for exactly five years. Under the current statutes, a president cannot serve for more than five years.[3] The current President is Sir Adrian Smith who began his 5-year tenure on 30 November 2020.[4]

Historically, the duties of the president have been both formal and social. Under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, the President was one of only a few people authorized to certify that a particular experiment on an animal was justified, and in addition he acted as the government's chief (albeit informal) advisor for scientific matters. At the same time, the President was tasked with entertaining distinguished foreign guests and scientists.[5]

The changeover of presidents occurs on the Royal Society Anniversary Day, the weekday on or nearest to 30 November, after the departing President's Anniversary Address.[6] Of the 26 presidents since 1901, 18 have been Nobel laureates (seven in Physiology or Medicine, four in Physics and seven in Chemistry). Many past presidents, including all those in the 20th century, have been appointed to the Order of Merit.

Sir Joseph Banks was the longest serving president of Royal Society.

Presidents of the Royal Society[edit]

List of presidents of the Royal Society from 1662 – till date.
No. Term Portrait President Profession
1 1662–1677 William Brouncker, 2nd Viscount Brouncker Mathematician
2 1677–1680 Sir Joseph Williamson Civil servant and politician
3 1680–1682 Sir Christopher Wren Architect, astronomer and physicist
4 1682–1683 Sir John Hoskyns, 2nd Baronet Lawyer
5 1683–1684 Cyril Wyche Lawyer, politician and administrator
6 1684–1686 Samuel Pepys Civil servant and politician
7 1686–1689 John Vaughan, 3rd Earl of Carbery Politician
8 1689–1690 Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke Politician
9 1690–1695 Sir Robert Southwell Diplomat
10 1695–1698 Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax Poet and Statesman
11 1698–1703 John Somers, 1st Baron Somers Jurist and Statesman
12 1703–1727 Sir Isaac Newton Physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian
13 1727–1741 Sir Hans Sloane, 1st Baronet Physician and collector
14 1741–1752 Martin Folkes Antiquarian
15 1752–1764 George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield Astronomer
16 1764–1768 James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton Astronomer
17 1768–1768 Sir James Burrow Legal reporter
18 1768–1772 James West Politician and antiquarian
19 1772–1772 Sir James Burrow Legal reporter
20 1772–1778 Sir John Pringle, 1st Baronet Physician
21 1778–1820 Sir Joseph Banks Naturalist and botanist
22 1820-1820 William Hyde Wollaston Chemist
23 1820–1827 Sir Humphry Davy, 1st Baronet Chemist and inventor
24 1827–1830 Davies Gilbert Engineer, author and politician
25 1830–1838 Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex Sixth son of George III of the United Kingdom
26 1838–1848 Spencer Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton Nobleman
27 1848–1854 William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse Astronomer
28 1854–1858 John Wrottesley, 2nd Baron Wrottesley Astronomer
29 1858–1861 Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, 1st Baronet Physiologist and surgeon
30 1861–1871 Sir Edward Sabine Astronomer, geophysicist, ornithologist and explorer
31 1871–1873 Sir George Biddell Airy Mathematician and Astronomer
32 1873–1878 Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker Botanist and explorer
33 1878–1883 William H. Spottiswoode Mathematician and physicist
34 1883–1885 Thomas Henry Huxley Biologist
35 1885–1890 Sir George Stokes, 1st Baronet Mathematician and physicist
36 1890–1895 William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin Mathematical physicist
37 1895–1900 Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister Surgeon
38 1900–1905 Sir William Huggins Astronomer
39 1905–1908 John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh Physicist
40 1908–1913 Sir Archibald Geikie Geologist and writer
41 1913–1915 Sir William Crookes Chemist and physicist
42 1915–1920 Sir Joseph John Thomson Physicist
43 1920–1925 Sir Charles Scott Sherrington Neurophysiologist, histologist, bacteriologist, and pathologist
44 1925–1930 Sir Ernest Rutherford (later 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson) Physicist and chemist
45 1930–1935 Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins Biochemist
46 1935–1940 Sir William Henry Bragg Physicist, chemist and mathematician
47 1940–1945 Sir Henry Hallett Dale Pharmacologist and physiologist
48 1945–1950 Sir Robert Robinson Organic chemist
49 1950–1955 Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian Electrophysiologist
50 1955–1960 Sir Cyril Norman Hinshelwood Physical chemist
51 1960–1965 Howard Florey, Baron Florey Pharmacologist and pathologist
52 1965–1970 Patrick Blackett (Baron Blackett after 1969) Physicist
53 1970–1975 Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin Physiologist and Biophysicist
54 1975–1980 Alexander R. Todd, Baron Todd Biochemist
55 1980–1985 Sir Andrew Huxley Physiologist and biophysicist
56 1985–1990 Sir George Porter (Baron Porter of Luddenham after 1990) Chemist
57 1990–1995 Sir Michael Atiyah Mathematician
58 1995–2000 Sir Aaron Klug Chemist and biophysicist
59 2000–2005 Sir Robert May (Baron May of Oxford after 2001) Mathematical Biologist
60 2005–2010 Martin Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow Cosmologist and astrophysicist
61 2010–2015 Sir Paul Nurse Geneticist and cell biologist
62 2015–2020 Venki Ramakrishnan Biophysicist
63 2020–present Sir Adrian Smith Statistician



  1. ^ "History of the Royal Society".
  2. ^ The Royal Society. "Royal Charters". Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  3. ^ "The role of President of the Royal Society". The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 9 June 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  4. ^ "Sir Adrian Smith becomes President of the Royal Society | Royal Society".
  5. ^ "The Presidency of the Royal Society of London". Science. 6 (146). American Association for the Advancement of Science: 442–3. 1885. Bibcode:1885Sci.....6..442.. doi:10.1126/science.ns-6.146.442. PMID 17749567.
  6. ^ "The Role of President of the Royal Society". The Royal Society. 2008. Retrieved 2 April 2008.