Our History

Our History

The RSE was created in 1783 by Royal Charter for “the advancement of learning and useful knowledge”. Its first meetings were held in the library wing of the prinicipal building of Edinburgh University.  In 1807 meetings moved to Physicians Hall, 14 George Street, Edinburgh, and in 1810 the RSE acquired 40 - 42 George Street, where it stayed until 1826, when the space became insufficient for its purposes.

In 1826, the RSE moved into rooms in the new Royal Institution on the Mound, sharing the accommodation with the Society of Antiquaries. It stayed until 1909 when it moved into the existing building at 22 - 24 George Street. Its first meeting was held there on 1 March 1909. 

The rooms were refurbished in 1960 and again in 1983. In 1994, the RSE purchased the adjacent building at 26 George Street, which was refurbished during 1998 by the RSE Scotland Foundation and linked to the existing rooms to enable further expansion of RSE activities.

A detailed account of the history of the Society was written by Professor Neil Campbell and Professor R M S Smellie (former General Secretary) for the Society’s Bicentenary Celebrations in 1983. This describes in detail the origins and background of the RSE. Copies of this volume are available from the Journals and Archive Officer.

Founding Fellows

Adam Smith, Joseph Black, James Hutton and Benjamin Franklin are among the founding Fellows.

RSE Presidents

The Duke of Buccleuch was the first President in 1783.  Since then our Presidents have included, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Kelvin and Sir Michael Atiyah. 

The Home of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

The bicentennial history of the Royal Society of Edinburgh recorded the work and achievements of the Society and its Fellows. Although mention is made of the former homes and possessions of the Society, these matters were incidental to the theme of the history which was the advancement of learning and useful knowledge, the chartered objectives of the Society. The subsequent purchases by the Society of its premises at 22–26 George Street, Edinburgh, revealed a need for some account of these fine buildings and of their contents for the information of Fellows and to enhance the interest of many who will visit them.

James Clerk Maxwell Statue

Our modern technological society, from the computer to telecommunications, rests firmly on the foundations established by James Clerk Maxwell. It was Maxwell’s emphasis on the basic role of fields of force that led Einstein to his general theory of relativity and the modern understanding of gravity.  For a scientist of Maxwell’s stature, there are few memorials to him.

In 2006, the 175th anniversary of his birth raised his profile in his home city and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), of which Maxwell had been a Fellow, initiated plans for a statue of him and commissioned Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart. A prime site was identified on George Street, in the heart of the "New Town", and close to the present building of the RSE. The statue was unveiled in 2008


A narrative description of the portraits in oils, busts and statuettes on display in the Rooms of the RSE.

Professor Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs portrait

In order to commemorate the discovery of the Higgs Boson, and to honour the man whose outstanding research was central to proposing its existence, the RSE commissioned Victoria Crowe OBE, FRSE to paint a portrait of Professor Peter Higgs. The painting was unveiled at the RSE on the occasion of the Fellows’ Summer Reception in June 2013.

The unveiling was followed by a discussion about the portrait between artist and sitter which provided a fascinating insight into the way that Victoria was able to capture Peter’s personality on canvas.  Professor Duncan Macmillan FRSE set the context for that discussion with an intriguing presentation about the artist and her work. The portrait will hang on the walls of the Kelvin Room within the RSE’s prestigious premises on George Street, Edinburgh.



Follow Us: