Editors of the Transactions

Want to check who was in charge of the Transactions at a particular point in time? We list them below, in four phases:

The ‘Independent editors’, 1665-1752

From 1665 until 1752, the Royal Society had no formal responsibility for the Philosophical Transactions. The periodical was formally the property and responsibility (editorially, financially) of an individual. That said, the individual in charge was routinely someone closely associated with the Royal Society (usually one of its secretaries), and the Society seems to have had a moral commitment to keeping the periodical going; we explore this ambiguous relationship in our forthcoming book. In this period, the term ‘editor’ was rarely used. Oldenburg referred to himself as the ‘author’ of Transactions; others were said to be its ‘publisher’ or its ‘compiler’.


1665: Henry Oldenburg (hon. secretary to RS, d.1677)

1677: Nehemiah Grew (hon. secretary to RS)

1679: [an alternative periodical, titled Philosophical Collections, was erratically issued during this period by Robert Hooke, hon. secretary to RS)

1682: Francis Aston & Robert Plot (hon. secretaries to RS)

1684: Francis Aston & William Musgrave (hon. secretaries to RS)

1686: Edmond Halley (clerk to the Royal Society)

1692/3: Richard Waller (hon. secretary to RS), with assistance from Halley, Sloane and others

1696: Hans Sloane (hon. secretary to RS)

1714: Edmond Halley (hon. secretary to RS)

1720: James Jurin (hon. secretary to RS)

1727: William Rutty (hon. secretary to RS, d.1729)

1729: Cromwell Mortimer (hon. secretary to RS, d.1751)

The Secretary-Editors, 1752-1905

After the death of Cromwell Mortimer in 1751, the Royal Society’s Council decided to take formal responsibility (editorially and financially) for the Transactions. The first volume compiled by the new regime was the back-dated volume covering 1751-2. The compilation of the periodical became the statutory duty of the two secretaries, assisted by a Committee of Papers.

A list of the secretaries of the Royal Society can be found in the Record of the Royal Society (various editions). Usually, one of the secretaries was more active in this role – and we have indicated some of these below – but the other secretary could and did step in from time to time.

After the creation of Proceedings in late 1831, the secretaries were responsible for both periodicals (i.e. there was no ‘editor’ of Transactions or ‘editor’ of Proceedings, but an editor for the RS periodicals).

… Charles Blagden (hon. secretary to RS)

1827-48: Peter Mark Roget

1853-85: George Gabriel Stokes

1885-96: Lord Rayleigh

1896-1901: Arthur Rucker

1901-1912: Joseph Larmor

The A-side and B-side Secretary-Editors, c.1905-1980s

Transactions was split into two series, A (mathematical and physical sciences) and B (biological sciences) in 1887; and Proceedings was similarly divided in 1905. During this period, it became the norm for each secretary to take responsibility for both periodicals on his ‘side’ of the Society. Thus, the list of biological and physical secretaries is the list of those with responsibility for Transactions and Proceedings in this period.

B: Biological Sciences                       A:  Physical Sciences

1901:                                                          Joseph Larmor

1903: Sir Archibald Geikie

1908: John Rose Bradford

1912:                                                          Arthur Schuster

1915: William Bate Hardy

1919:                                                         James Hopwood Jeans

1925: Henry Hallett Dale

1929:                                                         Frank Edward Smith

1935: Archibald Vivian Hill

1938: Alfred Charles Glynn Egerton

1945: Edward Salisbury

1948:                                                         David Brunt

1955: G. Lindor Brown

1957:                                                         William Hodge

1963: Ashley Miles

1965:                                                         James Lighthill

1968: Bernard Katz

1969:                                                         Harrie Massey

1976: David Phillips

1978:                                                         Morris Sugden

1983: David Smith

In 1983-84, with increasing workloads on the secretaries, an experiment was tried that involved delegating the editorial work to another Fellow of the Society, designated ‘acting editors’. The experiment was continued on the A-side, but not on the B-side.


1983-87 Paul Matthews FRS (acting editor)

1987 J.T. Stuart FRS (acting editor)

1988-90 Frank Smith FRS (acting editor)


1983-1984  Brian Boycott FRS (acting editor)

1985-87 David Smith (secretary RS)

1987-90: Brian Keith Follett (secretary RS)

Journal Editors, 1990 to 2015 (and on)

As part of the re-launch of the Royal Society journals in 1990, it was decided that each journal should have its own editor (and editorial board), as part of an effort to establish a distinct identity for each journal. The new editors and boards were appointed in 1989, to prepare for the re-launch. When new journals were launched in the years after 2004, each new journal had its own editor and board. The editors are normally Fellows of the Royal Society (but no longer the secretaries). The first woman editor was Geogina Mace, in 2008 (Transactions B)

Transactions A

1990–1996: Frank T. Smith

1997–2007: J. M. T. Thompson

2008–2010: Michael Pepper

2011– C. David Garner

See the modern website for more information.

Transactions B

1990–1994: Quentin Bone

1995–1996: P. D. Wall

1997–2005: S. Zeki

2006–2007: Brian Heap

2008–2010:  Georgina Mace* first female editor (below, left)

2011– 2016: Dame Linda Partridge* second female editor (below, right)


2016 – : John Pickett

See the modern website for more information.