Astronomer Royal

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 second is the Astronomer Royal for Scotland dating from 1834.

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

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 they remain available to advise the Sovereign on astronomical and related scientific matters, and the office is of great prestige.[5]

There was also 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 The Black Cloud.

Astronomers RoyalEdit

# Image Name Start year End year Reference
1.   John Flamsteed 1675 1719 [2][5]
2.   Edmond Halley 1720 1742 [2][5]
3.   James Bradley 1742 1762 [2][5]
4.   Nathaniel Bliss 1762 1764 [2][5]
5.   Nevil Maskelyne 1765 1811 [2][5]
6. John Pond 1811 1835 [2][5]
7.   Sir George Biddell Airy 1835 1881 [4][5]
8.   Sir William Christie 1881 1910 [4][5]
9.   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.   Sir Francis Graham-Smith 1982 1990 [5]
14.   Sir Arnold Wolfendale 1991 1995 [5]
15.   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 2016-03-08. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  6. ^ p. 175, Penguin edition
  7. ^ "The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan".

External linksEdit