Reference numberEC
TitleCertificates of election and candidature for Fellowship of the Royal Society
Date1731 -
DescriptionCertificates of election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. Covering candidates elected as Fellows (scientists from the UK and Commonwealth) and Foreign Members (Scientists from outside the Commonwealth) in recognition of their scientific excellence. Candidates must have made 'a substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science and medical science'.

Also includes certificates of Honorary Fellows. Honorary Fellows are typically not scientists but are elected in recognition of their contribution to the cause of science, for example Honorary Fellows have included; science writers, broadcasters and communicators, politicians and historians of science.

Royal patrons (i.e the monarch) do no have certificates of election unless they have previously been elected as a Royal Fellow. The Council of the Royal Society can recommend members of the UK Royal Family for election to the Fellowship as Royal Fellows.

Not all certificates represent elected Fellows; a small percentage are for unsuccessful candidates. From 1941 these are placed in the separate 'Lapsed Certificates' series.

Certificates of Election were created as a result of a meeting of Council on 7 December 1730 when a draft of a new statute was proposed with the intention of limiting membership of the Society. The Statute proposed that each candidate for election should be recommended by three existing Fellows, 'who shall deliver to one of the Secretaries a paper signed by themselves, signifying the name, addition, profession, occupation, and chief qualifications of the Candidate for election, as also notifying the usual place of habitation'. Such certificates were dated and hung ('suspended') in the meeting room for ten gatherings of Fellows before being balloted, and bear the signatures of those Fellows supporting the candidate, with the date of election. Certificates were not made compulsory until 1847 when new statutes were enacted. Therefore there may not be a certificate for every Fellow elected in the period 1731 to 1849. Also, if the candidate is a peer, then he might not have an election certificate, but be elected directly after a motion put to the Society at a meeting.

Certificates begin as certifcates of candidature. Candidates for Fellowship must be proposed by existing Fellows, the number of proposers required has varied over the years. There is now a selection process overseen by the Council of the Royal Society, Council appoints 10 subject area committees, known as Sectional Committees, to recommend the strongest candidates for election to Fellowship. These selections are approved at a meeting of the Fellowship, each candidate must secure the support of two thirds of the Fellowship. Certificates of successful candidates are endorsed with a date of election and signature of an Officer of the Society, at which point they are classified as election certificates and archived.

There have been changes in the format of the certificates over time but each certificate typically contains the following information:
Personal details of the candidate including: name, date and place of birth, nationality, address and contact information, honours and qulaifications, current profession.
Date submitted to the Society, years/meetings for which the certificate is 'suspended' (i.e. remains eligible), and date elected.
Which sectional committee will consider the nomination, and whether the candidate is from the mainstream physical and biological sciences, applied sciences, human sciences or is a general/honorary Fellow candidate.
A citation, which states the reasons the candidate has been nominated, this citation has been transcribed in the catalogue record for each individual certificate.
Where the citation refers to a list of publications (usually 20th century certificates) this has been transferred to the Personal Information File (PIF) for that Fellow. From 2008 Fellows could be proposed online, and citations updated online. Occasionally this led to confusion; election was on the original citation, although the proposer unknowingly updated the citation online; where this occurs, both versions of the citation are retained.
The names of the proposers of each Fellow, these have been transcribed in each certificate catalogue record. However, due to the 50 year closure rule the information on proposers from certificates less than 50 years old has not been transcribed in the catalogue.

Digital images of each certificate have been attached to the majority of the catalogue records. Again the 50 year rule applies so that images of certificates less than 50 years old have not been attached. The reverse of a certificate has been digitized where it contains further information on a candidate - 20th century certificates have directions for completion on their reverse, these have not been digitized.
Extent7, 338 certificates
Physical descriptionLoose papers, boxed. Ordinary certificates;- manuscript until 1840, printed form thereafter. 'Privileged class'; printed forms from 1875; Foreign membership: printed from 1895
ArrangementAnnual. Up to 1820 certificates are arranged by date of proposal, then a period of variation in ordering until 1828, from which time they are arranged consistently by date of election, and in alphabetical order of candidates names within each election year. Foreign Fellows are listed alphabetically after the Fellows, and Honorary Fellows after the Foreign Fellows.
Access statusOpen
Access conditions50 year closure period from date of election
Administrative historyElection certificates were created as a result of a meeting of Council on 7 December 1730 when a draft of a new statute was proposed. This stated that each candidate for election should be recommended by three existing Fellows who should present a paper to one of the Secretaries which would be dated and hung in the meeting room for ten gatherings of Fellows before being ballotted, and bear the signatures of those Fellows supporting the candidate, with the date of election.

There was a major review of the procedure for the election of Fellows and Foreign Members in 1963 by an ad hoc Committee chaired by H W Thompson, changes were made to Statutes 3 and 10 , taking effect in 1964. In Statute 3 the closing date for the receipt of certificates was changed to 31 July for consideration for election in the following year, with the printed list of candidates being circulated to Fellows in November instead of December. Also, the validity of the certificates of candidature were changed from five years and then renewed continuously, without limit, by the submission of a new certificate every five years. From 1963 once nominated, candidates remain eligible for election for seven years after which time their certificate of candidature lapses and is added to the Lapsed Certificates (LC) series in the archive. If not elected within the initial seven year period, an individual may be proposed as a candidate again after a break of three years and then remains eligible for election for a period of three years. This three year cycle may be repeated without limit, each repetition requiring the submission of a new election certificate so Fellows may have certificates in both the lapsed certificate and election certificate series.

Foreign Members; there is a reference in the Journal Books at a meeting on 27 May 1773 where it is recorded ' Dr Morton reported from the Council the new statute for the election of Foreigners' the new statute was recited a second time on 10 June 1773'. (see meeting 10 June 1773, page 147). 'ForMem' was used from 1805 onwards as a designation. Although earlier foreigners' certificates state that candidates wish to be 'foreign members', they appear to have been designated as Fellows, according to lists compiled by the Society. The first designated 'Foreign Member' is Pierre Prevost (EC/1805/23 - election date listed as 17/04/1806). Subsequently, all those foreigners who are elected are listed as 'Foreign Members', rather than Fellows.

Eligibility as a Fellow is dependent on citizenship of or residency in the UK or Commonwealth. As of 2016, candidates with non-UK/Commonwealth citizenship must have been working/resident in the UK or a Commonwealth country for three years before being proposed. The qualifying period of residency was reduced from five to three years in 1999/2000.

Honorary Follows. Prior to 1996 there were no Honorary Fellows, but there was a way to be elected to the Fellowship under what were known as 'Statute 12 arrangements' from 1902.

The number of Fellows and Foreign members elected annually varies through the history of the Royal Society, and the Statutes have to be changed to accommodate the changed numbers. Initially there was no restriction on the number of Fellows, a limit of 15 new Fellows per annum was enforced from 1848 and remained until 1930 when it was raised to 17 and in 1937 it was further raised to 20. In 1945 it was decided to increase elected candidates to 25 per annum. In 1963 numbers were increased from 25 to 32, 'particularly in view of the increasing importance of applied science and technology, and of the broadening if scientific interests.' In 1975 there was an increase from 32 to 40 to take account of the growth in numbers of scientists in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. In 1998 the figure was increased to 42 in order to equalise at 17 the number of places allocated to A and B sides (Physical and Biological sciences respectively). At the same time the number of elected candidates allocated to A/B joint, applied and general categories was reduced from 9 to 8. In 2003 the number was raised from 42 to 44 to allow two extra places for the newly added "human sciences" category then under the remit of Sectional Committee 10. In 2006 the numbers of Foreign Fellows elected was raised from 6 to 8, to take effect in 2007 (required amendment of Statute 3 (c) and Standing Orders 22 c) and 26.) In 2014, the number of Fellows elected rose to 60; 50 from the UK and Commonwealth, and 10 Foreign Members. In 2016 the maximum number of Fellowships was increased to 52, a maximum of 18 Fellowships can be allocated to candidates drawn from Physical Sciences, up to 18 from Biological Sciences, up to 10 from Applied Sciences, Human Sciences and Joint Physical and Biological Sciences, and a further maximum of 6 ‘Honorary’, ‘General’ or ‘Royal’ Fellows. Plus a maximum of 10 Foreign Members.

The number of new nominations of candidates made in any year is unlimited. eg there were 564 candidates for election as Fellows in 2005 and 700 in 2019. The Society does not provide details of the identities of nominated candidates to anybody outside the Fellowship, except those individuals consulted in confidence during the refereeing process. The nominations process was made easier in 2001 by reducing from six to two the number of Fellows signatures required on a certificate of proposal. This change was introduced because it was felt that the larger number of signatures might discriminate against minorities in science, such as women, those in new and emerging subjects or those in institutions and organisations with few existing Fellows. In addition, the President of the Royal Society periodically writes to Vice-Chancellors, and Chairs and Chief Executives of Research Councils, to encourage them to put forward names of potential candidates. Any suggestions generated through this route are considered before 30 September by the President, Vice-Presidents and one or more members of the Council of the Royal Society. These suggestions, if thought suitable, then follow the normal nomination process, with the proposing and seconding of a candidate by existing Fellows. The Society has also broadened the scope of candidates to encourage nomination and election of scientists, technologists and engineers whose major contribution to their subject has been other than through original research, for example by leadership, inspiration or furtherance of science in a senior managerial or administrative capacity, or through science communication. The proposing Fellow is responsible for informing the candidate that he or she has been nominated. The proposer must ensure, in consultation with the candidate, that all information relevant to the nomination is up to date.
Related materialLapsed Certificates (LC); Candidates books
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