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Boyle, Robert (1627-1691)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 RB
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Boyle, Robert (1627-1691)
Date(s): 1640-1691
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 7 volumes of Letters; 46 volumes of Papers
Name of creator(s): Boyle | Robert | 1627-1691 | natural philosopher and chemist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Boyle was born on 25 January 1627 at Lismore, Munster, seventh son of the notorious Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, thereby having high status and considerable wealth. His education began at home, then continued at Eton and with foreign travel from 1639. He visited France, Geneva - where he suffered a conversion experience which was to have a profound effect on him - and Italy, where he discovered the writings of Galileo. He returned to England in 1644, taking up residence at the family manor of Stalbridge, Dorset, from 1645. He visited Ireland in 1652-1653, then by 1656 moved to Oxford where he joined the circle of natural philosophers there which formed the liveliest centre of English science at that time. After the Restoration in 1660, many of them moved to London, where the Royal Society was founded (with Boyle among its founding Fellows), although Boyle did not move there until 1668, sharing a house in Pall Mall with his sister Katherine, Lady Ranelagh, until they both died in 1691. In the 1640's he became preoccupied with themes which were to continue throughout his life - vindication of an approved understanding of nature, in its own right as well as its utilitarian advantages; insistence on the importance of experiment in pursuing this aim, and the advocacy of spirituality. To these ends he became involved with other like-minded individuals known as the 'Invisible College', and subsequently the circle of intellectuals surrounding the Prussian emigré, Samuel Hartlib. He devoted his life to extensive and systematic experimentation, and to writing. His major scientific work on pneumatics, 'New Experiments Physico-Mechanical, Touching the Air and its Effects', used the air pump as the key piece of equipment used to explore the physical properties of air, vindicated the possibility of a vacuum, illustrated the extent to which life depended on air, and proved that the volume of air varies inversely with its pressure (Boyle's Law). 1661 saw the publication of the 'Sceptical Chemist' and 'Certain Physiological Essays', the beginning of a series where he sought to vindicate a mechanistic theory of matter and to remodel chemistry along new lines, and where he crucially vindicated an experimental approach. In the 1670's his publications continued the previous themes, but also included theology. In the 1680's, his interest shifted to medical matters, such as 'Memoirs for the Natural History of Human Blood' (1684), or the collections of recipes in his 'Medicinal Experiments' (1688-1694). At the same time, he continued his work as a Christian apologist, his 'The Christian Virtuoso' appearing in 1690. His concern about the theological implications of the new philosophy can be seen in 'Discourse of Things above Reason' (1681) and 'Disquisition about the Final Causes of Things' (1688). On his death in 1691 he endowed a Lectureship to expound the Christian message. His significance to the development of natural philosphy was recognised in his lifetime, and his influence was particularly important for Isaac Newton, the leading figure in the following generation, whose work is seen as the culmination of the scientific achievement of seventeenth-century England.


Scope and content/abstract:

Letters and other Papers of the Hon Robert Boyle. The Letters cover Boyle's correspondence; in addition to the letters by scientists such as Hartlib, Beale, Southwell, Wallis and Cole, the series contains letters from members of Boyle's family (Viscountess Ranelagh in particular). There are 37 letters of Boyle's preserved, and substantial blocks of papers from religious figures such as Robert Sharrock. The Papers cover his philosophical, scientific, theological and other interests, and cover most aspects of his life and works.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Boyle Letters Volumes 1-5 are in rough alphabetical order of author, miscellaneous letters in Volumes 6-7. Volume 7 also contains 57 numbered letters, not numbered or paginated. Boyle Papers are in 46 volumes according to subject - Theology volumes 1-7, 11-15; Philosophy 8-10, 16; Physiology 17-19; Science 20-34; Miscellaneous 35-46. Volumes 1-19, 26, 29 and 35-46 are foliated, the remainder paginated.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Contents lists commence each volume. Entries by author in archive card catalogue. Detailed catalogue available at

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Boyle Letters and Papers were presented by Emma, widow of Henry Miles FRS, in 1769. Volume 7 of Boyle Letters was presented by John Miles in 1748.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Royal Society also holds eighteen volumes of notebooks and other manuscripts which are part of the Manuscripts General series.

Chatsworth House holds correspondence, accounts and papers, 1640-1683; British Library, Manuscript Collections, holds experiments on colours (Ref: Sloane MSS 623, 4023); Guildhall Library holds correspondence with Commisioners of New England, 1662-1684; John Rylands Library, Manchester University, holds letters to N Marsh (copies) (Ref: Eng MS 502); National Library of Ireland holds miscellaneous letters and papers (Ref: Orrey MSS 32-36, 7163-7176, Ormonde MS 87).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description produced by the Royal Society and revised by Rachel Kemsley as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Created 15/05/2002, modified 27/05/2002, revised Sep 2002

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