The tall, gaunt man walked over to the window and looked out. The previous night had been bitterly cold, and the lawns at the side of his apartment were white with hoar frost. Using what warmth there was in his coarse soldier's hands he melted the ice from inside the casement and looked out east, across the privy gardens towards the cluttered roofs of the palace. The dull grey glow of the low winter sun, as it struggled to climb above the horizon, was giving little hope of anything but an overcast winter's day. Still, he thought, perhaps the rain would hold off a little while.
He wasn't in bad shape for a fifty-two year old; he tried to keep himself fit and active. He looked towards the Sun dial, which he had recently constructed for the king in the centre of the lawns, but the light was too diffuse for it to cast any shadow. As he stood shivering in the winter's chill of that November morning he thought about the meeting he had arranged for the coming afternoon. Was he taking too great a risk in bringing together this group of men who had been sworn enemies for so long? Would the bonds of a single common interest be enough to persuade these men, who had all suffered so much during the recent war, to sit down together and talk? Was he hoping for too much in trying to persuade them to work together in harmony, to support the newly restored king? He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
A good soldier prepares his battle strategy before the onslaught begins and this man was a good soldier. He knew that it is better to capture an enemy army entire, rather than destroy it. He was aware that to fight, to conquer and then to destroy his old enemies would not help him to achieve his aims. He needed to break their resistance without fighting. Now was the time to apply the hard lessons learnt during the years he had spent as a quartermaster-general, civil engineer and spy in the armies of Scotland and France. He not only had to persuade his long time antagonists to work with him, but he somehow had to make them believe that it was their own idea to do so.
How could he do this? Perhaps he could persuade one of the more extreme members of the opposition to chair the meeting? Who, he wondered, had the most to gain? Certainly the man who had lost the most was Wilkins. He remembered overhearing that garrulous young clerk of Lord Montagu's prattling on, earlier in the week. He was telling how Wilkins, the deposed Master of Trinity College; the once favoured brother in law to Cromwell himself; was now reduced to preaching for coppers! This ex-Warden of Wadham College was struggling to live, crammed into the squalid lodging of yet another deposed cleric; and was reduced to acting as a chaplain for the penny-pinching lawyers of Greys Inn. Wilkins presented such a sorry spectacle that he was beginning to attract voyeurs to the Temple church, just to marvel at the extent to which the family of the late Lord Protector could be humiliated.
Yes, Wilkins would be flattered to be asked to chair the meeting, indeed if it was put to him in the right way he would accept it as nothing less than his right. That was the way to present it. Play to the man's vanity. Diplomatic skills learned in the service of the French had their uses, even in the uncertain world of Restoration England.
The clatter of horses' hooves and the rattle of a carriage stopping in the gateway, just below his rooms, drew him back from his reverie. Enough planning and scheming! The time for action had come. The king himself was forewarned; the king's supporters would already be setting off towards Bishopsgate; all that was left to do was to persuade able men, almost destroyed by the bloody events of the Civil war, to work with him. He felt his mouth go dry at the anticipation of the task. But if Britain was to survive the threat from the Dutch, he must succeed. He took a deep breath and turned away from the window.
Sir Robert Moray knew what had to be done and he knew how he intended to do it. He dressed carefully, donning the sombre black clothes he had favoured since the death of his wife. Was it really ten years since she had passed away? He set off across the privy lawns towards the stone steps that led down to the Thames. Catching a sculler by the riverside he paid his sixpence to be ferried up river, almost to the Tower. There he disembarked, to walk up through the narrow, cluttered, reeking streets of Bishopsgate to the quiet haven of Gresham College.
After listening to a lecture on Astronomy from Christopher Wren, Sir Robert Moray went back to the rooms of Laurence Rooke, to the meeting he had been thinking about for so long. The day was Wednesday 28 Nov 1660. What he thought and felt that cold November morning is unknown, but the world still lives with the results. That afternoon modern science was created!
So far this outline has been pure speculation but it is speculation based on fact. The man, just described, is a lost hero of science! He is responsible for the remarkable development in scientific innovation that has taken place over the last four hundred years and this book is the story of a quest to understand what he did and why he did it.
One of the highest honours to which a member of the scientific community can aspire is to become a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). This is the oldest and most respected scientific society in the world, its early members' names living on amidst indexes of physics textbooks - Hooke's Law, Boyle's Law, Huygens's construction, Newton's Laws, Leibniz's theorem, Brownian motion; and this is ignoring lesser scientists such as Christopher Wren, John Evelyn, John Wilkins, Elias Ashmole, John Flamsteed and Edmund Halley.
But the men who founded the Royal Society were not just the first scientists; they were also the last sorcerers. Ashmole actually belonged to a society of Rosicrucians and was a practising astrologer; Sir Robert Moray was an enthusiastic Freemason, Newton studied and wrote about the Rosicrucian concepts of alchemy; while Hooke carried out magical experiments involving spiders and unicorn's horns.
So what inspired an unlikely group of refugees from both sides of the Civil War to meet; form the world's oldest and most respected scientific society; and then go on to develop the tools of modern science? This question started a quest to understand how the Royal Society came to be formed. Where this mixture of clergymen and politicians got the idea of forbidding the discussion of religion and politics at their meetings? In an age dominated by politics and religion it was a weird thing to do.
There had to be more to this story than the superficial record revealed and so it proved to be. This book tells the story of the quest to discover the political, economic and religious background to the formation of the Royal Society and, in the process, uncovers the hidden motives of one man, Sir Robert Moray.