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Plot, Robert

1. Dates
Born: Borden, Kent, 13 Dec. 1640
Died: Borden, Kent, 30 April 1696
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 56
2. Father
Occupation: Gentry
Also Robert Plot, the father was a captain of the militia in the hundred of Milton. The family is called an old one with an estate, on which Plot eventually lived.
Plot inherited an estate at Sutton. I take this as evidence that the family was at least affluent.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A., Ll.D.
Wye Free School.
Oxford, 1658-71; Magdalane Hall; B.A.,1661; M.A.,1664; Ll.D.,1671. (Paffard puts him in University College, if it matters. From other evidence I think that must have been after his student career.)
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
By assumption.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History
Subordinate: Paleontology, Iatrochemistry, Alchemy
Planning a general natural history of England and Wales, Plot began with the Natural History of Oxfordshire, 1677, which led to his election to the Royal Society that year. Natural History of Staffordshire, 1686. He started to work on the natural histories of Kent and of Middlesex, which he did not finish, and he never came close to achieving the general work on all of England. Plot was more concerned with curiosities and antiquities than with what we might call natural history. Some papers on curiosities appeared in the Philosophical Transactions.
As part of natural history, he collected fossils and entered into the debate about their origin, being convinced that they were not organic but rather mineral crystallizations.
As a chemist he was an iatrochemist who pursued a universal solvent. Taylor cites manuscripts that establish Plot's deep involvement in alchemy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Personal Means
Secondary: Scientific Society, Government, Apothecary
Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, 1683-90.
Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, 1683-90. Plot resigned both his Oxford appointments in 1690, married, and settled down on the paternal estate.
For many years Plot was a college tutor. He remained at Magdalen Hall until 1676, then moved to Universty College as a commoner.
He made and sold iatrochemical drugs.
He inherited an estate at Sutton Baron, where he eventually lived.
Secretary of the Royal Society, 1682-4 and 1692. I am almost certain that this involved a small salary.
He was appointed Historiographer Royal in 1688; I assume that the appointment terminated in 1689.
Mowbray Herald extraordinary at the Heralds' office, 1695.
Registrar of the Court of Honour, also 1695.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Gentry, Aristrocrat, Scientist
Dedicated the Natural History of Oxfordshire to Charles II. Incidentally, Charles wrote two letters to him.
Plot began his investigation of Staffordshire at the invitation of Walter Chetwynd of Ingestre Hall, who aided the investigation and received him as a guest. I have seen one plate from the volume dedicated to Francis Wolferstan, and I suspect other plates are similarly dedicated.
Henry Howard, Duke of Norfold, was one of Plot's staunchest patrons. As Earl Marshal, the Duke made Plot his secretary in 1687 and nominated him Mowbray Herald in 1695.
Elias Ashmole appointed Plot keeper of the Museum at Oxford and obtained his appointment as chemistry professor, all presumably because of Ashmole's interest in alchemy. I categorize him under scientist.
Plot dedicated the Natural History of Staffordshire, 1686 to James II; in 1688 James named him Historiographer Royal.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Pharmacology, Cartography
See above.
He produced new maps to accompany his natural histories of Oxfordshire and Staffordshire.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Correspondence with Dr.Fell, Aston, Edward Tyson, Gould, Molyneux, Evelyn, Aubrey, Wood, Lister, Cole, Weymouth, W.Graven and others. He was an intimate of Pepys.
Royal Society, 1677; Secretary, 1682-4 and editor of the Philosophical Transactions; Secretary again in 1692.
Plot helped to organize the Oxford Philosophical Society about 1680 and became its director of experiments.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 15, 1311-12. R.T. Gunther, Dr. Plot and the Correspondence of the Philosophical Society of Oxford, (Oxford, 1939). Early Science in Oxford, 12.
  2. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 5, 3368-9.
  3. Anthony Wood, Athenae oxonienses (Fasti oxonienses is attached, with separate pagination, to the Athenae), 4 vols. (London, 1813-20), 1 xcviii; 4, 772-9. Michael Paffard, "Robert Plot: A County Historian," History Today, 20 (1970), 112-17.
  4. F. Sherwood Taylor, "Alchemical Papers of Robert Plot," Ambix, 4 (1949), 67-76.
  5. J. Brian Harley, "John Strachey of Somerset: an Antiquarian Cartographer of the early 18th Century," Cartographic Journal, 3 (1966), 2-7.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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