Last updated on February 13th, 2021
Robert Boyle and the Invisible College
By Tracy R. Twyman
Grand Master of the Priory of Sion between 1654 and 1691, Robert Boyle was the so-called “father of modern chemistry.” He was among the earliest to theorize upon the existence and structure of the atom, and was one of the most renowned intellectuals of the Age of Enlightenment. His father was the Earl of Cork, and he himself was offered peerage, but turned it down. His provost at Eton College, which he attended, was part of the circle surrounding Frederick of the Palatinate. After completing school, Boyle toured Europe, including the Medici-dominated city of Florence, then a haven for esotericists, scientists and philosophers persecuted in more Catholic-dominated lands. He also spent nearly two years in Geneva, where he studied demonology and occultism. There he acquired a book called The Devil of Mascon, which he hired his friend Pierre du Moulin, son of Catherine de Bar’s personal chaplain, to translate.
When his European tour was completed, he returned to England, and there fell in with a social set surrounding Johann Andrea’s good friend, Samuel Hartlib. It was at this time that he began to write letters to friends referring to the “Invisible College”, which sounded, from his description, like a powerful secret society of initiates into the occult mysteries, much like the Rosicrucians. He even specified in one letter that, “the cornerstones of the Invisible College or (as they term themselves) the Philosophical College, do now and then honour me with their company.” It is entirely possible that this was a reference to his induction into the Priory of Sion.
In the 1650s, Robert Boyle spent much time at Oxford with Frederick of the Palatinate’s former chaplain, John Wilkin. In 1660, with the dismantling of Oliver Cromwell’s anti-monarchist Protectorate, the monarchy was restored and the Stuarts of Scotland, direct descendants of Merovingian blood, were once again the kings of both Scotland and England. It was around this time that, as Holy Blood, Holy Grail theorizes, the Priory of Sion might have transferred the bulk of its efforts and loyalties away from the French branches of the Grail family, like the House of Lorraine, and onto the House of Stuart. When Charles II came to power, Robert Boyle was one of his first and most outspoken supporters. Charles II also became the Head of the Royal Society, a conclave of scientists and intellectuals with official royal patronage. Most of the members of the Royal Society were Freemasons, and most coupled their scholarly pursuits with esoteric ones, making the Royal Society appear to be much like the “Invisible College” which Robert Boyle, one of the society’s most prominent members, had previously described. He became an even more prominent member of the society after 1668, when he moved permanently to London, residing with his sister, wife to one of Johann Valentin Andrea’s good fiends, John Dury. Here, Robert Boyle entertained some very important guests, such as Cosimo III de Medici, soon to be ruler of Florence and grand duke of Tuscany.
But Boyle’s most frequent visitors were the philosopher John Locke and the scientist Isaac Newton, the latter of whom would follow him as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. With Newton, the relationship revolved largely around alchemy, which Boyle had supposedly taught Newton the secrets of. For John Locke, commonly thought to have been a member of the Rosicrucians, meeting Boyle inspired him to take a long vacation in Southern France. He specifically visited Carcassonne, Narbonne, Toulouse, and perhaps even Rennes-le-Chateau. These were all important sites in the history of the Cathars, which Locke was particularly interested in studying there, as well as the legends in Southern France about Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail. He even visited Saint Baum, where Magdalen was supposed to have lived, as well as the graves of Nostradamus and René d’Anjou. He also consorted, while in France, with none other than the duchess of Guise.
Boyle, on the other hand, was busy exchanging letters with a fellow alchemist in France, Georges Pierre. These letters reveal Boyle’s involvement in an occult fraternal order to which also belonged the duke of Savoy and Pierre du Moulin. Boyle published a couple of alchemical texts called Incalescence of Quicksilver with Gold and A Historical Account of the Degradation of Gold. Then in 1689 he announced in writing that he would no longer entertain guests on certain days that he had scheduled to conduct alchemical experiments, which he described as, “less simple and plain than those barely luciferous ones I have been wont to affect… though the full and complete uses are not mentioned, partly because, in spite of my philanthropy, I was engaged to secrecy.”
The details of Boyle’s experiments were never publicly revealed, but when he died in 1691, he left to his friends John Locke and Isaac Newton all of his papers, as well as an unknown “red powder” which was integral to his experiments – perhaps the same red powder used by previous Priory of Sion Grand Master Nicolas Flamel.