William Lee was born in the village of Calverton, Nottinghamshire in 1563, the eldest son of a prosperous yeoman farmer and died in 1614. William was an English clergyman and inventor who devised the first stocking frame knitting machine in 1589, the only one in use for centuries. Its principle of operation remains in use today.
He entered Christ's College, Cambridge in 1579 as a sizar and graduated with a Batchelor of the Arts degree from St. John's College in 1582, having studied languages, theology and the classics.
Lee was a curate at the Church of St. Wilfrid, Calverton when he is said to have developed the machine, for which he was refused a patent by the Queen, Elizabeth I who was concerned about the effect such a machine would have on employment (Queen Elizabeth had issued an edict that "her people should always wear a knitted cap", in order to increase the knitting trade).
He entered into a partnership agreement with one George Brooks on 6 June 1600, but the unfortunate Brooks was arrested on a charge of treason and executed.
William moved to France with his brother James, taking 9 workmen and 9 frames. Hugenot Henry IV of France granted him a patent and Lee began stocking manufacture in Rouen, France. He prospered until, shortly before King Henry's assassination in 1610, he signed a contract with Pierre de Caux to provide knitting machines for the manufacture of silk and wool stockings. The climate changed abruptly on the king's death and despite moving to Paris, his claims were ignored and he died in distress in 1614. His brother however brought the design back to Britain and the machine made knitting trade began to grow.
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