From 1811 the introduction of power-driven mechanical frames for the manufacture of stockings sparked off a series of protests around Nottingham, after groups of skilled labourers had lost work as a result of the new technology. Using the name ‘Luddites’, from an imaginary leader, Ned Ludd, they broke into workshops at night and smashed up the frames. The police and military were brought in to find and arrest Luddites, for the most part unsuccessfully, as shown here in Lord Byron’s speech.
As a member of the House of Lords, Byron attended 15 sessions, and spoke three times, always from a Whig position. In this speech, against a bill calling for the death penalty for frame-breakers, he is often ironic, but passionate in his defence of the protesting workers. He describes the men as ‘liable to conviction on the clearest evidence of the capital crime of poverty […] nefariously guilty of lawfully begetting children whom, thanks to the times, they are unable to maintain’. Byron sees the root cause as the long period of war, which had disrupted the economy, and criticises the use of the military in internal disputes, particularly when they proved ineffective.
Byron addressed the same issues in a poem 'Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill'.