Biography of René Grillet de Roven

Little is known about René Grillet de Roven (see the calculating machine of René Grillet), Sieur Grillet Maistre Horlogeur, as he was titled.

As it is clear from his name (spelled also René Grilliet), he originates from the town of Roven (Rouen), in the northwestern France, the capital city of Normandy, the same town, where in early 1640s Blaise Pascal created the famous Pascaline.

René Grillet's parents were perhaps Jean Grillet (1605-1675) and Marie-Rosse Grillet. Jean Grillet was a king's enameler (émailleur ordinaire de la Reyne), known as an author of a book—La Beauté des plus belles dames de la cour, les actions héroyques des plus vaillans hommes dece temps... et plusieurs autres pièces sur divers sujets gaillards et sérieux (Paris, 1648). Jean Grillet was interested in glassware, clocks, instrument making (he invented a thermometer, which was donated to his patron Monseigneur le comte de Montéclair) and all these sorts of curiosities and obviously René inherited all these interests.

René Grillet became a well known at the time french mechanic, instrument maker and watchmaker, and he used to work for His Royal Highness King Louis XIV. Besides the calculating machine, which is of a particular interest for us, he is known as a maker of several other devices—a hygrometer (anemometer); graphometers; drawing instrument set; protractor, sector and square; set square, with plumb-bob, etc.

As it already have been mentioned in the article for his calculating machine, in 1673 and 1678 Grillet described his calculating device in a book and in the french Le Journal des Sçavans and tried to make some money by his calculating machine, but with questionable success.

There is a curious history with another Grillet's invention, a double mercury barometer. In 1673 Hubin, émailleur ordinaire du roy and one of the most skilled french instrument-makers, accused Grillet in fraud for using the principle of his mercury thermometer, already demonstrated to the French Academy and displayed it on his shop's window sill, in Grillet's newly invented barometer. This accusation probably explains why Grillet's 1673 book Curiositez mathematiques de l'invention du Sr Grillet horlogeur a Paris was seized by the Intendant of Police in Paris. That's not the whole story however. When some time later the famous Dutch mathematician, astronomer, physicist and horologist Christiaan Huygens presented his newly invented barometer, Grillet complained contra Huygens, stating the he had invented the double barometer two years before Huygens did, and that the latter stole the idea from him. Grillet even stressed he had demonstrated his invention during a meeting of the French Academy, which member was Huygens. Huygens however stated that Grillet had in fact shown a barometer to the Academy, but it had nothing particular to it. It seems Hubin was the only honest man in all this confused story, because he mentioned that the idea of putting serpentine tubes on his instrument he borrowed from a professor of Chartres, Laurent Cassegrain, while Grillet and Huygens didn't give the proper credit to their precursors, trying to get all the glory.

In 1681 Grillet travelled to Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he exposed his calculating machine and instruments. It seems he stayed in Netherlands for several years, working not only as an instrument-maker, but also probably perfecting his printing art there under the care of the skilled Dutch master-printers.

Later in 1680s Grillet probably tried to establish a calico-printing workshop in France, but after the decree of 1686 prohibiting calico-printing in France, he went to try his fortune in England.

In 1690 René Grillet is mentioned to live already in England, where he took patent for painting and printing calicos, and a factory for this purpose was opened in the Old Deer Park at Richmond, near London. It was the first calico-printing factory in England, but Grillet made the mistake to employ mostly Frenchmen and Roman Catholics, which led him into troubles with the local society and English authorities.