This famous name recorded as Lee, Lees, Lea, Leas, Lease and Leese is of Olde English origin. It is usually locational and derives from any of the places named with the pre 7th Century element "leah". This translates as "an open place" in a forest or wood, but may describe a water meadow, the word having different meanings in different parts of the country. Examples of the place names include Lee in Buckinghamshire and Hampshire, and also Lea in Cheshire, Lincolnshire and Wiltshire. The name may also be topographical, for someone who lived at a clearing or pasture, as in the surname 'Atlee'.The name is one of the earliest recorded (see below) and early examples include Turqod de la Lea, in the 1193 Pipe Rolls of Warwickshire, Roger de Lees of Norfolk and Richard de la Lee in the 1272 Hundred Rolls of Wiltshire, whilst Robert Leese is recorded in the Wills Register of the county of Cheshire in 1593. Examples from church registers include John Lee, who married Agnes Masset in London in 1550, and Anne Lease, a widow, who married William Sulham also in London in 1577. Sir Henry Lee (1530 - 1610) was master of the ordnance and personal champion to Queen Elizabeth from 1559 to 1590, when his son took over the position. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ailric de la Leie, which was dated circa 1148, in the "Charters of Northamptonshire", during the reign of King Stephen, known as "Count of Blois", 1135 - 1154. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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