Muscovy Company

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Muscovy Company
Trading company; Charity
IndustryTrading company; Now a charitable organization
FateExisted until 1917 as a trading company. Now it operates mainly as a charity
Founded1551;468 years ago (1551) in England
FoundersRichard Chancellor, Sebastian Cabot and Sir Hugh Willoughby
Seal of the Muscovy Company, showing the date 1555 above an escutcheon of arms: Barry wavy of six argent and azure, over all a ship of three masts in full sail towards sinister proper, sails, pennants, and ensigns of the first, each charged with a cross gules all between three bezants, a chief or, on a pale between two roses gules seeded or, barbed vert, a lion passant guardant of the fifth All encircled by motto: Refugium Nostrum in Deo Est ("Our Refuge is in God"). The ship is shown, unusually for heraldry, sailing towards the sinister, signifying "The East" MuscovyCompany Seal 1555.jpg
Seal of the Muscovy Company, showing the date 1555 above an escutcheon of arms: Barry wavy of six argent and azure, over all a ship of three masts in full sail towards sinister proper, sails, pennants, and ensigns of the first, each charged with a cross gules all between three bezants, a chief or, on a pale between two roses gules seeded or, barbed vert, a lion passant guardant of the fifth All encircled by motto: Refugium Nostrum in Deo Est ("Our Refuge is in God"). The ship is shown, unusually for heraldry, sailing towards the sinister, signifying "The East"

The Muscovy Company (also called the Russian Company or the Muscovy Trading Company Russian : Московская компания, romanized: Moskovskaya kompaniya) was an English trading company chartered in 1555. It was the first major chartered joint stock company, the precursor of the type of business that would soon flourish in England, and became closely associated with such famous names as Henry Hudson and William Baffin. The Muscovy Company had a monopoly on trade between England and Muscovy until 1698 and it survived as a trading company until the Russian Revolution of 1917. Since 1917 the company has operated as a charity, now working within Russia. [2] [3]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Romanization of Russian Romanization of the Russian alphabet

Romanization of Russian is the process of transliterating the Russian language from the Cyrillic script into the Latin script.

Trading companies are businesses working with different kinds of products which are sold for consumer, business or government purposes. Trading companies buy a specialized range of products, maintain a stock or a shop, and deliver products to customers.



Map of Muscovy prepared by Anthony Jenkinson and Gerard de Jode (1593) Moskoviia maks.vel.kniazhestvo 1593 Antverpen avtory Antonii Dzhenkinson i Gerard de Iode.jpg
Map of Muscovy prepared by Anthony Jenkinson and Gerard de Jode (1593)
Ivan IV of Russia Shows His Treasury to Jerome Horsey (Alexander Litovchenko, 1875) Ivan the Terrible and Harsey.jpg
Ivan IV of Russia Shows His Treasury to Jerome Horsey (Alexander Litovchenko, 1875)

Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands

The Muscovy Company traces its roots to the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands (in full: "Mystery and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places unknown") founded in 1551 by Richard Chancellor, Sebastian Cabot and Sir Hugh Willoughby, who decided to look for the Northeast Passage to China.

The Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands was an early joint stock association, which began with private exploration and enterprise, and was to have been incorporated by King Edward VI in 1553, but received its full Royal Charter in 1555. It led to the commencement of English trade with Russia, Persia and elsewhere, and became known informally, and later formally, as the Muscovy Company.

Richard Chancellor English explorer and navigator

Richard Chancellor was an English explorer and navigator; the first to penetrate to the White Sea and establish relations with Muscovy.

Sebastian Cabot (explorer) explorer, born in the Venetian Republic

Sebastian Cabot was an Italian explorer, likely born in the Venetian Republic. He was the son of Italian explorer John Cabot and his Venetian wife Mattea.

The first expedition of the Company of Merchant Adventurers was led by Willoughby, who was chosen for his military leadership skills after esteemed service against the Scots defending English castles in the north of the country. He had no prior nautical or navigational experience and it was hoped he would transition into naval life with the same aplomb he showed on land. [4] Chancellor would function as the navigator of the small fleet, which consisted of three ships: the Bona Esperanza under Willoughby, the Edward Bonaventure under Chancellor and the Bona Confidentia. The fleet departed from London on 10 May 1553, but near the Lofoten islands a storm hit the ships and separated Chancellor's vessel from the other two.

Scottish people ethnic inhabitants of Scotland

The Scottish people or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically, they emerged from an amalgamation of two Celtic-speaking peoples, the Picts and Gaels, who founded the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. Later, the neighbouring Celtic-speaking Cumbrians, as well as Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons and Norse, were incorporated into the Scottish nation.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Lofoten archipelago and traditional district in Nordland county, Norway

Lofoten is an archipelago and a traditional district in the county of Nordland, Norway. Lofoten is known for a distinctive scenery with dramatic mountains and peaks, open sea and sheltered bays, beaches and untouched lands. Though lying within the Arctic Circle, the archipelago experiences one of the world's largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to its high latitude.

Willoughby eventually crossed the Barents Sea and reached Novaya Zemlya. He spent some time sailing along the coast, then turned south towards Scandinavia. However at the mouth of the Varzina River on the coast to the east of present-day Murmansk the ship became trapped in ice. Willoughby and his crew were found a few years later by Russian fishermen who stumbled across the ship frozen in ice. Forcing entry into the ship, they found the bodies of Willoughby and his men frozen solid. It has been assumed that the men froze after a cold Russian winter aboard the ship, however, Willoughby and his men were well supplied for a winter aboard a ship - they had supplies of food enough for a journey meant for Asia and they had many woollen garments meant for trading in any destination they might have ended up in. It has therefore been posited by historians that Willoughby and his crew died not from exposure to the elements, but from carbon monoxide poisoning. The surrounding bay would have had ample supplies of sea coal and it was likely that men would have been sent out to gather material to keep them warm, and any combustion of sea coal in an enclosed area could easily have led to their deaths in a small ship hold. At any rate, Willoughby sent out scouts in various directions with the instruction to return after three days travelling if they had not found any human contact. All of these journeys failed. [4]

Barents Sea A marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia

The Barents Sea is a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean, located off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia and is divided between Norwegian and Russian territorial waters. Known among Russians in the Middle Ages as the Murman Sea, the sea takes its current name from the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz.

Novaya Zemlya Arctic archipelago

Novaya Zemlya, also known as Nova Zembla, is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in northern Russia and the extreme northeast of Europe, the easternmost point of Europe lying at Cape Flissingsky on the Northern island. West of Novaya Zemlya is the Barents Sea, and to the east is the Kara Sea.

Scandinavia Region in Northern Europe

Scandinavia is a region in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. The term Scandinavia in local usage covers the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The majority national languages of these three, belong to the Scandinavian dialect continuum, and are mutually intelligible North Germanic languages. In English usage, Scandinavia also sometimes refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula, or to the broader region including Finland and Iceland, which is always known locally as the Nordic countries.

Chancellor was luckier. He penetrated the White Sea, where the local fishermen were amazed by the great size of his Western-built ship. He reached the harbour of Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery on the Northern Dvina river (near the present-day Arkhangelsk, which would be eventually founded in 1584 to service the growing trade). The region had just recently been added to Muscovy, and when Czar Ivan IV heard of Chancellor's arrival, he immediately invited the exotic guest to visit Moscow for an audience at the royal court.

White Sea A southern inlet of the Barents Sea in northwest Russia

The White Sea is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of the internal waters of Russia. Administratively, it is divided between Arkhangelsk and Murmansk Oblasts and the Republic of Karelia.

Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery

Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery(Николо-Корельский монастырь) is a Russian Orthodox monastery in Severodvinsk (Russia).

Arkhangelsk City in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia

Arkhangelsk, also known in English as Archangel and Archangelsk, is a city and the administrative center of Arkhangelsk Oblast, in the north of European Russia. It lies on both banks of the Northern Dvina River near its exit into the White Sea. The city spreads for over 40 kilometers (25 mi) along the banks of the river and numerous islands of its delta. Arkhangelsk was the chief seaport of medieval and early modern Russia until 1703. A 1,133-kilometer-long (704 mi) railway runs from Arkhangelsk to Moscow via Vologda and Yaroslavl, and air travel is served by the Talagi Airport and a smaller Vaskovo Airport. As of the 2010 Census, the city's population was 348,783, down from 356,051 recorded in the 2002 Census, and further down from 415,921 recorded in the 1989 Census.

Chancellor made the journey of over 600 miles/965 kilometres to Moscow through snow- and ice-covered country. He found Moscow large (much larger than London) and primitively built, most houses being constructed of wood. However, the palace of the czar was very luxurious, as were the dinners he offered Chancellor. The Russian czar was pleased to open the sea trading-routes with England and other countries, as Russia did not yet have a safe connection with the Baltic Sea at the time and almost all of the area was contested by the neighbouring powers of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Swedish Empire. In addition, the Hanseatic League had a monopoly on the trade between Russia and Central and Western Europe. Chancellor was no less optimistic, finding a good market for his English wool, and receiving furs and other Russian continental goods in return. When he returned to England in 1554, he had letters from the czar with him, inviting English traders and promising trade privileges.

Mile Unit of length

The mile is an English unit of length of linear measure equal to 5,280 feet, or 1,760 yards, and standardised as exactly 1,609.344 metres by international agreement in 1959.

The kilometre, or kilometer is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one thousand metres. It is now the measurement unit used officially for expressing distances between geographical places on land in most of the world; notable exceptions are the United States and the road network of the United Kingdom where the statute mile is the official unit used.

Baltic Sea A sea in Northern Europe bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands

The Baltic Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, enclosed by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, northeast Germany, Poland, Russia and the North and Central European Plain.

Chartering of the Muscovy Company

The Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands was rechartered as the Muscovy Company by Mary I of England in 1555, [5] and in the same year Chancellor left for Russia again. The Muscovy Company became an important diplomatic link between Muscovy and England, and was especially valued by the isolated Muscovy. Upon his arrival to the court of Ivan IV, Chancellor secured a number of privileges within Russia for the company, including free passage, control of English settlement, and freedom from arrest. [6]

When Chancellor set sail for England one year later in 1556, he was joined by the first Russian ambassador to England, Osip Nepeya. However at this juncture Chancellor's luck finally ran out. Off the Scottish coast, his ship was caught in a sudden storm and shipwrecked. Chancellor drowned, but Nepeya managed to reach the coast, where he was taken hostage by the Scots for a few months before they allowed him to travel on to London.

Trade through Russia

Anthony Jenkinson succeeded Chancellor as the main trader of the Muscovy Company. Jenkinson made two important voyages himself — one trying to reach Cathay overland from Moscow, eventually stopping at Bukhara; the other, between 1562 and 1579 to establish overland trade routes through Russia to Persia. Although Jenkinson verified that the overland route to Persia was a viable one, it was abandoned in 1573 due to difficulties in the region; the route did not reopen until Parliament reinstated the company's right to the route in 1741. [7] In 1567, when Muscovy was faring badly in the Livonian War (1558–1583), Czar Ivan IV asked Jenkinson to sound out Queen Elizabeth I of England as a marriage prospect, providing a possible refuge for him if he was forced to flee the country. The negotiations yielded no results, and Ivan IV was soon forced to sign a ceasefire (1570) with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

In 1571, the company's right to free trade and navigation down the Volga was revoked by Ivan IV, who had been offended by English demands to close Russian trade to other European nations. Jenkinson returned to Moscow in 1572 in an attempt to restore the company's privileges, a task at which he was largely successful. However, a cooling of Anglo-Russian relations was evident. [8] This unease between the Muscovy Company and Russia continued to the end of the sixteenth century, under the anti-English dominated courts of Fyodor Ivanovich and Boris Godunov. [9]

Waxing apologetic at the end of the 16th century, Richard Hakluyt wrote: "... the notable and strange journey of Master Jenkinson to Boghar in Bactria. Whereunto thou maist adde sixe of our voyages eleven hundred verstes up against the streame of Dwina to the towne of Vologhda thence one hundred and fourescore verstes by land to Yeraslaue standing upon the mighty river of Volga: there hence above two thousand and five hundred versts downe the streame to the ancient marte Towne of Astracan, and so to the manifolde mouthes of Volga, and from thence also by ship over the Caspian sea into Media, and further then that also with Camels unto Georgia, Armenia, Hyrcania, Gillan, and the cheefest Cities of the Empire of Persia: wherein the Companie of Moscovie Marchants to the perpetual honor of their Citie, and societie, have performed more than any one, yea than all the nations of Europe besides." [10]


Queen Elizabeth I granted the Muscovy Company a monopoly charter on whaling in 1577. The primary and most profitable whaling grounds of this joint-stock company came to be centered around Spitsbergen in the early 17th century, and the company's royal charter of 1613 granted a monopoly on whaling in Spitsbergen, based on the (erroneous) claim that Hugh Willoughby had discovered the land in 1553. [11] [12] Initially the English tried to drive away competitors, but after a few years, they claimed rights only to the waters south of these Arctic islands. [13]

Shortly after Chancellor's death in 1556, the Muscovy Company sent another voyage to discover the Northeast Passage, this time led by Steven Borough. He managed to sail through the Kara Gates, the strait between the islands of Vaygach and Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean. In 1607 and 1608, the company sent Henry Hudson in two separate voyages in an attempt to find the Northeast Passage. Both voyages were unsuccessful. [14]


In 1646, Tsar Alexei I rescinded the exemption of the Muscovy Company from Russian customs, in response to the company's alleged support of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War. After the execution of Charles I of England in 1648, Alexei I expelled English merchants from Russia altogether, except from the city Archangel. [15] [16] While the restoration of Charles II of England in 1660 resulted in a temporary thaw of relations between England and Russia, a 1664 embassy under Andrew Marvell proved unsuccessful in restoring the Muscovy Company's prior benefits. In the meantime, Dutch merchants replaced the English as the dominant traders in Russia. [17] Nevertheless, the company held a monopoly on English-Russian trade until 1698, when it lost its privileges due to political opposition. [18]

The Company helped provide churches and Anglican ministers at various times in Arkhangelsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kronstadt. It still supports St. Andrew's Anglican Church, Moscow. The Company continued in existence until the Russian Revolution of 1917 and has since operated mainly as a charity. [2] St. Andrew's and the company headquarters (called the Old English Yard), were built during the reign of Ivan IV, and are not far from the Moscow Kremlin. In 1994 they were visited by Queen Elizabeth II.

See also

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  1. Fox-Davies, The Book of Public Arms)
  2. 1 2 Guildhall Library Manuscripts, accessed January 26, 2011
  3. Charity Commission. CHARITABLE FUND ADMINISTERED BY THE RUSSIA COMPANY, registered charity no. 210842.
  4. 1 2 James Evans (2014) [Merchant Adventurers] [Orion Publishing co]
  5. E. Goldsmid (ed.), The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, collected by Richard Hakluyt, Preacher, Vol. III: North-Eastern Europe and Adjacent Countries, Part II: The Muscovy Company and the North-Eastern Passage (E. & G. Goldsmid, Edinburgh 1886), pp. 101-112.
  6. Olson, p. 769
  7. Olson, p. 769
  8. Gerson, p. 84
  9. Dmitrieva, p. 21
  10. Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, v. 1, Northern Europe (1598)
  11. Hudson, Henry; Georg Michael Asher (1860). Henry Hudson the Navigator: The Original Documents in which His Career is Recorded, Collected, Partly Translated, and Annotated. London: Hakluyt Society. pp. clix–clx.
  12. Schokkenbroek, Joost C.A. (2008). Trying-out: An anatomy of Dutch Whaling and Sealing in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1885. p. 27.
  13. Schokkenbroek, p. 28.
  14. Olson, p. 770
  15. Coates, p. 123
  16. Dmitrieva, p. 28
  17. Dmitrieva, p. 28
  18. Eddy, p. 67


Portrayal in fiction